THE LOST LADY OF LONE
By MRS. E.D.E.N. SOUTHWORTH
Author of "Nearest and Dearest," "The Hidden Hand," "Unknown," "Only a Girl's Heart," "For Woman's Love," etc.
"THE LOST LADY OF LONE" is different from any of Mrs. Southworth's other novels. The plot, which is unusually provocative of conjecture and interest, is founded on thrilling and tragic events which occurred in the domestic history of one of the most distinguished families in the Highlands of Scotland. The materials which these interesting and tragic annals place at the disposal of Mrs. Southworth give full scope to her unrivalled skill in depicting character and developing a plot, and she has made the most of her opportunity and her subject.
I. The bride of Lone
II. An ideal love
III. The ruined heir
IV. Salome's choice
V. Arondelle's consolation
VI. A horrible mystery on the wedding-day
VII. The morning's discovery
VIII. A horrible discovery
IX. After the discovery
X. The letter and its effect
XI. The vailed passenger
XII. The house on Westminster Road
XIII. A surprise for Mrs. Scott
XIV. The second bridal morn
XV. The cloud falls
XVII. The lost Lady of Lone
XVIII. The flight of the duchess
XIX. Salome's refuge
XX. Salome's protectress
XXI. The bridegroom
XXII. At Lone
XXIII. A startling charge
XXIV. The vindication
XXV. Who was found?
XXVI. Off the track
XXVII. In the convent
XXVIII. The soul's struggle
XXIX. The stranger in the chapel
XXX. The haunter
XXXI. The abbess' story
XXXII. The duke's double
XXXIII. After the earthquake
XXXIV. Risen from the grave
XXXV. Face to face
XXXVI. A gathering storm
XXXVII. A sentence of banishment
XXXVIII. The storm bursts
XXXIX. The rivals
XL. After the storm
XLI. Father and son
XLII. Her son
XLIII. The duke's ward
XLV. After the revelation
XLVII. The end of a lost life
XLVIII. Husband and wife
THE LOST LADY OF LONE.
THE BRIDE OF LONE.
"Eh, Meester McRath? Sae grand doings I hae na seen sin the day o' the queen's visit to Lone. That wad be in the auld duke's time. And a waefu' day it wa'."
"Dinna ye gae back to that day, Girzie Ross. It gars my blood boil only to think o' it!"
"Na, Sandy, mon, sure the ill that was dune that day is weel compensate on this. Sooth, if only marriages be made in heaven, as they say, sure this is one. The laird will get his ain again, and the bonnyest leddy in a' the land to boot."
"She is a bonny lass, but na too gude for him, although her fair hand does gie him back his lands."
"It's only a' just as it sud be."
"Na, it's no all as it sud be. Look at they fules trying to pit up yon triumphal arch! The loons hae actually gotten the motto 'HAPPINESS' set upside down, sae that a' the blooming red roses are falling out o' it. An ill omen that if onything be an ill omen. I maun rin and set it right."
The speakers in this short colloquy were Mrs. Girzie Ross, housekeeper, and Mr. Alexander McRath, house-steward of Castle Lone.
The locality was in the Highlands of Scotland. The season was early summer. The hour was near sunset. The scene was one of great beauty and sublimity. The occasion one of high festivity and rejoicing.
The preparations were being completed for a grand event. For on the morning of the next day a deep wrong was to be made right by the marriage of the young and beautiful Lady of Lone to the chosen lord of her heart.
Lone Castle was a home of almost ideal grandeur and loveliness, situated in one of the wildest and most picturesque regions of the Highlands, yet brought to the utmost perfection of fertility by skillful cultivation.
The castle was originally the stronghold of a race of powerful and warlike Scottish chieftains, ancestors of the illustrious ducal line of Scott-Hereward. It was strongly built, on a rocky island, that arose from The midst of a deep clear lake, surrounded by lofty mountains.
For generations past, the castle had been but a picturesque ruin, and the island a barren desert, tenanted only by some old retainer of the ancient family, who found shelter within its huge walls, and picked up a scanty living by showing the famous ruins to artists and tourists.
But some years previous to the commencement of our story, when Archibald-Alexander-John Scott succeeded his father, as seventh Duke of Hereward, he conceived the magnificent, but most extravagant idea of transforming that grim, old Highland fortress, perched upon its rocky island, surrounded by water and walled in by mountains—into a mansion of Paradise and a garden of Eden.
When he first spoke of his plan, he was called visionary and extravagant; and when he persisted in carrying it into execution, he was called mad.
The most skillful engineers and architects in Europe were consulted and their plans examined, and a selection of designs and contractors made from the best among them. And then the restoration, or rather the transfiguration, of the place was the labor of many years, at the cost of much money.
Fabulous sums were lavished upon Lone. But the Duke's enthusiasm grew as the work grew and the cost increased. All his unentailed estates in England were first heavily mortgaged and afterwards sold, and the proceeds swallowed up in the creation of Lone.
The duchess, inspired by her husband, was as enthusiastic as the duke. When his resources were at an end and Lone unfinished she gave up her marriage settlements, including her dower house, which was sold that the proceeds might go to the completion of Lone.
But all this did not suffice to pay the stupendous cost.
Then the duke did the maddest act of his life. He raised the needed money from usurers by giving them a mortgage on his own life estate in Lone itself.
The work drew near to its completion.
In the meantime the duke's agents were ransacking the chief cities in Europe in search of rare paintings, statues, vases, and other works of art or articles of virtu to decorate the halls and chambers of Lone; for which also the most famous manufacturers in France and Germany were elaborating suitable designs in upholstery.
Every man directing every department of the works at Lone, whether as engineer, architect, decorator, or furnisher, every man was an artist in his own speciality. The work within and without was to be a perfect work at whatever cost of time, money, and labor.
At length, at the end of ten years from its commencement, the work was completed.
And for the sublimity of its scenery, the beauty of its grounds, the almost tropical luxuriance of its gardens, the magnificence of its buildings, the splendor of its decorations, and the luxury of its appointments, Lone was unequalled.
What if the mad duke had nearly ruined himself in raising it?
Lone was henceforth the pride of engineers, the model of architects, the subject of artists, the theme of poets, the Mecca of pilgrims, the eighth wonder of the world.
Lone was opened for the first time a few weeks after its completion, on the occasion of the coming of age of the duke's eldest son and heir, the young Marquis of Arondelle, which fell upon the first of June.
A grand festival was held at Lone, and a great crowd assembled to do honor to the anniversary. A noble and gentle company filled the halls and chambers of the castle, and nearly all the Clan Scott assembled on the grounds.
The festival was a grand triumph.
Among the thousands present were certain artists and reporters of the press, and so it followed that the next issue of the London News contained full-page pictures of Castle Lone and Inch Lone, with their terraces, parterres, arches, arbors and groves; Loch Lone, with its elegant piers, bridges and boats; and the surrounding mountains, with their caves, grottoes, falls and fountains.
Yes, the birthday festival was a perfect triumph, and the fame of Lone went forth to the uttermost ends of the earth. The English Colonists at Australia, Cape of Good Hope, and New Zealand, read all about it in copies of the London News, sent out to them by thoughtful London friends. We remember the day, some years since, when we, sitting by our cottage fire, read all about it in an illustrated paper, and pondered over the happy fate of those who could live in paradise while still on earth. Five years later, we would not have changed places with the Duke of Hereward.
But this is a digression.
The duke was in his earthly heaven; but was the duke happy, or even content?
Ah! no. He was overwhelmed with debt. Even Lone was mortgaged as deeply as it could be—that is, as to the extent of the duke's own life interests in the estate. Beyond that he could not burden the estate, which was entailed upon his heirs male. Besides his financial embarrassments, the duke was afflicted with another evil—he was consumed with a fever too common with prince and with peasant, as well as with peer—the fever of a land hunger.
The prince desires to add province to province; the peer to add manor to manor; the peasant to own a little home of his own, and then to add acre to acre.
The Lord of Lone glorying in his earthly paradise, wished to see it enlarged, wished to add one estate to another until he should become the largest land-owner in Scotland, or have his land-hunger appeased. He bought up all the land adjoining Lone, that could be purchased at any price, paying a little cash down, and giving notes for the balance on each purchase. Thus, in the course of three years, Lone was nearly doubled in territorial extent.
But the older creditors became clamorous. Bond, and mortgage holders threatened foreclosure, and the financial affairs of the "mad duke," outwardly and apparently so prosperous, were really very desperate. The family were seriously in danger of expulsion from Lone.
It was at this crisis that the devoted son came to the help of his father—not wisely, as many people thought then—not fortunately, as it turned out. To prevent his father from being compelled to leave Lone, and to protect him from the persecution of creditors, the young Marquis of Arondelle performed an act of self-sacrifice and filial devotion seldom equalled in the world's history. He renounced all his own entailed rights, and sold all his prospective life interest in Lone. His was a young, strong life, good for fifty or sixty years longer. His interest brought a sum large enough to pay off the mortgage on Lone and to settle all others of his father's outstanding debts.
Thus peaceable possession of Lone might have been secured to the family during the natural life of the duke. At the demise of the duke, instead of descending to his son and heir, it would pass into the possession of other parties, with whom it would remain as long the heir should live.
