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   Chapter 6 A HORRIBLE MYSTERY ON THE WEDDING DAY.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 19885

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


On the day before the wedding all the preparations were completed.

The grounds around the castle, paradisial in their own natural beauty under this heavenly blue sky of June, were adorned with all that art and taste and wealth could bring to enhance their attractions in honor of the occasion.

Triumphal arches of rare exotic flowers were erected at intervals along the avenue leading from the castle courtyard down to the bridge that spanned Loch Lone from the island, to the mountain hamlet on the main land. The bridge itself was canopied with evergreens, and starred with roses. Every house in the little hamlet of Lone was so wreathed and festooned with flowers as to look like a fairy bower. The little gothic church, said to be coeval in history with the castle itself, was decorated within and without as for an Easter or Christmas festival. And the only inn of the place, an antiquated but most comfortable public house, known for centuries as the "Hereward Arms," was almost covered with flags, banners and bushes, in honor of the presence of the Duke of Hereward, and the Marquis of Arondelle, especially, and of other noble guests who had arrived there to assist at the wedding of the next day.

Yes, the expectant bridegroom and his aged father were at the Hereward Arms. Etiquette did not admit of their being guests at the Castle on the day before the expected marriage. And much ado had the young marquis to keep the duke quietly at the inn. The old man enjoying his pleasing hallucination of being still the proprietor of Lone, and the possessor of a princely revenue, fretted against the delay that detained him at the Hereward Arms, when he was so anxious to go on to Castle Lone. And his son did not venture to leave him until late at night, when he left him in bed and asleep.

Then the young marquis walked out and crossed the evergreen covered bridge leading to the Castle grounds. He knew that custom did not sanction his visit to his bride-elect on the night before their wedding, but he could at least gaze on the walls that sheltered her, while he rambled over the rich lawns, parterres, shrubberies, and terraces.

Within the Castle, meanwhile, all the arrangements for the morning's festivity were completed.

Halls, drawing-rooms, parlors, chambers, and dining-rooms, all sumptuously furnished and beautifully decorated, were ready for the wedding guests.

In the dining-room the luxurious wedding-breakfast was set. The service was of solid gold and finest Sevres china; the viands comprised every foreign and domestic delicacy fitting the feast.

In the drawing-room the magnificent bridal presents were displayed-coronets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, bracelets, rings, of pearls, diamonds, opals, emeralds, sapphires, and amethysts; jewel caskets, dressing cases, work boxes, and writing desks, of ormolu, of malachite, of pearl, and of ivory, of silver, and of gold; illuminated prayer-books and Bibles, with antique covers and clasps set with precious stones; tea and dinner sets of solid gold; camel's hair and Cashmere shawls and scarfs; sets of lace in Honiton, Brussels, Valencia. Irish point and old point-on to an endless list of the most splendid offerings.

"The wealth of Ormus and of Ind"

seemed to load the tables in costly gifts to the banker's daughter, and marquis' bride.

In the bride's own luxurious dressing-room, the elegant bridal costume was displayed. It consisted of a fine point-lace dress over a trained-skirt of rich white satin, a full-length vail of priceless cardinal point-lace; white kid boots, embroidered with small pearls; white kid gloves, trimmed at the wrists with lace; wreath and bouquet of orange flowers; necklace and pendant earrings and bracelets of rich Oriental pearls, set with diamonds. These jewels were the imaginary gift of the mad duke to the bride-elect of his son, and were paid for, as has been already explained, by the bride's own father. A sentiment of tender reverence for the unfortunate old duke had inspired Salome to select these jewels from all the others that had been lavished upon her, to wear on her wedding day.

To the credit of the good banker's delicacy and discretion let it be said, that not even Salome knew but that this elegant gift had been given by the duke in reality as it was in intention.

The Castle was now full of guests, friends of the bride and of her father's family. The eight young ladies who were to attend her to the altar, had arrived early in the afternoon, each chaperoned by her mother, aunt, or some matronly friend. These had all been shown to their separate apartments.

They assembled again at the seven o'clock dinner in the family dining-room, and afterwards made a little tour of inspection through the rooms, looking with approval and admiration upon the sumptuous wedding-breakfast table, set in the great dining-room, and with surprise and enthusiasm at the splendid wedding presents displayed in the drawing-room. Finally, after a social cup of tea, they separated and retired to their several rooms, that they might be up in good time the next morning.

