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   Chapter 48 HUSBAND AND WIFE.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 15316

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


Two hours before this, the lady superior had conducted the young duchess to the private apartment of the abbess, to await the issue of events.

Salome, pale, and trembling with excitement, sank into the nearest chair.

"You do not fear to meet the duke, my child?" inquired the abbess, uneasily, as she also dropped into her seat.

"Fear to meet my own magnanimous husband? Oh, no, no! I do not fear to meet him; but I long to meet him with an infinite longing!" fervently exclaimed Salome.

"I am very glad to hear you say so. And you are sure of his prompt and full forgiveness?" said the abbess, softly.

"'Sure of his forgiveness!'" echoed Salome, with a holy and happy smile. "Yes, as sure of his forgiveness as I am of the Lord's pardon!"

"And yet when he hears the truth and understands all, he will know that he has nothing to forgive. And he should know and understand everything before he sees you. For this reason, as well as for several others, I have brought you here, and I advise you to seclude yourself yet for a few hours. I do not wish you to see the duke, or even to advise him of your presence in the house, until he has seen the dying man and heard the confession of the truth from his lips. That confession will prepare your husband to receive and understand you, better than any explanation you could possibly make would do. It will also save you from the distress of having to make a long explanation. Do you understand me, my child?"

"Yes, dear mother, I understand, and thank you for your wise counsels."

"I have also given directions to Sister Dominica that after he shall have concluded his interview with Mr. Scott, and partaken of dinner, which will be prepared for him in the receiving parlor, he shall be requested to meet me in the portress' room, where I propose to break to him the intelligence of your presence in the house."

"Thanks, dear mother! infinite, eternal thanks for all your great goodness to me," fervently exclaimed Salome.

"You are much too extravagant in your expressions of gratitude, my daughter! You exaggerate like a school-girl!" smiled the abbess.

"Oh! I will prove by my acts that I do not exaggerate my feelings at least!" persisted Salome.

And then, with girlish enthusiasm, she began to tell the lady-superior all she intended to do for the benefit of the convent charities, and especially for the "Infants' Asylum."

The vesper-bell summoned them to chapel, where the evening service occupied them for an hour.

They then went to the refectory, and joined the sisterhood at tea.

In coming from the refectory, they were met in the corridor by old Sister Dominica, who stopped the abbess, respectfully, and said:

"I come, holy mother, to report to you that I have followed all your instructions. Monseigneur le Duc and Monsieur le Docteur have well dined. Monsieur le Docteur has returned to his patient, Monseigneur le Duc has gone to the wicket-room to await madame, our holy mother."

"Bien!" said the abbess. "I will attend his grace. Go, dear daughter, and await my return in my parlor. Sister Dominica, lead the way and announce me."

Salome, in obedience to the abbess' orders, went back to the lady-superior's private parlor to await, with palpitating heart the issue of the lady's interview with the duke.

Sister Dominica deferentially led the lady abbess to the wicket room, opened the door, and said:

"The lady-superior of the convent to see Monseigneur, the Duke," then closed the door after the abbess, and retired.

As Mother Genevieve entered the room, she saw standing there a tall, thin, distinguished-looking young man, with a pale complexion, blonde hair and beard, and blue eyes. His face bore traces of deep suffering bravely endured. The gentle abbess sympathized with him from the depths of her kind heart, and for the first time felt glad that he would regain his wife, although by his doing so the convent would lose her fortune.

"Monseigneur, the Duke, of Hereward?" she said graciously, advancing into the room.

"Yes, madam. I have the honor of saluting the Lady Abbess of St. Rosalie?" returned the duke, with a bow.

"A poor nun, monseigneur; who, as the unworthy head of the house, begs leave to welcome you here," humbly returned the lady, bending her head.

"Thanks, madam."

"It is a sad event which has brought you under our roof, monseigneur."

"A very sad one, madam."

"And yet, for your sake, a very fortunate one."

"May I be permitted to ask you, madam, in what way this misfortune can be fortunate?"

"I had supposed that you already knew that, monseigneur."

"Perhaps I do. I am not sure. I do not clearly comprehend, madam. Will madam deign to make her meaning plainer?"

"Yes, monseigneur, and you will pardon me if I enter too abruptly upon a subject at once painful and delicate."

