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Title: The Viking's Skull
Author: Carling, John R.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Viking's Skull" ***

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The Viking's Skull

[Illustration]



The Viking's Skull

By
John R. Carling
_Author of "The Shadow of the Czar," etc., etc._

Boston
Little, Brown, and Company
1904



_Copyright, 1903, 1904_
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

_All rights reserved_

Published March, 1904


HUBLEY PRINTING CO. L'T'D
TYPESETTERS AND ELECTROTYPERS
YORK, PA., U. S. A.

PRESSWORK BY
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.



Contents

                        PROLOGUE

CHAPTER                                            PAGE
    I.   "THE ENGLISH LADY"                           1

   II.   THE RUNIC RING                              11

  III.   A RETROSPECT                                18

   IV.   TRAGEDY!                                    26


                       THE STORY

    I.   THE RAVENGARS OF RAVENHALL                  44

   II.   THE MYSTERY OF THE RELIQUARY                57

  III.   IDRIS REDIVIVUS                             70

   IV.   THE SECRET OF THE RUNIC RING                82

    V.   "THE SHADOW OF THE OFT-CARRIED THRONE"      92

   VI.   "THE FIRES OF THE ASAS!"                   106

  VII.   "WITHIN THE LOFTY TOMB"                    119

 VIII.   LORELIE RIVIÈRE                            132

   IX.   IDRIS MEETS A RIVAL                        150

    X.   A LITTLE PIECE OF STEEL                    165

   XI.   THE LEGEND OF THE RUNIC RING               178

  XII.   IDRIS DECLARES HIS LOVE                    197

 XIII.   AT LORELIE'S VILLA                         209

  XIV.   TOLD BY THE VASE                           232

   XV.   A PACKET OF OLD LETTERS                    245

  XVI.   LORELIE AT RAVENHALL                       264

 XVII.   THE SECRET OF THE FUNERAL CRYPT            277

XVIII.  A CRANIOLOGICAL EXPERIMENT                  300

  XIX.  THE VENGEANCE OF THE SKULL                  318

   XX. FINALE                                       344



List of Illustrations


"The humming sea, as if bent on securing its victims,
came foaming with threatening rapidity"            _Frontispiece_

"A dagger flashed from beneath his cloak"               _Page_ 33

"A cry of surprise, rather than of alarm, broke from
him, as he caught sight of a full-sized human skeleton
lying within"                                             "   123

"'By the sacred ring of Odin, stolen by you from
Edith Breakspear, I adjure you, speak! Whose
skull is this?'"                                          "   336



THE VIKING'S SKULL



PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I

"THE ENGLISH LADY"


On one of the granitic peninsulas of Western Brittany stands the
little town of Quilaix, situated in a hollow facing the sea. To the
ordinary tourist the place presents few features of interest beyond
its ivy-mantled church, whose doors bear the counterfeit presentment
of fishes carved in oak: which fact, when added to the name of the
edifice--_La Chapelle des Pêcheurs_--serves to indicate the general
occupation of the inhabitants.

For the convenience of the fisher-folk an L-shaped stone pier has been
raised in the sea. The duty of watching over this structure, whose
stability was often threatened by the fury of the Atlantic, pertained
to Paul Marais, familiarly known as "Old Pol," who, to his office of
harbour-master added likewise that of collector of the customs.

Paul Marais dwelt in the street called, perhaps by way of satire,
La Grande. His house was a quaint mixture of timber and stone, with
dormer lattices set in the red tiles of the roof. It leaned against its
neighbour for support, with every doorway and window-frame out of the
perpendicular. Yet it had stood firm during three centuries, and would
probably continue to stand during as many more.

One chill afternoon in March Old Pol was sauntering to and fro in
front of his house, thoughtfully smoking a pipe. After half an hour
spent in this pleasant idling he suddenly quickened his pace and
entered his abode, passing to the parlour with its red-tiled sanded
floor, where, around the bright polished _chaufferette_ sat Madame
Marais and three or four old dames, all busily knitting, and all
enjoying those pleasures dear to the heart of every Breton woman, to
wit, cider and gossip.

"Celestine," said Pol, "the diligence is coming."

"Paul Marais," replied his wife with tart dignity, "don't be a fool."

And Pol, expecting no other answer, whistled softly and withdrew.

To explain madame's reproof it is necessary to state that two or three
years previously a gentleman calling himself a count had visited
Quilaix, and, charmed with the old-world air of the place, had dwelt in
Pol's house for the space of six months.

The handsome profit derived by Pol on this occasion disposed him to
look forward to the coming of other visitors: but, alas! Quilaix is too
obscure to be mentioned in the ordinary manuals issued for the guidance
of tourists. The count's sojourn was an exception to the normal course
of events.

Nevertheless Pol would not abandon hope; and, day by day, he awaited
the arrival of the diligence, for the purpose of inviting the chance
stranger to his own dwelling, before any other person should have the
opportunity of appropriating him.

"Everything comes to the man who waits," muttered Pol to himself, as he
watched the distant vehicle swaying its zigzag course down the hillside
road. "This diligence is perhaps bringing me a visitor. Who can tell?"

Twilight drew on; and, as the lamplighter was preparing the
illumination of La Rue Grande by the primitive method of fixing an
oil-lantern to the middle of a rope slung across the street, the
diligence came up, but instead of going on as usual to the _auberge_ in
the little market square, the driver stopped short in front of Pol's
house, and there alighted a young lady accompanied by a little boy, a
child of two years.

"Madame Marais lives here?" she asked with an inquiring glance at Pol.

"My wife's name," replied Pol. He pocketed his pipe, doffed his
cap, and bowed profoundly. "Permit me to lead you to her.--By the
saints," he muttered to himself, "a boarder at last, or may I lose my
harbour-mastership. Now, Celestine, it is my turn to laugh at you."

The young lady, holding the child by the hand, followed Pol to the
parlour.

"God bless you all, great and small," she said, using the greeting
customary in that part of Brittany.

"Heaven bless you, too, stranger, whoever you may be," replied all, as
they rose and curtsied.

This intercourse was conducted in the Breton tongue, the guttural
voices of Madame Marais and her companions forming a marked contrast
with the sweet voice of the stranger.

"Can one have apartments here? The _voiturier_ has assured me that one
can."

Pol, about to reply with an eager affirmative, was checked by a glance
from his more cautious spouse, who was not disposed to give herself
away too easily or too cheaply.

"It is not our custom to accommodate visitors," she replied, speaking
with great dignity. "At least, not as a rule. But still with a little
trouble we might arrange. How many rooms does madame require. Would
four be----"

"That number will do. Will you let me see them?"

After a brief inspection the lady expressed her approval, being
especially pleased with the sitting-room, an apartment marked by a
charming air of antiquity. The oak flooring and pannelling were black
with age. Within the huge fireplace an ox could have been roasted
whole. Over the carved mantel was a boar's head, a trophy gained by Pol
in a hunting expedition among the Breton hills. On a dark oaken press
an ivory crucifix, browned by time, imparted a sort of solemnity to the
place.

Terms were arranged; and the lady's luggage was brought in and
deposited up-stairs by the strong arm of Pol himself.

"How long is madame likely to remain here?" asked the harbour-master's
wife, lingering with her hand on the handle of the sitting-room door.

"Months. Years, perhaps," replied the stranger with a sad smile. "That
is," she went on, "if you are willing to let me stay so long."

"And madame's name is----?"

"Edith Breakspear."

"Breakspear? Then madame is not French?" exclaimed the harbour-master's
wife, wondering to what nationality she should ascribe the name.

"No, I am English," said the lady, with a faint touch of pride in her
voice.

"Madame speaks the Breton like an angel."

"I have lived a long time in Brittany."

"Ah! madame loves Brittany," said the other, who like all Bretons was
intensely patriotic. "The climate reminds her of her own land. We
Bretons came from England. Centuries ago. And when we came we brought
the weather with us. Is it not so?"

And with these words she smiled herself out of the room, and went
down-stairs to discuss the event with her cronies.

"She is going to pay me four Napoleons a week. Think of that now! It is
more than the count ever gave. _Ah, ciel!_ but if I had been wearing my
best Sunday cap with its point lace and gold embroidery I could have
asked double. But how could one ask more with only a plain white cap
on, and a necklace of blue beads?"

As may be guessed, the coming of a stranger into the little world of
Quilaix set the tongues of all the gossips wagging. The men were as
much interested as the women, and various were the surmises of the
nightly frequenters of the _Auberge des Pêcheurs_ as to her previous
history. But of this they could learn nothing. Mrs. Breakspear let fall
no word as to her past, and even Madame Marais' keen eyes failed to
penetrate the veil of mystery that undoubtedly hung around "The English
lady."

Mrs. Breakspear had not seen more than twenty-one summers; she was
in truth so girlish in appearance that the people of Quilaix could
scarcely bring their lips to use the matronly "Madame," but more
frequently addressed her as "Mademoiselle." It was clear that some
secret sorrow was casting its shadow over her young life. Her pale
face and subdued air, the sad expression in her eyes, were the visible
tokens of a grief, too strong to be repressed or forgotten.

As she was always dressed in black the gossips concluded that she was
in mourning, the general opinion being that she had recently lost
her husband, though a few ill-natured persons sneered at the word
"husband," in spite of her gold wedding-ring.

Mrs. Breakspear made no attempt to form friendships. Firmly, yet
without hauteur, she repelled all advances, from whatever quarter they
came. She seemed to desire no other companionship than that of her
child, Idris. He was evidently the one being that reconciled her to
life.

Thus passed five years: and Mrs. Breakspear, though still as great a
mystery as ever to the people of Quilaix, ceased to occupy the chief
place in their gossip.

Idris was now seven years old, a handsome little fellow, endowed with
an intelligence beyond his years.

His education was undertaken solely by his mother, concerning whom the
opinion went, that, in the matter of learning, she was equal, if not
superior, to Monsieur le Curé, the only other person in the place with
any pretensions to scholarship.

At the back of Quilaix rises the moorland, an extensive wind-swept
region, blossoming in early summer with the beautiful broom that
furnished our first Plantagenet with his crest and surname. Over this
brown, purple-dotted expanse run two white lines intersecting each
other in the shape of the letter X. These lines indicate the only two
roads over the moor; and, just at the point of intersection, there
stands an irregular block of grey stone buildings.

The part of the moorland immediately above the town was the usual
place of study, that is, whenever the day was warm and sunny. Then,
mother and son would climb to some high point, and seat themselves on
the grass; and while the boy, with the breeze of heaven lifting the
curls from his temples, would endeavour to fix his eyes on his books,
Mrs. Breakspear would fix hers on the grey stone building. Nothing
else on land or sea seemed to have any interest for her. The distant
and beautiful hills would often change their colour from grey to
violet beneath the alternation of sunshine and cloud: ships with their
fair sails set would glide daily from the haven of Quilaix; bands of
Catholic pilgrims, bound for some local shrine, would occasionally
cross the moorland, carrying banners and singing hymns: sea-gulls would
wheel their screaming flight aloft: trout leap and gleam in the brook
at her feet. But Mrs. Breakspear had eyes for none of these things. Her
attention, when not given to Idris and his book, was set upon the lone,
dun edifice.

On certain days human figures, dwarfed by the distance, would issue
from the building, spreading themselves in little groups over the
landscape; and, after remaining out some hours, would return upon the
firing of a gun. At such times Mrs. Breakspear would clasp her hands
and gaze wistfully on the distant moving figures.

One day her emotion was too great to escape the boy's notice: and,
following the direction of her eyes, he said, speaking in English, the
language used by them when alone:--

"Mother, what are those men doing?"

"They are quarrying stone."

"What for?"

"Well, to make churches with, for one thing," replied the mother, with
a curious smile.

"What! churches like that?"

And Idris pointed to the _Chapelle des Pêcheurs_, which glowed in the
setting sunlight like sculptured bronze.

"Yes: they quarry the stone and shape it into blocks, which are then
sent to Nantes, or Paris, or wherever wanted, and fitted together."

Idris was silent for a few moments, turning the information over in his
mind.

"They must be good men to make churches," he presently remarked.

"On the contrary, they are bad men."

Idris was puzzled at this, being evidently of opinion that the
character of the work sanctified the workers.

"Then why do they cut stone for churches?"

"Because they are made to do so by other men who watch to see that the
work is done."

Idris becoming more puzzled at this compulsory state of labour,
returned to the moral character of the workers.

"Are they _all_ bad--every one?"

"No; not all," exclaimed his mother, with an energy that quite
surprised the little fellow. "There is one there who is the best, the
truest, the noblest of men."

Her eyes sparkled, and a beautiful colour burned on her cheek. She sat
with a proud air as if defying the world to say the contrary.

"Is he as good as father was?"

"About the same," replied Mrs. Breakspear, her features softening into
a smile.

"Why, you have said that no one was ever so good as father."

"Have I? Well, this man is. There is no difference between them."

"If he is so good, why has he to work among all those bad men?"

"Some day, child, you shall know," replied his mother, folding him
within her arms. "Don't ask any more questions, Idie."

"Why doesn't he run away?" persisted the little fellow.

"Because soldiers are there, who would shoot him down if he tried to
escape," said Mrs. Breakspear with a shudder. "Come, let us be going.
It is growing cold. See how the mist is rising!"

The boom of a distant gun was rolling faintly over the moorland. A fog
creeping up from the sea curtained the prison from view as they turned
to descend the slope that led to Quilaix.

It was market-day. Buying and selling had now come to an end, but many
persons still lingered in the square, chiefly natives from remote
districts. "Robinson Crusoes," Idris called them, nor was the name
inappropriate. Clad in garments of goatskin with the hairy side
turned outwards, and with long tresses hanging like manes from beneath
their broad-brimmed hats, they might have been taken for wild men of
the woods: a wildness that was in appearance only, for no one is more
tender-hearted than the Breton peasant.

Suddenly there was a movement among them, and it could be seen
that they were forming a circle around a man who had just made his
appearance. The maidens, who were beating and washing clothes in the
stream that flowed along one side of the square, ceased their work and
came running up to the circle, their wooden sabots sounding upon the
stone pavement.

The cause of all this commotion was a man belonging to a class,
formerly more common in Brittany than nowadays, the class called Kloers
or itinerant minstrels, who recite verses of their own composing upon
any topic that happens to be uppermost in the public mind, accompanying
their rude improvisation upon the three-stringed rebec.

"It is André the Kloer," cried Idris gleefully, who had caught a
glimpse of the minstrel. "Let us listen. He will tell us some fine
stories."

The Kloer having glanced towards the ground at his hat, which contained
several sous, said:--

"For your help, friends, many thanks. I will now recite '_The Ballad of
the Ring_,' a ballad dealing with a murder that happened some years ago
at Nantes."

The minstrel spoke in the language of the province, a language which
Idris understood as well as any Breton boy of his own age. The word
"murder" gave promise of something exciting. He glanced up at his
mother, supposing that she, too, would be equally interested in the
coming story: but, to his surprise, he saw that her face had become
whiter than usual--that it wore a strange look, a look of fear, a look
he had never before seen. The hand that held his own was trembling,
and, in a voice so changed from its ordinary tone as to be scarcely
recognizable, she said:--

"Home, Idie, let us go home."

Suddenly the Kloer paused in the midst of his speaking. A tender
expression came over his face; a gentle light shone from his eyes, and
with hand solemnly uplifted, he said:--

"Christian brethren, ere we go further let us all say a _Pater_ and a
_De Profundis_ for the assassin as well as for his victim."

In a moment his hearers with spontaneous and genuine piety were
kneeling upon the pavement, their heads bowed, their hats doffed, while
the Kloer, after making the sign of the cross, began to say the prayers.

As Idris and his mother alone remained standing the attention of the
minstrel was naturally drawn to them. No sooner did his eyes fall upon
Mrs. Breakspear than a change came over him. His look of solemnity was
succeeded by one of wonderment, and after stammering out a few broken
phrases, which, though intended as pious petitions to Heaven, conveyed
scarcely any meaning to his hearers, he brought his prayer to an abrupt
conclusion.

"Good folk," he cried, "I will not give you '_The Ballad of the Ring_.'
It is too mournful. It would sadden the hearts of some who are present."

Mrs. Breakspear tightened her grasp on the wrist of Idris, and, much to
his grief, drew him away from the presence of the Kloer, and hurried
him onward to Pol's house.



CHAPTER II

THE RUNIC RING


That same evening Idris lay reading on the hearth-rug before a bright
fire. Since their return from the moorland he had found his mother
unusually quiet, and he had therefore turned for companionship to his
favourite book, "_The Life of King Alfred_." Having reared the volume
against a footstool he rested his elbows upon the floor, and his chin
upon his hands, and in this attitude was soon absorbed in the doings of
the Saxon hero.

Suddenly he looked up and addressed his mother, who was sitting in an
armchair watching him.

"Mother, what are runes?"

What was there in this simple question to startle Mrs. Breakspear, for
startled she certainly was?

"Why do you wish to know? Who has been talking to you about runes?"

"This book says that the Vikings used to carve runes on the prows of
their galleys. What _are_ runes?"

The mother's face lost its look of alarm, yet it was with some
hesitancy that she replied, "They were letters used in olden times by
the nations of the north."

"But how could letters carved on the prow protect the vessel?"

What a pair of earnest dark eyes were those fixed that moment upon the
mother's face!

"Well, as a matter of fact, they couldn't. But men fancied that they
could. They were very superstitious in those days."

As Idris showed a desire for further knowledge, his mother
continued:--"The old Norsemen believed that these letters when
pronounced in a certain order would have a magical effect. Some runes
would stop the course of the wind: others would cause an enemy's sword
to break. Some would make the captive's chains fall off: and others
again would cause the dead to come forth from the tomb and speak. But
you know, dear Idie, all this is not true. The runic letters have no
such power. But the old Norse people believed so much in the virtue
of these characters that they engraved them on the walls of their
dwellings, on their armour, on their ships, on anything, in fact, which
they wished to protect."

"Were these letters like ours in shape?"

"Very different. You would like to see some Norse runes?"

Mrs. Breakspear rose, and going to an oak press produced a small ebony
casket, whose exterior was decorated with miniature carvings of Norse
warriors engaged in combat.

Seating herself upon the hearth-rug beside the little fellow she
unlocked the casket and lifted the lid. Within, upon the blue satin
lining, there lay a silver ring, measuring about eight inches in
circumference, and obviously of antique workmanship.

"This," said Mrs. Breakspear, "is a very old runic ring."

"How old?"

"More than two thousand years old. Tradition says that it was made by
Odin himself. Do you know who he was, Idie?"

"The book calls him an imaginary deity. What does that mean?"

"It means a god who never lived."

"Then how can the ring have been made by Odin if there never was an
Odin?"

"Odin, the god, is, of course, a fable; but Odin, the man, may have
had a real existence. He was, so the wise tell us, a warrior, priest,
and king of the North, who after death was worshipped as a deity.
The legend states that, having made up his mind to die, Odin gave to
himself nine wounds in the form of a circle, guiding the point of his
spear by this ring, which was laid on his breast for that purpose. The
ring thus became sacred in the eyes of his children and descendants:
and they showed their reverence for it by using it as an altar-ring in
their religious ceremonies. Guthrum, the famous Danish warrior, was of
Odin's race, and this is said to have been the identical holy ring,
celebrated in history, upon which he and his Vikings swore to quit the
kingdom of Alfred."

Idris listened with breathless interest. Guthrum! Alfred! Odin! To
think that his mother should possess a ring that had once belonged to
these exalted characters! It was wonderful! If the relic were gifted
with memory and speech what an interesting story it might unfold!

He turned the ring over in his hands. How massive it was! None of your
modern, hollow bangles, but solid and weighty. The ancient silversmith
had not been sparing of the metal.

"Oh, couldn't we make a lot of franc-pieces out of it!" cried Idris.

The outer perimeter of the ring was enamelled with purple, and
decorated with a four-line inscription of tiny runic letters in gold,
so clear and distinct in outline, that a runologist would have had no
difficulty in reading them; though whether the characters, when read,
would have yielded any meaning, is a different matter.

"Are these the runes?" asked Idris, pointing to them. "What funny
looking things! Here is one like an arrow, and here it is again, and
again. Why, some of them _are_ like our letters. Here is one like a B,
and here is an R, and an X. What does all this writing mean, mother?"

"No one has ever yet been able to interpret it. When you are older,
Idie, you shall study runes, and then perhaps you will be able to
explain the meaning."

Idris knitted his little brows over the inscription as if desirous of
solving the enigma there and then, without waiting till manhood's days.

"Did Odin engrave these letters?" he asked.

"He may have done so. He is said to have been the inventor of runes,
you know."

As Idris turned the ring around in his hand his eye became attracted by
a broad, black stain on the inner perimeter.

"What is this dark mark?"

His mother hesitated ere replying:--

"It is perhaps a blood-stain."

"Why isn't it red like blood?"

"A blood-stain soon turns black. I have said that this was an
altar-ring. Let me tell you what is meant by that. You know if you go
into _La Chapelle des Pêcheurs_ you will see upon the altar a--what,
Idie?"

"A crucifix," was the prompt reply.

"Well, if you had gone into any temple of the Northmen--and their
temples were often nothing more than a circle of tall stones in the
depth of a forest--you would have seen on their altar a large silver
ring. And just as Catholics nowadays kiss a crucifix and swear to speak
the truth, so in old Norse times men employed a ring for the same
purpose. Before they took the oath the ring was dipped in the blood of
the sacrifice. Then if a man broke his word it was believed that the
god to whom the sacrifice had been offered would most surely punish
him."

The book that Idris had been reading contained an account of the Norse
mode of sacrificing: and so with his eye still on the dark stain, he
said:--

"Mother, didn't the old Norsemen sometimes offer up men on their
altars?"

"Sometimes they did."

"Then this stain may be a man's blood?"

"It is very likely."

"Perhaps the very blood of Odin, made when he gave himself the nine
wounds," said Idris, in a tone of glee, and fascinated by the ring, as
children often are fascinated by things gruesome. "What a long time the
stain has lasted! But it can't be Odin's blood," he continued, with
an air of mournfulness: "the stain would have worn off long ago.--I
_would_ like to know whose blood it is!"

"Hush! Hush! We do not yet know that it _is_ human blood. Come, you
must not talk any more about such dreadful things."

And sensible that the conversation had taken a turn not at all suited
to a tender mind, Mrs. Breakspear tried to divert his thoughts. Putting
away the altar-ring, she seated herself beside him, and drawing
him partly within her embrace, she said, "Now what shall I talk
about?"--which was her usual preface when beginning his instruction in
history, geography, and the like.

"Tell me about Vikings--_all_ about them," he replied with the air of
one capable of taking in the whole cycle of Scandinavian lore.

As Mrs. Breakspear had made a study of Northern history, she was able
to gratify her little son's request by regaling him with a variety of
tales drawn from Icelandic sagas and early Saxon chronicles. For more
than two hours Idris sat entranced, listening to the doings, good and
bad, of the famous sea-kings of old.

"I wish," he cried, when his mother had finished her stories for the
night, "I wish _I_ were a Viking, like _Mr._ Rollo and _Mr_. Eric the
Red. It would be fine."