When Salome entered her own bed-chamber, she found the old housekeeper, Girzie Ross, awaiting her.

"I took the liberty, me leddy, to come to see ye, gin ye hae ony commands for me the night," said the dame, courtesying.

"No, Mrs. Ross, I have no orders to give. All is done, as I understand. If there be anything left undone, you will use you own discretion about it. I can thoroughly trust you," said Salome.

"Guid-night, then, me leddy. And a guid rest and a blithe waking till ye," said the dame, courtesying again, and turning to leave the room.

"One moment, Mrs. Ross, if you please," said the young lady, gently arresting her steps.

"Ay, me leddy, as mony as ye'll please," promptly replied the dame, returning to her place.

"I wish to ask you a question," began Salome, in a slow and hesitating manner. "Have you seen or heard anything more of that girl, Mrs. Ross?"

"Meaning that ne'er-do-weel light o' love Rose Cameron, me leddy!" inquired the housekeeper.

"Yes, Rose Cameron. There have been such crowds of people on the island today to inspect the decorations, that I thought-I thought-"

"As that handsome jaud might be amang 'em, me leddy? Ou, ay, and sae she waur! But when I caught her prowling about here, I sent Mr. McRath to warn her off the place, and threaten her wi' the constable gin she didna gang!" said the housekeeper.

"But that was cruel, Mrs. Ross."

"Na, na, me leddy. It waur unco well dune! She was after no guid prowling about here, and making an excuse o' luking at the deekorated grounds. She didna care for the sight a bodle! Aweel she's gane, and a guid riddance."

"What does the girl look like, Mrs. Ross?"

"Eh, leddy, she's a strapping wench! tall and broad-shouldered, and full-breasted, with a handsome head that she carries unco high, and big, bold blue eyes, and a heap o' long, red hair. That's Rosy Cameron, me leddy."

This was a rather rough portrait of the Juno-like Highland beauty; but then, it was drawn by an enemy, you know.

"But dinna fash yersel' about yon hizzie ony mair, me young leddy. She'll na be permitted to trouble ye," concluded the housekeeper.

"That will do, Mrs. Ross. Thanks. But pray do not let anyone be harsh with that poor girl. If she is a little crazy, she is all the more to be pitied. Good-night," said Salome, thus gently dismissing her talkative attendant.

"Guid night, me young leddy. Guid rest and blithe waking to ye," repeated the old woman, as she courtesied and left the room.

"Poor girl!" mused Salome. "I cannot help sympathizing with her tonight. What if Arondelle who is so courteous to all, were courteous to her also. And she, unused to courtesy in her rude Highland home, mistook such gentle courtesy for preference, for love, and gave him her love in return? He would not be in the least to be blamed, while she would be much to be pitied. What a cruel sight these wedding preparations must be to her! What a miserable night this must be for her! I must see to that poor girl's welfare," concluded Salome.

A low rap at her door disturbed her.

"Come in."

Her maid entered.

"What is it, Janet?"

"If you please, Miss, Sir Lemuel's man has just brought me a message for you. Sir Lemuel requests, Miss, that you will come to his room before you retire."

"Dear papa, I will go at once. You need not wait for me here, Janet. Just turn the lights down low-they make the room so warm-and leave the windows partly open, and then go to bed, my girl, I shall not want you again tonight," said Salome, as she passed out of the chamber and went down to the long hall, at the opposite extremity of which was her father's room.

She entered silently, and found the banker wrapped in his gray silk dressing-gown and seated in his large resting-chair.

"Come and sit by me, my dear. I only wanted to have a little talk with you tonight," he said, holding out his hand to her.

She went up to him, clasped and kissed the out-stretched hand, and then seated herself, not on the chair by his side, for that would not have brought her near enough to him, but on the footstool at his feet, so that she could lay her head upon his knees.

"Salome, my darling, I have not been a good father to you," he said, sadly, as he ran his long white fingers through the tresses of the little dark-haired head that lay upon his knees.

"Oh, papa! the best and dearest papa that ever lived!" she answered, drawing his hand to her lips and kissing it fondly.