Thus, I say, by the sacrifice of the son the peace of the father might have been secured—for a time. And all might have gone well at Lone but for one unlucky event which finally set the seal on the ruin of the ducal family.
And yet that event was intended as an honor, and considered as an honor.
In a word the Queen, the Prince Consort, and the royal family, were coming to the Highlands. And the Duke of Hereward received an intimation that her majesty would stop on her royal progress and honor Lone with a visit of two days. This was a distinction in no wise to be slighted by any subject under any circumstances, and certainly not by the duke of Hereward.
The Queen's visit would form the crowning glory of Lone. The chambers occupied by majesty would henceforth be holy ground, and would be pointed out with reverence to the stranger in all succeeding generations.
In anticipation of this honor the "mad" Duke of Hereward launched out into his maddest extravagances.
He had but ten days in which to prepare for the royal visit, but he made the best use of his time.
The guest chambers at Lone, already fitted up in princely magnificence, had new splendors added to them. The castle and the grounds were adorned and decorated with lavish expenditure. The lake was alive with gayly-rigged boats. Triumphal arches were erected at stated intervals of the drive leading from the public road, across the bridge connecting the shore with the island, and—maddest extravagance of all—the ground was laid out and fitted up for a grand tournament after the style of the time of Richard Coeur de Lion, to be held there during the queen's visit—that fatal visit spoken of in the early part of this chapter.
Yes, fatal!—for a hundred thousand pounds sterling, won by the son's self-sacrifice, which should have gone to satisfy the clamorous creditors of the duke, was squandered in extravagant preparations to royally entertain England's expensive royal family.
A second time Lone was the scene of unparalleled display, festivity, and rejoicing. Once more all the country round about was assembled there; again the artists and reporters of the London press were among the crowd; and again full-page pictures of the ceremonies attending the queen's reception and entertainment were published in the illustrated papers, and the fame of that royal visit went out to the uttermost parts of the earth.
But mark this: Every footman that waited at the grand state-dinner table was a bailiff in disguise, in charge of the plate and china, which, together with all the fabulous riches of art, literature, science and virtu collected at Lone had been taken in execution, by the officers secretly in possession.
The royal party, with their retinue, left Lone on the afternoon of the third day.
And then the crash came? The blow was sudden, overwhelming and utterly destructive.
The shock of the fall of Lone was felt from one end of the kingdom to the other.
For the last time a crowd gathered around Castle Lone. But they came not as festive guests but as a flock of vultures around a carcass, bent on prey. For the last time artists and reporters came not to illustrate the triumphs, but to record the downfall of the great ducal house of Scott-Hereward; to make sketches, take photographs and write descriptions of the magnificent and splendid halls and chambers, picture-galleries and museums, before they should be dismantled by the rapacious purchasers who flocked to the vendue of Lone, to profit by the ruin of the proprietor.
And for the last time illustrations of Lone and its glories went forth over every part of the world where the English language is spoken, or the English mails penetrate.
Another heavy blow fell upon the doomed duke. Even while the grand vendue was still in progress the duchess died of grief.
When all was over, and the good duchess was laid in the family vault, the duke and the young marquis disappeared from Lone and none knew whither they went. Some said that they had gone to Australia; some that they were in America; some that they were on the Continent. Others declared that they had hidden themselves in the wilderness of London, where they were living in great poverty and obscurity, and even under assumed names.
Opinions and rumors differed also concerning the character and conduct of the young marquis. Many called him a devoted son, filled with the spirit of heroic self-sacrifice. Many others affirmed that he was a hypocrite and a villain, addicted to drinking, gambling, and other vices and even cited times, places, and occasions of his sinning.
There never lived a man of whom so much good and so much evil was said as of the young Marquis of Arondelle. A stranger coming into the neighborhood of Lone, would hear these opposite reports and never be able to decide whether the absent and self-exiled young nobleman was a model of virtue or a monster of vice.
But there was one whose faith in him was firm as her faith in Heaven.
Rose Cameron was the daughter of a Highland shepherd, living about ten miles north of Ben Lone. No court lady in the land was fairer than this rustic Highland beauty. Her form was tall, fine, and commanding. Her step was stately and graceful as the step of an antelope. Her features were large, regular, and clear cut, as if chiseled in marble, yet full of blooming and sparkling life as ruddy health and mountain air could fill them. Her hair was golden brown, and clustered in innumerable shining ringlets closely around her fair open forehead and rounded throat. Her eyes were large, and clear bright blue. Her expression full of innocent freedom and joyousness.
Rumor said that the fast young Marquis of Arondelle, while deer-stalking from his hunting lodge in the neighborhood of Ben Lone, had chanced to draw rein at the gate of Rob. Cameron's sheiling, and had received from the shapely hand of the beautiful shepherdess a cup of water, and had been so suddenly and forcibly smitten by her Juno-like beauty, that thenceforth his visits to his hunting lodge became very frequent, both in season and out of season, and that he was a very dry soul, whose thirst could be satisfied by nothing but the spring water that spouted close by the shepherd's sheiling, dipped up and offered by the hands of the beautiful shepherdess.
Much blame was cast by the rustic neighbors upon all parties concerned—first of all, upon the young marquis, who they declared "meant nae guid to the lass," and then to the old shepherd, who they said, "suld tak mair care o' his puir mitherless bairn," and lastly, to the girl, who, as they affirmed, "suld guide hersel' wi' mair discretion."
None of these criticisms ever came to the ears of the parties concerned: they never do, you know.
Besides the lovers seemed to be infatuated with each other, and the shepherd seemed to be blind to what was going on in his sheiling. To be sure, he was out all day with his sheep, while his lass was alone in the sheiling. Or, if by sickness he was forced to stay home, then she was out all day with the sheep alone.
Gossip said that the young marquis visited the handsome shepherdess in her sheiling, and met her by appointment, when she was out with her flock.
And as the occasion grew, so grew the scandal, and so grew indignation against the marquis and scorn of the shepherdess.
"He'll nae mean to marry the quean! If she were my lass, I'd kick him out, an' he were twenty times a markis!" said the shepherd's next neighbor, and many approved his sentiment. These were among the detractors of the young nobleman.
But he had warm defenders—who affirmed that the Marquis of Arondelle would never seek a peasant girl to win her affections, unless he intended to make her his marchioness—which was an idea too preposterous to be entertained for an instant—therefore there could be no truth in these rumors.
And at length, when the great thunderbolt fell that destroyed Lone and banished the ducal family, there were not wanting "guid neebors" who taunted Rose Cameron with such words as these:
"The braw young markis hae made a fule o' ye, lass. Thoul't ne'er see him mair. And a guid job, too. Best ye'd ne'er see him at a'!"
But the handsome shepherdess betrayed no sign of mortification or doubt. When such prognostics were uttered, she crested her queenly head with a smile of conscious power, and looked as though—"she could, an if she would,"—tell more about the Marquis of Arondelle, than any of these people guessed.
Meanwhile, princely Lone passed into the possession of Sir Lemuel Levison, a London banker of enormous wealth. He had not always been Sir Lemuel Levison. But he had once been Lord Mayor of London, and for some part that he had taken in a public demonstration or a royal pageant, (I forget which,) he had been knighted by her Majesty.
He was, at this time, a tall, spare, fair-faced, gray-haired and gray bearded man of sixty-five. He was a widower, with "one only daughter," the youngest and sole survivor of a large family of children.
This daughter, Salome, had never known a mother's love nor a father's care. She was under three years old when her mother passed away.
Then her father, hating his desolate home, broke up his establishment on Westbourne Terrace, London, and placed his infant daughter under the care of the nuns in the Convent of the Holy Nativity in France.
Here Salome Levison passed the days of her dreamy childhood and early youth. Her father seldom found time to visit her at her convent school, and she never went home to spend her holidays. She had no home to go to.
When Salome was eighteen years of age, the Superior of the convent wrote to Sir Lemuel Levison, enclosing a letter from his daughter that considerably startled the absorbed banker and forgetful father. He had not seen his daughter for two years, and now these letters informed him that she wished to become a Nun of the Holy Nativity, and to enter upon her novitiate immediately! But that being a minor, she could not do so without his consent.
His sole surviving child! The sole heiress of his enormous wealth! On whom he depended, to make a home for him in his declining years, when he should have made a few more millions of millions upon which to retire!
And now this long neglected daughter had found consolation in devotion, and wished to take the vail which was to hide her forever from the world!
Sir Lemuel Levison hastened to France, and brought his daughter back to England. He took apartments at a quiet London hotel, and looked about for a suitable country-seat to purchase.
At this time Lone was advertised. He went thither with the crowd.
He saw Lone, liked it, wanted it, and determined to "pay for it and take it."
He stopped the vandalish dismantling of the premises by outbidding everybody else and purchasing all the furniture, decorations, plate, pictures, statues, vases, mosaics, and everything else, and ordering them to be left in their old positions.
He then engaged the house-steward, the housekeeper, and as many more of the servants of the late proprietor as he could induce to remain at Lone.
And when the princely castle was cleared of its crowds, and once more restored to order, beauty and peace, Sir Lemuel Levison went back to London to bring his daughter home.
