Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

4 articles on this Page

HIS GRACE.

News
Cite
Share

( Copyright.) HIS GRACE. Ih MRd C. N. WILLIAMSON, Author of "The Darn Stormerg," "The Woman it Grov, "Fortune's Sport," "The House by the Lock, A Man From the Dark," Lady Mary of the Dark House," Her Royal Highness," &c. SYXOTSIS OF PRECEDING CHAPTERS: Lord Warelinm hf.d been brought home from the hunting fi, hI with his neck broken. The consequence was that Lady Wnreham also lay in peril of her life, while mother life, still more precious to the family fortune and future, was trembling in the balance. Should death occur the man whom Lady Mary Blandcn—the spinster fister of the Duke of Leicester —despised above all other men would soon come into the title and estates. She and Mr. Savernake, who acted as a sort of confidential clerk to the Duke, concoct a scheme to frustrate this. A certain docu- ment which Savernake extracted frcm the pockets of Lord Warelnm revealed that a womsn, who claims to bp, his wife, h ;s come to live in the neighbour- hood to ascertain whether the reports of his second m.rrin £ e are true, and acquainting him of the birth of twins—two boys. Whilst this story is discredited by i-nvernake and Lady Mary, they conspire t.owcth! r to offect out of it a way out of the difficulty which lies before them. This is nothing less than the exchange of the young Lord Wareham the moment he should die for one of the infants of this strange woman. This is accomplished by Savernake, the woman consenting, with various stipulations. To the amazement of all, and especi- ally of the doctor, whom Lady Mary ingeniously got out of the wny, little Lord Wareham got better in a r"lllarbblv short time. We are next introduced to Randal Palgrave, at the coming of age of the Duke, when a grand ball is given at Lnrlworth Towers. His mind is full of bitter thoughts as he paces the picture gallery, and inwardly comments upon how nearly he had come into the dukedom. Maurice, the Duke, becomes acquainted at college with young Blandon, and Randal has a good reason for en- couraging the friendship. PIandon belongs to a rapid, card-ph^ine, hqrd-drinking set of young men, most of them much older than he, and through his and his father's influence the Duke had been drawn into it as well. With such a feeble consti- tution as Leicester's, no way of life could have been more injurious, and upon this fact Randal Palgrave had calculated. If the young man married, all his efforts of the last ten years would have been in vain. History would repeat itself. There would be an heir, and whether the Duke lived cr died, Randal Palgrare's fate would he the same. This fear of Randal's was well founded. The attentions which the Duke bestowed upon the "Princess''—Lady Ann O'Neill —called up all the bitterness in his nature. The Princess promises to lp the wife of Maurice, not because she loves the Duke, I ut because she is poor, and sees in such a marriage a way of helping the poor people of Kil- daragh. for whom she would have given her life. The Duko takes her upon these terms. The effect of this upon ra.1rave is to suddenly bring to his mind Lis possession of the "Moated Grange," a dilapidated house on the banks of the Thames, which had been left him by the departed Duke. This he seeks to have furnished and renovated, the money for which he borrows from the Duke himself. CIIAPTKR IV. It freen announced by the medical specialist to wh' he had been obliged to go, that his life was ""t worth a year's purchase if he continued living in the Bloomsbury Hat, Palgrave informed his distant relative the Duke of Leicester, after dne reflection. London air, and especially Bloomsbury air, was killing him, yet lie could not afford to go abroad. The doctor had told him he ought, to stay up the river for six months at least. As though a man with a son to support could go and take a place up the river, on a beggarly six hundred a year Everyone knew what the rents of even the smallest riverside h\1ng:õlnw;; ammmtrd to Well, he might better make up his mind to die, though, when one came to think of ii, it was hard, especially as there was 1hnt benntif111 oLl place, the Moated Grange. which could so easily be rendered a desirable residence, if only one hrd a few hundreds to spend on it. They would be well invested, too, by Jove they would! When he, Palgrave, had recovered his health and was ready to go elsewhere, the place, if renovated, would let for a tremendous sum. If Leicester were willing to advance a couple of thousand, for instance, to save his poor old cousin's life, he needn't lose 1\ penny of it. The Moated Grange should be mortgnged to him for the money, and all the profits of letting it each summer woult thus be added to his revenue, unless 1 lie loan w€;t- paid oft' within, Ray two years, and at a safe five per cent, interest. What did Palgrave's dear