For several days Idris would listen to no history that did not relate
to Vikings. He took likewise to drawing Norse galleys from his
mother's description of them, giving to every vessel the orthodox
raven-standard, dragon-prow, and a row of shields hung all around above
the water-line. And he somewhat startled the good Curé of Quilaix, who
had made a morning-call upon Mrs. Breakspear: for when told to hand the
reverend gentleman a glass of wine, he held the drink aloft with the
cry of "Skoal to the Northland, skoal!" adding immediately afterwards,
"Runes! runes! I wish some one would teach me how to read runes. Won't
you, monsieur?"

Runes! Monsieur le Curé had had a reputation for scholarship once
upon a time: but thirty years incessantly spent in doing good among
the people of his parish had left him so little time for study that
he could now read his Greek Testament only by the aid of the French
translation.

"And why do you wish to learn runes, my little man?" he said, patting
the boy on the head.

"Because--because----" began Idris; but, observing that his mother was
pressing her finger upon her lip as a sign for him to be silent, he
stopped short, and Mrs. Breakspear adroitly turned the conversation to
other matters. After the departure of the Curé, she said:--

"Idie, you must never let any one know that we have that runic ring in
our possession."

"Why not?" he asked in surprise.

"Because there are men who desire to lay their hands upon it, and if
they learn that it is in this house they may try to steal it; nay, will
perhaps kill us in order to obtain it. The ring has been the cause of
one murder, and if you speak of it out of doors it may be the cause
of another. Remember, then, you must not mention the ring to any one.
Remember, remember!"



CHAPTER III

A RETROSPECT


Idris slept in a room the window of which, being a dormer one,
overlooked the roofs of the other houses, and gave him an interrupted
view of the sea.

One morning, as soon as he had drawn the curtain, he came running to
his mother's room with the news:--

"Oh, mother, come and look. There's a pretty little ship in the bay."

So, to please him, Mrs. Breakspear stepped from her _lit clos_, or
cupboard bed, and stole, even as she was, in her night-robe, to take a
view of the vessel.

"See, there it is," cried Idris, excitedly pointing it out. "Is it a
Viking ship, mother?"

"There are no Vikings nowadays," was the reply, a reply which Idris
took as a proof of the degeneracy of the times. "It is a yacht."

As this term conveyed no more enlightenment to Idris' mind than if she
had said that it was a quinquereme, he naturally asked, "What is a
yacht?"

The explanation was deferred till breakfast-time, when his mother
entered into the meaning of the term. Idris made a somewhat hasty meal,
being eager to run off to the quay for the purpose of taking a nearer
view of the newly-arrived vessel.

Dancing down the stairs of the old house into the street he made for
the end of the stone pier, and sitting down at the head of the steps
he took a long survey of the yacht, wondering whether it equalled in
point of swiftness and beauty the famous _Long Serpent_ of Olaf, built
by that master-shipwright, Thorberg.

A boat was rapidly making its way from the vessel to the harbour. Idris
recognized it as the revenue-cutter, at the tiller of which sat Old Pol
himself.

"Ha! Master Idris," he said, as soon as he had mounted the stairs,
"what a pity you were not out an hour earlier! You could then have gone
with us to yon vessel." And then, turning to those who had accompanied
him, he remarked: "So Captain Rochefort is the owner of that yacht.
Well, everybody has heard of him: one of the bravest in the Emperor's
service, and an officer of the Legion of Honour. Nothing wrong with
that craft, eh, Baptiste?"

"Humph!" growled the man addressed, a grizzled old coastguard with a
saturnine cast of countenance. "So they have put Captain Rochefort
ashore at Port St. Remé, and he is coming on foot to Quilaix. But if
the Captain wants to visit Quilaix, why does he not come with the
yacht, instead of walking over the moorland?"

"Why, Baptiste, you talk like one who is suspicious," remarked Pol in
surprise.

"And I _am_ suspicious. There's something wrong in the wind.
Harbour-master, listen to me. As everybody in Quilaix is going to the
Pardon to-day the town will be deserted until a late hour. The night
will be dark, as this is the time of no moon. Captain Rochefort has
been put ashore in order to signal the favourable moment. They are
going to run a cargo."

This statement was received by Pol with a burst of laughter.

"Baptiste, you talk like a fool. What cargo can such a small craft
carry? Besides, they have no cargo. Did we not overhaul her thoroughly?
Captain Rochefort a contrabandist! A military officer hazard his
reputation in a smuggling venture! Impossible! He would have
everything to lose and nothing to gain by such a course."

Baptiste, by a shake of his head, implied that he was not to be moved
from his opinion.

"Very well, Baptiste, since you are so suspicious, we had better put
you on the watch for the next twenty-four hours."

"I intend to watch, whether put on or not. And by the key of Saint
Tugean I shall have discovered something before to-morrow morning
comes."

"Undoubtedly. You will discover that you would have acted more wisely
by going with us to the Pardon to-day. That's the ticket for me. Life
is sad: then let us not miss any of its gaieties. And in all Finistère
there are no pancakes and cider like those of St. Remé."

The rest of the coastguard, murmuring their approval of these
sentiments, dispersed in order to prepare for the Pardon, or
church-festival, to be held that day in a distant village; of which
festival the harbour-master's wife had, on the previous evening, drawn
so pleasant a forecast in the hearing of Idris, that the little fellow
had felt great disappointment on learning that his mother intended to
take no part in the celebration.

Madame Marais had been somewhat troubled by the question as to how
her tenant's meals were to be prepared during her absence, but Mrs.
Breakspear had solved this difficulty by offering to arrange for
herself.

Meantime Idris, still at the head of the pier-steps, continued his
survey of the vessel.

A piece of canvas hanging over the taffrail was suddenly drawn up by a
sailor on board, an act that enabled Idris to see the name of the yacht
painted in big black letters.

_N-E-M-E-S-I-S._

_Nemesis!_ This was a word new to him. He had known sailors call
their boats _Marie_, _Isabelle_, _Jeanne_, and the like, with various
epithets prefixed, as _jolie_, _belle_, and _petite_, but never
_Nemesis_. He could not tell whether it was the name of man or woman:
so, on returning home, he sought enlightenment of his mother.

"It's a curious name to give to a ship," commented the little fellow
thoughtfully, after Mrs. Breakspear had tried to explain the meaning of
the term. "Why do they call it that? Are they going to take vengeance
on somebody?"

Shortly afterwards Madame Marais came out of her house, wearing
the wonderful lace cap that had descended to her through several
generations. Leaning upon the arm of Old Pol, who was likewise
gorgeously arrayed, she moved off in great state to take her place in
the line of the procession which, under the direction of Monsieur le
Curé, was slowly forming before the porch of _La Chapelle des Pêcheurs_.

When all preliminaries had been satisfactorily completed, the
simple-hearted peasants, with flags flying and pipes playing, set off
on their pilgrimage, walking at a somewhat leisurely pace, for your
true Breton is seldom in a hurry.

Idris, regretting that he could not accompany them, clambered to an
eminence on the moorland, where, aided by his mother's opera-glasses,
he watched the course of the procession till it faded from view.

Nearly everybody in Quilaix had gone off to this Pardon. All the shops
were closed, and the town was as silent as on a Sunday morning during
the time of high mass. A few of the fishermen and of the coastguard
had indeed remained behind, but these were slumbering in the shadow of
the sardine-boats drawn high up on the beach. From these slumberers
must be excepted old Baptiste Malet, who throughout the day glided to
and fro along the shore, now and then dropping behind a rock to take
a scrutiny of the yacht by the aid of a telescope nearly as long as
himself.

The _Nemesis_ still remained at the point where the anchor had first
been cast. She was certainly a mysterious vessel; none of her occupants
had come ashore: none could be seen on deck. It was quite clear that
for some reason or other the crew shrank from the observation of those
on land.

A gala-day it may have been for others, but for Idris it proved a
somewhat dull time. His mother seemed too much preoccupied to set him
his regular lessons: or perhaps she did not deem it fair to put him to
study while others were festively engaged. She sat during the greater
part of the day turning over the leaves of a large scrapbook filled
with newspaper cuttings--a book which Idris was never permitted to see,
Mrs. Breakspear being accustomed, as soon as her readings were ended,
to lock the volume within a drawer of the old oak press. She had read
these extracts so often as to be able to recite the greater part of
them by heart: nevertheless, she continued to con them daily, as if
they were quite new to her, though their perusal must have given her
pain.

The first of these newspaper extracts was a long article from the
journal _L'Étoile de la Bretagne_, worded as follows:--


"Let us review the facts of this remarkable case.

"Eric Marville is a gentleman of English birth who settled at Nantes in
the spring of 1866. Of handsome person and polished manners, speaking
our language with the ease of a native, and recently married to a rich
and beautiful wife, M. Marville soon became a favourite in the higher
circles of Nantes society. The Armorique Club, the most fashionable
of its kind, admitted him to membership. It would have been well had
M. Marville never entered the salons of this establishment, since it
was here that he first met Henri Duchesne. The latter by all accounts
was a professional gamester, though up to the present time nothing
dishonourable has been proved in connection with his play.

"From the very first these two men, Eric Marville and Henri Duchesne,
for some unknown reason, appear to have been in a state of secret
hostility to each other, hostility which finally developed into open
rupture. A remark uttered by Marville one evening, and doubtless
uttered with no ill intent, on the wonderful luck attending M. Duchesne
at cards, was interpreted by the latter as a reflection upon his mode
of playing, and he immediately challenged the other to a duel. M.
Marville merely shrugged his shoulders with the words:--'It is not the
fashion of my countrymen, monsieur, to fight a duel over trifles.' 'Do
you call the honour of my name a trifle?' exclaimed Duchesne, at the
same time contemptuously flinging a glass of wine in Marville's face.

"In a moment the club was in an uproar, the friends of each striving
to keep the two men apart, an object successfully accomplished. All
efforts, however, to effect a reconciliation failed, and the two men
left the club avowedly enemies.

"The next evening M. Marville was again present at the Amorique Club,
but, confining himself to the newspapers and political gossip, took no
part in the play that went on. M. Duchesne was likewise present, and
entered the lists against M. Montagne, a young lieutenant of Chasseurs.
The usual good fortune attended Duchesne, and his opponent having lost
all the money upon his person, said:--'I have one more stake, if M.
Duchesne does not object to play against it.' And with these words
Montagne drew forth a large silver circlet having every appearance,
according to an antiquary who was present, of being an altar-ring, such
as was used in the religious rites of ancient Scandinavia.

"M. Marville, happening to set eyes upon this circlet, became
singularly agitated; and, stepping up to the table where the two men
were at play, he said, addressing Montagne: 'How came you by that
ring?' M. Montagne, absorbed in the play, or perhaps deeming the
question an impertinent one, made no reply. The play resulted in the
transference of the ring to the pockets of M. Duchesne, who shortly
afterwards took his departure. Five minutes later M. Marville likewise
quitted the club, and, on being asked by a friend why he left earlier
than usual, replied:--'To recover my ring.'

"Two hours afterwards, a _sergent-de-ville_, going his accustomed
round, heard cries for help coming from the Place Graslin, and on
running to the spot found M. Duchesne lying on the pavement with blood
flowing from a wound in the breast. M. Marville was kneeling beside him
and calling for help.

"The injured man was at once removed to the adjacent surgery of M.
Rosaire, who, upon examination, found that life had fled.

"The body was conveyed to the Préfecture, accompanied by M. Marville,
who gave evidence as to the finding of it. His statement amounted to no
more than that in walking homewards he had come by accident upon the
body of the fallen man.

"The high position held by M. Marville, and his plausible explanation
of the situation in which he had been found by the _sergent-de-ville_,
prevented the authorities from attaching suspicion to him, and on
giving his recognizances to appear when required, M. Marville was
allowed to depart.

"But the investigations carried on next day gave a different turn to
the affair. The quarrel at the Armorique Club and the threatening
language of the two men were recalled. Marville's remark on leaving
the club in the wake of M. Duchesne to the effect that he was going
to recover the ring seemed to supply an additional motive for the
deed, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that though
M. Duchesne's money and jewellery were untouched the ring itself was
missing.

"But the most significant circumstance of all was the finding of the
dagger with which the murder had been effected. Shown to M. Lenoir,
the well-known dealer in antiquities, whose establishment is in the
Rue Crébillon, he identified it as one that had been purchased from
him by M. Marville on the morning of the day on which the crime took
place. The weapon is an Italian stiletto, one warranted to have
belonged originally to the famous bravo, Michele Pezza, better known
to frequenters of the opera as Fra Diavolo. M. Lenoir mentioned this
circumstance as he handed the weapon to the purchaser, adding:--'It is
a dagger that has shed the blood of Frenchmen.'--'And may do so again,'
was the singular reply of M. Marville.

"These circumstances seem to justify the arrest of M. Marville, who now
stands charged with the murder of M. Duchesne.

"A peculiar feature of the case is the vanishing of the altar-ring. The
prisoner declines to make any statement respecting it, and though his
house has been searched no trace of it can be discovered."

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Breakspear put away the book with a heavy sigh.

"Ah, Eric!" she murmured. "Will your innocence ever be established?"



CHAPTER IV

TRAGEDY!


Mrs. Breakspear sat by the open casement enjoying the deep beauty of
the evening. The air was still and clear, and over the bay hung one
star sparkling in a sapphire sky.

Idris, seated with her, had eyes for nothing but the yacht _Nemesis_,
which still lay out in the offing, rising and falling with the motion
of the tide, and showing a tiny light at the stern.

"Look, mother!" he cried suddenly. "They are putting out a boat."

By the faint starlight they could see in the boat seven men, one of
whom steered while the rest rowed. Their garb was that of ordinary
French seamen, but Mrs. Breakspear noticed with surprise that each was
armed with cutlass and pistol.

"Why are they not coming to the harbour?" asked Idris, a question which
found an echo in his mother's mind.

The boat glided smoothly on, and finally vanished behind the cliffs to
the east of the town.

"I wonder whether old Baptiste is watching them?" said Idris. "He said
that the men in the yacht were smugglers, and that they would come
ashore this evening. And sure enough they've come."

"If the men in that boat are smugglers, don't you think, Idie, that
they would wait till it is much darker?"

Idris was forced to admit the reasonableness of this remark.

"Why are they all wearing swords? Perhaps they _are_ Vikings, after
all?" he went on, loth to believe that such heroes had vanished from
the earth.

His mother shook her head in mild protest, not knowing that there was
a good deal of latter-day Vikingism in the enterprise that was taking
these seven men ashore.

Now as Mrs. Breakspear sat in the silence and solemnity of the
deepening twilight she became subject to a feeling the like of which
she had never before experienced. A vague awe, a presentiment of coming
ill, stole over her; and, yielding to its influence, she resolved,
before it should be too late, to carry out a purpose she had long had
in mind.

"Idie," she said, closing the casement and moving to the fireplace,
"come and sit here. I have something to tell you."

Wondering much at her grave manner the little fellow obeyed.

"Idie," she began, "you have been taught to believe that your father
died when you were an infant. I have told you this, thinking it right
that you should know nothing of his sad history. But, sooner or later,
you are sure to hear it from others: told, too, in a way that I would
not have you believe. Therefore it is better that you should hear
the story from me: and remember to take these words of mine for your
guidance in all future years: and if men should speak ill of your
father, do not believe them: for who should know him better than I, his
wife?"

She paused for a moment: and Idris, new to this sort of language, made
no reply.

"Idie, your father is _not_ dead."

Idris' eyes became big with wonder.

"Then why doesn't he live with us?" he asked.

"Because," replied his mother, sinking her voice to a whisper, "because
he is in prison."

As prison is a place usually associated with crime, Idris naturally
received a shock, which his mother was not slow to perceive.

"Idie, you know something of history, and therefore you know that many
a good man has found himself in prison before to-day."

"O yes: there was Sir Walter Raleigh, and that Earl of Surrey who was
a poet: and--and--I can't think of any more at present, but I can find
them in the book."

"Well, your father, like many others in history, is suffering unjustly."

"What do they say he did?"

"They say," replied his mother, once more sinking her voice to a
whisper, "they say he committed murder. But he did not: he did not:
he did not. I have his word that he is innocent. I will set his word
against all the rest of the world."

"How long is he to remain in prison?"

"He is never to come out," replied Mrs. Breakspear; and, unable to
control her emotion, she burst into a fit of sobbing.

Idris, touched by the sight of his mother's grief, began to cry also.
Now for the first time he understood why his mother so often wept in
secret. How could men be so cruel as to take his father away from her
and to shut him up in prison for a crime he had not committed?

"Why didn't they put him under the guillotine?" he asked, when his fit
of crying was over.

A natural question, but one that caused his mother to shiver.

"Do not use that awful word," she said. "He was condemned to death, but
the sentence was afterwards changed."

Certain past events were now seen by Idris in a new light.

"Mother, I know in what prison father is. It is the one on the moorland
over there," he exclaimed, indicating the direction with his hand.

"You are right, Idie: and now you know why I live at Quilaix. It is
that I may be near your father. I am happier here--if indeed I may use
the word happy in speaking of myself--than in any other place. I have a
beautiful house at Nantes, but I cannot live there in ease and luxury
while your father is deprived of everything that makes life bright. Now
listen, Idie, for I am going to require of you a solemn promise. Since
your father did not commit the murder it is certain that some one else
did. I want you to find that man."

"I, mother?"

"Of course I do not mean now. In after years. When you are a man."

"But supposing the murderer should be dead?"

"You must find him, living or dead: if living, you must bring him to
justice: if dead, you must show to the world that your father was
guiltless of the deed. He himself, confined as he is within prison
walls, can do nothing to establish his innocence: and as for me, I have
the feeling that I shall not live long. Grief is shortening my days. To
you, then, I leave this task: to it you must devote your whole life.
You will be spared the necessity of having to earn your living, since
you are well provided for. But though health, strength, and fortune
be yours, you will find these advantages embittered by the constant
thought, 'Men think me the son of a murderer!' Will you let the world
do you this injustice? Will you not try to clear your father's memory?
Will you not ever bear in mind your mother's dearest wish?"

Moved by her earnestness Idris gave the required promise, consoling
himself over the present difficulty of the problem by the thought that
it would perhaps seem easier in the days to come.

"You have not forgotten the story we read the other day," continued
his mother, "of the great Hannibal; how, when he was a boy his father,
leading him to the altar, made him swear to be the lifelong enemy of
Rome? You, too, must make a similar oath. Bring me the Bible."

Idris brought it, and at his mother's command laid his hand upon a page
of the open Book, and repeated after her the following words:--

"I swear on reaching manhood to do my best to establish my father's
innocence. May God help me to keep this oath!"

"Say it again, Idie."

Idris accordingly repeated the vow, feeling somewhat proud in thus
imitating the Carthaginian hero.

His mother brushed back the curls from his forehead and looked
earnestly into his eyes.

"Little Idris! little Idris!" she murmured. "Am I acting foolishly? I
am forgetting that you are only seven years of age--scarcely old enough
to understand the meaning of what you have just uttered. No matter:
when you are older, if you are a true son, as I feel sure you will be,
you will not require the memory of this oath to teach you your duty.
And now I will tell you the story of the murder, and why your father
came to be suspected of---- Ha! what is that?" she gasped, breaking off
abruptly. "Listen! O, Idie, who is it?"

They had believed themselves to be alone in the house. Mrs. Breakspear,
before retiring to this sitting-room, had made fast the outer doors as
well as the lower windows. In such circumstances, therefore, it was
alarming to hear footsteps ascending the staircase--footsteps which
Mrs. Breakspear instinctively felt to be those of a man, and not of a
woman; footsteps, not of Old Pol, but of a stranger! How had he gained
access to the house, and what was his object?

The unknown visitor had mounted to the head of the staircase and was
now advancing along the passage leading to the room in which Mrs.
Breakspear sat. Unable to speak from surprise and fear mother and son
gazed at the door with dilated eyes as if expecting to see some awful
vision.

The door was pushed open, and Mrs. Breakspear could scarcely suppress a
scream at sight of the man who entered, for his face was hidden behind
a black silk vizard, such as might be worn at a _bal masqué_, and
through the holes of the vizard two eyes could be seen sparkling, so it
seemed to Mrs. Breakspear, with a sinister expression. A low-crowned
soft hat covered his head; and a cloak, reaching to his heels,
completely concealed his person.

He came forward a few paces, glancing round the room as he did so,
and seeming to derive satisfaction from the fact that it contained no
persons more formidable than a woman and a child.

"You are alarmed, madame, but without reason," he began. "It is not
my purpose to do you hurt--" he paused for a moment, and then added,
"unless your obstinacy should call for it."

The man's voice was altogether strange to Mrs. Breakspear. He spoke in
French, but with an accent that somehow impressed her with the belief
that he was an Englishman: one, too, accustomed to move in good society.

"The first fact I would impress upon your mind is this," continued the
stranger, "that you are alone, unprotected, in my power absolutely. If
you raise your voice there is no one either in the house or in the
street to hear you. The town is practically deserted. All are gone
to the Pardon, a fact I have taken into my calculations. If you will
reflect upon this, it may facilitate my errand."

These words, and the tone in which they were spoken, did not tend to
allay Mrs. Breakspear's fears. With difficulty she gathered voice to
speak.

"Who are you?"

A smile appeared beneath the fringe of the silken vizard.

"This mask is sufficient proof that I wish to conceal my identity."

"What do you want?"

"A more sensible question than your first, since it brings us to the
point at once. I require, nay, I demand of you, the Norse altar-ring
now in your keeping."

"What reason have you for supposing that it is here?" said Mrs.
Breakspear, growing bolder.

"Do not equivocate." The eyes in the mask flashed like polished steel.
"I know it to be in your possession. Do you deny it?" Mrs. Breakspear
was silent. "You do not deny it? Good! The ring being here, I demand
it."

"Why do you want it?"

"I decline to be catechised. Give me the ring."

"You are evidently a gentleman by education, if not by birth." The
stranger gave a start at this. "And yet you seek to act the part of a
common thief, a part you would not dare act," she cried with spirit,
"were I a man, and not a defenceless woman."

The man shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"I did not come to listen to moral vapourings, but to receive the ring."

"And what if I refuse to comply with your demand?"

[Illustration]

"You are alone, let me repeat, and absolutely at my mercy."

A dagger flashed from beneath his cloak. With a cry Mrs. Breakspear
clasped Idris in her arms to shield him from a possible attack. Yet
even amid her fear it did not escape her notice that the hand which
held the weapon was small, white, and decorated with a diamond ring.

"Listen to the voice of prudence," continued the stranger. "It is
within my power to despatch you both, and to search these apartments
for the ring which you admit is somewhere here. I am quite prepared to
go to that extreme rather than return without it. You will, therefore,
see the wisdom of surrendering the ring: you thus save your life and
that of your child: I save time and trouble--an arrangement mutually
advantageous."

Something in his tone convinced Mrs. Breakspear that he was quite
capable of carrying out his threat.

"You will find the ring in an ebony case in the top drawer of that
cabinet. Take it: and if it should bring upon you the curse which it
has brought upon me and mine, you will live to rue this day."

The man smiled, put up his weapon, walked towards the oak press, and in
a moment more the casket was in his hands.

"Yes, this is it," he murmured in a tone of satisfaction, as he drew
the ring from the case, and scrutinized the runic inscription.

"May one ask," he continued, concealing the relic upon his person, "how
you came to deny all knowledge of it at the trial of your husband?"

