Part 5 out of 6
"I cannot say."
"Ha!" said Leoline, with infinite contempt, and turning her back
upon him she relapsed into gloomy silence. It had all been so
sudden, and had taken her so much by surprise, that she had not
had time to think of the consequences until now. But now they
came upon her with a rush, and with dismal distinctness; and most
distinct among all was, what would Sir Norman say! Of course,
with all a lover's impatience, he would be at his post by
sunrise, would come to look for his bride, and find himself sold!
By that time she would be far enough away, perhaps a melancholy
corpse (and at this dreary passage in her meditations, Leoline
sighed profoundly), and he would never know what had become of
her, or how much and how long she had loved him. And this
hateful Count L'Estrange, what did he intend to do with her?
Perhaps go so far as to make her marry him, and imprison her with
the rest of his wives; for Leoline was prepared to think the very
worst of the count, and had not the slightest doubt that he
already had a harem full of abducted wives, somewhere. But no -
he never could do that, he might do what he liked with weaker
minds, but she never would be a bride of his while the plague or
poison was to be had in London. And with this invincible
determination rooted fixedly, not to say obstinately, in her
mind, she was nearly pitched overboard by the boat suddenly
landing at some unexpected place. A little natural scream of
terror was repressed on her lips by a hand being placed over
them, and the determined but perfectly respectful tones of the
person beside her speaking.
"Remember your promise, lady, and do not make a noise. We have
arrived at our journey's end, and if you will take my arm, I will
lead you along, instead of carrying you."
Leoline was rather surprised to find the journey so short, but
she arose directly, with silence and dignity - at least with as
much of the latter commodity as could be reasonably expected,
considering that boats on water are rather unsteady things to be
dignified in - and was led gently and with care out of the
swaying vessel, and up another flight of stairs. Then, in a few
moments, she was conscious of passing from the free night air
into the closer atmosphere of a house; and in going through an
endless labyrinth of corridors, and passages, and suites of
rooms, and flights of stairs, until she became so extremely
tired, that she stopped with spirited abruptness, and in the
plainest possible English, gave her conductor to understand that
they had gone about far enough for all practical purposes. To
which that patient and respectful individual replied that he was
glad to inform her they had but a few more steps to go, which the
next moment proved to be true, for he stopped and announced that
their promenade was over for the night.
"And I suppose I may have the use of my eyes at last?" inquired
Leoline, with more haughtiness than Sir Norman could have
believed possible so gentle a voice could have expressed.
For reply, her companion rapidly untied the bandage, and withdrew
it with a flourish. The dazzling brightness that burst upon her,
so blinded her, that for a moment she could distinguish nothing;
and when she looked round to contemplate her companion, she found
him hurriedly making his exit, and securely locking the door.
The sound of the key turning in the lock gave her a most peculiar
sensation, which none but those who have experienced it can
properly understand. It is not the most comfortable feeling in
the world to know you are a prisoner, even if you have no key
turned upon you but the weather, and your jailer be a high east
wind and lashing rain. Leoline's prison and jailer were
something worse; and, for the first time, a chill of fear and
dismay crept icily to the core of her heart. But Leoline had
something of Miranda's courage, as well as her looks and temper;
so she tried to feel as brave as possible, and not think of her
unpleasant predicament while there remained anything else to
think about. Perhaps she might escape, too; and, as this notion
struck her, she looked with eager anxiety, not unmixed with
curiosity, at the place where she was. By this time, her eyes
had been accustomed to the light, which proceeded from a great
antique lamp of bronze, pendent by a brass chain from the
ceiling; and she saw she was in a moderately sized and by no
means splendid room. But what struck her most was, that
everything had a look of age about it, from the glittering oak
beams of the floor to the faded ghostly hangings on the wall.
There was a bed at one end - a great spectral ark of a thing,
like a mausoleum, with drapery as old and spectral as that on the
walls, and in which she could no more have lain than in a moth-
eaten shroud. The seats and the one table the room held were of
the same ancient and weird pattern, and the sight of them gave
her a shivering sensation not unlike an ague chill. There was
but one door - a huge structure, with shining panels, securely
locked; and escape from that quarter was utterly out of the
question. There was one window, hung with dark curtains of
tarnished embroidery, but in pushing them aside, she met only a
dull blank of unlighted glass, for the shutters were firmly
secured without. Altogether, she could not form the slightest
idea where she was; and, with a feeling of utter despair, she sat
down on one of the queer old chairs, with much the same feeling
as if she were sitting in a tomb.
What would Sir Norman say? What would he ever think of her, when
he found her gone. And what was destined to be her fate in this
dreadful out-of-the-way place? She would have cried, as most of
her sex would be tempted to do in such a situation, but that her
dislike and horror of Count L'Estrange was a good deal stronger
than her grief, and turned her tears to sparks of indignant fire.
Never, never, never! would she be his wife! He might kill her a
thousand times, if he liked, and she wouldn't yield an inch. She
did not mind dying in a good cause; she could do it but once.
And with Sir Norman despising her, as she felt he must do, when
he found her run away, she rather liked the idea than otherwise.
Mentally, she bade adieu to all her friends before beginning to
prepare for her melancholy fate - to her handsome lover, to his
gallant friend Ormiston, to her poor nurse, Prudence, and to her
mysterious visitor, La Masque.
La Masque! Ah! that name awoke a new chord of recollection - the
casket, she had it with her yet. Instantly, everything was
forgotten but it and its contents; and she placed a chair
directly under the lamp, drew it out, and looked at it. It was a
pretty little bijou itself, with its polished ivory surface, and
shining clasps of silver. But the inside had far more interest
for her than the outside, and she fitted the key and unlocked it
with a trembling hand. It was lined with azure velvet, wrought
with silver thread, in dainty wreathe of water lilies; and in the
bottom, neatly folded, lay a sheet of foolscap. She opened it
with nervous haste; it was a common sheet enough, stamped with
fool's cap and bells, that showed it belonged to Cromwell's time.
It was closely written, in a light, fair hand, and bore the title
Leoline's hand trembled so with eagerness, she could scarcely
hold the paper; but her eye rapidly ran from line to line, and
she stopped not till she reached the end. While she read, her
face alternately flushed and paled, her eyes dilated, her lips
parted; and before she finished it, there came over all a look of
the most unutterable horror. It dropped from her powerless
fingers as she finished; and she sank back in her chair with such
a ghastly paleness, that it seemed absolutely like the lividness
A sudden and startling noise awoke her from her trance of horror
- some one trying to get in at the window! The chill of terror
it sent through every vein acted as a sort of counter-irritant to
the other feeling, and she sprang from her chair and turned her
face fearfully toward the sounds. But in all her terror she did
not forget the mysterious sheet of foolscap, which lay, looking
up at her, on the floor; and she snatched it up, and thrust it
and the casket out of sight. Still the sounds went on, but
softly and cautiously; and at intervals, as if the worker were
afraid of being heard. Leoline went back, step by step, to the
other extremity of the room, with her eyes still fixed on the
window, and on her face a white terror, that left her perfectly
Who could it be? Not Count L'Estrange, for he would surely not
need to enter his own house like a burglar - not Sir Norman
Kingsley, for he could certainly not find out her abduction and
her prison so soon, and she had no other friends in the whole
wide world to trouble themselves about her. There was one, but
the idea of ever seeing her again was so unspeakably dreadful,
that she would rather have seen the most horrible spectre her
imagination could conjure up, than that tall, graceful,
Still the noises perseveringly continued; there was the sound of
withdrawing bolts, and then a pale ray of moonlight shot between
the parted curtains, shoving the shutters had been opened.
Whiter and whiter Leoline grew, and she felt herself growing cold
and rigid with mortal fear. Softly the window was raised, a hand
stole in and parted the curtains, and a pale face and two great
dark eyes wandered slowly round the room, and rested at last on
her, standing, like a galvanized corpse, as far from the window
as the wall would permit. The hand was lifted in a warning
gesture, as if to enforce silence; the window was raised still
higher, a figure, lithe and agile as a cat, sprang lightly into
the room, and standing with his back to her, re-closed the
shutters, re-shut the window, and re-drew the curtains, before
taking the trouble to turn round.
This discreet little manoeuvre, which showed her visitor was
human, and gifted with human prudence, re-assured Leoline a
little; and, to judge by the reverse of the medal, the nocturnal
intruder was nothing very formidable after all. But the stranger
did not keep her long in suspense; while she stood gazing at him,
as if fascinated, he turned round, stepped forward, took off his
cap, made her a courtly bow, and then straightening himself up,
prepared, with great coolness, to scrutinize and be scrutinized.
Well might they look at each other; for the two faces were
perfectly the same, and each one saw himself and herself as
others saw them. There was the same coal-black, curling hair;
the same lustrous dark eyes; the same clear, colorless
complexion, the same delicate, perfect features; nothing was
different but the costume and the expression. That latter was
essentially different, for the young lady's betrayed amazement,
terror, doubt, and delight all at once; while the young
gentleman's was a grand, careless surprise, mixed with just a
dash of curiosity.
He was the first to speak; and after they had stared at each
other for the space of five minutes, he described a graceful
sweep with his hand, and held forth in the following strain
"I greatly fear, fair Leoline, that I have startled you by my
sudden and surprising entrance; and if I have been the cause of a
moment's alarm to one so perfectly beautiful, I shall hate myself
for ever after. If I could have got in any other way, rest
assured I would not have risked my neck and your peace of mind by
such a suspicious means of ingress as the window; but if you will
take the trouble to notice, the door is thick, and I am composed
of too solid flesh to whisk through the keyhole; so I had to make
my appearance the best way I could."