Maurice say to that ? Palgrave's dear Maurice thought the money might be managed. He would see Savernake. who was practically his man of business, about, the affair. But Palgrave was hardly satisfied with this concession. Whatever were the faults of the young Duke of Leicester (and unfortunately their name was legion), niggardliness was not one of them. He would 18 as willing to lend his cousin two thousand, as he would two pounds, but Savernake would not see the matter in that light. Palgrave therefore gave Leicester no rest until he had promised to do the favour, no matter what objections Savernake might raise. It was well for him and his schemes that he had done so. for there was a mighty war of words between the Duke and "his man of business" (as he generally eallcd him) before the transfer was actually accomplished. Leicester would, if left to himself, have made no conditions on lending the two thousand pounds, but Savernake was determined since the Duke had obstinately resolved upon parting with the money, that Palirnve should he held to the letter of his bond. The sum should be repaid within a year, or the Moated Grange would return to the son of the man who had once made so merry under its ancient roof. Palgrave had stipulated for two years grace, and he had his own private reasons for particularly desiring that extension of time. Still, pressed by Savernake and the young Duke's solicitors, he yielded at last, with a grim resolve in his mind which (had they but dreamed of it) would have filled those who witnessed his signing of the proper documents with loathing indescribable. As spring came on, Palgrave was able to move into the Moated Grange. IIehr.d rushed on the necessary repairs, slighting all that could be con- cealed in the way of dilapidation" and having such furniture as lie obliged to purchase hurried in almost before the big, wainscot ted rooms were ready to receive it. It is easy to let even a Bloomsbury flat in the height of the London sea on, and Palgrave had no difficulty in ridding himself temporarily of his at a good round price. With what lie had contrived to save from the loan made to him by the Duke he had n considerable sum in hand and as if his schemes did not go rsirnv, he would be plentifully provided for in the fr.i'ire. lie felt comfortably able to be lavish for the moment. Blandon he had kept in complete ignorance of his inter.' ion. It might be that when the crisis of the situation arrived he would need the aid of the young man. He was sure that, if so, he might count upon it but if it were possible he wished (in hi own words) to "pull the thing through by himself. Though Blandon was kept in the dark, however, he knew his father sufficiently well,and had enough of Randal Palgrave's blood in his veins, to feel little faith in 0 the plea of removal for health's sake. He could imagine no life more dull and distasteful than that which would be passed in a place like the Moated Grange, nnd he was sure that unless there was something of importance "in the wind," no doctor on earth could have induced his sociable and gregarious parent to retire to the riverside. He pondered the matter considerably, though he soon discovered that little was to be gained by putting leading questions and at last, when the repairs were all but finished, he inquired if his father intended inviting the Duke of Leicester to visit at the Moa el Grange. "I have no such intention at present." returned Palgrave, with elaborate nji-:lessncss, "why do yon a-k ?" "Oh, I hardly knov said Blandon, looking sly (and he could look increuiUy sly, when there was no audience save an admiring parent to observe his change of feature). "I only thought that, as the Moated Grange seems a deuced damp, unhealthy old hole, you might cherish the worthy design of-" "I must sav that it isn't very good form to jest on such a subject, Palgrave interrupted. There had been a time when he had allowed his son to guess why it might be advisable to influence Leicester into keeping late hours, drinking more wine than was good for him. and tampering with his health generally but the understanding had always been a tacit one. and now the elder man was more cautious or more scrupulous than of old. "There is one thing, however. I do intend doing," Palgrave went on. I sliall a-k Sir .Tames and Lady Olancarden and Lady Anne O Neill down for a fortni"lit (»• -■■>••'•••Mt to") and before they have a chance to get back to Ireland. It ia just as well for several reasons not to have Leicester under the same roof, but after Henley, he can bring his house-boat close to us, if he chooses, and can either come to ns, or we can go to him, every evening when he likes. I daresay that plan would suit him down to the ground." "I daresay," echoed Blandon, reflectively. He could understand that it might easily do so, but why his father should deliberately play into the Duke's