"I spoke truly," she answered, "being unaware at the time that my
husband had secretly entrusted it to the care of his friend, Captain
Rochefort."

"After stealing it from the body of his victim," added the stranger.

"His victim? There you err," cried Mrs. Breakspear with flashing eyes,
loathing to answer the stranger, yet eager to vindicate her husband.
"When my husband left the Armorique Club on that fatal evening he
overtook M. Duchesne on his way home, and upon the latter's expressing
regret for his violence of the preceding night a reconciliation took
place. As a pledge of amity M. Duchesne, remembering the interest my
husband had shown in the ring, made him a present of it: in return
my husband insisted that Duchesne should accept the antique poniard
purchased by him that morning. Thus they parted: the one with the
ring, the other with the dagger. The assassin, whoever he was, that
attacked Duchesne, must, during the struggle, have become possessed of
the dagger, and with it he inflicted the fatal wound. Next morning, my
husband, foreseeing that he might be accused of the murder, and aware
that his possession of the ring would seem a suspicious circumstance,
handed it to Captain Rochefort, enjoining him, very unwisely as I now
perceive, to keep silent on the matter."

"And so," commented the stranger, "Captain Rochefort conspired to
defeat the ends of justice."

"The word justice comes with an ill grace from the lips of a coward and
a thief," retorted Mrs. Breakspear, her spirit rising, as it always
rose, whenever her husband's innocence was put to the doubt. "Say,
rather, that in concealing the ring Captain Rochefort was seeking to
prevent the Law from drawing an erroneous conclusion."

"He failed, however," sneered the stranger, "for the Law pronounced
your husband guilty--greatly to my interests. A pity they didn't
guillotine him! Still, he is in prison: there let him rot! and---- Ah!"
he muttered in a hoarse voice, breaking off abruptly. "In the name of
hell, what's that?"

He could not have been a very brave man, Idris thought, for he seemed
unable to keep his hand which rested on the table from shaking.

All three were silent, listening for a renewal of the sound. It soon
came--a dull boom slowly rolling through the air like distant thunder.

With the air of one mad the stranger dashed to the window, and flinging
wide the casement looked out into the night, a night of glory and
beauty, such as is seldom seen in misty Brittany. The air from horizon
to zenith was alive with countless stars that seemed to float like
silver dust in the blue depth. Their faint light falling over a wide
expanse of rippling sea, and on a long arc of yellow sand terminated at
each end by dark cliffs, formed a picture that would have charmed the
eye of an artist.

Idris, his curiosity getting the better of his fear, slipped from his
mother's embrace, and, stealing to a second casement, looked through
its latticed panes.

On the water was the boat he had noticed earlier in the evening, the
boat that had been put out from the yacht. If its occupants had gone
ashore for the purpose of taking some one aboard they had failed in
their object, since the boat contained the same seven sailors. They
were evidently in a state of perplexity: for, without any apparent
motive, they were rowing backwards and forwards in a line parallel with
the shore, the steersman now and then standing up and sweeping the
coast with a night-glass.

Turning his eyes upon the yacht Idris saw jets of black smoke issuing
from the funnel. The engineer was evidently getting up steam.

Here, thought Idris, was the explanation of the booming sound. The
yacht was about to weigh anchor, and had fired a gun as a signal of
departure.

The masked man, however, did not seem to think that the sound came from
the yacht. With his body half out of the window he was staring at the
plateau of brown moorland with its faint silvery crown--staring as if
behind that white mist some exciting event were happening that he would
fain witness.

Once more came the dull, rolling reverberation, and at that sound the
man reeled from the window as if buffeted by a giant hand.

"Damnation! he has escaped," he hissed between his set teeth. "Is this
their vigilance, after being warned of the plot? But my enemy shall not
escape. I'll join in the chase myself. That gun invites pursuit. It is
lawful," and here a sinister smile appeared beneath the fringe of his
mask, "it is lawful to shoot a fugitive convict."

With that he darted from the room and dashed down the staircase: the
slamming of a door followed, and the next moment his tread could be
heard going up the street in the direction of the moorland prison.

The indignation felt by Mrs. Breakspear at the theft of the ring became
lost in a new emotion. A convict had escaped, and the stranger's words
seemed almost to imply that the fugitive was--her husband! She strove
to banish this idea as a wild fancy, as a too daring hope on her part,
but it would persist in forcing itself upon her. With her hand pressed
to her side she sat, powerless to speak, trembling at the thought that
at that very moment Eric Marville might be fleeing over the misty
moorland with armed warders in close pursuit eager to bring him down
with a carbine shot.

"Hark! there goes another gun," cried Idris. "Who is it that is firing,
and why are they doing it?"

Something else besides the gun was now heard. Along the lonely and
usually silent road that led down from the moorland to Quilaix came a
sound, which, at first faint and undistinguishable in character, became
gradually more distinct, and finally developed into the thud-thud of
horse-hoofs, accompanied by the noise of wheels rattling madly forward
as if speed were a matter of life and death to the driver of the
vehicle.

Louder and ever louder grew the sound of the galloping horse-hoofs;
they descended the moorland: they reached the outskirts of the town:
they came plunging up the Rue Grande, and at last the wild race was
brought to a sudden standstill in front of the harbour-master's door.

Idris, looking from the window, saw in the street below a light gig,
and in it a man of soldierly aspect, who was holding the reins with
a tight hand and using his best endeavours to keep the panting and
steaming mare steady in order to facilitate the descent of a second man.

"For God's sake, Eric, make haste," cried the one in the gig, with a
backward glance. "They can't be far behind us."

The man to whom these words were spoken delivered a succession of
knocks at the street-door, the loud, imperative knocks of one whose
errand will brook no delay.

Without waiting for his mother's bidding Idris flew down the stairs
eager to learn the meaning of this strange summons.

On opening the door he found on the threshold a man draped from neck to
ankles in a grey ulster, a man who acted in a very strange way, for he
lifted Idris completely off his feet and kissed him several times.

Now Idris, though not at all averse to the kisses of his mother or of
the fishermen's daughters, had an objection to the kisses of a man, and
especially of a strange man, and he struggled to be free.

"Where's your mother?" cried the stranger, setting Idris down.

"She's up there," answered Idris, indicating the staircase. "But you'd
better not kiss her. She won't like it."

The man gave a joyous laugh.

"Won't she? Well, let us see," was his answer, and he darted swiftly up
the staircase, first calling out to the man in the gig:--

"See to the boy, Noel."

"Now, my little man," said the military gentleman, "jump up here. You
are going for a sail in that pretty ship yonder in the bay."

Idris' eyes sparkled at this enchanting prospect.

"But I can't go without my mother."

"Oh, she's coming too; your father as well."

"My father?" laughed Idris. "Why, my father is in----"

He checked the word "prison" upon his lips, and substituted for it the
euphemism, "Over there."

"By God! that's where he'll be again, unless he hurries," cried the
military gentleman. "That's your father who has just run up-stairs."

His father up-stairs! The day had been a succession of surprises to
Idris, and this was the climax of them all. He had never known such an
exciting time. Deaf to the gentleman's command to ascend the vehicle he
turned and scampered hastily up to his mother's sitting-room, where he
beheld a sight that struck him dumb.

The stranger was standing in the middle of the room with Mrs.
Breakspear in his arms, her cheek pillowed on his breast.

"Eric, O, Eric!" she murmured: and the pure joy of that moment
transfigured her face with the light and beauty of an angel's.

"Edith, my sweet wife!" cried the man pressing her lips to his. "This
kiss is a compensation for all I have suffered. There! you mustn't
faint. Why, here's our boy. What a fine fellow he is becoming! Well,
Idris, what do you think of your father and his court dress?"

Idris' face fell as he surveyed the newcomer. This man with his
close-cropped head, grimy visage, stubbly beard, and half-savage air,
his father! Beneath the grey ulster there peeped out the prison livery,
clad in which garb divine Apollo himself would lose all grace and
majesty.

Eric Marville was not slow to read the thoughts of his little son, and
he smiled grimly.

"Upon my word, he stares as if I were some wild animal. I verily
believe I am: prison life grinds every trace of the godlike out of a
man.--But come, Edith, we haven't a moment to lose. You can hear that
they have discovered my escape," he continued, as another boom rolled
over the moorland. "Rochefort was for hurrying me on board his yacht at
once, but it wasn't likely that I would leave you and the boy behind,
when you were so close at hand. Come, Edith and Idris, wife and son,
come! Away to a new life in a new land!"

At that moment there came from without the warning voice of Captain
Rochefort.

"Marville! Marville," he roared. "Look to yourself. They're here."

As he spoke quick footsteps came clattering over the pavement of
the Rue Grande, and the ping-ping of carbine shots rang out on the
night-air. The bullets were intended for the Captain, but missed their
mark; and the mare taking fright at the report set off at a gallop,
followed by the pursuers, who were on foot.

"Halt!" shouted an authoritative voice. "Let the car go; that's not the
quarry. Our man's in here; this is his wife's abode. Through the house,
two of you, and guard the rear. Two of you watch the front. Leave the
rest to me. I'll unearth him."

The man who gave these commands rushed through the doorway of the
harbour-master's dwelling, and, as if guided by instinct, neglected
the lower storey and made his way up the staircase.

All this took place so quickly that Marville was for the moment
paralyzed with surprise, and stood motionless and silent, with his
scared wife clinging to him.

"Don't make any resistance, Eric, dearest," she pleaded. "It will be
better not."

Springing from his lethargy Marville put aside the arms of his wife and
made for the open window, only to perceive two watchful gendarmes in
the street below, who instantly levelled their carbines at sight of the
convict's face.

The only other outlet from the room was through the doorway: but there,
framed within the entrance and pistol in hand, stood a grey-haired,
fine looking veteran, clad in military uniform, Duclair, governor of
the prison, who, alive to his responsibility, had himself joined in the
chase.

"Run to earth," he said, with a grim smile. "You're fairly cornered.
It's no use resisting."

"We'll see about that," muttered Marville, pulling forth a revolver--a
recent gift of Rochefort's--with the intention of forcing his way over
the disabled or dead body of the governor.

"Drop that, or by----" and Duclair punctuated the sentence with the
significant raising of his own weapon.

Seeing the pistol levelled Mrs. Breakspear, with uplifted arms, flung
herself forward to shield her husband.

Simultaneously with her movement came a deadly click from Marville's
weapon, followed instantly by a loud bang. The report was accompanied
by a cry of "Ah! Eric!" and by the fall of a body--sounds that sent a
cold thrill to the hearts of those who heard them.

There, amid faint wreaths of bluish smoke, lay Mrs. Breakspear,
prostrate on the carpet, her forehead disfigured by a spot from which
came the slow ooze of blood.

"O, you have shot my mother!" wailed Idris, casting a look of anguish
at his father.

The little fellow dropped on his knees beside her, but it was only a
piece of clay upon which he now gazed: his mother was gone forever: was
as much a part of the past as the dead Cæsars of history. Dread change,
and all the work of a moment!

"Edith! my wife! O God, I have killed her!"

Dropping the weapon Eric Marville staggered forward to lift up the dead
form and implore forgiveness from her who was beyond power to grant it,
but ere he could reach the fallen figure, strong hands were laid upon
him, and a pair of steel manacles was clasped upon his wrists.

"_Mon Dieu!_ who has done this?" cried one of the gendarmes, appalled
at the sight.

"The prisoner," responded the governor. "Take notice, all of you, that
my weapon is undischarged."

The gendarmes lifted the silent form and laid it upon a couch, and
there Idris knelt, sobbing bitterly and calling upon his mother to
speak.

"My poor boy," said the governor, after a brief inspection of the body,
"she will never speak again.--We ought," he added, turning to address
his men, "we ought to send for a doctor, though he can do no good, for
she is stone dead."

There was but one doctor in Quilaix, and he, Idris explained amid his
tears, had gone with the procession to the Pardon.

"We must have some woman to attend to the body," continued Duclair. "We
can't return to Valàgenêt leaving the boy alone with a corpse. Surely
all the women folk haven't gone to this cursed Pardon?"

Idris, as well as his grief would let him, explained where a woman was
likely to be found, and a gendarme was at once despatched to fetch her.

The man who had done the deed offered now no resistance to his captors.
His desire for liberty had fled. Overwhelmed by the awful result of his
own act he had sunk into a stupor, staring with glassy eyes at that
which but a few minutes before had been a living woman.

Touched by the spectacle of his grief they allowed him to sit beside
her; and, as he showed a desire to clasp her hand, the governor made a
sign to one of the party to remove the manacles.

This done, he sat holding the limp fingers within his own, pressing
them as if expecting the pressure to be returned.

The gendarmes stood aloof in pitying silence. Not even the governor
spoke, feeling the emptiness of any attempt at consolation.

As for Idris, he shrank, not unnaturally, from the man who had killed
his mother. Once he addressed to him a piteous reproach:--"Oh, why did
you come here?--Oh, mother, mother, speak to me!"

Absorbed in his own grief, however, the man did not hear, or, at least,
did not reply to this plaint. It was a melancholy scene, and the men
awaited with secret impatience the coming of the woman to end the
oppressive spell.

The silence was broken by the prisoner himself. All bent forward to
listen, but the words spoken conveyed no intelligible meaning to his
hearers. For, in a cold, mechanical voice, that sounded like the
monotone of a mournful bell, he murmured over and over again:--

"The curse of the runic ring! The curse of the runic ring!"

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Next day the Minister of the Interior received the following telegram
from the Governor of Valàgenêt Prison:--


     "Regret to state that convict, Eric Marville, escaped last night,
     by connivance of warder, bribed by Captain Noel Rochefort, who,
     with light vehicle, waited at prearranged time near prison. Owing
     to mist, two men some time in meeting, thus enabling pursuers to
     overtake them at 6, Rue Grande, Quilaix. Here Marville, resisting
     capture, accidentally shot his wife dead. Prisoner conveyed back
     to Valàgenêt under guard of four gendarmes. On lonely part of moor
     escort assailed by Rochefort and six men. Suddenness of attack
     and numerical superiority enabled assailants to effect rescue.
     Prisoner carried off, presumably, on board _Nemesis_, as she
     steamed off immediately afterwards."


END OF PROLOGUE



THE STORY



CHAPTER I

THE RAVENGARS OF RAVENHALL


The Ravengars of Ormsby-on-Sea, a town on the Northumbrian coast, come
of an ancient stock; for, as students of the Gospel according to St.
Burke are aware, the original Ravengar antedates by two centuries that
Ultima Thule of heraldry, the Norman Conquest.

Yet, though so ancient a race, one, moreover, that has taken part in
all the great events of English History, it was not until the days of
the Merry Monarch that the Ravengars entered the charmed and charming
circle of the peerage.

At the battle of Naseby that gallant and loyal cavalier, Lancelot
Ravengar, contrived to disfigure the face of the great Protector by a
sword-cut that left behind it a scar for life. So valuable a service to
the State merited right royal recognition. "Something must be done for
Ravengar," said the courtiers of the Restoration. That something took
the shape of a patent of nobility, a favour the more readily granted by
the Monarch, inasmuch as it cost him nothing. So the heretofore plain
Lancelot Ravengar became the noble Viscount Walden, and at a later
date was advanced to the Earldom of Ormsby, a title derived from the
Northumbrian sea-town, whose rents and leases supplied him with the
wealth requisite to maintain his dignity.

This Lancelot Ravengar deserves mention, as being not only the first
peer of the family, but likewise the originator of a very curious
funeral rite instituted by his testamentary authority.

When the Civil War broke out in Charles's days, Ravenhall, the seat
of the Ravengars, shared the fate of many other historic mansions: it
was besieged by the Puritan soldiery, and notwithstanding a gallant
defence, was forced to yield to the foe. Its owner, Lancelot, however,
was fortunate enough to escape to a secret subterranean chamber,
specially made for such emergencies, where, in addition to the family
heirlooms, provisions for many weeks had been stored. The Roundheads,
not finding the Cavalier after a long and careful search, concluded
that he had fled.

For several days the victors remained at Ravenhall feasting and
drinking; and then, larder and wine cellar failing them, they proceeded
to plunder and dismantle the place "for the glory of the Lord," and so
took their departure.

Now, during this period of hiding, Lancelot, with no companion but
a Bible, had ample leisure for meditation. The seclusion became the
turning-point in his spiritual life: from that time the hitherto
careless Cavalier developed religious tendencies which were not to be
shaken by all the gibes of the Merry Monarch.

The place of his conversion naturally became invested with more than
ordinary interest in the eyes of Lancelot Ravengar: he spent much
of his time there in contemplation and prayer, becoming at last so
attached to the spot as to desire it for his place of sepulture.

Accordingly, his last will and testament enjoined that not only his own
body, but the bodies likewise of his successors in the earldom should
be buried in the secret vault. This rite constituted the condition
of an entail, inasmuch as neglect on the part of the next of kin to
inter his predecessor in this chamber necessitated the forfeiture of
the inheritance. The will furthermore directed that the secret ingress
to this crypt should not be made known to more than four persons at a
time, viz: the then earl, his heir-apparent, the family lawyer, and
any fourth person whom these three should choose to take into their
confidence.

When an Earl of Ormsby died his body was carried to the mortuary chapel
on the estate, where the burial service of the Anglican Church was
read. The coffin was then carried back to Ravenhall: all the servants,
without exception, were dismissed for the day, and the four executors
proceeded to remove the body to the secret crypt.

Such was the singular testament of Lancelot Ravengar, first Earl
of Ormsby, and its injunctions were faithfully observed by all his
successors in the title.

Some years prior to the events related in the prologue of this story,
the dignity of the family was represented by Urien Ravengar, the tenth
peer. He was the father of Olave, Viscount Walden, who, as being the
only son, and heir to the title and estates, was naturally the object
of his father's affection. The old earl did not keep a steward, being
content to leave his affairs in the hands of the young viscount, who
consequently managed his father's correspondence, all letters addressed
to the earl being freely opened by the son.

Then came a memorable day in the annals of the House of Ravengar.

A letter arrived for the Earl bearing the postmark of a town in Kent.
Olave, who was passing through the entrance-hall at the time of its
delivery, took it from the servant, and, following his usual practice
in regard to his father's letters, opened it.

As he read he was observed to change colour, and to become strangely
agitated.

Taking the letter with him he went at once to his father's study.

What passed there no one ever learned, save that there were high words
between the two. That in itself was nothing new, the Ravengars being
noted for their proud spirit. In the end the study-door was flung open
by the earl who, with a face flaming with anger, cried:--

"Leave the house."

Olave, with a scornful glance at his father, obeyed.

He went forth, saying nothing to any one as to the cause of the
rupture, making no mention of his destination or plans. Without a word
of farewell he disappeared from Ormsby. To all who had known him he
became as one dead.

Every Sunday the earl, while at Ormsby, attended the parish church with
commendable regularity, but vainly did he try to assume a brave air:
it was clear to all that he felt the loss of his son, and that he was
aging in consequence.

Five--seven--ten years rolled away, and now the old earl lay dying in
his grand bedchamber at Ravenhall. A wild evening had set in, and the
herring-fishers, on the point of sailing for the Dogger Bank, put off
their expedition for more propitious weather.

The dying man moaned uneasily. His mind was wandering, and he
frequently murmured the name of the absent Olave.

Louder and ever louder grew the wind, till at length it arose to a
gale. The gloom of night was illumined by vivid lightning-flashes
accompanied by peals of thunder. The distant roar of the sea could be
plainly heard at Ravenhall. News came that a yacht, supposed to be
French, was foundering upon the rocks of Ormsby Race in full sight
of hundreds of spectators on the beach, who were powerless to give
help. None of the servants at Ravenhall, however, felt disposed to go
and view the wreck: their master's death, which was hourly expected,
affected them far more than the drowning of a hundred strangers.
They clustered in the entrance-hall, waiting for the fatal news, and
conversing in hushed tones.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, there stalked into the entrance-hall a
lofty figure, drenched to the skin, without hat or cloak, his long hair
lying wet and lank on his pale cheek.

He looked neither to right nor left, asked no question of the startled
servants, but passed quickly up the grand staircase with the air of one
to whom the way was familiar, with the air of one, too, who had the
right to do as he did. Like the electric flash, he had come and gone in
a moment.

"Lord save us!" gasped the butler, a lifelong servitor of the family.
"Here's Master Olave come back after all these years!"

Olave it was. He had evidently received some intimation of his father's
condition, for he walked to the bedroom where the earl lay dying. To
the three persons at the bedside, physician, nurse, and rector, he was
a stranger, but his likeness to the patient was sufficiently striking
to apprise them at once of the relationship.

The viscount, keeping in the background, addressed himself to the
physician.

"How is he?"

"Sinking fast."

"Is his mind clear?"

"Now it is. He wandered earlier in the evening."

"Then leave us, please."

There was something so authoritative in the viscount's manner that the
three watchers were constrained to obey.

What took place in their absence was never known. The interview was
of short duration, and ended in a cry from the earl, which brought
physician and nurse hurrying into the apartment.

"He is dead," said Olave.

There was no trace of sorrow in his voice, nor, in justice be it added,
of satisfaction: a quiet, impassive utterance.

He stood with folded arms till his words had been endorsed by the
physician, and then, without so little as a glance at the dead earl,
the living earl strode from the apartment.

The nurse closed the eyes of her charge, shuddering as she did so, for
the countenance of the dead man was marked by a ferocity of expression
which showed that his last feelings were those of hatred.

A rumour soon arose that the old earl had died in the very act of
cursing his son. The rumour may have been false, but certain it is that
the new earl took no pains to contradict it.

Urien, tenth Earl of Ormsby, was interred according to the rite
instituted by the first peer: and the returned Olave, after giving the
family solicitor sufficient proof of his identity, assumed his station
as master of Ravenhall.

Where he had spent the previous ten years was a mystery to everybody
except, perhaps, his lawyer. The earl maintained absolute reticence as
to this part of his career, and the sternness of his manner when the
question was once put to him by an indiscreet lady, checked all further
attempts on the part of the inquisitive.

He somewhat scandalised the good folk of Ormsby by marrying within two
months of his father's death the daughter of a neighbouring baronet.
His wedded life did not last long. Within a year his wife died, leaving
an infant son named Ivar.

Henceforth the earl remained single.

He had sadly changed from the lively youth whose pranks had been a
constant source of merriment to the people of Ormsby.

His long absence had developed a cold and unsympathetic temperament
which led him to avoid society; and though he did not refrain from
giving an occasional dinner or ball, he was evidently bored by these
social offices. He found his greatest pleasure in the seclusion of the
magnificent library at Ravenhall. He withdrew himself more and more
from the world of men to the world of books.

More than two decades went by, and the mystery which overhung the earl,
became a thing of the past, was forgotten by the people of Ormsby, or
at least was rarely recalled. Gossip occupied itself chiefly with the
doings of the earl's only son, Ivar, or to give him his courtesy title,
Viscount Walden, who was now in his twentieth year.

To this son the earl appeared much attached: he designed him, so it was
rumoured, for the diplomatic service: and to this end Ivar, accompanied
by a tutor, was supposed to be travelling on the continent, perfecting
himself in foreign languages, and studying on the spot the workings of
the various European constitutions.

