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[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] [ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] THE DARK HOUSE BY THE POND. BY C. J. HAMILTON, Author of A Poisoned Life," Cut to thelIeart," A Flash of Youth," tfcc. dec. CHAPTER XVIII. j MRS. WALTON'S LETTER. I IN three months' time things had fallen into their old grooves. Susan went to her work at the Savings Bank Department of the Post Office, and I—well, I did type-writing when I got it to do, and wrote short articles and paragraphs for the Weekly Listener, which were sometimes taken and sometimes declined with thanks." It takes anawfully long time to get your foot well on the ladder," said one of our neighbours at Bouverie Mansions, a rising young journalist, who was known as O.P." —the initials of his name, Oliver Prender- gast." Yes, I suppose it does. How did you get your foot on ? Oh, I got sheaves and sheaves of pro- vincial papers, and culled out little bits of news and strung them together neatly, with remarks of my own. Then I sent them out. That's howl got into the St. George's Gazette. It took years before I was taken on the staff. I tell you what I'll do, Miss Bailie, I'll send you in a me of papers, and you can mark out the choice bits with a pencil. There's generally a man killed by a bull, or a tramp taken up by the police or, better still, a breach of promise case. Well managed, these little things make first-rate copy. London editors like them, they often coma in handy to fill up a vacant space." "O.P's." advice was good, I knew that, and when Lhe file of papers was sent down from No. 13, I went through them carefully, marking anything that was startling, which could be served up with sauce. I found some scraps that seemed suitable, and put them aside. One of the last papers I looked at was a Welsh one. As I turned it over, I was met by the following We are i n a position to state that the num- ber of our Welsh novelists will shortly be augmented by the addition of Mrs. Mon- taubon, of Caer Newydd (ned Selina Griffith). She h; the widow of Colonel Mon taubon, who met such a tragic death in his own grounds a shoit time ago. Mrs. Montaubon has the manuscript of a novel nearly ready for the press. It has the attractive title, 'Which shall it be? or the Earl's Bride,' and is likely to be in great demand at the libraries." I threw down the paper in amazement. Could it really be true that Mrs. Montaubon was going to bring out her manuscript, the manuscript which I had buried under the fir trees ? As I was wondering about it, a letter was dropped into the box. It wall from Mrs. Walton and I eagerly tore it open and read: "LLANBIYN, January 15th. ''MY DEAR MARGARET, "You told me to call you Margaret, and 1 do so with great pleasure. I have been in- tending to write to you for some time, but you know what a bad correspondent I am and just at Christmas, I was terribly busy, practising carols with the school-children. Then our organist got the influenza, so I had to take his place, which gave me lots to do and think of. However, it is all over now, and I have time to breathe, and to write and tell you all the news, as I promised to do, when we parted in October. "To begin, then, Caer Newydd is covered with bills, 'To be Let or Sold.' No one seems inclined to take it, for a report has got about that it is haunted. The poor, dear colonel's death owing to falling into that horrid pond has also set people against it, and it seems likely to be shut up for some time longer. There is a caretaker to look after it, deaf Peggy and her husband, and all the furniture is just as it was when you left it. Selina Montaubon and Bell have gone off, goodness knows where, to Brighton or Southsea or some of those places where people wlio have nothing to do go to amuse themselves and kill time. 'Kill time!' forsooth, when there is such a lot of work to be done in the world. I know I never have an idle moment—but some people are different from me-worse luck. A very odd thing happened just before Selina Montaubon went away. The workmen were cutting down some trees in the fir plantation, when they rooted up a mahogany box. Of course, they thought it was full of gold, but when they broke it open, there was nothing in it but that manuscript that you had so much to do with! Well, they showed it to me, and ] said i would bring it straight to Selina, and so I did. I thought she would be horror- stricken at the sight of it, for you remember fioor Sydney had it in his hand when he was ound but no not at all, she only said: 'Ah that stupid girl, Miss Bailie, I gave it to her to put away, and I never knew what. she had done with it. What made her bury it in the plantation? The idea, of such a thing. Here, give it to me, and I will put it in the cupboard at the top of the house. I shall see about getting it published. I have no doubt it will be a great success