hand, scheming to throw him into his fiancee's society, he could not so readily com- prehend. He declined to believe, on the whole, though Palgrave would give him no further satisfaction. that his clever parent did not intend, after all, suggesting the house-boat arrangement to Leicester and he flattered himself that the idea of having Lady Anne O'Neill in the house had been generously conceived entirely for his own benefit. Not only would he have been glad for the sake of his own inclination, and for prudential reasons, to "cut out his cousin the Duke in that direction, but he was well aware of Palgrave's scientific theories regarding the hidden existence of coal at poverty-stricken Kildaragh, and knew that despite appearances the penniless beauty might not prove to be such a bad match after all. It seemed to Blandon that if his fat her had gone to the expenses of renovating the Moated Grange solely in the hope of giving him a fortnight or so in the society of Anne O'Neill, the same object might somehow have been obtained in a less troublesome and elaborate manner. Still, on mentally debating the matter, he was able to fix upon no very plausible alternative reason, and finally concluded that there could be no other. It w: a early in May when Randal and Blandon Palgrave left the flat in Bloomsbury, and moved into the Moated Grange. Life went quietly, not to say gloomily there, though occasionally a few people (and the Duke of Leicester among others) tore themselves from the gaieties of town, and ran down from Saturday to Monday. The invitation to the Clancardens, including Lady Anne O'Neill, was duly sent, however, and duly accepted, therefore a break in the dull routine might be looked forward to. Blandon was glad of this, but he was more than astonished when the suggestion once made with apparent carelessness by his father, was religiously carried out. The season before the Duke had indulged his fancy by buying a house-boat. But the chances were that, save for Ilenley week, perhaps, it would have remained unused by its prratje young pro- prietor had not Palgrave painted in glowing colours the delights of having it towed to the point in the river nearest the Moated Grange. The place would be full of people for a fortnight or so, Palgrave said by way of apology for not asking the Duke to stop at the house, but there would be advantages in having the boat. It might amuse Lady Anne and the 0: her yonng girls who would be among the guests at the Moated Grange, to spend many hours, duly chaperoned, on the Duke's charming house- boat. There might be picnics, and all sorts of odd, original little entertainments and, besides, there might be some rather jolly poker and baccarat parties on board the Mischief, when the ladies were all safely sleeping in tbt4Ír own rooms at the Moated Grange. Leicester had thought it rather odd that he should not be invited to the house, but when this point of view was presented to him, he accepted it with enthusiasm. Despite Blandon's sulky looks the plan was carried out as arranged. During Henley week the two Palgraves and such guests as they had with them were all accommodated on boarl the roomy and well-appointed Mischief, gay with rose and white awnings, quantities of pink hydrangeas and brilliantly-coloured electric lights. After the last grand night of the regatta and its illumination and frivolities all went back to the Moated Grange, the Mischief meanwhile being towed to the shadowed backwater selected for iis sojourn. Of the party on board the house-boat and at the Moated Grange Lady Marv Blandon violently dis- approved. If she had changed little in appearance during the past one-and-twenty years, still less had she changed in her bitter hatred and distrust of Randal Palgrave. But the Duke was of age and his own master, and after more than one unpleasant scene between himsplf and hi" aunt he had, as a matter of course, taken his own way. It went without saying also that though invited for con- ventionality's sake, Lady Mary would not counten- ance by her presence the two guests on the Iischief whom she had so long and consistently detested. As for Leicester, he had never been so happy in his life. True, as he said to himself in certain lonely hours, when he had plenty of time for thought, Anne was cold to him as a statue and this was the more galling because there was that in her face and eyes which hinted that she had a heart to love. Still, she was uniformly kind, and very beautiful, and he had the selfish pleasure of feeling that other men envied him his good luck. He saw her every day, sometimes nearly all day and she spoke no word of protest, though her eyes were grave under her long lashes when he reminded her that in less than four months they would be man and wife. One evening, five or six days afier Henley, the Duke sculled over in his dinghy from the back- water where the Mischief