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   Chapter 15 THE CLOUD FALLS.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 29747

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


When Rose Cameron's emissary entered the bride's chamber, the young duchess arose from her chair, but almost instantly sank back again, overpowered by an access of that mysterious foreshadowing of approaching calamity which had darkened her spirit during the whole of this, her bridal day.

And it was better, perhaps, that this should be so, as it prepared her to sustain the shock which might otherwise have proved fatal to one of her nervous and sensitive organization.

She looked up from her resting-chair, and saw, standing, courtesying before her, a weary, careworn, elderly woman, in a rusty black bonnet, shawl, and gown. No very alarming intruder to contemplate.

The woman, on her part, instead of the proud and insolent beauty she had expected to see, in all the pomp and pride of her bridal day and her new rank, beheld a fair and gentle girl, still clothed in the deepest mourning for her murdered father.

And her heart, which had been hardened against the supposed triumphant rival of the poor peasant girl, now melted with sympathy.

And she, who had persistently forced her way into the bride's chamber, with the grim determination to spring the news upon her without hesitation or compassion, now cast about in her simple mind how to break such a terrible shock with tenderness and discretion.

"You look very much fatigued. Pray sit down there and rest yourself, while you talk to me," said the young duchess, gently, and pointing to a chair near her own.

"Ay, I am tired enough in mind and body, my lady, along of not having slept a wink all last night on account of-what I'll tell you soon, my lady. So I'll even take you at your kind word, my lady, and presume to sit down in your ladyship's presence," sighed the woman, slowly sinking into the indicated seat, and then adding: "I know as ladyship is not exactly the right way to speak to a duke's lady as is a duchess; but I don't know as I know what is."

"You must say 'your grace' in speaking to the duchess," volunteered Margaret, in a low tone.

"Never mind, never mind," said the bride, with a slight smile. "I am quite ready to hear whatever you may have to say to me. What can I do for you?"

The visitor hesitated and moaned. All her eager desire to overwhelm Rose Cameron's rival with the shameful news of her bridegroom's previous marriage and living wife had evaporated, leaving only deep sympathy and compassion for the sweet young girl, who looked so kindly, and spoke so gentle. Yet deeply she felt that, even for this gentle girl's sake, she must reveal the fatal secret! It was dreadful enough and humiliating enough to have had the marriage ceremony read over herself and an already married man, the husband of a living woman; but it would be infinitely worse, it would be horrible and shameful, to let her go off in ignorance, believing herself to be that man's wife-to travel with him over Europe.

All this, the honest woman from Westminster Road knew and felt, yet she had not the courage now to shock that gentle girl's heart by telling the news which must stop her journey.

"Please excuse me; but I must really beg you to be quick in telling me what I can do to serve you. My time is limited. Within an hour we have to catch the tidal train to Dover. And-I have much to do in the interim," said the young duchess, speaking with gentle courtesy to this poor, shabby woman in the rusty widow's weeds.

"Ah, my lady-grace, I mean! there is no need of being quick! When you hear all I have to tell you-to my sorrow as well as yours, my grace!-your hurry will all be over; and you will not care about catching the tidal train-not if you are the lady as I take my-your grace to be!"

"What do you mean?" inquired Salome, in low, tremulous tones.

"My lady-grace, I mean! will you send your maid away? What I have to tell you, must be told to you alone," whispered the visitor.

"Margaret, you may retire. I will ring when I want you," said the young duchess.

And her maid, disgusted, for her curiosity had been strongly aroused, left the room and closed the door. And, as Margaret had too much self-respect to listen at the key-hole, she remained in ignorance of what passed between the young duchess and the uncanny visitor.

"Your strange words trouble me," said Salome, as soon as she found herself alone with her visitor.

"Ay, my lady, your grace, I know it. And I am sorry for it. But I cannot help it. And, indeed, I'm very much afeared as I shall trouble you more afore I am done."

"Then pray proceed. Tell me at once all you have to tell. And permit me to remind you that my time is limited," urged the young duchess.

"Ay, madam, my lady-grace, I mean. But grant me your pardon if I repeat that there is indeed no hurry. You will not take the tidal train to Dover. Not if you be the Christian lady as I take you for," gravely replied the visitor.

