« PreviousContinue »
The firmness of Rosabelle began to give way: “And there !" she suddenly exclaimed.
“ There, a duel has taken place.”
“ Is slightly wounded; but the Count-I regret to say"_Miss Altamont paused.
“ Is dead !” said Rosabelle, with unnatural calmness. Miss Altamont bowed her head.
“O God !” exclaimed Rosabelle, starting from her seat, and joining her hands in agony: “ has it come to this ? the blood of my near kinsman on the hand of my husband I and I the cause ? Cruel Altamont! what time, what penitence can ever wash that stain away ? Unjust, unworthy husband! though all the world believed me guilty, how couldst thou ? thou, that knowest every thought of my heart, couldst deem thy Rosabelle so false, so thankless, so impure! But · it is done, and though that heart should break, I will root thine image from it: henceforth thou hast no wife, and Rosabelle no husband ! Poor Albert !" She sank back in her chair, and the big tears forced their way through the slender fingers that strove to conceal them.
Miss Altamont was confounded; she was inwardly convinced that Rosabelle was innocent, but she meanly checked the conviction, and the evil of her nature successfully opposed the good, when, turning towards Mrs. Milicent, she exclaimed, “Her ladyship forgets her wounded husband, and weeps only for her guilty paramour.”
The blood of the De Courcis quickened through every vein of the injured Rosabelle; the same spirit that prompted the look which silenced for ever the lawless passion of Beauvilliers, flashed once more from her eyes. She stood, and pointed to the door : Miss Altamont arose, and without trusting herself with a second glance, hastily moved towards it; Mrs. Milicent drew her bonnet more closely over her face, and followed with a speed, which at any other time she would have considered indecorous.
Lady Altamont rang, and ordered liis lordship's servant, William, to appear before her ; the man entered, and, standing close by the door, bowed respectfully: “Was the Count de Beauvilliers dead when you left Calais ?”
“ No, my lady, but the surgeon said he could only live three or four hours at the furthest.”
“Who sent you here, and what was your commission ?"
“ The day before, my lord had ordered me, whatever happened, to leave immediately, and take the information to my lady dowager.”
“ Your lord was wounded ?"
“ Not any."
“Was he preparing for his departure ?"
“ He was with the count, and seemed to have no intention of leaving him until he died.” “Who was your lord's second ?” “ Mr. Cavendish.” * Very well-leave the room ;" and William departed.
During the whole of this time Fanchette had cowered in a corner, with her eyes fixed on her lady, and her mouth open; awe and astonishment strongly expressed in her countenance. She could scarcely believe that her young mistress stood before her; her figure seemed enlarged, and was haughtily thrown back, her brow was contracted, her lips compressed, her eye steady and severe; her tears were dried, and not a trace of weakness remained; the fush of indignation itself was gradually fading away, and a marble paleness was replacing it upon her brow and cheek. When William retired, Lady Altamont stood for some time immoveable, scarcely seeming to breathe : after a few minutes, Fanchette raised herself upon her knees, and extended her arms towards her ; the movement attracted the attention of the lady, who had evidently forgotten her.
“O my dear mistress!” cried the distressed Fanchette, “ pray forgive me! I will tell you all I ever said, and nothing very bad either. I am sure, I am sure I never intended to do you harm; I only wished to show these scornful English, that you might, if you had chosen, have married a much grander and handsomer man in your own country."
“ To-morrow,” replied Rosabelle, calmly, “I will hear whatever you may have to say; to-day I must not be intruded on by any one." She retired into her dressing-room, which communicated immediately with her bed-chamber, and locked herself in.
Throughout the establishment of Moorlands, the most unbroken quiet reigned that day; the servants moved about like ghosts, making signs, or conversing in low whispers. Dinner was served as usual for her ladyship, and when the butler announced it at her dressing-room door, she desired that some slight refreshment might be brought up; and coffee was served at a later period in the afternoon. On both these occasions the housekeeper attended with a waiting-maid ; they reported that Lady Altamont looked very calm and composed, but exceedingly pale: it would appear she had the air of a person who had come to what was deemed a necessary, but painful decision.
At nine o'clock she ordered the house to be closed, and the principal keys to be brought to her, (a prevailing custom at that period,) as she wished to retire to rest.
