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       The Haunted Chamber: A Novel, p.1

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The Haunted Chamber: A Novel


  Produced by Bill Tozier, Barbara Tozier, Mary Meehan andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttps://www.pgdp.net

  The Haunted Chamber

  BY "THE DUCHESS"

  1888

  CHAPTER I.

  The sun has "dropped down," and the "day is dead." The silence and calmof coming night are over everything. The shadowy twilight lies softly onsleeping flowers and swaying boughs, on quiet fountains--the marblebasins of which gleam snow-white in the uncertain light--on the glimpseof the distant ocean seen through the giant elms. A floating mist hangsin the still warm air, making heaven and earth mingle in one sweetconfusion.

  The ivy creeping up the ancient walls of the castle is rustling andwhispering as the evening breeze sweeps over it. High up the tendrilsclimb, past mullioned windows and quaint devices, until they reach evento the old tower, and twine lovingly round it, and push through the longapertures in the masonry of the walls of the haunted chamber.

  It is here that the shadows cast their heaviest gloom. All this cornerof the old tower is wrapped in darkness, as though to obscure the sceneof terrible crimes of past centuries.

  Ghosts of dead-and-gone lords and ladies seem to peer out mysteriouslyfrom the openings in this quaint chamber, wherein no servant, male orfemale, of the castle has ever yet been known to set foot. It is full ofdire horrors to them, and replete with legends of by-gone days andgrewsome sights ghastly enough to make the stoutest heart quail.

  In the days of the Stuarts an old earl had hanged himself in that room,rather than face the world with dishonor attached to his name; andearlier still a beauteous dame, fair but frail, had been incarceratedthere, and slowly starved to death by her relentless lord. There waseven in the last century a baronet--the earldom had been lost to theDynecourts during the Commonwealth--who, having quarreled with hisfriend over a reigning belle, had smitten him across the cheek with hisglove, and then challenged him to mortal combat. The duel had beenfought in the luckless chamber, and had only ended with the death ofboth combatants; the blood stains upon the flooring were large and deep,and to this day the boards bear silent witness to the sanguinarycharacter of that secret fight.

  Just now, standing outside the castle in the warmth and softness of thedying daylight, one can hardly think of by-gone horrors, or aught thatis sad and sinful.

  There is an air of bustle and expectancy within-doors that betokenscoming guests; the servants are moving to and fro noiselessly butbusily, and now and then the stately housekeeper passes from room toroom uttering commands and injunctions to the maids as she goes. No lessoccupied and anxious is the butler, as he surveys the work of thefootmen. It is so long since the old place has had a resident master,and so much longer still since guests have been invited to it, that thehousehold are more than ordinarily excited at the change now about totake place.

  Sir Adrian Dynecourt, after a prolonged tour on the Continent andlingering visits to the East, has at last come home with the avowedintention of becoming a staid country gentleman, and of settling downto the cultivation of turnips, the breeding of prize oxen, and thedetermination to be the M.F.H. when old Lord Dartree shall havefulfilled his declared intention of retiring in his favor. He is a tallyoung man, lithe and active. His skin, though naturally fair, is bronzedby foreign travel. His hair is a light brown, cut very close to hishead. His eyes are large, clear, and honest, and of a peculiarly darkviolet; they are beautiful eyes, winning and sweet, and steady in theirglance. His mouth, shaded by a drooping fair mustache, is large andfirm, yet very prone to laughter.

  It is quite the end of the London season, and Sir Adrian has hurrieddown from town to give directions for the reception of some people whomhe has invited to stay with him during the slaughter of the partridges.

  Now all is complete, and the last train from London being due half anhour ago Sir Adrian is standing on the steps of his hall-door anxiouslyawaiting some of his guests.

  There is even a touch of genuine impatience in his manner, which couldhardly be attributed to the ordinary longing of a young man to see a fewof his friends. Sir Adrian's anxiety is open and undisguised, and thereis a little frown upon his brow. Presently his face brightens as behears the roll of carriage-wheels. When the carriage turns the cornerof the drive, and the horses are pulled up at the hall door, Sir Adriansees a fair face at the window that puts to flight all the fears he hasbeen harboring for the last half hour.