Salome, submissive to her father's will, yet disappointed in her wish to take the vail, met every event in life with apathy.
Even when the splendors of Lone broke upon her vision she regarded them with an air of indifference that amused, while it mortified, her father.
"I see how it is, my girl," he said. "You have renounced the world, and are pining for the convent. But you know nothing of the world. Give it a fair trial of three years. Then you will be twenty-one years old, of legal age to act for yourself, with some knowledge of that which you would ignorantly renounce; and then if you persist in your desire to take the vail—well! I shall then have neither the power nor the wish to prevent you," added the wise old banker, who felt perfectly confident that at the end of the specified time his daughter would no longer pine to immure herself in a convent.
Salome, grateful for this concession, and feeling perfectly self-assured that she would never be won by the world, kissed her father, and roused herself to be as much of a comfort and solace to him as she might be in the three years of probation. And she took her place at the head of her father's magnificent establishment at Lone with much of gentle quiet and dignity.
And now it is time to give you some more accurate knowledge of the outward appearance and the inner life of this motherless, convent-reared girl, who, though a young and wealthy heiress, was bent on forsaking the world and taking the vail. In the first place, she was not beautiful at all in repose. There can be no physical beauty without physical health. And Salome Levison partook of the delicate organization of her mother, who had passed away in early womanhood, and of her brothers and sisters, who had gone in infancy or childhood.
Salome, when still and silent, was, at first sight plain. She was rather below the medium height, slight and thin in form, pale and dark in complexion, with irregular features, and quiet, downcast, dark-gray eyes, whose long lashes cast shadows upon pallid cheeks, and which were arched with dark eyebrows on a massive forehead, shaded with an abundance of dark brown hair, simply parted in the middle, drawn back and wound into a rich roll. Her dress was as simple as her station permitted it to be.
Altogether she seemed a girl unattractive in person and reserved in speech.
The very opposite of the handsome shepherdess of Ben Lone.
And yet when she looked up or smiled, her face was transfigured into a wondrous beauty; such intellectual and spiritual beauty as that perfect piece of flesh and blood never could have expressed. And she was a "sealed book." Yet the hour was at hand when the "sealed book" was to be opened—when her dreaming soul, like the sleeping princess in the wood, was to be awakened by the touch of holy love to make the beauty of her person and the glory of her life.
AN IDEAL LOVE.
A few weeks after their settlement at Lone, Sir Lemuel Levison returned to London on affairs connected with his final retirement from active business.
Salome was left at the castle, with the numerous servants of the establishment, but otherwise quite alone. She had neither governess, companion, nor confidential maid. She suffered from this enforced solitude. She had seen all the splendors of the interior of Lone, and there was nothing new to discover—except—yes, there was Malcom's Tower, which tradition said was the most ancient portion of the castle, whose foundations had been dug from the solid rock, hundreds of feet below the surface of the lake.
The tower had been restored with the rest of the castle, but had never been fitted up for occupation.
Salome determined to spend one morning in exploring the old tower from foundation to top.
She summoned the housekeeper to her presence, and made known her purpose.
"Macolm's Watch Tower, Miss! Weel, then, it's naething to see within, forbye a few auld family portraits and sic like, left there by the auld duke; but there'll be an unco' foine view frae the top on a braw day like this," said Dame Ross, as she detached a bunch of keys from her belt, and signified her readiness to attend her young mistress.
I need not detail the explorations of the young lady from the horrible dungeon of the foundation—up the narrow, winding steps, cut in the thickness of the outer wall, which was perforated on the inner side by doorways on each landing, leading into the strong, round stone rooms or cells on each floor, lighted only by long narrow slits in the solid masonry. All the lower cells were empty.
But when they reached the top of the winding steps and opened the door of the upper cell, the housekeeper said:
"Here are deposited some o' the relics left by the auld duke until such time as he shall be ready to tak' them awa'."
Salome followed her into the room and suddenly drew back in surprise.
She saw standing out from the gloom, the form of a young man of majestic beauty and grace.
A second look showed her that this was only a full-length life-sized portrait—but of whom?
Her gaze became riveted on the glorious presence.
The portrait represented a young man of about twenty-five years of age, tall, finely formed, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, with a well-turned, stately head, a Grecian profile, a fair, open brow, dark, deep blue eyes, and very rich auburn hair and beard. He wore the picturesque highland dress—the tartan of the Clan Scott.
But it was not the dress, the form, the face that fascinated the gaze of the girl. It was the air, the look, the SOUL that shone through it all!
A sun ray, glancing through the narrow slit in the solid wall, fell directly upon the fine face, lighting it up as with a halo of glory!
"It is the face of the young St. John! Nay, it is more divine! It is the face of Gabriel who standeth in the presence of the Lord! But it expresses more of power! It is the face of Michael rather, when he put the hosts of hell to flight! Oh! a wondrously glorious face!" said the rapt young enthusiast to herself, as she gazed in awe-struck silence on the portrait.
"Ye are looking at that picture, young leddy? Ay it weel deserves your regards! It is a grand one!" said Dame Ross, proudly.
"Who is it? One of the young princes?" inquired Salome, in a low tone, full of reverential admiration.
"Ane o' the young princes? Gude guide us! Nae, young leddy; I hae seen the young princes ance, on an unco' ill day for Lone! And I dinna care if I never see ane mair. But they dinna look like that," said the housekeeper, with a deep sigh.
"Who is it, then?" whispered Salome, still gazing on the portrait with somewhat of the rapt devotion with which she had been wont to gaze on pictured saint, or angel, on her convent walls. "Who is it, Mrs. Ross?"
"Wha is it? Wha suld it be, but our ain young laird? Our ain bonny laddie? Our young Markis o' Arondelle? Oh, waes the day he ever left Lone!" exclaimed Dame Girzie, lifting her apron to her eyes.
"The Marquis of Arondelle!" echoed Salome, catching her breath, and gazing with even more interest upon the glorious picture.
Even while she gazed, the ray that had lighted it for a moment was withdrawn by the setting sun, and the picture was swallowed up in sudden darkness.
"The Marquis of Arondelle," repeated Salome in a low reverent tone, as if speaking to herself.
"Ay, the young Markis o' Arondelle; wae worth the day he went awa'!" said the housekeeper, wiping her eyes.
Salome turned suddenly to the weeping woman.
"I have heard—I have heard—" she began in a low, hesitating voice, and then she suddenly stopped and looked at the dame.
"Ay, young leddy, nae doubt ye hae heard unco mony a fule tale anent our young laird; but if ye would care to hear the verra truth, ye suld do so frae mysel. But come noo, leddy. It is too dark to see onything mair in this room. We'll gae out on the battlements gin ye like, and tak' a luke at the landscape while the twilight lasts," said Dame Girzie.
Salome assented with a nod, and they climbed the last steep flight of stairs, cut in the solid wall, and leading from this upper room to the top of the watch-tower.
They came out upon a magnificent view.
The bright, long twilight of these Northern latitudes still hung luminously over island, lake and mountain.
While Salome gazed upon it Dame Girzie said:
"All this frae the tower to the horizon, far as our eyes can reach, and far'er, was for eight centuries the land of the Lairds of Lone. And noo! a' hae gane frae them, and they hae gane frae us, and na mon kens where they bide or how they fare. Wae's me!"
"It was indeed a household wreck," said Salome, with sigh of sincere sympathy.
"Ye may say that, leddy, and mak' na mistake."
"What is that lofty mountain-top that I see on the edge of the horizon away to the north, just fading in the twilight?" inquired Salome, partly to divert the dame from her gloomy thoughts.
"Yon? Ay. Yon will be, Ben Lone. It will be twenty miles awa', gin it be a furlong. Our young laird had a braw hunting lodge there, where in the season he was wont to spend weeks thegither wi' his kinsman, Johnnie Scott, for the young laird was unco' fond of deer stalking, and sic like sport. I dinna ken wha owns the lodge now, or whether it went wi' the lave of the estate," said Dame Girzie, with a deep sigh.
"It is growing quite chilly up here," said Salome, shivering, and drawing her little red shawl more closely around her slight frame. "I think we will go down now, Mrs. Ross. And if you will be so good as to come to me after tea, this evening, I shall like to hear the story of this sorrowful family wreck," she added, as she turned to leave the place.
That evening, as the heiress sat in the small drawing room appropriated to her own use, the housekeeper rapped and was admitted.
And after seating herself at the bidding of her young mistress, Girzie Ross opened her mouth and told the true story of the fall of Lone, as I have already told to my readers.
"And this devoted son actually sacrificed all the prospects of his whole future life, in order to give peace and prosperity to his father's declining days," murmured Salome, with her eyes full of tears and her usually pale cheeks, flushed with emotion.
"He did, young leddy, like the noble soul, he was," said Dame Girzie.
"I never heard of such an act of renunciation in my life," murmured Salome.
"And the pity of it was, young leddy, that it was a' in vain," said the housekeeper.
"Yes, I know. Where is he now?" inquired the young girl, in a subdued voice.
"I dinna ken, leddy. Naebody kens," answered Girzie Ross, with a deep sigh, which was unconsciously echoed by the listener.