"No, no; I have not been a good father to you, my poor motherless child. I feel it to-night. I left you fourteen years in a foreign convent, and scarcely ever saw you. Was that being a good father to you, my child?"

"Yes, dear, it was. I had to be educated. And the nuns did their whole duty by me, did they n

ot?" said Salome, soothingly.

"They sent me home a sweet and lovely child, who in the three years that she has been my greatest blessing and comfort has made me feel and know how much I lost in banishing her from my presence so long-fourteen years!-a time never to be redeemed!" said the banker, with a sigh.

"Yes, papa, dear. It can and shall be redeemed. For now you know I shall live with you as long as you live. My marriage will not deprive you of your daughter, but give you a dear and noble son. You know it is settled that after our brief wedding we shall return to Lone, and you and the duke, and Arondelle and myself, will all live here together until the meeting of Parliament in February, and then we shall go up to London together. So cheer up, papa. All the coming years shall compensate for all we have lost in the past," said Salome, gayly caressing him.

"'The coming years?' Ah, my darling! do you forget that I am quite an old man to be your father? You were the child of my old age, Salome! I was nearly fifty when you were born. I am nearly seventy now!"

"Dear father!" murmured Salome, caressing him with ineffable tenderness.

"Do not let me sadden you, my darling. I would not be a day younger. It is well to be old. It is well to have lived a long time in this world, for it is a good world. But good as it is, it is but rudimentary. It is to the human being only what the soil is to the seed-the germinating bed; the full and perfect world is beyond. Young Christians believe this. Aged Christians know it. There, brighten up! And think that this marriage of yours and Arondelle's if it be as true as I feel assured it is-will be not for time only but for all eternity! Believe this and be happier than you were ever before! There now, my darling! I called you in here to make my little confession. I have received absolution. Now go to your rest. Good night," said the banker, bending and kissing her forehead.

"Dear, dearest father! bless your daughter before she goes," said Salome, in a voice thrilling with emotion, as she raised from her seat and knelt at her father's feet.

The old man laid his hand upon her bowed head and solemnly invoked a blessing upon her.

"May the Lord look down on you, my daughter. May He give you health and grace to bear your burdens and do your duties as wife and mother, and save and bless you and yours, now and ever more, for Christ's dear sake. Amen."

She arose in silence from her knees, put her arms around his neck, kissed him, and glided from the room.

And now a terrible and mysterious thing happened to the bride-elect.

The lights had been turned very low in the hall. The household had all retired to rest. The stillness and the sense of darkness awed her as she glided noiselessly along in the deep shadows. Suddenly she saw the form of a man approaching from the direction of her own room. He might be some belated servant on some legitimate business for one of the guests, yet he startled her. She looked intently toward him, but in the obscure light she could only see that he was a tall man in dark clothing, and with a very white face. She shrank back in the shadow of the wall as he swiftly and silently approached her.

Then with amazement she recognized the face and form of her betrothed husband. But the face was deadly pale, and the form was shaking as with an ague fit.

"Arondelle! You here!" she exclaimed, starting towards him.

But she met only the empty air, the form had vanished.

In unbounded amazement she stared all around to see where it could have gone, and in what part of the darksome hall she herself then stood.

She found herself opposite to the entrance of a long, narrow passage opening from the hall and leading to the door of a staircase communicating with the dungeons of Malcolm's Tower.

She looked down that passage. It was black as the mouth of Hades!

A nameless terror seized her, and she fled precipitately down the hall, nor stopped until she had reached her own room, rushed in, and shut and bolted the door. Then she sank down into the nearest chair, feeling cold as ice, and trembling from head to foot.

Her maid had over-acted her instructions, and had not only turned the lights low, but had turned them out entirely.

There was no need of artificial light, however; for the windows were open and the room was flooded with the brilliant moonshine of these northern latitudes.

Salome did not know or care how the room was lighted. She sat there thrilled with awe of what she had just experienced.

Had she really seen the marquis?-or his spirit? Or had she been the victim of an optical illusion?

If she had seen the marquis, what could have brought him secretly into the house and up into the hall of the bed-rooms, at that hour of the night? And why did he not answer her, when she called him?