The abbess paused, and the duke inclined his head in the attitude of an attentive listener.

"The young Duchess of Hereward, monseigneur?" said the abbess, in a low voice.

The duke started very slightly, but his pale face flushed crimson.

"Pardon, monseigneur. I am the more deeply interested in the young lady, for that she passed her infancy, childhood and youth-being nearly the whole of her short life, indeed, under this roof-where I stood in the position of a mother to her orphanage."

"I knew, madam, that the motherless heiress was educated here," replied the duke, by way of saying something.

"You will, therefore, understand the interest I take in Madame la Duchesse, and forgive my question when I ask: Have you heard from her grace since she left her home?"

"You knew that she had left her home, then?" exclaimed the duke, in painful astonishment.

The abbess bowed assent.

"I hoped and believed that no one knew of her flight except the members of our own household, and the single confidential agent I employed to find her, and on whose discretion I could implicitly rely," said the duke, in a tone of extreme mortification and sorrow.

"Be tranquil, monseigneur, no one does know of it out of the circle of her own devoted friends, who can never misinterpret it."

"You know something of the duchess' movements, then? You know, perhaps, the cause of her flight-the place of her residence? You know-ah, madam, tell me what you know, I beseech you!" implored the duke.

"I know the cause of her flight, and justify her action even though she acted under a false impression. I know the place of her residence, and will tell it to you after you shall have answered one or two questions that I shall put to you. First then, monseigneur, when did you last hear of the duchess?"

"Some few weeks after her flight, I received the first and last news I have ever had of my lost bride. It came in a short and cautiously written note from herself. This note was without date or address. It was apparently written in kind consideration for me, but it contained no word of affection. It was signed by her maiden name and post-marked Rome."

The abbess smiled as she remembered that letter which had been written by Salome to put her husband out of suspense, and which had been sent by the mother superior, through a confidential agent who happened to be going there, to be mailed from Rome, to put the Duke of Hereward entirely off the track of his lost wife.

"I have the note in my pocketbook. You may read it, madam, if you please," continued the duke, as he opened his portmonnaie and handed her a tiny, folded paper.

The abbess took it and read as follows:

Duke of Hereward: I have just arisen from a bed of illness which has lasted ever since

my flight, and prevented me from writing to you up to this time.

I write now only to relieve any anxiety that you may feel on account of one in whom you took too much interest; for I would not have you suffer needless pain.

You know the reason of my flight; or if you do not, my maiden name, at the foot of this note, will tell you how surely I had learned that it was my bounden duty to leave you instantly.

I left you without malice, trying to put the best construction on your motives and actions, if any such were possible; I left you with sorrow, praying the Lord to forgive and save you.

I dare not write to you as I feel toward you, for that would be a sin.

I have entered a religious house, where, by prayer and labor, I may live down all "inordinate and sinful affections," and where I shall henceforth be dead to the world and to you.

This, then, is the very last you will hear of her who was once known as Salome Levison.

"She says you knew the cause of her flight. Did you know it, monseigneur?" inquired the abbess, when she had finished reading the note, and had returned it to the owner.

"I did not even suspect it, at first, madam. At the trial of John Scott, on the charge of murder of Sir Lemuel Levison, to which I was summoned as a witness for the crown, some facts were developed that first awoke my suspicions as to the cause of my wife's flight. These suspicions were further strengthened by the tone of her letter, received three weeks afterwards, and they were absolutely confirmed by a revelation I have received this day."

"From John Scott?"

"Yes, madam."

"You know the cause of your bride's flight, monseigneur. Do you blame her for it?"

"Under such circumstances, I honor her for it. She nearly broke her own heart and mine; but, as a pure woman, believing as she was forced to believe, she could do no less. Now, madam, I have answered all your questions. Now relieve my anxiety-tell me where she is."

"First tell me where you have been seeking her?" inquired the abbess, with a singular smile.

"In Italy, of course! Her letter was post-marked Rome, though without any other address," said the duke, lightly lifting his eyebrows.

"That letter was written in this house, and sent to Rome to be mailed thence, in order to put you off the true track of the duchess, monseigneur," said the abbess, with a smile.

"What do you tell me, madam!" exclaimed the duke, in surprise.

"Madame la Duchesse is under this roof, to which she fled for refuge direct from London!"