Then Dame Ross not to trespass on her young mistress's indulgence, arose and respectfully took her leave.
Salome fell into a deep reverie. From that hour she had something else to think about, beside the convent and the vail.
The portrait haunted her imagination, the story filled her heart and employed her thoughts. That night she dreamed of the self-exiled heir, a beautiful, vague, delightful dream, that she tried in vain to recall on the next morning.
In the course of the day she made several attempts to ask Mrs. Girzie Ross a simple question. And she wondered at her own hesitation to do it. At length she asked it:
"Mrs. Ross, is that portrait in the tower very much like Lord Arondelle?"
"Like him, young leddy? Why, it is his verra sel'! And only not sae bonny because it canna move, or smile, or speak. Ye should see him alive to ken him weel," said the housekeeper, heartily.
That afternoon Salome went up alone to the top of the tower, and spent a dreamy, delicious hour in sitting at the feet of the portrait and gazing upon the face.
That evening, while the housekeeper attended her at tea, she took courage to make another inquiry, in a very low voice:
"Is Lord Arondelle engaged, Mrs. Ross?"
She blushed crimson and turned away her head the moment she had asked the question.
"Engaged? What—troth-plighted do you mean, young leddy?"
"Yes," in a very low tone.
"Bless the lass! nay, nor no thought of it," answered the housekeeper.
"I was thinking that perhaps it would be well if he were not, that is all," explained Salome, a little confusedly.
That night, as she undressed to retire to bed, she looked at herself in the glass critically for the first time in her life.
It was not a pretty face that was reflected there. It was a pale, thin, dark face, that might have been redeemed by the broad, smooth forehead, shaped round by bands of dark brown hair, and lighted by the large, tender, thoughtful gray eyes, had not that forehead worn a look of anxious care, and those eyes an expression of eager inquiry.
"But then I am so plain—so very, very plain," she said to herself, as if uttering the negation of some preceding train of thought.
And with a deep sigh she retired to rest.
The next day Girzie Ross herself was the first to speak of the young marquis.
"I hae been thinking, young leddy, what garred ye ask me gin the young laird, were troth plighted. And I mistrust ye must hae heard these fule stories anent his hardship, having a sweetheart at Ben Lone. There's nae truth in sic tales, me leddy. No that I'm denying she's a handsome hizzy, this Rose Cameron; but she's nae one to mak' the young laird forget his rank. Ye'll no credit sic tales, me young leddy."
"I have heard no tales of the sort," said Salome, looking up in surprise.
"Ay, hae ye no? Aweel, then, its nae matter," said the dame.
"But what tales are there, Mrs. Ross?" uneasily inquired the heiress. And then she instantly perceived the indiscretion of her question, and regretted that she had asked it.
"Ou aye, it's just the fule talk o' thae gossips up by Ben Lone. They behoove to say that's its na the game that draws the young laird sae often to Ben Lone; but just Rab Cameron's handsome lass, Rose, and she is a handsome quean as I said before; but nae 'are to mak' the young master lose his head for a' that! Sae ye maun na beleiv' a word of it, me young leddy," said Dame Girzie.
And she hastened to change the subject.
"Ah! what a power beauty is! It can make a prince forget his royal state, and sue to a peasant girl," sighed Salome to herself. "I wonder—I wonder, if there is any truth in that report? Oh, I hope there is not, for his own sake. I wonder where he is—what he is doing? But that is no affair of mine. I have nothing at all to do with it! I wonder if I shall ever meet him. I wonder if he would think me very ugly? Nonsense, what if he should? He is nothing to me. I—I do wonder if a young man so noble in character, so handsome in person as he is, ever could like a girl without any beauty at all, even if she—even if she—Oh, dear! what a fool I am! I had better never have come out of the convent. I will think no more about him," said Salome, resolutely taking up a volume of the "Lives of the Saints," and turning to the page that related how—
"St. Rosalie, Darling of each heart and eye, From all the youth of Italy Retired to God."
"That is the noblest love and service, after all," she said—"the noblest, surely, because it is Divine!"
And she resolved to emulate the example of the young and beautiful Italian virgin. She, too, would retire to God. That is, she would enter her convent as soon as her three probationary years should be passed.
But though she so resolved to devote herself to Heaven in this abnormal way, the natural human love that now glowed in her heart, would not be put down by an unnatural resolve.
Days and nights passed, and she still thought of the banished heir all day, and dreamed of him all night—the more intensely as well as purely perhaps, because she had never looked upon his living face.
To her he was an abstract ideal.
Later in the month her father returned to Lone—on business of more importance than that which had hurried him away.
He had only retired from one phase of public life to enter upon another.
There was to be a new Parliament. And at the solicitations of many interested parties, and perhaps also at the promptings of his own late ambition, Sir Lemuel Levison consented to stand for the borough of Lone. In the absence of the young Marquis of Arondelle there was no one to oppose him, and he was returned by an almost unanimous vote.
Early in February, Sir Lemuel Levison took his dreaming daughter and went up to London to take his seat in the House of Commons at the meeting of Parliament.
He engaged a sumptuously furnished house on Westbourne Terrace, and invited a distant relative, Lady Belgrave, the childless widow of a baronet, to come and pass the season with him and chaperone his daughter on her entrance into society.
Lady Belgrade was sixty years old, tall, stout, fair-complexioned, gray-haired, healthy, good-humored, and well-dressed—altogether as commonplace and harmless a fine lady as could be found in the fashionable world.
Salome had never seen her, scarcely ever heard of her before the day of her arrival at Westbourne Terrace.
Salome met Lady Belgrade with courtesy and kindness, but with much indifference.
Lady Belgrade, on her part, met her young kinswoman with critical curiosity.
"She is not pretty, not at all pretty, and one does not like to have a plain girl to bring out. She is not pretty, and what is worse than all, she seems to know it. And she can only grow pretty by believing that she is so. A girl with such a pair of eyes as hers can always get the reputation of beauty if she can only be made to believe in herself," was Lady Belgrade's secret comment; but—
"What beautiful eyes you have, my dear!" she said with effusion, as she kissed Salome on both cheeks.
The girl smiled and blushed with pleasure, for this was the first time in all her life that she had been credited with any beauty at all.
Lady Belgrade was partly right and partly wrong.
A girl with such a physique as Salome could never be pretty, never be handsome, but, with such a soul as hers, might grow beautiful.
At her Majesty's first drawing-room, Salome Levison was presented at court, where she attracted the attention, only as the daughter of Sir Lemuel Levison, the new Radical member for Lone, and as the sole heiress of the great banker's almost fabulous wealth.
Then under the experienced guidance of Lady Belgrade, she was launched into fashionable society. And society received the young expectant of enormous wealth, as society always does, with excessive adulation.
Salome was admired, followed, flattered, feted, as though she had been a beauty as well as an heiress. She was petted at home and worshiped abroad. Her father gave unlimited pocket-money in form of bank-cheques, to be filled up at her own discretion. For she was his only daughter, and he wished to get her in love with the world and out of conceit of a convent. And surely the run of his bank, and of all the fine shops of London, would do that, he thought, if anything could.
But Salome remained a "sealed book" to the wealthy banker, and a great trial to the fashionable chaperon who had her in training. Salome would not grow pretty, in spite of all that could be done for her. Salome would not make a sensation, for all her father's wealth and her own expectations. She remained quiet, shy, silent, dreamy, even in the gayest society, as in the Highland solitudes, with one worship in her soul—the worship of that self-devoted son—that self-banished prince, whose "counterfeit presentment" she had seen in the tower at Lone, and who had become the idol of her religion.
But all this did not hinder the heiress from receiving some very matter of fact and highly eligible offers of marriage; for though Salome, in the holiness of her dreams, was almost unapproachable, the banker was not inaccessible. And it was through her father that Salome, in the course of the season, had successively the coronet of a widowed earl, the title of a duke's younger son, and the fortune of a baronet who was just of age, laid at her feet.
She rejected them all—to her father's great disappointment and disturbance.
"I fear—I do much fear that her mind still runs on that convent. She does nothing but dream, dream, dream, and absolutely ignore homage that would turn another girl's head. I wish she were well married, or—I had almost said ill married! anything is better than the convent for my only surviving child! If she will not accept an earl or a baronet, why cannot her perversity take the form of any other girl's perversity? Why can she not fall in love with some penniless younger son, or some dissipated captain in a marching regiment? I am sure even under such circumstances I should not perform the part of the 'cruel parent' in the comedies! I should say, 'Bless you my children,' with all my heart! And I should enrich the impecunious young son, or reform the tipsy soldier. Anything but the convent for my only child!" concluded the banker, with a sigh.
But Salome had ceased to think of the convent. She thought now only of the missing marquis.
The offers of marriage that had been made to Salome, rejected though they were, had this good effect upon her mind. They encouraged her to think more hopefully of herself. Salome was too unworldly, too pure, and holy, to suspect that these offers had been made her from any other motive than personal preference. It was possible, then, that she might be loved. If other men preferred her, so also might he on whom she had fixed. And now it had come to this with the dreaming girl—she resolved to think no more of retiring to a convent, but to live in the world that contained her hero; to keep herself free from all engagements for his sake, to give herself to him, if possible, if not to give his land back to him some day, at least. So in her secret soul she consecrated herself in a pure devotion to a man she had never seen, and who did not even know of her existence.