All the collateral branches of the Ravengars had died out with the
exception of one family, and even this was limited to a single
person--Beatrice, daughter of Victor Ravengar. This Victor, the earl's
cousin in the sixth degree, had taken as his wife a widow with one son,
Godfrey by name. Beatrice was the sole issue of this marriage.

The earl was naturally much interested in this little maiden as being
next in succession after his son: and accordingly when Beatrice became
an orphan at the age of sixteen (her parents having died within a month
of each other), the earl invited her and her half-brother, Godfrey
Rothwell--her senior by seven years--to take up their residence at
Ravenhall, offering to settle a handsome annuity upon each.

But to the earl's surprise the favour was declined both by brother and
sister. It had happened that Mrs. Victor Ravengar had never been a very
welcome visitor at Ravenhall, the marriage having been regarded by the
earl as a mésalliance: and though Beatrice was of a forgiving nature,
she could not entirely forget sundry slights put upon her mother.

Godfrey was determined not to eat the bread of dependency, and
Beatrice, who was devoted to her half-brother, sympathized with him
in this feeling, and refused to live apart from him. He had applied
himself to the study of medicine, and had lately set up in practice
at Ormsby. In Beatrice, Godfrey found a ready assistant. She helped
him in his surgery, often accompanied him when visiting his patients,
and never hesitated to take upon herself the duty of nurse if occasion
required. Hence she was all but worshipped by the people of Ormsby; the
earl might take their rents, but Beatrice possessed their hearts, and
often was regret expressed that it should be Viscount Walden, and not
Beatrice Ravengar, who must succeed to the fair demesne of Ravenhall.

"Absolutely no more patients to visit," remarked Godfrey Rothwell,
returning home one afternoon to his neat little villa, called Wave
Crest.

"Charming!" said Beatrice, clapping her hands. "It is so long since we
had an evening together."

"Humph!" muttered Godfrey, lugubriously. "But we are doomed not to
spend it together. We have received an invitation to dine this evening
at Ravenhall, where a small and select company is assembling to welcome
Master Ivar home. He returns to-night from the continent. The earl's
carriage will call for us at six, so we can't very well decline."

Beatrice pouted her pretty lips. Simple in her tastes, unconventional
in her habits, she disliked the stately banquets, the funereal
grandeur, of Ravenhall. She would not, however, oppose her brother, and
that same night found them both within the drawing-room of Ravenhall,
conversing with their distant kinsman, the Earl of Ormsby.

He was a man verging upon sixty; his hair and moustache were of an iron
grey; his eyes somewhat dimmed by long study; his features fine and
striking, but marked by an air of profound melancholy.

He received Godfrey kindly, and made inquiries as to his medical
practice, but it was clear to all that his interest centred chiefly in
Beatrice, whom he kissed with an old-fashioned courtesy.

Beatrice's figure was small and graceful, and her features, if not
precisely regular, were nevertheless very pretty, and rendered more
attractive by the sparkling colour and the vivacious expression
that played over them. She wore an evening dress of white silk with
a cluster of violets at her breast, a diamond star gleaming in her
bronzed hair, which was tied in a knot behind in antique Greek fashion.
In Godfrey's opinion his sister had never looked more charming than on
this evening.

"You have the fairest face in all the county," said the old earl,
tenderly stroking her hair. "I wish that Ivar would think so," he added
significantly.

It was not the first time that he had given expression to this wish in
the presence of Beatrice.

"Did you notice what he said, Trixie," said Godfrey, when he had found
an opportunity of whispering to her. "He wants to see you married to
Ivar."

But Beatrice Ravengar tossed her head in scorn.

"No one who has sneered at you, as Ivar has, shall ever be husband of
mine, though he bring with him title and lands. It will require some
one a good deal better than Ivar to separate you and me, Godfrey," she
said, pressing his arm affectionately.

Godfrey felt justly proud of his sister's attachment. How many women,
he thought, would willingly have thrown over a poor struggling medico
of a brother, and have become wild with joy at the idea of obtaining a
coronet and the stately towers of Ravenhall?

Godfrey wondered, and not for the first time, why the earl should
desire this match, since Beatrice was portionless, and, therefore, from
a worldly point of view, no very desirable alliance for the heir of
the Ravengars. Godfrey had never quite taken to the earl: in fact, he
had a secret distrust of him, he could not tell why: and he refused to
believe that that peer's attitude towards Beatrice was dictated by pure
disinterestedness, though it was difficult to see how either the earl
or Ivar would be advantaged by the match.

While Godfrey was occupied with these thoughts, the butler appeared
with the message that the keeper of the lodge had announced by
telephone the arrival of the viscount's carriage at the park-gates.

"Let us give the heir of Ravenhall a welcome at his own portal," said
Lord Ormsby, rising; and without delay the company made their way
to the grand entrance-hall, where the butler, the housekeeper, and
the rest of the servants, were assembled to do honour to the young
viscount's return.

On the panelled wall within the Gothic doorway, and suspended by a
silver chain, was a bugle of ivory, wrought with gold, and decorated
with runic letters.

It was a relic of ancient days, credited to have belonged originally to
the old Norse chieftain who had founded the House of Ravengar. Owing to
the peculiar construction of this bugle some practice was required by
those desirous of blowing it. Indeed, it was a family tradition that
in former times the only persons gifted with the power of sounding it
were the lord of Ravenhall and his immediate heir, all others essaying
the feat being foredoomed to failure. Hence, in mediæval times, when
the lords of Ravenhall returned from a Crusade, or some other equally
protracted war, it was their practice to sound this horn as a guarantee
of the legitimacy of their title.

"We will greet the heir in the ancient fashion of our house," cried the
earl, a great upholder of the traditional usages of his family. "Pass
me the bugle. Jocelyn, the wine!"

The butler, who was standing by, holding a silver tray with a decanter
on it, poured some port into the broad funnel-shaped end of the horn,
the tight-fitting silver cap over the mouthpiece preventing the
emission of the liquid.

"Custom enjoins that a lady should hand the bugle to the returning
heir, and wish him welcome," said Lord Ormsby, fixing his eyes on
Beatrice.

With some reluctance she accepted the bugle from the hand of the earl,
who briefly instructed her--Beatrice being not very well versed in
the Ravengar traditions--as to the form of words to be used in this
ceremony.

The rattle of wheels was now heard coming along the avenue of
chestnuts, and amid murmurs of "Here he is!" from those assembled at
the porch, a brougham rolled up. When it had stopped, there alighted
a figure, fair, slight, and, though youthful, of decidedly _blasé_
appearance. He was dressed in a light travelling ulster, and held a
cigar between his fingers, throwing it away, however, as soon as he
beheld the company.

"Welcome, Ivar," said the earl, warmly returning the clasp of his
son's hand: and then, waving him towards Beatrice, he continued, "But
one moment: we must not neglect the ancient custom of our house. Now,
Beatrice, you know the words."

And Beatrice, holding aloft the horn of wine, in an attitude that
displayed all the grace of her figure, approached the young viscount.

"Is it peace, O heir of Ravenhall?"

"It is peace, O lady fair," replied the viscount, using the words of
the traditional formula.

"Then drink of thine own, O heir of Ravenhall," continued Beatrice,
extending the bugle to him.

"To the souls of the departed warriors," replied Ivar, tossing off the
contents at one draught. "Hum! port. Very good liquor for boys; but, I
confess, I like my _aliquid amari_ stronger."

This last sentence formed no part of the Ravengar ritual, and the earl,
who liked everything _en régle_, frowned slightly.

"Now prove thy title, heir of Ravenhall."

"Prove it? Ay, with a blast that shall rival that of the immortal
Roland."

Removing the silver cap from the narrow end of the bugle, and placing
the mouthpiece to his lips, Ivar blew with all his might. But no sound
issued from the horn other than that of a faint soughing. The viscount,
surprised at this result, removed the bugle from his mouth, and eyed it
curiously. Then, thinking he had perhaps employed too much force, he
blew again, but this time more gently.

The bugle continued silent. The company looked at each other in
surprise, tinged with amusement. The earl, however, seemed to take it
much amiss. Beatrice found his eyes set upon her, and upon her only,
with a look that made her feel uncomfortable, for it somehow conveyed
to her mind the idea that he was mentally blaming _her_ for his son's
failure!

"This is a very serious matter, you know," said the viscount, looking
round upon the company with an air of mock gravity. "The ancestral
bugle refuses--positively refuses--to acknowledge me as the heir of
Ravenhall."

"Try again, Ivar," said the earl.

"Not I. Devil take the bugle," exclaimed Ivar laughing. "Let us read
a parable in my failure. In days of old the blast of the horn was the
sign of battle; its silence implies that we Ravengars have no longer
to vindicate our title by arms. But it permits me to drink, thereby
symbolizing that peace and festivity are now to be our lot. Have I not
said?" he added, theatrically, turning to his father. "And now, this
fantasia being over---- Why? what? is this little Trixie?"

Till that moment he had not recognized Beatrice, so much did she differ
from her appearance when last seen by him; but now that recognition
came, he stopped short in surprise at her loveliness.

"Trixie!" he repeated.

He bent forward as if to kiss her, but, with quiet dignity, Beatrice
drew back, offering her hand.

"What, and must we dispense with the sweet greeting of old days? Nay,
then."

And with this he seized her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers
in kisses of a distinctly vinous flavour.

"How dare you?" exclaimed Beatrice, breaking breathlessly and
indignantly from his embrace.



CHAPTER II

THE MYSTERY OF THE RELIQUARY


Ivar, with a laugh at Beatrice's indignation, turned his attention to
the brougham, apparently with a view of superintending the removal of
his _impedimenta_.

"O, never mind your luggage," said the earl, in some surprise. "Jocelyn
will see to that."

But Ivar, ignoring the suggestion, was concentrating all his care upon
what seemed to be a long box wrapped in a covering of coarse linen.
This a footman was bringing into the hall upon his shoulders, and
while giving his burden a jerk to place it in a position more easy for
carrying, the cloth, by some mischance, became partly ripped open.

A half-smothered exclamation and an angry glance at the awkward footman
were eloquently expressive of Ivar's annoyance.

"Eh! what have we here?" said the earl, motioning the bearer to lay
down his burden.

He removed the cloth, and all crowded round to admire the richness
and beauty of the object thus revealed to view. It was a chest of
black wood bound at the corners with silver. The lid and sides were
divided into compartments, carved with alto-relievos of a decidedly
ecclesiastical character.

"This is a very fine work of art," said Lord Ormsby, who was somewhat
of an authority on antiquities. Putting on his _pince-nez_ he stooped
to examine the chest more closely. "French, I should judge, of the
fourteenth century. What wood is it?"

"Cypress."

Godfrey did not fail to notice Ivar's somewhat sullen intonation.

"And the cypress," remarked the earl, "is the emblem of death. This
chest is evidently one of those shrines in which mediæval folk put the
relics of their saints."

"Yes, it is a reliquary."

"How did you become its possessor?"

"I bought it from the sacristan of an old church in Brittany. Whence
he obtained it is perhaps easy to guess. Naturally I refrained from
questioning him too closely."

Lord Ormsby shot a curious glance at his son.

"O, did you extend your tour to Brittany, then?" he observed:
after which he refrained from further remarks, becoming silent
and thoughtful, as if his mind had been stirred by some troubling
reminiscence.

"Does it still contain the bones of the saint?" asked Godfrey,
jocularly.

"It contains souvenirs of my continental tour--nothing more," replied
Ivar with a dark glance, as if inviting the surgeon to mind his own
business.

And then, apparently impatient of further questions, he cut the matter
short by motioning the man to take up the chest again, and he himself
led the way up the grand staircase to his own bedroom, where, after
seeing the precious reliquary locked within a wardrobe, he seemed to be
more at ease.

The irritation betrayed by Ivar over this incident puzzled Beatrice,
and left a somewhat disagreeable impression upon her mind.

"Master Ivar," she whispered to her brother, "was trying to smuggle
that chest into Ravenhall. Why should he desire to conceal the fact
that he is bringing home a reliquary? Depend upon it, the chest
contains something that he does not wish his father to see. What can it
be?"

During the course of the dinner that followed, Ivar was the principal
speaker, rattling off various incidents of his continental tour.

There was nothing particularly edifying or brilliant in these
reminiscences, but Lord Ormsby evidently thought otherwise: for, from
time to time he would turn to his guests with an air of pride, as if
inviting them to take note of his son's remarks.

"That is one good trait in the earl's character," thought Beatrice.
"He has great affection for his son. I doubt very much whether the son
deserves it."

When, at a late hour, she and her brother rose to take their departure,
so heavy a storm was raging that the earl pressed them to stay for the
night, and to this arrangement Godfrey and his sister assented, the
former little foreseeing that his stay would have a remarkable bearing
on the events of the future.

"Well, Ivar," said the earl, when the two found themselves alone. "What
do you think of Beatrice?"

"She has grown devilishly handsome."

"She is a girl whom any man might be proud to marry."

Ivar was resting his head upon his hand, and his face was hidden in
shadow: therefore the earl did not perceive the sudden change in his
son's expression.

"Marry?" echoed the viscount.

"I want to see you married, Ivar, and to no one but Beatrice."

"The devil!" muttered Ivar uneasily; and then, aloud, he added, "Does
Trixie know of this wish of yours?"

"I have occasionally hinted at it."

"Her manner towards me to-night can scarcely be called encouraging. She
was decidedly cold and standoffish."

"Perseverance on your part will soon overcome her indifference."

"If I must take a wife, why must she be cousin Trixie, seeing that she
hasn't a penny to bless herself with?"

"She is richer than you or I," said the earl, with a dry laugh. "Ivar,
I am about to tell you a secret, the knowledge of which will soon cause
you to waive your objection--if you have any--to this match."

"Richer than I," thought Ivar. "What does the old fool mean?"

The earl seemed ill at ease. He remained silent for several minutes,
evidently debating within himself as to the wisdom of disclosing the
secret. At last, after glancing all around the apartment, as if to make
certain that no one was within hearing, he bent forward in his chair
towards Ivar, and began to speak in a low tone. The communication took
a long time in the telling, and when it was ended, the viscount sat in
silence with a look of consternation on his face.

Recovering from his amazement he muttered hoarsely, "Why have you not
told me of this before?"

"You were not of an age to hear it. You are old enough now to
understand the virtues of silence and secrecy."

"And this, this son--what did you call him, Idris?--where is he now?"

For reply Lord Ormsby produced from the bookcase a copy of the _Times_
newspaper, dated seven years previously.

One of its columns was headed, "Terrible fire at Paris. Burning of the
_Hôtel de l'Univers_." The earl's forefinger, moving down a list of
victims, stopped at the name, "Idris Marville, aged 23."

Ivar's features relaxed something of their dismay.

"Satisfactory from my point of view," he muttered.

"None but you and I know this secret, but it is perpetually open to
discovery as long as that church and its records exist. You now see the
necessity for this match with Beatrice. Ravenhall and the coronet are
really hers. Marry her then, and you will thus secure your position as
lord of Ravenhall.--What is your answer?"

"Humph! Suppose it'll have to be."

The sullen look on Ivar's face caused his father to elevate his
eyebrows in surprise. It certainly _did_ seem strange that the
viscount, who had pronounced Beatrice to be "devilishly handsome,"
should evince dissatisfaction at the prospect of marrying her!

       *       *       *       *       *       *

The sleeping apartment allotted to Godfrey Rothwell contained the most
luxurious bed he had ever occupied, and he speedily fell into a sound
sleep, from which he was abruptly roused by a noise in the corridor
outside his bedroom door.

He sat up and listened. Before stepping into bed he had switched off
the electric light, but the darkness now became faintly illumined by a
horizontal line of light appearing at the foot of the door. Its origin
was obvious: some one was walking in the corridor and bearing a lamp or
candle.

The line of light had no sooner appeared than it disappeared, showing
that the person had passed by.

Moved by the thought that it might be a burglar, Godfrey stepped
quietly from his bed, and cautiously opening the door to the extent of
a few inches, peeped out.

There, a few feet distant, with his back towards him, was Viscount
Walden moving quietly along the corridor. Evidently he had not been to
bed, for he was still wearing the dress suit he had worn at dinner: to
it he had added a hard felt hat, into the brim of which there was stuck
a lighted candle, after the fashion of a Cornish miner.

With both hands he was half-dragging, half-carrying the cypress chest
about which he had displayed so much concern. It was the accidental
fall of this reliquary that had roused Godfrey from sleep.

Now, when a young man is detected in the dead of night stealing along
with a reliquary that he has tried to introduce surreptitiously into
his father's house, it may be inferred that he is actuated by a bad
motive; such, at least, was Godfrey's inference. Accordingly, though
conscious of the meanness of espionage, yet, moved by a feeling for
which he could not account, he resolved to follow the viscount, and
ascertain, if possible, the meaning of this strange proceeding.

Waiting till Ivar had turned a corner of the corridor, Godfrey, having
hurriedly slipped into his clothes, stole forth in his stockinged feet
and followed at a distance, lurking within the shadows, and exercising
the utmost vigilance to prevent himself from being seen. Fortunately,
there were at intervals, various pieces of furniture, as well as
curtains and recesses, of all which Godfrey took prompt advantage
whenever Ivar seemed on the point of giving a backward glance.

The viscount's course, after he had left the corridor in which the
bedrooms were situated, conducted him down a staircase and along a
second corridor, this latter terminating at the door of the Picture
Gallery. Here he paused, and sat down upon the box to rest himself. He
was no athlete, and the moving of this heavy chest was a tax upon his
strength.

By the grim and dismal circle of light shed around by the taper in
Ivar's hat Godfrey could see that the viscount's face was pale and
marked by an expression of fear, and that he gave a start at the sudden
coughing of the night wind among the trees without.

Some of the fear manifested by him seemed to pass over to Godfrey, who
found himself becoming strangely suspicious as to the contents of the
chest. The secrecy observed by the viscount was extremely suggestive
of the theory of crime. Was the reliquary the receptacle of guilty
evidence which Ivar, unable to dispose of elsewhere, was bringing to
Ravenhall as the safest place of concealment?

The reliquary itself, apart altogether from the consideration of its
contents, had something gruesome about it. Though the exterior carvings
were mediæval in character, Godfrey, who was somewhat of a connoisseur
on wood, had felt, when surveying the chest at the entrance-hall, that
it was far more ancient than the middle ages: with that durability
peculiar to cypress wood, the chest might have seen the classic days of
Greece: differing little in shape from an Egyptian mummy-case, it might
have held the embalmed remains of a Rameses: nay, its antiquity perhaps
antedated the very Pyramids themselves!

He had ample leisure for these reflections, for the viscount, having
once seated himself, seemed loth to move forward again.

At last, pulling out a spirit flask, Ivar took a deep draught, and,
rising to his feet, produced a key with which he unlocked the door of
the Picture Gallery.

Then, lifting the reliquary by means of a silver ring affixed to the
lid, he proceeded to traverse the entire length of the hall, dragging
his burden with him.

Godfrey, who was no stranger to the place, surmised that the
viscount's journey was almost at an end, since the gallery terminated
in a room from which Ivar would have no egress, except by the same door
that he was now approaching.

The viscount's first act on entering the room was to close the door.
Upon this Godfrey glided swiftly forward, and falling upon one knee,
endeavoured to obtain a glimpse of the interior by applying his eye to
the keyhole. In this he was thwarted by the key in the lock, and though
the key was on his side of the door, he hesitated to remove it, lest
the sound should attract Ivar's attention.

Godfrey could detect no light within the chamber, and therefore he
assumed that Ivar must have extinguished his taper.

Why?

Godfrey placed his ear to the door. No sound came from within. If
the room contained an occupant, that occupant was motionless, or, if
moving, was moving silently and in the dark.

Then suddenly it occurred to him that perhaps Ivar had quitted the
chamber by a secret exit known only to himself.

Godfrey grew perplexed, impatient. In standing thus inactive he was
losing the chance of discovering the viscount's secret. Still, Ivar
might be within, and the surgeon deemed it imprudent to push open the
door.

A way of solving the difficulty presented itself. He suddenly turned
the key in the lock, clicking it loudly, to the end that, if Ivar were
really within, he could not fail to learn that he was now a prisoner.

Godfrey listened. There was no cry of surprise: no hasty rush of feet
to the door: no movement at all. After waiting a few moments, he came
to the conclusion that the room was untenanted.

He turned the key, and pushed open the door.

Aided by a subdued light, tender and dreamy, that stole through a
latticed casement, he had visible proof that the chamber was devoid of
anything in human shape. The cypress chest had also vanished.

No way of egress was visible save by the window; but Ivar had not made
his exit by this, as the state of its fastenings clearly showed. His
disappearance was obviously due to the existence of some secret passage.

Godfrey, loth to turn back now that he had come thus far, resolved to
make an examination of the room, even at the risk of being discovered
by the returning Ivar.

He began his search with the fireplace.

Surely some propitious fairy was directing his steps! A long slab of
stone, that formed one side of the fireplace, had sunk to the level
of the hearth, revealing a passage behind. This slab was worked by a
pulley, since he could feel at each side the ropes by which it had been
lowered; but without stopping to examine the mechanism, he entered the
passage and moved forwards through the darkness, exploring the way
before him both with hand and foot in order to guard against a possible
precipitation down a flight of stairs. The sequel justified this
precaution, for he soon found himself at the head of a flight of stone
steps. He counted forty of them before he reached the level flooring
of another passage. At the end of this a faint light could be seen
proceeding from behind a door that stood ajar. He concluded that the
viscount had at last attained his destination, and was occupied on the
task, whatever it was, that had brought him there.

Godfrey, drawing near, ventured to take a peep through the
partly-opened door, and caught a glimpse of a large stone chamber,
octagonal in shape. From its vaulted roof hung a lighted sconce.
No window was visible, and, connecting this circumstance with the
number of stairs he had descended, Godfrey was of opinion that it was
a subterranean chamber. The floor was devoid of carpet, and the only
pieces of furniture were a table of carved oak and four antique chairs
of the same material.

Of the eight sides of the chamber one was occupied by the doorway where
Godfrey stood: the other seven were severally pierced by recesses,
the depth of which he was unable to ascertain, since the entrance of
each was hung with a curtain of black velvet of such length that the
silver lace fringing its foot touched the floor. The curtains draping
two of the alcoves were plain: the remaining five were adorned with
lettering worked in silver thread. As he read the lettering by the
light of the flame that burned in the antique sconce Godfrey, familiar
though he was with death, dissection, and all that the non-medical mind
regards as gruesome, could not repress some uneasy sensations. That
silver lettering recorded the names and titles of the deceased Earls of
Ormsby, from Lancelot Ravengar, the first peer, to Urien Ravengar, the
tenth.

Godfrey knew himself to be on forbidden ground. He was standing on the
threshold of the secret burial vault of the lords of Ravenhall!

Ivar was in one of the alcoves, whither he had betaken himself with
the cypress chest, but as the curtain concealed him from view, it
was impossible for Godfrey to see what the viscount was doing. What
Godfrey heard, however, was sufficiently alarming. From the recess came
a recurrence of sounds that could be attributed only to the use of a
screw-driver. There could be no doubt that Ivar was engaged in the work
of removing one of the coffin lids, and Godfrey felt, moreover, that
this act had some connection with the contents of the reliquary.

