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   Chapter 39 THE RIVALS.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 24821

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


The sun was setting behind the western ridge, and throwing a deep shadow over the valley, as the rustic vehicle conveying the Duke of Hereward drew up before the vinedresser's cottage, nestled almost out of sight amid thick foliage and deep shade.

It was the hour of rest, and Beppo, the vine-dresser, sat at the gate, strumming an old, dilapidated lute; his red jacket and white shirt making the only bits of bright color in the sombre picture.

As the rude carriage stopped before the gate, Beppo arose and put aside his lute, and stood with a look of expectancy on his dark face.

The duke did not alight, but put his head out of the carriage window and beckoned the man to approach him.

Beppo came up, curiosity expressing itself in every feature of his speaking countenance.

"You have a young gentleman and lady-a young married couple-staying with you?" said the duke, but speaking in the Italian language.

"No, Excellenzo. The signora is here. The signor went away on the same day on which he brought the signora," deferentially answered the peasant, with a profound bow.

"The man has gone!" exclaimed the duke, losing his caution and his politeness in the phrenzy of baffled vengeance.

"Si, signer, the man has gone!" with another deep bow.

"Where, then, has he gone?"

"To Paris, signor; but the signora is still here. Will the signor deign to come into my poor house and see the signora, then?"

"See her! No!" vehemently exclaimed the duke. Then recollecting himself, he inquired:

"Are you sure the man has gone to Paris?"

"Si, signor; I drove him myself, in my little cart, to San Stephano, where he took the train."

"You say that he left on the same day in which he brought the lady here?" inquired the duke, with more interest.

"Si, signor. They arrived in the afternoon, and he went away again in the evening."

"Hum. Why did he go so soon?"

"Affairs, signor. It is not to be thought he would have left the signora so sick if it had not been for affairs."

"The lady is sick, then?"

"Very sick, signor."

"What is the matter with her?"

"We do not know, signor. She will not have a doctor, but sits and pines."

"Ah! no doubt," said the duke to himself.

"Will the signor condescend to honor our poor shed by coming under its roof, where he may for himself see the signora?" said the vine-dresser, with much courtesy.

"Thanks, no. Back to the hotel!" he added, to the driver, who immediately turned his horse's head to the village.

With a parting nod to the courteous vine-dresser, the duke sank back on his seat, closed his eyes, and gave his mind up to thought.

Volaski had gone back to Paris. Why had he left Valerie and gone there? To resign his position in the embassy? To settle up business previous to taking up his permanent abode in Italy? Or had he returned so quickly to Paris only to conceal his crime and deceive the world into the opinion that he had not been out of Paris.

The duke did not know what his motive for so sudden a return could be; but judged the last-mentioned theory of causes to be the most probable.

"I do not know what else the caitiff has gone back for; but I know one thing-he has gone there to give me satisfaction," said the duke, grimly, to himself.

The horse, with the prospect of stall and fodder before him, made much better time in going home than in coming away, and so, in less than half an hour, the rumbling vehicle drew up before the little hotel.

The landlord himself came out to meet the returning traveler.

"I hope the illustrious signor found the excellent signor and the beautiful signora in good health," said the polite host, as he opened the carriage-door for his guest.

"The beautiful signora is sick and the excellent signor is gone," said the duke, grimly, as he got out.

"Misericordia!" cried the host, with a look of unutterable woe.

"That will do. Now let me have some supper as soon as you can get it, and when it is ready to be served, come yourself and tell me why I was not informed of the young man's departure before taking that useless drive to the vine-dresser's," said the duke, gravely.

"Pardon, illustrissimo, if I tell you now. We did not know the young signor had gone. He did not come this way. He must have taken another route and got his train at San Stephano," humbly replied the host.

"Ah! yes! the vine-dresser did tell me he had driven the man over to San Stephano. Well, then, hurry up my supper," said the duke, passing on to his room.

The landlord looked after him, muttering to himself:

"Ah! so not finding the excellent young signor, he has turned his back on the beautiful young signora. I know it! The other ancient and illustrious signor, who raised the devil in Beppo's cottage last year, and carried off the bride, was her father; but this illustrissimo is his father, wherefore he cares not to bring away the lovely signora."