yet.' "That was the way she took it! She is so changeable, one never knows when to have her. I have no doubt you only did what she asked you to do at the time. But, she chooses to forget it. And now I must say a word about Reginald. He is very much altered since you were here, all his good spirits are gone, and he is quite silent and depressed. Of course, he feels the death of his brother very much, but I fancy there is something more than this, which he tells no one. Can you account for it? I can't. It makes me quite j sad to see him. No more now from Your affectionate old friend, Î "LOUISA ELLEN WALTON." What was the cause of Mr. Moutaubon's depression? Ah! if I only knew. He had been to me for a lover too unkind, too lov- ing for a friend." As I remembered his Words and looks, mv heart failed and I burst into tears. And just then, I heard ring at the bell, be had come for his papers. I could not bear him to see that I had been crying, for I have, as a rule, a perfect horror of tears.^ though I gathered up the papers, and tried to divert his attention from me to them, it was no use, he laid his hand on mine and said gently "Is anything iJie matter? Are you work- ing too hard ? I would give the world to be able to comfort you, Margaret." "Yes, you are very kind, but please don't mind me, it is nothing. I am alone, and I have just bad a I a good old lady who made friends with me in Wales, that's all." i "But why should you be alone? Why can't we work together side by side, as so Inany do? Why can't you be my wife my true, noble, loving wife who would do me so touch good." "No, no, I wish it could be, but it can't." There is someone else, then ? "Yes, there is someone else. Don't think of me. Forget me." I sba'n't be able to do that, Margaret. I Shall always love you." As he took the papers, I caught sight of his face by the fast fading light. There was such a grieved look on it, that I felt half sorry for sending him from me. Yet all the same, Mr. Montaubon's words rang in my ears "Can you trust me Margaret, trust T III spite of everything ? I had trusted him, I would trust him, and yet and yet--how hard it was I CHAPTER XIX. A TRANSFORMATION. "IT'S no use, Susan. You are really not fit to go on with your Post Office work any longer. You had better give up, and have a month's rest. You know you can take your holiday now instead of later on." Yes, I believe you are right. I certainly am rather done up." Susan was lying on the sofa in our sitting- room on a fine evening towards the end of May. She looked white and worried, with black circles under her eyes. Never very strong, the winter had been more than usually trying. Getting up early in the dark foggy mornings, hurrying to catch an omnibus to the city, writing in a close office from nine till six, and often staying over- time of her own accord, had told on her. As I looked at her again, I said even more decidedly: "You really must have a change, we shall have to go away somewhere. The sea-side places will not be so expensive now as in July. Which of them shall we choose?" We discussed them all, and ended by choosing Bournemouth. A friend had given us the address of a large boarciiiig-liouse there, and the manager would probably take us at the off season on our own terms. At any rate, we would write and enquire. A reply came from Stansbury Hall to say that Mr. and Mrs. Harwood-Price enclosed a card of their terms, which were five guineas a week, but as we were friends of Mrs. Dacre's, they would take us for thirty shillings a week, if we went at once. As Susan had succeeded in getting her holiday, there was no difficulty about that, and on Saturday, the 1st of June, we started together. I was rather dismayed, when we arrived, to see the large hotels and the red-brick villas, they looked so very new, and so smart. Stansbury Hall was one of the newest—it stood by itself in its own grounds," as the advertisement set forth. It was very trim, with bay windows jutting out on all sides, and a large porch before which our cab stopped, and we got out. We heard that Mrs. Harwood-Price was expecting us, and that afternoon tea was waiting. We were ready for it. We found Mrs. Harwood-Price in a little alcove, presiding over a well-spread tea-table. She was a large, fat woman with a broad, round face. There was a circle of wicker chairs in the bow window, and she waved her hand towards them. "Will you kindly sit there, Miss Bailie? Allow me to introduce you and your sister to Mrs. Clayton. She is the only one of our lady visitors who has not gone to the after- noon concert at the Winter Gardens." A small, thin, grey-haired woman, in a black bonnet, made an inclination in our direction, and murmured: "Glad to make your acquaintance. Did you find it very hot in London ? "Just now," continued Mrs. Harwood- Price, with her hand on the tea-pot, "we have not so many in the house as usual. Ten is much below our usual number, isn't