Was Ivar about to transfer the evidences of his guilt--for of his guilt
Godfrey now entertained no doubt--from the reliquary to one of the
coffins? There could scarcely be a safer place of concealment than a
coffin contained in a secret vault, the entrance of which was known to
four persons only. Yet this theory seemed precluded by the fact that
a coffin constructed to hold one body would not suffice for two. Ivar
could scarcely intend to carry off from the crypt the relics of one of
his ancestors, since he would have the same difficulty in disposing of
a dead earl as of less distinguished remains.

Suddenly there came from Ivar a cry, or rather a yell; he dropped the
screw-driver, or whatever tool he was using, and thrusting aside the
black velvet curtain, staggered into the vault and tumbled into a
chair, where he sat for some moments, his eyes fixed in terror upon the
alcove from which he had emerged.

"Bah!" he presently muttered. "What a fool I am! Yet I could swear I
heard a whisper coming from the coffin. By God! what creepy work this
is!"

A long pull at the spirit flask seemed to infuse new courage into him.
He arose and moved again towards the alcove, though with somewhat slow
steps.

As Ivar lifted the curtain Godfrey tried to ascertain what lay behind,
but succeeded only in catching a glimpse of the reliquary, which stood
on the floor with the taper-lit hat resting upon it.

The viscount picked up the fallen tool and resumed the task of
screw-loosing. Then, after what seemed an age to the waiting surgeon,
the screw-driver was dropped, and Godfrey became aware that Ivar had
removed the coffin-lid, for he had placed it on the floor in such a
manner that one end of it projected beneath the curtain and appeared in
the vault.

Godfrey was unable to tell what followed. Ivar's work, whatever its
character, was performed in silence, and lasted a considerable time.

More than once Godfrey stole into the vault for the purpose of peering
behind the curtain, but on each occasion he did not get beyond the
table, the fear of detection restraining him from proceeding farther.

Then, moved by a sudden impulse, he took out his penknife, and turning
to the alcove nearest the door, he quickly and silently cut off a
corner from the velvet drapery.

"This may be of service," he thought, thrusting the fragment inside his
pocket, "if at any time it should become necessary to prove that I have
stood in the secret funeral vault of the Ravengars."

Ivar's task was evidently coming to an end, for the coffin-lid was now
drawn from beneath the curtain into the alcove, and the peculiar sounds
caused by the application of the screw-driver recommenced.

With their cessation Ivar reappeared from behind the curtain, wearing
his taper-lit hat again, and dragging the chest, which, judged by the
effort required for its removal, was in no way diminished from its
former weight--a circumstance which puzzled Godfrey not a little.

He was preparing for flight, but as Ivar had seated himself in the
chair again, he was tempted to linger a moment.

"Thank the devil that's over," said the viscount in a tone of
satisfaction, "and I hope Lorelie will be satisfied."

"_Lorelie!_" murmured Godfrey with a start. "Lorelie! Surely he does
not mean Mademoiselle Rivière?"

He had no time just then to consider this question, for Ivar, having
drained the few drops that remained in the flask, was now extinguishing
the flame in the sconce, preparatory to leaving the crypt.

Godfrey immediately stole off, and succeeded in reaching his room
without detection. He went to bed again and slept soundly.

He awoke to find the sun glinting pleasantly through the diamond panes.
The brightness of the morning had so cheering an effect on his spirits
that he felt disposed at first to regard the event of the preceding
night as the result of a dream.

Then, his memory quickening, he thrust his hand beneath his pillow and
drew forth a piece of black velvet edged with silver lace.

"It was no dream," he muttered, gazing at the relic. "I have really
stood in the secret burial vault of the Ravengars. What a story this
will be for Beatrice!"

Godfrey was accustomed to make his sister his confidante in all things;
but, somehow, upon reflection, he resolved, for the present at least,
to maintain secrecy respecting Ivar's strange doings.



CHAPTER III

IDRIS REDIVIVUS


"Ivar has been at home two months, yet we have had no visit from him."

The speaker was Godfrey Rothwell, and the scene the breakfast-room of
his villa, Wave Crest.

"Why should he visit us?" asked Beatrice.

"Ahem! as a suitor for your hand, in compliance with his father's wish."

"Ivar had better not insult me by such an offer."

"An offer of marriage can scarcely be called an insult, Trixie."

"It would be--from _him_," returned Beatrice with a heightened colour.
"I speak what I know," she added oracularly.

She began to pour out the coffee: while Godfrey, somewhat puzzled by
her words, turned to the letters awaiting him. No sooner had he glanced
at the handwriting on the envelope of the first than he gave a great
start.

"Heavens! have the dead returned to life?"

He hastily broke the seal and ran his eye over the letter, while the
mystified Beatrice awaited the explanation of his words.

"From my old college-friend, Idris Marville."

"What?" cried Beatrice with a little scream of surprise. "Is he not
dead, then? Did he escape the fire?"

"That's self-evident. There has been a dreadful mistake somewhere. He
will prove that he is alive by paying us a visit. In fact, he will be
here this very morning. Well, this _is_ a surprise!"

"More--a pleasure," added his sister.

Beatrice had never seen Idris, but she had often heard of him from
Godfrey, and knew the painful story of his boyhood. She was aware, too,
that on one occasion, Godfrey, being in pecuniary difficulties, had
applied to Idris in preference to the Earl of Ormsby, and had received
by return of post a handsome cheque. The memory of this event was still
fresh in her mind, and she was desirous of showing her gratitude to her
brother's benefactor.

"He signs himself 'Breakspear,' I see," she said, glancing at the
signature of Idris.

"Yes: he has dropped the name of Marville, and has taken his mother's
maiden name. It is easy to guess his reason."

True to the promise contained in his letter Idris arrived that same
morning, and Beatrice took a good view of him from behind the curtain
of her bedroom window, as he strode up the garden path accompanied by
Godfrey.

Twenty-three years had passed since that memorable night at Quilaix,
and Idris was now verging upon thirty--dark-eyed, handsome, athletic,
with a face bronzed by southern suns. His appearance impressed Beatrice
favourably.

"There is nothing mean or ignoble about _him_," she murmured.

The first greetings being ended, Idris sat down to a pleasant luncheon,
presided over by Beatrice.

"Your name has been so often on Godfrey's lips," she said, "that you
seem quite like an old friend, though I never thought to see you after
the announcement of your death in the newspapers."

Idris smiled.

"Perhaps I have done wrong in letting people think that I perished in
the burning of the '_Hôtel de l'Univers_.' At the time of the fire I
was at the opera-house. On leaving I found the boulevards ringing with
the news. I bought a newspaper and discovered my own name erroneously
inserted among the list of victims. I resolved not to set the mistake
right, for it suddenly occurred to me that here was a convenient
opportunity to die--to the world. Wherever I went, the name Marville
recalled my father's crime, or rather, supposed crime. 'Let the world
think that Eric Marville's son is dead,' I thought, 'and let him begin
life anew, and under a different name.'"

"Was the yacht _Nemesis_, in which your father escaped, never heard of
again?" asked Godfrey.

"It vanished, leaving not a trace behind."

"Strange! The news of your father's escape, together with a description
of the delinquent vessel, would be telegraphed to all civilized
countries. Every ocean-steamer, every seaport, would be on the watch
for the yacht, and yet you say it was never seen again."

"Its disappearance shows how well Captain Rochefort had devised his
plans," Idris answered.

"Since your father did not communicate with you, his only son, it
follows, almost as a matter of course, that he did not communicate with
his more distant relatives?"

"His relatives, if he had any, are unknown to me: in fact, I am quite
in the dark as to my father's antecedents. Among all his papers there
was not one letter relating to his kinsfolk, nor any clue whatever to
indicate his history prior to his settling at Nantes in 1866."

"You are certain that your father was English born? Because if so, his
name, and date and place of birth, together with his parents' names,
should be among the records of Somerset House."

"I have tried Somerset House, and have traced several Eric Marvilles,
some living and some dead, but none of them could I identify as my
father. I am sometimes disposed to believe that Marville was not his
real name, but one assumed by him on settling at Nantes."

"Cannot your mother's relatives give you any information?"

"They, too, are ignorant of my father's origin. My mother was an
English governess at Nantes when she first met my father. A few months
after her marriage the death of an aunt endowed her with an ample
fortune, a fortune which has devolved upon me."

"If twenty-three years have passed since your father was last heard
of," said Beatrice, "do you not think that the probabilities point to
his death? He must be dead," she added. "He would not be so unfatherly
as not to communicate with you during all these years."

"That is my opinion--at times: and at other times I think he is still
living, but resolved, from some mistaken notion of honour, to ignore me
until he can give me the heritage of a fair name."

"If he is alive," continued Beatrice, "he has perhaps married again,
and has children, and, though it sounds harsh to say it, other and new
interests which your appearance on the scene might embarrass."

This was a bitter thought, but by no means new to Idris.

"I trust I am not offending you by the question," observed Godfrey,
"but do you really, in your heart of hearts, believe that your father
was innocent?"

"There, the torture. My mother was firmly convinced of his innocence,
and only an hour or two before her death, as if gifted with prevision,
she did her best to impress me with her belief; nay, more, she made me
take an oath that I would, on attaining manhood, use all my endeavours
to clear my father's name. Yet the thought often strikes me that I am
nursing an illusion in thinking him innocent. Who am I that I should
set up my opinion against that of the judge, the jury, and the press?"

"And the masked man who stole the runic ring--what of him?" Godfrey
asked.

"He, too, is a person who has eluded all my inquiries. And small
wonder! Had I been a man at the time when these events happened,
instead of a boy of seven, my investigations, begun at once, might
have met with success, whereas the long lapse of years has handicapped
my efforts. And yet, fanciful as it may sound to you, Godfrey, I am
not without hope, even at this late day, of finding my father, and of
vindicating his innocence. At any rate, this is the object to which my
life is devoted, and from which I shall never swerve."

And Idris, having satisfied the curiosity of his friends on various
other points, immaterial in themselves, dropped the subject, and the
conversation flowed into other channels.

Presently they were interrupted by the appearance of the page-boy,
with a note addressed to Godfrey, who, finding that he was wanted in a
critical case, withdrew, leaving Beatrice to entertain the guest.

"I am afraid, Mr. Breakspear," she said, "that you will spend a rather
dull time here; our household is a quiet one, and Ormsby offers little
in the shape of entertainment. Our only show-places are the old Saxon
church on the hill-top, and Ravenhall--Lord Ormsby's seat."

"I think I'll take a stroll towards the old Saxon church," said Idris,
who was simple in his tastes, and easily pleased.

"I have to pass that way," Beatrice said, "and, if you care to
accompany me----"

Idris, who found Beatrice's soft grey eyes very attractive, readily
accepted her offer; and, after a pleasant walk of half an hour, the two
reached the ancient church of the Northumbrian saint, Oswald.

"This," said Beatrice, as they passed through an arched doorway, and
stood within the subdued light cast by the stained glass, "this is the
Ravengar Chantry."

"A sort of oratory and burial-place of the Ravengars?"

"Yes. These monumental brasses are the tombs of my ancestors, that is,
of those who antedated the Restoration; those who lived after that
time are interred in the private crypt at Ravenhall. For you must
know---- Ah, listen!" she said, breaking off abruptly. "Some one is
playing the organ."

"And playing with a masterly touch, too," remarked Idris, after a brief
interval of listening.

"Who can it be?" murmured Beatrice. "Our own organist is not capable of
such music."

She was about to advance on tiptoe from the transept to the nave in
order to obtain a view of the organ-loft, but Idris gently checked her.

"Stay a moment. If we show ourselves we may disconcert the musician and
put an end to his playing."

He sat down on a stone seat in the transept. Beatrice followed his
example: and for several minutes they listened in silence, entranced by
the sweet and noble strains flowing from the organ-loft.

Then, gradually, a peculiar change came over the spirit of the music.

"Ah! what an eerie strain!" murmured Beatrice, a shiver passing over
her.

Idris, too, found himself curiously affected. Becoming oblivious of
external things, yielding himself entirely to the influence of the
music, he essayed to enter into the spirit and meaning of the piece.
Those solemn rhythmic cadences that thrilled him with a melancholy awe
could be interpreted only as a Funeral March. At intervals there pealed
from the organ shivering, staccato notes, like the heart-sobs of those
who "keen" for the dead, succeeded by a mournful, stately measure, as
if the cold voice of Fate were declaring that death must be endured
as the common lot of all. The very soul of grief was voiced in those
notes, which, lofty and sad, mysterious as the moonlight, seemed to
weep as they kissed the cold stones of the chantry.

During the dream-like spell induced by the weird character of the
requiem Idris suddenly became subject to a very strange feeling, the
like of which he had never before known. Vivid as fire on a dark night
there came upon him the startling conviction that this was not his
first visit to the Church of St. Oswald. He had been in this chantry in
time past; he had seen these monumental brasses before: that Funeral
March was a familiar air. The interior of the edifice was as the face
of an old friend who has not been seen for years.

He was sitting in a part of the transept from which it was impossible
for him to view the opposite ends of the nave, unless he possessed the
power of being able to see around a distant corner; yet, directing
his mental eye towards the interior of the church, he could see the
chancel-window at its eastern end, and the hexagonal font by the
western porch.

He felt that he could find his way about the building without once
stumbling, even though it were wrapped in the gloom of night. Every
part of it, from the belfry tower above to the crypt below, was
familiar ground.

With a solemn and long drawn-out diminuendo the music ceased.

Shivering like one roused from a sleep upon the cold ground Idris
started from his reverie, to find Beatrice regarding him with a
curious, half-frightened look.

"A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Breakspear. I have spoken to you three
times, and you have given me no answer. Have you seen a ghost? You look
quite 'fey,' as we say in these parts."

"I have been subjected to a very singular experience," Idris answered,
looking around with a perplexed air. "Till to-day I have never set
foot in Ormsby. Yet I know this church, know it as well as I know my
chambers in the Albany. Now, tell me, does not the chancel-window
contain three divisions?"

Beatrice murmured an affirmative, seeing nothing wonderful in Idris'
remark, inasmuch as chancel-windows usually contain three divisions.

"And in the central pane is painted the Madonna, treading upon the Old
Dragon, with the Holy Child in her arms?"

Beatrice, beginning to be surprised, said that this was correct.

"The right-hand pane represents King Oswald setting up the Cross as his
standard for battle, while the left portrays him at his palace-gate,
distributing his gold and silver plate among the poor."

"Yes. How do you know, if you have never been here before?" Beatrice
burst forth, her amazement increasing as Idris proceeded to enumerate
other details.

"Mr. Breakspear, you _must_ have been here before!"

"Never! I solemnly assure you; at least, not in the body."

He walked towards the head of an oblong marble sepulchre, surmounted by
the gilt effigy of a crusading Ravengar, lying in cross-legged repose.

"Mark me," he said, turning to Beatrice, "I shall find on the other
side of this tomb a circular hole large enough to admit my hand."

At the foot of the stone knight was sculptured the heraldic shield
of the Ravengars, much defaced, and crumbling with age; in the first
quartering of which was a round orifice of sufficient dimensions to
admit the insertion of Idris' hand.

"What do you say to this?" he asked of Beatrice, who had followed him
to the tomb.

But Beatrice, full of wonderment, could say nothing.

"I have a distinct remembrance of placing my hand here in days gone
by," Idris continued. "Yes: I have been in this church before: I am
as certain of that as I am of my own existence. But how? There's the
puzzle. Not in the body, for my life has been passed at a distance from
Ormsby. How then? Has the knowledge been imparted to me in a dream?
Or is it a fact that during sleep the spirit of man may visit distant
places? Or was old Pythagoras right in asserting that we have all had a
previous existence? Am I a reincarnation of one who was familiar with
this place in time past? Miss Ravengar, how is one to explain this
psychological puzzle?"

Beatrice's reply was checked by a light footfall. A young lady, attired
in a soft clinging dress of muslin, was coming slowly towards the
chantry.

Idris looked up and met her eyes, eyes of a dark, tender violet. One
glance: and then--and then----

If he had been previously required to write an essay on love, that
essay would have run on the lines that love, to be sincere and lasting,
must be grounded on the esteem that a man and a woman have for each
other's good qualities; that love therefore must be the product of
time; and that, consequently, genuine love at first sight is an
impossibility.

He thought differently now, as he gazed upon a face fairer than any he
had ever seen: so pure the spirit breathing from it that, like the face
of a Madonna upon a cathedral window, it seemed hallowed by a light
coming from beyond.

If, in the language of the mystic, all beauty be a manifestation of the
Divinity, is it any marvel that Idris, as he stood mute and motionless,
should have felt an awe, a sense of adoration, stealing over him?

As the young lady drew near she acknowledged Beatrice's presence with
an inclination of her head, an action to which Beatrice responded with
a frigid air, an air that seemed to trouble the other, for her eyes
drooped, and a faint colour mantled her face. With quiet dignity she
passed by, and the next moment had vanished through the porch.

Not till then did Idris find his tongue.

"What a divine face!" he murmured. "Who is she?"

"Her name is Rivière--Lorelie Rivière," answered Beatrice somewhat
coldly.

"Rivière. She is French, then?"

Though evidently disinclined to pursue the subject, Beatrice, seeing
Idris' interest in the stranger, proceeded to enlighten him so far as
she was able.

"Mademoiselle Rivière is a lady, apparently of independent means. She
came to Ormsby about four months ago, taking for her residence The
Cedars, a villa on the North Road. She lives a quiet and secluded life.
Her name indicates French nationality, but beyond that fact no one
knows anything of her origin and antecedents. Godfrey once attended
her professionally, and she impressed him as being a lady of birth and
refinement: but," added Beatrice, compressing her lips, "_I_ do not
like her."

The tone in which she delivered herself of this last sentiment somewhat
vexed Idris: but whatever might be the cause of her dislike, he felt
that it did not originate from jealousy of the stranger's beauty.
Beatrice was too high-minded to be actuated by so paltry a motive. For
his own part he could not associate anything bad with the sad grave
eyes of Lorelie Rivière. Beatrice, in her judgment of the other's
character, must surely be the victim of some misapprehension.

"But--but--was she the musician?" he asked.

"It seems so," replied Beatrice, moving into the nave. "There is no one
in the organ-loft now. But here comes the boy who blows. He will tell
us. Roger, was it Mademoiselle Rivière who was playing just now?"

The lad gave an affirmative nod, and exhibited with pleasure the coin
he had received as a fee.

"Comes here often," he said. "Calls at our cottage when she wants me to
blow."

Idris was silent, marvelling that one so young should play with a touch
so masterly: marvelling still more that her music should have wrought
upon him an impression so weird.

He moved around the church with Beatrice, and then mounted the stairs
leading to the gallery, feigning to be interested in what he saw, in
reality seeing nothing but the beautiful face of Lorelie Rivière.

On the seat fronting the organ was a book, left behind probably by an
oversight. Idris lifted the volume, a handsome one, bound in vellum and
gold, and was much surprised at the title.

"_Paulus Diaconus de Gestis Langobardorum_," he read aloud.

"What a dreadful title!" murmured Beatrice. "What does it mean?"

"It is Paul Warnefrid's _History of the Lombards_, a book you'll
scarcely meet with once in a lifetime. Quite a thrilling work, no
doubt, to antiquaries of the Dryasdust order, but I cannot imagine a
lady taking to this style of literature. To begin with, it's all in
Latin: evidently she understands that language."

"Perhaps the book does not belong to Mademoiselle Rivière."

"The margin of almost every page contains notes in a lady's
handwriting--obviously the remarks of one who understands the work. She
seems to have been a diligent student," continued Idris, observing the
numerous annotations. "Ah! what is this? 'The Fatal Skull,' written
across the title-page. On other pages are the initials 'F. S.,'
presumably standing for the same words, 'Fatal Skull.' See here, 'F.
S.,' and here again, 'F. S.'"

"_The Fatal Skull!_" said Beatrice in wonderment. "What is meant by
that?"

At Beatrice's request Idris translated some of the passages marked with
the letters "F. S.," but he failed to grasp their significance, there
being no connection whatever between a skull and the subject-matter of
the paragraph. Then, becoming conscious that it was an unchivalrous
proceeding to pry into an absent lady's book, he was on the point of
closing it, when his eye was caught by the following words written upon
the fly-leaf:--


     Lorelie Rivière,
         16, Place Graslin,
             Nantes.


"16, Place Graslin?" murmured Idris in great surprise. "Heavens! It
was before the door of 16, Place Graslin that M. Duchesne was murdered
twenty-seven years ago!"



CHAPTER IV

THE SECRET OF THE RUNIC RING


The room that Godfrey Rothwell was accustomed to call his study was
a small and cosy apartment, well furnished with books; while, here
and there, were many ornaments betraying the taste of Beatrice, for
the room was jointly occupied by brother and sister. They loved to
be together, and while Godfrey studied his medical tomes, Beatrice's
fingers would be busy with sewing or embroidery.

On this particular evening the presence of Idris caused both study
and needlework to be suspended. He had whetted the curiosity of his
entertainers by affirming that his coming to Ormsby had something to do
with the search for his father: he was, in fact, following a clue.

His hearers pressed for enlightenment.

"Let us sit around the fire, and I will explain my meaning."

Drawing a comfortable arm-chair to the hearth Beatrice composed herself
for what she felt was about to be an interesting disclosure.

"Among the papers," Idris began, "handed to me on my eighteenth
birthday by my mother's executors was a piece of vellum with runic
letters upon it. Though eleven years had passed I immediately
recognized these characters as being identical with those engraved on
the Ring of Odin. My mother had had the forethought to make a copy of
the inscription."

Here Idris paused, reading a question in Beatrice's eyes.

"Have you the transcript with you?" she asked. "It will be interesting
to look at, though we do not understand it."

Idris produced from his pocketbook a scrap of vellum inscribed with
four lines of tiny runic letters.

"And these are runes?" said Beatrice, looking at them attentively.
"They are very like the characters on the bugle that hangs within the
porch of Ravenhall."

"Precisely," said Godfrey, "inasmuch as that is an old Norse
drinking-horn. But we are interrupting Idris' story."

"The sight of this inscription naturally interested me," continued
Idris, "and I resolved to make an attempt at its decipherment, in the
hope that it might cast a ray of light upon the mystery of Duchesne's
murder, for I have always held to the belief that he was assassinated
for the sake of the altar-ring. With this view I procured the services
of a professor eminent for his knowledge of Norse antiquities, and
under his tuition I began the study of runology.

"I was soon able to read all the letters of the inscription, and to
pronounce what I supposed were syllables and words: but syllables
and words would not yield any sense. And here and there came a
juxtaposition of consonants quite unpronounceable. To add to the
difficulty there were no spaces to show where one word ended and
another began. All the characters were equally close together and
seemed to form one long word. I did my best to break the inscription
up into its component parts, but failed. I could not distinguish one
familiar term. Either the language was not old Norse, or the professor
had taught me wrongly."

"Why did you not lay the inscription before the professor," asked
Beatrice, "and get him to decipher it for you?"

"Because I did not wish any one to know the secret till I myself had
first ascertained its value. In the belief that it might be written in
some language other than old Norse I made incursions, not very deep, I
fear, into Danish, Frisian, Icelandic, and other northern dialects, but
failed to identify the inscription with any one of these tongues.

"At last in despair I cast aside the caution I had hitherto exercised,
and placed the writing before my tutor; but, eminent runologist as he
was, he could extract no meaning from it.