The host then gave the necessary orders for the duke's supper to be prepared, and when it was ready he took it up to his guest.

The duke had no more questions to ask, and only two orders to give-breakfast at seven o'clock on the next morning, and a conveyance to take him to the railway station at half-past seven.

The next day the duke set out on his return to Paris, and on the fourth evening thereafter found himself re-established at his comfortable quarters at Meurice's.

He changed his dress, dined, and ordered the files of English and French newspapers for the past week to be brought to him.

He was interested only in political affairs when asking for the papers, and so he was quite as much astonished as grieved when his eyes fell upon this paragraph in the Times:

"A painful rumor reaches us from Paris. It is to the effect that a certain young and lovely duchess, who made her debut in English society as a bride only twelve months since, has left her home under the protection of a certain Polish count, attached to the Russian Embassy."

Stricken to the soul with shame, the unhappy duke sank back in his chair and remained as one paralyzed for several minutes; then slowly recovering himself he took up other papers, one by one, to see if they too recorded his dishonor.

Yes! each paper had its paragraph devoted to the one grand sensation of the day-the flight of the beautiful Duchess of Hereward with the young Russian count; and very few dealt with the deplorable case as delicately as the Times had done.

"So my dishonor is the talk of all Paris and London!" groaned the duke, dropping his head upon his chest. "If all the civilization of the nineteenth century had power to stay my arm in its vengeance, it has lost it now! And nothing is left for me to do but to kill the man and divorce the woman."

There was a certain Colonel Morris, of the Tenth Hussars, staying at Paris on leave.

The duke sat down at his writing-table and dashed off a hasty note to this compatriot, asking him to come to him immediately.

Then he rang the bell and gave the note to his own groom, saying:

"Take this to Colonel Morris, at the Trois Freres, and wait an answer."

The man took the message, bowed and hurried away.

The duke sank back in his chair with a deep sigh, and covered his face with his hands, and so awaited the return of his messenger.

Half an hour crept slowly by, and then the groom came back, opened the door, and announced:

"Colonel Morris."

The gallant colonel entered the room, looking as little like the dead shot and notorious duellist he was reported to be, as any fine gentleman could.

He was a tall, slight, fair and refined looking young man, exquisite in dress, soft in speech, and suave in manners.

"You have guessed the reason why I have sent for you, Morris?" said the duke, advancing to meet him, and plunging into the middle of his subject.

"Yes," murmured the colonel, sinking into the seat his host silently offered him.

"You can go, Tompkins. I will ring when I want you," said the duke, throwing himself into his own chair.

When the man had bowed himself out, and the duke and his visitor were left alone, the former said:

"You know why I have sent for you here. Now what do you advise?"

"You must blow out the man's brains and break the woman's heart," softly and sweetly replied the dandy duellist.

"The question arises whether the man has any brains to blow out, or the woman any heart to break," grimly commented the duke. "However," he added, "you are right, Morris, I must kill the man-divorce the woman. You are with me?"

"To the death," answered the elegant, in the same easy tone in which he ever uttered even the most ferocious words.

"You will take my challenge?"

"With much pleasure."

"I wonder where the fellow is to be found. At the Russian Embassy, I suppose," observed the duke, as he turned to his writing-table.

"No, not there. The Count de Volaski has withdrawn or been dismissed from the Embassy. It is not certainly known which. He is, meanwhile, at the Trois Freres. He has the honor of being my fellow-lodger," suavely observed the colonel.

"There," said the duke, as he folded and directed his note, "no time should be lost in an affair of this sort. It is not yet ten o'clock. You may even deliver this challenge to-night, if you will be so kind."

"Certainly," murmured the graceful colonel rising.

"I leave everything absolutely in your hands. Make every arrangement you may think proper; I will agree to it all; and many thanks," said the duke, striving to maintain a calm exterior, while his spirit was troubled within him.

"Expect me back to-night. I may be late, but I shall certainly report myself here," were the parting words of Colonel Morris as he left the room.