was moored (shining like a white swan under the rich green of the chestnut trees) earlier than usual, on his way to the Moated Grange. He could have gone by road if he liked, but the river way was shorter, and brought him near to the back of the house, within sight of Anne's windows. lie was in evening dress —an odd sight, in a dinghy out on the river- but the Duke did not mind that. It was but a little way, and no one would see him—or if anyone did, it could not matter. To go out of the backwater in the way that ho must go, to reach the Moated Grange by the river short. cnt, h had to pass through a rapid part of the water, not far from a disused weir. It struck him as he took his boat through, that a man with his head heated by wine, coming home la'e at night, might have a nasty accidpnt. and he decided to beware. He loved life for its own sake, and for Lady Anne's sake, and shuddered at the dark, cold thought of sudden death. A mingled glory of sunset and moonrise irra- diated lawn and Irees and house, as he swung lazily along the water in his dinghy. Never before had he noticed the weird pictnrrsqueness of the old place, hnt to-night it impressed him. Along the bank where his boat would presently be moored ran a dense leafy canopy of over- arching willows and great spreading chestnuts, into which lie could look up as he passed under- neath, as int 0 a huge green dnnw. The rank-growing nettles and tangle of weeds that for a quarter of a century had reigned in undisputed sovereignly on the lawn, had all been cleared away, and the grass was smooth as emerald velvet. Beds of brilliant red geraniums gleamed jewel-like under an oak near the house, and a strangely deformed old cedar of Lebanon. The house was of grey stone, tinted green and purple with the mosses and lichens which those who had n scored it hnd not seen fit to remove. There were queer gargoyles, and many melancholy- looking gables over-avehing latticed windows, and on the side which overhung the moat, ivy grew thick and black as a funeral pall. Even in the rosy light of sunset there was a tragic air about that moat. It was dark, and deep, and—perhaps because there was an ugly old story connected with it—looked as though it might hide a dreadful secret silently and well. It ran alongside the house, and a large bow window in what was now used as the drawing-room, was built out over it. Above were the windows in the bed- chamber occupied by Anne O'Neill, and, as ho glanced up, the Duke instantly forgot the grim forebodings which. for a moment or two, had vaguely disturbed him. The latticed sashes were thrown wide open, and in the frame they made the girl Mood like a lovely picture. The light of sunset touched her hair, and rendered the fairness of her face and bare neck almost dazzling. She had promised the DuJ-e fo be early that night, and though it was only half- past seven, and dinner would not 1>c for an hour yet, she was already dressed. He waved his hand to her, and she disappeared. He knew this meant that she was coming down- stairs to him. and he hastened to make fast his dinghy in the lit lie boa'-house which his monev, lent to Randal Palgrave, had built. Often as he saw his lie was given very few opportunities of having her to himself. It might almost have seemed, he thought sometimes if anyone could possibly have had a motive for so doing, as though the perpetual espionage were intentional. For this evening, however, lie had Carefully arranged a rendezvous. He had won Anne's consent to his plan, by hinting that lie had something ofyast importance to say to her. and begged her to meet him in the little old summer- house under a clump of willows by the river's edge. Two or three tall trees shut the place out of sight from the houre. and this fact had not gone unregarded in the Duke of Leicester's eves. The back of the Moated Grange was turned full up >n the water, while the moat ran stealthily along its side. A hall, long and wide, cut through the centre of the house, with a wide, low-studded door at either end. Against the dark background formed by one of these standing half-open, Anne's slim white figure presently shewed itself to Leicester, as lie slowly wandered towards the trysting-place. Seeing it, he went straight to the summer-houso rather than be observed if lie met the girl within Bight, of the windows, and Anne half-reluetautly followed. Somehow, as he held both her little cool hands the strange, dim foreboding that he had felt, again came owr him. He hardly knew how to define it, unless it were born of {he shadow in her eyes, and the pensive curve of the soft, red lips that he had never yet been permitted to tone)); hilt it. callght. him, like a sudden deadly knocking at his hearÎ. "Ynll look very lovely, darling," he said, "but very sad. too. Has anything happened to trouble you, or is it-that. you didn't like coming here to meet me ? "Nothing has happened," she answered. "And I didn t mind coming." But she spoke with that down droop of the wonderful eyelashes that always baffled him, like a dark curtain that dropp:d between his mind and her, ¡. I wouldn't, have bothered yOU," lie went on, almost humbly "only I have something for you that I couldn't verv well cIv.