"I must really insist upon your speaking out plainly and at once," said Salome, with more of firmness than she had as yet exhibited, although her pale cheeks grew a shade paler.

"My lady-your grace, I should say-when I started to come here this morning, to bring you the news I have to tell, my heart was that full of anger against him and you, for the deep wrongs done to one I know and love, that I did not care how suddenly I told it, or how awfully it might shock you. But now that I see you, dear lady-grace, I mean-I do hate myself for having of such a tale to tell. But, for all that-for your sake as well as for hers, I must tell it," said the woman, solemnly.

"For Heaven's sake, go on! What is it you have to tell me?" inquired the bride, in a fainting voice.

"Well, then, your lady, my grace-Oh, dear! I know that ain't the right way to speak, but-"

"No matter! no matter! Only tell me what you have to tell and have done with it!" said Salome, impatiently at last.

"Well, then-I beg ten thousand pardons, my lady, but did your ladyship ever hear tell, up your way in Scotland, of a very handsome young woman of the lower orders, by the name of Rose Cameron?"

"Yes, I have heard of such a girl," answered the bride, in a low tone, averting her face.

"I thought your ladyship must have heard of her. And now-I beg a million of pardons, my lady-but did your ladyship ever happen to hear of a certain person's name mentioned alongside of hers?"

"I decline to answer a question so improper. What can such a question have to do with your present business?" inquired the bride, with more of gentle dignity than we have ever known her to assume.

"It has a great deal to do with it, your ladyship. It has everything to do with it, as I shall soon prove to your grace. Take no offence, dear lady. I won't use any name to trouble you. And I won't say anything but what I can prove. Will you let me go on on them terms, your ladyship?" humbly inquired the messenger.

"Yes, yes, if you only will be quick. I wish you to go on. I believe you to mean well, though I do not exactly know what you really do mean," said Salome, nervously.

"Well, then, my lady, if you ever heard of this handsome Highland peasant girl, called Rose Cameron, you must have heard that she lived long of her old father, a shepherd, dwelling at the foot of Ben Lone, near by where-a-a certain person had his shooting-lodge. My dear lady, it is the same wicked old story as we hear over and over again, and a many times too often. Well, the young man-a certain person, I mean-while at his shooting-box, foot of Ben Lone, happened to see this handsome lass, and fell in love with her at first sight, as certain persons sometimes do with young peasant girls as they oughtn't to marry. But mayhap your ladyship have heard all this before."

Salome had heard it all before; and now, in silence and sadness, she was wondering what she had to hear more; but certainly not expecting to hear the degrading revelation her visitor had still to make.

"Well, my lady," resumed the visitor, "a certain person courted handsome Rose Cameron a long time, trying to coax her to accept of his heart without his hand, after the manner of certain persons, to poor and pretty young girls. But the handsome peasant was as proud as a princess, and so she was. And she would see him hanged first, and so she would, before she would degrade herself for him, especially as she wasn't overmuch in love with him herself, but only pleased with his preference, and proud to show him off. She didn't worship him at all. She worshiped herself, my lady. And she could take care of herself and keep him in his place, even while she sort of encouraged his attentions. That was the secret of her power over him, my lady. She would neither take him on his terms nor let him go. And the more she resisted him the more he fell down and worshiped her, until, at length, he was ready to give up everything for her sake, and offer her marriage. That was what she really wanted to fetch him to, for she was ambitious as well as honest-that she was! Are you listening to me, my lady?"

"I am listening," breathed the bride, in a faint voice.

She had turned her chair around, so that her weary head could rest upon the corner of the dressing-table, where she now leaned, face downward, on her spread hands.

"Well, my lady, when she had fetched him to that pass as to offer her marriage, she took him at his word, and he brought her up to London. And they were married, sure enough, in the old church at St. Margaret's near by where I live, in Westminster."

"It is false! It is false! It is false as-Oh! Heaven of Heavens!" cried Salome, wildly, throwing back her head and hands, and then dropping them again with a low, heart-broken moan.

