Page images








ESTELLE emerged from her chamber the morning after her discovery of the abstraction of the documents, with the marks of her recent heartstruggle plainly depicted on her countenance. She was pale and haggard, and her person presented an appearance of déshabille seldom observable in the toilet of the fascinating Duchess of the Emeralds. She proceeded at once to the chamber which led through the grand conservatory into the enchanting gardens of the palace. Pausing in the centre of the room, she clapped her hands, and called the name of the Nubian slave—no answer. She repeated the cry-still no response. “Strange!” she muttered, in a state of alarm," the whole of yesterday he was not forthcoming at my bidding. What can have called him hence? He has never before been absent from his post. And Alaric, where is he? Suffering from the effects of yesterday's carouse. During the period of his inebriation, a messenger arrived from St. Valerie Castle with tidings of its lord's decease. St. Valerie must remain in ignorance of the fact; his knowledge of it might destroy the last fragile hope I have yet left of happiness. There is no resource but flight. My enemy has the game in his own hands, and his purpose is unflinching." At that moment her eye sought the casement, and rested upon the figure of St. Valerie, reclining full-length underneath a projecting column in the gardens. “He is there," she said, moving quickly towards the conservatory ; “I must be speedy-speedy—both in the design and execution. A few hours later, and my purpose may be anticipated and frustrated.”

So saying, she moved swiftly through the conservatory towards the spot where Alaric was engaged in silent meditation. He looked round as she approached, and, starting to his feet, caught her two hands convulsively in his own, exclaiming as he did so

“I can wait no longer, St. Clair ; I can wait no longer without possession of the object my heart so wildly covets! Be mine, Estelle ! Let us not pause another day for the consummation of our happiness. See, the sun is high above us in the zenith ; ere he sinks in the horizon, VOL. VI.


let those rites be celebrated which shall for ever unite our single desti

I have waited, Estelle-waited-till my heart is sick, weary and sick, with the hope still deferred, ever present, yet never realised. Answer me, Estelle"-covering her hand with a thousand passionate kisses—“this day must crown my joy, or crush out its light for ever."

“ It is as I could wish," muttered Estelle, in an undertone ; then, turning to St. Valerie, she said, “I accede to your request, Alaric; the rites shall be celebrated, and that before the western sky is tinged with another sun-setting. But our marriage must be hasty and in secret."

"In secret ?”

“Yes," said Estelle, a crimson flush overspreading her countenance. “I have an enemy, powerful and irascible. You have seen him. I told you there were obstacles ; those obstacles can only be surmounted by-hush !" looking fearfully around her—"we may be overheard. Let us withdraw into yon tent. There we shall be secure from eavesdroppers."

Alaric followed her into a sort of marble pavilion, into which they were admitted through a glass doorway, the upper portion of which was tastefully decorated with glittering silver pendants. Arrived here, he turned to his excited partner, and, himself evidently in a state of equal agitation, said

“Surmounted by what?"
"A secret marriage, and—”
“ Well ?"
“Afterwards flight."

Neither Estelle nor her companion perceived at this juncture the glass door, at which they had themselves received admission, a second time open, unfastened from the outside, and two figures steal in cautiously on tip-toe, and place themselves at the further end of the tent.

“Flight !” echoed St. Valerie.

“Yes, flight,” iterated St. Clair. “My enemy-bitter, unrelenting, living only to circumvent me and my happiness—has the power to forbid our marriage ; he will exert it. The usual formulas will not suffice to protect us from his malice ; his resources are inexhaustible; he will find means, fair or foul, to separate those whom religious rites have but newly bound together, and, such is the energy of his will, destroy all hope of our ultimate re-union. Flight is the only expedient ; let us then resort to it, and in other climes, among other people, secure to ourselves that happiness which is unattainable in the land of our nativity."

“'Tis strange !" muttered St. Valerie. “What?" said Estelle, hastily.

“The influence this stranger exercises over the powerful intellect of the Duchess St. Clair," said St. Valerie, fixing upon her a keen, steady gaze. “The same is an enigma of which I've not yet the key in order to its solution.”

" It shall be explained in time,” said Estelle, quickly, anxious to dismiss a subject inimical to her interests, " it shall be explained in time. But, for heaven's sake, yield to my solicitations! If you love me, St. Valerie, if your passionate protestations have not been all a specious, well-impersonated fable, if they have not been a pretence as ingenious and subtle as it is heartless and calculative of evil consequences, you will assent to the means which are inevitable and necessary to our present position. For thee I leave home, friends, everything in which I have hitherto found delight and honour. Can it be, St. Valerie, that thy love is less intense than mine ?”

“No, no, Estelle !” exclaimed St. Valerie, passionately, “my love is as the streaming lava which pours forth from the burning mountains of which our sages tell, hot, tumultuous, and irresistible. But oh, Estelle ! my father—to leave him, forsake him in his dotage, desert the shrine at which I have been reared and fostered—'twill break his heart! Is there no way, no way but this to secure our coveted happiness ?”

None,” said Estelle, in a tone of quiet, hopeless decision. “Then it must be,” said St. Valerie, with despairing emphasis. “The die is cast. With thee, life; without thee, death. I follow thee."

“At once, then," said his impatient mistress, “let us make arrangements for our departure. There is no time to lose. If we would yet be unthwarted in our undertaking, we must be speedy."

“I am obedient to your resolving," said St. Valerie, somewhat gloomily

“It is settled, then,” said Estelle. “We will proceed.”