"Who are you?" faintly asked Leoline.
"Your friend, fair lady, and Sir Norman Kingsley's."
Hubert looked to see Leoline start and blush, and was deeply
gratified to see her do both; and her whole pretty countenance
became alive with new-born hope, as if that name were a magic
talisman of freedom and joy.
"What is your name, and who are you?" she inquired, in a
breathless sort of way, that made Hubert look at her a moment in
"I have told you your friend; christened at some remote period,
Hubert. For further particulars, apply to the Earl of Rochester,
whose page I am."
"The Earl of Rochester's page!" she repeated, in the same quick,
excited way, that surprised and rather lowered her in that good
youth's opinion, for giving way to any feelings so plebeian. "It
is - it must be the same!"
"I have no doubt of it," said Hubert. "The same what?"
"Did you not come from France - from Dijon, recently?" went on
Leoline, rather inappositely, as it struck her hearer.
"Certainly I came from Dijon. Had I the honor of being known to
"How strange! How wonderful!" said Leoline, with a paling cheek
and quickened breathing. "How mysterious those things turn out I
Thank Heaven that I have found some one to love at last!"
This speech, which was Greek, algebra, high Dutch, or
thereabouts, to Master Hubert, caused him to stare to such an
extent, that when he came to think of it afterward, positively
shocked him. The two great, wondering dark eyes transfixing her
with so much amazement, brought Leoline to a sense of her talking
unfathomable mysteries, quite incomprehensible to her handsome
auditor. She looked at him with a smile, held out her hand; and
Hubert received a strange little electric thrill, to see that her
eyes were full of tears. He took the hand and raised it to his
lips, wondering if the young lady, struck by his good looks, had
conceived a rash and inordinate attack of love at first sight,
and was about to offer herself to him and discard Sir Norman for
ever. From this speculation, the sweet voice aroused him.
"You have told me who you are. Now, do you know who I am?"
"I hope so, fairest Leoline. I know you are the most beautiful
lady in England, and to-morrow will be called Lady Kingsley!"
"I am something more," said Leoline, holding his hand between
both hers, and bending near him; "I am your sister!"
The Earl of Rochester's page must have had good blood in his
veins; for never was there duke, grandee, or peer of the realm,
more radically and unaffectedly nonchalant than he. To this
unexpected announcement he listened with most dignified and
well-bred composure, and in his secret heart, or rather vanity,
more disappointed than otherwise, to find his first solution of
her tenderness a great mistake. Leoline held his hand tight in
hers, and looked with loving and tearful eyes in his face.
"Dear Hubert, you are my brother - my long-unknown brother, and I
love you with my whole heart!"
"Am I?" said Hubert. "I dare say I am, for they all say we look
as much alike as two peas. I am excessively delighted to hear
it, and to know that you love me. Permit me to embrace my new
With which the court page kissed Leoline with emphasis, while she
scarcely knew whether to laugh, cry, or be provoked at his
composure. On the whole, she did a little of all three, and
pushed him away with a halt pout.
"You insensible mortal! How can you stand there and hear that
you have found a sister with so much indifference?"
"Indifferent? Not I! You have no idea how wildly excited I am!"
said Hubert, in a voice not betokening the slightest emotion.
"How did you find it out, Leoline?"
"Never mind! I shall tell you that again. You don't doubt it, I
"Of course not! I knew from the first moment I set eyes on you,
that if you were not my sister, you ought to be! I wish you'd
tell me all the particulars, Leoline."
"I shall do so as soon as I am out of this; but how can I tell
you anything here?"
"That's true!" said Hubert, reflectively. "Well, I'll wait.
Now, don't you wonder how I found you out, and came here?"
"Indeed I do. How was it, Hubert?"
"Oh, well, I don't know as I can altogether tell you; but you
see, Sir Norman Kingsley being possessed of an inspiration that
something was happening to you, came to your house a short time
ago, and, as he suspected, discovered that you were missing. I
met him there, rather depressed in his mind about it, and he told
me - beginning the conversation, I must say, in a very excited
manner," said Hubert, parenthetically, as memory recalled the
furious shaking he had undergone - "and he told me he fancied you
were abducted, and by one Count L'Estrange. Now I had a hazy
idea who Count L'Estrange was, and where he would be most apt to
take you to; and so I came here, and after some searching, more
inquiring, and a few unmitigated falsehoods (you'll regret to
hear), discovered you were locked up in this place, and succeeded
in getting in through the window. Sir Norman is waiting for me
in a state of distraction so now, having found you, I will go and
relieve his mind by reporting accordingly."
"And leave me here?" cried Leoline, in affright, "and in the
power of Count L'Estrange? Oh! no, no! You must take me with
"My dear Leoline, it is quite impossible to do it without help,
and without a ladder. I will return to Sir Norman; and when the
darkness comes that precedes day-dawn, we will raise the ladder
to your window, and try to get you out. Be patient - only wait
an hour or two, and then you will be free."
"But, O Hubert, where am I? What dreadful place it this?"
"Why, I do not know that this is a very dreadful place; and most
people consider it a sufficiently respectable house; but, still,
I would rather see my sister anywhere else than in it, and will
take the trouble of kidnapping her out of it as quickly as
"But, Hubert, tell me - do tell me, who is Count L'Estrange?"
"Cannot, really, Leoline! at least, not until to-morrow, and you
are Lady Kingsley."
"But, what if he should come here to-night?"
"I do not think there is much danger of that, but whether he does
or not, rest assured you shall be free to-morrow! At all events,
it is quite impossible for you to escape with me now; and even as
it is, I run the risk of being detected, and made a prisoner,
myself. You must be patient and wait, Leoline, and trust to
Providence and your brother Hubert!"
"I must, I suppose!" said Leoline, sighing, "and you cannot take
me away until day-dawn."
"Quite impossible; and then all this drapery of yours will be
ever so much in the way. Would you object to garments like
these?" pointing to his doublet and hose. "If you would not, I
think I could procure you a fit-out."
"But I should, though!" said Leoline, with spirit "and most
decidedly, too! I shall wear nothing of the kind, Sir Page!"
"Every one to her fancy!" said Hubert, with a French shrug, "and
my pretty sister shall have hers in spite of earth, air, fire,
and water! And now, fair Leoline, for a brief time, adieu, and
au revoir !"
"You will not fail me!" exclaimed Leoline, earnestly, clasping
"If I do, it shall be the last thing I will fail in on earth; for
if I am alive by to-morrow morning, Leoline shall be free!"
"And you will be careful - you will both be careful!"
"Excessively careful! Now then."
The last two words were addressed to the window which he
noiselessly opened as he spoke. Leoline caught a glimpse of the
bright free moonlight, and watched him with desperate envy; but
the next moment the shutters were closed, and Hubert and the
moonlight were both gone.
Sir Norman Kingsley's consternation and horror on discovering the
dead body of his friend, was only equalled by his amazement as to
how he got there, or how he came to be dead at all. The livid
face, up turned to the moonlight, was unmistakably the face of a
dead man - it was no swoon, no deception, like Leoline's; for the
blue, ghastly paleness that marks the flight of the soul from the
body was stamped on every rigid feature. Yet, Sir Norman could
not realize it. We all know how hard it is to realize the death
of a friend from whom we have but lately parted in full health
and life, and Ormiston's death was so sudden. Why, it was not
quite two hours since they had parted in Leoline's house, and
even the plague could not carry off a victim as quickly as this.
"Ormiston! Ormiston!" he called, between grief and dismay, as he
raised him in his arms, with his hand over the stilled heart; but
Ormiston answered not, and the heart gave no pulsation beneath
his fingers. He tore open his doublet, as the thought of the
plague flashed through his mind, but no plague-spot was to be
seen, and it was quite evident, from the appearance of the face,
that he had not died of the distemper, neither was there any
wound or mark to show that he had met his end violently. Yet the
cold, white face was convulsed, as if he had died in throes of
agony, the hands were clenched, till the nails sank into the
flesh; and that was the only outward sign or token that he had
suffered in expiring.
Sir Norman was completely at a lose, and half beside himself,
with a thousand conflicting feelings of sorrow, astonishment, and
mystification. The rapid and exciting events of the night had
turned his head into a mental chaos, as they very well might, but
he still had commonsense enough left to know that something must
be done about this immediately. He knew the best place to take
Ormiston was to the nearest apothecary's shop, which
establishments were generally open, and filled, the whole
livelong night, by the sick and their friends. As he was
meditating whether or not to call the surly watchman to help him
carry the body, a pest-cart came, providentially, along, and the
driver-seeing a young man bending over a prostrate form-guessed
at once what was the matter, and came to a halt.
"Another one!" he said, coming leisurely up, and glancing at the
lifeless form with a very professional eye. "Well, I think there
is room for another one in the cart; so bear a hand, friend, and
let us have him out of this."
"You are mistaken!" said Sir Norman sharply, "he has not died of
the plague. I am not even certain whether he is dead at all."
The driver looked at Sir Norman, then stooped down and touched
Ormiston's icy face, and listened to hear him breathe. He stood
up after a moment, with some thing like a small laugh.
"If he's alive," he said, turning to go, "then I never saw any
one dead! Good night, sir, I wish you joy when you bring him
"Stay!" exclaimed the young man, "I wish you to assist me in
bringing him to yonder apothecary's shop, and you may have this
for your pains."
