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The Midnight Queen by May Agnes Fleming

Part 4 out of 6

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even to pronounce his name - "and his housekeeper's, a creature
almost as vile as himself, and who is now a servant here; and
with this precious pair to guard me I grew up to be fifteen years
old. My outer life consisted of eating, sleeping, reading - for
the wretch taught me to read - playing with my dogs and birds,
and listening to old Margery's stories. But there was an inward
life, fierce and strong, as it was rank and morbid, lived and
brooded over alone, when Margery and her master fancied me
sleeping in idiotic content. How were they to know that the
creature they had reared and made ever had a thought of her own -
ever wondered who she was, where she came from, what she was
destined to be, and what lay in the great world beyond? The
crooked little monster made a great mistake in teaching me to
read, he should have known that books sow seed that grow up and
flourish tall and green, till they become giants in strength. I
knew enough to be certain there was a bright and glad world
without, from which they shut me in and debarred me; and I knew
enough to hate them both for it, with a strong and heartfelt
hatred, only second to what I feel now."

She stopped for a moment, and fixed her dark, gloomy eyes on the
swarming floor, and shook off, with out a shudder, the hideous
things that crawled over her rich dress. She had scarcely looked
at Sir Norman since she began to speak, but he had done enough
looking for them both, never once taking his eyes from the
handsome darkening face. He thought how strangely like her story
was to Leoline's - both shut in and isolated from the outer
world. Verily, destiny seemed to have woven the woof and warp of
their fates wonderfully together, for their lives were as much
the same as their faces. Miranda, having shook off her crawling
acquaintances, watched them glancing along the foul floor in the
darkness, and went moodily on.

"It was three years ago when I was fifteen years old, as I told
you, that a change took place in my life. Up to that time, that
miserable dwarf was what people would call my guardian, and did
not trouble me much with his heavenly company. He was a great
deal from our house, sometimes absent for weeks together; and I
remember I used to envy the freedom with which he came and went,
far more than I ever wondered where he spent his precious time.
I did not know then that he belonged to the honorable profession
of highwaymen, with variations of coining when travelers were few
and money scarce. He was then, and is still, at the head of a
formidable gang, over whom he wields most desperate authority -
as perhaps you have noticed during the brief and pleasant period
of your acquaintance."

"Really, madam, it struck me that your authority over them was
much more despotic than his," said Sir Norman, in all sincerity,
feeling called upon to give the - well, I'd rather not repeat the
word, which is generally spelled with a d and a dash - his due.

"No thanks to him for that! He would make me a slave now, as he
did then, if he dared, but he has found that, poor, trodden worm
as I was, I had life enough left to turn and sting."

"Which you do with a vengeance! Oh I you're a Tartar!" remarked
Sir Norman to himself. "The saints forefend that Leoline should
be like you in temper, as she is in history and face; for if she
is, my life promises to be a pleasant one."

"This rascally crew of cut-throats, whom his villainous highness
headed," said Miranda, "were an almost immense number then, being
divided in three bodies - London cut-purses, Hounslow Heath
highwaymen, and assistant-coiners, but all owning him for their
lord and master. He told me all this himself, one day when, in
an after-dinner and most gracious mood, he made a boasting
display of his wealth and greatness; told me I was growing up
very pretty indeed, and that I was shortly to be raised to the
honor and dignity, and bliss of being his wife.

"I fancy I must have had a very vague idea of what that one small
word meant, and was besides in an unusually contented and
peaceful state of mind, or I should, undoubtedly, have raised one
of his cut-glass decanters and smashed in his head with it. I
know how I should receive such an assertion from him now, but I
think I took it then with a resignation, he must have found
mighty edifying; and when he went on to tell me that all this
richness and greatness were to be shared by me when that
celestial time came, I think I rather liked the idea than
otherwise. The horrible creature seemed to have woke up that
day, for the first time, and all of a sudden, to a conviction
that I was in a fair way to become a woman, and rather a handsome
one, and that he had better make sure of me before any accident
interfered to take me from him. Full of this laudable notion, he
became a daily visitor of mine from thenceforth, and made the
discovery, simultaneously with myself, that the oftener he came
the less favor he found in my sight. I had, before, tacitly
disliked him, and shrank with a natural repulsion from his
dreadful ugliness ness; but now, from negative dislike, I grew to
positive hate. The utter loathing and abhorrence I have had for
him ever since, began then - I grew dimly and intuitively
conscious of what he would make me, and shrank from my fate with
a vague horror not to be told in words. I became strong in my
fearful dread of it. I told him I detested, abhorred, loathed,
hated him; that he might keep his riches, greatness, and ungainly
self for those who wanted him; they were temptations too weak to
move me.

"Of course, there was raving, and storming, threatening, terrible
looks and denunciations, and I quailed and shrank like a coward,
but was obstinate still. Then as a dernier resort, he tried
another bribe - the glorious one of liberty, the one he knew
would conquer me, and it did. He promised me freedom - if I
married him, I might go out into the great unknown world,
fetterless and free; and I, O! fool that I was! consented. Not
that my object was to stay with him one instant longer her my
prison doors were opened; no, I was not quite so besotted as that
- once out, and the little demon might look for me with last
year's partridges. Of course, those demoniac eyes read my heart
like an open book; and when I pronounced the fatal 'yes,' he
laughed in that delightful way of his own, which will probably be
the last thing you will hear when you lay your head under the

"I don't know who the clergyman who married us was; but he was a
clergyman: there can be no doubt about that. It was three days
after, and for the first time in my fifteen years of life, I
stood in sunshine, and daylight, and open air. We drove to the
cathedral - for it was in St. Paul's the sacrilege was committed.
I never could have walked there, I was so stunned, and giddy, and
bewildered. I never thought of the marriage - I could think of
nothing but the bright, crashing, sun-shiny world without, till I
was led up before the clergyman, with much the air, I suppose, of
one walking in her sleep. He was a very young man, I remember,
and looked from the dwarf to me, and from me to the dwarf, in a
great state of fear and uncertainty, but evidently not daring to
refuse. Margery and one of his gang were our only attendants,
and there, in God's temple, the deed was done, and I was made the
miserable thing I am to-day."

The suppressed passion, rising and throbbing like a white flame
in her face and eyes, made her stop for a moment, breathing hard.
Looking up she met Sir Norman's gaze, and as if there was
something in its quiet, pitying tenderness that mesmerized her
into calm, she steadily and rapidly went on.

"I awoke to a new life, after that; but not to one of freedom and
happiness. I was as closely, even more closely, guarded than
ever; and I found, when too late, that I had bartered myself,
soul and body, for an empty promise. The only difference was,
that I saw more new faces; for the dwarf began to bring his
confederates and subordinates to the house, and would have me
dressed up and displayed to them, with a demoniac pride that
revolted me beyond everything else, if I were a painted puppet or
an overgrown wax doll. Most of the precious crew of scoundrels
had wives of their own and these began to be brought with them of
an evening; and then, what with dancing, and music, and cards,
and feasting, we had quite a carnival of it till morning.

"I liked this part of the business excessively well at first, and
I was flattered and fooled to the top of my bent, and made from
the first, the reigning belle and queen. There was more policy
in that than admiration, I fancy; for the dwarf was all-powerful
among them and dreaded accordingly, and I was the dwarf's pet and
plaything, and all-powerful with him. The hideous creature had a
most hideous passion for me then, and I could wind him round my
finger as easily as Delilah and Samson; and by his command and
their universal consent, the mimicry of royalty was begun, and I
was made mistress and sovereign head, even over the dwarf
himself. It was a queer whim; but that crooked slug was always
taking such odd notions into his head, which nobody there dared
laugh at. The band were bound together by a terrible oath, women
and all; but they had to take another oath then, that of
allegiance to me.

"It quite turned my brain at first; and my eyes were so dazzled
by the pitiful glistening of the pageant, the sham splendor of
the sham court, and the half-mocking, half-serious homage paid
me, that I could see nothing beyond the shining surface, and the
blackness, and corruption, and horror within, were altogether
lost upon me. This feeling increased when, as months and months
went by, they were added to the mock peers of the Midnight Court,
real nobles from that of St. Charles. I did not know then that
they were ruined gamesters, vicious profligates, and desperate
broken-down roues, who would have gone to pandemonium itself,
nightly, for the mad license and lawless excesses they could
indulge in here to their heart's content. But I got tired of it
all, after a time: my eyes began slowly to open, and my heart -
at least, what little of that article I ever had - turned sick
with horror within me at what I had done. The awful things I
saw, the fearful deeds that were perpetrated, would curdle your
very blood with horror, were I to relate them. You have seen a
specimen yourself, in the cold-blooded murder of that wretch half
an hour ago; and his is not the only life crying for vengeance on
these men. The slightest violation of their oath was punished,
and the doom of traitors and informers was instant death, whether
male or female. The sham trials and executions always took place
in presence of the whole court, to strike a salutary terror into
them, and never occurred but once a week, when the whole band
regularly met. My power continued undiminished; for they knew
either the dwarf or I must be supreme; and though the queen was
bad, the prince was worse. The said prince would willingly have
pulled me down from my eminence, and have mounted it himself; but
that he was probably restrained by a feeling that law-makers
should not be law-breakers, and that, if he set the example,
there would be no end to the insubordination and rebellion that
would follow."