"Anxious to begin the search for my father, I parted from the Norse
professor; but yet, amid all my wanderings through Europe, I never
quite gave up the hope of being able to decipher the inscription.

"Now, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the art of secret writing
may have been practised in Norse times just as in our own. Hitherto,
following modern usage, I had always read the inscription from left to
right: why not from right to left, as ancient Hebrew is read? I tried
the course, but it made me no wiser.

"However, the cryptographic idea grew upon me, and was not to be shaken
off. As you perceive, it is a four-line inscription; I therefore read
downwards, combining the letters in the first line with those directly
beneath in the second, third, and fourth lines, but with no success.
I read upwards: disappointment was still my lot. I tried the plan of
omitting every alternate letter. I seemed as far off as ever."

"But you succeeded in the end," said Beatrice.

"Yes. By playing at random with the letters, I hit upon the key to
the decipherment. Observe this character," continued Idris, pointing
to one in the first line, shaped thus:--*. "It is called _Hagl_, and
corresponds to our H. As it is slightly larger than the other letters,
I had come to regard it as the initial one in the series, and the
sequel proved that I was correct. Beginning with this _Hagl_, I omitted
the three following letters, taking the fifth which corresponds to our
i."

"That gives us H-i," said Beatrice.

"Just so. Passing over the next three characters we come to the
equivalent of our l."

"H-i-l," said Beatrice.

"Proceeding in this way I add two more letters, and the result is a
woman's name, as common in Norse days as in our own."

"You mean Hilda?"

"Precisely. Hilda is the first word of the inscription. Light had
dawned at last. I had discovered the key to the writing, and it is
this: every fourth letter is to be treated as if in immediate sequence.

"I instantly marked off the characters into sets of four. By taking out
the first letter in each quartette, and placing them in consecutive
order, I found the result was an intelligible sentence. By treating
the second letter of each quartette in like manner the sentence was
continued: and so with the third and fourth letters. There could be no
doubt about it. I had mastered the secret of Odin's Ring."

"And what _is_ the secret?" said Beatrice breathlessly.

Idris could not avoid smiling at her eagerness. It was pleasant to have
so fair and interested a listener.

"Impulsive Beatrice!" said Godfrey. "Idris may wish to keep the secret
to himself."

"It will be very unfair, then, after having excited our curiosity," she
retorted.

"You shall have the secret," said Idris; "though you will probably be
as much disappointed with it as I was. There is nothing very startling
in it. It does not relate to Odin and the gods of Valhalla, but to an
old Viking and a buried treasure. This is my rendering of the Norse
runes engraved on the broad perimeter of the ancient altar-ring."

And here Idris drew forth a second piece of vellum, and read from it as
follows:--


     _"'Hilda, the Alruna, to her son, Magnus of Deira,
     greeting.--Within the lofty tomb of thy sire Orm, the Golden, wilt
     thou find the treasure won by his high arm. The noontide shadow
     of the oft-carried throne will be to thee for a sign. And may the
     fires of the Asas guard thy heritage for thee.--Farewell."_


"That," continued Idris, after a pause, "is the secret of Odin's
Ring: and though, as I have said, I was disappointed at first, yet
in course of time I began to think that the knowledge I had acquired
might furnish me with a clue--a very faint one, it is true,--towards
discovering my father."

"I fail to see how," observed Godfrey.

"In this way. Captain Rochefort, who was instrumental in effecting my
father's escape, possessed--so I have learned--a copy of this runic
inscription. Now, let us suppose that he and my father turned their
attention to its decipherment, and, like myself, succeeded. Let us
further grant that they had reasons for believing that the old Viking's
treasure still existed in the spot where it was originally placed.
Allowing these premises, what is the conclusion?"

"That they would endeavour to possess themselves of this treasure."

"Just so. They would try to find the Viking's tomb. Therefore, if I,
too, could hit upon the place----"

"I understand. You might come upon some trace of your father."

"That is my meaning. I admit that it is a very slender thread upon
which to hang my hopes, but it is all that is left me. To find the
burial-place of Orm the Golden became my next object, a somewhat
difficult feat, seeing that he is a person who has altogether escaped
the historian's pen. However, I have succeeded."

"What!" exclaimed Godfrey, incredulously. "You have discovered the
burial-place of this unknown Viking, who, granting the reality of his
existence, must have lived at least a thousand years ago?" And on
receiving a nod of affirmation, he asked, "How did you accomplish it?
'_Within the lofty tomb of thy sire Orm, the Golden_,'" continued he,
reading from Idris' translation of the inscription, "'_wilt thou find
the treasure, won by his high arm._' There is nothing here to indicate
the site of this 'lofty tomb.'"

"There is just a hint. Magnus, the Viking's son, is said to be 'of
Deira.' I infer, therefore, that the father Orm was likewise of Deira;
that in Deira he lived, in Deira he died, and in Deira he was buried.
'Look for the tomb in Deira,' became my watchword."

"Deira," said Beatrice quickly. "Is not Deira the ancient name for this
part of the country?"

"Yes," Godfrey answered, "and it is rather a wide area for our friend
Idris to explore, seeing that the name included all the country from
the Tyne to the Humber, and from the Pennines to the sea."

"True," assented Idris; "but we may narrow the area of our search
considerably. These old Vikings had such love for the sea that they
were usually buried within sound of the breakers. We shall not err,
therefore, if we confine our attention to the sea-board only of Deira."

"Even then you will have a coast-line of more than one hundred miles to
explore."

"A glance at an ordnance map will help us to fix the site."

"In what way?"

"Thus. I take it that Orm the Viking, being master of much wealth, as
is clear from the words on the ring, would build for himself a dwelling
or castle by the sea. Around the abode of their chief the vassals and
dependants would fix theirs, thus forming the nucleus of a town. Now
what name would such a place be likely to take?"

"My dear Idris," said Godfrey, protestingly, "how can I tell?--or you
either?" he added.

"Well, like most town-names of Norse origin it would probably end in
the syllable _by_."

"I will grant you that much--no more."

"You cannot see at what I am aiming?"

"I am completely in the dark."

"Receive a ray of light, then. Don't you think that if this Orm built a
town, that town would bear his name?"

"Surely you are not alluding to Ormsby?"

"But I am. This town must have received its name from some one called
Orm, and it is my belief that this Orm was none other than the Viking
who figures on the runic ring. In the neighbourhood of this town, then,
we must look for the 'lofty tomb' of my Norse warrior. Now, four miles
to the north of us, there is, so local guide-books say, a lonely valley
called Ravensdale, containing----"

"Containing," Beatrice broke in, excitedly, "containing a rounded,
artificial hillock, over fifty feet high, and known by the name of
Ormfell."

"Ah! I see you know it," smiled Idris. "Yes, Ormfell, or Orm's Hill, is
the spot where I shall find the bones of the ancient Viking."

"And do you really intend," asked Beatrice, "to bore your way to the
heart of that hillock in order to see what it contains?"

"Such is the purpose that has brought me to Ormsby, my object being to
discover whether this tumulus exhibits traces of having been recently
opened. It may be that in the sepulchral chamber within the hillock I
shall light upon something that will afford a clue towards discovering
my father. It may be a handkerchief merely, a discarded lantern, a
tool, a match-box, a button, or some other article trifling in itself,
but which a skilled detective will know how to employ in tracing the
man he wants. I may come even upon a pocketbook or a letter unwittingly
dropped--who can tell? Ormfell is my last hope. Fanciful as it may
appear to you, Godfrey, something seems to whisper to me that the
interior of that tumulus will furnish me with the means of lifting the
veil that has so long shrouded my father's fate."

There was in Idris' manner a confidence which his hearers did not like
to quell by the expression of cold doubt, though they considered his
expectation fanciful in the extreme.

"Do you intend to obtain the earl's sanction to make your excavations?"
asked Beatrice. "Ormfell stands on the Ravengar lands, you know."

"Humph! if I should ask for permission I may meet with a refusal. In
such circumstances, therefore, I feel myself justified in committing a
bold trespass."

"Well, if you should be caught, Mr. Breakspear," said Beatrice with a
blush, "I will intercede for you with Lord Ormsby, for I believe I am
rather a favourite of his."

Idris tendered her his thanks. He had almost forgotten that the pretty
maiden sitting beside him might one day be the inheritrix of Ravenhall,
and owner of those very lands the proprietary rights of which he was
preparing to set at naught.

"But," continued Beatrice, "if you are not going to apply for the
earl's permission, how do you intend to escape observation?"

"By conducting my operations in the dead of night."

"Break into a Viking's tomb in the dead of night! What a weird idea!"

"I shall not be the first who has so acted, Miss Ravengar."

"You will not object to my help, I presume?" Godfrey remarked.

"On the contrary, I shall be glad of it."

"I am half-disposed to join in this romantic business myself," said
Beatrice with a smile. "How interesting if you should discover the
treasure!"

"We are not very likely to discover treasure that was secreted a
thousand years ago," commented Godfrey.

"And yet," said Idris, "many sepulchral barrows, opened in our day, are
found to contain treasure--coins, drinking-horns, armour, and the like."

"True: but in this case you forget that the words on the runic ring
were an express invitation to Orm's son--what was his name, Magnus?--to
possess himself of the treasure. He would not leave much for posterity
to glean."

"Yes, if he received his mother's ring; but how if it miscarried? Hilda
evidently lived far away from her son Magnus, else why should she have
engraved her communication on metal, when she could more easily have
delivered it _vivâ voce_ and face to face? The messenger entrusted with
the ring may have gone astray. Travelling was a difficult matter in
Norse times, and many perils beset the wayfarer, especially a wayfarer
who carried anything worth stealing. Or consider this point, that
though Magnus was capable of understanding the runic riddle--otherwise
his mother would not have adopted such a mode of communication--yet
it does not follow that his son or successor was equally skilled.
Supposing, then, that Magnus was dead when the messenger arrived with
the ring, there may have been no one in Deira capable of interpreting
the message. The ring might thus retain its secret, and the hillock its
treasure, down to our own time."

"Possible, but not probable," smiled Godfrey.

Beatrice's eyes rested upon the vellum containing Idris' translation of
the runic inscription.

"'_The fires of the Asas guard thy heritage for thee!_'" she read.
"What does that mean?"

"The Asas were the old Norse gods, who were supposed to dart forth
flames upon any one venturing to disturb the sleep of the dead."

"Then beware, Mr. Breakspear," she said playfully, "for you are going
the very way to evoke their wrath. '_The noontide shadow of the
oft-carried throne will be to thee for a sign._' How do you interpret
that?"

"I wish I could answer you, Miss Ravengar. That sentence is an enigma
I've never been able to solve. It is my intention to pay a visit to
Ormfell at noon to-morrow, when an inspection of the hillock may
perhaps throw some light on the matter."

Soon afterwards Beatrice retired for the night, but it was a long time
before sleep came to her. She lay awake, thinking of Idris, and of the
passionate look that came into his eyes at the sight of the beautiful
Lorelie Rivière.



CHAPTER V

"THE SHADOW OF THE OFT-CARRIED THRONE"


Four miles to the north of Ormsby lies the valley of Ravensdale,
extending due east and west, with sides steep and wall-like.

The eastern end opens out upon the sea-beach, and here the width of
the valley is greatest, the distance across being about half a mile.
Farther inland the breadth contracts, and the sides approach each other
till they meet in a narrow leafy gorge, whence issues the slender,
silvery Ravensbec.

The valley contains no human habitation. The only sounds that disturb
the stillness are the melancholy murmur of the sea, and the occasional
tinkling of sheep-bells.

In the middle of the dale, and distant a few hundred yards from the
beach, rises the eminence that for centuries has borne the name of
Ormfell, an eminence circular at the base, about fifty feet in height,
and covered with green turf.

Upon this hillock Idris was now gazing with deep interest.

It was a beautiful summer morning, and with Beatrice for his companion
he had come to take a view of the tumulus, preliminary to the task of
breaking into it at night.

"We want no geologist," he remarked, "to tell us that this is an
artificial elevation. Nature never carved out this pyramid; it has been
raised by the hand of man. This is the 'lofty tomb' spoken of on the
runic ring. Within the heart of this tumulus we shall find all that
remains of old Orm the Viking."

Beatrice shared fully in his enthusiasm. She had seen the mound many a
time, but now the words on the runic ring had invested the spot with a
new and mysterious charm.

"Orm's warriors were men with a taste for the picturesque," she said.
"They could not have chosen a prettier place for the grave of their
hero."

"Ay, close to the sea, that he doubtless loved well, as became a Norse
Viking. And here for ages he has remained in solitary glory, with the
surge forever murmuring his requiem."

"This is certainly a tremendous mass of earth to pile over one poor
mortal," said Beatrice, contemplating the mound.

"Every vassal was supposed to contribute one helmetful of soil to the
grave of his chieftain."

"Judged by that test Orm must have had a pretty numerous following,"
said Beatrice.

"Or else each follower contributed more than the orthodox helmetful.
O, they could toil as well as fight, these old Norsemen. They were not
afraid of work."

"May the old Norse blood in us never die out, then!"

"Amen to that! But I see an upright stone crowning the apex of our
fell. Let us examine it. There may be runes upon it."

Idris extended his hand to Beatrice and assisted her up the side of
the mound. Arrived at the summit he closely inspected the stone, which
was a six-sided pillar, about four feet in height, black in colour,
relieved here and there by curious red convolutions.

"So far as I can see," he said, "this pillar does not betray any mark
of a tool. Its hexagonal shape, then, is due to nature. The stone is
basalt, which often assumes a six-sided form. These red spirals are
apparently sandstone. It is evident that the mass of basalt, of which
this pillar is a fragment, was forced upwards in an igneous liquid
state through a bed of sandstone, taking up some of the latter in its
passage. Hence these red convoluted bands."

"I have heard that there is only one place in Europe where basalt
of this character is to be found," said Beatrice, "and that is in a
certain valley of the Crimea."

"It may be so. The old Norse people are said by some historians to
have been of Scythian origin, and to have migrated from the region of
the Crimea. Perhaps they carried this piece of basalt with them. It
may have been a _baitulion_, or holy stone; in fact," continued Idris,
as he removed some moss from the foot of the pillar, "there can be
no doubt about it. Look on this side, and you will see why a sacred
character was attributed to it. Tell me, Miss Ravengar, what does this
red streak resemble?"

"A curved sword!" cried Beatrice, in wonderment. "Why have I never
noticed it before? A curved sword, with blade, hilt, and cross-guard,
as perfect as if drawn by human hand."

"Just so. And history says that the ancient Scythians worshipped a
scimitar--an appropriate deity for a barbaric and warlike race. This
hexagon, stamped with the image of their god, would be holy in their
eyes. It would be their altar-stone, and a necessary companion in all
their migrations."

Beatrice, not doubting the truth of Idris' theory, gazed with a feeling
almost akin to awe upon the mysterious stone, which the superstition
of a far-off age had elevated to the rank of deity. Eternity seemed
to be its attribute. In its presence she and Idris were but as the
quickly-evaporating dew; long after their bodies should have crumbled
to dust this altar would remain. A silent contemporary of the rise
and fall of past empires, it would survive the rise and fall of many
to come. If ever stone was eloquent on the evanescence of all things
human, surely this stone was!

Such were Beatrice's thoughts, while Idris, more prosaic, was on his
knees, removing the earth from the foot of the pillar, and scraping the
surface of the stone with his penknife in the hope of finding runic
letters engraved upon it: but in this he met with disappointment; each
face of the hexagon was free from inscription.

"I was hoping," he said, rising to his feet, "to come upon some
epitaph, such as, '_I, Magnus, raise this stone to the memory of my
sire, Orm_', which would give me proof that I am on the right track,
since, after all, my opinion that this is the tomb of the Golden Viking
is purely conjectural."

They descended to level ground again, and Idris proceeded to walk
slowly around the base of the hillock, endeavouring to take no more
than a foot at each step.

"The circumference is, roughly speaking, about one hundred and fifty
feet," he remarked, when he had completed the circuit. "The diameter,
therefore, will be about fifty, and the centre about twenty-five feet
off."

"If you have that distance, or nearly that distance, of solid earth to
bore through, you have a hard task," said Beatrice.

"My work will be of a much lighter nature, I trust. If this tumulus
has been constructed like the generality of its kind, there should be
a stone chamber in the centre with a stone passage leading to it from
the side of the mound. Earth was piled over the mouth of the passage,
but marks, usually taking the shape of two upright stones, were left to
indicate the entrance."

"What point of the compass did the Norsemen favour when constructing
the entrance-passage of their tumuli?"

"The point of ingress usually faced the east."

"This is the easternmost point, nearest the sea," said Beatrice, moving
onward a few steps; and full of their enterprise, she cried, "Let us
try to find the guide-stones."

They carefully surveyed the eastern curve of the base, Beatrice probing
with the point of her sunshade, and Idris with the ferule of his
walking-stick, among the long grass and bracken that grew in profusion
at the foot of the hillock. Their search, however, was without result.

"I am at fault, it seems," said Idris, "or, it may be, the rain of
centuries has washed down so much earth from the side of the mound that
the guide-stones at its foot have become buried. We can do nothing
without proper tools."

"Let us explore all round," suggested Beatrice, the spirit of adventure
growing upon her.

They examined the entire circuit of the base, and, when that
investigation was over, were no wiser than when they had begun.

Beatrice seated herself on a grassy bank facing the tumulus, and Idris
took his place beside her.

"This will never do," he muttered, ruefully contemplating the hillock.
"I _must_ discover the mouth of the passage. If I begin to bore at any
other point I might indeed reach the wall of the central chamber, but I
should be on the outside, and it would be difficult, if not impossible,
to make a way through the masonry. Besides, as I cannot admit the
coöperation of any one but Godfrey, tunnelling through twenty feet of
earth is a task that will take several nights, not to speak of the
impossibility of concealing our work in the daytime."

"Or the risk of your tunnel falling upon you, in which case," added
Beatrice, demurely, "you would have _much ground_ for complaint."

"Wicked Miss Ravengar! Would you jest at my misfortunes? I will defeat
your hopes by finding the legitimate entrance."

"And how do you propose to find it?"

"Well, I conceive that the entrance is shaped like an ordinary doorway,
that is to say, it consists of two upright stones a little distance
apart, with a third resting horizontally upon them. I shall have to
move round the base of the hillock with an iron implement, striking
into the soil till I meet with stone. A little judicious probing will
soon tell me whether it be a boulder, or one of the entrance-columns.
If a boulder merely, I shall have to pass on, repeating my experiment."

"But if these entrance-columns stand well within the hillock you may go
all round without lighting upon them."

"In that case I shall have to begin again, and strike deeper."

"Even then you may fail. You are arguing on the supposition that the
mouth of the passage must be on a level with the base of the hillock,
whereas it may be higher, six, nine, or twelve feet above level ground.
And," pursued Beatrice, "if you conduct your operations in the manner
you describe, it will be difficult to keep your work secret. The
disturbed state of the soil, and the uprooting of the herbage, will
tell a tale to the earl's bailiffs."

"Humph! these are difficulties which call for a cheroot," replied
Idris. "You have no objection, Miss Ravengar? Thank you," he continued,
lighting it. "Now to put on my thinking-cap."

Reclining upon the grass he puffed thoughtfully at his cheroot,
and gazed at the green mound that seemed to be quietly mocking his
endeavours.

"Ormfell appears determined to keep its secret," said Beatrice. "We
want Belzoni here."

"Belzoni? 'I thank thee, Jew,'--or shall I say Jewess?--'for teaching
me that word.' Shall an Italian find his way to the heart of the great
stone pyramid, while I, an Englishman, am to be defeated by a paltry
cone of earth, fifty feet only in diameter? Never!" he exclaimed,
theatrically. "How," he continued, knitting his brows in perplexity,
"how were the Norsemen themselves enabled to remember where the point
of ingress lay? They must surely have left some mark to indicate it."

For the twentieth time that morning Idris murmured the inscription on
the runic ring.

"'_Within the lofty tomb of thy sire, Orm the Golden, wilt thou
find the treasure won by his high arm. The noontide shadow of the
oft-carried throne will be to thee for a sign._' How long am I to be
baffled by this dark oracle? What is meant by the 'oft-carried throne'?"

The light of understanding suddenly leaped into Beatrice's eyes, and
she pointed excitedly to the piece of basalt crowning the summit.

"Mr. Breakspear, are not the words 'oft-carried' very applicable to
that stone, if it has really been brought over sea and land from the
Crimea? Is not that the 'throne' alluded to?"

The cheroot dropped from Idris' lips, and he sprang to his feet with a
cry of exultation.

"By heaven! Miss Ravengar, you are right. 'Oft-carried throne?' Yes,
that must be it! As the holy _baitulion_ of a tribe, marked with the
image of their deity, it would doubtless be the stone on which the new
chief would stand when invested with kingly rule. That piece of basalt
was a kind of _Lia Fail_, like the coronation-stone at Westminster."

"Ormfell is becoming more interesting than ever," said Beatrice, her
eyes sparkling with pleasure at having solved a problem that had
perplexed Idris so long. "We have discovered the oft-carried throne,
and the oft-carried throne is to be to us for a sign. A sign of what?"

"Indicative of the entrance, I presume, otherwise there would be no
reason for engraving the fact on the ring."

"Do the words mean that the stone stands over the entrance itself? If
we remove it, shall we discover the mouth of a shaft?"

"Scarcely, I think: for, if so, the stone would be a sign at all hours
of the twenty-four, whereas the language of the ring restricts its
significance to the noontide hour only."

"It wants an hour yet to noon," said Beatrice, referring to her watch.

"Good! We will wait till then. I have formed my opinion. Mark my words,
Miss Ravengar, we shall find that the entrance is on the northern side.
The noontide hour will show whether I am right."

And Idris, resuming his fallen cheroot, relighted it, and reclining
once more upon the grassy bank, waited for the time to pass, while
Beatrice sat beside him in a state of pleasing suspense.

"Now if my grandfather were here," she remarked, "he might be able to
tell us whether or not Ormfell contains the treasure, without taking
the trouble to break into the tumulus."

"Then your grandfather must have been a remarkably clever fellow."

"He was. By simply walking barefoot over the ground he was able to tell
whether metals lay below, and not only that, but the depth even at
which they lay. He has been known to point out and trace accurately
the course of water, veins of metal, coal-measures, and the like."

"I have heard of similar feats performed by miners of the Hartz
Mountains," said Idris, "but have always regarded such stories as
apocryphal. Had your grandfather any theory to account for his
marvellous power?"

"His idea was that the proximity of metals imparted a peculiar
sensation to the soles of his feet, the intensity of the impression
being a measure of their nearness to the surface. His belief was that
metals cast off subtle exhalations capable of being detected by a
highly magnetic organism, which his undoubtedly was."

"There may be something in that theory. There are persons who cannot
enter the Mint without fainting."

"He always maintained," Beatrice went on, "that this valley of
Ravensdale was the centre of a rich coalfield."

"Your grandfather's power of divining for metals has not descended to
you and Godfrey, I presume?"

"I sometimes think it has--in a slight degree. We still keep his
walking-stick cut from the witch-hazel. This stick would turn visibly
in his hands at the proximity of metals; it has sometimes turned in
Godfrey's hands, and more than once in mine."