"This" proved to be a talisman of alacrity; for the man pocketed
it, and briskly laid hold of Ormiston by the feet, while Sir
Norman wrapped his cloak reverently about him and took him by the
shoulders. In this style his body was conveyed to the
apothecary's shop which they found half full of applicants for
medicine, among whom their entrance with the corpse produced no
greater sensation than a momentary stare. The attire and bearing
of Sir Norman proving him to be something different from their
usual class of visitors, bringing one of the drowsy apprentices
immediately to his side, inquiring what were his orders.
"A private room, and your master's attendance directly," was the
Both were to be had; the former, a hole in the wall behind the
shop; the latter, a pallid, cadaverous-looking person, with the
air of one who had been dead a week, thought better of it and
rose again. There was a long table in the aforesaid hole in the
wall, bearing a strong family likeness to a dissecting-table;
upon which the stark figure was laid, and the pest-cart driver
disappeared. The apothecary held a mirror close to the, face;
applied his ear to the pulse and heart; held a pocket-mirror over
his mouth, looked at it; shook his head; and set down the candle
"The man is dead, sir!" was his criticism, "dead as a door nail!
All the medicine in the shop wouldn't kindle one spark of life in
"At least, try! Try something - bleeding for instance,"
suggested Sir Norman.
Again the apothecary examined the body, and again he shook his
"It's no use, sir: but, if it will please, you can try."
The right arm was bared; the lancet inserted, one or two black
drops sluggishly followed and nothing more.
"It's all a waste of time, you see," remarked the apothecary,
wiping his dreadful little weapon, "he's as dead as ever I saw
anybody in my life! How did he come to his end, sir - not by the
"I don't know," said Sir Norman, gloomily. "I wish you would
tell me that."
"Can't do it, sir; my skill doesn't extend that far. There is no
plague-spot or visible wound or bruise on the person; so he must
have died of some internal complaint - probably disease of the
"Never knew him to have such a thing," said Sir Norman, sighing.
"It is very mysterious and very dreadful, and notwithstanding all
you have said, I cannot believe him dead. Can he not remain here
until morning, at least?"
The starved apothecary looked at him out of a pair of hollow,
"Gold can do anything," was his plaintive reply.
"I understand. You shall have it. Are you sure you can do
nothing more for him?"
"Nothing whatever, sir; and excuse me, but there are customers in
the shop, and I must leave, sir."
Which he did, accordingly; and Sir Norman was left alone with all
that remained of him who, two hours before, was his warm friend.
He could scarcely believe that it was the calm majesty of death
that so changed the expression of that white face, and yet, the
longer he looked, the more deeply an inward conviction assured
him that it was so. He chafed the chilling hands and face, he
applied hartshorn and burnt feathers to the nostrils, but all
these applications, though excellent in their way, could not
exactly raise the dead to life, and, in this case, proved a
signal, failure. He gave up his doctoring, at last, in despair,
and folding his arms, looked down at what lay on the table, and
tried to convince himself that it was Ormiston. So absorbed was
he in the endeavor, that he heeded not the passing moments, until
it struck him with a shock that Hubert might even now be waiting
for him at the trysting-place, with news of Leoline. Love is
stronger than friendship, stronger than grief, stronger than
death, stronger than every other feeling in the world; so he
suddenly seized his bat, turned his back on Ormiston and the
apothecary's shop, and strode oft to the place he had quitted.
No Hubert was there, but two figures were passing slowly along in
the moonlight, and one of them he recognized, with an impulse to
spring at him like a tiger and strangle him. But he had been so
shocked and subdued by his recent discovery, that the impulse
which, half an hour before, would have been unhesitatingly
obeyed, went for nothing, now; and there was more of reproach,
even, than anger in his voice, as he went over and laid his hand
on the shoulder of one of them.
"Stay!" he said. "One word with you, Count L'Estrange. What
have you done with Leoline!"
"Ah! Sir Norman, as I live!" cried the count wheeling round and
lifting his hat. "Give me good even - or rather, good morning -
Kingsley, for St. Paul's has long gone the midnight hour."
Sir Norman, with his hand still on his shoulder, returned not the
courtesy, and regarding the gallant count with a stern eye.
"Where is Leoline?" he frigidly repeated.
"Really," said the count, with some embarrassment, "you attack me
so unexpectedly, and so like a ghost or a highwayman - by the way
I have a word to say to you about highwaymen, and was seeking you
to say it."
"Where is Leoline?" shouted the exasperated young knight,
releasing his shoulder, and clutching him by the throat. "Tell
me or, by Heaven! I'll pitch you neck and heels into the Thames!"
Instantly the sword of the count's companion flashed in the
moonlight, and, in two seconds more, its blue blade would have
ended the earthly career of Sir Norman Kingsley, had not the
count quickly sprang back, and made a motion for his companion to
"Wait!" he cried, commandingly, with his arm outstretched to
each. "Keep off! George, sheathe your sword and stand aside.
Sir Norman Kingsley, one word with you, and be it in peace."
"There can be no peace between us," replied that aggravated young
gentleman, fiercely "until you tell me what has become of
"All in good time. We have a listener, and does it mot strike
you our conference should be private!"
"Public or private, it matters not a jot, so that you tell me
what you've done with Leoline," replied Sir Norman, with whom it
was evident getting beyond this question was a moral and physical
impossibility. "And if you do not give an account of yourself,
I'll run you through as sure as your name is Count L'Estrange!"
A strange sort of smile came over the face of the count at this
direful threat, as if he fancied in that case, he was safe
enough; but Sir Norman, luckily, did not see it, and heard only
the suave reply:
"Certainly, Sir Norman; I shall be delighted to do so. Let us
stand over there in the shadow of that arch; and, George, do you
remain here within call."
The count blandly waved Sir Norman to follow, which Sir Norman
did, with much the mein of a sulky lion; and, a moment after,
both were facing each other within the archway.
"Well!" cried the young knight, impatiently; "I am waiting. Go
"My dear Kingsley," responded the count, in his easy way, "I
think you are laboring under a little mistake. I have nothing to
go on about; it is you who are to begin the controversy."
"Do you dare to play with me?" exclaimed Sir Norman, furiously.
"I tell you to take care how you speak! What have you done with
"That is the fourth or fifth time that you've asked me that
question," said the count, with provoking indifference. "What do
you imagine I have done with her?"
Sir Norman's feelings, which had been rising ever since their
meeting, got up to such a height at this aggravating question,
that he gave vent to an oath, and laid his hand on him sword; but
the count's hand lightly interposed before it came out.
"Not yet, Sir Norman. Be calm; talk rationally. What do you
accuse me of doing with Leoline?"
"Do you dare deny having carried her off?"
"Deny it? No; I am never afraid to father my own deeds."
"Ah!" said Sir Norman grinding his teeth. "Then you acknowledge
"I acknowledge it - yes. What next?"
The perfect composure of his tone fell like a cool, damp towel on
the fire of Sir Norman's wrath. It did not quite extinguish the
flame, however - only quenched it a little - and it still hissed
"And you dare to stand before me and acknowledge such an act?"
exclaimed Sir Norman, perfectly astounded at the cool assurance
of the man.
"Verily, yea," said the count, laughing. "I seldom take the
trouble to deny my acts. What next?"
"There is nothing next," said Sir Norman, severely, "until we
have come to a proper understanding about this. Are you aware,
sir, that that lady is my promised bride?"
"No, I do not know that I am. On the contrary, I have an idea
she is mine."
"She was, you mean. You know she was forced into consenting by
yourself and her nurse!"
"Still she consented; and a bond is a bond, and a promise a
promise, all the world over."
"Not with a woman," said Sir Norman, with stern dogmatism. "It
is their privilege to break their promise and change their mind
sixty times an hour, if they choose. Leoline has seen fit to do
both, and has accepted me in your stead; therefore I command you
instantly to give her up!"
"Softly, my friend - softly. How was I to know all this?"
"You ought to have known it!" returned Sir Norman, in the same
dogmatical way; "or if you didn't, you do now; so say no more
about it. Where is she, I tell you?" repeated the young man, in
"Your patience one moment longer, until we see which of us has
the best right to the lady. I have a prior claim."
"A forced one. Leoline does not care a snap far you - and she
"What extraordinary bad taste!" raid the count, thoughtfully.
"Did she tell you that?"
"Yes; she did tell me this, and a great deal more. Come - have
done talking, and tell me where she is, or I'll - "
"Oh, no, you wouldn't!" said the count, teasingly. "Since
matters stand in this light I'll tell you what I'll do. I
acknowledge that I carried off Leoline, viewing her as my
promised bride, and have sent her to my own home in the care of a
trusty messenger, where I give you my word of honor, I have not
been since. She is as safe there, and much safer than in her own
house, until morning, and it would be a pity to disturb her at
this unseasonable hour. When the morning comes, we will both go
to her together - state our rival claims - and whichever one she
decides on accepting, can have her, and end the matter at once."
The count paused and meditated. This proposal was all very
plausible and nice on the surface, but Sir Norman with his usual
penetration and acuteness, looked farther than the surface, and
found a flaw.
"And how am I to know," he asked, doubtingly, "that you will not
go to her to-night and spirit her off where I will never hear of
either of you again?"
"In the very best way in the world: we will not part company
until morning comes, are we at peace?" inquired the count,
smiling and holding out but hand.
"Until then, we will have to be, I suppose," replied Sir Norman,
rather ungraciously taking the hand as if it were red-hot, and
dropping it again. "And we are to stand here and rail at each
other, in the meantime?"