"I am cut to the soul, my lady, to say this; but I must say it, even for your sake, my lady, and I only say what I can easy prove," spoke the woman, humbly.

"Go on, go on," moaned Salome, without lifting her head.

"Well, my lady, after their marriage, they came to my house to live, which this was the way of it; I had a three-story brick house on Westminster Road, and I took lodgers. But what between getting only a few lodgers, and them being bad pay, I got myself over head and ears in debt, and was in danger of being sold up by my creditors, when a certain person, as called hisself Mr. John Scott, come and took the whole house right offen my hands just as it was, and engaged me as his housekeeper, telling of me as he was just married, and was agoing to bring home his wife. Well, my lady, he advanced me money to pay my debts, and then he fetched Mrs. John Scott, which was no other than Rose Cameron, my lady, as I soon after found out from herself. Well, he fetches Mrs. John Scott to look at the first floor which he was agoing to refit complete for her, and according to her taste. Well, your ladyship, she, having of a very glarish sort of her own, she chooses furniture all scarlet and gold, enough to put your eyes out. And when all was fixed up onto that first floor, then he brought her home sure enough."

Without lifting her face, Salome murmured some words in so low and smothered a tone that they were inaudible to her visitor.

"I beg pardon, my lady. What did you please to say?" inquired the woman, bending toward the bowed head of the bride.

"I asked how long ago was it?" she repeated, in a faint voice.

"Just about a year, my lady."

"Go on."

"Well, then, my lady, first along he seemed very fond of her, seemed to doat on her, and loaded her with dresses, and trinkets, and sweetmeats, and nick-nacks of all sorts, and never came home without bringing of her something. And she never got anything very nice but what she would call me up and give me some; for she made quite a companion of me, my lady. But after a few weeks, Mr. John Scott was frequent away from home for days together. But this didn't trouble Mrs. John Scott much. I soon saw as she wasn't that deep in love with him as she couldn't live without him. And so he kept her well supplied with finery and dainties, or with the money to get them, he might go off as often, and stay as long as he liked. She lived an idle, easy, merry life, and frequent went to the play-house, and took me. 'And all was merry as a marriage bell,' as the old saying says, until this summer, when Mr. John Scott went off, and stayed longer then he ever stayed before. Well, my lady, while he was still away, one morning in last June, Mrs. John Scott takes up the Times to look over. She didn't often look over the papers, and when she did it was only to see what was going to be played at the theatres. But that morning her eyes happened to light down on something in the paper as put her into a perfect fury. She was so beside herself as to let out a good deal that she meant to have kept in. And by her own goings on I found out that it was the announcement of the marriage, that was to come off in two days at Lone Castle, between the young Marquis of Hereward and the daughter and heiress of Sir Lemuel Levison, as had set her on fire. I tried my best to quiet her, and even asked her what it was to her? She said she would soon let 'em all know what it was to her. I begged her to explain. But she would give me no satisfaction. She seemed all cock-a-whoop, begging your ladyship's pardon, to go somewhere and do something. And that same night she packed her carpet-bag and off she went. I asked her what I should say to Mr. John Scott if he should come home before she did. And she told me never to mind. I shouldn't have any call to say anything. She should see him before I could. And so off she went that same night."

"What night was that?" slowly and faintly breathed Salome, without lifting her fallen head.

"Two nights before-before the marriage was to have been, my lady," answered the woman, in a low and hesitating tone.

"Proceed, please."

"And now, my lady, I must tell you what happened at Lone, as I received it from her own lips this very morning, before I came here. She went down to Scotland by the night express of the Great Northern, and arrived at Lone early in the morning of the day before the wedding-day that should have been. She found great preparations going on for the marriage of the markis and the heiress. She went over to the castle with the crowd of the country people who gathered there to see the grand decorations for the wedding. But she saw nothing of the bride or of the bridegroom; and, moreover, she was warned off with threats by the servants of the castle. But at length, towards night-fall, my lady, she saw Mr. John Scott, as he called himself, hanging about the Hereward Arms, and she 'went for him,' as the saying is. But he drew her apart from the crowd. And there she charged him with perfidy, and threatened to appear at the church the next day with her marriage lines and forbid the banns. He did a

ll he could to quiet her, said that she was deceived and mistaken, and that he could not marry any one, being already married to herself, and that if she would meet him that night at the castle, just under the balcony, near Malcolm's Tower, he would explain everything to her satisfaction."

