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   Chapter 17 THE LOST LADY OF LONE.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 20684

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


"Cannot be found? Whatever do you mean, girl? You cannot mean to say that the Duchess of Hereward is not in this house?" demanded Lady Belgrade, in amazement.

"I beg pardon, my lady; but we have made a thorough search of the premises, without being able to find her grace," respectfully answered the maid.

"Oh, but this is ridiculous! The duchess is in some of the rooms; she must be! Go and renew your search, and tell her grace, when you find her, that she has made the duke miss the tidal train; but that we are waiting for her here," commanded the lady.

The girl went, very submissively, on her errand.

Lady Belgrade dropped wearily into her chair, muttering:

"I do think servants are so idiotic. They can't find her because she happens to be out of her own room. I would go and hunt her up myself, but really the fatigue of this day has been too much for me."

The Duke of Hereward did not reply. He walked restlessly up and down the floor, filled with a vague uneasiness, for which he could not account to himself-for surely, he reflected, Salome must be in the house somewhere; it could not possibly be otherwise; and there were a dozen simple reasons why she might be missed for a few minutes; doubtless she would soon appear, and smile at their impatience.

Ay, but the minutes were fast growing into hours, and Salome did not re-appear.

The maid returned once more from her fruitless search.

"Indeed, I beg your pardon, my lady; but we cannot find her grace, either in the house or in the garden," she said, with a very solemn courtesy.

"Now this is really beyond endurance! I suppose I must go and look for her myself," answered Lady Belgrade, rising in displeasure.

"Will you let me accompany your ladyship?" gravely inquired the duke.

Lady Belgrade hesitated for a few moments, and then said:

"Well,-yes, you may come. We will go down stairs first."

They descended to the first floor, and went through the dining-room, sitting-room, library and little parlors; but without finding her they sought.

Then they ascended to the next floor and went through the picture-gallery, the music-room, the dancing-saloon, the hall, and lastly, the three drawing-rooms, in case that she might have returned there while they were absent. But their search was still without success.

Then they ascended to the upper floors, and looked all through the handsome suites of private apartments, but still without discovering a trace of the missing bride.

And so all over the house, from basement to attic, and from central hall to garden wall, they went searching in vain for the lost one.

The dowager and the duke returned to the drawing-room and looked each other in the face.

The dowager was stupefied with bewilderment. The duke was pale with anxiety.

The mystery was growing serious and alarming.

"What do you think of it, Lady Belgrade?" inquired the duke.

"I cannot think at all. I am at my wit's end," answered the lady. "What do you think?" she inquired, after a moment's pause.

"I think-that we had better call the servants up, one at a time, and put them separately through a strict examination," answered the duke.

Lady Belgrade rang the bell.

A footman appeared in answer to it.

"Examine him first, your grace," said the lady.

The duke put the young man through a strict catechism, without satisfactory results. John was the hall footman, whose business it was to answer the street-door bell and announce visitors. And he assured his grace that no one had entered or left the house that morning, to his knowledge, except the wedding party and their attendants.

The hall-porter was next summoned and examined, and his report was found to correspond exactly to that of the footman.

The butler was sent for and questioned, but could throw no light on the mystery of the lady's disappearance.

The pantry footman was next called up. His duty was to wait on the butler and attend the servants' door, to take in provisions delivered there. And the first plausible clue to the mystery of Salome's disappearance was received from him.

"Yes, my lady," he said, "there have been a stranger to the servants' door this morning-an elderly old widow woman, my lady, dressed in black, and werry much in earnest about seeing her grace; would take no denial, my lady, on no account; which compelled me to go to her grace's lady's-maid, Miss Watson, my lady, and send a message to her grace," said the young footman.

"Did the duchess see this strange visitor?" inquired the duke.

"Miss Watson come down and seen her first, your grace, and told her how she mustn't disturb the duchess. But the visitor was so dead set on seeing her grace, and used such strong language about it, that at last Miss Watson took up her message and in a few minutes come back and took up the visitor."

"She did? And what next?" inquired Lady Belgrade.

"Please, my lady, there was nothing next. In about an hour Miss Margaret brought the elderly old lady down, and I showed her out of the servants' door."

"Did she leave the house alone?" inquired the duke.