it, Mrs. Clayton, dear?" "Oh! yes," exclaimed Mrs. Clayton. Bournemouth never fills up till July and August, but we have a very pleasant little coterie all the same, and the Austrian Barou —Baron von Erdmann—is a great addition. He came last week." "Yes," said Mrs. Harwood-Price. "You see lie has an attraction here," and she gave a meaning look at her friend. Mrs. Clayton was one of those women whose dearest delight is to talk—no matter what they talk about, so long as their tongues are going. As I was next to her, she opened out at me. "Have you ever been at Bournemouth before? No? Ah! you have a great deal to see. There are delightful excursions to the New Forest, to Lyndhurst and Brocken- hurst, and to Swanage. Oh! Of course you must go to Swanage, the steamer starts every morning. The Baron went yesterday, and came back quite delighted. I don't know where he has gone to-day. He gener- ally goes somewhere." "Oh! To the Winter Garden Concert," said Mrs. Harwood-Price. He couldii'.t let the ladies go alone. We have a rich widow staying in the house, Miss Bailie, you must know. Some people admire her very much." Yes" put in Mrs. Clayton. We call her 'The Heliotrope Widow.' When I was a widow, I did not wear colours for two years after the death of my dear first husband, but things are changed since my time." "Ah! indeed, they are," exclaimed Mrs. Harwood-Price. Deep mourning is not considered fashionable, though our late dear Queen used to cling very much to crape. But, hush I think I hear steps in the hall, perhaps some of our Winter Garden party are returning early before the concert is quite over." The curtain which hung over the alcove was pushed aside, and some people entered. The first two were strangers, then came a small woman, with a white veil fastened over a tiny black jet toque, which had an up-standing heliotrope aigrette. Her skirts rustled as she moved. I looked at her again and recognised Mrs. Montaubon! But how completely she was transformed! The last time I had seen her, she wore the deepest black crape of a widow, now her rich satin dress glistened with jet, jet sparkled on the front and in the sleeves, and her gloves were the palest shade of lavender. There was no grey in her hair now, it was dyed a bright yellow, and her cheeks were rouged. She stared at me for a moment, then putting out two fingers, she said carelessly: "Who would have thought of seeing you here, Miss Bailie ? How did you come? "From London, by the 12.30 train." "Oh 2 yes, I know, but I thought you had work to do." "So I have, but even the hardest workers get holidays sometimes." "Baron," cried Mrs. Harwood-Price, to a thick-set, black-beared man, who had just come into the room, will you hand Mrs. Montaubon her tea ? I am afraid it is rather cold, but if it is, I will get some more made directly." "Oh! don't mind," drawled Mrs. Mon- taubon languidly, we had tea at the Winter Gardens." "Did you enjoy the music? It was classical this afternoon, wasn't it ?" "It was very loud," said Mrs. Montaubon. It made my head ache." We had the Abendstem, from Tannhau- ser," remarked the Baron, and in the over- ture from Siegfried one man played very. well the violin. But, ah I you should hear Waguer in my country. Have you been at Bayreuth?" he asked, turning to me. "There you have in music all that is most delightful—so "No, of course she has not been at Bay- reuth," cried Mrs. Montaubon, restlessly. How can you ask such stupid questions ? Then she got up and went out of the room, rustling her silk skirts as she went. We soon followed. So that is Mrs. Montaubon! crie-" Susan, when were alone in our room. "She is just what I expected from her hand- writing. You know I toidyou her character the first time she wrote to you." Well, she isn't the least little bit like what she was at Caer Newydd. Still, I should always know that shifty expression in her eyes. Oh Susan, is illy pink silk blouse good enough to wear this evening at diiiiier.d "To be sure it is. That chatty little woman in the black bonnet says that no one dresses much here, except Mrs. Montaubon. I She is evidently making up to that Austrian baron." Or the Austrian baron is making up to her. Poor Colonel Montaubon, he seems quite forgotten, and yet he is not dead eight months YeF-; The evening was a very lively one. The two people that excited most attention were certainly Mrs. Montaubon and the Baron. Everyone was watching them, remarking her dress and wondering what he was saying to her, as they sat in the place of honour at the top of the table. Her tea-gown was something marvellous pale heliotrope velvet, with tiny black butterfly bows, and round her neck was the new silver necklace that Colonel Montaubon had brought her from India. How many, many of these wundershon things you have! I heard the Baron saying to her, as we were in the drawing-room after dinner. Yes, a great many," she answered, care- lessly. "But