"It was no dream, then! Oh, Heaven! it was no dream! And my own senses witness against him!" exclaimed Salome again, throwing up her face and hands with a cry of anguish, and then dropping them, as before, upon the table in an attitude of abject despair.

"My lady, this is too much for you! too much!" said the compassionate woman, weeping over the distress she had caused.

"No, no; go on, go on; I will hear it all. My own senses, pitying Heaven! my own senses bear witness to it," moaned Salome, in a smothered voice.

"Ah, my lady, it grieves me deeply to go on, as you bid me. They met, Mr. John Scott, as he called himself, and Rose Cameron, at the time and place agreed on-at midnight at Castle Lone, under the balcony near Malcolm's Tower. And there, my lady, he repeated to her that he was not going to marry anybody, reminding her that he was already married to herself; and he explained that something would happen before morning, which would put all thoughts of marrying and giving in marriage out of the heads of all parties concerned. And then he-"

A groan of anguish burst from the almost breaking heart of the wretched bride, as she lifted a face convulsed and deathly white with her soul's great agony.

"My lady! oh, my lady!" exclaimed the woman, in much alarm.

"I heard it all! I heard it all!" cried Salome, as if speaking to herself and unconscious of the presence of a hearer. "I heard it all! I heard it all! Yea! my own senses were witnesses of my own dishonor and despair!" she groaned, as she threw her arms and her head violently forward upon the table.

"My lady, for mercy's sake, my lady!" exclaimed the widow, standing up and bending over her.

"Oh, what a hell! what a hell is this world we live in! And what devils walk to and fro upon the earth!-devils beautiful and deceitful as the fallen archangel himself!" moaned Salome, all unconscious of the words.

"Ah, my dear lady, for goodness' sake, now don't talk so, that's a darling," coaxed the good woman.

"Do not heed me! Go on! go on! Give me the death-blow at once, and have done with it!" cried Salome, lifting her blanched and writhen face and wringing hands, and then dashing them down again.

The appalled visitor seemed stricken dumb.

"Go on, go on," moaned the poor bride in a half smothered tone.

"Lord help me! I have forgotten where I was! I wish it had befallen anybody but me to have this here hard duty to do! Where was I again? Ah! under the balcony. My lady, he told her to wait there for him until he came back. And he went away, and was gone an hour or more. Then he came back, and another man along of him. The night was so still, she heard them coming before they got in sight. And she heard them a talking in a low voice. And Mr. John Scott he seemed awful put out about something or other as the other man had done agin his orders. And he said, hoarse like, 'I wouldn't have had it done, no, not for all we have got by it!' And the other one said, 'It couldn't be helped. The old man squealed, and we had to squelch him.' Says Mr. John Scott: 'You've brought the curse of Cain upon me!' Says t'other one, 'It was chance. What's done is done, and can't be undone. What's past remedy is past regret. And what can't be cured must be endured. The old man squealed, and had to be squelched, or he'd have brought the house about our ears-'"

"Oh, my father! my dear father! my poor, murdered father! And you! oh you! with the beauty and glory of the archangel, and the cruelty and deceit of the arch fiend, I can never look upon your face again-never! The sight would blast me like a flame of fire," raved Salome, throwing back her head, wringing her hands, and gasping as if for breath of life.

"Ah, my dear lady, I know how hard it is! Pardon me, my lady, but I feel a mother's heart in my bosom for you. Try to be patient, sweet lady, and do not despair. You are so young yet, hardly more than a child you seem. You have a long life before you yet. And if you be good, as I am sure you will be, it will be a happy life, in which these early sorrows will pass away like morning mists," said the woman, soothingly.

"Oh, never more for me will morning dawn! Eternal night rests on my soul! For myself I do not care! But, oh, my ruined archangel!" she wailed, burying her face in her hands.

A dead silence fell between the two, until Salome, without changing her position, murmured;

"Go on to the end; I will not interrupt you again. Oh, that I could wake from this night-mare!-or-expire in it! Go on and finish."