> v<, before every- body—and you know how little chance I have with you alone." Anne smiled kindly, though without enthusiasm, in the prospect of receiving a gift, and sat 10 rn in a corner of the rustic seat that ran rounds he interior of the summer-house. Leicester promptly availed himself of the softness in her eyes to take a place rather closer than absolutely necessary beside her. The girl edged away slightly, as if with an involuntary movement, but then, thinking better of it, went no further. "Your birth-month is October," said the Duke, "and I was looking up the proper jewel for it the other day. It turned out to be an opal. Do you remember the old distich October's child bylwoe's opprest, But wear an opal in thy breast, And all these woes shall sink to rest ? You haven't any opals, have you?" "No," Anne answered. "1 haven't. I have so few jewels, you know. Yet I always loved opals. They seem to me like pearls, with a soul." "Look here, dearest," said the Duke. He took from an inner breast pocket a small old-fashioned case of gold and silver brocade, the bright inter- mingling of its threads dimmed by time. Opening it he displayed—lying on a background of white velvet, an extraordinary large and scintillating opal, of an oval shape, and surrounde I in such a curious manner by closely set brilliant? as to resemble a lustrous iris floating on an eyeball of diamonds. The effect was so odd as to he some- what startling, especially as the gem caught the rays of the sunset, and sent forth a spark of green light which seemed to Anne indescribably sentient, even vicious. She exclaimed involuntarily. It was as though the eye of some unhuman, supernatural intelli- gence had met and leered into hers, or so it appeared to her sensitive imagination, fed from childhood on the romantic folk-lore of her country. But the Duke mistook her cry for unmixed admiration. "It is for you," he said. "Though the thing is a family heirloom I may give it to the girl who is to be my wife. If you were superstitious, I shouldn't dare tell you the name it goes by among the Blandons, but you arc too clever and wise to mind nursery stories, and so you shall hear it. With me it only adds to the charm. The thing is c,Iled The Evil EN,e. You see, it's intended to represent an eye of some sort, but I don't quite know why evil,' unless because' it's been mixed up with some family tragedies as well as joys. The story goes, that when worn by the women of our house it changes colour in a conveniently prophetic manner, if any fatality overtakes the husband, father, brother, or lover. Of course, that's all childish nonsense; though they do say it was because of the red look on this very opal that my mother felt convinced something had happened to my father, and running downstairs found them carrying him into the house, stone dead—thrown by a beast of a horse while hunting. But I hope I haven't put you off it, have I? I want you to let me hang it round your neck, you know." Rarely beautiful as the stone was, with its strange, eye-shaped setting of diamonds, Anne felt a curions repugnance toward it, and a reluctance to accept or wear it. But seeing that the Duke was grieved at her lack of appreciation of his splendid offering, she relented, and submitted her white, uncovered throat to the delicate chain. A slight shuddering seized her as he fastened it, partly at the contact of his hands (for she never let him touch her, if without absolute rudeness she conlrl avoid it) and partly with the thought of the many women whose fair bodies had crumbled into dust long ago, who had worn it before her. The Duke lingered over the task, and paused finally, with his hands lying heavily upon her shoulders. Her flesh shrank, hut angry at what she thought her own ungracious weakness, she stood motionless. He looked into her eyes admiringly. "Anne, won't you reward me by letting me kiss you, just oi-,ce ? lie asked. "I shouldn't think there was another man on earth engaged for months to a girl whom he worships, and never once allowed to kiss her lips. It's nothing short of cruel, my darling, r.nd if I were not absolutely your slave I would never have stood it. Just once, Anne! Here we are alone, and not a soul can see." "No—no she cried, pale as a lily. "Do for- give me, won't you ? I know I'm in the wrong, but—-I simply can't. Wait!