  "You have come?" he says delightedly, running down the steps and openingthe carriage door himself. "I am so glad! I began to think the train hadrun away with you, or that the horses had bolted."

  "Such a journey as it has been!" exclaims a voice not belonging to theface that had looked from the carriage at Sir Adrian. "It has beentiresome to the last degree. I really don't know when I felt sofatigued!"

  A little woman, small and fair, steps languidly to the ground as shesays this, and glances pathetically at her host. She is beautifully "gotup," both in dress and complexion, and at a first glance appears almostgirlish. Laying her hand in Sir Adrian's, she lets it rest there, asthough glad to be at her journey's end, conveying at the same time bya gentle pressure of her taper fingers the fact that she is even moreglad that the end of her journey has brought her to him. She looks upat him with her red lips drooping as if tired, and with a bewilderedexpression in her pretty blue eyes that adds to the charm of her face.

  "It's an awful distance from town!" says Sir Adrian, as if apologizingfor the spot on which his grand old castle has been built. "And it wasmore than good of you to come to me. I can only try to make up to youfor the discomfort you have experienced to-day by throwing all possiblechances of amusement in your way whilst you stay here."

  By this time she has withdrawn her hand, and so he is free to go up tohis other guest and bid her welcome. He says nothing to her, strange tosay, but it is his hand that seeks to retain hers this time, and it ishis eyes that look longingly into the face before him.

  "You are tired, too?" he says at length. "Come into the house andrest awhile before dinner. You will like to go to your rooms at once,perhaps?" he adds, turning to his two visitors.

  "Thank you--yes. If you will have our tea sent upstairs," replies Mrs.Talbot plaintively, "it will be such a comfort!" she always speaks in asomewhat pouting tone, and with heavy emphasis.

  "Tea--nonsense!" responds Sir Adrian. "There's nothing like champagne asa pick-me-up. I'll send you tea also; but, take my advice, and try thechampagne."

  "Oh, thank you, I shall so much prefer my tea!" Mrs. Talbot declares,with a graceful little shrug of her shoulders, at which her friend MissDelmaine laughs aloud.

  "I accept your advice, Sir Adrian," she says, casting a mischievousglance at him from under her long lashes. "And--yes, Dora will takechampagne too--when it comes."

  "Naughty girl!" exclaims Mrs. Talbot, with a little flickering smile.Dora Talbot seldom smiles, having learned by experience that herdelicate face looks prettier in repose. "Come, then, Sir Adrian," sheadds, "let us enter your enchanted castle."

  The servants by this time have taken in all their luggage--that is, asmuch as they have been able to bring in the carriage; and now the twoladies walk up the steps and enter the hall, their host beside them.

  Mrs. Talbot, who has recovered her spirits a little, is chatteringgayly, and monopolizing Sir Adrian to the best of her ability, whilstMiss Delmaine is strangely silent, and seems lost in a kind of pleasedwonder as she gazes upon all her charming surroundings.

  The last rays of light are streaming in through the stained-glasswindows, rendering the old hall full of mysterious beauty. The grimwarriors in their coats of mail seem, to the
entranced gaze of FlorenceDelmaine, to be making ready to spring from the niches which hold them.

  Waking from her dream as she reaches the foot of the stone staircase,she says abruptly, but with a lovely smile playing round her mouth--

  "Surely, Sir Adrian, you have a ghost in this beautiful old place, ora secret staircase, or at least a bogy of some sort? Do not spoil theromantic look of it by telling me you have no tale of terror to impart,no history of a ghostly visitant who walks these halls at the dead ofnight."

  "We have no ghost here, I am sorry to say," answers Sir Adrian,laughing. "For the first time I feel distressed and ashamed that itshould be so. We can only boast a haunted chamber; but there are certainlegends about it, I am proud to say, the bare narration of which wouldmake even the stoutest quail."

  "Good gracious--how distinctly unpleasant!" exclaims Mrs. Talbot, witha nervous and very effective shudder.

  "How distinctly delicious, you mean!" puts in Miss Delmaine. "SirAdrian, is this chamber anywhere near where I shall sleep?"

