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   Chapter 38 THE STORM BURSTS.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 10593

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


The Duke of Hereward arrived at home the next morning. When the fiacre that brought him from the railway station rolled through the porte-cochere into the court yard and drew up before the main entrance of the Hotel de la Motte, he sprang out with almost boyish eagerness, and ran up the stairs, and rang and knocked with vehemence and impatience.

The gray-haired porter opened the door.

"How is the duchess, Leblanc? Has she risen? Send some one to let her know that I have arrived," he exclaimed, hurriedly.

"Helas! Monseigneur!" answered the venerable old servant, in a distressed tone.

"What do you mean? Is the duchess ill? I got a letter from her yesterday, in which she said she was quite well. It met me at Marseilles. She continues well. I hope? Why don't you speak?" impatiently demanded the duke.

"Mille pardons. Monseigneur; but madame has gone," sadly replied Leblanc.

"What do you say?" exclaimed the duke, discrediting the evidence of his own ears.

"Mille pardons, Monsieur le Duc, Madame la Duchesse has gone."

"Gone! the duchess gone!" exclaimed the duke, in amazement, not unmixed with incredulity.

"Oui; Monseigneur."

"Gone! the duchess gone! Where?"

"Miserable that I am, Monseigneur, I do not know. I cannot tell. Will Monsieur le Duc deign to consult the coachman who drove Madame la Duchesse in the carriage when she left the house last night, not to return. He can probably give Monseigneur some information," respectfully suggested the old porter.

"Send Dubourg to me in the library, then," said the duke, as he strode down the hall, full of vague alarm, but far from suspecting the fatal truth.

Soon the coachman came to him in the library, and in answer to his questions told how he had driven the duchess alone to the railway station to catch the night express for Marseilles.

"The night express for Marseilles! Then the foolish child was going to meet me, and must have passed me on the road!" said the duke to himself, with a strange blending of flattered affection and anxious fears.

"That will do, Dubourg. The duchess went down to the seaport to meet me on the steamer, and we have missed each other on the road. It is a pity, but it cannot be helped!" said the duke dismissing his coachman by a wave of his hand.

The man bowed and retired.

"Silly child, to go and do such an absurd and indiscreet thing as that! I would go down after her by the next train only I should be sure to pass her on the road again; for she will hasten immediately back when she finds that I have arrived at Marseilles and left for Paris," said the duke to himself, as he rang for his valet and retired to his own room to dress for breakfast.

But there, on the bureau, he found a letter addressed to him in the handwriting of Valerie.

At the moment he picked it up his valet entered the room in answer to his ring.

Some intuition warned the duke to send the man away while he should read his letter.

"Have a warm bath ready for me at nine o'clock, Dubois, and order breakfast at half-past," he said.

The man bowed and left the room.

The duke dropped into a chair, and with a strange, vague foreboding of evil, opened the letter.

Well might he shrink from the dread perusal of the story-the story of her cowardice and folly, and of his own humiliation and despair.

It was Valerie's full confession, the revelation of her woeful history as it is known to the reader, with one single reservation-the name of her lover.

The Duke of Hereward had wonderful powers of self-control. He read the fatal letter through to the bitter end. Then he folded it up carefully, and locked it up in a cabinet for safe-keeping.

And when, fifteen minutes later, his valet came to tell him that it was nine o'clock, and his bath was ready, no one could have guessed from his looks that a storm had passed through his soul.

He was rather pale, certainly; but that might well be explained by the fatigue of a long night's journey, and his gray mustache and beard concealed the close compression of his lips. He went through his morning toilet and his breakfast with apparently his usual composure.

After breakfast, however, he instituted a cautious but close investigation of the circumstances attending the flight of the duchess.

The servants, having nothing to gain from concealment and nothing to fear from communication, spoke freely of the daily visits of the Count de Volaski, continued through the seven weeks of the duke's absence.

Then the dreadful light of conviction burst full upon his startled intelligence. Count Waldemar de Volaski had been her acquaintance at the Court of St. Petersburg! He it was, then, who had been the hero of her foolish love story and mad marriage, before the duke had ever seen her. He it was who had been her constant visitor during the duke's absence. He it was who was the companion of her flight!

The duke did not believe Valerie's solemn declaration, that she left Paris only to isolate herself from every one and live a single, lonely life. Valerie had deceived him once, by keeping a fatal secret from him, and he would not trust her now. He believed that she had gone away with the Russian count to remain with him. The duke's rage and jealousy were roused and burnin

g against them both.