"By no means! Even the most sublime prospect tires when surveyed
too long. There is a little excursion which I would like you to
accompany me on, if you have no objection."
"To the ruin, where you have already been twice to-night."
Sir Norman stared.
"And who told you this fact, Sir Count?"
"Never mind; I have heard it. Would you object to a third
excursion there before morning?"
Again Sir Norman paused and meditated. There was no use in
staying where he was, that would bring him no nearer to Leoline,
and nothing was to be gained by killing the count beyond the mere
transitory pleasure of the thing. On the other hand, he had an
intense and ardent desire to re-visit the ruin, and learn what
had become of Miranda -the only draw-back being that, if they
were found they would both be most assuredly beheaded. Then,
again, there was Hubert.
"Well," inquired the count, as Sir Norman looked up.
"I have no objection to go with you to the ruin," was the reply,
"only this; if we are seen there, we will be dead men two minutes
after; and I have no desire to depart this life until I have had
that promised interview with Leoline."
"I have thought of that," said the count, "and have provided for
it. We may venture in the lion's den without the slightest
danger: all that is required being your promise to guide us
thither. Do you give it?"
"I do; but I expect a friend here shortly, and cannot start until
"If you mean me by that, I am here," said a voice at his elbow;
and, looking round, he saw Hubert himself, standing there, a
quiet listener and spectator of the scene.
Count L'Estrange looked at him with interest, and Hubert,
affecting not to notice the survey, watched Sir Norman.
"Well," was that individual's eager address, "were you
The count was still watching the boy so intently, that that most
discreet youth was suddenly seized with a violent fit of
coughing, which precluded all possibility of reply for at least
five minutes; and Sir Norman, at the same moment, felt his arm
receive a sharp and warning pinch.
"Is this your friend?" asked the count. "He is a very small one,
and seems in a bad state of health."
Sir Norman, still under the influence of the pinch, replied by an
inaudible murmur, and looked with a deeply mystified expression,
"He bears a strong resemblance to the lady we were talking of a
moment ago," continued the count - "is sufficiently like her, in
fact, to be her brother; and, I see wears the livery of the Earl
"God spare you your eye-sight!" said Sir Norman, impatiently.
"Can you not see, among the rest, that I have a few words to say
to him in private? Permit us to leave you for a moment."
"There is no need to do so. I will leave you, as I have a few
words to say to the person who is with me."
So saying the count walked away, and Hubert followed him with a
most curious look.
"Now," cried Sir Norman, eagerly, "what news?"
"Good!" said the boy. "Leoline is safe!"
"Not far from here. Didn't he tell you?"
"The count? No - yes; he said she was at his house."
"Exactly. That is where she is," said Hubert, looking much
relieved. "And, at present, perfectly safe."
"And did you see her?"
"Of course; and heard her too. She was dreadfully anxious to
come with me; but that was out of the question."
"And how is she to be got away?"
"That I do not clearly see. We will have to bring a ladder, and
there will be so much danger, and so little chance of success,
that, to me it seems an almost hopeless task. Where did you meet
"Here; and he told me that he bad abducted her, and held her a
prisoner in his own house."
"He owned that did he? I wonder you were not fit to kill him?"
"So I was, at first, but he talked the matter over somehow."
And hereupon Sir Norman briefly and quickly rehearsed the
substance of their conversation. Hubert listened to it
attentively, and laughed as he concluded.
"Well, I do not see that you can do otherwise, Sir Norman, and I
think it would be wise to obey the count for to-night, at least.
Then to-morrow - if things do not go on well, we can take the law
in our own hands."
"Can we?" said Sir Norman, doubtfully, "I do wish you would tell
me who this infernal count is, Hubert, for I am certain you
"Not until to-morrow - you shall know him then."
"To-morrow! to-morrow!" exclaimed Sir Norman, disconsolately.
"Everything is postponed until to-morrow! Oh, here comes the
count back again. Are we going to start now, I wonder?"
"Is your friend to accompany us on our expedition?" inquired the
count, standing before them. "It shall be quite as you say, Mr.
"My friend can do as he pleases. What do you say, Hubert?"
"I should like to go, of all things, if neither of you have any
"Come on, then," said the count, "we will find horses in
readiness a short distance from this."
The three started together, and walked on in silence through
several streets, until they reached a retired inn, where the
count's recent companion stood, with the horses. Count
L'Estrange whispered a few words to him, upon which he bowed and
retired; and in an instant they were all in the saddle, and
The journey was rather a silent one, and what conversation there
was, was principally sustained by the count. Hubert's usual flow
of pertinent chat seemed to have forsaken him, and Sir Norman had
so many other things to think of - Leoline, Ormiston, Miranda,
and the mysterious count himself - that he felt in no mood for
talking. Soon, they left the city behind them; the succeeding
two miles were quickly passed over, and the "Golden Crown," all
dark and forsaken, now hove in sight. As they reached this, and
cantered up the road leading to the ruin, Sir Norman drew rein,
"I think our best plan would be, to dismount, and lead our horses
the rest of the way, and not incur any unnecessary danger by
making a noise. We can fasten them to these trees, where they
will be at hand when we come out."
"Wait one moment," said the count, lifting his finger with a
listening look. "Listen to that!"
It was a regular tramp of horses' hoofs, sounding in the silence
like a charge of cavalry. While they looked, a troop of horsemen
came galloping up, and came to a halt when they saw the count.
No words can depict the look of amazement Sir Norman's face wore;
but Hubert betrayed not the least surprise. The count glanced at
his companions with a significant smile, and riding back, held a
brief colloquy with him who seemed the leader of the horsemen.
He rode up to them, smiling still, and saying, as he passed
"Now then, Kingsley; lead on, and we will follow!"
"I go not one step further," said Sir Norman, firmly, "until I
know who I am leading. Who are you, Count L'Estrange?"
The count looked at him, but did not answer. A warning hand -
that of Hubert - grasped Sir Norman's arm; and Hubert's voice
whispered hurriedly in his ear:
"Hush, for God's sake! It is the king!"
AT THE PLAGUE-PIT.
The effect of the whisper was magical. Everything that had been
dark before, became clear as noonday; and Sir Norman sat
absolutely astounded at his own stupidity in not having found it
out for himself before. Every feature, notwithstanding the
disguise of wig and beard, became perfectly familiar; and even
through the well-assumed voice, he recognized the royal tones.
It struck him all at once, and with it the fact of Leoline's
increased danger. Count L'Estrange was a formidable rival, but
King Charles of England was even more formidable.
Thought is quick - quicker than the electric telegraph or balloon
traveling; and in two seconds the whole stated things, with all
the attendant surprises and dangers, danced before his mind's eye
like a panorama; and he comprehended the past, the present, and
the future, before Hubert had uttered the last word of his
whisper. He turned his eyes, with a very new and singular
sensation, upon the quondam count, and found that gentlemen
looking very hard at him, with, a preternaturally grave
expression of countenance. Sir Norman knew well as anybody the
varying moods of his royal countship, and, notwithstanding his
general good nature, it was not safe to trifle with him at all
times; so he repressed every outward sign of emotion whatever,
and resolved to treat him as Count L'Estrange until he should
choose to sail under his own proper colors.
"Well," said the count, with unruffled eagerness, "and so you
decline to go any further Sir Norman?"
Hubert's eye was fixed with a warning glance upon him, and Sir
Norman composedly answered
"No, count; I do not absolutely decline; but before I do go any
further, I should like to know by what right do you bring all
these men here, and what are your intentions in so doing."
"And if I refuse to answer?"
"Then I refuse to move a step further in the business!" said Sir
Norman, with decision.
"And why, my good friend? You surely can have no objection to
anything that can be done against highwaymen and cut-throats."
"Right! I have no objections, but others may."
"Whom do you mean by others?"
"The king, for instance. His gracious majesty is whimsical at
times; and who knows that he may take it into his royal head to
involve us somehow with them. I know the adage, 'put not your
trust in princes.'"
"Very good," said the count, with a slight and irrepressible
smile; "your prudence is beyond all praise! But I think, in this
matter I may safely promise to stand between you and the king's
wrath. Look at those horsemen beyond you, and see if they do not
wear the uniform of his majesty's own body-guard."
Sir Norman looked, and saw the dazzling of their splendid
equipments glancing and glistening in the moonbeams.
"I see. Then you have the royal permission for all this?"
"You have said it. Now, most scrupulous of men, proceed!"
"Look there!" exclaimed Hubert, suddenly pointing to a corner of
the rain. "Someone has seen us, and is going now to give the
"He shall miss it, though!" said Sir Norman, detecting, at the
same instant, a dark figure getting through the broken doorway;
and striking spurs into his horse, he was instantaneously beside
it, out of the saddle, and had grasped the retreater by the
"By your leave!" exclaimed Sir Norman. "Not quite so fast!
Stand out here in the moonlight, until I see who you are."
"Let me go!" cried the man, grappling with his opponent. "I know
who you are, and I swear you'll never see moonlight or sunlight
again, if you do not instantly let me go."
Sir Norman recognized the voice with a perfect shout of delight.
"The duke, by all that's lucky! O, I'll let you go: but not until
the hangman gets hold of you. Villain and robber, you shall pay
for your misdeeds now!"
"Hold!" shouted the commanding voice of Count L'Estrange.
"Cease, Sir Norman Kingsley! there is no time, and this is no
person for you to scoff with. He is our prisoner, and shall show
us the nearest way into this den of thieves. Give me your sword,
fellow, and be thankful I do not make you shorter by a head with
"You do not know him!" cried Sir Norman; in vivid excitement. "I
tell you this is the identical scoundrel who attempted to rob and
murder you a few hours ago."
