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   Chapter 10 THE LETTER AND ITS EFFECT.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 18103

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


Mr. Kage arrived at Lone, within twenty-four hours after having received the duke's telegram. He reached the castle at noon and had a private interview with the duke in the library, when it was arranged that the will and the letter should be read the same afternoon in the presence of the assembled household.

"The letter also? Is not that a private one from the father to his daughter?" inquired the duke.

"No, your grace. There are reasons why it must be public, which you will recognize when you hear it read," answered the lawyer.

"Then I fear I have been mistaken in my private thoughts concerning it. Pray, will it give us any clue to the perpetrators of the murder?"

"None whatever! It certainly was not a violent death that the banker anticipated for himself when he prepared that letter to be delivered in the event of his sudden decease."

"Has any clue yet been found to the murderer?"

"None that I have heard of."

"Or to the mysterious woman who was supposed to have carried off the booty?"

"None, Detective Keightley called on me yesterday for some information regarding the stolen property, and I furnished him with a photograph of that snuff-box given to Sir Lemuel Levison by the Sultan of Turkey-the gold one richly set with precious stones. Sir Lemuel had it photographed by my advice, for identification in case of its being stolen. And he left several duplicate copies with me. I gave one to Keightley. But the man could give me no information in return. The missing woman seemed lost in London. And the proverbial little needle in the haystack might be as easily found," said the lawyer.

The announcement of luncheon put an end to the interview.

The two gentlemen passed on into the smaller dining-room where Lady Belgrade awaited them. She received the solicitor politely and invited him to the table.

After the three were seated and helped to what they preferred, her ladyship turned to the lawyers and said:

"My niece understands that you have a letter for her, left in your charge by her father. She wishes you to send it to her immediately. Her maid is here waiting to take it."

"Pardon me, my dear lady, the letter must remain in my possession until after the reading of the will, when, for certain reasons, it must be read, as the will, in the presence of the household. Pray explain this to Miss Levison, and tell her that I shall be ready to read and deliver both at five o'clock this afternoon, if that will meet her convenience," said the lawyer, respectfully.

"That will suit her; but I hope the forms will not occupy more than an hour. Miss Levison is still extremely feeble, and ought not to sit up longer," said the dowager.

"It will not require more than half an hour, madam," replied Mr. Kage.

Lady Belgrade gave the message to the maid for her mistress. And when the girl retired, the conversation turned upon the proceedings of the London detectives in pursuit of the unknown murderers.

At the appointed hour the household servants were all assembled in the dining-room. At the head of the long table sat the family attorney and his clerk. Before them lay a japanned tin box, secured by a brass padlock. It contained the last will, the letter, and other documents appertaining to the deceased banker's estate. They were only waiting for the entrance of Miss Levison and her friends. No one else was expected. There was not the usual crowd of poor relatives who "crop up" at the reading of almost every rich man's will. The late Sir Lemuel Levison had no poor relations whatever. His people were all rich, and all scattered over Europe and America, at the head of banks, or branches of banks, in every great capital, of the almost illustrious house of "Levison, Bankers."

The assembled household had not to wait long. The door opened and the young lady of Lone entered, supported on each side by the Duke of Hereward and the dowager, Lady Belgrade.

Her fair, transparent, spiritual face looked whiter than ever, in contrast to her deep black crape dress, as she bowed to the lawyer, and passed to her seat at the table.

The duke and the dowager seated themselves on either side of her.

"Are you quite ready, Miss Levison, to hear the will of the late Sir Lemuel Levison?" inquired the attorney.

"I am quite ready, Mr. Kage, thanks," replied the young lady, in a low voice, and speaking with an effort.

The attorney unlocked the box, took out the will, unfolded and proceeded to read it.

The document was dated several years back. It was neither long nor complex. After liberal bequests to each one of his household servants, rich keepsakes to his dear friends, an annuity to the dowager Lady Belgrade, and a princely endowment to found an orphan asylum and children's hospital in the heart of London, he bequeathed the residue of his vast estates, both real and personal, without reserve and without conditions, to his only and beloved child, Salome.

After the reading of the will was finished, the attorney arose, came around to where the ladies sat, and congratulated Miss Levison and Lady Belgrade, on their rich inheritance.

"How could he do it?" thought the unconventional and weeping heiress. "Oh, how could he congratulate me on an inheritance which came, and could only have come, through my dear father's decease!" Then in a voice broken with emotion, she said:

"Thanks, Mr. Kage. Will you please now to read my dear papa's letter?-since you are to read it aloud, I think," she added.

"Such was the deceased Sir Lemuel's direction, my dear Miss Levison," said the lawyer. And returning to his place at the head of the table, he took the letter from the japanned box, opened it, and said:

"This letter from my late honored client to his daughter was committed by the late Sir Lemuel Levison to my charge to be retained and read after the will, in the event of a circumstance which has already occurred-I mean the sudden and unexpected death of the writer. The letter will explain itself."