"Were you living here or in London then?" inquired Sir Norman,
taking an advantage of a pause, employed by Miranda in shaking
off the crawling beetles.

"Oh, in London! We did not come here until the outbreak of the
plague - that frightened them, especially the female portion, and
they held a scared meeting, and resolved that we should take up
our quarters somewhere else. This place being old and ruined,
and deserted and with all sorts of evil rumors hanging about it,
was hit upon; and secretly, by night, these mouldering old vaults
were fitted up, and the goods and chattels of the royal court
removed. And here I, too, was brought by night under the dwarf's
own eye; for he well knew I would have risked a thousand plagues
to escape from him. And here I have been ever since, and here
the weekly revels are still held, and may for years to come,
unless something is done to-night to prevent it.

"The night before these weekly anniversaries they all gather; but
during the rest of the time I am alone with Margery and the
dwarf, and have learned more secrets about this place than they
dream of. For the rest, there is little need of explanation -
the dwarf and his crew have industriously circulated the rumor
that it is haunted; and some of those white figures you saw with
me, and who, by the way, are the daughters of these robbers, have
been shown on the broken battlements, as if to put the fact
beyond doubt.

"Now, Sir Norman, that is all - you have heard my whole history
as far as I know it; and nothing remains but to tell you what you
must see yourself, that I am mad for revenge, and must have it,
and you must help me!"

Her eyes were shining with the fierce red fire he had seen in
them before, and the white face wore a look so deadly and
diabolical that, with all its beauty, it was absolutely
repulsive. He took a step from her-for in each of those gleaming
eyes sat a devil.

"You must help me!" she persisted. " You - you, Sir Norman! For
many a day I have been waiting for a chance like this, and until
now I have waited in vain. Alone, I want physical strength to
kill him, and I dare not trust any one else. No one was ever
cast among us before as you have been; and now, condemned to die,
you must be desperate, and desperate men will do desperate
things. Fate, Destiny, Providence - whatever you like - has
thrown you in my way, and help me you must and shall!"

"Madame, madame I what are you saying? How can I help you?"

"There is but one way - this!"

She held up in the pale ray of the lamp, something she drew from
the folds of her dress, that glistened blue, and bright, and
steelly in the gloom.

"A dagger!" he exclaimed, with a shudder, and a recoil. "Madame,
are you talking of murder?"

"I told you!" she said, through her closed teeth, and with her
eyes flaming like fire, "that ridding the earth of that fiend
incarnate would be a good deed, and no murder! I would do it
myself if I could take him off his guard; but he never is that
with me; and then my arm is not strong enough to reach his black
heart through all that mass of brawn, and blood, and muscle. No,
Sir Norman, Doom has allotted it to you - obey, and I swear to
you, you shall go free; refuse - and in ten minutes your head
will roll under the executioner's axe!"

"Better that than the freedom you offer! Madame, I cannot

"Coward!" she passionately cried; "you fear to do it, and yet you
have but a life to lose, and that is lost to you now!"

Sir Norman raised his head; and even in the darkness she saw the
haughty flush that crimsoned his face.

"I fear no man living; but, madame, I fear One who is higher than

"But you will die if you refuse; and I repeat, again and again,
there is no risk. These guards will not let you out; but there
are more ways of leaving a room than through the door, and I can
lead you up behind the tapestry to where he is standing, and you
can stab him through the back, and escape with me! Quick, quick,
there is no time to lose!"

"I cannot do it !" he said, resolutely, drawing back and folding
his arms. "In short, I will not do it!"

There was such a terrible look in the beautiful eyes, that he
half expected to see her spring at him like a wild cat, and bury
the dagger in his own breast. But the rule of life works by
contraries: expect a blow and you will get a kiss, look for an
embrace, and you will be startled by a kick. When the virago
spoke, her voice was calm, compared with what it had been before,
even mild.

"You refuse! Well, a willful man must have him way; and since
you are so qualmish about a little bloodletting, we must try
another plan. If I release you - for short as the time is, I can
do it - will you promise me to go direct to the king this very
night, and inform him of all you've seen and heard here?"

She looked at him with an eagerness that was almost fierce; and
in spite of her steady voice, there was something throbbing and
quivering, deadly and terrible, in her upturned face. The form
she looked at was erect and immovable, the eyes were quietly
resolved, the mouth half-pityingly, half-sadly smiling.

"Are you aware, dear lady, what the result of such a step would

"Death!" she said, coldly.

"Death, transportation, or life-long imprisonment to them all -
misery and disgrace to many a noble house; for some I saw there
were once friends of mine, with families I honor and respect.
Could I bring the dwarf and his attendant imps to Tyburn, and
treat them to a hempen cravat, I would do it without remorse -
though the notion of being informer, even then, would not be very
pleasant; but as it is, I cannot be the death of one without
ruining all, and as I told you, some of those were once my
friends. No, madame, I cannot do it. I have but once to die and
I prefer death here, to purchasing life at such a price."


There was a short silence, during which they gazed into each
other's eyes ominously, and one was about as colorless as the

"You refuse?" she coldly said.

"I must! But if you can save my life, as you say, why not do it,
and fly with me? You will find me the truest and most grateful
of friends, while life remains."

"You are very kind; but I want no friendship, Sir Norman -
nothing but revenge! As to escaping, I could have done that any
time since we came here, for I have found out a secret means of
exit from each of these vaults, that they know nothing of. But I
have staid to see him dead at my feet - if not by my hand, at
least by my command; and since you will not do it, I will make
the attempt myself. Farewell, Sir Norman Kingsley; before many
minutes you will be a corpse, and your blood be upon yourself!"

She gave him a glance as coldly fierce as her dagger's glance,
and turned to go, when he stepped hastily forward, and

"Miranda - Miranda - you are crazed! Stop and tell me what you
intend to do."

"What you feared to attempt," she haughtily replied; "Sheathe
this dagger in his demon heart!"

"Miranda, give me the dagger. You must not, you shall not,
commit such a crime!"

"Shall not?" she uttered scornfully. "And who are you that dares
to speak to me like this? Stand aside, coward, and let me pass!"

"Pardon me, but I cannot, while you hold that dagger. Give it to
me, and you shall go free; but while you hold it with this
intention, for your own sake, I will detain you till some one

She uttered a low, fierce cry, and struck at him with it, but he
caught her hand, and with sudden force snatched it from her. In
doing so he was obliged to hold it with its point toward her, and
struggling for it in a sort of frenzy, as he raised the hand that
held it, she slipped forward and it was driven half-way to the
hilt in her side. There was a low, grasping cry - a sudden
clasping of both hands over her heart, a sway, a reel, and she
fell headlong prostrate on the loathsome floor.

Sir Norman stood paralyzed. She half raised herself on her
elbow, drew the dagger from the wound, and a great jet of blood
shot up and crimsoned her hands. She did not faint - there
seemed to be a deathless energy within her that chained life
strongly in its place - she only pressed both hands hard over the
wound, and looked mournfully and reproachfully up in his face.
Those beautiful, sad, solemn dyes, void of everything savage and
fierce, were truly Leoline's eyes now.

Through all his first shock of horror, another thing dawned on
his mind; he had looked on this scene before. It was the second
view in La Masque's caldron, and but one remained to be verified

The next instant, he was down on his knees in a paroxysm of grief
and despair.

"What have I done? what have I done?" was his cry.

"Listen!" she said, faintly raising one finger. "Do you hear

Distant steps were echoing along the passage. Yes; he heard
them, and knew what they were.

"They are coming to lead you to death!" she said, with some of
her old fire; "but I will baffle them yet. Take that lamp - go
to the wall yonder, and in that corner, near the floor, you will
see a small iron ring. Pull it - it does not require much force
- and you will find an opening leading through another vault; at
the end there is a broken flight of stairs, mount them, and you
will find yourself in the same place from which you fell. Fly,
fly! There is not a second to lose!"

"How can I fly? how can I leave you dying here?"

"I am not dying!" she wildly cried, lifting both hands from the
wound to push him away, while the blood flowed over the floor.
"But we will both die if you stay. Go-go-go!"

The footsteps had paused st his door. The bolts were beginning
to be withdrawn. He lifted the lamp, flew across his prison,
found the ring, and took a pull at it with desperate strength.
Part of what appeared to be the solid wall drew out, disclosing
an aperture through which he could just squeeze sideways. Quick
as thought he was through, forgetting the lamp in his haste. The
portion of the wall slid noiselessly back, just as the prison
door was thrown open, and the dwarfs voice was heard, socially
inviting him, like Mrs. Bond's ducks, to come and be killed.

Some people talk of darkness so palpable that it may be felt, and
if ever any one was qualified to tell from experience what it
felt like, Sir Norman was in that precise condition at that
precise period. He groped his way through the blind blackness
along what seemed an interminable distance, and stumbled, at
last, over the broken stairs at the end. With some difficult,
and at the serious risk of his jugular, he mounted them, and
found himself, as Miranda had stated, in a place he knew very
well. Once here he allowed no grass to grow under him feet; and,
in five minutes after, to his great delight, he found himself
where he had never hoped to be again - in the serene moonlight
and the open air, fetterless and free.