The duke walked slowly up and down the floor for nearly half an hour, and then he sat down to his desk and employed some hours in writing letters to his family, friends and men of business in England.

When he had completed his task he sealed and directed all these letters and locked them in his desk.

At a quarter past twelve the colonel returned to the hotel, and immediately presented himself at the duke's apartments.

He entered with a soft smile, and gently sank into a seat.

"Well?" inquired the duke.

"Well," cheerfully responded the second; "everything is pleasantly arranged. I had the good fortune of finding the count 'with himself,' as they say here. I explained my errand and delivered your missive. He read it and expressed his gratification at its reception, declaring that you had anticipated him by but a few hours, as he should certainly have called you out immediately upon hearing of your arrival in Paris."

"The diabolical villain!" hotly exclaimed the duke.

"He claimed the first right to the lady in question, and affirmed that it was your grace who had appropriated his wife-"

"O-h-h-h! when shall I have the opportunity of shooting him!" cried the duke.

"By and by," soothingly responded the colonel. "He referred me to his friend, Baron Blowmonozoff, then staying at the same house."

"Blowmonozoff! Yes, I know him. A very good fellow."

"A gentleman, I think. Of course I went directly from the presence of the count to that of the baron, who received me with much politeness, and was so kind as to express the pleasure he should feel in negotiating with me the terms of so interesting a meeting."

"And the terms, Colonel! What are they?"

"I am coming to them. The meeting is to take place at sunrise in the wood of Vincennes. We are to leave here an hour before dawn, in order to be on the spot in time. The weapons are to be pistols; the distance ten paces. Other minor details will be arranged on the spot. We shall each take a surgeon. I have engaged Doctor Legare. We will call and pick him up on our way to the ground. And now all we have got to do is to ring for the English waiter here, and get him to send us some coffee before we go out. I will see to that also, as I have taken a room in the house, and intend to stay here to-night, so as to be up in time in the morning."

"Thanks very much. You are really very good to take so much trouble," said the duke, with some emotion.

"No trouble, I assure you, duke; quite a pleasure," serenely answered the colonel.

"My friend, I have left half a dozen letters locked up in my writing-desk. I shall han

d the key of that desk to you as we go out. If I should fall, I hope you will take charge of the desk and see to the delivery of the letters at their proper addresses," said the duke, more gravely than he had spoken before.

"Certainly, with much pleasure. Have you also made your will?" cheerfully inquired the colonel.

"No," shortly replied the duke.

"Then permit me to say that I think you should do so, by all means."

"There is no need. My estates are all entailed. My personal property is not worth winning. The-duchess is provided by her own dower, which came out of her own property, I am thankful to say. No, there is no need of a will."

"Then allow me to suggest that we ought to go to bed. It is now two o'clock. We must be up at five. We have just three hours to sleep, and-if you have no other commissions for me-I will retire," said the colonel, smoothly.

"Many thanks. I believe there is nothing more to be said or done to-night," responded the duke, in a desponding tone-for it cannot be an exhilarating anticipation to have to get up in the morning and stand up to murder, or be murdered, even where the duellist is the bravest of men, backed by the serenest of seconds.

"Then, since there is no further use for me this evening, I will say good-night and pleasant dreams," said the colonel, suavely, as he slid from the room.

Good-night and pleasant dreams to a duellist on the eve of a duel! Was it a sarcasm on the colonel's part? By no means; it was only the manifestation of his habitual smooth politeness.

The duke, left to himself, walked up and down the floor for a few minutes, and then rang for his valet to attend him, and retired to bed, leaving orders to be called at five o'clock in the morning.

Though left in quietness, he could not compose himself to sleep, but tossed and tumbled from side to side, spending the most wakeful and the most miserable night he had ever known in the whole course of his life. The time seemed stretched out upon a rack of torture, until the four hours extended to forty; for from the moment he had lain down he had not slept an instant, until he was startled by a rap at his bedroom door, and the voice of his valet calling:

"If you please, your grace, the clock has struck five; the coffee is ready, and the cab is at the door."

"Then come in and dress me quickly," answered the duke, rising, as the prompt servant entered and handed a dressing-gown.