"Yes, your grace, just as she came, alone."

"Go and tell Margaret Watson to come here," said Lady Belgrade.

The man bowed and retired.

In a few minutes the girl made her appearance again.

"How is it, Watson, that you did not mention the visitor you showed up into your lady's room this morning?" inquired Lady Belgrade, in a severe tone.

"If you please, my lady, I did not think the visitor signified anything," meekly answered the maid.

"How could you tell what signified at a time like this?"

"I beg pardon, my lady; but it was the time itself that made me forget the visitor."

"Who was she? What time did she come? What did she want?" sharply demanded the lady.

"Please, my lady, she said her name was Smith, or Jones, or some such common name as that. I think it was Jones, my lady. And she lived on Westminster Road-or it might have been Blackfriars Road. Least-ways it was one of those roads leading to a bridge because I remember it made me think of the river."

"Extremely satisfactory! At what hour did this Mrs. Smith or Jones, from Westminster or Blackfriars, come?" inquired Lady Belgrade.

"Just as her grace went up to her room to change her dress. She had just finished changing it when the woman was admitted."

"And now! what did the woman want of the duchess?"

"I do not know, my lady. Her business was with her grace alone. And she requested to have me sent out of the room. I did not see the woman again, until her grace called me to show her, the woman, out again."

"And you did so?"

"Yes, my lady. And I have not seen the woman since. And-I have not seen her grace since, either, my lady."

"You may go now," answered Lady Belgrade.

And the girl withdrew.

The Duke of Hereward and Lady Belgrade were once more left alone together.

Again their eyes met in anxious scrutiny.

"What do you think now, Duke?" inquired her ladyship.

"I think the disappearance of the duchess is connected with the visit of that strange woman. She may have been an unfortunate beggar, who, with some story of extreme distress, so worked upon Salome's sympathies as to draw her away from home, to see for herself, and give relief to the sufferers. Or-I shudder to think of it-she may have been a thief, or the companion of thieves, and with just such a story, decoyed the duchess out for purposes of plunder. This does not certainly seem to be a probable theory of the disappearance, but it does really seem the only possible one," concluded the duke, in a grave voice.

And though he spoke calmly, his soul was shaken with a terrible anxiety that every moment now increased.

"But is it at all likely that Salome, even with all her excessive benevolence, could have been induced to leave her home at such a time as this, even at the most distressing call of charity? Would she not have given money and sent a servant?" inquired Lady Belgrade.

"Under normal conditions she would have done as you say. But remember, dear madam, that Salome is not in a normal condition. Remember that it is but three months since she suffered an almost fatal nervous shock in the discovery of her father's murdered body on her own wedding morning. Remember that it is scarcely six weeks since her recovery from the nearly fatal brain fever that followed-if indeed she has ever fully recovered. I do not believe that she has, or that she will until I shall have taken her abroad, when total change of scene, with time and distance, may restore her," sighed the duke.

"I thought she was looking very well for the last few weeks," said Lady Belgrade.

"Yes, until within the last few days, in which she seems to have suffered a relapse, easily accounted for, I think, by the association of ideas. The near approach of her wedding day brought vividly back to her mind the tragic events of her first appointed wedding morning, and caused the illness that has been noticed by all our friends this day. The excitement of the occasion has augmented this illness. Salome has been suffering very much all day. Every one noticed it, although, with the self-possession of a gentlewoman, she went calmly through the ceremonies at the church, and through the breakfast here. But I think she must have broken down in her room, and while in that state of nervous prostration she must have become an easy dupe to that beggar, or thief, whichever her strange visitor may have been," said the duke; and while he spoke so calmly on such an anxious and exciting subject, he, too, under circumstances of extreme trial and suspense, exhibited the self-possession and self-control which is the birthright of the true gentleman no less than of the true gentlewoman.

"It may be as you think. It would be no use to question the servants further. They know no more than we do. We can do nothing more now but wait, with what patience we may, for the return of that eccentric girl," said Lady Belgrade, with a deep sigh, as she settled herself down in her chair.

Another hour passed-an hour of enforced inactivity, yet of unspeakable anxiety. Three hours had now elapsed since the mysterious disappearance of the bride; and yet no news of her came.