His horse was still where he had left him, and in a twinkling he
was on his back, and dashing away to the city, to love - to



If things were done right - but they are not and, never will be,
while this whirligig world of mistakes spins round, and all
Adam's children, to the end of the chapter, will continue sinning
to-day and repenting tomorrow, falling the next and bewailing it
the day after. If Leoline had gone to bed directly, like a good,
dutiful little girl, as Sir Norman ordered her, she would have
saved herself a good deal of trouble and tears; but Leoline and
sleep were destined to shake hands and turn their backs on each
other that night. It was time for all honest folks to be in bed,
and the dark-eyed beauty knew it too, but she had no notion of
going, nevertheless. She stood in the centre of the room, where
he had left her, with a spot like a scarlet roseberry on either
cheek; a soft half-smile on the perfect mouth, and a light
unexpressibly tender and dreamy, in those artesian wells of
beauty - her eyes. Most young girls of green and tender years,
suffering from "Love's young dream," and that sort of thing, have
just that soft, shy, brooding look, whenever their thoughts
happen to turn to their particular beloved; and there are few
eyes so ugly that it does not beautify, even should they be as
cross as two sticks. You should have seen Leoline standing in
the centre of her pretty room, with her bright rose-satin
glancing and glittering, and flowing over rug and mat; with her
black waving hair clustering and curling like shining floss silk;
with a rich white shimmer of pearls on the pale smooth forehead
and large beautiful arms. She did look irresistibly bewitching
beyond doubt; and it was just as well for Sir Norman's peace of
mind that he did not see her, for he was bad enough without that.
So she stood thinking tenderly of him for a half-hour or so,
quite undisturbed by the storm; and how strange it was that she
had risen up that very morning expecting to be one man's bride,
and that she should rise up the next, expecting to be another's.
She could not realize it at all; and with a little sigh-half
pleasure, half presentiment - she walked to the window, drew the
curtain, and looked out at the night. All was peaceful and
serene; the moon was fall to overflowing, and a great deal of
extra light ran over the brim; quite a quantity of stars were
out, and were winking pleasantly down at the dark little planet
below, that went round, and round, with grim stoicism, and paid
no attention to anybody's business but its own. She saw the
heaps of black, charred ashes that the rush of rain had quenched;
she saw the still and empty street; the frowning row of gloomy
houses opposite, and the man on guard before one of them. She
had watched that man all day, thinking, with a sick shudder, of
the plague-stricken prisoners he guarded, and reading its piteous
inscription, "Lord have mercy on us!" till the words seemed
branded on her brain. While she looked now, an upper window was
opened, a night-cap was thrust out and a voice from its cavernous
depths hailed the guard.

"Robert! I say, Robert!"

"Well!" said Robert, looking up.

"Master and missus be gone at last, and the rest won't live till

"Won't they?" said Robert, phlegmatically; "what a pity! Got 'em
ready, and I'll stop the dead-cart when it comes round."

Just as he spoke, the well-known rattle of wheels, the loud
ringing of the bell, and the monotonous cry of the driver, "Bring
out your dead! bring out your dead!" echoed on the pale night's
silence; and the pest-cart came rumbling and jolting along with
its load of death. The watchman hailed the driver, according to
promise, and they entered the house together, brought out one
long, white figure, and then another, and threw them on top of
the ghastly heap.

"We'll have three more for you in on hour of so - don't forget to
come round," suggested the watchman.

"All right!" said the driver, as he took his place, whipped his
horse, rang his bell, and jogged along nonchalantly to the

Sick at heart, Leoline dropped the curtain, and turned round to
see somebody else standing at her elbow. She had been quite
alone when she looked out; she was alone no longer; there had
been no noise, yet soma one had entered, and was standing beside
her. A tall figure, all in black, with its sweeping velvet robes
spangled with stars of golden rubies, a perfect figure of
incomparable grace and beauty. It had worn a cloak that had
dropped lightly from its shoulders, and lay on the floor and the
long hair streamed in darkness over shoulder and waist. The
face was masked, the form stood erect and perfectly motionless,
and the scream of surprise and consternation that arose to
Leoline's lips died out in wordless terror. Her noiseless
visitor perceived it, and touching her arm lightly with one
little white hand, said in her sweetest and most exquisite of

"My child, do not tremble so, and do not look so deathly white.
You know me, do you not?"

"You are La Masque!" said Leoline trembling with nervous dread.

"I am, and no stranger to you; though perhaps you think so. Is
it your habit every night to look out of your window in full
dress until morning?"

"How did you enter?" asked Leoline, her curiosity overcoming for
a moment even her fear.

"Through the door. Not a difficult thing, either, if you leave
it wide open every night, as it is this."

"Was it open?" said Leoline, in dismay. "I never knew it."

"Ah! then it was not you who went out last. Who was it?"

"It was - was - " Leoline's cheeks were scarlet; "it was a

"A somewhat late hour for one's friends to visit," said La
Masque, sarcastically; "and you should learn the precaution of
seeing them to the door and fastening it after them."

"Rest assured, I shall do so for the future," said Leoline, with
a look that would have reminded Sir Nor man of Miranda had he
seen it. "I scarcely expected the honor of any more visits,
particularly from strangers to-night."

"Civil, that! Will you ask me to sit down, or am I to consider
myself an unseasonable intruder, and depart?"

"Madame, will you do me the honor to be seated. The hour, as you
say, is somewhat unseasonable, and you will oblige me by letting
me know to what I am indebted for the pleasure of this visit, as
quickly as possible."

There was something quite dignified about Mistress Leoline as she
swept rustling past La Masque, sank into the pillowy depths of
her lounge, and motioned her visitor to a seat with a slight and
graceful wave of her hand. Not but that in her secret heart she
was a good deal frightened, for something under her pink satin
corsage was going pit-a-pat at a wonderful rate; but she thought
that betraying such a feeling would not be the thing. Perhaps
the tall, dark figure saw it, and smiled behind her mask; but
outwardly she only leaned lightly against the back of the chair,
and glanced discreetly at the door.

"Are you sure we are quite alone?"


"Because," said La Masque, in her low, silvery tones, "what I
have come to say is not for the ears of any third person living:"

"We are entirely alone, madame," replied Leoline, opening her
black eyes very wide. "Prudence is gone, and I do not know when
she will be back."

"Prudence will never come back," said La Masque, quietly.


"My dear, do not look so shocked - it is not her fault. You know
she deserted you for fear of the plague."

"Yes, yes!"

"Well, that did not save her; nay, it even brought on what she
dreaded so much. Your nurse is plague-stricken, my dear, and
lies ill unto death in the pesthouse in Finsbury Fields."

"Oh, dreadful!" exclaimed Leoline, while every drop of blood fled
from her face. "My poor, poor old nurse!"

"Your poor, poor old nurse left you without much tenderness when
she thought you dying of the same disease," said La Masque,

"Oh, that is nothing. The suddenness, the shock drove her to it.
My poor, dear Prudence."

"Well, you can do nothing for her now," said La Masque, in a tone
of slight impatience. "Prudence is beyond all human aid, and so
- let her rest in peace. You were carried to the plague-pit
yourself, for dead, were you not?"

"Yes," answered the pale lips, while she shivered all over at the

"And was saved by - by whom were you saved, my dear?"

"By two gentlemen."

"Oh, I know that; what were their names?"

"One was Mr. Ormiston, the other was," hesitating and blushing
vividly, "Sir Norman Kingsley."

La Masque leaned across her chair, and laid one dainty finger
lightly on the girl's hot cheek.

"And for which is that blush, Leoline?"

"Madame, was it only to ask me questions you came here?" said
Leoline, drawing proudly back, though the hot red spot grew
hotter and redder; "if so, you will excuse my declining to answer
any more."

"Child, child!" said La Masque, in a tone so strangely sad that
it touched Leoline, "do not be angry with me. It is no idle
curiosity that sent me here at this hour to ask impertinent
questions, but a claim that I have upon you, stronger than that
of any one else in the world."

Leoline's beautiful eyes opened wider yet.

"A claim upon me! How? Why? I do not understand."

"All in good time. Will you tell me something of your past
history, Leoline?"

"Madame Masque, I have no history to tell. All my life I have
lived alone with Prudence; that in the whole of it in nine

La Masque half laughed.

"Short, sharp, and decisive. Had you never father or mother?"

"There is a slight probability I may have had at some past
period," said Leoline, sighing; "but none that I ever knew."

"Why does not Prudence tell you?"

"Prudence is only my nurse, and says she has nothing to tell. My
parents died when I was an infant, and left me in her care - that
is her story."

"A likely one enough, and yet I see by your face that you doubt

"I do doubt it! There are a thousand little outward things that
make me fancy it is false, and an inward voice that assures me it
is so."

"Then let me tell you that inward voice tells falsehoods, for I
know that your father and mother are both dead these fourteen

Leoline's great black eyes were fixed on her face with a look so
wild and eager, that La Masque laid her hand lightly and
soothingly on her shoulder.

"Don't look at me with such a spectral face! What is there so
extraordinary in all I have said?"

"You said you knew my father and mother."

"No such thing! I said I knew they were dead, but the other fact
is true also; I did know them when living!"

"Madame, who are you? Who were they?"

"I? Oh, I am La Masque, the sorceress, and they - they were
Leoline's father and mother!" and again La Masque slightly

"You mock me, madame!" cried Leoline, passionately. "You are
cruel - you are heartless! If you know anything, in Heaven's
name tell me - if not, go and leave me in peace!"