"Strange! Well, if this stick is capable of being affected by metals
let Godfrey by all means bring it with him to-night," said Idris, more
in jest than in earnest. "The treasures of the Viking, supposing them
to be still within the hillock, may lie concealed under the floor of
the chamber, and we shall be at a loss to know at what point to dig for
them."

The minutes moved tardily on, and as the meridian hour approached,
Beatrice said:--

"Have you noticed how the shadow cast by the stone creeps slowly along
over the face of the ground? This hillock could easily be turned into a
giant sun-dial."

"You echo my thoughts, Miss Ravengar. And it seems to me that this
shadow will furnish us with the clue we want."

"You mean that the shadow of the stone will fall on the very spot where
the entrance is?"

"Not quite: for in that case the shadow would be an uncertain guide,
varying with the sun's altitude at the different seasons: and, besides,
you will notice that the shadow is many yards from the foot of the
tumulus. It is not probable that the secret entrance lies so far off.
No: my idea is this. Connect the oft-carried throne and its shadow with
an ideal line, and near the point where this line cuts the base of the
hillock will be found the mouth of the passage. It is the noontide hour
now," continued Idris, rising. "We will put a little pile of stones
to mark the spot where the apex of the shadow falls--so," he added,
suiting the action to the word. "Now all we have to do is to walk from
this point to the foot of the hillock, keeping in a bee-line with that
piece of basalt on the summit, and, unless I err, we shall hit upon the
entrance."

Speaking thus, Idris began his experiment. When he had come to the foot
of the hillock, Beatrice observed with surprise that the thick, heavy
walking-stick carried by him was in reality the receptacle for a long
and stout sword. This weapon he pushed into the side of the hillock at
the spot touched by the imaginary line.

After a series of probings, begun on a level with the ground and
continued in an upward direction, Idris paused with a gleam of
excitement on his face. Changing the direction, he resumed his probing,
moving horizontally to the right and stopping again. Then he continued
the movement, this time coming downward, so that the course of his
sword had described three sides of a rectangle.

"Miss Ravengar," he cried, in a voice of emotion, "I have found the
entrance! As I live, I have found it! Here, hidden within the soil,
are two stone blocks a little distance apart, with a third resting
crosswise upon them, the three forming a kind of doorway. We have only
to remove the earth overlying them, and we shall find a hollow passage
beyond."

Beatrice's cheek coloured with pleasure as Idris continued:--

"Miss Ravengar, you have proved yourself a valuable auxiliary. But for
your explanation I might still be puzzling my mind as to the meaning of
'the oft-carried throne.' I offer you a somewhat problematic reward.
Whatever spoil is found within shall be divided equally between us."

"_Merci!_ But are you not promising too much? Is not treasure-trove the
property of the Crown?"

"Provided that the Crown hears of the discovery."

"Fie, Mr. Breakspear! you would corrupt my honesty."

"I can depart now with a hopeful heart for to-night's work. I shall
have but little difficulty in penetrating to the interior of the
hillock. We have no need to mark the entrance. Nature has already done
it for us."

He pointed to a cluster of white flowers growing upon the side of the
hillock. Beatrice had no sooner set eyes upon them than an expression
of surprise stole over her face.

"Do you know the name of this flower?" she said. "It is the vernal
mandrake."

"What? The mandragora of the ancients?--the plant that played so potent
a factor in classic witchcraft?"

"The same."

Idris gazed with considerable interest upon the pale mysterious plant
around which so many weird superstitions have gathered.

"And a curious circumstance it is," continued Beatrice, who was
somewhat of a botanist, "that it should be growing here."

"Why so?"

"Because it is a plant requiring cultivation. It does not grow wild, at
least not in this country."

"Then your inference is that it has been planted here by human agency?"

"Sown is perhaps a better word than planted. It certainly did not
spring up spontaneously from the soil."

"Hum! This raises a curious question. For what purpose was it sown? Is
some one carrying on botanic experiments here? Or shall we say that my
projected visit to the interior of the tumulus has been forestalled,
and my unknown forerunner, desirous of renewing his visit at an early
date, has left these tokens here to mark the point of entrance,
probably having had the same difficulty as ourselves in discovering it?
What simpler plan could he adopt than just to sprinkle here a few seeds
of the white-flowering mandrake?"

Beatrice had nothing to say either for or against this last theory,
and, after puzzling themselves in vain to account for the presence of
the mandrake, they set off for Ormsby.

On their way they passed a small workshop belonging to the
cemetery-mason. The man himself was standing at the door, and Beatrice
stopped to exchange a few civilities with him.

"Well, Robin, how is the world using you?" she asked pleasantly.

"Rather badly of late. The people of Ormsby seem to live longer than
they used to do."

"I am afraid my brother is partly responsible for that," said Beatrice
demurely. "It is his business to oppose yours, you see."

"No one seems to want a tombstone nowadays," continued the man
gloomily. "However, I had a little work put in my way yesterday by
Mademoiselle Rivière."

"Mademoiselle Rivière!" echoed Beatrice in surprise. "What order has
_she_ given you?"

"You have perhaps heard that more than twenty years ago an unknown
vessel was wrecked in Ormsby Race. Four bodies only were washed
ashore, and these were buried in a corner of St. Oswald's churchyard.
Mademoiselle Rivière has obtained permission of the Rector to place a
marble cross over their grave."

"Did she say why she takes such an interest in these drowned men?"
asked Beatrice.

"Well, as to that I was a little bit curious myself, and so I could not
help putting a question or two. Mademoiselle said she had good reason
for believing that the lost vessel was French: and being French herself
she felt a desire to honour their grave. If you will step inside, I
will show you what she has chosen."

Idris, who felt a strange interest in Mademoiselle Rivière, required no
second bidding, and with Beatrice entered the workshop, where the mason
exhibited with manifest pride a cross of Sicilian marble, standing on a
base of the same material. This pedestal was wrought in the shape of a
rock, and decorated with seaweed and an anchor.

"What is the epitaph to be?" asked Idris, after some words
complimentary to the mason's skill.

The man produced a paper upon which was written, in the same delicate,
flowing penmanship that had adorned the margin of the Lombard
historian, the following words:--


                   "SACRED

                TO THE MEMORY

                     OF

                 THE DROWNED.

              OCTOBER 13TH, 1876.

     '_He that is without sin, let him first
               cast the stone._'"


Idris laid down the paper, and, after a few more words with the mason,
the two went on their way again.

"Mademoiselle Rivière must know something more about those shipwrecked
men than that they were Frenchmen merely," observed Idris. "If the
verse cited is to have any application at all, it must mean that the
drowned men were guilty of--I know not what, but something upon which
the world would not look leniently. Hence, perhaps, the absence of
their names from the epitaph."

"You think she knows their names?"

"Without doubt. Why should a lady erect a costly memorial over the
grave of men of whom she knows nothing? If I may venture a conjecture I
should say that she must be related to one of them. 'He that is without
sin, let him first cast the stone.' I have often thought that that
verse might very well form a part of my father's epitaph."



CHAPTER VI

"THE FIRES OF THE ASAS!"


Midnight was chiming from a distant church-tower as Idris and Godfrey
stood on the edge of the upland that overlooked the valley of
Ravensdale.

They had left Wave Crest at eleven o'clock, and following a circuitous
route, and favoured by the late hour, had succeeded in reaching their
destination without attracting notice.

Beatrice had begged hard to accompany them, but this Godfrey would
not permit. So she watched them from the garden-gate till they were
out of sight, and then returned indoors to alarm herself by reading
the adventures of Belzoni in the Great Pyramid, finding some sort of
affinity between the expedition of Idris and that of the enterprizing
Paduan.

The night was lovely and cloudless, with a full moon shining from a sky
of darkest blue.

Shimmering white in the hallowed radiance arose the lofty tomb of the
long-buried Viking, and as the two friends made their way towards it
the character of the undertaking began to oppress the mind of Godfrey
with various strange fancies. What the interior of the hillock would
reveal he could not tell; but he had forebodings of something grim
and ghostly. Though it was of his own free will that he came, yet
now, brought close to the intended task, he shrank from it, and found
himself yielding to a spirit of fear.

He could not but admire the unconcern of his companion, who strode
gallantly forward, humming the chorus of a hunting-song.

"Confound yon bright moon!" muttered Idris. "If any of the coast-guard
should stroll this way, we are certain to be seen."

Arrived at the northernmost point of the tumulus, he flung down the
sack that he had carried containing the implements necessary for
excavation, and turning his eyes upon the side of the hillock began to
look about for the white-flowering mandrake that betokened the point of
ingress.

He glanced quickly from right to left, but, to his surprise, the plant
was nowhere to be seen.

"Here's a mystery! What has become of the mandrake?--No matter: there's
the pile of pebbles I set up on the spot where the shadow of the stone
fell. I have but to repeat my former experiment."

Making his way to the little heap Idris faced about, and then began to
walk towards the hillock, keeping in a direct line with the stone upon
its apex.

On reaching the base of the tumulus he paused and remained stationary,
with his back to Godfrey, and his gaze riveted on the side of the
mound. There was something so peculiar in the rigidity of his attitude,
and in his long-continued silence, that Godfrey's heart quickened with
an unknown fear, a fear that deepened, when Idris, with a scared face
turned slowly round, and, as if the power of speech had left him,
beckoned with his finger for the surgeon to come forward.

"Look there!" he said in a hoarse voice, clutching Godfrey with one
hand, and pointing with the other. "Tell me whether I see aright.
What's that?"

And there, protruding from the side of the hillock in the place where
the mandrake had grown, was--a human hand!

A human hand, rising from the earth, motionless and rigid, the crooked
fingers seeming to tell of the agony of a death by suffocation.

Some one, since the morning, had been trying to force a way through
the soil at the entrance of the passage, and had lost his life in the
attempt.

Such was Idris' first thought. A closer inspection, however, showed
that the event had not happened that day. The nails had fallen from the
fingers, and there was, besides, a decayed, vegetable look about the
hand, differing altogether from the aspect presented by the skin of the
newly-dead. How Idris came to overlook it during his morning visit was
a mystery, since the hand must have been in its present position for
several days, if not for several weeks. Its sudden exposure was perhaps
due to the afternoon storm, which had washed away a portion of the soil.

To endeavour to ascertain the identity of the victim by pulling at
the withered hand, and thus bringing the decayed form to view, was an
act that not only Idris shrank from, but even Godfrey, the surgeon,
familiar with the _disjecta membra_ of the dissecting room.

Then Idris, bending forward to examine the hand more closely, gave vent
to a peal of laughter.

"Brave heroes we are to be frightened by a plant! It is nothing but the
root of the mandrake."

Godfrey drew a breath of relief, as he assured himself by a nearer view
that what he had taken for a human hand was indeed the withered root of
the mandrake, so apt to assume strange and unaccountable shapes.

Yet, to save his life, he durst not put forth his hand to touch it.

If such were the terrors guarding the exterior of the tomb, what might
he not expect to find in the interior?

"Now, Godfrey, our silly fright being over, to work! I will dig while
you watch. Take a seat on this boulder here, and if you should see
anybody coming, give the word and I will suspend operations for a
while. There cannot be more than five or six feet of earth to knock
away, and then the passage will be open to our view. The work ought not
to take long."

Godfrey did as desired, and Idris flung off ulster, coat, and vest.
Rolling his shirt-sleeves above the elbow, he drew the tools from the
sack and selected a spade.

"Now to disturb the repose of old Orm the Golden!" he cried, excitement
sparkling from his eyes. "Now to evoke the fires of the Asas!"

The sickly, withered mandrake-root, with its resemblance to a human
hand, fronted him, and as if in contempt of his former fears, he
drove the edge of the spade clean through the stalk. The separated
parts seemed to quiver and writhe in a manner extremely suggestive of
animal-life.

A thrill of terror shot through his frame, and, spade in hand, he
paused, staring at the root; for, simultaneously with its dissection,
there came a sound, bearing resemblance to a plaintive human cry.

It was not the creation of his fancy, since Godfrey too had heard it.

"In the name of all that's holy what was that?" he asked, starting up
from the stone upon which he had been sitting.

"That is what I should like to know," said Idris, trying to look
unconcerned. "It came--or seemed to come--from this plant here. The
poet speaks of:--


     'Shrieks like mandrakes torn from the ground!'


but I never thought to hear them in my own person."

He toyed idly with the spade, desirous, yet almost afraid, of making a
second stroke.

In all his life Godfrey had never been so much alarmed as he was at
that moment.

"Idris, let us leave this business--at least, for to-night."

His words acted as a stimulus to the other's courage.

"Leave it? Never! till I have forced my way to the heart of this
hillock, and wrested the secret from it. On the very point of discovery
must we turn back, frightened by a sound, the cry, probably, of some
night-bird? We are not the first to break into a Norse barrow at
midnight. Shall we be outdone in enterprise by others? No: though the
dead Viking rise up, sword in hand, to repel me, yet will I go on."

And with this Idris lifted the spade, and attacked the side of the
hillock, savagely cutting the mandrake root to fragments, half
expecting to hear the weird cry again. But the sound, whatever its
origin, was not repeated.

Finding the earth to be hard conglomerate, and not easily susceptible
to impressions from the spade, Idris laid that tool aside, and, fitting
the wooden shaft of a pickaxe into its iron head, proceeded to reduce
the conglomerate to a crumble, which he then tossed aside with the
spade, labouring alternately with the two implements.

No word escaped him: he was too much interested in the work to waste
his breath in words. His efforts soon unearthed two large unhewn blocks
of stone standing a little distance apart.

Fired to fresh energy by this sight, a proof that he was working in the
right direction, he continued his excavations between the two blocks.
After the lapse of a few minutes he paused, and thrust his arm up to
the shoulder through an aperture appearing in the conglomerate.

"_Io triumphe!_" he exclaimed. "Empty space behind this. A little more
labour, and we shall be able to crawl into the passage beyond."

Declining Godfrey's repeated offers of assistance, Idris resumed his
work enthusiastically, dealing stroke after stroke upon the wall of
earth that barred his way. Down came the black soil with a rush, as if
glad to meet free air after an imprisonment of centuries. Wider and
wider grew the aperture, revealing an open space beyond: and, at last,
flinging down his tools, Idris declared that the way was now open to
the interior.

"Where's the lantern, Godfrey?"

The surgeon was already fumbling about in the sack. With an exclamation
of dismay he rose to his feet and gave it a shake, but nothing came
forth.

"By heaven! Godfrey, don't say that we have left the lantern behind!"

"That is just what we have done."

"At least, the match-box is there."

"No: that, too, is a minus article."

Idris breathed a malediction. As he himself had attended to the putting
up of their paraphernalia, the omission was his own, and no blame
attached to Godfrey.

The neglect seemed irremediable. It was out of the question to return
to Ormsby for the lantern, and yet, without a light, it would be
hazardous to grope their way through darkness to the interior of the
hillock. To be so near the point of discovery, and yet so far off, was
maddening.

"I shall not return without some attempt at exploration," cried Idris.
"We'll have to grope about in the dark and try what we can discover in
that way."

Godfrey was almost ready to drop at this weird suggestion.

"Stay a moment!" continued Idris, stooping over his vest, and feeling
in the pockets, "surely I have some matches here. Yes," he added, with
a cry of delight, drawing forth a metallic box. "Here they are! How
many? Three, as I live! Three only! Humph! we shall have to economize
our slender resources. We must feel our way along the passage. I'll
walk a few steps ahead of you, so that if any hurt should befall me,
take warning yourself, and help me if you can. We'll not strike these
vestas till we are fairly within the central chamber. We may learn
something from their glimmer."

Idris, having resumed his coat and vest, was on the point of leading
the way, when he suddenly became impressed with the idea that there
might be some hidden danger within the hillock, and for Beatrice's sake
it was not right that Godfrey should be drawn into it.

But the surgeon, though indeed reluctant to go forward, was
nevertheless unwilling to be considered a coward, and demurred to the
suggestion that he should remain at the entrance till Idris had first
paid a visit to the interior.

"Seriously speaking," said Idris, "I do not see what danger there can
be, but still there _is_ the possibility of it, and I ought to meet it
alone. Beatrice would never forgive me if harm should befall you. Stay
here till I have made a brief exploration."

While speaking he caught sight of the walking-stick with which
Godfrey's grandfather had been accustomed to perform his feats of
divination. It was curiously shaped, carved so as to represent a
serpent twining round a wand, the head of the reptile being set with
two green, glittering stones in imitation of eyes.

"Pass me your ancestral _caduceus_," he said. "It will serve to guide
my steps. I wish these eyes were lamps!"

Then, waving the surgeon back, he stepped within the dark hole, which
seemed, in Godfrey's imagination, to gape like the mouth of a great
dragon about to swallow its victim.

Idris' sensations on entering the passage were far from agreeable.
Though the moonlight without was brilliantly white, not a ray of it
found entrance to the passage; the air within was black and terrible,
and as solid-looking as if formed of ebony.

His progress was slow and tedious, from the necessity imposed upon
him of halting at each step to feel his way. Before lifting his foot
he carefully explored the ground in front of him with the stick, and
he touched in turn the sides of the passage as well as the roof. The
corridor, judged by this test, was about seven feet in height and four
in width. Roof, walls, and flooring were composed apparently of solid
masonry.

After taking about twenty paces Idris, extending the rod on each side
of him, found that it touched nothing. The passage had opened out into
something wider.

He judged that he had entered the mortuary chamber, and was now
standing in the presence of the dead.

What awesome sight did the black darkness hide?

For all he knew to the contrary, not one, but many Vikings might be
entombed here, disposed at different points of the chamber, their
bodies preserved from decay by embalming. Like the lost and frozen dead
men, seen sometimes by navigators in northern seas, they might be in
sitting posture, staring with fixed and glassy eyes as if daring him to
advance.

The temptation to obtain a glimpse of the place by striking one of the
matches was very great, but he refrained from the action, resolving
that Godfrey should share the sight.

Before calling upon him to follow, a sudden desire came upon Idris to
grope his way once around the interior.

Exploring the darkness with his stick he soon hit upon the chamber-wall
at the point where it shot off at right angles to the side of the
passage. Passing his hand over its surface, an action accompanied on
his part by a feeling of disgust, the masonry being wet and slimy, he
discovered what seemed to be a rusty rod extending in a horizontal line
along the wall at the height of about six feet from the ground. Puzzled
at first to account for its use he came to the conclusion that it had
once served to uphold the tapestry with which the interiors of these
old Norse tombs were sometimes decorated. The tapestry itself was gone,
crumbled to dust, perhaps, with the lapse of time, but the metallic rod
remaining would serve to conduct him round the chamber.

He shot a glance through the passage just traversed by him: the
darkness swallowed up its perspective, rendering it impossible for the
eye to form any judgment as to its length. The entrance seemed close
by, a square patch of white light, in which was framed a dark stooping
figure, that of Godfrey, vainly endeavouring to keep an eye on his
venturesome friend.

Idris turned from the passage, and holding the rod with his left hand,
and grasping the stick in his right, he advanced slowly and cautiously
along the side of the chamber-wall, over ground that had, perhaps, been
untrodden for ten centuries.

After taking six paces he was brought to a halt by the wall inclining
again at right angles. He had evidently reached one corner of the stone
chamber.

Turning his face in this new direction, and still submitting to the
guidance of the supposed tapestry-rod, he continued his progress,
exploring the way before him with the stick.

He paused again as his left hand came in contact with a small
triangular shred of cloth hanging to the rod. It was apparently a
fragment of tapestry. There might be other and larger portions farther
on, which, in view of their antiquity, would be of considerable
value. Pleased with the idea that he would not come away from the tomb
altogether empty-handed he was about to move forward again, when his
attention was suddenly diverted to the stick he was carrying.

Without the exercise of any volition on his part it was slowly
inclining itself downwards. There was no mistaking the fact, and the
knowledge came upon him as a disagreeable surprise. It was as if the
serpent-rod had suddenly become instinct with life.

His first impulse was to cast it from him, but thinking that its
downward motion might be due to the relaxed state of his muscles,
he raised and extended the stick horizontally: he kept it in that
position, but it was evident to his sense of feeling that the rod
manifested a tendency to assume an oblique direction, just as if a
thread were tied to its extremity, and some one below lightly pulling
it.

What was the cause of this? Must he dismiss his former scepticism,
and believe in the powers of the divining rod? Had this staff of
witch-hazel, electrified by the nervous force of his own body, become
transformed for the moment into a sort of magnet, capable of being
attracted by metals? Was he standing on the site of the Viking's buried
treasure? Was the very treasure itself lying upon the clay flooring at
his feet? If he struck a match would his eye be caught by the sparkle
of silver and gold? No: he would reserve the light, and make what
discoveries he could without it.

Relinquishing his hold of the metallic rod he dropped upon his knees,
and with his face bent low, put forth his hands.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Hark! What was that?

The silent watcher at the entrance started.

A faint cry from the interior of the hillock as of one calling for
help, and then stillness.

For some time Godfrey had kept his ear close to the flooring of the
passage, a position which enabled him to follow the footsteps of Idris.
But now these footsteps had ceased, their cessation being followed
shortly afterwards by the cry.

Godfrey continued to listen, but though straining his ear to the
utmost he could not detect the faintest sound. A suspiciously horrible
stillness prevailed within.

"Idris! Idris!" he called out, sending the full volume of his voice
along the passage: and "Idris! Idris!" was echoed from the roof in
tones that seemed like a mockery of his own. If the dead in the
sepulchral chamber were gibing at him the effect could not have been
more weird.

Again he called aloud, and again there was no answer, save the echoes
of his own voice.

"My God! what has happened?" he cried.

There fell upon him a terror like that which has turned men's hair grey
in a single night. He did not doubt, he _could_ not doubt, that some
disaster had happened: he must hasten to the rescue: duty, humanity,
friendship, honour--all these blending together in a voice of thunder
urged him forward. Every moment was precious; and yet to venture into
the dark chamber without a light seemed a piece of folly, for what was
there to prevent him from meeting with the same fate as Idris?

He rose to his feet and turned his eyes towards the cliffs and
sea-beach in the hope of seeing a coast-guard whose lantern would at
this juncture be of inestimable service. But alas! no coast-guard was
visible, and to go off in search of one was out of the question, when a
minute might make all the difference between life and death.

No: he must venture in alone, and without a light, and he nerved
himself for the task. Casting one glance at the sky, the sea, the
land, as objects he might never see again, he snatched up the pickaxe
to serve as a weapon of defence, against he knew not whom or what, and
plunged into the mouth of the excavation that yawned black and grim
before him.

His course through the passage was much quicker than that of Idris had
been. There could be no danger here, seeing that Idris had traversed it
in safety. Therefore the surgeon groped his way swiftly along the wall
of the corridor until it suddenly turned off at right angles, whence he
concluded that he was at the entrance of the sepulchral chamber.

"Idris, where are you?" he cried.

There was no vocal reply, but a faint splash greeted his ears like the
movement of a hand through water, a sound which Godfrey interpreted as
an answer.

For a terrible idea had seized him. The floor of the chamber was of
earth only, and not of masonry, he thought: and the rain of centuries,
percolating through the roof, had converted this flooring into a
quagmire incapable of supporting the lightest weight. Idris had become
immersed in it: had just sunk below the surface: his voice was gone: he
had just given his last gasp!

How was he to save him? One step forward, and he himself might be in
the abyss of mud.