"Can this be possible, madam?"

"It is true! To whom, indeed, could the child come, in her extremity, but to me, the mother of her motherless youth?"

"Oh, madam, you fill my heart with joy and gratitude! My wife under this roof?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

"And safe and well?"

"Safe and well."

"Thank Heaven! Can I see her at once? Does she know I am here? Does she know-"

"She knows everything, monseigneur, that you would have her know, although she has not heard the confession of John Scott, which has just been made to you. She knows everything by means of the agencies I set to work to investigate the truth. And she knows that you will forgive her, through the intuitions of her own spirit."

"When can I see her, madam? Oh, when?" exclaimed the young duke, rising impatiently.

"This moment, if you please. She is expecting you. Follow me, monseigneur," said the abbess, rising and leading the way through the broad hall that stretched between the wicket room and the lady-superior's parlor.

When they reached the place, the abbess said:

"Enter, monseigneur. You will find the duchess alone, within."

And she opened the door and admitted him, then closed it behind him, and paced slowly away from the spot.

As the duke advanced into the room, so silently that his footsteps were unheard, he saw his wife sitting within the recess of the solitary window. She wore a simple dress of black serge, with a white collar and white cuffs, such as she had worn ever since her entrance into the convent. Her head was turned toward the window and bowed upon her hand in an attitude of meditation. She neither saw nor heard the soft approach of the duke. He stood gazing on her with infinite pity, for a moment, and then laying his hand gently on her shoulder, whispered:

"Salome!"

She started up with a wild cry of joy! She would have sank down at his feet, but he caught her to his bosom, held her there, stroking her hair, kissing her face, murmuring in her ear:

"Salome, Salome, my sweet wife, Salome! Oh, how thankful! Oh, how glad I am to meet you!"

She could not answer him. She could not speak. She was overwhelmed by his goodness. She could only burst into tears and weep like a storm upon his bosom.

He sat down on the sofa, and drew her to his side, keeping his arm around her and resting her head upon his bosom, while still he smoothed her hair with his hands, and kissed her from time to time, until she ceased to weep.

"I can never forgive myself," she murmured at length-"never forgive myself for the deep wrong I have done your noble nature; nor do I ask you to forgive me; because-because your every tone and look and gesture expresses the full forgiveness, you are too delicate and generous to speak!"

"No, sweet wife, do not ask me to forgive you; for you have done no willful wrong that needs forgiveness. And I have no forgiveness for you, sweet, but only love! infinite, eternal love! Our past is dead and buried. Let it be forgotten. You will leave this house with me this evening, love. And as soon as our duties will release us from this neighborhood we will return to England, where a host of friends will welcome us home. And here is something that will surprise and please you, love. Your flight is not known to the world. We are believed to be living in Italy together, where I have been traveling alone in secret search for you these many months. We shall return to society as from a lengthened wedding tour. Come, love, will you go away with me this very evening?"

"I will go anywhere, do anything you wish-for, under God, henceforth I have no will but yours, oh, my lord and love!" murmured the young wife, sweetly, and solemnly, as she turned her face to his, and he sealed her promise with an earnest kiss.

The same evening the Duke of Hereward took his recovered bride to the pretty, rustic inn at L'Ange, and installed her in a pleasant suite of apartments. They remained at L'Ange until after the funeral of poor John Scott, whose body was interred in the little cemetery by St. Marie L'Ange.

The young Duke of Hereward defrayed all the expenses of the burial, and settled upon the widow an income sufficient to enable her to live in comfort and respectability. With the full consent of the unloving mother, who was but too willing to be relieved of her incumbrance, the young Duchess of Hereward adopted little Marie Perdue; "perdue" no longer, but the cherished pet of a fond foster-mother.

Before leaving France, the Duke and Duchess of Hereward richly endowed the charities of the Convent of St. Rosalie, which had been so long the refuge of the lost bride. The duchess took an affectionate leave of the gentle abbess and her simple nuns, who had for so many months been her only companions. She promised to make them an annual visit.

The young duke took his recovered bride over to England, then on to Scotland, and finally to their beautiful home, Lone Castle, where the young couple were received by their tenantry with great rejoicings.

THE END.

[A] "Not Proven"-a Scotch verdict in uncertain cases.

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