"Thank you! I shall do that presently; and as to the other - of
course I shall tell you; what else do you suppose I have come for
to-night? Look here! Do you see this?"

She drew out from some hidden pocket in her dress a small and
beautifully-wrought casket of ivory and silver, with straps and
clasps of silver, and a tiny key of the same.

"Well!" asked Leoline, looking from it to her, with the blank air
of one utterly bewildered

"In this casket, my dear, there is a roll of papers, closely
written, which you are to read as soon as I leave you. Those
papers contain your whole history - do you understand?"

She was looking so white, and staring so hard and so hopelessly,
that there was need of the question. She took the casket and
gazed at it with a perplexed air.

"My child, have your thoughts gone wool-gathering? Do you not
comprehend what I have said to you! Your whole history is hid in
that box?"

"I know!" said Leoline, slowly, and with her eyes again riveted
to the black mask. "But; madame, who are you?"

"Have I not told you? What a pretty inquisitor it is! I am La
Masque - your friend, now; something more soon, as you will see
when you read what I have spoken of. Do not ask me how I have
come by it - you will read all about it there. I did not know
that I would give it to you to-night, but I have a strange
foreboding that it is destined to be my last on earth. And,
Leoline my child, before I leave you, let me hear you say you
will not hate me when you read what is there."

"What have you done to me? Why should I hate you?"

"Ah! you will find that all out soon enough. Do content me,
Leoline - let me hear you say; `La Masque, whatever you've done
to me, however you have wronged me, I will forgive you!' Can you
say that?"

Leoline repeated it simply, like a little child. La Masque took
her hand, held it between both her own, leaned over and looked
earnestly in her face.

"My little Leoline! my beautiful rosebud! May Heaven bless you
and grant you a long and happy life with - shall I say it,

"Please - no!" whispered Leoline, shyly.

La Masque softly patted the little tremulous hand.

"We are both saying the name now in our hearts, my dear, so it is
little matter whether our lips repeat it or not. He is worthy,
of you, Leoline, and your life will be a happy one by his side;
but there is another." She paused and lowered her voice. "When
have you seen Count L'Estrange?"

"Not since yesterday, madame."

"Beware of him! Do you know who he is, Leoline?"

"I know nothing of him but his name."

"Then do not seek to know," said La Masque, emphatically. "For
it is a secret you would tremble to hear. And now I must leave
you. Come with me to the door, and fasten it as soon as I go
out, lest you should forget it altogether."

Leoline, with a dazed expression, thrust the precious little
casket into the bosom of her dress, and taking up the lamp,
preceded her visitor down stairs. At the door they paused, and
La Masque, with her hand on her arm, repeated, in a low, earnest

"Leoline, beware of Count L'Estrange, and become Lady Kingsley as
soon as you can."

"I will bear that name to-morrow!" thought Leoline, with a glad
little thrill at her heart, as La Masque flitted out into the

Leoline closed and locked the door, driving the bolts into their
sockets, and making all secure. "I defy any one to get in again
tonight!" she said, smiling at her own dexterity; and lamp in
hand, she ran lightly up stairs to read the long unsolved riddle.

So eager was she, that she had crossed the room, laid the lamp on
the table, and sat down before it, ere she became aware that she
was not alone. Some one was leaning against the mantel, his arm
on it, and his eyes do her, gazing with an air of incomparable
coolness and ease. It was a man this time - something more than
a man,- a count, and Count L'Estrange, at that!

Leoline sprang to her feet with a wild scream, a cry full of
terror, amaze, and superstitious dread; and the count raised his
band with a self-possessed smile.

"Pardon, fair Leoline, if I intrude! But have I not a right to
come at all hours and visit my bride?"

"Leoline is no bride of yours!" retorted that young lady,
passionately, her indignation overpowering both fear and
surprise. "And, what is more, never will be! Now, sir!"

"So my little bird of paradise can fire up, I see! As to your
being my bride, that remains to be seen. You promised to be
tonight, you know!"

"Then I'll recall that promise. I have changed my mind."

"Well, that's not very astonishing; it is but the privilege of
your sex! Nevertheless, I'm afraid I must insist on your
becoming Countess L'Estrange, and that immediately!"

"Never, sir! I will die first!"

"Oh, no! We could not spare such a bright little beauty out of
this ugly world! You will live, and live for me!"

"Sir!" cried Leoline, white with passion, and her black eyes
blazing with a fire that would have killed him, could fiery
glances slay! I do not know how you have entered here; but I do
know, if you are a gentleman, you will leave me instantly! Go
sir! I never wish to see you again!"

"But when I wish to see you so much, my darling Leoline," said
the count, with provoking indifference, "what does a little
reluctance on your part signify? Get your hood and mantle, my
love - my horse awaits us without - and let us fly where neither
plague nor mortal man will interrupt our nuptials!"

"Will no one take this man away?" she cried, looking helplessly
round, and wringing her hands.

"Certainly not, my dear - not even Sir Norman Kingsley! George,
I am afraid this pretty little vixen will not go peaceably; you
had better come in!"

With a smile on his face, he took a step toward her. Shrieking
wildly, she darted across the room, and made for the door, just
as somebody else was entering it. The next instant, a shawl was
thrown over her head, her cries smothered in it, and she was
lifted in a pair of strong arms, carried down stairs, and out
into the night.



Presentments are strange things. From the first moment Sir
Norman entered the city, and his thoughts had been able to leave
Miranda and find themselves wholly on Leoline, a heavy foreboding
of evil to her had oppressed him. Some danger, he was sure, had
befallen her during his absence - how could it be otherwise with
the Earl of Rochester and Count L'Estrange both on her track?
Perhaps, by this time, one or other had found her, and alone and
unaided she had been an easy victim, and was now borne beyond his
reach forever. The thought goaded him and his horse almost to
distraction; for the moment it struck him, he struck spurs into
his horse, making that unoffending animal jump spasmodically,
like one of those prancing steeds Miss Bonheur is fond of
depicting. Through the streets he flew at a frantic rate, growing
more excited and full of apprehension the nearer he came to old
London Bridge; and calling himself a select litany of hard names
inwardly, for having left the dear little thing at all.

"If I find her safe and well," thought Sir Norman, emphatically,
"nothing short of an earthquake or dying of the plague will ever
induce me to leave her again, until she is Lady Kingsley, and in
the old manor of Devonshire. What a fool, idiot, and ninny I
must have been, to have left her as I did, knowing those two
sleuth-hounds were in full chase! What are all the Mirandas and
midnight queens to me, if Leoline is lost?"

That last question was addressed to the elements in general; and
as they disdained reply, he cantered on furiously, till the old
house by the river was reached. It was the third time that night
he had paused to contemplate it, and each time with very
different feelings; first, from simple curiosity; second, in an
ecstasy of delight, and third and last, in an agony of
apprehension. All around was peaceful and still; moon and stars
sailed serenely through a sky of silver and snow; a faint cool
breeze floated up from the river and fanned his hot and fevered
forehead; the whole city lay wrapped in stillness as profound and
deathlike as the fabled one of the marble prince in the Eastern
tale-nothing living moved abroad, but the lonely night-guard
keeping their dreary vigils before the plague-stricken houses,
and the ever-present, ever-busy pest-cart, with its mournful bell
and dreadful cry.

As far as Sir Norman could see, no other human being but himself
and the solitary watchman, so often mentioned, were visible.
Even he could scarcely be said to be present; for, though leaning
against the house with his halberd on his shoulder, he was sound
asleep at his post, and far away in the land of dreams. It was
the second night of his watch; and with a good conscience and a
sound digestion, there is no earthly anguish short of the
toothache, strong enough to keep a man awake two nights in
succession. So sound were his balmy slumbers in his airy
chamber, that not even the loud clatter of Sir Norman's horse's
hoofs proved strong enough to arouse him; and that young
gentleman, after glancing at him, made ap his mind to try to find
out for himself before arousing him to seek information.

Securing his home, he looked up at the house with wistful eyes,
and saw that the solitary light still burned in her chamber. It
struck him now how very imprudent it was to keep that lamp
burning; for if Count L'Estrange saw it, it was all up with
Leoline - and there was even more to be dreaded from him than
from the earl. How was he to find out whether that illuminated
chamber had a tenant or not? Certainly, standing there staring
till doomsday would not do it; and there seemed but two ways,
that of entering the house at once or arousing the man. But the
man was sleeping so soundly that it seemed a pity to awake him
for a trifle; and, after all, there could be no great harm or
indiscretion in his entering to see if his bride was safe.
Probably Leoline was asleep, and would know nothing about it; or,
even were she wide awake, and watchful, she was altogether too
sensible a girl to be displeased at his anxiety about her. If
she were still awake, and waiting for day-dawn, he resolved to
remain with her and keep her from feeling lonesome until that
time came - if she were asleep, he would steal out softly again,
and keep guard at her door until morning.

