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   Chapter 45 AFTER THE REVELATION.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 15071

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


During the latter portion of the mother-superior's story-the portion that related to the delegalized elder son of the Duke of Hereward-a light had dawned upon the mind of Salome, but so slowly that no sudden shock of joy had been felt, no wild exclamation of astonishment uttered: yet that light had revealed to the amazed and overjoyed young wife, beyond all possibility of further doubt, the blessed truth of the perfect freedom of her worshiped husband from all participation in the awful crimes of which over-whelming circumstantial evidence had convicted him in her own mind, but of which it was now certain that his miserable brother, his "double" in appearance, was alone guilty.

The dark story had been told in the darkness of the abbess' den, so that not even the varying color that must otherwise have betrayed the deep emotion of the hearer, could be seen by the speaker.

At the conclusion of the story, one irrepressible reproach escaped the lips of the young wife.

"Oh, mother! mother! If you knew all this, why did you not tell me before? For you must also have known, what is now so clear to me, that not the Duke of Hereward, who, after all, is my husband, I thank Heaven-not the noble Duke of Hereward, but his most ignoble brother, his counterpart in person and in name, has married that terrible Scotch woman, and mixed himself up in murder and robbery. Oh, mother! you should have told me before!"

"My daughter be patient! Only this week have I been able to fit in all the links in the chain of evidence to make the story complete. Your mention of the Duke of Hereward as your false husband, my memory of the Duke of Hereward as the wronged husband who had slain my betrothed in a duel, all set me to thinking deeply, very deeply thinking. I did not express my thoughts unnecessarily. Silence is, with our order, a duty-the handmaid of devotion; but I set secret inquiries on foot, through agencies that our orders possess for finding out facts, and means that we can use, superior to those of the most accomplished detectives living. Through such agencies, and by such means, I learned not only external facts-which are often lies, paradoxical as that may seem-but I learned, also, the internal truths without which no history can be really known, no subject really understood."

"But oh! you should not have kept silence. You should not have left me to misjudge my noble husband a day longer than necessary!" burst forth Salome.

"Calm yourself, daughter, and listen to me. I have kept nothing from you a day longer than necessary. The facts that exonerate the Duke of Hereward came to me last of all. Hear me. From Father Garbennetti, the new cure of San Vito, I learned the truth of that miscalled elopement of the late Duchess of Hereward. I learned that-in the words of your own charming poet-

'My rival fair

A saint in heaven should be.'

For a most innocent and most deeply wronged and long-suffering martyr on earth she had been. From him I also learned the existence of her boy, and the adoption of the boy, after the mother's death, by the Duke of Hereward. That was all I could learn from the Italian priest, who had lost sight of the lad after the mother's death. Next I pushed inquiries through our agents in England, and through the investigations of Father Fairfield, the eloquent English oratorian, I learned the truth of John Scott's life in England and Scotland, as I have given it to you. I received Father Fairfield's letter only this day; only this day I have learned, Salome, that you are really the Duchess of Hereward; that the Duke of Hereward was, and is, really your husband, and was never the husband of any other woman."

"Oh, how bitterly! how bitterly! how unpardonably I have wronged him! He will pardon me! Yes, he will! for he is all magnanimity, and he loves me! But I can never, never pardon myself!" exclaimed the young wife, her first joy at discovering the absolute integrity of her husband now giving place to the severest self-condemnation.

"You need not reproach yourself so cruelly, so sternly, under circumstances in which you would not reproach another at all. Remember what you told me, you had the evidence of your own eyes and ears, and the testimony of documents, and of individuals against him!" said the abbess, soothingly.

"Yes! the evidence of my own eyes and ears, which mistook the counterfeit for the real! the testimony of documents that were forgeries, and of individuals that were false! And upon these I believed my noble husband guilty of a felony, and without even giving him an opportunity to explain the circumstances, or to defend himself, I left him even on our wedding-day! and have concealed myself from him for many months! exposing him to misconstruction, to dishonor and reproach. Oh, no! I can never, never pardon myself! Nor do I even know how he can ever pardon me. But he will! I am sure he will! Even as the Lord pardons all repented sin, however grievous, so will my peerless husband pardon me!" fervently exclaimed Salome.