"So much the better! He shall pay for that and all his other
shortcomings, before long! But, in the meantime, I order him to
bring us before the rest of this outlawed crew."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," said the duke, sullenly.
"Just as you please. Here, my men, two of you take hold of this
scoundrel, and dispatch him at once."
The guard had all dismounted; and two of them came forward with
edifying obedience, to do as they were told.
The effect upon the duke was miraculous. Instantly he started
up, with an energy perfectly amazing:
"No, no, no! I'll do it! Come this way, gentlemen, and I'll
bring you direct into their midst. O good Lord! whatever will
become of us?"
This last frantic question was addressed to society in general,
but Sir Norman felt called upon to answer:
"That's very easily told, my man. If you and the rest of your
titled associates receive your deserts (as there is no doubt you
will) from the gracious hand of our sovereign lord, the king, the
strongest rope and highest gallows at Tyburn will be your
The duke groaned dismally, and would have come to a halt to beg
mercy on the spot, had not Hubert given him a probe in, the ribs
with the point of his dagger, that sent him on again, with a
"Why, this is a perfect Hades!" said the count, as he stumbled
after, in the darkness. "Are you sure we are going right,
The inquiry was not unnatural, for the blackness was perfectly
Tartarian, and the soldiers behind were knocking their tall shins
against all sorts of obstacles as they groped blindly along,
invoking from them countless curses, not loud, but deep.
"I don't know whether we are or not," said Sir Norman
significantly; "only, God help him if we're not! Where are you
taking us to, you black-looking bandit?"
"I give you my word of honor, gentlemen," said an imploring voice
in the darkness, "that I'm leading you, by the nearest way, to
the Midnight Court. All I ask of you in return is, that you
will let me enter before you; for if they find that I lead you
in, my life will not be worth a moment's purchase."
"As if it ever was worth it," said Sir Norman, contemptuously.
"On with you, and be thankful I don't save your companions the
trouble, by making an end of you where you stand."
"Rush along, old fellow," suggested Hubert, giving him another
poke with his dagger, that drew forth a second doleful howl.
Notwithstanding the darkness, Sir Norman discovered that they
were being led in a direction exactly opposite that by which he
had previously effected an entrance. They were in the vault, he
knew, by the darkness, though they had descended no stair-case,
and he was just wondering if their guide was not meditating some
treachery by such a circuitous route, when suddenly a tumult of
voices, and uproar, and confusion, met his ear. At the same
instant, their guide opened a door, revealing a dark passage,
illuminated by a few rays of light, and which Sir Norman
instantly recognized as that leading to the Black Chamber.
Here again the duke paused, and turned round to them with a
"Gentlemen, I do conjure you to let me enter before you do! I
tell you they will murder me the very instant they discover I
have led you here!"
"That would be a great pity!" said the count; "and the gallows
will be cheated of one of its brightest ornaments! That is your
den of thieves, I suppose, from which all this uproar comes?"
"It is. And as I have guided you safely to it, surely I deserve
this trifling boon."
"Trifling, do you call it," interposed Sir Norman, "to let you
make your escape, as you most assuredly will do the moment you
are out of our sight! No, no; we are too old birds to be caught
with such chaff; and though the informer always gets off
scot-free, your services deserve no such boon; for we could have
found our way without your help! On with you, Sir Robber; and if
your companions do kill you, console yourself with the thought
that they have only anticipated the executioner by a few days!"
With a perfectly heart-rending groan, the unfortunate duke walked
on; but when they reached the archway directly before the room,
he came to an obstinate halt, and positively refused to go a step
farther. It was death, anyway, and he resisted with the courage
of desperation, feeling he might as well die there as go in and
be assassinated by his confederates, and not even the persuasive
influence of Hubert's dagger could prevail on him to budge an
"Stay, then!" said the count, with perfect indifference. "And,
soldiers, see that he does not escape! Now, Kingsley, let us
just have a glimpse of what is going on within."
Though the party had made considerable noise in advancing, and
had spoken quite loudly in their little animated discussion with
the duke, so great was the turmoil and confusion within, that it
was not heeded, or even heard. With very different feelings from
those with which he had stood there last, Sir Norman stepped
forward and stood beside the count, looking at the scene within.
The crimson court was in a state of "most admired disorder," and
the confusion of tongues was equal to Babel. No longer were they
languidly promenading, or lolling in the cushioned chairs; but
all seemed running to and fro in the wildest excitement, which
the grandest duke among them seemed to share equally with the
terrified white sylphs. Everybody appeared to be talking
together, and paying no attention whatever to the sentiments of
their neighbors. One universal centre of union alone seemed to
exist, and that was the green, judicial table near the throne,
upon which, while all tongues ran, all eyes turned. For some
minutes, neither of the beholders could make out why, owing to
the crowd (principally of the ladies) pressing around it; but Sir
Norman guessed, and thrilled through with a vague sensation of
terror, lest it should prove to be the dead body of Miranda.
Skipping in and out among the females he saw the dwarf,
performing a sort of war dance of rage and frenzy; twining both
hands in his wig, as if he would have torn it out by the roots,
and anon tearing at somebody else's wig, so that everybody backed
off when he came near them.
"Who is that little fiend?" inquired the count; "and what have
they got there at the and of the room, pray?"
"That little fiend is the ringleader here, and is entitled Prince
Caliban. Regarding your other question," said Sir Norman, with a
faint thrill, "there was a table there when I saw it last, but I
am afraid there is something worse now."
"Could ever any mortal conceive of such a scene," observed the
count to himself; "look at that little picture of ugliness; how
he hops about like a dropsical bull-frog. Some of those women
are very pretty, too, and outshine more than one court-beauty
that I have seen. Upon my word, it is the most extraordinary
spectacle I ever heard of. I wonder what they've got that's so
attractive down there?"
At the same moment, a loud voice within the circle abruptly
"She revives, she revives! Back, back, and give her air!"
Instantly, the throng swayed and fell back; and the dwarf, with a
sort of yell (whether of rage or relief, nobody knew), swept them
from side to side with a wave of his long arms, and cleared a
wide vacancy for his own especial benefit. The action gave the
count an opportunity of gratifying his curiosity. The object of
attraction was now plainly visible. Sir Norman's surmises had
been correct. The green table of the parliament-house of the
midnight court had been converted, by the aid of cushions and
pillows, into an extempore couch.; and half-buried in their downy
depths lay Miranda, the queen. The sweeping robe of royal
purple, trimmed with ermine, the circlets of jewels on arms,
bosom, and head, she still wore, and the beautiful face was
white: than fallen snow. Yet she was not dead, as Sir Norman had
dreaded; for the dark eyes were open, and were fixed with an
unutterable depth of melancholy on vacancy. Her arms lay
helplessly by her side, and someone, the court physician
probably, was bending over her and feeling her pulse.
As the count's eyes fell upon her, he started back, and grasped
Sir Norman's arm with consternation.
"Good heavens, Kingsley!" he cried; "it is Leoline, herself!"
In his excitement he had spoken so loud, that in the momentary
silence that followed the physician's direction, his voice had
rung through the room, and drew every eye upon them.
"We are seen, we are seen!" shouted Hubert, and as he spoke, a
terrible cry idled the room. In an instant every sword leaped
from its scabbard, and the shriek of the startled women rang
appallingly out on the air. Sir Norman drew his sword, too; but
the count, with his eyes yet fixed on Miranda, still held him by
the arm, and excitedly exclaimed
"Tell me, tell me, is it Leoline?"
"Leoline! No - how could it be Leoline? They look alike, that's
all. Draw your sword, count, and defend yourself; we are
discovered, and they are upon us!"
"We are upon them, you mean, and it is they who are discovered,"
said the count, doing as directed, and stepping boldly in. "A
pretty hornet's next is this we have lit upon, if ever there was
Side by side with the count, with a dauntless step and eye, Sir
Norman entered, too; and, at sight of him a burst of surprise and
fury rang from lip to lip. There was a yell of "Betrayed,
betrayed!" and the dwarf, with a face so distorted by fiendish
fury that it was scarcely human, made a frenzied rush at him,
when the clear, commanding voice of the count rang like a bugle
blast through the assembly
"Sheathe your swords, the whole of you, and yield yourselves
prisoners. In the king's name, I command you to surrender."
"There is no king here but I!" screamed the dwarf, gnashing his
teeth, and fairly foaming with rage. "Die; traitor and spy! You
have escaped me once, but your hour is come now."
"Allow me to differ from you," said Sir Norman, politely, as he
evaded the blindly-frantic lunge of the dwarf's sword, and
inserted an inch or two of the point of his own in that enraged
little prince's anatomy. "So far from my hour having come - if
you will take the trouble to reflect upon it - you will find it
is the reverse, and that my little friend's brief and brilliant
career in rapidly drawing to a close."
At these bland remarks, and at the sharp thrust that accompanied
them, the dwarfs previous war-dance of anxiety was nothing to the
horn-pipe of exasperation he went through when Sir Norman ceased.
The blood was raining from his side, and from the point of his
adversary's sword, as he withdrew it; and, maddened like a wild
beast at the sight of his own blood, he screeched, and foamed,
and kicked about his stout little legs, and gnashed his teeth,
and made grabs at his wig, and lashed the air with his sword, and
made such desperate pokes with it, at Sir Norman and everybody
else who came in his way, that, for the public good, the young
knight run him through the sword-arm, and, in spite of all his
distracted didos, captured him by the help of Hubert, and passed
him over to the soldiers to cheer and keep company with the duke.