Full of these praiseworthy resolutions, he tried the handle of
the door, half expecting to find it locked, and himself obliged
to effect an entrance through the window; but no, it yielded to
his touch, and he went in. Hall and staircase were intensely
dark, but he knew his way without a pilot this time, and steered
clear of all shoals and quicksands, through the hall and up the

The door of the lighted room - Leoline's room - lay wide open,
and he paused on the threshold to reconnoitre. He had gone
softly for fear of startling her, and now, with the same tender
caution, he glanced round the room. The lamp burned on the
dainty dressing table, where undisturbed lay jewels, perfume
bottles and other knickknacks. The cithern lay unmolested on the
couch, the rich curtains were drawn; everything was as he had
left it last - everything, but the pretty pink figure, with
drooping eyes, and pearls in the waves of her rich, black hair.
He looked round for the things she had worn, hoping she had taken
them off and retired to rest, but they were not to be seen; and
with a cold sinking of the heart, he went noiselessly across the
room, and to the bed. It was empty, and showed no trace of
having been otherwise since he and the pest-cart driver had borne
from it the apparently lifeless form of Leoline.

Yes, she was gone; and Sir Norman turned for a moment so sick
with utter dread, that he leaned against one of the tall carved
posts, and hated himself for having left her with a heartlessness
that his worst enemy could not have surpassed. Then aroused into
new and spasmodic energy by the exigency of the case, he seized
the lamp, and going out to the hall, made the house ring from
basement to attic with her name. No reply, but that hollow,
melancholy echo that sounds so lugubriously through empty houses,
was returned; and he jumped down stairs with an impetuous rush,
flinging back every door in the hall below with a crash, and
flying wildly from room to room. In solemn grim repose they lay;
but none of them held the bright figure in rose-satin he sought.
And he left them in despair, and went back to her chamber again.

"Leoline! Leoline! Leoline!" he called, while he rushed
impetuously ap stairs, and down stairs, and in my lady's chamber;
but Leoline answered not - perhaps never would answer more! Even
"hoping against hope," he had to give up the chase at last - no
Leoline did that house hold; and with this conviction
despairingly impressed on leis mind, Sir Norman Kingsley covered
his face with his hands, and uttered a dismal groan.

Yet, forlorn as was the case, he groaned but once, "only that and
nothing more;" there was no time for such small luxuries as
groaning and tearing his hair, and boiling over with wrath and
vengeance against the human race generally, and those two
diabolical specimens of it, the Earl of Rochester and Count
L'Estrange, particularly. He plunged head foremost down stairs,
and out of the door. There he was impetuously brought up all
standing; for somebody stood before it, gazing up at the gloomy
front with as much earnestness as he had done himself, and
against this individual he rushed recklessly with a shock that
nearly sent the pair of them over into the street.

"Sacr-r-re!" cried a shrill voice, in tones of indignant
remonstrance. "What do you mean, monsieur? Are you drunk, or
crazy, that you come running head foremost into peaceable
citizens, and throwing them heels uppermost on the king's
highway! Stand off, sir! And think yourself lucky that I don't
run you through with my dirk for such an insult!"

At the first sound of the outraged treble tones, Sir Norman had
started back and glared upon the speaker with much the same
expression of countenance as an incensed tiger. The orator of
the spirited address had stooped to pick up his plumed cap, and
recover his centre of gravity, which was considerably knocked out
of place by the unexpected collision, and held forth with very
flashing eyes, and altogether too angry to recognize his auditor.
Sir Norman waited until he had done, and then springing at him,
grabbed him by the collar.

"You young hound!" he exclaimed, fairly lifting him off his feet
with one hand, and shaking him as if he would have wriggled him
out of hose and doublet. "You infernal young jackanapes! I'll
run you through in less than two minutes, if you don't tell me
where you have taken her."

The astonishment, not to say consternation, of Master Hubert for
that small young gentleman and no other it was - on thus having
his ideas thus shaken out of him, was unbounded, and held him
perfectly speechless, while Sir Norman glared at him and shook
him in a way that would have instantaneously killed him if his
looks were lightning. The boy had recognized his aggressor, and
after his first galvanic shock, struggled like a little hero to
free himself, and at last succeeded by an artful spring.

"Sir Norman Kingsley," he cried, keeping a safe yard or two of
pavement between him and that infuriated young knight, "have you
gone mad, or what, is Heaven's name, is the moaning of all this?"

"It means," exclaimed Sir Norman, drawing his sword, and
flourishing it within an inch of the boy's curly head, - that
you'll be a dead page in lees than half a minute, unless you tell
me immediately where she has been taken to."

"Where who has been taken to?" inquired Hubert, opening his
bright and indignant black eyes in a way that reminded Sir Norman
forcibly of Leoline. "Pardon, monsieur, I don't understand at

"You young villain! Do you mean to stand up there and tell me to
my face that you have not searched for her, and found her, and
have carried her off?"

"Why, do you mean the lady we were talking of, that was saved
from the river?" asked Hubert, a new light dawning upon him.

"Do I mean the lady we were talking of?" repeated Sir Norman,
with another furious flourish of his sword. "Yes, I do mean the
lady we were talking of; and what's more - I mean to pin you
where you stand, against that wall, unless you tell me,
instantly, where she has been taken."

"Monsieur!" exclaimed the boy, raising his hands with an
earnestness there was no mistaking, "I do assure you, upon my
honor, that I know nothing of the lady whatever; that I have not
found her; that I have never set eyes on her since the earl saved
her from the river."

The earnest tone of truth would, in itself, almost have convinced
Sir Norman, but it was not that, that made him drop his sword so
suddenly. The pale, startled face; the dark, solemn eyes, were
so exactly like Leoline's, that they thrilled him through and
through, and almost made him believe, for a moment, he was
talking to Leoline herself.

"Are you - are you sure you are not Leoline?" he inquired, almost
convinced, for an instant, by the marvelous resemblance, that it
was really so.

"I? Positively, Sir Norman, I cannot understand this at all,
unless you wish to enjoy yourself at my expense."

"Look here, Master Hubert!" said Sir Norman with a sudden change
of look and tone. "If you do not understand, I shall just tell
you in a word or two how matters are, and then let me hear you
clear yourself. You know the lady we were talking about, that
Lord Rochester picked up afloat, and sent you in search of?"

"Yes - yes."

"Well," went on Sir Norman, with a sort of grim stoicism. "After
leaving you, I started on a little expedition of my own, two
miles from the city, from which expedition I returned ten minutes
ago. When I left, the lady was secure and safe in this house;
when I came back, she was gone. You were in search of her - had
told me yourself you were determined on finding her, and having
her carried off; and now, my youthful friend, put this and that
together," with a momentary returning glare, "and see what it
amounts to!"

"It amounts to this:" retorted his youthful friend, stoutly,
"that I know nothing whatever about it. You may make out a case
of strong circumstantial evidence against me; but if the lady has
been carried off, I have had no hand in it."

Again Sir Norman was staggered by the frank, bold gaze and
truthful voice, but still the string was in a tangle somewhere.

"And where have you been ever since?" he began severely, and with
the air of a lawyer about to go into a rigid cross-examination.

"Searching for her," was the prompt reply.


"Through the streets; in the pest-houses, and at the plague-pit."

"How did you find out she lived here?"

"I did not find it out. When I became convinced she was in none
of the places I have mentioned, I gave up the search in despair,
for to-night, and was returning to his lordship to report my ill

"Why, then, were you standing in front of her house, gaping at it
with all the eyes in your head, as if it were the eighth wonder
of the world?"

"Monsieur has not the most courteous way of asking questions,
that I ever heard of; but I have no particular objection to
answer him. It struck me that, as Mr. Ormiston brought the lady
up this way, and as I saw you and he haunting this place so much
to-night, I thought her residence was somewhere here, and I
paused to look at the house as I went along. In fact, I intended
to ask old sleepy-head, over there, for further particulars,
before I left the neighborhood, had not you, Sir Norman, run bolt
into me, and knocked every idea clean out of my head."

"And you are sure you are not Leoline?" said Sir Norman,

"To the best of my belief, Sir Norman, I am not," replied Hubert,

"Well, it is all very strange, and very aggravating," said Sir
Norman, sighing, and sheathing his sword. "She is gone, at all
events; no doubt about that - and if you have not carried her
off, somebody else has."

"Perhaps she has gone herself," insinuated Hubert.

"Bah! Gone herself!" said Sir Norman, scornfully. "The idea is
beneath contempt: I tell you, Master Fine-feathers, the lady and
I were to be married bright and early to-morrow morning, and
leave this disgusting city for Devonshire. Do you suppose, then,
she would run out in the small hours of the morning, and go
prancing about the streets, or eloping with herself?"

"Why, of course, Sir Norman, I can't take it upon myself to
answer positively; but, to use the mildest phrase, I must say the
lady seems decidedly eccentric, and capable of doing very queer
things. I hope, however, you believe me; for I earnestly assure
you, I never laid eyes on her but that once."

"I believe you," said Sir Norman, with another profound and
broken-hearted sigh, "and I'm only too sure she has been abducted
by that consummate scoundrel and treacherous villain, Count

"Count who?" said Hubert, with a quick start, and a look of
intense curiosity. "What was the name?"

"L'Estrange - a scoundrel of the deepest dye! Perhaps you know

"No," replied Hubert, with a queer, half musing smile, "no; but I
have a notion I have heard the name. Was he a rival of yours?"

"I should think so! He was to have been married to the lady this
very night!"

"He was, eh! And what prevented the ceremony?"