"My lady, while the two men were speaking, they came in sight of the woman who was waiting under the balcony. Then Mr. John Scott says: 'Hush! my girl will hear us.' And they hushed, but it was too late-she had heard them. Mr. John Scott came up to her in a hurry, and put a small but heavy bag in her hand, saying that she must take it and take care of it, and never let it go out of her possession, and that she must hurry back to Lone Station and catch the midnight express train back to London, and that he himself would follow her, and join her at home the next night."

"And all that, too, was proved-yes, proved by the mouths of two witnesses at the inquest, though they did not either of them recognize the man or the woman," moaned Salome.

"Mrs. John Scott returned to my house about breakfast time the next morning, my lady, bringing that bag with her, which I noticed she wouldn't let out of her sight, no, nor even out of her hand, while I was near her. She wouldn't answer any of my questions, or give me any satisfaction then, even so far as to tell me where she had been, or if she had seen Mr. John Scott. So I knew nothing until the next morning, when I got the Times. I don't in general care about reading the papers myself, but opened it that morning to see if there was anything in it about the grand wedding at Lone. And oh! My lady, I saw how the wedding had been stopped on account of-on account-of what happened to Sir Lemuel Levison that night, my lady, as I don't like to talk of it, or even t think of it. But when Mrs. John Scott rang her bell that morning, my lady, I took up the paper with her cup of tea, which she always took in bed. And oh, my lady, when she came to know what had happened at Lone, she went off into the very worst hysterics I ever saw. I was struck all of a heap! I couldn't imagine why she should take it so awfully to heart as that. But that's neither here nor there. I know now why she took it so to heart. In the midst of all the hubbub, Mr. John Scott returned. And she fairly flew at him! She said, among other bitter, things, that he would bring her to the gallows yet! And she charged him with what she had overheard. But somehow or other he laughed at her, and explained it all away to her satisfaction. He could always make her believe whatever he pleased. If he had told her the rainbow was only a few yards of striped Leamington ribbon, she would have believed him! He didn't stay more than an hour, and was off again in a hurry. We didn't see him again until the last of the week. It was the news of the coroner's verdict on the Lone murder case was telegraphed to London, when he came rushing in at the door and up the stairs like a mad-man. And in ten minutes he came rushing down stairs again and out of the street door like a madman, but he carried the heavy little bag off with him in his hand. And he has never been back since. But, from time to time, he wrote to her, and sent her money, and told her that business still kept him away. But, mind you, my lady, his letters were all without date or signature, and were drop letters, now from one London post-office, and now from another, so that she never knew where to address him. Not that she cared. As long as her money lasted she was, perfectly satisfied. She lived comfortably, and she amused herself, and often went to the play and took me with her, and all went merry again until yesterday, when, all on a sudden, the police made a descent on the house, and arrested Mrs. John Scott on a charge of being implicated in the robbery and murder at Castle Lone, and proceeded to search the house, where they found the watch-chain, snuff-box, and other valuable property belonging to the late Sir Lemuel Levison!"

"Great Heaven! they found these things in the house rented by-by-"

Salome could say no more, but ended with a groan that seemed to rend body and soul apart.

"They found the stolen jewels there, my lady. My unhappy mistress denied all knowledge of them, but her words availed her nothing. She was carried off to prison that same night. This morning she was taken before the sitting magistrate, and examined, and remanded to prison, until she can be carried back to Scotland for trial. Neither she nor I know at what hour she may be removed, or by what train she may be taken to Scotland. She may be gone now, for aught I know."

"Where is the poor creature now confined?" inquired Salome, in a dying voice.

"In the Westminster police station-house, my lady, if she has not been already removed. But I must tell your ladyship-your grace, I mean-how I happen to come to you now. I was at the West End this morning, my lady, and in returning to the city I passed St. George's Church, Hanover Square, and I saw the pageant of your wedding. And when I got back to Westminster and looked into the station-house to see my unfortunate mistress, and to help her mind often her own troubles, I told her about the wedding of the Duke of Hereward with the heiress of Sir Lemuel Levison, at St. George's Church, my lady. She went off into the most terrible fit of excitement I ever seen her in yet, and I have seen her in some considerable ones, now I do assure your ladyship. And in her raving and tearing, my lady, I first heerd that Mr. John Scott and the young Marquis of Arondelle and the Duke of Hereward was all one and the same gentleman, and he was the lawful husband of Rose Cameron. My lady, I thought her troubles had turned her head, and so I did not believe a word she said. And, my lady, I do not expect you to believe me without proof, any more than I believed her."