The toilet of the duke was quickly made.

When he passed into the next room, he found the breakfast table laid and the colonel waiting for him.

"Good-morning, Duke. I hope you slept well. The day promises to be delightful. We have no time to lose, however, if we are to be on the ground at sunrise. Shall we have our coffee?" serenely inquired the second.

"Certainly-Tompkins, touch the bell," replied the duke.

The obedient valet rang, and a waiter entered with the breakfast-tray, which he set upon the table and proceeded to arrange.

"Take this case of pistols down very carefully, and place it in the cab, and put in a railway rug also," quietly directed the colonel, after the waiter had completed the arrangement of the breakfast table.

"What possible use can we make of a railway rug on such a mild morning as this?" gloomily inquired the duke.

The colonel looked calmly at the questioner, and quietly replied:

"To cover the body of the fallen man, whoever he may happen to be. I am so used to these affairs that I know what will be wanted beforehand. Shall we sit down to breakfast?"

Now the duke was a courageous man, but he shuddered at the coolness of his second, as he assented.

They sat down to the table and drank their coffee in silence.

Then with the assistance of the obsequious Mr. Tompkins, they drew on light overcoats suitable to the autumnal morning, and went down stairs, caps and gloves in hand, and entered the carriage that was to take them to the appointed place.

On their way they stopped at the Rue du Bains and took the surgeon who had been engaged to attend them.

Dr. Legare was a young graduate who had just commenced practice, and was eager for the fray.

He came into the carriage, bringing a rather ostentatious looking case of instruments and roll of bandages.

On being introduced by the second, he bowed to the duke and took his seat.

The carriage started again.

It was yet dark.

After an hour's ride they reached a quiet, solitary glade in the wood of Vincennes.

The carriage drove up under some trees on one side.

It was yet earliest morning, and the glade lay in the darksome, dewy freshness of the dawn. There was no living creature to be seen.

"We are the first on the ground, as I always like to be," remarked Colonel Morris, as he alighted from the carriage, bearing the pistol-case in his hands.

He was followed by the duke, who slowly came out, stood by his side and looked around.

The young surgeon remained in the carriage in charge of his very suggestive and alarming instruments and appliances.

"The sun is just rising," said the duke, as the first rays sparkled up above the rosy line of the eastern horizon.

"And look, with dramatic precision, there are our men," cheerfully remarked the colonel, as a second carriage rolled into the glade and drew up under the trees at a short distance from the first.

The carriage door was thrown open and the Russian Baron Blomonozoff came out-a thin, ferocious-looking little man, with a red face, encircled by a red beard and red hair, of all of which it would be difficult to say which was reddest.

He was followed by the beautiful Adonis, the Count de Volaski, looking very fair and dainty, very languid and melancholy.

The four gentlemen simultaneously raised their hats in courteous greeting; but no words passed between them then.

The seconds advanced toward each other, and went apart to settle the final details of the meeting. They divided their duties equally.

The colonel gave the pistol-case to the baron, who opened it and examined the weapons. The colonel stepped off the ten paces of ground, and the baron marked the positions to be taken by the antagonists.

Then each went after his man and placed him in position. Then the Colonel took the case of pistols and placed it in the hands of the baron, who carried it to his principal, that the latter might take his choice of the pair of revolvers, in accordance with the terms of the meeting.

The count took the first that came to hand. The baron carried back the case to the colonel, who placed the remaining weapon in the hands of the duke.

The antagonists stood opposite each other in a line of ten paces running north and south, so that the sun was equally divided between them. The seconds stood opposite each other, in a line of six paces running east and west, across the line of their principals; so that the positions of the four men, as they stood, formed the four points of a diamond.

They stood prepared for the mortal issue.

A fatal catastrophe is always sudden and soon over.

The final question was asked by the duke's second:

"Gentlemen, are you ready?"

"We are," responded both principals.

"One-two-three-fire!" intoned the Russian baron.

Two flashes, a simultaneous report, and the Count de Volaski leaped into the air and fell down, with a heavy thud, upon his face!

The seconds hastened to raise the fallen man. The duke stood panic-stricken for an instant, and then followed them.