This brisk little affair being over, Sir Norman had time to look
about him. It had all passed in so short a space, and the dwarf
had been so desperately frantic, that the rest had paused
involuntarily, and were still looking on. Missing the count, he
glanced around the room, and discovered him standing on Miranda's
throne, looking over the company with the cool air of a
conqueror. Miranda, aroused, as she very well might be by all
this screaming and fighting, had partly raised herself upon her
elbow, and was looking wildly about her. As her eye fell on Sir
Norman, she sat fairly erect, with a cry of exultation and joy.
"You have come, you have come, as I knew you would," she
excitedly cried, "and the hour of retribution is at hand!"
At the words of one who, a few moments before, they had supposed
to be dead, an awestruck silence fell; and the count, taking
advantage of it, waved his hand, and cried
"Yield yourselves prisoners, I command you! The royal guards are
without; and the first of you who offers the slightest resistance
will die like a dog! Ho, guards I enter, and seize your
Quick as thought the room was full of soldiers! but the rest of
the order was easier said than obeyed. The robbers, knowing
their doom was death, fought with the fury of desperation, and a
snort, wild, and terrible conflict ensued. Foremost in the melee
was Sir Norman and the count; while Hubert, who had taken
possession of the dwarf's sword, fought like a young lion. The
shrieks of the women were heart-rending, as they all fled,
precipitately, into the blue dining-room; and, crouching in
corners, or flying distractedly about - true to their sex - made
the air resound with the most lamentable cries. Some five or
six, braver than the rest, alone remained; and more than one of
these actually mixed in the affray, with a heroism worthy a
better cause. Miranda, still sitting erect, and supported in the
arms of a kneeling and trembling sylph in white, watched the
conflict with terribly-exultant eyes, that blazed brighter and
brighter with the lurid fire of vengeful joy st every robber that
"Oh, that I were strong enough to wield a sword!" was her fierce
aspiration every instant; "if I could only mix in that battle for
five minutes, I could die with a happy heart!"
Had she been able to wield a sword for five minutes, according to
her wish, she would probably have wielded it from beginning to
end of the battle; for it did not last much longer than that.
The robbers fought with fury and ferocity; but they had been
taken by surprise, and were overpowered by numbers, and obliged
The crimson court was indeed crimson now; for the velvet
carpeting was dyed a more terrible red, and was slippery with a
rain of blood! A score of dead and dying lay groaning on the
ground; and the rest, beaten and bloody, gave up their swords and
"You should have done this at first!" said the count, coolly
wiping his blood-stained weapon, end replacing it in its sheath;
"and, by so doing, saved some time and more bloodshed. Where are
all the fair ladies, Kingsley, I saw here when we entered first?"
"They fled like a flock of frightened deer," said Hubert, taking
it upon himself to answer, "through yonder archway when the fight
commenced. I will go in search of them if you like."
"I am rather at a loss what to do with them," said the count,
half-laughing. "It would be a pity to bring such a cavalcade of
pretty women into the city to die of the plague. Can you suggest
nothing, Sir Norman?"
"Nothing, but to leave then here to take care of themselves, or
let them go free."
"They would be a great addition to the court at Whitehall,"
suggested Hubert, in his prettiest tone, "and a thousand times
handsomer than half the damsels therein. There, for instance, is
one a dozen timer more beautiful than Mistress Stuart herself!"
Leaning, in his nonchalant way, on the hilt of his sword, he
pointed to Miranda, whose fiercely-joyful eyes were fixed w with
a glance that made the three of them shudder, on the bloody floor
and the heap of slain.
"Who is that?" asked the count, curiously. "Why is she perched
up there, and why does she bear such an extraordinary resemblance
to Leoline? Do you know anything about her, Kingsley?"
"I know she is the wife of that unlovely little man, whose howls
in yonder passage you can hear, if you listen, and that she was
the queen of this midnight court, and is wounded, if not dying,
"I never saw such fierce eyes before in a female head! One would
think she fairly exulted in this wholesale slaughter of her
"So she does; and she hates both her husband and her subjects,
with an intensity you cannot conceive."
"How very like royalty!" observed Hubert, in parenthesis. "If
she were a real queen, she could not act more naturally."
Sir Norman smiled, and the count glanced at the audacious page,
suspiciously; but Hubert's face was touching to witness, in its
innocent unconsciousness. Miranda, looking up at the same time,
caught the young knight's eye, and made a motion for him to
approach. She held out both her hands to him as he came near,
with the same look of dreadful delight.
"Sir Norman Kingsley, I am dying, and my last words are in
thanksgiving to you for having thus avenged me!"
"Let me hope you have many days to live yet, fair lady," said Sir
Norman, with the same feeling of repulsion he had experienced in
the dungeon. "I am sorry you have been obliged to witness this
"Sorry!" she cried, fiercely. "Why, since the first hour I
remember at all, I remember nothing that has given me such joy as
what has passed now; my only regret is that I did not see them
all die before my eyes! Sorry! I tell you I would not have
missed it for ten thousand worlds!"
"Madame, you must not talk like this!" said Sir Norman, almost
sternly. "Heaven forbid there should exist a woman who could
rejoice in bloodshed and death. You do not, I know. You wrong
yourself and your own nature in saying so. Be calm, now; do not
excite yourself. You shall come with us, and be properly cared
for; and I feel certain you have a long and happy life before you
"Who are those men?" she said, not heeding him, "and who - ah,
great Heaven! What is that?"
In looking round, she had met Hubert face to face. She knew that
that face was her own; and, with a horror stamped on every
feature that no words can depict, she fell back, with a terrible
scream and was dead!
Sir Norman was so shocked by the suddenness of the last
catastrophe, that, for some time, he could not realize that she
had actually expired, until he bent over her, and placed his ear
to her lips. No breath was there; no pulse stirred in that
fierce heart - the Midnight Queen was indeed dead!
"Oh, this is fearful!" exclaimed Sir Norman, pale and horrified.
"The sight of Hubert, and his wonderful resemblance to her, has
completed what her wound and this excitement began. Her last is
breathed on earth!"
"Peace be with her!" said the count, removing his hat, which, up
to the present, he had worn. "And now, Sir Norman, if we are to
keep our engagement at sunrise, we had better be on the move;
for, unless I am greatly mistaken, the sky is already grey with
"What are your commands?" asked Sir Norman, turning away, with a
sigh, from the beautiful form already stiffening in death.
"That you come with me to seek out those frightened fair ones,
who are a great deal too lovely to share the fate of their male
companions. I shall give them their liberty to go where they
please, on condition that they do not enter the city. We have
enough vile of their class there already."
Sir Norman silently followed him into the azure and silver
saloon, where the crowd of duchesses and countesses were "weeping
and wringing their hands," and as white as so many pretty ghosts.
In a somewhat brief and forcible manner, considering his
characteristic gallantry, the count made his proposal, which,
with feelings of pleasure and relief, was at once acceded to; and
the two gentlemen bowed themselves out, and left the startled
On returning to the crimson court, he commanded a number of his
soldiers to remain and bury the dead, and assist the wounded; and
then, followed by the remainder and the prisoners under their
charge, passed out, and were soon from the heated atmosphere in
the cool morning air. The moon was still serenely shining, but
the stars that kept the earliest hours were setting, and the
eastern sky was growing light with the hazy gray of coming morn.
"I told you day-dawn was at hand," said the count, as he sprang
into his saddle; "and, lo! in the sky it is gray already."
"It is time for it!" said Sir Norman, as he, too, got into his
seat; "this has been the longest night I have ever known, and the
most eventful one of my life."
"And the end is not yet! Leoline waits to decide between us!"
Sir Norman shrugged his shoulders.
"True! But I have little doubt what that decision will be! I
presume you will have to deliver up your prisoners before you can
visit her, and I will avail myself of the opportunity to snatch a
few moments to fulfill a melancholy duty of my own."
"As you please. I have no objection; but in that case you will
need some one to guide you to the place of rendezvous; so I will
order my private attendant, yonder, to keep you in sight, and
guide you to me when your business is ended."
The count had given the order to start, the moment they had left
the ruin, and the conversation had been carried on while riding
at a break-neck gallop. Sir Norman thanked him for his offer,
and they rode in silence until they reached the city, and their
paths diverged; Sir Norman's leading to the apothecary's shop
where be had left Ormiston, and the count's leading - he best
knew where. George - the attendant referred to - joined the
knight, and leaving his horse in his care, Sir Norman entered the
shop, and encountered the spectral proprietor at the door.
"What of my friend?" was his eager inquiry. "Has he yet shown
signs of returning consciousness?"
"Alas, no!" replied the apothecary, with a groan, that came
wailing up like a whistle; "he was so excessively dead, that
there was no use keeping him; and as the room was wanted for
other purposes, I - pray, my dear sir, don't look so violent - I
put him in the pest-cart and had him buried."
"In the plague-pit!" shouted Sir Norman, making a spring at him;
but the man darted off like a ghostly flash into the inner room,
and closed and bolted the door in a twinkling.
Sir Norman kicked at it spitefully, but it resisted his every
effort; and, overcoming a strong temptation to smash every bottle
in the shop, he sprang once more into the saddle, and rode off to
the plague-pit. It was the second time within the last twelve
hours he had stood there; and, on the previous occasion, he who
now lay in it, had stood by his side. He looked down, sickened
and horror-struck. Perhaps, before another morning, he, too,
might be there; and, feeling his blood run cold at the thought,
he was turning away, when some one came rapidly up, and sank down
with a moaning gasping cry on its very edge. That shape - tall
and slender, and graceful - he well knew; and, leaning over her,
ho laid his hand on her shoulder, and exclaimed:
WHAT WAS BEHIND TWO MASK.