"She took the plague!" said Sir Norman, strange to say, not at
all offended at the boy's familiarity. "And would have been
thrown into the plague-pit but for me. And when she recovered
she accepted me and cast him off!"

"A quick exchange! The lady's heart must be most flexible, or
unusually large, to be able to hold so many at once."

"It never held him!" said Sir Norman, frowning; "she was forced
into the marriage by her mercenary friends. Oh! if I had him
here, wouldn't I make him wish the highwaymen had shot him
through the head, and done for him, before I would let him go!"

"What is he like - this Count L'Estrange?" said Hubert,

"Like the black-hearted traitor and villain he is!" replied Sir
Norman, with more energy than truth; for he had caught but
passing glimpses of the count's features, and those showed him
they were decidedly prepossessing; "and he slinks along like a
coward and an abductor as he is, in a slouched hat and shadowy
cloak. Oh! if I had him here!" repeated Sir Norman, with
vivacity; "wouldn't I - "

"Yes, of course you would," interposed Hubert, "and serve him
right, too! Have you made any inquiries about the matter - for
instance, of our friend sleeping the sleep of the just, across

"No - why?"

"Why, it seems to me, if she's been carried off before he fell
asleep, he has probably heard or seen something of it; and I
think it would not be a bad plan to step over and inquire."

"Well, we can try," said Sir Norman, with a despairing face; "but
I know it will end in disappointment and vexation of spirit, like
all the rest!"

With which dismal view of things, he crossed the street side by
side with his jaunty young friend. The watchman was still
enjoying the balmy, and snoring in short, sharp snorts, when
Master Hubert remorselessly caught him by the shoulder, and began
a series of shakes and pokes, and digs, and "hallos!" while Sir
Norman stood near and contemplated the scene with a pensive eye.
At last while undergoing a severe course of this treatment the
watchman was induced to open his eyes on this mortal life, and
transfix the two beholders with, an intensely vacant and blank

"Hey?" he inquired, helplessly. "What was you a saying of,
gentlemen? What is it?"

"We weren't a saying of anything as yet," returned Hubert; "but
we mean to, shortly. Are you quite sure you are wide awake?"

"What do you want?" was the cross question, given by way of
answer. "What do you come bothering me for at such a rate, all
night, I want to know?"

"Keep civil, friend, we wear swords," said Hubert, touching, with
dignity, the hilt of the little dagger he carried; "we only want
to ask you a few questions. First, do you see that house over

"Oh! I see it!" said the man gruffly; "I am not blind!"

"Well who was the last person you saw come out of that house?"

"I don't know who they was!" still more gruffly. "I ain't got
the pleasure of their acquaintance!"

"Did you see a young lady come out of it lately?"

"Did I see a young lady?" burst out the watchman, in a high key
of aggrieved expostulation. "How many more times this blessed
night am I to be asked about that young lady. First and
foremost, there comes two young men, which this here is one of
them, and they bring out the young lady and have her hauled away
in the dead-cart; then comes along another and wants to know all
the particulars, and by the time he gets properly away, somebody
else comes and brings her back like a drowned rat. Then all
sorts of people goes in and out, and I get tired looking at them,
and then fall asleep, and before I've been in that condition
about a minute, you two come punching me and waken me up to ask
questions about her! I wish that young lady was in Jerico - I
do!" said the watchman, with a smothered growl.

"Come, come, my man!" said Hubert, slapping him soothingly on the
shoulder. "Don't be savage, if you can help it! This gentleman
has a gold coin in some of his pockets, I believe, and it will
fall to you if you keep quiet and answer decently. Tell me how
many have been in that house since the young lady was brought
back like a drowned rat?"

"How many?" said the man, meditating, with his eyes fixed on Sir
Norman's garments, and he, perceiving that, immediately gave him
the promised coin to refresh his memory, which it did with
amazing quickness. "How many - oh - let me see; there was the
young man that brought her in, and left her there, and came out
again, and went away. By-and-by, he came back with another,
which I think this as gave me the money is him. After a little,
they came out, first the other one, then this one, and went off;
and the next that went in was a tall woman in black, with a mask
on, and right behind her there came two men; the woman in the
mask came out after a while; and about ten minutes after, the two
men followed, and one of them carried something in his arms, that
didn't look unlike a lady with her head in a shawl. Anything
wrong, sir?" as Sir Norman gave a violent start and caught Hubert
by the arm.

"Nothing! Where did they carry her to? What did they do with
her? Go on! go on!"

"Well," said the watchman, eyeing the speaker curiously, "I'm
going to. They went along, down to the river, both of them, and
I saw a boat shove off, shortly after, and that something, with
its head in a shawl, lying as peaceable as a lamb, with one of
the two beside it. That's all - I went asleep about then, till
you two were shaking me and waking me up."

Sir Norman and Hubert looked at each other, one between despair
and rage, the other with a thoughtful, half-inquiring air, as if
he had some secret to tell, and was mentally questioning whether
it was safe to do so. On the whole, he seemed to come to the
conclusion, that a silent tongue maketh a wise head, and nodding
and saying "Thank you!" to the watchman, he passed his arm
through Sir Norman's, and drew him back to the door of Leoline's

"There is a light within," he said, looking up at it; "how comes

"I found the lamp burning, when I returned, and everything
undisturbed. They must have entered noiselessly, and carried her
off without a straggle," replied Sir Norman, with a sort of

"Have you searched the house - searched it well?"

"Thoroughly - from top to bottom!"

"It seems to me there ought to be some trace. Will you come back
with me and look again?"

"It is no use; but there in nothing else I can do; so come

They entered the house, and Sir Norman led the page direct to
Leoline's room, where the light was.

"I left her here when I went away, and here the lamp was burning
when I came back: so it must have been from this room she was

Hubert was gazing slowly and critically round, taking note of
everything. Something glistened and flashed on the floor, under
the mantel, and he went over and picked it up.

"What have you there?" asked Sir Norman in surprise; for the boy
had started so suddenly, and flushed so violently, that it might
have astonished any one.

"Only a shoe-buckle - a gentleman's - do you recognize it?"

Though he spoke in his usual careless way, and half-hummed the
air of one of Lord Rochester's love songs, he watched him keenly
as he examined it. It was a diamond buckle, exquisitely set, and
of great beauty and value; but Sir Norman knew nothing of it.

"There are initials upon it -see there!" said Hubert, pointing,
and still watching him with the same powerful glance. "The
letters C. S. That can't stand for Count L'Estrange."

"Who then can it stand for?" inquired Sir Norman, looking at him
fixedly, and with far more penetration than the court page had
given him credit for. "I am certain you know."

"I suspect!" said the boy, emphatically, "nothing more; and if it
is as I believe, I will bring you news of Leoline before you are
two hours older."

"How am I to know you are not deceiving me, and will not betray
her into the power of the Earl of Rochester - if, indeed, she be
not in his power already."

"She is not in it, and never will be through me! I feel an odd
interest in this matter, and I will be true to you, Sir Norman -
though why I should be, I really don't know. I give you my word
of honor that I will do what I can to find Leoline and restore
her to you; and I have never yet broken my word of honor to any
man," said Hubert, drawing himself up.

"Well, I will trust you, because I cannot do anything better,"
said Sir Norman, rather dolefully; "but why not let me go with

"No, no! that would never do! I must go alone, and you must
trust me implicitly. Give me your hand upon it."

They shook hands silently, went down stairs, and stood for a
moment at the door.

"You'll find me here at any hour between this and morning," said
Sir Norman. "Farewell now, and Heaven speed you!"

The boy waved his hand in adieu, and started off at a sharp pace.
Sir Norman turned in the opposite direction for a short walk, to
cool the fever in his blood, and think over all that had
happened. As be went slowly along, in the shadow of the houses,
he suddenly tripped up over something lying in his path, and was
nearly precipitated over it.

Stooping down to examine the stumbling-block, it proved to be the
rigid body of a man, and that man was Ormiston, stark and dead,
with his face upturned to the calm night-sky.



When Mr. Malcolm Ormiston, with his usual good sense and
penetration, took himself off, and left Leoline and Sir Norman
tete-a-tete, his steps turned as mechanically as the needle to
the North Pole toward La Masque's house. Before it he wandered,
around it he wandered, like an uneasy ghost, lost in speculation
about the hidden face, and fearfully impatient about the flight
of time. If La Masque saw him hovering aloof and unable to tear
himself away, perhaps it might touch her obdurate heart, and
cause her to shorten the dreary interval, and summon him to her
presence at once. Just then some one opened the door, and his
heart began to beat with anticipation; some one pronounced his
name, and, going over, he saw the animated bag of bones -
otherwise his lady-love's vassal and porter.

"La Masque says," began the attenuated lackey, and Ormiston's
heart nearly jumped out of his mouth, "that she can't have
anybody hanging about her house like its shadow; and she wants
you to go away, and keep away, till the time comes she has

So saying the skeleton shut the door, and Ormiston's heart went
down to zero. There being nothing for it but obedience, however,
he slowly and reluctantly turned away, feeling in his bones, that
if ever he came to the bliss and ecstasy of calling La Masque
Mrs. Ormiston, the gray mare in his stable would be by long odds
the better horse. Unintentionally his steps turned to the
water-side, and he descended the flight of stairs, determined to
get into a boat and watch the illumination from the river.