“Stay !” commanded a voice behind her, as she was in the act of turning to quit the pavilion.

St. Valerie started, and gazed in the direction of the interruption. It was he again-the mysterious visitant of the tent !

Estelle looked the picture of despair and frustrated purpose.

“Stay,” iterated the stranger, “I command you, Duchess of St. Clair !"

“What would you ?” said Estelle, shrinking back in fear and terror.

“That you desist from your unhallowed project of deluding this young man into a false, illegal marriage.”

“An illegal marriage !” said St. Valerie, looking at the stranger with an incredulous smile.

Ay, sir," re-asserted the stranger, "an illegal marriage. I blush for thee, Alaric St. Valerie-blush for thy weakness, and thy insensate, headstrong passion! Degenerate son of a noble true-hearted sire, well dost thou deserve the fate rendered inevitable by thy own misdoing! Would ye allow your higher instincts to be cajoled and influenced by an unprincipled coquette ? Oh, fie upon ye! Would ye credit the word of an erring woman against the assertion of a dying brother! Think'st thou so lightly of thy own flesh and blood ? Oh, treble shame! For thee I've neither pity nor regard. Hear the truth."

“No, no, no-not the truth !” almost screamed Estelle, falling upon her knees, and clasping the hands of the unmoved stranger. “Keep it hidden-keep it hidden! Oh, spare me, spare me! Not the truth !”

“ It must be.”

“ Albert, Albert, hear me! I have wronged thee-him-many more, whose accounts are treasured up against me in the world to come ; but show me mercy, mercy, mercy! Do not speak the truth-it will kill me !"

“Women such as thou art but deserve to die,” said the stranger, sternly.

“I know it-I know it," pleaded the stricken beauty; "but visit not on me the full extent of my iniquity. Keep from him the knowledge of the truth. I bind myself to submission. I will do anything—everything, only spare me from this exposure before the only man I ever—" Her voice choked, and her words became unintelligible in the violence of emotion which evidenced itself in a succession of suppressed hysterical sobs.

“ The only man that ever awakened in your bosom the germ of human feeling," said the stranger, taking up and completing her unfinished sentence. “ Touched at last, proud, selfish woman, touched to the heart's core! The shaft of thy own murderous weapon, sped at others, hath rebounded on thyself. Retribution hath come slowly but unerringly, to appease the souls of the injured whose bodies are mouldering in the grave. Why should I spare thee-to recover from this thy short-lived prostration, and commence anew thy course of mischief? No! The bolt must fall. Alaric St. Valerie,”-turning to where our hero was standing, apprehensive and bewildered—" by a right which is unalienable as indisputable, I command you to cease all further attentions to the Duchess of St Clair. One man alone has a title to administer to her wants, to one man alone can her heart legitimately extend allegiance—he stands before you."

“Ah," exclaimed (St. Valerie, starting forward in alarm, “what title? What mean you ?”

“Mercy, mercy !" shrieked Estelle, falling prostrate at the feet of her terrible denouncer.

“My meaning shall be explicit," said the stranger, looking at St. Valerie, and unheeding the action of the agonised St. Clair. “You seek the hand of the Duchess of the Emeralds—that hand is not in her own free gift."

“ It has already accepted a purchaser.”

“For heaven's sake,” gasped St. Valerie, looking at the other with a wild, almost maniacal glance, " by what authority do you speak ? Who are you?”

“ The husband of St. Clair."

“ 'Tis false !” shouted St. Valerie, darting forward as if to grasp his informant by the throat ; " 'tis false,a weak fabrication-a lie! I'll not believe it. Wretch! give me proof, or—"

As he was in the act of springing forward, a second figure emerged from the further end of the tent, and intercepted itself between the enraged lover and his unmoved antagonist. The form was that of a female, of a tall, commanding person, apparently somewhat past the middle age of life, dressed in long black drapery, and carrying in her mien an air of authority that at once awed the young man, causing him to drop his uplifted hand, and assume an attitude of quiet deferential attention.

“You require proof,” she said with quiet dignity; "it is a just demand, and shall be satisfied. See here"-producing papers from under her veil—“the legal documents of marriage, together with a written acknowledgment, containing the personal signature of the Duchess of St. Clair.”

At the sound of a female voice, Estelle had raised herself from her supine posture on the ground, and was gazing with a fearful penetrating glance into the features of the new-comer. Gathering around her the folds of her dress, she crawled up to the side of the feminine intruder, and said, in a tone of smothered intensity

“I know you. It was a well-acted disguise — I never suspected the truth. My Nubian slave—the Lady of Van Cour's Island. It was you who abstracted the documents, it was you"

“It was,” proudly assented the Lady of Van Cour's Island, drawing up her figure to its full height. “It was I who abstracted those documents, Duchess of St. Clair. Do you remember our last meeting? Do you remember the fatal event which caused me to seek thy hated presence ? False-hearted woman! Do you remember also Anselmo Van Cour, whom you beguiled, believing and unsuspecting, as you did subsequently Herbert St. Valerie, into the web of your fatal fascination ? Do you remember the agony, o'ertopping the fear of death, that prompted him, when deserted by thy treacherous smile, to throw himself headlong from our castle's turret into the yawning moat beneath ? Do you remember when, even by my order, his mangled bleeding body was carried before the gates of thy ducal palace, and thy hired, sycophant soldiery were ashamed to say us nay? Do you remember when the next day I sought thee here in this very tent, and assured thee that

« PreviousContinue »