On the following morning, (Thursday,) Fanchette waited anxiously for her lady's summons. Ten o'clock arrived, and getting alarmed, she knocked at her door ; there was no answer: she tried the lock, and to her surprise found that it was not secured; the shutters were partly open; the dressing-room had a certain air of confusion about it, as of a person who had been selecting things for packing ; the heart of Fanchette sank within her—she hastily burst into the bedchamber; her lady was not there, nor did the bed appear as though it had been slept in.
Fanchette looked round in despair, and called in vain on the name of her mistress; then rushed down stairs and alarmed the servants. Search was made in every direction ; Lady Altamont was nowhere to be found, and, so soon as the fact was fully ascertained, the intelligence was carried to the manor house.
Lord Altamont and his friend had been forced, from mere fatigue
and exhaustion, to remain for twenty-four hours at Dover; and his lordship was so unwell the following morning, that his proceeding even then was considered imprudent; but no entreaty or expostulation could detain him an instant longer, and travelling gently, they reached Moorlands on the Friday evening.
As the carriage once more passed the opening before mentioned, from which his residence could be seen, Lord Altamont eagerly bent forward to catch a glimpse of it, with very different sensations than on a former occasion: it was all dark, and shut up, not a light to be seen: a sickening foreboding of some dreadful event stole over him— he gasped with apprehension. In a few minutes they were met by servants with torches, requesting they would proceed to the manorhouse, the ladies having something important to communicate.
The scene need not be described. Lord Altamont's self-reproach, grief, and rage, amounted almost to madness; no voice could soothe him but that of his mother, and not even her's, till on her knees she besought him not to endanger by his rashness, (for he was tearing the bandages from his wound,) the life which she had given, and in which her own was involved: the sight recalled him to his senses : he submitted with a stern, almost a ferocious sadness, to all they required; but on one point none could control him : he insisted that his sister should leave his presence, and never again venture in it. A strong opiate was administered, and his mother watched by him during the night, as she had done in the days of his infancy.
The next morning he rose more composed, but in a state of deep dejection and great bodily weakness. By his order his letters were brought to him, and among them was the unfortunately delayed letter of Rosabelle, giving an exact and lively account of her cousin's visit ; truth, artlessness, and innocence breathing in every line, while her expressions of fondness to himself, and her eager wishes for his return, struck like arrows to his already lacerated heart. He kissed the writing, while his scalding tears dropped on it, folded, and laid it to his bosom.
Although scarcely able to move, Lord Altamont insisted upon being driven to his house ; and was accompanied by the whole party, excepting Miss Altamont. On his arrival, the housekeeper presented to him the key of Lady Altamont's dressing-room, which apartment had been purposely kept in the same state in which she had left it.
On examination it was found she had taken a few changes of her plainest wearing apparel, a silk cloak, and the straw cottage-bonnet, in which she had been accustomed to walk about in her own grounds; the jewels which had belonged to her before her marriage she had likewise taken, together with the money in her own private purse, which it was supposed amounted to between three and four hundred pounds ; to these had been added the miniature portrait of her husband, and the gold chain attached to it. Lord Altamont vainly looked round for a scrap of writing, or any clue to her intentions. Fanchette was examined, but amid her sobs and tears, and confessions of her own imprudence, nothing was elicited but what is already known : her description, however, of the scene between Lady Altamont and her sister-in-law, although imperfectly narrated, made a deep impression,
especially on its being confirmed, and more clearly detailed by Mrs. Milicent. William, and the other servants, likewise gave in their testimony.
After having collected every information in their power, Mr. Cavendish took Lord Altamont aside: “I have no doubt," he said, “that after all, Lady Altamont has but gone to her father in Paris, listening to her resentment only in the first impulse of the moment. You, my dear lord, are too ill to move—nay, nay, you need not shake your head, and stamp your foot, but listen to what I have to propose. I and your servant, William, will set off instantly, within the next hour, for Paris; I have no doubt we shall trace her even during our journey. I will write by every post, and depend upon it, no time or trouble shall be spared. Do not think of accompanying us—you will only defeat your own object."
Lord Altamont thanked his kind and zealous friend; and, after a little inward struggle, accepted his proposal. Instant preparations were made, and Mr. Cavendish and William departed.