Here the lawyer cleared his throat, and began to read:

Elmhurst House, Kensington, London, Monday, May 1st, 18-.

My Dearest Only Child: Blessings on your head! Nothing could have made me happier, than has your betrothal to so admirable a young man as the Marquis of Arondelle. Had I possessed the privilege of choosing a husband for you, and a son-in-law for myself, from the whole race of mankind, I should have chosen him above all others. But, my dearest Salome, the satisfaction I enjoy in your prospects of happiness is shadowed by one faint cloud. It is not much, my love; it is only the consciousness of my age and of the precarious state of my health. I may not live to see you united to the noble husband of your choice. Therefore it is that I have urged your speedy marriage with what your good chaperon, Lady Belgrade, evidently considers indecorous haste. She must continue to think it indecorous, because unreasonable. I cannot, and will not, darken your sunshine of joy, by giving to you now the real reason of my precipitation-the extremely precarious state of my health. Yet, in the event of my being suddenly taken from you, I must prepare this letter to be delivered to you after my death, that you may know my last wishes. If I live to see you wedded to the good Lord Arondelle, this paper shall be torn up and destroyed; if not, if I should be suddenly snatched away from you before your wedding-day, this letter will be read to you, after my will shall have been read, in the presence of your betrothed husband, your good chaperon and your assembled household, that you and they and all may know my last wishes concerning you, and that none shall dare to blame you for obeying them, even though in doing so you have to pursue a very unusual course. My wish, therefore, is that your marriage with Lord Arondelle may not be delayed for a day upon account of my death; but that it take place at the time fixed or as soon thereafter as practicable. In giving these directions, I feel sure that I am consulting the wishes of Lord Arondelle, the best interests of yourself, and the happiness of both. Follow my directions, therefore, my dearest daughter, and may the blessing of our Father in Heaven rest upon you and yours, is the prayer of

Your devoted father, Lemuel Levison.

During the reading of the letter the face of Salome was bathed in tears and buried in her pocket-handkerchief.

The duke sat by her, with his arm around her waist, supporting her.

At the end of the reading, without looking up, she stretched out her hand and whispered softly:

"Give me my dear father's letter now."

The attorney, who was engaged in re-folding the documents and restoring them to the japanned box, left his seat, and came to her side, and placed the letter in her hands.

"Thanks, Mr. Kage," she said, wiping her eyes and looking up. "But now will you tell me if you know what my dear father meant by writing of the precarious state of his health? He seemed to enjoy a very vigorous and green

old age."

"Yes, he 'seemed' to do so, my dear young lady; but it was all seeming. He was really affected with a mortal malady, which his physicians warned him might prove fatal at any moment," gravely replied the lawyer.

"And he never hinted it to us!"

"He did not wish to sadden your young life with a knowledge of his affliction."

"My own dear papa! My dear, dear papa! loving, self-sacrificing to the end of his earthly life! never thinking of his own happiness-always thinking of mine or of others! My dear, dear father!" murmured the still weeping daughter.

"He thought of your happiness, and of the happiness of your betrothed husband, my dear young lady, when he committed that letter to my care, to be delivered to you in case of his sudden death, and when he charged me to urge with all my might, your compliance with its instructions. And now permit me to add, my dear Miss Levison, that to obey your father's will in this matter would be the very best and wisest course you could pursue."

"Thanks, Mr. Kage; I know that you are a faithful friend to our family; but-I must have a little time to recover," murmured Salome, faintly.

"Here, you may remember my dear Salome, that when I told you of this letter in the possession of Mr. Kage, I said that I thought I knew its purport from certain conversations I had held with your late father. He had hinted to me the dangerous condition of his health, and he had expressed a hope that no accident to himself should be permitted to postpone our marriage; and then he told me that he had left a letter with his solicitor to be read in case of his sudden death, and that the letter would explain itself. He concluded by begging me if anything should happen to him to necessitate the delivery of that letter to you, to urge upon you the wisdom and policy of following its direction. He could not have given me a commission I should be more anxious or earnest in executing. My dear Salome, will you obey your good father's wishes? Will you give me at once a husband's right to love and cherish you?" he added in a low whisper.

"Oh, give me a little time," she murmured-"give me a little time. There is nothing I wish more than to do as my dear father directed me, and as you wish me; but my heart is so wounded and bleeding now, I am still so weak and broken-spirited. Give me a little time, dear John, to recover some strength to overcome my sorrow."

Here she broke down and wept.

"I think we had best take her back to her room," said Lady Belgrade, rising.

Mr. Kage locked up the documents in the japanned box, put the key in his pocket-book, and consigned the box to the care of his clerk.

Lady Belgrade dismissed the assembled servants to their several duties, and then, assisted by Lord Arondelle, led the bereaved and suffering girl from the room.

The lawyer and his clerk, who were to dine and sleep at the castle, were left alone.

The lawyer rang and asked for a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses, and lighted his cigar, to pass away the time until the dinner hour.