"She does not return! This grows in

supportable!" exclaimed Lady Belgrade, at length, losing all patience, and starting up from her chair.

"She may be detained by the sick bed, or the death bed, of some sufferer who has sent for her," replied the duke, huskily, trying to hope against hope.

"As if she would so absent herself on her wedding day, on the eve of her wedding tour!" exclaimed the lady, beginning to walk the floor in a thoroughly exasperated state of mind.

"Of course she would not, in her normal mental condition; but, as I said before-"

"Oh, yes, I know what you said before. You insinuated that Salome may be insane from the latent effects of her recent brain fever, developed by the excitement of the last few days. And, Heaven knows, you may be right! It looks like it! Mysteriously gone off on her wedding day, in the interim between the wedding breakfast and the wedding tour! Gone off alone, no one knows where, without having left an explanation or a message for any one. What can have taken her out? Where can she be? Why don't she return? And night coming on fast. If she does not return within half an hour, you will miss the next train also, Duke," exclaimed Lady Belgrade, pausing in her restless walk, and throwing herself heavily into her chair again.

"Perhaps," said the Duke, in great perplexity, "we had better have the lady's maid up again, and question her more strictly in regard to the strange visitor's name and address; for I feel certain that the disappearance of the duchess is immediately connected with the visit of that woman. If we can, by judicious questions, so stimulate the memory of the girl as to obtain accurate information about the name and residence, we can send and make inquiries."

For all answer, Lady Belgrade arose and rung the bell for about the twentieth time that afternoon.

And Margaret Watson was again called to the drawing-room and questioned.

"Indeed, if you please, my lady, I am very sorry. I would give anything in the world if I could only remember exactly what the old person's name was, and where she lived. But indeed, my lady, what with being very much engaged with waiting on her grace, and packing up the last little things for the journey, and getting together the dressing-bags and such like, and having of my mind on them and not on the woman, and no ways expecting anything like this to happen, I wasn't that interested in the visitor to tax my memory with her affairs. But I know her name was a common one, like Smith or Jones, and I think it was Jones. And I know she said she lived on Westminster Road or Blackfriars Road, or some other road leading over a bridge, which I remember because it made me think about the river. But I couldn't tell which," said the girl in answer to the cross-questioning.

"And is that all you can tell us?" inquired Lady Belgrade.

"I beg pardon, my lady, but that is all I can remember," meekly replied the girl.

"Then you might as well remember nothing. You can go!" said Lady Belgrade, in deep displeasure.

The girl retired, a little crestfallen.

"Is there any other fool you would like to have called up and cross-examined, Duke?" sarcastically inquired the lady.

The duke made a gesture of negation. And the lady relapsed into painful silence.

And now another weary, weary hour crept by without bringing news of the lost one.

The watchers seemed to "possess their souls" in patience, if not "in peace." There was really nothing to be done but to wait. There was no place where inquiries could be made. At this time of the year nearly all the fashionable world of London was out of town. Nor at any time had Salome any intimate acquaintances to whom she would have gone. Nor would it have been expedient just yet to apply to the detective police for help to search abroad for one who might of herself return home at any moment.

The Duke of Hereward and Lady Belgrade could only wait it in terrible anxiety, though with outward calmness, for what the night might bring forth.

But in what a monotonous and insensible manner all household routine continues, "in well regulated families," through the most revolutionary sort of domestic troubles.

The first dinner bell had rung; but neither of the anxious watchers had even heard it.

The groom of the chambers came in and lighted the gas in the drawing-rooms, and retired in silence.

Still the watchers sat waiting in a state of intense, repressed excitement.

The second dinner bell rang. And almost immediately the butler appeared at the door, and announced, with his formula:

"My lady is served," and then:

"Will your grace join me at dinner?" courteously inquired Lady Belgrade, thinking at the same time of the unparalleled circumstance of the bridegroom dining without his bride upon his wedding day-"Will your grace join me at dinner?" she repeated, perceiving that he had not heard, or at least had not answered her question.

"I beg pardon. Pray, excuse me, your ladyship. I am really not equal-"

"I see! I see! Nor am I equal to going through what, at best, would be a mere form," said her ladyship. Then turning toward the waiting butler, she said-"Remove the service, Sillery. We shall not dine to-day."