The unfortunate count lay in a tumbled, huddled, shapeless heap, with his head bent under him. Not a drop of blood was to be seen on his person or clothing. The Russian baron raised him up. There was a gasp, a momentary flutter of the lips and eyelids, and all was still.

The colonel hurried off to the carriage to call the surgeon.

The duke stood gazing on his murdered foe, aghast at his own deed and feeling the brand of Cain upon his brow, notwithstanding that he had acted in accordance with the "code of honor."

The surgeon came in haste with his box of instruments in his hands, and the roll of linen under his arm.

He put these articles on the ground, and knelt down to examine his subject; for the body of the count was only a subject now, and not a patient.

After a careful investigation, the surgeon arose and pronounced his verdict.

"Shot through the heart: quite dead."

The Duke of Hereward groaned aloud. None of his wrongs could have been such a calamity as this! None of his sufferings could have equalled in intensity of agony this appalling sense of blood-guiltiness!

"Can nothing be done?" he inquired, not with the slightest hope that anything could, but rather in the idiocy of utter despair.

"Nothing. No medical skill can raise the dead," solemnly answered the surgeon.

"One of you fellows can bring the railway rug out of our carriage. I knew it would be needed," said the serenely practical colonel.

The count's servant started to obey.

The duke groaned and turned away from the body of his fallen foe, upon which he could not endure longer to gaze.

The Russian baron came up to him, and with the knightly courtesy of his caste and country, said:

"Monseigneur may rest tranquil. Everything has been conducted in accordance with the most rigid rules of honor. The result has been unfortunate for my distinguished principal, but Monseigneur has nothing with which to reproach himself."

"Thanks, Baron. You are kind to say so. Yet I would that I had never lived to see this day; or the worthless woman who has caused this catastrophe!" exclaimed the duke, as he walked hurriedly away and hid himself and his remorse in the inclosure of his own carriage.

There he was soon joined by his serene second, who entered the carriage and gave the order to the coachman;

"Drive to the Depot St. Lazare."

"Why to the depot?" gloomily inquired the duke, as the coachman closed the door and remounted to his box.

"Because we must get out of Paris-yes, and out of France also," calmly replied the colonel, sinking back in his seat as the cab drove off.

"Who is looking after-after-"

"The body? I left Legare to help Blomonozoff and his servant to remove it. We must get away. An arrest would not be pleasant."

"No, no, certainly not; yet not on that account, but for the peace of my own spirit, I would to Heaven this had not happened!" exclaimed the duke.

"Why? Everything went off most agreeably. Indeed, this was one of the most satisfactory meetings at which I ever assisted," said the colonel, comfortably.

"I wish to Heaven it had never taken place! I would give my right hand to undo its own deed to-day-if that were possible!" groaned the homicide.

"Why should you disturb yourself?-but perhaps this is your first affair of the kind?" calmly inquired the colonel.

"My first and last! I do not know how any one can engage in a second one after feeling what it is to kill a man."

"You feel so because it is your first affair. You would not mind your second, and you would rather enjoy your third," suavely observed the colonel, who then drew a railway card from his pocket, examined it, looked at his watch, and said:

"We shall be in time to catch the morning's express to Calais, and we may actually eat our dinners in London. When we arrive you can get some of your people to send a telegram to Tompkins, to order him to pay your hotel bill and bring your effects to London, or wherever else you may think of stopping."

"Thanks for your counsel. I leave myself entirely in your hands," said the duke, with a half-suppressed sigh.

They caught the express to Calais, connected with the Dover boat, and crossed the channel the same day. They ran up to London by the afternoon train, and arrived in good time for a dinner at "Morley's."

Two telegrams were dispatched to Paris-one to the respectable Mr. Tompkins, with orders to pay bills and return with his master's effects; the other to the estimable Mr. Joyce, the groom of the colonel, with orders to perform the same services in behalf of his own employer.

Then the principal and his second separated-the duke to go to his town-house in Piccadilly and the colonel to join his regiment, then stationed at Brighton.

And as the extradition treaty had not at that day been thought of, both were perfectly safe.

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