—after—after October you will have the right, and I won't deny it to vim. If you try to force me to it before 1-1'111 afraid I shall almost feel as though—I hated you." She was sorry as soon as she had spoken, feeing the hurt look on his face, but, though she honestly tried to take back her words, and even to say she would grant what he had asked, she found herself unable to do so. Endeavouring to compensate for her nnkindness bv profuse thanks for the gift she had jus! received, she made an excuse to return to the house. They had been too long already. He must see how dark it was growing. Why—consulting the plain little watch that had been her mother's, it was iive-and- twenty past eight. Dinner would be announced. and everyone would be wondering. if iir,,ed her no i,. or, She did not re him alone again, but throughout the evening her heart wa< heavy with a of ingrai itrd', and re:nors\ for the icy coldness toward-* him. which would not be thawed. Af er dinner, when the m n returned to the drawing room, Randal Palgrave came and sat down beside her for a few moment-, looking, as she could but notice, unwontedly haggard and old. "Forgive me if I comment upon the jewel at YOItr throa. he said, with the wolfish smile which she had always tried not to hate, since she had eaten his bread and salt. "It is a thing which all Blandons know, even poor relalior-' like myself. I must say, Lady Anne, hat you r a brave girl to wear it. Have you heard the slory -or ha;e you OIlly just been made the owner of the ornament." "It was given me to-night," the girl answered, blushing a little under his eyes, "but—I have been told the story. I do not think, though, that I m superstitious, at least, no more than all women aie at heart." "That is well," lie suggestively, as lie turned from her, making room with unusual graciousness for the Duke, he muttered: "Qneer thing that she should have got the Evil Eye' to-night—to-night of all other nights It was lato when Anne went up to bed, and she knew, from the beating of her pulses, that she should not be able to sleep for long. Daughter of an Earl though she was. and heiress to a great name and wide-spreading lands, there were few girls, save the poorest, who had less of luxury than she. Everything that she could deny herself she joyously did, that the money saved might be gi\en to the peasants whom she thought of as her own people and she had i o even a maid to take off the little simple white muslin dinner-gown (washed and mended many times) or unbind the masses of her waving hair. It would have been nice to have someone always ready to unt ie rrfrartory knots, pick lip whai ewr she might drop or fold away her things yet if v s pleasant, too, to feel herself quite alone whenever she entered her own room. To-night she w; s particularly glad of this privilege, and having tak n off the opal eye. which seemed somehow to bum her neck, she blew out her candles and sat in the white moonlight that streamed through her open window. How long she so remained in a species of waking dream, that was half-painful, half-pleasant, she did not know. but suddenly she was roused by a curious sound underneath the window. Her elbows had been resting on flic sill, lier chin nestled into her palms, but now she sat upright, with a thumping of her heart that was loud"in her own ears. What had she heard? She hardly knew, once fhe sound had (lied into sileme. It had been a jarring, grating noise. She rose, and for a moment stood erect and still, then, bending out from the window she looked down. She could see the round, flat top of the big bow window in the drawing-room directly beneath. She could see the moonshine lying like a benediction of peace upon the lawn, the long black shadows of the trees, the patli of light that danced upon the river, glimmering up to her eyes, from between the branches of willows and chestnuts Nothing else moved. The night seemed asleep and dreaming. Far away a church clock struck one, tivo and the strokes were followed by a soothing, musical chime. Whatever the sound had been it did not come again. Anne was tliiiosi ready to believe that she had imagined it, or at all events, the dreadfulness of it, yet she had certainly been startled by she knew not what. The pounding of her heart, as graduallv it ceased, and was reduced to a more normal beating, left her with a sense of lassitude and fatigue. She must have sac for almost two hours there bv the window, and thougTi it was July, she was chilled with a creeping, eerie chilliness. The thought that she alone was awake in the old house became frightful to lier. She pulled the curtains together, and relighted the two tall candles on her dressing- table. ° As she did so she glanced down at the opal "hich she had carelessly laid there whea she had taken it off, then started back with a low cry of mingled fear and incredulity. It must be the effect of the candle-light, she told herself, and vet it was strange, very horrible. The jewel glowed red as a spot of blood among its surrounding brilliants. ( Tc be con/in tied. )

Advertising

Cycling and Motoring* News.

Advertising