The cowering form rose up; but, seeing who it was, sank down
again, with its face groveling in the dust, and with another
prolonged, moaning cry.
"Madame Masque!" he said, wonderingly; "what is this?"
He bent to raise her; but, with a sort of scream she held out her
arms to keep him back.
"No, no, no I Touch me not! Hate me - kill me! I have murdered
Sir Norman recoiled as if from a deadly tent.
"Murdered him! Madame, in Heaven's name, what have you said?"
"Oh, I have not stabbed him, or poisoned him, or shot him; but I
am his murderer, nevertheless!" she wailed, writhing in a sort of
gnawing inward torture.
"Madame, I do not understand you at all! Surely you are raving
when you talk like this."
Still moaning on the edge of the plague-pit, she half rose up,
with both hands clasped tightly over her heart, as if she would
have held back from all human ken the anguish that was destroying
"NO - no! I am not mad - pray Heaven I were! Oh, that they had
strangled me in the first hour of my birth, as they would a
viper, rather than I should have lived through all this life of
misery and guilt, to end it by this last, worst crime of all!"
Sir Norman stood and looked at her still with a dazed expression.
He knew well enough whose murderer she called herself; but why
she did so, or how she could possibly bring about his death, was
a mystery altogether too deep for him to solve.
"Madame, compose yourself, I beseech you, and tell me what you
mean. It is to my friend, Ormiston, you allude - is it not?"
"Yes - yes! surely you need not ask."
"I know that he is dead, and buried in this horrible place; but
why you should accuse yourself of murdering him, I confess I do
"Then you shall!" she cried, passionately. "And you will wonder
at it no longer! You are the last one to whom the revelation can
ever be made on earth; and, now that my hours are numbered, it
matters little whether it is told or not! Was it not you who
first found him dead?"
"It was I - yes. And how he came to his end, I have been
puzzling myself in vain to discover ever since."
She rose up, drew herself to her full majestic height, and looked
at him with a terrible glance
"Shall I tell you?"
"You have had no hand in it," he answered, with a cold chill at
the tone and look, "for he loved you!"
"I have had a hand in it - I alone have been the cause of it.
But for me he would be living still!"
"Madame," exclaimed Sir Norman, in horror.
"You need not look as if you thought me mad, for I tell you it is
Heaven's truth! You say right - he loved me; but for that love
he would be living now!"
"You speak in riddles which I cannot read. How could that love
have caused his death, since his dearest wishes were to be
"He told you that, did he?"
"He did. He told me you were to remove your mask; and if, on
seeing you, he still loved you, you were to be his wife."
"Then woe to him for ever having extorted such a promise from me!
Oh, I warned him again, and again, and again. I told him how it
would be - I begged him to desist; but no, he was blind, he was
mad; he would rush on his own doom! I fulfilled my promise, and
behold the result!"
She pointed with a frantic gesture to the plague-pit, and wrung
her beautiful hands with the same moaning of anguish.
"Do I hear aright?" said Sir Norman, looking at her, and really
doubting if his ears had not deceived him. "Do you mean to say
that, in keeping your word and showing him your face, you have
caused his death?"
"I do. I had warned him of it before. I told him there were
sights too horrible to look on and live, but nothing would
convince him! Oh, why was the curse of life ever bestowed upon
such a hideous thing as I!"
Sir Norman gazed at her in a state of hopeless bewilderment. He
had thought, from the moment he saw her first, that there was
something wrong with her brain, to make her act in such a
mysterious, eccentric sort of way; but he had never positively
thought her so far gone as this. In his own mind, he set her
down, now, as being mad as a March hare, and accordingly answered
in that soothing tone people use to imbeciles
"My dear Madame Masque, pray do not excite yourself, or say such
dreadful things. I am sure you would not willfully cause the
death of any one, much less that of one who loved you as he did."
La Masque broke into a wild laugh, almost worse to hear than her
former despairing moans.
"The man thinks me mad! He will not believe, unless he sees and
knows for himself! Perhaps you, too, Sir Norman Kingsley," she
cried, changing into sudden fierceness, "would like to see the
face behind this mask? - would like to see what has slain your
friend, and share his fate?"
"Certainly," said Sir Norman. "I should like to see it; and I
think I may safely promise not to die from the effects. But
surely, madame, you deceive yourself; no face, however ugly -
even supposing you to possess such a one - could produce such
dismay as to cause death."
"You shall see."
She was looking down into the plague-pit, standing so close to
its cracking edge, that Sir Norman's blood ran cold, in the
momentary expectation to see her slip and fall headlong in. Her
voice was less fierce and less wild, but her hands were still
clasped tightly over her heart, as if to ease the unutterable
pain there. Suddenly, she looked up, and said, in an altered
"You have lost Leoline?"
"And found her again. She is in the power of one Count
"And if in his power, pray, how have you found her?"
"Because we are both to meet in her presence within this very
hour, and she is to decide between us,"
"Has Count L'Estrange promised you this?"
"And you have no doubt what her decision will be?"
"Not the slightest."
"How came you to know she was carried off by this count?"
"He confessed it himself."
"No; I taxed him with it, and he owned to the deed; but he
voluntarily promised to take me to her and abide by her
"Extraordinary!" said La Masque, as if to herself. "Whimsical as
he is, I scarcely expected he would give her up no easily as
"Then you know him, madame?" said Sir Norman, pointedly.
"There are few things I do not know, and rare are the disguises I
cannot penetrate. So you have discovered it, too?"
"No, madame, my eyes were not sharp enough, nor had I sufficient
cleverness, even, for that. It was Hubert, the Earl of
Rochester's page, who told me who he was."
"Ah, the page!" said La Masque, quickly. "You have then been
speaking to him? What do you think of his resemblance to
"I think it is the most astonishing resemblance I ever saw. But
he is not the only one who bears Leoline's face."
"And the other is?"
The other is she whom you sent me to see in the old ruins.
Madame, I wish you would tell me the secret of this wonderful
likeness; for I am certain you know, and I am equally certain it
is not accidental."
"You are right. Leoline knows already; for, with the
presentiment that my end was near, I visited her when you left,
and gave her her whole history, in writing. The explanation is
simple enough. Leoline, Miranda, and Hubert, are sisters and
Some misty idea that such was the case had been struggling
through Sir Norman's slow mind, unformed and without shape, ever
since he had seen the trio, therefore he was not the least
astonished when he heard the fact announced. Only in one thing
he was a little disappointed.
"Then Hubert is really a boy?" he said, half dejectedly.
"Certainly he is. What did you take him to be?"
"Why, I thought - that is, I do not know," said Sir Norman, quite
blushing at being guilty of so much romance, "but that he was a
woman in disguise. You see he is so handsome, and looks so much
like Leoline, that I could not help thinking so."
"He is Leoline's twin brother - that accounts for it. When does
she become your wife?"
"This very morning, God willing!" raid Sir Norman, fervently.
"Amen! And may her life and yours be long and happy. What
becomes of the rest?"
"Since Hubert is her brother, he shall come with us, if he will.
As for the other, she, alas! is dead."
"Dead!" cried La Masque. "How? When? She was living, tonight!"
"True! She died of a wound."
"A wound? Surely not given by the dwarfs hand?"
"No, no; it was quite accidental. But since you know so much of
the dwarf, perhaps you also know he is now the king's prisoner?"
"I did not know it; but I surmised as much when I discovered that
you and Count L'Estrange, followed by such a body of men, visited
the ruin. Well, his career has been long and dark enough, and
even the plague seemed to spare him for the executioner. And so
the poor mock-queen is dead? Well, her sister will not long
"Good Heavens, madame!" cried Sir Norman, aghast. "You do not
mean to say that Leoline is going to die?"
"Oh, no! I hope Leoline has a long and happy life before her.
But the wretched, guilty sister I mean is, myself; for I, too,
Sir Norman, am her sister."
At this new disclosure, Sir Norman stood perfectly petrified; and
La Masque, looking down at the dreadful place at her feet, went
"Alas and alas! that it should be so; but it is the direful
truth. We bear the same name, we had the same father; and yet I
have been the curse and bane of their lives."
"And Leoline knows this?"
"She never knew it until this night, or any one else alive; and
no one should know it now, were not my ghastly life ending. I
prayed her to forgive me for the wrong I have done her; and she
may, for she is gentle and good - but when, when shall I be able
to forgive myself?"
The sharp pain in her voice jarred on Sir Norman's ear and heart;
and, to get rid of its dreary echo, he hurriedly asked:
"You say you bear the same name. May I ask what name that is?"
"It is one, Sir Norman Kingsley, before which your own ancient
title pales. We are Montmorencis, and in our veins runs the
proudest blood in France."