The man bowed and withdrew.

And the two watchers, whose anxiety was fast growing into insupportable anguish, waited still, for still, as yet, they could do nothing else but wait and control themselves.

"Your grace has missed the last train," said Lady Belgrade, at length, as the little cuckoo clock on the mantel shelf struck ten.

"Yes the night express leaves London Bridge station for Dover at ten-thirty, and it is a full hour's drive from Kensington," replied the duke.

And both secretly thanked fortune that the wedding guests had all departed before the bride's mysterious absence from the house at such a time had become known; and they knew not but that "the happy pair had left by the tidal train for Dover, en route for their continental tour,"-as per wedding programme. And both silently hoped that the household servants would not talk.

The time crept wearily on. The clock struck eleven.

"I cannot endure this frightful suspense one moment longer! I never heard of such a case in all the days of my life! A bride to vanish away on her bridal day! Duke of Hereward you are her husband! What is to be done?" exclaimed Lady Belgrade, starting up from her seat and giving full sway to all the repressed excitement of the last few hours.

"My dear lady," said the duke, controlling his own emotions by a strong effort of will, and speaking with a calmness he did not feel-"My dear lady, the first thing you should do, should be to command yourself. Listen to me, dear Lady Belgrade. I have waited here in constrained quietness, hoping for our Salome's return from moment to moment, and fearing to expose her to gossip by any indiscreet haste in seeking her abroad. But I can wait no longer. I must commence the search abroad at once. I shall go immediately to a skillful detective, whom I know from reputation, and put the case in his hands. What seems to us so alarming and incomprehensible, may be to a man of his experience simple and clear enough. We are too near the fact to see it truly in its proper light. This man I understand to be faithful and discreet, one who may be intrusted with the investigation of the most delicate affairs. I will employ him immediately, in the confidence that no publicity will be given to this mystery. In the meanwhile, my dear Lady Belgrade, I counsel you to call the household servants all together. Do not inform them of the nature of my errand out, but caution them to silence and discretion as to the absence of their lady. You will allow me to confide this trust to you?"

"Assuredly, Duke! And let me tell you that these servants are all so idolatrously devoted to their mistress, that they would never breathe, or suffer to be breathed in their presence, one syllable that could, in the remotest degree, reflect upon her dignity," said the lady.

"I will return within an hour, madam," replied the duke, as he bowed and left the room.

He went directly to the nearest police station at Church Court, Kensington.

He asked to see Detective Collinson of the force.

Fortunately, Detective Collinson was at the office, and soon made his appearance.

The duke asked for a private interview.

The detective invited him to sit down in an empty side-room.

There the duke put the case of the missing lady in his hands, giving him all the circumstances supposed to be connected with her disappearance.

The detective exhibited not the slightest surprise at the hearing of this unprecedented story, nor did he express any opinion. Detectives never are surprised at anything that may happen at any time to anybody, nor have they ever any opinions to venture in advance.

Mr. Collinson said he would take the case and give it his undivided attention, but would promise nothing else.

The Duke of Hereward, obliged to be contented with this answer, arose to leave the room. In passing out he met the chief, who had not been present when he first entered.

"Oh, I beg your grace's pardon, but I consider this meeting very fortunate," said that officer, respectfully touching his hat.

"Upon what ground?" gravely inquired the duke.

"Your grace is wanted as a witness for the Crown, on the trial of John Potts and Rose Cameron, charged with the murder of the late Sir Lemuel Levison. The girl, who was arrested at a house in Westminster Road a few days ago, has been sent down to Scotland, and the trial will commence, on the day after to-morrow, at the Assizes now open at Bannff. But, according to the newspaper report, we thought your grace to be now on your way to Paris, and we were just about to dispatch a special messenger to you. So your grace will perceive how fortunate this meeting turns out to be."

"Yes, I perceive," said the duke, dryly.

"And your grace will not be inconvenienced, I hope," said the chief, as he bowed and placed a folded paper in the duke's hand.

It was a subpoena commanding the recipient, under certain pains and penalties, to render himself at the Town Hall of Bannff as a witness for the Crown, in the approaching trial of John Potts, alias Abraham Peters, and Rose Cameron.

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