When Parliament rose at the end of the London season, Sir Lemuel Levison took his daughter on an extended Continental tour, showing her all the wonders of nature, and all the glories of art in countries and cities. And Salome was interested and instructed, of course. Yet the greatest value her travels had for her was in the possibility of their bringing her to a meeting with the missing heir. It had been said that the mad duke and his son were somewhere on the Continent. A wide field! Yet, on the arrival of Sir Lemuel and Miss Levison at any city, Salome's first thought was this:
"Perhaps they are living here, and I shall see him."
But she was always disappointed. And at the end of a seven months' sojourn on the Continent, Sir Lemuel Levison brought his daughter back to London, only in time for the meeting of Parliament.
Only two years of Salome's probation was left—only two more seasons in London. Her father's anxiety increased.
He sent for her chaperone again, and opened his house in Westbourne Terrace to all the world of fashion. Again the young heiress was followed, flattered, feted as much as if she had been a beauty as well. Again she received and rejected several eligible offers of marriage. And so the second season passed.
Sir Lemuel Levison took his daughter to Scotland, and invited a large company to stay with them at Lone, thinking that, after all, more matches were made in the close daily intercourse of a country house, than in the crowded ball-rooms of a London season.
But though the banker's daughter received two or three more eligible offers of marriage, she politely declined them all, and stole away as often as she could to worship the pictured image in the old tower.
Her chaperone was in despair.
"How many good men and brave has she refused, do you know, Lemuel?" inquired Lady Belgrade.
"Seven, to my certain knowledge," angrily replied the banker.
"Perhaps she likes some one you know nothing about," suggested the dowager.
"She does not; I would let her marry almost any man rather than have her enter a convent, as she is sure to do when she is of age. I would let her marry any one; aye, even Johnnie Scott, who is the most worthless scamp I know in the world."
"And pray who is Johnnie Scott!"
"Oh, a handsome rascal; is sort of kinsman and hanger-on of the young Marquis of Arondelle; he used to be. I don't know anything more about him."
"Perhaps he is the man."
"Oh, no, he is not. There is no man in the convent. Well, we go up to London again in February. It will be her last season. If she does not fall in love or marry before May, when she will be twenty-one years of age, she will immure herself in a convent, as I am pledged not to prevent her."
The conversation ended unsatisfactorily just here.
In the beginning of February Sir Lemuel Levison, with his daughter and her chaperone, went up to London for her third season. They established themselves again in the sumptuous house on Westbourne Terrace, and again entered into the whirl of fashionable gayeties.
It was quite in the beginning of the season that Sir Lemuel and Miss Levison received invitations to a dinner party at the Premier's.
It was to be a semi-political dinner, at which were to be entertained certain ministers, members of Parliament, with their wives, and leading journalists.
Sir Lemuel accepted for himself and Miss Levison. On the appointed day they rendered themselves at the Premier's house, where they were courteously welcomed by the great minister and his accomplished wife.
After the usual greetings had been exchanged with the guests that were present, and while Sir Lemuel and Miss Levison were conversing with their hostess, the Premier came up with a stranger on his right arm.
Salome looked up, her heart gave a great bound and then stood still.
The original of the portrait in the tower, the self-devoted son, the self-exiled heir, the idol of her pure worship, the young Marquis of Arondelle stood before her.
And while the scene swam before her eyes, the Premier bowed, and presenting him, said:
"Sir Lemuel, let me introduce to you, Mr. John Scott of the National Liberator. Mr. Scott, Sir Lemuel Levison, our new member for Lone."
Mr. John Scott!
THE RUINED HEIR.
Where, meanwhile, was the "mad" duke with his loyal son?
Various reports had been circulated concerning them, so long as they had been remembered. Some had said that they had emigrated to Australia; others that they had gone to Canada; others again that they were living on the Continent. All agreed that wherever they were, they must be in great destitution.
But now, three years had passed since the fall of Lone and the disappearance of the ruined ducal family, and they were very nearly forgotten.
Meanwhile where were they then?
They were hidden in the great wilderness of London.
On leaving Lone, the stricken duke, crushed equally under domestic affliction and financial ruin, and failing both in mind and body, started for London, tenderly escorted by his son.
It was the last extravagance of the young marquis to engage a whole compartment in a first-class carriage on the Great Northern Railway train, that the fallen and humbled duke might travel comfortably and privately without being subjected to annoyance by the gaze of the curious, or comments of the thoughtless.
On reaching London they went first to an obscure but respectable inn in a borough, where they remained unknown for a few days, while the marquis sought for lodgings which should combine privacy, decency and cheapness, in some densely-populated, unfashionable quarter of the city, where their identity would be lost in the crowd, and where they would never by any chance meet any one whom they had ever met before.
They found such a refuge at length, in a lodging-house kept by the widow of a curate in Catharine street, Strand.
Here the ruined duke and marquis dropped their titles, and lived only under their baptismal name and family names.
Here Archibald-Alexander-John Scott, Duke of Hereward and Marquis of Arondelle in the Peerage of England, and Baron Lone, of Lone, in the Peerage of Scotland, was known only as old Mr. Scott.
And his son Archibald-Alexander-John Scott, by courtesy Marquis of Arondelle, was known only as young Mr. John Scott.
Now as there were probably some thousands of "Scotts," and among them, some hundreds of "John Scotts," in all ranks of life, from the old landed proprietor with his town-house in Belgravia, to the poor coster-monger with his donkey-cart in Covent Garden, in this great city of London, there was little danger that the real rank of these ruined noblemen should be suspected, and no possibility that they should be recognized and identified. They were as completely lost to their old world as though they had been hidden in the Australian bush or New Zealand forests.
Here as Mr. Scott and Mr. John Scott, they lived three years.
The old duke, overwhelmed by his family calamity, gradually sank deeper and deeper into mental and bodily imbecility.
Here the young marquis picked up a scanty living for himself and father by contributing short articles to the columns of the National Liberator, the great organ of the Reform Party.
He wrote under the name of "Justus." After a few months his articles began to attract attention for their originality of thought, boldness of utterance, and brilliancy of style.
Much speculation was on foot in political and journalistic circles as to the author of the articles signed "Justus." But his incognito was respected.
At length on a notable occasion, the gifted young journalist was requested by the publisher of the National Liberator, to write a leader on a certain Reform Bill then up before the House of Commons.
This work was so congenial to the principles and sentiments of the author, that it became a labor of love, and was performed, as all such labors should be, with all the strength of his intellect and affections.
This leader made the anonymous writer famous in a day. He at once became the theme of all the political and newspaper clubs.
And now a grand honor came to him.
The Premier—no less a person—sent his private secretary to the office of the National Liberator to inquire the name and address of the author of the articles by "Justus," with a request to be informed of them if there should be no objection on the part of author or publisher.
The private secretary was told, with the consent of the author, what the name and address was.
"Mr. John Scott, office of the National Liberator."
Upon receiving this information, the Premier addressed a note to the young journalist, speaking in high terms of his leader on the Reform Bill, predicting for him a brilliant career, and requesting the writer to call on the minister at noon the following day.
The young marquis was quite as much pleased at this distinguished recognition of his genius as any other aspiring young journalist might have been.
He wrote and accepted the invitation.
And at the appointed hour the next day he presented himself at Elmhurst House, the Premier's residence at Kensington.
He sent up his card, bearing the plain name:
"Mr. John Scott."
He was promptly shown up stairs to a handsome library, where he found the great statesman among his books and papers.
His lordship arose and received his visitor with much cordiality, and invited him to be seated.
And during the interview that followed it would have been difficult to decide who was the best pleased—the great minister with this young disciple of his school, or the new journalist with this illustrious head of his party.
This agreeable meeting was succeeded by others.
At length the young journalist was invited to a sort of semi-political dinner at Elmhurst House, to meet certain eminent members of the reform party.
This invitation pleased the marquis. It would give him the opportunity of meeting men whom he really wished to know. He thought he might accept it and go to the dinner as plain Mr. John Scott, of the National Liberator, without danger of being recognized as the Marquis of Arondelle.
For in the days of his family's prosperity he had been too young to enter London society.
And in these days of his adversity he was known to but a limited number of individuals in the city, and only by his common family name.
On the appointed evening, therefore, he put on his well-brushed dress-suit, spotless linen, and fresh gloves, and presented himself at Elmhurst House as well dressed as any West End noble or city nabob there.
He was shown up to the drawing-room by the attentive footman, who opened the door, and announced:
"Mr. John Scott."
And the young Marquis of Arondelle entered the room, where a brilliant little company of about half a dozen gentlemen and as many ladies were assembled.
The noble host came forward to welcome the new guest. His lordship met him with much cordiality, and immediately presented him to Lady ——, who received him with the graceful and gracious courtesy for which she was so well known.
Finally the minister took the young journalist across the room toward a very tall, thin, fair-skinned, gray-haired old gentleman, who stood with a pale, dark-eyed, richly-dressed young girl by his side.
They were standing for the moment, with their backs to the company, and were critically examining a picture on the wall—a master-piece of one of the old Italian painters.