The next morning Mr. Kage and his clerk went back to London.

It now became an anxious question, whether the marriage of the young Duke of Hereward and the heiress of Lone should proceed according to her father's wishes.

Mr. Kage, the family attorney, urged it: Dr. McWilliams, the family physician, urged it: above all the expectant bridegroom, the Duke of Hereward; only the bride-elect, Salome, and her chaperon, Lady Belgrade, objected to it.

Salome, ill and nervous from the severe shock she had received, could decide upon nothing hastily and pleaded for a short delay.

Lady Belgrade argued etiquette and conventionalities-the impropriety of the daughter's marriage so soon after the father's murder.

Meanwhile the summer had merged into early autumn; the season of the Highlands was over, and the cold Scotch mists were driving summer visitors to the South coast, or to the Continent.

The climate was telling heavily upon the delicate organization of Salome Levison. She contracted a serious cough.

Then the family physician, (so to speak,) "put down his foot" with professional authority so stern as not to be contested or withstood.

"This is a question of life or death, my lady," he said to the dowager-"a question of life and death, ye mind! And not of conventionality and etiquette! Let conventionality and etiquette go to the D., from whom they first came. This girl must die, or she must marry immediately, and go off with her husband to the islands of the Grecian Archipelago. That is all that can save her. And as for you, my laird duke," continued the honest Scotch doctor, breaking into dialect as he always did whenever he forgot himself under strong excitement, "as for you, me laird duke, if ye dinna overcome the lassie's scruples, and marry her out of hand, the de'il hae me but I'll e'en marry her mysel', and tak' her awa to save her life! Now, then will I tak' her mysel' or will you?"

"I will take her!" said the young duke, smiling. Then turning to the dowager, he added, gravely: "Lady Belgrade, this marriage must and shall take place immediately. You must add your efforts to mine to overcome your niece's scruples. Your ladyship has been working against me heretofore. I hope now, after hearing what the doctor has said, that you will work with me."

"Of course, if the child's life and health are in question: and, indeed, this climate is much too severe for her, and she certainly does need rousing; and as it has been three months now since Sir Lemuel Levison's funeral, I don't see-But, of course, after all, it is for you and Salome to decide as you please;" answered Lady Belgrade, in a confused and hesitating manner, for when the dowager went outside of her conventionalities she lost herself.

Salome Levison was again besieged by the pleadings of her lover, the counsels of her solicitor, and the arguments of her physician, all with the co-operation of her chaperon.

"I do not see what else can be done, my dear," she said to her protegee. "The ceremony can be performed as quietly as possible, and you two can go away, and the world be no wiser."

"As if I cared for the world! I will do this in obedience to my dear father's directions and my betrothed husband's wishes, and I do not even think of the world," gravely replied Salome.

"Now, then, to the details, my dear. What day shall we fix? And shall the ceremony be preformed here at the castle or at the church at Lone?"

"Oh, not here! not here! I could not bear to be married here, or at the Lone church either. No, Lady Belgrade. We must go up to our town house in London, and be married quietly at St. Peter's in Kensington, where I used to attend divine service with my dear papa," said Salome, becoming agitated.

"Very well, my love. But don't excite yourself. We will go. And the sooner the better. These horrid Scotch mists are aggravating my rheumatism beyond endurance," concluded the dowager.

It was now the last week in September. But so diligently did the dowager, and the servants under her orders exert themselves both at Castle Lone and in London, that before the first of October, Miss Levison, with her chaperon and their attendants, were all comfortably settled in the luxurious town-house in the West End.

The Duke of Hereward took lodgings near the home of his bride-elect.

As the marriage settlements had been executed, and the bridal paraphernalia prepared for the first marriage day set three months before, there was really nothing to do in the way of preparation for the wedding, and no reason for even so much as a week's delay. An early day was therefore set. It was decided that the ceremony should be performed without the least parade.

Since her departure from Castle Lone and her arrival at their town house, the change of scene and of circumstances, and the preliminaries of her wedding and her journey, had the happiest effects upon Miss Levison's health and spirits.

She recovered her cheerfulness, and even acquired a bloom she had never possessed before. And her attendants took care to keep from her all that could revive her memory of the tragedy at Lone.

One morning the Duke of Hereward came to the house and asked to see Lady Belgrade alone.

The dowager received him in the library.

"Has Miss Levison seen the morning papers?" he inquired, as soon as the usual greetings were over.

"No, they have not yet come," answered her ladyship.

"Thank Heaven! Do not let her see them on any account! I would not have her shocked. The truth is," he added, in explanation of his words to the wondering dowager, "I have important news to tell you. The mysterious vailed woman, supposed to be connected with the robbery and murder at Lone Castle, has been found and arrested. The stolen property has been discovered in her possession. And she-you will be infinitely shocked-she proves to be Rose Cameron, the daughter of one of our shepherds, living near Ben Lone."

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