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   Chapter 18 THE FLIGHT OF THE DUCHESS

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 12622

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


When the emissary of Rose Cameron had gone, the young Duchess of Hereward, in a whirlwind of long-repressed excitement, slammed, locked and bolted all the doors leading from her apartments into the hall, and then fled into her dressing-room and cast herself head long down upon the floor in the collapse of utter, infinite despair-despair in all its depth of darkness, without its benumbing calmness!

Her soul was shaken by a tempest of warring passions! Amazement, indignation, grief, horror, raged through her agonized bosom!

It was well that no human eye beheld her in this deep degradation of woe! For in the madness of her anguish, she rolled on the floor, and tore the clothing from her shoulders and the dark hair from her head! She uttered such groans and cries as are seldom heard on this earth-such as perhaps fill the murky atmosphere of hell. She impiously called on Heaven to strike her dead as she lay! She was indeed on the very brink of raving insanity.

There was but one thought that held her reason on its throne-the necessity of immediate flight and escape-escape from the man whom she had just vowed at the altar to love, honor, and obey until death-the man whom she had worshiped as an archangel!

The man?-the fiend, rather!

What had she just now found him proved to be?

Yes proved to be, beyond the merciful possibility of a saving doubt!-proved to be by the most overwhelming and convicting testimony, corroborated also by the evidence of her own eyes and ears, too long discredited for his sake.

Her eyes had seen him lurking stealthily in the dark hall, near her father's bedroom door, late on the night of that father's murder. She had spoken to him, and at the sound of her voice he had shrunk silently out of sight.

Yet she had discredited the evidence of her own eyes, and persuaded herself that she had been the subject of an optical illusion.

Her ears had heard a part of his midnight conversation with his female confederate under the balcony-had heard his prediction that something would happen that night to prevent the marriage that he promised her should never take place-a prediction so awfully fulfilled in the morning by the discovery of the dead body of her murdered father! She had fainted at the sound of his voice, uttering such treacherous and cruel words; yet on her return to consciousness she had disbelieved the evidence of her own ears, and convinced herself that she had been the victim of a nightmare dream!

Yes! she had disallowed the direct evidence of her own senses rather than believe such diabolical wickedness of her idol! But now the evidence of her own eyes and ears was corroborated by the most complete and convincing testimony-the conversation under the balcony, as reported by Rose Cameron's messenger, corresponded exactly with the conversation overheard by herself at the time and place it was said to have occurred, but which she dismissed from her mind as an evil dream! This corroborating testimony proved it to be an atrocious reality! And the man to whom she had given her hand that morning was an accomplice in the murder of her father! unintentionally perhaps, for the witness testified to the horror he expressed on learning from his confederate that a murder had been committed: "The old man squealed and we had to squelch him!" How she shuddered at the memory of these horrible words!

But this man was not her husband, after all! Although a marriage ceremony had been performed between them by a bishop, he was not her husband, but the husband of Rose Cameron. She had overwhelming and convincing proof of this also!

The letters written to Rose Cameron, calling her his dear wife, and signing himself her devoted husband "Arondelle," were in the handwriting of the Duke of Hereward! She could have sworn to that handwriting, under any circumstances.

And the photograph shown as the likeness of Rose Cameron's husband, was a duplicate of one in her own possession, given her by the duke himself.

And, above all, the certificate of marriage between them, signed by the officiating clergyman and witnessed by the officers of the church, was unquestionably genuine, regular, and legal!

No! there was not one merciful doubt to found a hope of his innocence upon! It was amazing, stupefying, annihilating, but it was true. Her idol was a fiend, glorious in personal beauty, diabolical in spirit, as the fallen archangel Lucifer, Son of the Morning!

He was deeply, atrociously, insanely guilty!

Yes, insanely! for how could he have acted so recklessly, as well as so criminally, if he had not been insane? Would he not have known that swift discovery and disgrace were sure to follow the almost open commission of such base crimes? And if no feeling of honor or conscience could have deterred him, would not the fear of certain consequences have done so?

His insanity was her only rational theory of the case! But his supposed insanity did not vindicate him to her pure and just mind. For he was not an insane man so much as an insane devil! He had only been mad in his recklessness, not in his crimes.

Then quickly through her storm-tossed soul passed the thought that both sacred and profane history recorded instances of crimes committed by righteous and honorable men. Amazing truth! She remembered the piety and the sin of David, when he stole the wife of Uriah, and betrayed that loyal servant and brave soldier to a treacherous and bloody death! She remembered the loyalty and the treason of that chivalrous young Scottish prince who headed a fratricidal rebellion, in which his father and his king was slain, and who, as James IV., lived a life of remorse and penance, until, in his turn, he was slain on the fatal field of Flodden. She thought of these, and other instances, in which it might seem as if an angel and a devil lived together, animating one man's body. This would, of course, produce inconsistency of conduct, insanity of mind.

But among all the harrowing thoughts that hurried through her tortured mind, one feeling was predominant-the necessity of instant flight. There was no other cause for her to pursue. The bridal train was awaiting her down stairs. Soon they would send to summon her again. How could she meet them? What could she say to them? How cou

ld she ever look upon the face of the Duke of Hereward and live?