"Sir Lemuel," said the host, lightly touching the art-critic on the shoulder.
The old gentleman turned around.
"Sir Lemuel, permit me to present to you Mr. John Jones—I beg pardon—Mr. John Scott, of the National Liberator—Mr. Scott, Sir Lemuel Levison, our member for Lone," said the minister.
Sir Lemuel Levison saw before him the young Marquis of Arondelle, whom he had know as a boy and young man for years in the Highlands, and of whom, indeed, he had purchased his life interest in Lone. But he gave no sign of this recognition.
The young marquis, on his part, had every reason to know the man who had succeeded, not to say supplanted, his father at Lone Castle. But by no sign did he betray this knowledge.
The recognition was mutual, instantaneous and complete. Yet both were gravely self-possessed, and addressed each other as if they had never met before.
Then the banker called the attention of the young lady by his side:
She raised her eyes and saw before her the idol of her secret worship, knowing him by his portrait at Lone. She paled and flushed, while her father, with old-fashioned formality, was saying:
"My daughter, let me introduce to your acquaintance, Mr. John Scott of the National Liberator. You have read and admired his articles under the signature of Justus, you know!—Mr. Scott, my daughter, Miss Levison."
Both bowed gravely, and as they looked up their eyes met in one swift and swiftly withdrawn glance.
And before a word could be exchanged between them the doors were thrown open and the butler announced:
"My lady is served."
"Sir Lemuel, will you give your arm to Lady ——, and allow me to take Miss Levison in to dinner?" said the noble host, drawing the young lady's hand within his arm.
"Mr. John Scott" took in Lady Belgrave.
At dinner Miss Levison found herself seated nearly opposite to the young marquis. She could not watch him, she could not even lift her eyes to his face, but she could not chose but listen to every syllable that fell from his lips. It was the cue of some of the leading politicians present to draw out this young apostle of the reform cause. And of course they proceeded to do it.
The young journalist, modest and reserved at first, as became a disciple in the presence of the leaders of the great cause, gradually grew more communicative, then animated, then eloquent.
Among his hearers, none listened with a deeper interest than Salome Levison. Although he did not address one syllable of his conversation to her, nor cast one glance of his eyes upon her, yet she hung upon his words as though they had been the oracles of a prophet.
If the high ideal honor and reverence in which she held him, could have been increased by any circumstance, it must have been from the sentiments expressed, the principles declared in his discourse.
She saw before her, not only the loyal son, who had sacrificed himself to save his father, but she saw also in him the reformer, enlightener, educator and benefactor of his race and age.
Of all the men she had met in the great world of society, during the three years that she had been "out," she had not found his equal, either in manly beauty and dignity, or in moral and intellectual excellence.
His brow needs no ducal coronet to ennoble it! His name needs no title to illustrate it. The "princely Hereward!" "If all the men of his race resembled him, they well deserved this popular soubriquet. And whether this gentleman calls himself Mr. Scott or Lord Arondelle, I shall think of him only as the 'princely Hereward.'" mused Salome, as she sat and listened to the music of his voice, and the wisdom of his words.
She was sorry when their hostess gave the signal for the ladies to rise from the table and leave the gentlemen to their wine.
They went into the drawing-room, where the conversation turned upon the subject of the brilliant young journalist. No one knew who he was. Scott, though a very good name, was such a common one! But the noble host's endorsement was certainly enough to pass this gifted young gentleman in any society. The ladies talked of nothing but Mr. Scott, and his perfection of person, manner and conversation, until the entrance of the gentlemen from the dining-room.
The host and the member for Lone came in arm in arm, and a little in the rear of the other guests, and lingered behind them.
"This most extraordinary young man, this Mr. Scott—you have known him some time, my lord?" said Sir Lemuel Levison, in a low tone.
"Ay, probably as long as you have, Sir Lemuel," replied the Premier, with a peculiarly intelligent smile.
"Ah, yes! I see! Your lordship has possibly detected my recognition of this young gentleman," said Sir Lemuel.
"Of course. And I, on my part, knew him when I first saw him again after some years."
"His name was common enough to escape detection."
"Yes, but his face was not, my dear sir. The profile of the 'princely Hereward' could never be mistaken. Our first meeting was purely accidental. He was pointed out to me one evening at a public meeting, as the 'Justus' of the 'National Liberator.' I looked and recognized the Marquis of Arondelle. Nothing surprises or should surprise a middle-aged man. Therefore, I was not in the least degree moved by what I had discovered. I sent, however, to the office of the Liberator to inquire the address, not of the Marquis of Arondelle, but of the writer, under the signature of 'Justus.' Received for answer that it was Mr. John Scott, office of the Liberator. I wrote to Mr. John Scott, and invited him to call on me. That was the beginning of my more recent acquaintance with this gifted young gentleman. Why he has chosen to drop his title I cannot know. He has every right to be called by his family name, only, if he so pleases. And, Sir Lemuel, we must regard his pleasure in this matter. Not even to my wife have I betrayed him," said the Premier, as they passed into the drawing-room.
"Umph, umph, umph," grunted the banker, who, surfeited with wealth though he was, could think of but one cause to every evil in the world, and that the want of money, and of but one remedy for that evil, and that was—plenty of money. "Umph, umph, umph! It is his poverty has made him drop the title that he cannot support. If he would only marry my girl now, it would all come right."
The entrance of the tea-service occupied the guests for the next half hour, at the end of which the little company broke up and took leave.
Salome Levison went home more thoughtful and dreamy than ever before—more out of favor with herself, more in love with her "paladin," more resolved never to marry any man except he should be John Scott, Marquis of Arondelle.
She almost loathed the hollow world of fashion in which she lived. Yet she went more into society than ever, though she enjoyed it so much less. She had a powerful motive for doing so. She attended all the balls, parties, dinners, concerts, plays, and operas to which she was invited, only with the hope of meeting again with him whose image had never left her heart since it first met her vision.
But she never was gratified. She never saw him again in society. John Scott was unknown to the world of fashion.
The season drew to its close. Constant going out, day after day, and night after night, would have weakened much stronger health than that possessed by Salome Levison. And, when added to this was constant longing expectation, and constant sickening disappointment, we cannot wonder that our pale heroine grew paler still.
Her chaperone declared herself "worn out" and unable to continue her arduous duties much longer.
Sir Lemuel Levison was puzzled and anxious.
"I cannot see what has come to my girl! She goes out all the time; she accepts every invitation; gives herself no rest; yet never seems to enjoy herself anywhere. She grows paler and thinner every day, and there is a hectic spot on her cheeks and a feverish brightness in her eyes that I do not like at all. I have seen them before, and I have too much reason to know them! I do believe she is fretting herself into a decline for her convent. I do believe she only goes out as a sort of penance for her imaginary sins! Poor child! I must really have a talk and come to an understanding with her!" said the anxious father to himself, as he mused on the condition of his daughter.
Sir Lemuel Levison was taking his breakfast in bed. The London season was near its close. Parliament sat late at night, and often all night. Sir Lemuel, a punctual and diligent member of the House, seldom returned home before the early dawn.
So Sir Lemuel was taking his breakfast in bed, and "small blame to him."
It was a very simple breakfast of black tea, dry toast, fresh eggs, and cold ham.
"Take these things away now, Potts. Go and find Miss Levison's maid, and tell her to let her mistress know that I wish to see my daughter here, before she goes out," said the banker, as he drained and set down his tea-cup.
"Yes, Sir Lemuel," respectfully answered the servant, as he lifted the breakfast tray and bore it off.
"Umph! that is the manner in which I have to manoeuvre for an interview with my own daughter, before I can get one," grumbled the banker, as he lay back on his pillow and took up a newspaper from the counter-pane.
Before he had time to read the morning's report of the night's doings at the House, Salome entered the room.
The banker darted a swift keen look at her, that took in her whole aspect at a glance.
She was dressed for a drive. She wore a simple suit of rich brown silk, with hat, vail and gloves to match, white linen collar and cuffs, and crimson ribbon bow on her bosom, and a crimson rose in her hat. Her face was pale and clear, but so thin that her broad, fair forehead looked too broad beneath its soft waves of dark hair, and her deep gray eyes seemed too large and bright under their arched black eyebrows.
"You wished to see me, dear papa?" she said, gently.
"Yes, my love. But—you are going out? Of course you are. You are always going out, when you are not gone. I hope, however, that I have not interfered with any very important engagement of yours, my dear?" said the banker, half impatiently, half affectionately.
"Oh, no, papa, love! I was only going with Lady Belgrade to a flower-show at the Crystal Palace. I will give it up very willingly if you wish me to do so," said Salome, gently, stooping and pressing her lips to his, and then seating herself on the side of his bed.
"I do not wish you to do so, my child. I shall be going out myself in a couple of hours. But I want to have a little conversation with you. I suppose a few minutes more or less will make no difference in your enjoyment of the flower-show."
"None whatever, papa, dear."
"Humph! Salome, now that I look at you well, I do not believe you care a penny for the flower-show. Come, tell me the truth, girl. Do you care one penny to go to the flower-show?" he inquired, looking keenly into her pensive face.
"No, papa, dear," she answered, in a very low tone.