"Then Leoline is French and of noble birth?" said Sir Norman,
with a thrill of pleasure. "I loved her for herself alone, and
would have wedded her had she been the child of a beggar; but I
rejoice to hear this nevertheless. Her father, then, bore a
"Her father was the Marquis de Montmorenci. but Leoline's mother
and mine were not the same - had they been, the lives of all four
might have been very different; but it is too late to lament that
now. My mother had no gentle blood in her veins, as Leoline's
had, for she was but a fisherman's daughter, torn from her home,
and married by force. Neither did she love my father
notwithstanding his youth, rank, and passionate love for her, for
she was betrothed to another bourgeois, like herself. For his
sake she refused even the title of marchioness, offered her in
the moment of youthful and ardent passion, and clung, with
deathless truth, to her fisher-lover. The blood of the
Montmorencis is fierce and hot, and brooks no opposition" (Sir
Norman thought of Miranda, and inwardly owned that that was a
fact); "and the marquis, in his jealous wrath, both hated and
loved her at the same time, and vowed deadly vengeance against
her bourgeois lover. That vow he kept. The young fisherman was
found one morning at his lady-love's door without a head, and the
bleeding trunk told no tales.
"Of course, for a while, she was distracted and so on; but when
the first shock of her grief was over, my father carried her off,
and forcibly made her his wife. Fierce hatred, I told you, was
mingled with his fierce love, and before the honeymoon was over
it began to break out. One night, in a fit of jealous passion,
to which he was addicted, he led her into a room she had never
before been permitted to enter; showed her a grinning human
skull, and told her it was her lover's! In his cruel exultation,
he confessed all; how he had caused him to be murdered; his head
severed from the body; and brought here to punish her, some day,
for her obstinate refusal to love him.
"Up to this time she had been quiet and passive, bearing her fate
with a sort of dumb resignation; but now a spirit of vengeance,
fiercer and more terrible than his own, began to kindle within
her; and, kneeling down before the ghastly thing, she breathed a
wish - a prayer - to the avenging Jehovah, so unutterably
horrible, that even her husband had to fly with curdling blood
from the room. That dreadful prayer was heard - that wish
fulfilled in me; but long before I looked on the light of day
that frantic woman had repented of the awful deed she had done.
Repentance came too late the sin of the father was visited on the
child, and on the mother, too, for the moment her eyes fell upon
me, she became a raving maniac, and died before the first day of
my life had ended.
"Nurse and physician fled at the sight of me; but my father,
though thrilling with horror, bore the shock, and bowed to the
retributive justice of the angry Deity she had invoked. His
whole life, his whole nature, changed from that hour; and,
kneeling beside my dead mother, as he afterward told me, he vowed
before high Heaven to cherish and love me, even as though I had
not been the ghastly creature I was. The physician he bound by a
terrible oath to silence; the nurse he forced back, and, in spite
of her disgust and abhorrence, compelled her to nurse and care
for me. The dead was buried out of sight; and we had rooms in a
distant part of the house, which no one ever entered but my
father and the nurse. Though set apart from my birth as
something accursed, I had the intellect and capacity of - yes,
far greater intellect and capacity than, most children; and, as
years passed by, my father, true to his vow, became himself my
tutor and companion. He did not love me - that was an utter
impossibility; but time so blunts the edge of all things, that
even the nurse became reconciled to me, and my father could
scarcely do less than a stranger. So I was cared for, and
instructed, and educated; and, knowing not what a monstrosity I
was, I loved them both ardently, and lived on happily enough, in
my splendid prison, for my first ten years in this world.
"Then came a change. My nurse died; and it became clear that I
must quit my solitary life, and see the sort of world I lived in.
So my father, seeing all this, sat down in the twilight one night
beside me, and told me the story of my own hideousness. I was
but a child then, and it is many and many years ago; but this
gray summer morning, I feel what I felt then, as vividly as I did
at the time. I had not learned the great lesson of life then -
endurance, I have scarcely learned it yet, or I should bear
life's burden longer; but that first night's despair has darkened
my whole after-life. For weeks I would not listen to my father's
proposal, to hide what would send all the world from me in
loathing behind a mask; but I came to my senses at last, and from
that day to the present - more days than either you or I would
care to count - it has not been one hour altogether off my face."
"I was the wonder and talk of Paris, when I did appear; and most
of the surmises were wild and wide of the mark - some even going
so far as to say it was all owing to my wonderful unheard-of
beauty that I was thus mysteriously concealed from view. I had a
soft voice, and a tolerable shape; and upon this, I presume, they
founded the affirmation. But my father and I kept our own
council, and let them say what they listed. I had never been
named, as other children are; but they called me La Masque now.
I had masters and professors without end, and studied astronomy
and astrology, and the mystic lore of the old Egyptians, and
became noted as a prodigy and a wonder, and a miracle of
learning, far and near.
"The arts used to discover the mystery and make me unmask were
innumerable and almost incredible; but I baffled them all, and
began, after a time, rather to enjoy the sensation I created than
"There was one, in particular, possessed of even more devouring
curiosity than the rest, a certain young countess of miraculous
beauty, whom I need not describe, since you have her very image
in Leoline. The Marquis de Montmorenci, of a somewhat
inflammable nature, loved her almost as much as he had done my
mother, and she accepted him, and they were married. She may
have loved him (I see no reason why she should not), but still to
this day I think it was more to discover the secret of La Masque
than from any other cause. I loved my beautiful new mother too
well to let her find it out; although from the day she entered
our house as a bride, until that on which she lay on her
deathbed, her whole aim, day and night, was its discovery. There
seemed to be a fatality about my father's wives; for the
beautiful Honorine lived scarcely longer than her predecessor,
and she died, leaving three children - all born at one time - you
know them well, and one of them you love. To my care she
intrusted them on her deathbed, and she could have scarcely
intrusted them to worse; for, though I liked her, I most
decidedly disliked them. They were lovely children - their
lovely mother's image; and they were named Hubert, Leoline, and
Honorine, or, as you knew her, Miranda. Even my father did not
seem to care for them much, not even as much as he cared for me;
and when he lay on his deathbed, one year later, I was left,
young as I was, their sole guardian, and trustee of all his
wealth. That wealth was not fairly divided - one-half being left
to me and the other half to be shared equally between them; but,
in my wicked ambition, I was not satisfied even with that. Some
of my father's fierce and cruel nature I inherited; and I
resolved to be clear of these three stumbling-blocks, and
recompense myself for my other misfortunes by every indulgence
boundless riches could bestow. So, secretly, and in the night, I
left my home, with an old and trusty servant, known to you as
Prudence, and my unfortunate, little brother and sisters.
Strange to say, Prudence was attached to one of them, and to
neither of the rest - that one was Leoline, whom she resolved to
keep and care for, and neither she nor I minded what became of
the other two."
"From Paris we went to Dijon, where we dropped Hubert into the
turn at the convent door, with his name attached, and left him
where he would be well taken care of, and no questions asked.
With the other two we started for Calais, en route for England;
and there Prudence got rid of Honorine in a singular manner. A
packet was about starting for the island of our destination, and
she saw a strange-looking little man carrying his luggage from
the wharf into a boat. She had the infant in her arms, having
carried it out for the identical purpose of getting rid of it;
and, without more ado, she laid it down, unseen, among boxes and
bundles, and, like Hagar, stood afar off to see what became of
it. That ugly little man was the dwarf; and his amazement on
finding it among his goods and chattels you may imagine; but he
kept it, notwithstanding, though why, is best known to himself.
A few weeks after that we, too, came over, and Prudence took up
her residence in a quiet village a long way from London. Thus
you see, Sir Norman, how it comes about that we are so related,
and the wrong I have done them all."
"You have, indeed!" said Sir Norman, gravely, having listened,
much shocked and displeased, at this open confession; "and to one
of them it is beyond our power to atone. Do you know the life of
misery to which she has been assigned?"
"I know it all, and have repented for it in my own heart, in dust
and ashes! Even I - unlike all other earthly creatures as I am -
have a conscience, and it has given me no rest night or day
since. From that hour I have never lost sight of them; every
sorrow they have undergone has been known to me, and added to my
own; and yet I could not, or would not, undo what I had done.
Leoline knows all now; and she will tell Hubert, since destiny
has brought them together; and whether they will forgive me I
know not. But yet they might; for they have long and happy lives
before them, and we can forgive everything to the dead."
"But you are not dead," said Sir Norman; "and there is repentance
and pardon for all. Much as you have wronged them, they will
forgive you; and Heaven is not less merciful than they!"
"They may; for I have striven to atone. In my house there are
proofs and papers that will put them in possession of all, and
more than all, they have lost. But life is a burden of torture
I will bear no longer. The death of him who died for me this
night is the crowning tragedy of my miserable life; and if my
hour were not at hand, I should not have told you this."
"But you have not told me the fearful cause of no much guilt and
suffering. What is behind that mask?"
"Would you, too, see?" she asked, in a terrible voice, "and die?"
"I have told you it is not in my nature to die easily, and it is
something far stronger than mere curiosity makes me ask."
"Be it so! The sky is growing red with day-dawn, and I shall
never see the sun rise more, for I am already plague-struck!"
That sweetest of all voices ceased. The white hands removed the
mask, and the floating coils of hair, and revealed, to Sir
Norman's horror-struck gaze, the grisly face and head, and the
hollow eye-sockets, the grinning mouth, and fleshless cheeks of a
He saw it but for one fearful instant - the next, she had thrown
up both arms, and leaped headlong into the loathly plague-pit.
He saw her for a second or two, heaving and writhing in the
putrid heap; and then the strong man reeled and fell with his
face on the ground, not feigning, but sick unto death. Of all
the dreadful things he had witnessed that night, there was
nothing so dreadful as this; of all the horror he had felt
before, there was none to equal what he felt now. In his
momentary delirium, it seemed to him she was reaching her arms of
bone up to drag him in, and that the skeleton-face was grinning
at him on the edge of the awful pit. And, covering his eyes with