He was determined to find out the place of their retreat, and to take immediate and signal vengeance.

He put the case in the hands of the most expert detectives, with instructions to use the utmost caution and secrecy in their investigations.

He permitted his first theory of the duchess' absence, made in good faith at the time it was first stated-that she had gone down to Marseilles to meet him, and had missed him on the way-to prevail in the household, and penetrate through that medium to the world of Paris.

He left the Hotel de la Motte, which he had only occupied in right of his wife's family, and saying that he should not return until the arrival of the duchess, he took up his residence at "Meurice's."

He shut himself up in his apartments, and never left them. He refused to see all visitors except the detectives in his employment. Thus he escaped the annoyance of having to answer questions and to make explanations.

He had remained at "Meurice's" about five days, when Villeponte, the chief detective, came to him and told him that they had succeeded in making out the facts connected with the flight of the duchess.

The duke, controlling all manifestations of excitement, directed the officer to proceed with the story at once.

Villeponte then related that on the Wednesday of the preceding week, madame, the Duchess of Hereward, had left Paris in company with Monsieur the Count de Volaski; that they took a coupe on the evening express for Marseilles, traveling alone together without servants or attendants; that they were now domiciliated at a vine-dresser's cottage in the little village of San Vito, at the foot of the Appenines.

Having concluded his information, Monsieur Villeponte asked for further instructions.

The duke told the detective that he had no further orders to give; but thanked him for his zeal, congratulated him on his success, paid him liberally, and bowed him out.

That evening the Duke of Hereward, unattended by groom or valet, took a coupe on the night express train for the south of France, and started for Marseilles, en route for Italy.

On the evening of the third day after leaving Paris he reached his destination-the little hamlet of San Vito at the foot of the Appenines.

He stopped at the small hotel.

Coming alone and unattended, carrying a small valise in his hand, and looking weary, dusty, and travel-stained, the Duke of Hereward was not intuitively recognized as a person of distinction, and therefore escaped the overwhelming amount of attention usually lavished upon English tourists of rank and wealth by continental hosts.

He was shown to a little room blinded by clustering vines, and there left to his own devices.

He ordered a bottle of the native wine, and sent for the landlord.

The latter came promptly-a thin, little, old man, with a skin like parchment, hair and beard like a black horse's mane, and eyes like glowworms.

He saluted the shabby stranger with courtesy, but without obsequiousness; for how should he know that the traveler was a duke?

"Pray sit down. I wish to ask you some questions," said the Duke of Hereward, with a natural, courteous dignity that immediately modified the landlord's estimate of his value.

"Non, signor; but I will answer questions," he declared, as he bowed deferentially, and remained standing.

"Did a gentleman and lady arrive here about ten days ago!"

"Si, signor-a grand milord, and a beautiful miladi. But they have been here before, signor, about two years ago."

"Ah! Where are they now?"

"At their old lodgings, signor-at the cottage of Beppo, the vine-dresser. The signor is a good friend of the young milord and miladi?" questioned the landlord, deferentially, but very anxiously; for just then it flashed upon his memory that two years previous another grand "signor," of reverend age like this one, had come inquiring about the young pair, and had ended in breaking up their union for the time.

"I have known the lady for about a year, or a little longer; the gentleman only a few months; but I can scarcely lay claim to so an intimate a relation to them as 'friendship' would imply," answered the duke, evasively, and putting a severe constraint upon himself.

The landlord was completely deceived and thrown off his guard.

"How far from the village does this vine-dresser live?" inquired the duke.

"Just on the outside, signor-just at the foot of the mountain-about three miles from this house."

"Can I have a carriage to take me there this evening."

"Si, signor, assuredly; but will not the signor refresh himself before he leaves?" inquired the host.

"No; I will refresh myself after I come back. Let me have the carriage as soon as possible."

"Si, signor," said the landlord, bowing himself out.

The duke, unable to rest, even after a long and fatiguing journey, walked up and down the floor of his little room, until the landlord re-appeared and announced the carriage.

The duke caught up his rough traveling-cap, clapped it on his head, hurried out and entered the rustic vehicle, dignified with the name of a carriage.

And in another moment he was rolling off in the direction of the Vine-dresser's cottage at the foot of the mountain.

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