"Humph! I thought not. Now do you care for any of the shows, plays, balls, and other tom-fooleries that occupy you day and night? I pause for a reply, my daughter."
"No, papa, I do not," she answered, in a still lower tone.
"Then why the deuce do you go to them?" demanded the banker.
His daughter's soft, gray eyes sank beneath his scrutinizing gaze, but she did not answer. How could she confess that she went out into company daily and nightly only in the hope of seeing again the one man to whom she had given her unsought heart, and for whose presence her very soul seemed famishing.
"What is it that you do care for, then, Salome?" demanded her father, varying his question.
Her head sank upon her bosom, but still she did not answer. How could she tell him that she cared only for a man who did not care for her.
"This is unbearable!" burst forth the banker. "Here you are with every indulgence that affection can yield you, every luxury that money can give you, and yet you are not well nor content. What ails you girl? Are you pining after your convent? Set fire to it. Are you pining after your convent, I ask you, Salome?"
"Indeed, no, papa!"
"What!" demanded her father, starting up at her reply and gazing with doubt into her pale, earnest face.
"I am not thinking of the convent, dear papa. Indeed I had forgotten all about it. If it will give you any pleasure to hear it, dear papa, let me tell you that I have quite given up all ideas of entering a convent," added Salome, with a pensive smile.
"What!" exclaimed the banker, starting up in a sitting position and bending toward his daughter as if in doubt whether to gaze her through and through or to catch her to his heart.
She met that look and understood her father's love for his only child, and reproached herself for having been so blind to it for these three years past.
"Dearest papa," she said, with tender earnestness, "I have no longer the slightest wish or intention of ever entering a convent. And I wonder now how I ever could have been so insane as to think I could live all my life contentedly in a convent, or so selfish as to forget that by doing so I should leave my father alone in the world!"
"My darling child! Is this truly so? Are these really your thoughts?" exclaimed the banker, with such a look of delight as Salome had not believed possible in so aged a face.
"Really and truly, my father! And does it give you so much pleasure?"
"Pleasure my daughter! It gives me the greatest joy! Hand me my dressing-gown, my dear. I must get up. I cannot lie here any longer. You have put new life into me!"
Salome handed him his gown, socks, and slippers, and then went to clear off his big easy-chair, which was burdened with his yesterday's dress suit, and draw it up for his use.
And in a few minutes the banker, wrapped in his gown, with his feet in his slippers, was seated comfortably in his arm-chair.
"Now, shall I ring for Potts, papa, dear?" inquired Salome.
"No, my love, I don't want Potts, I want you. Sit down near me, Salome, and listen to me. You have made me very happy this morning, my darling; and now I wish to make you happy; you are not so now; but I am your father; you are my only child; all that I have will be yours; but in the meantime, you are not happy. What can I do, my beloved child, to make you so?" said the banker, drawing her to his side and kissing her tenderly, and then releasing her.
"Papa, dear, I should be a most ungrateful daughter if I were not happy," answered the girl.
"Then you are a very thankless child, my little Salome, for you are very far from happy," said her father, gravely shaking his head, yet looking so tenderly upon her as to take all rebuke from his words.
Salome dropped her eyes under his searching, loving gaze.
"My child, I know that I have the power to bless you, if you will only tell me how. Tell me, my dear," persisted her father.
But still she dropped her eyes and hung her head.
"If your mother were here, you could confide in her. You cannot confide in your father, my poor, motherless girl, and he cannot blame you," said Sir Lemuel, sadly.
"Father, dear father, I do love you; and I will confide in you," said Salome, earnestly.
For just then a mighty power of faith and love arose in her soul, casting out fear, casting out doubt, subduing pride and reserve.
"What is it, then, my love? Have you formed any attachment of which you have hesitated to tell me? Hesitate no longer, my dearest Salome. Tell me all about it. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Love is natural. Love is holy. Oh, it is your mother that should be telling you all this, my poor girl, not your awkward, blundering old father," suddenly said the banker, breaking off in his discourse as his daughter hid her crimson face upon his shoulder.
"My dear, gentle father, no mother could be tenderer than you," murmured Salome.
"Tell me all, then, my darling. It is the first wish of my heart to see you happily married. And no trifling obstacle shall stand in the way of its accomplishment. Who is he, Salome?" he inquired, in a low whisper, as he passed his hand around her neck.
She did not answer, but she kissed and fondled his hand.
"You cannot bring yourself to tell me yet? Well, take your own time, my love. You will tell me some time or another," he continued, returning her soft caresses.
"Yes, I will tell you sometime, dear, good, tender father. But now—when do we leave town papa?"
"In less than three weeks, my dear."
"And where do we go?"
"To Lone Castle, if you like; if not, anywhere you prefer, my dear."
"Then we will go to Lone, if you please, papa."
"Certainly, my dear."
"Will you do something for me before we leave town?"
"I will do anything on earth that you wish me to do for you, my dear," said the banker, looking anxiously toward her.
She hesitated for a few moments, and then said:
"Papa, I want you to give just such a semi-political dinner party as that given by the Premier in the beginning of the season."
"What! my little, pale Salome taking an interest in politics!" exclaimed the banker, in droll surprise.
"Yes, papa; and turning politician on a small, womanish scale. You will give this semi-political dinner?"
"Why of course I will! Whom shall we invite?"
"Papa, the very same party to a man, whom we met at the Premier's dinner."
"Let me see. Who was there? Oh! there were three members of Parliament and their wives; two city magnates and their daughters; you and myself, Lady Belgrade, and—and the Marquis of—John—Mr. John Scott, I mean."
"Yes, papa, that was the company. Send the invitations out to-day, for this day week please—if no engagement intervenes to prevent you."
"Very well, my dear. You see to it. I leave it all in your hands. Now you may ring for Potts, my dear. I have to dress and go down to the House. I am chairman of a committee there, that meets at two. And you, my love, must be off to your flower-show. You must not keep Lady Belgrade waiting."
Salome touched the bell, and on the entrance of the valet, she kissed her father's hand and retired.
"Now I wonder," mused the old gentleman, "who it is she wants to meet again, out of that dinner company? It cannot be either of the old M.P.'s or their wives; nor the two elderly city magnates, or their tall daughters; that disposes of ten out of the fourteen invited guests. The remainder included Lady Belgrade, myself, Salome herself, and—Lord, bless my soul, alive!" burst forth the banker, with such a start, that his valet, who was brushing his hair, begged his pardon, and said that he did not mean it.
"Lord, bless my soul alive," mentally continued the banker, without paying the slightest attention to the apologizing servant. "The Marquis of Arondelle! He was the fourteenth guest, and the only young man present! And upon my word and honor, the very handsomest and most attractive young fellow I ever saw in all the days of my life! Come!" he added to himself, as the full revelation of the truth burst upon his mind; "that can be easily enough arranged. If he is the sensible, practical man I take him to be, he will get back his estates and the very best little wife that ever was wed into the bargain; and my girl will be a marchioness, and in time a duchess. But stay—what is that I heard up at Lone about the young marquis and a handsome shepherdess? Chut! what is that to us? That is probably a slander. The marquis is a noble young fellow; and I will bring him home with me this evening. I will not wait a week until that dinner comes off. We cannot afford to lose so much time at the end of the season," mused the banker, through all the time his valet was dressing him.
And now we must glance back to that evening when John Scott, Marquis of Arondelle, first met Salome Levison. He had met many statuesque, pink and white beauties in his young life; and he had admired each and all with all a young man's ardor. But not one of them had touched his heart, as did the first full gaze of those large, soft gray eyes that were lifted to his and immediately dropped as the old banker had presented him to—
"My daughter, Miss Levison."
She was not statuesque. She was not pink and white. She was not at all handsome, or even pretty; yet something in the pale, sweet, earnest face, something in the soft clear gray eyes touched his heart even before he was presented to her. But when she lifted those eloquent eyes to his face, there was such a world of sympathy, appreciation and devotion in their swift and swiftly-withdrawn gaze, that her soul seemed then and there to reveal itself to his soul.
He never again met the full gaze of those spirit eyes. He never exchanged a word with her after the first few formal words of greeting. He had only bowed to her, in taking leave that evening.
Yet those eyes had haunted him in their meek appealing tenderness ever since. He did not meet her anywhere by accident, and he did not try to meet her by design. He only thought of her constantly. But what had he to do with the banker's wealthy heiress, the future mistress of Lone? If he were so unwise as to seek her acquaintance, the world would be quick to ascribe the most mercenary motives to his conduct. But like weaker minded lovers, he comforted himself by writing such transcendental poetry as "The Soul's Recognition," "The Meeting of the Spirits," "What Those Eyes Said," etc. He did not publish these. After having relieved his mind of them, he put them away to keep in his portfolio. So you see the handsome, "princely" Hereward was as much in love with our pale, gray-eyed girl as She could possibly be with him.
And so with the young marquis also the season passed slowly and heavily away, until the day came when into his den at the office of the Liberator walked Sir Lemuel Levison.
His heart really beat faster, although it was only her father who entered.
He arose, and placed a chair for his visitor.