  "Oh, no; you need not be afraid of that!" answers Dynecourt hastily.

  "I am not afraid," declares the girl saucily. "I have all my life beenseeking an adventure of some sort. I am tired of my prosaic existence.I want to know what dwellers in the shadowy realms of ghost-land arelike."

  "Dear Sir Adrian, do urge her not to talk like that; it is positivelywicked," pleads Dora Talbot, glancing at him beseechingly.

  "Miss Delmaine, you will drive Mrs. Talbot from my house if you persistin your evil courses," says Sir Adrian, laughing again. "Desist, I prayyou!"

  "Are you afraid, Dora?" asks Florence merrily. "Then keep close to me.I can defy all evil spirits, I have spells and charms."

  "You have indeed!" puts in Sir Adrian, in a tone so low that only shecan hear it. "And, knowing this, you should be merciful."

  Though she can not hear what he says, yet Mrs. Talbot can see he isaddressing Florence, and marks with some uneasiness the glance thatpasses from his eyes to hers. Breaking quickly into the conversation,she says timidly, laying her hand on her host's arm--

  "This shocking room you speak of will not be near mine?"

  "In another wing altogether," Sir Adrian replies reassuringly. "Indeedit is so far from this part of the castle that one might be safelyincarcerated there and slowly starved to death without any one of thehousehold being a bit the wiser. It is in the north wing in the oldtower, a portion of the building that has not been in use for over fiftyyears."

  "I breathe again," says Dora Talbot affectedly.

  "I shall traverse every inch of that old tower--haunted room andall--before I am a week older," declares Florence defiantly. After whichshe smiles at Adrian again, and follows the maid up the broad staircaseto her room.

  By the end of the week many other visitors have been made welcome at thecastle; but none perhaps give so much pleasure to the young baronet asMrs. Talbot and her cousin.

  Miss Delmaine, the only daughter and heiress of an Indian nabob, hadtaken London by storm this past season; and not only the modern Babylon,but the heart of Adrian Dynecourt as well. She had come home to Englandon the death of her father about two years ago; and, having no nearerrelatives alive, had been kindly received by her cousin, the Hon. Mrs.Talbot, who was then living with her husband in a pretty house inMayfair.

  Six months after Florence Delmaine's arrival, George Talbot hadsuccumbed to a virulent fever; and his widow, upon whom a handsomejointure had been settled, when the funeral and the necessary lawworries had come to an end, had intimated to her young cousin that sheintended to travel for a year upon the Continent, and that she would beglad, that is--with an elaborate sigh--she would be a degree lessmiserable, if she, Florence, would accompany her. This delightedFlorence. She was wearied with attendance on the sick, having done mostof the nursing of the Hon. George, while his wife lamented and slept;and, besides, she was still sore at heart for the loss of her father.The year abroad had passed swiftly; the end of it brought them to Parisonce more, where, feeling that her time of mourning might be decentlyterminated, Mrs. Talbot had discarded her somber robes, and had putherself into the hands of the most fashionable dress-maker she couldfind.

  Florence too discarded mourning for the first time, although her fatherhad been almost two years in his quiet grave amongst the Hills; and,with her cousin, who was now indeed her only friend, if slightlyuncongenial, decided to return to London forthwith.

  It was early in May, and, with a sensation of extreme and most naturalpleasure, the girl looked forward to a few months passed amongst thebest of those whom she had learned under her cousin's auspices to regardas "society."

  Dora Talbot herself was not by any means dead to the thought that itwould be to her advantage to introduce into society a girl, well-bornand possessed of an almost fabulous fortune. Stray crumbs must surelyfall to her share in a connection of this kind, and such crumbs she wasprepared to gather with a thankful heart.

  But unhappily she set her affection upon Sir Adrian Dynecourt, with hisgrand old castle and his princely rent-roll--a "crumb" the magnitude andworth of which she was not slow to appreciate. At first she had notdeemed it possible that Florence would seriously regard a mere baronetas a suitor, when her unbounded wealth would almost entitle her to aduke. But "love," as she discovered later, to her discomfiture, willalways "find the way." And one day, quite unexpectedly, it dawned uponher that there might--if circumstances favored them--grow up a feelingbetween Florence and Sir Adrian that might lead to mutual devotion.