The abbess reverted to her own troubles.

"I cannot understand," she said, "the mystery of that man's appearance here this morning."

"What man?" inquired Salome, who was so absorbed in thinking of her husband that she had nearly forgotten the existence of other men.

"'What man?' Why, daughter, the Count Waldemar de Volaski-the man who came here with the woman this morning-the man whom you mistook for your own husband, the Duke of Hereward, but whom I knew to be Waldemar de Volaski, once my betrothed, who was said to have been killed in a duel, shot through the heart, a quarter of a century ago!" answered the lady, emphatically.

Salome stared at the abbess for a few moments in amazed silence, and then exclaimed:

"Dear madam, good mother, are you still under that deep delusion?"

"Delusion!" echoed the lady.

"Yes, the deepest delusion. Dear lady, do you not know, can you not comprehend now that the man who visited us this morning was no other than John Scott, the counterpart whom even I really did mistake for the Duke of Hereward, as you say; and that the bold, bad beauty who accompanied him was his wife, Rose Cameron?"

"Nay, daughter, he was Count Waldemar de Volaski!" persisted the abbess.

"What an hallucination! Dear lady, do you not see-But what is the use of talking? I cannot convince you of your mistake: but circumstances may; for, of course, sooner or later the unhappy man will be arrested and brought to trial for his share in the robbery and murder at Castle Lone."

"No, you cannot convince me of mistake, because I have not made any; but I will convince you of yours," said the lady, rising and striking a match and lighting a lamp; for they had hitherto sat in darkness.

Salome smiled incredulously.

The abbess went to a little drawer of the stand upon which her crucifix and missal stood, and drew from it a small box, which she opened and exhibited to Salome, saying:

"This, daughter, is the only memento of the world and the world's people that I have retained. I should not have kept even this, but that it is the likeness of my once betrothed, bestowed on me on the occasion of our betrothal, cherished once in loyal love, cherished now in prayerful memory of one whom I supposed had expiated his sins by death, long, long ago. I have kept it, but I have not looked at it for twenty years or more."

Salome took the miniature, and examined it carefully with interest and curiosity.

It was very well p

ainted in water-colors on ivory. It represented a young man of from twenty to twenty-five years of age, with a Roman profile, fair complexion, blue eyes and blonde hair and mustache; and so far as these features and this complexion went, the miniature certainly did bear an external and superficial resemblance to John Scott and to the young Duke of Hereward; but in character and expression the faces were so totally different that Salome could never have mistaken the miniature to be a likeness of the duke or his brother, or either of these men to be the original of the picture.

After gazing intently at the miniature for a few minutes, she turned to the abbess and said:

"You tell me that you have not looked at this for twenty years?"

"I have not," said the lady.

"And you tell me that the man who visited the asylum this morning is the original of this picture?"

"I do."

"Then, dear mother, your memory is at fault and your imagination deceives and misleads you. Both the supposed original and the miniature are thin-faced, with Roman features, fair complexion, blue eyes and blonde hair-points of resemblance which are common to many men who are not at all alike in any other respect. Now look at this miniature again, and you will see that, except in the points I have named, it is in no way like the man you mistook for its original."

"I would rather not look at it. I have not seen it since-Volaski's supposed death," said the abbess, shrinking.

"Oh, but do, for the satisfaction of your own mind. You see so few men, that you may easily mistake one blonde for another after twenty years of absence from them," persisted Salome, pressing the open miniature upon the lady.

So urged, the abbess took it, gazed wistfully at the pictured face, and murmured:

"It is possible. I may be mistaken."

"You are," muttered Salome.

The abbess continued to gaze on the portrait, and whispered:

"I think I am mistaken."

"I am sure that you are, good mother," said Salome.

The lady's eyes were still fixed upon the relic, until at length she closed the locket with a click and laid it away in the little drawer, saying, clearly and firmly:

"Yes, I see that I was mistaken."

"I am very glad you know it," remarked Salome.

"So am I. It is a relief. And now, dear daughter, I will dismiss you to your rest. To-morrow we will consult concerning your affairs, and see what is best for you to do," said the abbess.