these are nothing to what I* have at my place in Wales—nothing I have a beautiful set of sapphires and dia- monds, but I did not bring it with me when I came away, as I was in too deep mourning to wear it." "But now," said the baron, with an amorous look, "now you may." "Ah! yes, now, it would be different. perhaps, I may go to Caer Newydd some day and get my pretty things to show you, Baron." The vision of Colonel Montaubon, as I had seen him last, rose before my eyes again. Do what I would, I could not shut it out! I CHAPTER XX. I CAER NEWYDD AGAIN. AFTER the first evening, Mrs. Montaubon grew more friendly, and even confided some of her grievances to me. Only think," she began, that ungrateful Bell has left me Very soon after I went away from Caer Newydd, she said she could not stay any longer in my service, and now I am told that she is going to make a fool of herself, and marry the Colonel's Indian servant, that man Ali, whom I always dis- liked so much, He is years younger than she is. Of course, he is only taking her because she has some money for him to spend." Mrs. Montaubon stopped to take breath. It never seemed to occur to her that this was exactly what people were saying about her and the German Baron. Yes, I have got another maid," she went on, "a French woman, Desir<Se Duclos. She is ever so much cleverer at hairdressing and all that sort of thing than Bell was but the worst of it is, that she doesn't understand English, so I can't send her messages. It is so tiresome. There are some boxes at Caer Newydd that I want to have overhauled. My best ornaments are packed up in them, and I can't get hold of them unless I go my- self. It is a good thing that horrid Sabina is not in the neighbourhood now. She has beeen sent away to another doctor's, so I don't so much mind going to get my jewels." "You seem to have plenty of ornaments here." Only silver things. The fact is there is going to be a large fancy ball at the Winter Gardens. The Baron is going as a trouba- dour, and he wants me to go with him as Mary Queen of Scots. I have seen the most lovely dress, all white satin and black velvet, half- mourning you know, so it just suits me. All I want is my sapphire and diamond set, and I really must try and get it." "Will you go to Caer Newydd?" I don't like to go, but I am afraid there is no other way. Would you-would you mind, very much, coming with me ? She spoke so appealingly, that I did not like to refuse. Still, I hesitated before giving a decided answer. "You may as well go, Margaret," said Susan, when I asked her advice. "If you don't, she will only be doing something out- rageously foolish." But there was another reason that kept me from consenting. What-, about Mr. Mon- taubon ? I had heard nothing of him, and he might perhaps think I was going to Caer Newydd to see nim. It almost seemed as if Mrs. Montaubon had guessed what was in my mind, for she said I would not ask you to come if Reginald were at home, but he is away spending his holiday in Norway. I always thought he treated you very badly, paying you such marked attention, and then leLting you leave without even saying 'good-bye.' But I don't attempt to defend him, lie is always horrid to me, and always has been since I married into the family. I never am surprised at anything disagreeable that he does." There was a sinister look in her face as she spoke, that made me doubt her. I suppose," she added, lowering her voice, "that I may as well tell you that I am engaged to be married to Baron von Erdmann—he really would not take No for an answer. So when the year is up, the event is to come off. We do not want to announce it publicly till I have left off my mourning. It will be nice to be a Baroness—Madame la Baronne von Erdmann. Does it not sound well? I always wished to have a title. And then there is my novel. I intend it to come out in the autumn, under my new name. That is another thing that I want to get at Caer Newydd—the manuscript. I locked it up just before I came away. Fancy, how nice it will be to be a baroness and an authoress the same year!" Mrs. Montaubon's vanity was almost, childish. She gained her point, however, for I agreed to go with her, and we started one fine morning in June. During the early part of the journey, she never ceased talking about the Baron and her trousseau and the t, coming fancy ball, but when we approached LlaÙfairfechan, she became more silent, and several times, she twisted and untwisted her fingers, and murmured as if to herself, "I wish I had not to come back here. How I wish Bell had stayed with me Perhaps she and that. horrid Ali are making up some plot between them. I would have given any- thing not to be obliged to come back." It was five o'clock when we reached Llan- fairfechan. A carriaee ha.d been sent to meet us, and we drove rapidly to the well- remembered dark house, which looked now more dark and gloomy than ever. The shut- ters