  Yet, strong in the belief of her own charms, Mrs. Talbot accepted theinvitation given by Sir Adrian, and at the close of the season she andFlorence Delmaine find themselves the first of a batch of guests come tospend a month or two at the old castle at Dynecourt.

  Mrs. Talbot is still young, and, in her style, very pretty; her eyes arelanguishing and blue as gentian, her hair a soft nut-brown; her lipsperhaps are not altogether faultless, being too fine and too closelydrawn, but then her mouth is small. She looks considerably younger thanshe really is, and does not forget to make the most of this comfortablefact. Indeed, to a casual observer, her cousin looks scarcely herjunior.

  Miss Delmaine is tall, slender, _posee_ more or less, while Mrs. Talbotis prettily rounded, _petite_ in every point, and nervously ambitious ofwinning the regard of the male sex.

  During the past week private theatricals have been suggested. Every oneis tired of dancing and music. The season has given them more than asurfeit of both, and so they have fallen back upon theatricals.

  The play on which they have decided is Goldsmith's famous production,"She Stoops to Conquer."

  Miss Villiers, a pretty girl with yellow hair and charming eyes, is tobe Constantia Neville; Miss Delmaine, Kate Hardcastle; Lady GertrudeVining, though rather young for the part, has consented to play Mrs.Hardcastle, under the impression that she looks well in a cap andpowdered hair. An impossible Tony Lumpkin has been discovered in anervous young man with a hesitation in his speech and a difficulty aboutthe letter "S"--a young man who wofully misunderstands Tony, and bringshim out in a hitherto unknown character; a suitable Hastings has beenfound in the person of Captain Ringwood, a gallant young officer, andone of the "curled darlings" of society.

  But who is to play Marlow? Who is to be the happy man, so blessed--eventhough in these fictitious circumstances--as to be allowed to make loveto the reigning beauty of the past season? Nearly every man in the househas thrown out a hint as to his fitness for the part, but as yet noarrangement has been arrived at.

  Sir Adrian of course is the one toward whom all eyes--and some veryjealous ones--are directed. But his duties as host compel him, sorelyagainst his will, to draw back a little from the proffered honor, andto consult the wishes of his guests rather than his own. Miss Delmaineherself has laughingly declined to make any choice of a stage lover, sothat, up to the present moment, matters are still in such a state ofconfusion and uncertainty that they have been unable to name any datefor the producti
on of their play.

  It is four o'clock, and they are all standing or sitting in thelibrary, intent as usual in discussing the difficulty. They are alltalking together, and, in the excitement that prevails, no one hears thedoor open, or the footman's calm, introduction of a gentleman, who nowcomes leisurely up to where Sir Adrian is standing, leaning overFlorence Delmaine's chair.

  He is a tall man of about thirty-five, with a dark face and dark eyes,and, withal, a slight resemblance to Sir Adrian.

  "Ah, Arthur, is it you!" says Sir Adrian, in a surprised tone that hascertainly no cordiality in it, but, just as certainly, the tone is notrepellent.

  "Yes," replies the stranger, with a languid smile, and withoutconfusion. "Yesterday I suddenly recollected the general invitation yougave me a month ago to come to you at any time that suited me best. Thistime suits me, and so I have come."

  He still smiles as he says this, and looks expectantly at Sir Adrian,who, as in duty bound, instantly tells him he is very glad to see him,and that he is a good fellow to have come without waiting for a moreformal repetition of his invitation. Then he takes him over to old LadyFitzAlmont, the mother of Lady Gertrude Vining, and introduces him toher as "my cousin Mr. Dynecourt."

  The same ceremony is gone through with some of the others, but, whenhe brings him to Mrs. Talbot, that pretty widow interrupts his mode ofintroduction.

  "Mr. Dynecourt and I are old friends," she says, giving her hand to thenew-comer. Then, turning to her cousin, she adds, "Florence, is it nota fatality our meeting him so often?"