She must fly at once. No, there was no time to write a note and leave it pinned on her dressing-table cushion. Besides, what could she say in her note? Nothing; or nothing that she would say.

She must go and make no sign. She forced herself to rise from the floor and commence hurried preparations for immediate flight.

In all the tumult of her soul, some intuition guided her through her hasty arrangements to take the most effectual means to elude pursuit and baffle discovery.

She took off her handsome mourning dress of black silk and crape that she had put on to travel in, and she packed it, with the black felt hat, vail, sack and gloves that belonged to the suit, in one of her trunks, which she carefully locked.

Then from some receptacle of her left-off colored dresses, she selected a dark-gray silk suit, with sack, hat, vail and gloves to match. And in that she dressed herself.

Then she reflected.

"They will think that I went away in my mourning dress, which they will miss. If they describe me, they will describe a lady in deep mourning. If any one comes in pursuit, they will look for a young woman in black, and pass me by, because I shall wear gray and keep my vail down."

Then she concealed in her bosom all the cash she had in hand, being about fifteen hundred pounds in Bank of England notes, which she had previously drawn out for her own private uses during her bridal tour. This she thought would go far to meet the unknown expenses of her future. She also took her diamonds. She might have to sell them, she thought, for support.

Then, when she was quite ready, dressed in the dark gray suit, sack, hat, vail and gloves, and with a small valise in her hand, she went into her bath-room, and to the back door at the head of the private stairs leading down to the little garden of roses that was her own favorite bower.

She watched for a few seconds, to be sure that no one was in sight, and then she slipped swiftly down the stairs and crossed the garden to a narrow back door, which she quickly opened and passed through, shutting it after her. It closed with a spring and cut off her re-entrance there, even if she had been disposed to turn back.

But she was not.

She glanced nervously up and down the lane at the back of the garden wall, but saw no one there.

Then she walked rapidly away, and turned into a narrow street, keeping her gray vail doubled over her face all the time.

She purposely lost herself in a labyrinth of narrow streets, getting farther and farther from her home, before she ventured near a cab-stand.

At length she hailed a closed cab, engaged it, entered it, closed all the blinds, and directed the driver to take her to the Brighton, Dover, and South Coast Railway Station at London Bridge, and promised him a half-sovereign if he would catch the next train.

Yes! after a few moments of rapid reflection, as to whither she would go, she resolved to leave London by that very same tidal-train on which she and her husband were to have commenced their bridal tour, for there, of all places, she felt that she would be safest from pursuit; that, of all directions, would be the last in which they would think of seeking her!

And while they should be waiting and watching for her at Elmhurst House, she would be speeding towards the sea coast, and by the time they should discover her flight, she would be on the Channel, en voyage for Calais.

Beyond this she had no settled plan of action. She did not know where she would go, or what she should do, on reaching France.

She only longed, with breathless anxiety, to fly from England, from the Duke of Hereward, and all the horrors connected with him. She felt that she was not his wife, could never have been his wife, and that the mockery of a marriage ceremony, which had been performed for them by the Bishop of London that morning, at St. George's Hanover Square, had made the duke a felon and not a husband!

If she should remain in England she might even be called upon, in the course of events, to take a part in his prosecution. And guilty as she believed him to be, she could not bring herself to do that!

No! she must fly from England and conceal herself on the Continent!

But where?

She knew not as yet!

Her mind was in a fever of excitement when she reached London Bridge.

She paid and discharged her cab, giving the driver the promised half sovereign for catching the train.

Then, with her thick vail folded twice over her pale face, and her little valise in her hand, she went into the station, made her way to the office and bought a first-class ticket.

Then she went to the train, and stopping before one of the first carriages called a guard to unlock the door and let her enter.

"Oh, you can't have a seat in this compartment, Miss," said a somewhat garrulous old guard, coming up to her. "This whole carriage is reserved for a wedding party-the Duke and Duchess of Hereward, as were married this morning, and their graces' retinue, which they are expected to arrive every minute, Miss. But you can have a seat in this one, Miss. It is every bit as good as the other," concluded the old man, leading the way to a lady's carriage some yards in advance.

"Reserved for a wedding party-reserved for the Duke and Duchess of Hereward and their retinue!"

How her heart fainted, almost unto death, with a new sense of infinite disappointment and regret at what might have been and what was! Reserved for the Duke and Duchess of Hereward! Ah, Heaven!

"Here you are, Miss!" said the guard, opening the door of an empty carriage.

"How long will it be before the train starts?" inquired the fugitive in a low voice.

The guard looked at his big silver watch and answered:

"Time'll be up in three minutes, Miss."

"But if the-the-wedding party should not arrive before that?" hesitatingly inquired Salome.

"Train starts all the same, Miss! Can't even wait for dukes and duchesses. 'Gin the law!" answered the old guard, as he touched his hat and closed and locked the door.

Salome sank back in her deeply-cushioned seat, thankful, at least, that she was alone in the carriage.

And in three minutes the tidal train started.

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