were closed in all the upper windows. As I looked up at them, they seemed to me like the closed eyes of a stiffened corpse. There was no sound of a dog's bark—poor, gay little Tag had died six months ago. A .flock of rooks were cawing amongst the dark trees, but this only made the silence appea.r more weird and more intense. Large plac- ards, "To be Let or Sold," were everywhere —on the windows, and on the pailings. Deaf old Peggy opened the door, and brought us into the dining-room. It smelt of damp and mildew, as if it had not been opened for months. Mrs. Montaubon hardly waited to swallow a cup of tea, she seemed in feverish haste to do her business, and to escape as soon as possible from this haunted spot. "By the first train to-morrow morning," she said, we leave this. I am quite 'deter- mined not to remain an hour longer than J can help. Peggy, get me a lamp at once, I want to go up to "the top of the house, to look over my boxes. It is so dark there, I must have a light. Quick, quick, how slow you are!" Peggy returned in a few minutes with a paraffin lamp. Mrs. Montaubon took it from her, and made for the staircase door, which led out of the hall. "I shall be some time," she said, turning round, before the door had quite swung bacl< on its hinges. You can go out-, a,nd a.mue yourself as you like, Miss Bailie. I don't want any help; I know exactly where to look for my things." I started out to the garden and picked what flowers I found there. They were nearly all choked with weeds. Snap-dragons and roses were interlaced with gigantic thistles and bushy nettles, lavender bushes were covered with trailing white wild con- volvulus. and crroundsel trrew over the beds which used to be a mass of mignonette. It was a picture of neglect, deplorable to see. Even the garden gates were green with moss. I started once or twice at the sound of my own footsteps. Not a human being was in sight. The sun was veering towards the west in a glory of crimson and amber. When the twilight began to fall, how un- Z, speakably dreary it would be I I moved on slowly towards the pond. Tht rooks had ceased cawing, not even a thrush stirred amongst the shrubs. It seemed as if a spell had fallen on the spot. And now, I stood on the borders of that dark mysterious sheet of water, round which so many memories were bound up. It was as still as glass, the round leaves of the water lilies floated on it, and one or two buds lifted up their wan, waxen heads, like ghosts of the past. The sun dis- appeared, a ball of ruby fire; the air grew cool; the sky took pale reflections of rose and daffodil; a. faint wind stirred the poplars, and a sense of waiting, of expectation brooded over the silent world. What would come ? What was coming ? Suddenly, as I glanced towards the house, I saw a bright light in one of the upper windows. It shot up higher and higher And then came a piercing scream, not an ordinary scream, but a scream of agony, of terror, that made my heart beat fast, and my blood leap in my veins. What had hap- pened ? Through a gap in the trees, I saw something that looked like a globe of flame. Nearer and nearer it came the flames flying up, and all the time, lial f-suffocateci shrieksrang through the air. Fanned by the wind, the fierce, red blaze seemed to be intensified every minute, and through it, I saw (what did I see, was it a vision or was it a reality?) the distorted face of Mrs. Montaubon! Her white eye-balls glared out, starting from her head. They seemed to be face to face with Death, staring at death, unable to get awa y from him—close in his grip. Fascinated with terror, I ran to meet her. I tore off my cloak and flung it over her, it fell on the ground, blazing like a lucifer match. Uttering a choked scream of "Water! Water!" she rushed towards the pond. The pain had driven her frantic, the flames were eating into her flesh. Her one thought was water-to cool her tortured body, to put out the devouring fire that was swallowing her. With one last awful cry, the globe of fire-for she was nothing else now—vanished in the pond. There was a loud hissing noise as the water closed over her, a flaring light, and then an awful, awful silence, a deeper silence than before. Nemesis had fallen!—had fallen indeed! Half an hour later, a mass of charred and calcined bones lay on the grass. Scraps of clothing still clung to them, and fragments of blackened flesh, terrible and sickening to behold. With a ghastly mockery, round what had once been the neck of the unfor- tunate woman, gleamed and glittered a sapphire and diamond necklace. Round the poor charred arms were costly bracelets, and on the blackened bones of the hands were still the rings that she had been so proud of. It was a gruesome spectacle, enough to make the heart faint and the brain reel. I turned away. Alas, alas, how quickly the end had come 1 (To be continued.)



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