Late as was the hour, the Thames seemed alive with wherries and
barges, and their numerous lights danced along the surface like
fire-flies over a marsh. A gay barge, gilded and cushioned, was
going slowly past; and as he stood directly under the lamp, he
was recognized by a gentleman within it, who leaned over and
hailed him

"Ormiston! I say, Ormiston!"

"Well, my lord," said Ormiston, recognizing the handsome face and
animated voice of the Earl of Rochester.

"Have you any engagement for the next half-hour? If not, do me
the favor to take a seat here, and watch London in flames from
the river."

"With all my heart," said Ormiston, running down to the water's
edge, and leaping into the boat. "With all this bustle of life
around here, one would think it were noonday instead of

"The whole city is astir about these fires. Have you any idea
they will be successful?"

"Not the least. You know, my lord, the prediction runs, that the
plague will rage till the living are no longer able to bury the

"It will soon come to that," said the earl shuddering slightly,
"if it continues increasing much longer as it does now daily.
How do the bills of mortality ran to-day?"

"I have not heard. Hark! There goes St. Paul's tolling twelve."

"And there goes a flash of fire - the first among many. Look,
look! How they spring up into the black darkness."

"They will not do it long. Look at the sky, my lord."

The earl glanced up at the midnight sky, of a dull and dingy red
color, except where black and heavy clouds were heaving like
angry billows, all dingy with smoke and streaked with bars of
fiery red.

"I see! There is a storm coming, and a heavy one! Our worthy
burghers and most worshipful Lord Mayor will see their fires
extinguished shortly, and themselves sent home with wet jackets."

"And for weeks, almost month, there has not fallen a drop of
rain," remarked Ormiston, gravely.

"A remarkable coincidence, truly. There seems to be a fatality
hanging over this devoted city."

"I wonder your lordship remains?"

The earl shrugged his shoulders significantly.

"It is not so easy leaving it as you think, Mr. Ormiston; but I
am to turn my back to it to-morrow for a brief period. You are
aware, I suppose, that the court leaves before daybreak for

"I believe I have heard something of it - how long to remain?"

"Till Charles takes it into his head to come back again," said
the earl, familiarly, "which will probably be in a week or two.
Look at that sky, all black and scarlet; and look at those people
- I scarcely thought there were half the number left alive in

"Even the sick have come out to-night," said Ormiston. "Half the
pest-stricken in the city have left their beds, full of newborn
hope. One would think it were a carnival."

"So it is - a carnival of death! I hope, Ormiston," said the
earl, looking at him with a light laugh, "the pretty little white
fairy we rescued from the river is not one of the sick parading
the streets."

Ormiston looked grave.

"No, my lord, I think she is not. I left her safe and secure."

"Who is she, Ormiston?" coaxed the earl, laughingly. "Pshaw,
man! don't make a mountain out of a mole-hill! Tell me her

"Her name is Leoline."

"What else?"

"That is just what I would like to have some one tell me. I give
you my honor, my lord, I do not know."

The earl's face, half indignant, half incredulous, wholly
curious, made Ormiston smile.

"It is a fact, my lord. I asked her her name, and she told me
Leoline - a pretty title enough, but rather unsatisfactory."

"How long have you known her?"

"To the best of my belief," said Ormiston, musingly, "about four

"Nonsense!" cried the earl, energetically. "What are you telling
me, Ormiston? You said she was an old friend."

"I beg your pardon, my lord, I said no such thing. I told you
she had escaped from her friends, which was strictly true."

"Then how the demon had you the impudence to come up and carry
her off in that style? I certainly had a better right to her
than you - the right of discovery; and I shall call upon you to
deliver her up!"

"If she belonged to me I should only be too happy to oblige your
lordship," laughed Ormiston; "but she is at present the property
of Sir Norman Kingsley, and to him you must apply."

"Ah! His inamorata, in she? Well, I must say his taste is
excellent; but I should think you ought to know her name, since
you and he are noted for being a modern Damon and Pythias."

"Probably I should, my lord, only Sir Norman, unfortunately, does
not know himself."

The earl's countenance looked so utterly blank at this
announcement, that Ormiston was forced to throw in a word of

"I mean to say, my lord, that he has fallen in love with her;
and, judging from appearances, I should say his flame is not
altogether hopeless, although they have met to-night for the
first time."

"A rapid passion. Where have you left her, Ormiston?"

"In her own house, my lord," Ormiston replied, smiling quietly to

"Where is that?"

"About a dozen yards from where I stood when you called me."

"Who are her family?" continued the earl, who seemed possessed of
a devouring curiosity.

"She has none that I know of. I imagine Mistress Leoline is an
orphan. I know there was not a living soul but ourselves in the
house I brought her to."

"And you left her there alone?" exclaimed the earl, half starting
up, an if about to order the boatman to row back to the landing.

Ormiston looked at his excited face with a glance full of quiet

"No, my lord, not quits; Sir Norman Kingsley was with her!"

"Oh!" said the earl, smiling back with a look of chagrin. "Then
he will probably find out her name before he comes away. I
wonder you could give her up so easily to him, after all your

"Smitten, my lord?" inquired Ormiston, maliciously.

"Hopelessly!" replied the earl, with a deep sigh. "She was a
perfect little beauty; and if I can find her, I warn Sir Norman
Kingsley to take care! I have already sent Hubert out in search
of her; and, by the way," said the earl, with a sudden increase
of animation, "what a wonderful resemblance she bears to Hubert -
I could almost swear they were one and the same!"

"The likeness is marvelous; but I should hate to take such an
oath. I confess I am somewhat curious myself; but I stand no
chance of having it gratified before to-morrow, I suppose."

"How those fires blaze! It is much brighter than at noon-day.
Show me the house in which Leoline lies?".

Ormiston easily pointed it out, and showed the earl the light
still burning in her window.

"It was in that room we found her first, dead of the plague!"

"Dead of the what?" cried the earl, aghast.

"Dead of the plague! I'll tell your lordship how it was," said
Ormiston, who forthwith commend and related the story of their
finding Leoline; of the resuscitation at the plague-pit; of the
flight from Sir Norman's house, and of the delirious plunge into
the river, and miraculous cure.

"A marvelous story," commented the earl, much interested. "And
Leoline seems to have as many lives as a cat! Who can she be - a
princess in disguise - eh, Ormiston?"

"She looks fit to be a princess, or anything else; but your
lordship knows as much about her, now, as I do."

"You say she was dressed as a bride - how came that?"

"Simply enough. She was to be married to-night, had she not
taken the plague instead."

"Married? Why, I thought you told me a few minutes ago she was
in love with Kingsley. It seems to me, Mr. Ormiston, your
remarks are a trifle inconsistent," said the earl, in a tone of
astonished displeasure.

"Nevertheless, they are all perfectly true. Mistress Leoline was
to be married, as I told you; but she was to marry to please her
friends, and not herself. She had been in the habit of watching
Kingsley go past her window; and the way she blushed, and went
through the other little motions, convinces me that his course of
true love will ran as smooth as this glassy river runs at

"Kingsley is a lucky fellow. Will the discarded suitor have no
voice in the matter; or is he such a simpleton as to give her up
at a word?"

Ormiston laughed.

"Ah! to be sure; what will the count say? And, judging from some
things I've heard, I should say he is violently in love with

"Count who?" asked Rochester. "Or has he, like his ladylove, no
other name?"

"Oh, no! The name of the gentleman who was so nearly blessed for
life, and missed it, is Count L'Estrange!"

The earl had been lying listlessly back, only half intent upon
his answer, as he watched the fire; but now he sprang sharply up,
and stared Ormiston full in the face.

"Count what did you say?" was his eager question, while his eyes,
more eager than his voice, strove to read the reply before it was

"Count L'Estrange. You know him, my lord?" said Ormiston,

"Ah!" said the earl. And then such a strange meaning smile went
wandering about his face. "I have not said that! So his name is
Count L'Estrange? Well, I don't wonder now at the girl's

The earl sank back to his former nonchalant position and fell for
a moment or two into deep musing; and then, as if the whole thing
struck him in a new and ludicrous light, he broke out into an
immoderate fit of laughter. Ormiston looked at him curiously.

"It is my turn to ask questions, now, my lord. Who is Count

"I know of no such person, Ormiston. I was thinking of something
else! Was it Leoline who told you that was her lover's name?"

No; I heard it by mere accident from another person. I am sure,
if Leoline is not a personage in disguise, he is."

"And why do you think so?"

"An inward conviction, my lord. So you will not tell me who he

"Have I not told you I know of no such person as Count
L'Estrange? You ought to believe me. Oh, here it comes."

This last was addressed to a great drop of rain, which splashed
heavily on his upturned face, followed by another and another in
quick succession.

"The storm is upon us," said the earl, sitting up and wrapping
his cloak closer around him, "and I am for Whitehall. Shall we
land you, Ormiston, or take you there, too?"

"I must land," said Ormiston. "I have a pressing engagement for
the next half-hour. Here it is, in a perfect deluge; the fires
will be out in five minutes."

The barge touched the stairs, and Ormiston sprang out, with
"Good-night" to the earl. The rain was rushing along, now, in
torrents, and he ran upstairs and darted into an archway of the
bridge, to seek the shelter. Some one else had come there before
him, in search of the same thing; for he saw two dark figures
standing within it as he entered.