"Lord Arondelle, you know I knew you when I met you at Lord P.'s dinner-party, and I saw that you knew me. It was not my business to interfere with your incognito, and so I met you as you met me—as a stranger. But surely here and now we may meet as friends without disguise," said the banker, as he slowly sank into his seat.
"We must do so, Sir Lemuel, since we are tete-a-tete. It would be idle and useless to do otherwise," replied the young marquis, courteously.
"And now, my young friend, you are wondering what has brought me here," continued the banker.
"I am at least most grateful to any circumstance that gives me the pleasure of your company, Sir Lemuel," courteously replied the young marquis.
"Well, my lord, I come to beg you to waive ceremony, and go home with me to dinner this evening. I hope you have no engagement to prevent you from coming," added Sir Lemuel, with more earnestness than the occasion seemed to call for.
"I have no engagement to prevent me," answered the young man frankly, but slowly and thoughtfully, for he was wondering not only at the invitation but at the suddenness and earnestness with which it was given.
"Then I hope you will come?" said the banker.
"You are very kind, Sir Lemuel. Yes, thanks, I will come," said the marquis.
"So happy! Will you allow me to call for you—at—at your lodgings?"
"Thanks, Sir Lemuel, if you will kindly call here at your own hour, it will be more directly in your way home, and you will find me ready to accompany you."
"Quite right. I will be here at seven. Good morning."
And with this the banker went away.
"He wants me to make an article about something, I suppose," mused the young man when the elder had gone. "I will go. I will see that sweet girl again, even if I never see her afterwards."
The temptation was certainly very strong. And so, at the appointed hour, when the banker called at the office of the National Liberator he found the young gentleman in evening dress ready to accompany him home.
Salome Levison was dressed for dinner, and seated in the drawing-room with her chaperone, Lady Belgrade.
Salome was certainly not expecting any guest. But she intended to go to the opera that evening with Lady Belgrade, to hear the last act of Norma. Luckily for Sir Lemuel's plan, it was not a peremptory engagement, and could easily be set aside.
On this evening she was beautifully dressed. She wore a delicate tea-rose tinted rich silk skirt, with an over skirt of point lace, looped up with tea-rose buds, a tea-rose in her dark hair, a necklace of opals set in diamonds, and bracelets of the same beautiful jewels. Refined, elegant, and most interesting she certainly looked.
Meanwhile, the banker came home, and himself conducted the unexpected guest to the drawing-room.
"Mr. John Scott, my dear," said Sir Lemuel, bringing the young gentleman up to his daughter.
The young marquis caught the sudden lighting up of those soft, gray eyes, and the sudden flushing of those delicate cheeks.
It was but for an instant; for even as he bowed before her, her eyes fell and her color faded.
It was but for an instant, yet in that glance those eyes had again revealed her soul to his.
The young marquis was not a vain man. He could not at once believe the evidence of his own consciousness. But he found it rather more awkward to sit down and open a conversation with this pale, shy girl, than he ever had in his palmiest days to make himself agreeable to the brightest beauty that ever honored Castle Lone with a visit.
For once the presence of a chaperone was not unwelcome to a pair of young people secretly in love with each other.
Lady Belgrade chattered of the weather, the opera the park, and what not, and relieved the embarrassment of the lovers during the interval in which Sir Lemuel Levison had gone to change his dress.
The young marquis seldom spoke to Salome, but when he did, his voice sank to a low, tender, reverential tone that thrilled her inmost spirit. She replied to him only in soft monosyllables, but her drooping eyelids, and kindling cheeks, told him all he wished to know. He might have wondered more at the interest he had seemed to excite in a girl he had met but once before, had he not had a corresponding experience himself. He knew that he himself had been deeply impressed by this sweet, shy, pale girl, on the first meeting of her soft gray eyes, with their soul of love shining through them.
He did not know that this "soul of love" had first been awakened in her, by hearing his story and seeing his portrait, and that it was which so powerfully attracted him—for love creates love.
Sir Lemuel Levison hurried over his toilet, and soon entered the drawing-room.
Dinner was immediately announced.
"Mr. Scott, will you take my daughter to the table?" said the banker, as he gave his own arm to Lady Belgrade.
It was an elegant little dinner for four, arranged upon a round table. There was no possibility of estrangement, in so small a party as that.
Sir Lemuel talked gayly, and without effort, for he was very happy. Lady Belgrade chattered, because she was spiritually a magpie. And as both constantly appealed to "Mr. Scott," or to Salome, it was impossible for either of the lovers to relapse into awkward silence. The conversation was general and lively.
Sir Lemuel Levison and Lady Belgrade would have talked in the most flattering manner of "Mr. Scott's" leaders, if that young gentleman had not laughingly waived off all such direct compliments.
When dinner was over, Lady Belgrade gave the signal, and arose from the table. Salome followed her, and left the two gentlemen to their wine.
"It afflicts me to have to call you Mr. Scott, my lord," said Sir Lemuel, when he found himself alone with his guest.
"Then call me John, as you used to do when I rode upon your foot in my childhood, and when I used to come to you in all my worst scrapes in boyhood—I shall never resume my title, Sir Lemuel," replied the young man.
"Never!" exclaimed the banker.
"Never, Sir Lemuel. A pauper lord is rather a ridiculous object. I will never be one."
"You could not be one. I won't hear you say such things about yourself. See here, John. Do you know why I bought Lone when I knew it was to be sold?"
"I suppose because you wanted it."
"Now what did I want with Lone? I, an old widower, without family, except one little girl at school? I did not want Lone. I wanted you to have it. But I knew that if I did not buy it some one else would. And—I had this only daughter, who would have Lone after me. And I thought perhaps—But then you disappeared, you know, and no one on earth could tell for three years what had become of you, when you suddenly turned up as Mr. John Scott at the Premier's dinner."
The banker paused, and ran his hand through his gray hair.
The young man looked at him with curiosity and interest.
"Plague take it all! her mother, if she has one, could manage this matter so much better than I can," muttered the banker, as he poured out a glass of wine and drank it. "Well, Lord Arondelle—I will give myself the pleasure of calling you so while we are tete-a-tete 'over the walnuts and wine.' Lord Arondelle, there is my daughter; what do you think of her?" he demanded, bending down his gray brows and fixing his keen blue eyes scrutinizingly upon the young man's face which flushed at the suddenness of the question. But he quickly recovered himself, and replied in a low, reverent tone:
"I think Miss Levison the loveliest young creature I have ever had the happiness to know."
"You do! So do I! I think so too. And the man who gets my girl to wife will get a pearl of price."
"I truly believe that," said the young man, with an involuntary sigh.
"That is right! Ahem! Bother it! a woman could do this so much better than such a blundering old fellow as I! Well, there! Salome has, in the three years since her first entrance into society, refused half a score of eligible men. She is, and always has been, perfectly free from any such engagement. If you are equally free, my dear marquis—(If I could only be her mother for three seconds)—Ahem! if you are equally free, and if you admire my girl as you say you do, and if you can win her affections—she—she shall be yours, and I will settle Lone upon her. There, her mother would have done this better, I know. So much better that you would have proposed to my daughter without ever dreaming that the suggestion came from our side. But as for me, I have flung my girl at your head, nothing less!" grumbled the banker.
"My dear Sir Lemuel," said the young man, with some emotion, as he left his seat and came and stood by the banker's chair, leaning affectionately over him; "when I first met your lovely daughter, I was so deeply impressed by her rare sweetness, gentleness, intelligence—ah! Heaven knows what it was! It was something more than all these. In a word, I was so deeply impressed by her perfect loveliness, that had I been as really the heir of Lone as I was the Marquis of Arondelle, I should at once have cultivated her further acquaintance, and, before this, have laid my heart and hand, titles and estates, at her feet."
"Well, well, my boy? Well, my dear lad, why didn't you do it?" inquired the banker, with tears rising to his kind eyes.
"I have just told you, because I was a ruined man," said the marquis with mournful dignity.
"'A ruined man?'" echoed the banker, with almost angry earnestness. "I know that you are not a ruined man! And you know, even better than I do, because you have more brains than I have; YOU know that no young man, sound in body and sound in mind, can be ruined by any financial calamity that can fall upon him. You love my daughter, you say. Well, then, you have my authority to ask her to be your wife. There, what do you say?"
The young marquis sat down and covered his face with his hand for one thoughtful moment, and then replied:
"This is a happiness so unexpected that it seems unreal. Sir Lemuel, do you really appreciate the fact that I am a man without a shilling that I do not earn by my labor?"
"I really appreciate the fact, and most highly appreciate the fact that you are Marquis of Arondelle, and to be Duke of Hereward—and that you are personally as noble in nature as you are fortunately noble in descent. And although my first motive in favoring this marriage is the pure desire for yours and for my daughter's happiness, still I assure you, my lord, I am keenly alive to its eligibility in a mere worldly point of view. Your ancient historical title is, (to speak as a man of the world,) much more than an equivalent for my daughter's expectations. But it is not, as I said before, as a highly eligible, conventional marriage that I most desire it, but as a marriage that I feel sure will secure the happiness of yourself and my daughter, whom I shall, nevertheless, be very proud to see, some day, Duchess of Hereward. Come, now, I never saw a gallant young man hesitate so long. I shall grow angry presently."