"Oh, Heaven of Heavens! I have the proof! I have the proof in the evidence of my own senses, too fatally discredited until now. But if you have further proof, give it me at once," groaned Salome.

"Here is the marriage certificate. Look at that first, my lady, if you please," said Mrs. Brown, putting the document in her hands.

Salome gazed at it with beclouded vision, but she saw that it was a genuine certificate of marriage between Archibald-Alexander-John Scott, Marquis of Arondelle, and, Rose Cameron, signed by James Smith, Rector of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, and witnessed by John Thomas Price, Sexton, and Ann Gray, Pew-opener.

"The man must have been mad! mad! to have done this, in the first instance, and then-done what he has just this morning," moaned Salome, as she returned the certificate to the woman.

"My lady, he thought as he had got Rose Cameron lagged, he would never be found out. Here, my lady, is the first letter he wrote to her after they were married. I reckon it is a foolish love-letter enough, not worth reading; but what I want you to notice is, his handwriting, and the way he commences his letter-'My Darling Wife,' and the way he ends it-'Your Devoted Husband, Arondelle.'"

"I recognize the handwriting, and I note the signature. I do not wish to read the letter," muttered Salome, waving it away.

"Well, then, my lady, here is a photograph of his grace, given to his wife a few days before their marriage," said the widow, offering a small card.

Salome took it, looked at it, and dropped it with a long, low wail of anguish.

It was a duplicate of one presented to herself by the Duke of Hereward, from the same negative.

Silence again fell between the lady and her visitor until it was broken by a rap at the door, and the voice of the maid without, saying:

"Beg pardon, your grace, but Lady Belgrade desires me to say that you have but fifteen minutes to catch the train."

"Very well," replied the young duchess; but her voice sounded strangely unlike her own.

"Your ladyship will not go on your bridal tour?" said the visitor, imploringly.

"No, I shall not go on a bridal tour. How can I?-I am not a bride. I am not a wife. I am not the Duchess of Hereward. I am just Salome Levison, as I was before that false marriage ceremony was performed over me! But do you be discreet. Say nothing below stairs of what has passed between us here," said Salome, speaking now with such amazing self-control that no one could have guessed the anguish and despair of her soul but for the marble whiteness and rigidity of her face.

"Be sure I shall not say one word, my lady," answered Mrs. Brown.

There was another low rap at the door, and again the voice of the maid was heard:

"Please your grace, what shall I say to Lady Belgrade?"

"Tell her ladyship that I am nearly ready," answered the young duchess. "And, Margaret," she added, "show this good woman out. And then, do not return here until I ring."

The visitor courtesied and went to the door, where she was met by the maid, who conducted her down stairs.

Salome locked and double-locked and bolted the doors leading from her apartments to the front corridor, and then she retreated to her dressing-room, alone with her terrible trial.

Who can conceive the mortal agony suffered by that young, overburdened heart and overtasked brain.

Who can estimate the force of the conflict that raged in her bosom, between her passion and her conscience? Between her love and her duty? Between what she knew of her worshiped husband, from daily association, and what she had just heard proved upon him by overwhelming testimony, confirmed also by the evidence of her own too long discredited senses!

He-her Apollo-her ideal of all manly excellence-her archangel, as in the infatuation of her passion she had called him-he a bigamist, and an accomplice in the murder of her father!

It was incredible! incomprehensible! maddening!

Or surely it was some awful nightmare dream, from which she must soon awake.

What should she do? How meet again the people below?

She would not look upon his face again. She could not. She felt that to do so would be perdition.

In the darkness of her despair a great temptation assailed her.

But we must leave her alone to wrestle with the demon, while we join the wedding-party below.

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