"A sudden storm," was Ormiston's salutation, "and a furious one.
There go the fires - hiss and splutter. I knew how it would be."

"Then Saul and Mr. Ormiston are among the prophets?"

Ormiston had heard that voice before; it was associated in his
mind with a slouched hat and shadowy cloak; and by the fast-
fading flicker of the firelight, he saw that both were here. The
speaker wan Count L'Estrange; the figure beside him, slender and
boyish, was unknown.

"You have the advantage of me, sir," he said affecting ignorance.
"May I ask who you are?"

"Certainly. A gentlemen, by courtesy and the grace of God."

"And your name?"

"Count L'Estrange, at your service."

Ormiston lifted his cap and bowed, with a feeling somehow, that
the count was a man in authority.

"Mr. Ormiston assisted in doing a good deed, tonight, for a
friend of mine," said the count.

"Will he add to that obligation by telling me if he has not
discovered her again, and brought her back?"

"Do you refer to the fair lady in yonder house?"

"So she is there? I thought so, George," said the count,
addressing himself to his companion. "Yes, I refer to her, the
lady you saved from the river. You brought her there?"

"I brought her there," replied Ormiston.

"She is there still?"

"I presume so. I have heard nothing to the contrary."

"And alone?"

"She may be, now. Sir Norman Kingsley was with her when I left
her," said Ormiston, administering the fact with infinite relish.

There was a moment's silence. Ormiston could not see the count's
face; but, judging from his own feelings, he fancied its
expression must be sweet. The wild rush of the storm alone broke
the silence, until the spirit again moved the count to speak.

"By what right does Sir Norman Kingsley visit her?" he inquired,
in a voice betokening not the least particle of emotion.

"By the best of rights - that of her preserver, hoping soon to be
her lover."

There was an other brief silence, broken again by the count, in
the same composed tone:

"Since the lady holds her levee so late, I, too, must have a word
with her, when this deluge permits one to go abroad without
danger of drowning."

"It shown symptoms of clearing off, already," said Ormiston, who,
in his secret heart, thought it would be an excellent joke to
bring the rivals face to face in the lady's presence; "so you
will not have long to wait."

To which observation the count replied not; and the three stood
in silence, watching the fury of the storm.

Gradually it cleared away; and as the moon began to straggle out
between the rifts in the clouds, the count saw something by her
pale light that Ormiston saw not. That latter gentleman,
standing with his back to the house of Leoline, and his face
toward that of La Masque, did not observe the return of Sir
Norman from St. Paul's, nor look after him as he rode away. But
the count did both; and ten minutes after, when the rain had
entirely ceased, and the moon and stars got the better of the
clouds in their struggle for supremacy, he beheld La Masque
flitting like a dark shadow in the same direction, and vanishing
in at Leoline's door. The same instant, Ormiston started to go.

"The storm has entirely ceased," he said, stepping out, and with
the profound air of one making a new discovery, "and we are
likely to have fine weather for the remainder of the night - or
rather, morning. Good night, count."

"Farewell," said the count, as he and, his companion came out
from the shadow of the archway, and turned to follow La Masque.

Ormiston, thinking the hour of waiting had elapsed, and feeling
much more interested in the coming meeting than in Leoline or her
visitors, paid very little attention to his two acquaintances.
He saw them, it is true, enter Leoline's house, but at the same
instant, he took up his post at La Masque's doorway, and
concentrated his whole attention on that piece of architecture.
Every moment seemed like a week now; and before he had stood at
his post five minutes, he had worked himself up into a perfect
fever of impatience. Sometimes he was inclined to knock and seek
La Masque in her own home; but as often the fear of a chilling
rebuke paralyzed his hand when he raised it. He was so sure she
was within the house, that he never thought of looking for her
elsewhere; and when, at the expiration of what seemed to him a
century or two, but which in reality was about a quarter of an
hour, there was a soft rustling of drapery behind him, and the
sweetest of voices sounded in his ear, it fairly made him bound.

"Here again, Mr. Ormiston? Is this the fifth or sixth time I've
found you in this place to-night?"

"La Masque!" he cried, between joy and surprise. "But surely, I
was not totally unexpected this time?"

"Perhaps not. You are waiting here for me to redeem my promise,
I suppose?"

"Can you doubt it? Since I knew you first, I have desired this
hour as the blind desire sight."

"Ah! And you will find it as sweet to look back upon as you have
to look forward to," said La Masque, derisively. "If you are
wise for yourself, Mr. Ormiston, you will pause here, and give me
back that fatal word."

"Never, madame! And surely you will not be so pitilessly cruel
as to draw back, now?"

"No, I have promised, and I shall perform; and let the
consequences be what they may, they will rest upon your own head.
You have been warned, and you still insist."

"I still insist!"

"Then let us move farther over here into the shadow of the houses;
this moonlight is so dreadfully bright!"

They moved on into the deep shadow, and there was a pulse
throbbing in Ormiston's head and heart like the beating of a
muffed drum. They paused and faced each other silently.

"Quick, madame!" cried Ormiston, hoarsely, his whole face flushed

His strange companion lifted her hand as if to remove the mask,
and he saw that it shook like an aspen. She made one motion as
though about to lift it, and then recoiled, as if from herself,
in a sort of horror.

"My God! What is this man urging me to do? How can I ever
fulfill that fatal promise?"

"Madame, you torture me!" said Ormiston, whose face showed what
he felt. "You must keep your promise; so do not drive me wild
waiting. Let me - "

He took a step toward her, as if to lift the mask himself, but
she held out both arms to keep him off.

"No, no, no! Come not near me, Malcolm Ormiston! Fated man,
since you will rush on your doom, Look! and let the sight blast
you, if it will!"

She unfastened her mask, raised it, and with it the profusion of
long, sweeping black hair.

Ormiston did look - in much the same way, perhaps, that Zulinka
looked at the Veiled Prophet. The next moment there was a
terrible cry, and he fell headlong with a crash, as if a bullet
had whined through his hart.



I am not aware whether fainting was as much the fashion among the
fair sex, in the days (or rather the nights) of which I have the
honor to hold forth, as at the present time; but I am inclined to
think not, from the simple fact that Leoline, though like John
Bunyan, "grievously troubled and tossed about in her mind," did
nothing of the kind. For the first few moments, she was
altogether too stunned by the suddenness of the shock to cry out
or make the least resistance, and was conscious of nothing but of
being rapidly borne along in somebody's arms. When this hazy
view of things passed away, her new sensation was, the intensely
uncomfortable one of being on the verge of suffocation. She made
one frantic but futile effort to free herself and scream for
help, but the strong arms held her with most loving tightness,
and her cry was drowned in the hot atmosphere within the shawl,
and never passed beyond it. Most assuredly Leoline would have
been smothered then and there, had their journey been much
longer; but, fortunately for her, it was only the few yards
between her house and the river. She knew she was then carried
down some steps, and she heard the dip of the oars in the water,
and then her bearer paused, and went through a short dialogue
with somebody else - with Count L'Estrange, she rather felt than
knew, for nothing was audible but a low murmur. The only word
she could make out was a low, emphatic "Remember!" in the count's
voice, and then she knew she was in a boat, and that it was
shoved off, and moving down the rapid river. The feeling of heat
and suffocation was dreadful and as her abductor placed her on
some cushions, she made another desperate but feeble effort to
free herself from the smothering shawl, but a hand was laid
lightly on hers, and a voice interposed.

"Lady, it is quite useless for you to struggle, as you are
irrevocably in my power, but if you will promise faithfully not
to make any outcry, and will submit to be blindfolded, I shall
remove this oppressive muffling from your head. Tell me if you
will promise."

He had partly raised the shawl, and a gush of free air came
revivingly in, and enabled Leoline to gasp out a faint "I
promise!" As she spoke, it was lifted off altogether, and she
caught one bright fleeting glimpse of the river, sparkling and
silvery in the moonlight; of the bright blue sky, gemmed with
countless stars, and of some one by her side in the dress of a
court-page, whose face was perfectly unknown to her. The next
instant, a bandage was bound tightly over her eyes, excluding
every ray of light, while the strange voice again spoke

"Pardon, lady, but it is my orders! I am commanded to treat you
with every respect, but not to let you see where you are borne

"By what right does Count L'Estrange commit this outrage!" began
Leoline, almost as imperiously as Miranda herself, and making use
of her tongue, like a true woman, the very first moment it was at
her disposal. "How dare he carry me off in this atrocious way?
Whoever you are, sir, if you have the spirit of a man, you will
bring me directly back to my own house

"I am very sorry, lady, but I have received orders that must be
obeyed! You must come with me, but you need fear nothing; you
will be an safe and secure as in your own home."

"Secure enough, no doubt!" paid Leoline, bitterly. "I never did
like Count L'Estrange, but I never knew he was a coward and a
villain till now!"

Her companion made no reply to this forcible address, and there
was a moment's indignant silence on Leoline's part, broken only
by the dip of the oars, and the rippling of the water. Then

"Will you not tell me, at least, where you are taking me to?"
haughtily demanded Leoline.

"Lady, I cannot! It was to prevent you knowing, that you have
been blindfolded."

"Oh! your master has a faithful servant, I see! How long am I to
be kept a prisoner?"

"I do not know."

"Where is Count L'Estrange?"

"I cannot tell."

"Where am I to see him?"

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