  "Have we met so often?" asks Florence quietly, but with a touch of_hauteur_ and dislike in her tone. Then she too gives a cold little handto Mr. Dynecourt, who lingers over it until she disdainfully draws itaway, after which he turns from her abruptly and devotes himself toDora Talbot.

  The widow is glad of his attentions. He is handsome and well-bred, andfor the last half hour she has been feeling slightly bored; so eager hasbeen the discussion about the Marlow matter, that she has been littlesought after by the opposite sex. And now, once again, the subject isbeing examined in all its bearings, and the discussion waxes fast andfurious.

  "What is it all about?" asks Arthur Dynecourt presently, glancing at theanimated group in the middle of the room. And Sir Adrian, hearing hisquestion, explains it to him.

  "Ah, indeed!" he says. And then, after a scarcely perceptiblepause--"Who is to be Kate Hardcastle?"

  "Miss Delmaine," answers Sir Adrian, who is still leaning over thatyoung lady's chair.

  "In what does the difficulty consist?" inquires Arthur Dynecourt, withapparent indifference.

  "Well," replies Sir Adrian, laughing; "I believe mere fear holds usback. Miss Delmaine, as we all know, is a finished actress, and wedread spoiling her performance by faults on our side. None of us haveattempted the character before; this is why we hesitate."

  "A very sensible hesitation, I think," says his cousin coolly. "Youshould thank me then for coming to your relief this afternoon; I haveplayed the part several times, and shall be delighted to undertake itagain, and help you out of your difficulty."

  At this Miss Delmaine flushes angrily, and opens her lips as if shewould say something, but, after a second's reflection, restrainsherself. She sinks back into her chair with a proud languor, and closesher mouth resolutely.

  Sir Adrian is confounded. All along he had secretly hoped that, in theend, this part would fall to his lot; but now--what is to be done? Howcan he refuse to let his cousin take his place, especially as he hasdeclared himself familiar with the part.

  Arthur, observing his cousin's hesitation, laughs aloud. His is not apleasant laugh, but has rather a sneering ring in it, and at the presentmoment it jars upon the ears of the listeners.

  "If I have been indiscreet," he says, with a slight glance at Florence'sproud face, "pray pardon me. I only meant to render you a littleassistance. I thought I understood from you that you were rather in adilemma. Do not dwell upon my offer another moment. I am afraid I havemade myself somewhat officious--unintentionally, believe me."

  "My dear fellow, not at all," declares Sir Adrian hastily, shocked athis own apparent want of courtesy. "I assure you, you mistake. It is allso much to the contrary, that I gratefully accept your offer, and begyou will be Marlow."

  "But really--" begins Arthur Dynecourt.

  "Not a word!" interrupts Sir Adrian; and indeed by this time ArthurDynecourt has brought his cousin to believe he is about to confer uponhim a great favor. "Look here, you fellows," Sir Adrian goes on, walkingtoward the other men, who are still arguing and disputing over the vexedquestion, "I've settled it all for you. Here is my cousin; he will takethe difficulty off your hands, and be a first-class Marlow at the sametime."

  A suppressed consternation follows this announcement. Many and darkare the glances cast upon the new-comer, who receives them all withhis usual imperturbable smile. Rising, Arthur approaches one of theastonished group who is known to him, and says something upon thesubject with a slight shrug of his shoulders. As he is Sir Adrian'scousin, every one feels that it will be impossible to offer anyobjection to his taking the much-coveted part.

  "Well, I have sacrificed myself for you; I have renounced a very deardesire all to please you," says Sir Adrian softly, bending down toFlorence. "Have I succeeded?"

  "You have succeeded in displeasing me more than I can say," she returnscoldly. Then, seeing his amazed expression, she goes on hastily,"Forgive me, but I had hoped for another Marlow."

  She blushes prettily as she says this, and an expression arises in herdark eyes that moves him deeply. Stooping over her hand, he imprints akiss upon it. Dora Talbot, whose head is turned aside, sees nothing ofthis, but Arthur Dynecourt has observed the silent caress, and a darkfrown gathers on his brow.

 
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