It surely could not have been the marquis whom she saw! He never would have crept into the house and up to their private-rooms, at that hour of the night, or fled from her, when she called him?

What was it then that she had seen in the likeness of her lover?

Was it the disembodied spirit of Arondelle? Could the spirit of a living man appear in one place, while the body of the man was present in another? She had heard and read of such wonders, yet she could not accept them as facts.

No, this was no spirit.

What then? Had she been the subject of an optical illusion? She had heard of those wonders also!

But no! This was too real, too solid, too substantial for an optical illusion!

Was the form she had seen possibly that of some other person, some guest of the house, who had lost his way.

No, and a thousand noes! She knew every guest staying at the castle, and knew that not one of them bore the slightest resemblance to the Marquis of Arondelle.

No, the form that she had seen in the murky hall seemed that of her betrothed husband, or it was his spirit.

She could not tell which, nor could she test the question now. The house was full of wedding guests, who were now most probably sound asleep in their beds. And the household all had long since retired. She could not rouse them only to satisfy her own doubts without any other practical result. For what if the intruder were Lord Arondelle? He was not in the least an objectional guest. And in the morning he would explain his strange presence.

By this time Salome had reasoned herself into some degree of calmness. But she was still too much excited to feel sleepy or to think of retiring to bed.

The mid-summer night was warm and close, even there in the Highlands-or in her nervous condition it seemed to her to be so. She wanted more air. She went to the window, and seated herself in an easy-chair, and looked out.

A heavenly night!

The deep-blue sky was spangled with myriads of sparkling stars. The full harvest moon was at the zenith and pouring down a flood of silvery radiance over mountain, lake and island.

Right opposite the window was the elegant little bridge that spanned the lake between the island and the mountain, at the base of which stood the little Gothic church with the cottages of the hamlet clustered around it.

A beautiful scene!

This morning it had been gay and noisy with a rejoicing crowd come to inspect the decorated grounds, and to triumph over the approaching marriage of their disinherited young lord, with the present heiress of his lost estate.

To-morrow this scene would be even more gay and more noisy, with a greater and more rejoicing crowd. For all the Clan Scott were to gather here to do honor to the nuptials of their hereditary chieftain.

But to-night the beautiful scene was holy in its solitude and stillness.

Hark!

A sound of voices beneath the window.

Salome started, and drew back. And the next moment, paralyzed by consternation and despair, she overheard the following conversation:

"Hist! are you there, Rose?" inquired a dear familiar voice.

"Ay, I'm here, me laird! After being turnit frae the castle like a thief, or a beggar, or a dog! after being threatened wi' a constable and a prison if I ever showed my face here; but once mair I hae come agen, in obedience to your bidding! Come creeping, creeping, creeping ander the castle wa', by night, like ony puir cat afeared o' scauding water! Ay, me laird, I'm here, mair fule I!" replied a woman's voice.

"Hush, Rose! Do not say so, my girl. And do not call me 'lord;' I am your slave and not your 'lord,' my lady queen! You know I love you-you only of all women."

"Luve me? Ou, ay, sae ye tell me. But this gran' wedding is coming unco near to be naething but a jest. How far will ye carry the jest? Up till the altar railings? Into the bridal chamber? It's deceiving and fuling me, ye are, me laird! But I'll tell ye weel! Ye sail no marry yon girl, I say! Gin ye gae sae far as to lead her to the kirk mesel' will meet you at the altar and forbid the marriage. And then see wha will put me out!"

"Hush, hush, you wild Highland witch, and listen to me. I shall not marry that girl! How can I, when I am married to you? I have had an object in letting this thing go on thus far. My plans could not all be accomplished until to-night. But to-night something will happen that will put all thoughts of marrying and giving in marriage effectually out of the heads of all parties concerned, I will warrant. And to-morrow, you and I will be far away from this place-together, and never to part again. Wait here for me, my love; I shall not be long away. But on your life, do not stir, or speak, or scarcely breathe until you see me again."

"How long will you be gone?"

"Perhaps an hour. Perhaps two hours. You can be patient?"

"Ay, I can be patient."

Here the low, whispering voice ceased. And Salome?

Before that conversation was half through, Salome had fallen back in her chair in a deadly swoon.

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