As soon as they were gone, the strong mental excitement, which had hitherto upheld Lord Altamont, sank at once: fever came on ; further medical advice was called in, and for some days he lay dangerously ill. His most efficacious medicine was Mr. Cavendish's first letter; it was from Calais, saying that he had clearly traced Lady Altamont thus far, and that she was, without a shadow of doubt, a passenger in the packet they had been on the point of boarding when coming into Dover in their fishing-boat.
Mr. Cavendish, being quite convinced that he should find Lady Altamont at her father's, journeyed to Paris with all speed, and without making much further inquiry on the way. He proceeded immediately to the mansion of the Marquis de Clairville, and found, to his dismay, that it was decked with all the insignia of mourning. An old confidential servant conducted him into a parlour : "I am surprised, sir," he said, “ that you are not acquainted with the death of the marquis; his funeral took place yesterday; his illness and death were very sudden : to be frank with you, sir, my poor master deceived himself into the notion that he had not grown older during the last forty years ; he caught a sudden attack of cold in coming out at four o'clock on a very chilly morning, from the heated ball-rooms of the Duchess de S
; inflammation succeeded, and he was carried off in twenty-four hours.”
“ Had he been made aware of the death of his nephew ?” inquired Mr. Cavendish.
“ No, sir; the news of the duel and its consequences, thank Heaven! did not reach Paris until the day of his illness, and of course was concealed from him. Now, sir, will you give me leave to ask you a question ? where is miladi Altamont?”
“ Here, is she not ?" exclaimed Mr. Cavendish.
“ She has been here, sir," was the reply ; “but is here no longer.” The old servant shook his head : “Ah, sir! I have a strange tale to tell! I am not apt to be superstitious—0 no sir! we have lived too much in the grand monde not to have got over all vulgar prejudicesand yet—but I will tell you how it happened, sir, and you shall judge for yourself.
“It was about eleven o'clock at night; the marquis had received extreme unction, had become, as we believed, insensible, and every moment we expected him to breathe his last ; some of his friends and ourselves were standing round his bed, in great affliction, for he was a kind friend and master; and I had just whispered to M. l'Abbé, that it was a pity miladi, his dear daughter, whom he had mentioned several times during the day, could not be with him at his last hour. Well, sir, the words were scarcely out of my mouth, when pit-pat came a light foot upon the stairs, (my old heart goes pit-pat now to think of it,) the door unclosed softly, and who should enter but miladi Rosabelle herself! We were all fixed in astonishment, while she, or what seemed to be her, hastily threw off a cloak and bonnet, and stood all in white, her black hair streaming over her shoulders, and her cheek as pale as marble. She took no notice of any of us, but glided towards the bed, and bending over the marquis, said in a tone that thrilled through us all, My father!' Well, sir, would you believe it ? the spirit of the old man seemed checked in its flight, and stirred within him at the sound; he moved his head, and grappled with his hands, as though he strove to reach her; she threw her arm gently round him, and kissed his forehead, and laid her cheek to his; and a smile passed over his features—and so, he died. And when it was clear that he was dead, she raised herself up and closed his eyes ; then she went into a corner and knelt down to pray: she did not weep, no, not a single tear. And we arranged the corpse, and per. fumed and lighted the chamber, and did all that is customary : and when we had finished, she turned herself round, and made a sign that we should all leave the room ; and somehow no one thought of disobeying her, or asking her a question, but we went away, and she remained alone with her dead father.
“ The next morning, an hour after daybreak, myself and some others ventured to proceed to the chamber. We knocked, and hearing no reply, unclosed the door. The shrouded form of the departed lay as we had left it; the grey light of the morning had crept in, and the tapers were dying in their sockets; I shuddered as I looked round for the mysterious daughter: I do not know why, I almost dreaded to see her seated at the bed's head. She was our master's daughter, certainly, whom we had attended and loved since infancy, and yet so very unlike her! our terror was increased by astonishment, for whatever she might be, whether body or spirit, she was no longer there! she had disappeared, and from that moment we have never seen or heard of her.'
“ Lady Altamont,” observed Mr. Cavendish, with as much composure as he could assume, “must have been well acquainted with the various egresses from her father's house, and in that night of melancholy confusion, it is probable the usual cautions were not exactly observed. Her objects appear to be evasion and concealment; she of course would take advantage of all circumstances likely to ensure them.”
“ Ah, sir !” said the old servant, shaking his head : " I beg your pardon-I mean no offence—but that English husband and his English family have killed our poor young lady, and her foreign grave could