"I know what is best for me to do-my duty. And my very first duty is to hasten immediately to England, seek out my dear husband, confess all my cruel misapprehension of his conduct, and implore his pardon. I am sure of his pardon, and of his love! As sure as I am of my Heavenly Lord's pardon and love when I kneel to Him and confess and deplore my sins!" fervently exclaimed the young wife.

"Yes, I suppose you must return to England now. I do suppose that, after what we have discovered, you cannot remain here and become a nun," sighed the abbess, unwilling to resign her favorite.

"No, indeed, I cannot remain here. But I will richly endow the Infants' Asylum, dear mother. And I will visit, it every year of my life. I am going to retire now, good mother. Bless me," murmured Salome, bending her head.

"Benedicite, fair daughter," said the abbess, spreading her open palms over the beautiful, bowed head as she invoked the blessing.

Then Salome arose, left the cell, and hurried back through the two long passages at right angles that conducted her from the nursery to the Infants' Asylum.

She passed silently as a spirit through every dormitory where her infant charges lay sleeping, assured herself that they were all safe and well, and then she entered her own little sleeping-closet adjoining the dormitory of the youngest infants, then disrobed and went to bed.

She was much too happy to sleep. She lay counting the hours to calculate in how short a time she could be with her beloved husband!

She had no dread of meeting him, not the least.

"Perfect love casteth out fear."

She arose early the next morning, and, after going through all her duties in the Infants' Asylum, she went to the lady-superior's sitting-room to consult her about making arrangements for an immediate departure for England.

"But shall you not write first to announce your arrival?" inquired the abbess.

"No; because I can go to England just as quickly as a letter can, and I would rather go. There is a train from L'Ange at five P. M. I can go by that and reach Calais in time for the morning boat, and be in London by noon to-morrow-as soon as a letter could go. And I could see my husband, actually see him, before I could possibly get a letter from him," said Salome, brightening.

"If his grace should be in London," put in the abbess.

"I think he will be in London. If he is not there, I can find out where he is, and follow him. Dear madam, do not hinder me. I must start by the first available train," said Salome, earnestly.

"I do not desire to hinder you," answered the lady-superior.

Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Sister Francoise, who pale and agitated, sank upon the nearest seat, and sat trembling and speechless, until the abbess exclaimed:

"For the love of Heaven, Sister Francoise, tell us what has happened. Who is ill? Who is dead?"

"Helas! holy mother!" gasped the nun, losing her breath again immediately.

Salome drew a small phial of sal volatile from her pocket and uncorked and applied it to the nose of the fainting nun, saying soothingly:

"Now tell us what has overcome you, good sister."

"Ah, my child! It is dreadful! It is terrible! It is horrible! It is awful! But they are bringing him in!" gasped Sister Francoise, snuffing vigorously at the sal volatile, and still beside herself with excitement.

"What! What! Who are they bringing in?" demanded the abbess, in alarm.

"I'm going to tell you! Oh, give me time! It is stupefying! It is annihilating! The poor gentleman who has just shot himself through the body!" gasped Sister Francoise, losing her breath again after this effort.

"A gentleman shot himself!" echoed Salome, in consternation.

The abbess, pale as death, said not a word, but left the unnerved sister to the care of Salome, and went out to see what had really happened.

She met the little Sister Felecitie in the passage.

"What is all this, my daughter?" she inquired, in a very low voice.

"They have taken him into the refectory, madam. That was the nearest to the gate, where it happened. It happened just outside the south gate, madam. They took off a leaf of the gate, and laid him on it and brought him in," answered the trembling little novice, rather incoherently.

"Daughter, I have often admonished you that you must not address me as 'madam,' but as 'mother.'"

"I beg your pardon, holy mother; but I was so frightened, I forgot."

"Now tell me quickly, and clearly, what happened near the south gate?"

"Oh, madam!-holy mother, I mean!-the suicide! the suicide!"

"The suicide! It was not an accident, then, but a suicide?" exclaimed the abbess, aghast, and pausing in her hurried walk toward the refectory.

"Oh, madam-holy mother!-yes, so they say! It is enough to kill one to see it all!"

"Go into my room, child, and stay there with Sister Francoise until I return. Such sights are too trying for such as you," said the abbess, as she parted from the young novice, and hurried on toward the refectory.

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