To test his opinion he flung the pickaxe forward, taking care to avoid
the spot whence came the splash. As it fell Godfrey drew a breath of
relief. The clangour made by the falling implement proved that the
quagmire was the creation of his fancy. Still, what had become of Idris
that he made no reply? He must be somewhere within this chamber, seeing
that there was no egress from it except by the passage. O for a light,
if only that of a match! Its momentary gleam would suffice to dispel
the mystery.

He listened for Idris' breathing, but failed to detect any sound:
Idris, if he were really here, was as still as the dead.

There was no other course for Godfrey than to grope about until he came
upon the body of Idris, an unpleasant task, seeing that it might bring
him into contact with the bones of Vikings!

He started forward at random. Five paces, and his knee knocked against
some obstruction. Putting out his hand he ascertained that directly in
front of him was something formed of hewn stone.

With an instinctive feeling that this was a tomb, Godfrey gave it a
wide range, and in so doing stumbled and fell over another object.

It was a human body. In a moment Godfrey was upon his knees, and
passing his hand quickly over the prostrate figure he discovered that
it was Idris in a state of coma.

Quickly he felt for the match-box which Idris had put into his vest
pocket, and on finding it, drew it forth. Taking out one of the
wax-lights he struck it on the side of the box.

Never within Godfrey's experience had the striking of a match been
attended with a result so appalling, for he immediately found himself
in an atmosphere of many-coloured flame. The hot breath of a fiery
furnace glowed around, dazzling his eyes, scorching his face.

In that moment of bewilderment and terror the words of the runic
ring flashed through his mind, and found expression in his gasping
articulation:

"_The fires of the Asas!_"

Simultaneously with the illumination a fierce detonation like a
powder-blast rent the air, and Godfrey, flung backwards as by a giant
hand, tumbled senseless to the ground.



CHAPTER VII

"WITHIN THE LOFTY TOMB"


Godfrey opened his eyes to find himself lying on the grassy slope of
Ormfell, staring up at the night-sky, with Idris kneeling beside him. A
cool sensation was playing around his neck, and, gradually waking up to
the reality of outward things, the surgeon discovered that his vest and
collar lay open to the breeze, and that Idris was sprinkling his face
with cold water-drops obtained from a pool close by.

"Coming-to a little, I see," Idris observed cheerfully. "How do you
feel?"

"Awfully queer and dizzy," replied Godfrey.

He lifted himself to a sitting posture, utterly unable to account for
his present dazed condition.

"You'll be all right in a few minutes. Take a pull at this
spirit-flask: that'll revive you. I owe my life to you, old fellow."

"In what way?" asked Godfrey, his mind still too confused to recall the
recent accident.

"Gaseous vapour would have claimed its victim. Your grandfather was
quite right in asserting this to be a carboniferous soil. Some of the
coal-gas has issued to the surface. The atmosphere within the hillock
was a mixture of carbon dioxide and floating fire-damp. Foolishly
creeping about, with mouth held to the ground, I took in such a whiff
of the one as to be quite overpowered by it before I had time to rise,
while the other exploded as soon as you struck the match."

Godfrey, now quite alive to the past, gave an ejaculation of annoyance.

"I'm a pretty doctor not to have warned you against noxious vapours!
It's a marvel we are both alive. But why was I not overpowered?"

"Probably because you were not holding your face to the earth where the
gas collects, though very likely you, too, would have succumbed in a
few moments. However, all's well that ends well. Your striking a light
was a fortunate thing, for it appears to have acted like an electric
discharge in instantly clearing the air. True, you were stunned, but
I recovered; whether instantly by the explosion, or more slowly by
the purifying atmosphere, I cannot tell. All I know is I awoke, and
realizing what had happened, and feeling you beside me, I lost no time
in dragging you out into the open air. And here we are, none the worse
for our experience, I trust. No doubt it was occurrences like this that
caused the old Norsemen to believe that Odin guarded the tombs of the
dead by darting forth flames."

"The fires of the Asas are real enough, after all," muttered Godfrey,
still feeling like one in a dream. "Hasn't the sound of the explosion
brought any one here?"

"It seems not," said Idris, looking round. "So far we are safe. Old
Orm offers a stubborn resistance," he continued. "'He being dead, yet
fighteth.' But he is doomed to be defeated, for I will not go until I
have examined the interior of the hillock."

"You are not thinking of venturing into that deathtrap again?" said
Godfrey, aghast.

"There is no danger now: at least, not from gases. The explosion
dissolved them, and the outer air has had time to penetrate within.
Besides, forewarned is forearmed. We know our peril: if one of us
should be overpowered, the other must drag him out."

"How can you make an investigation without a light?"

"We shall have light enough. Fortunately, you snapped the lid of the
box tightly before striking your match--an action that effectually
screened the remaining two from the flame of the fire-damp."

"Two matches will not help us much."

"There you're wrong. We will take some of this brushwood inside and
light a bonfire: and the sooner we make a beginning the better. It's
two o'clock now. In another hour or so day will be dawning."

Inwardly groaning at the perversity of his friend, Godfrey lent a hand
in collecting the materials necessary for the fire: and, not without
some trepidation, carried them through the dark passage into the
mortuary chamber, the atmosphere of which, as his nostrils assured him,
had become considerably clarified since his previous visit.

Fearing that the two matches when kindled might expire before he could
fire the twigs, which were damp with the afternoon's rain, Idris drew
forth a small book, a pocket edition of _Hamlet_, and proceeded to
detach leaf after leaf, twisting them into spirals. These he handed
to Godfrey, enjoining him to keep a flame alive by kindling one from
another till the twigs should have fairly caught.

"Now to strike the fateful match!" he said. "Pray heaven the Asas do
not give us another pyrotechnic display!"

He cautiously struck the match. Godfrey instantly kindled one of his
paper-spirals from the flame.

"No fireworks this time, you see," remarked Idris, as all remained
quiet. "This is what may be called _making light_ of Shakespeare," he
added, as, taking the kindled papers one after another from Godfrey's
hand, he applied them to the leaves and twigs, endeavouring to force
them into a blaze.

The pale, bluish glare that sprang up made the chamber faintly visible.
Idris, intent on his task of ignition saw nothing but the brushwood
before him, but Godfrey could not refrain from casting a timid glance
around, even at the risk of extinguishing the lighted paper in his hand.

There was, however, nothing very dreadful in the scene before him. He
found himself standing in a chamber about twenty feet square, the sides
of which were composed of rough-hewn blocks of masonry, glistening
with moisture, and dotted with patches of fungous growth. The roof
was formed by a layer of tree-trunks, necessarily of great size and
strength in order to support the vast weight above. The floor seemed
to be of earth, its surface glimmering here and there with tiny black
pools, formed by the constant dropping of moisture from the roof.

But the treasures deposited of old by Hilda the Alruna for her son,
Magnus of Deira--where were they? Well for Idris that he had not set
his heart on finding them, for the chamber was bare, save for one
object in the centre. This was the sarcophagus-like structure against
which Godfrey had collided when looking for Idris' body. By the
flickering light he could see that this receptacle was of oblong shape,
the sides consisting of four upright stone slabs let into the earth,
with a fifth one resting upon them like a lid.

Idris had now succeeded in his task, and the twigs and branches blazing
up cast over the chamber a ruddy glow sufficiently bright for the
taking of observations.

"This is better than a lantern. I warrant the place hasn't looked so
cheerful for centuries," remarked Idris, as he stood by the blaze and
took a survey of the chamber.

"Cheerful at present, perhaps, but in ten minutes we shall be smoked
out."

[Illustration]

"I think not. This fire will burn bright and clear presently, and will
give out little smoke."

Taking up a lighted brand from the fire Idris moved forward and began
his investigations with the tomb by making a scrutiny of its lid.

"No inscription here, runic or otherwise.--Humph! shall we supply one,
HIC JACET ORMUS.--Now to remove this slab! Let us see if there
are bones beneath."

Too eager to wait for Godfrey's assistance he seized the lid with one
hand, and, exerting all his strength, swung it off laterally.

A cry of surprise, rather than of alarm, broke from him, as he caught
sight of a full-sized human skeleton lying within. A burning fragment
from the torch he carried dropped within the teeth of the skeleton,
where, still continuing to glow, it lit up the skull with weird effect,
the red flicker giving an apparent motion to the grinning jaws and
eyeless sockets.

"Are these the remains of your Viking?" asked Godfrey.

"Can there be doubt about it? This is old Orm, or what is left of him,"
replied Idris, holding the torch low over the skeleton.--"Here reposes
one who, I doubt not, made a brave figure in his day. And now? 'None so
poor to do him reverence.' The people of Ormsby do not know even his
name, and yet he was the founder of their town, its nomenclator, in
fact. The old Greeks would have raised a statue and an altar to him in
their market-place, and have worshipped him as their hero eponymous.
And here he lies neglected and forgotten!


     'Shade of the mighty! can it be
     That this is all remains of thee?'


"Is this wasted bone the 'high arm' spoken of on the runic ring? Where
be now its feats of strength? And where is the wealth won by his
ashen spear? the riches that conferred upon him the epithet of Golden?
the treasure placed within the 'lofty tomb' by his wife, Hilda, the
Norse prophetess? Vanished! Whither? Removed by whom? and when? Did
Magnus of Deira really receive the runic ring despatched to him by his
mother? Did he come here in ancient days to remove his heritage, or
has the treasure been taken by other, perhaps modern, hands? If so, by
whose? By the masked man of Quilaix's? By Captain Rochefort's or by my
father's? Have they left behind any trace of their visit?"

His eyes roving around the chamber were attracted by a fabric lying at
the foot of one of the walls.

"What have we here?" he said, stepping forward and picking it up. "A
piece of cloth! Will this give us a clue to the men who were here last?"

For better inspection he carried the cloth to the light of the fire.
When unrolled the fabric proved to be oblong in shape, six feet by
four, its edges very much frayed, and its surface so defaced by clay
that it was impossible at first to discover its texture, colour, or use.

"I see what it is," he remarked at last. "Look at that triangular shred
of cloth hanging from the metallic rod: its shape tallies with the
triangular rent in this fabric. This has been torn from that rail: it
is a part of the tapestry that once decked the walls of this chamber. I
am disappointed again; I thought to find a modern vesture, and am put
off with ancient tapestry."

He began to scrape the fabric with his penknife.

"I can detect some coloured threads," he went on. "It is figured
arras: but it is impossible at present to make out what the figures
are. Here are some letters, too. I can detect N. and T. We must keep
this. When cleaned it may prove to be an interesting 'find'--of a more
ancient date, unless my chronology be at fault, than the famous Bayeux
Tapestry. What puzzles me is, why the man who carried off the rest of
the tapestry should leave this behind him."

"Probably because it is a torn remnant."

"But it would be a very simple matter to sew it to the main piece
again. Do you notice how the rail is bent where the three cornered bit
is?"

Godfrey looked and saw that the rod was bent downwards.

"What inference do you draw from that?" Idris asked.

"That somebody must have been tugging heavily at the tapestry to cause
such a curvature."

"Exactly. But why should any one wrench so violently at the tapestry,
tapestry that was evidently regarded as valuable, otherwise it would
not have been carried off?"

Godfrey shrugged his shoulders at the apparent irrelevancy of Idris'
remarks.

"Your question is not susceptible of an answer."

"True--at present. But an investigator should take note of every
circumstance, however trifling, although at the time he may fail to
discern its true significance."

"But seeing that the tapestry may have been carried off centuries ago,
it is difficult to discover the present application of your remark."

"On the other hand it may have been carried off only recently: it
is these recent traces that I wish to find. Somehow, this bent rod
attracts me. Ah!"

Whilst speaking thus he suddenly recalled an incident that had occurred
during his previous exploration in the dark.

"Godfrey, your divining rod. I am half-a-believer in its powers. At any
rate I am going to try an experiment."

Taking the hazel stick he walked to that part of the wall where the
shred of tapestry hung.

"Either I am dreaming," he said, "or a singular experience befell me at
this spot."

Standing in the same position as before he extended the stick
horizontally, explaining to Godfrey the reason for his act.

But Solomon's saying, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall
be," was not verified on the present occasion. Though Idris waited
patiently for several minutes the rod manifested none of the downward
tendency that it had previously shown.

Godfrey himself took the stick and tried the experiment, but with no
better result. He expressed his opinion that Idris must have been the
victim of an illusion: but to this Idris would not assent.

"The rod does not turn now, that's clear. But that it _did_ turn I am
confident. It was no fancy of mine."

"Let us dig," said Godfrey, "and see whether there is anything beneath
the soil that could have caused it."

With these words he took up the spade and began digging. Idris followed
his example, wielding the pickaxe, but found, after a few strokes,
that some hard substance prevented the point of the implement from
penetrating to a greater depth than three or four inches.

"This earth is mere superficial deposit, percolations from the roof,"
said Idris. "There is a stone flooring beneath."

In a few moments they had cleared away the terrene deposit, discovering
nothing however, except a block of smooth masonry, at which Idris dealt
a few strokes by way of experiment.

"Humph! seems solid enough. The dull sound given forth is hardly
suggestive of a cavity. What made the rod curve, I wonder?"

Finding no answer to this question, he turned reluctantly away,
and began to explore other parts of the chamber. He made a careful
examination of its flooring, allowing no part of it to escape him. With
the spade he swept aside the black water from the tiny hollows, and
with the pickaxe he probed the ground at various points, discovering
everywhere stone pavement beneath the superficial covering of earth.

The object that he was hoping to find--a match-box, or a button
bearing the maker's name; the dated sheet of a newspaper; a scrap of
handwriting: a handkerchief, marked with the owner's initials: or some
article of like character--existed only in his fancy. A thorough search
on the part of the two friends failed to bring anything to light,
either on the surface of the floor, or embedded within the clay.

There was nothing to indicate the date at which the tumulus had been
last entered: whether ten, twenty, or a hundred years before. For all
they could tell to the contrary, many centuries might have passed since
its interior had been trodden by human footsteps.

Relinquishing at last his fruitless labours Idris seated himself on the
edge of the Viking's tomb with disappointment written on his features.

"I have so long clung to the hope that this place would afford a clue
to the finding of my father, that I cannot give up the notion even
now, when its futility seems most apparent. You may think me fanciful,
Godfrey, but something seems to whisper that there _are_ traces of him
here, if I did but know where to look for them. And yet, I suppose, we
have done all that it is possible to do?"

He rose again from his seat and scrutinized the four walls of the
chamber, sounding them with the pickaxe.

"There does not appear to be any cell or passage behind these," he
muttered.

He turned his eyes upwards, and took a survey of the black tree trunks
forming the roof of the chamber: and finished his investigations
by probing the dust of the Viking's tomb with the end of the
walking-stick, but made no further discovery.

"So end my hopes of finding my father," he muttered sadly. "My labour
has been expended on a vain quest. Years of search throughout Europe:
years of study over runic letters, end in--a dead man's bones!--How
this old fellow grins! One would think he enjoys my discomfiture. I
shall take his skull back with me."

"Why, in heaven's name?"

"A whim of mine, nothing more. I have taken a fancy for the skull, and
the skull I will have. So old Orm," he continued, stooping down and
detaching the grisly head-piece from the vertebral column, "prepare to
face the light of day after a sleep of centuries in darkness."

"Put it back again," said Godfrey. "What good can it do you? You can't
possibly put it to any use."

"The skull of a brave Viking is a trophy well worth preserving, a noble
ornament for my sideboard. And if you talk of use, there are several
uses to which I can put it. I may set it with silver, and convert it
into a drinking-cup, like that used by Byron. Or I may turn it into a
pretty lamp to write tragedy by, after the fashion of the poet Young.
Or, imitating the old Egyptians, I may use it as a table-decoration
to remind me of death, and of the vanity of all things human. The
skull will be a souvenir of our expedition, a memento of an experience
unique, at least, in my life.--So hurrah!" he cried, holding the trophy
aloft, "HURRAH FOR THE VIKING'S SKULL!"

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Day was dawning when Idris and Godfrey reached home, after concealing,
so far as lay in their power, the traces of their night's work.
Beatrice, who had been sitting up anxiously awaiting their return, gave
a little scream when she beheld their blackened faces.

"Heavens! what has happened?" she cried.

Over the repast that she had kept in readiness for them Idris gave
an account of the expedition, finishing his story by producing the
relics he had brought away with him, namely, the Viking's skull and the
fragment of tapestry.

"Let us have some warm water, Trixie," said Godfrey. "We will try to
clean this tapestry."

A bowl of warm water was soon procured, Godfrey diluting it with a
powder brought by him from his surgery.

"A chemical preparation of my own," he explained, "warranted to take
out stains without injuring the cloth."

Under Beatrice's manipulation the relic gradually disclosed itself as a
piece of brownish-coloured linen, divided by a vertical line of black
thread into two sections of unequal length. Each section consisted of a
picture woven in woollen threads on the linen background, and each was
fragmentary in character, the beginning of the one and the end of the
other being torn away.

The left section represented a battle-field: spears were hurtling in
air: two warriors were lying prostrate, and a third, a yellow-haired
hero, his bare arms flung aloft, was in the act of falling backwards,
his breast pierced by an arrow. These figures, drawn to a scale of
about half the human size, were in a good state of preservation. The
colours of the garments had scarcely faded: the golden filaments
composing the shields still retained their brightness: and the swords,
woven from silver threads, glinted in the rising sunlight, as Beatrice
moved the fabric to and fro. To this section was attached the
subscription:--"HIC ORMUM AUREUM OCCIDUNT."

"What do these words mean?" Beatrice asked.

"'Here they kill Orm the Golden,'" Idris replied.

"Orm the Golden," Godfrey repeated. "You are right, then, Idris, in
your theory as to that tumulus being the tomb of the warrior spoken of
on the runic ring. I confess that till this moment I have had my doubts
on the point, but this piece of tapestry is decisive."

In the other section of the cloth the same warrior, still pierced
by the arrow, was represented as lying prone upon the earth: two
figures, those of a woman and of a boy, were bending over him. That
it was night-time was shown by the torches they carried. The woman
had evidently come to bear off the body of the dead chief. The words,
"HILDA INVENIT"--were clearly discernible; the rest of the
inscription was wanting.

"'Hilda finds'--Orm, I suppose the next word would be, if we had the
inscription in full," said Idris. "Hilda--the lady of the runic ring,
you will remember. This other figure is perhaps intended for her
son Magnus: if so, it is clear that he was a lad at the time of his
father's death, which may account for his mother's act in hiding the
treasure in Ormfell. There it was to remain till her son should be of
age to defend his heritage. The roll of tapestry suspended round the
tomb was evidently, when entire, a complete record in needlework of the
life of Orm the Viking. It must have formed an interesting relic of
Norse times. A pity we haven't the whole of it."

"And so this is Hilda the Alruna!" mused Beatrice, contemplating the
figure on the tapestry. "How curiously we are linked with the past! To
think that the expedition in which you nearly lost your lives is the
result of a sentence engraved on a Norse altar-ring a thousand years
ago by the lady portrayed on this piece of needlework! She had dark
hair, if this be her 'counterfeit presentment.' And to think, too, that
we possess the very skull of the yellow-haired Viking pictured here! It
sounds too romantic to be true. Where are you going to put your grisly
trophy, Mr. Breakspear?"

"The head of the staircase is the orthodox place."

"The orthodox place?" repeated Beatrice, puzzled by the expression.

"Some ancient houses keep a skull as part of the furnishings," Idris
explained. "It is supposed to bring good luck, and the head of the
staircase is its usual place, any removal of it being fraught with
danger to the house. Of course this is foolery, but----"

"But still we may as well be in the fashion," smiled Beatrice, "and so
I'll put it where you say."

The Viking's skull was therefore taken by her to the embrasure of the
window that looked down the staircase, after which act Beatrice went
off for a brief spell of sleep, this being the first time she had ever
gone to bed at sun-rising.

Godfrey, preparing to follow her example, lingered for a moment,
attracted by the appearance of the water in which the tapestry had been
cleansed.

"How red this water is!" he murmured. "To what is the colour due?"

"Probably to the reddish coloured clay with which the cloth was
stained," replied Idris.

"It may be so," said the physician, slowly and thoughtfully, "but
if I remember rightly, the clay in that part of the chamber where
the tapestry lay was not red at all. The appearance of this water is
certainly curious. One might almost take it for blood!"



CHAPTER VIII

LORELIE RIVIÈRE


The expedition to Ormfell had been a failure from Idris' point of view.
Deaf to the voice of reason he had clung to the idea that the Viking's
tomb held a clue that would aid him in finding his father. Having now
received clear proof of the fallacy of that hope Idris, after a few
hours' sleep, wandered forth by the seashore to consider what his next
step should be.

It was an afternoon of brilliant sunshine. The tide was out, but
without making any inquiries as to the time of its return, he strolled
leisurely onward, wrapped in meditation.

Casually raising his eyes from the ribbed sea-sand he caught sight
of a structure, locally known as "The Stairs of David." This was an
arrangement of three ladders, suspended one above another on the face
of the cliff, which at this point rose vertically to a height of more
than a hundred feet. Iron hooks kept these ladders in position. The
structure, a very frail one, had been put up originally to enable
crab-fishers to reach this part of the beach with more expedition.

Still deep in thought Idris passed on, and had left the ladder about a
mile in his rear, when he suddenly paused and looked in the direction
of the murmuring sound--the sound he had heard for some time, but to
which he had given no heed.

The tide was coming in, and coming in so quickly, that unless he
hastened back at once he ran the risk of being drowned: for steep
cliffs rose above him, and the open beach was at least five miles away.

Just on the point of setting off at a run he was checked by the
recollection of "The Stairs of David." It would be easy to scale the
cliff by means of this structure.

He moved onward at a leisurely pace, and then stopped abruptly. What
was that object rising and falling on the surface of the water a few
yards in rear of the advancing line of foam? Let "The Stairs of David"
be far off or close by, he must satisfy his curiosity before mounting
them.

He ran to the edge of the breakers, and, with a thrill of surprise,
discovered that the undulating object was a woman's hat.

How came it there? He had not, so far as he could remember, encountered
anybody in his walk along the shore. He looked over the dancing waves,
but neither boat nor vessel was visible: he looked up and down the
beach: he looked along the craggy summit of the cliffs that rose in
frowning grandeur above him, but could see neither man nor woman. He
stood, a solitary figure, on a shore that stretched away north and
south for many miles.

Regardless of the advancing tide he remained motionless, fascinated
by the sight of the hat, his uneasiness deepening each moment. There
was something familiar in the grey felt with its once graceful feather
bedrenched with the salt spray.

He advanced into the shallow water and lifted the hat for a closer
survey. It was rarely that Idris took note of a woman's attire, but he
could recall every detail of the dress worn by Mademoiselle Rivière on
the day he saw her in the Ravengar Chantry, and he knew that this hat
was hers.

His heart, weighted by a terrible idea, sank within him like lead.
Half expecting to see a dead form come floating past he glanced again
over the surface of the rippling tide.

He now recollected, what he had hitherto forgotten, that there were
dangerous quicksands along this part of the coast. Must he believe that
Mademoiselle Rivière had become engulfed, and that the tide was now
foaming jubilantly over her head?

Once more he looked along the shore, and, as he looked, his pulses
thrilled with a sudden and delicious relief; for at the sandy base of a
distant cliff he caught sight of a figure lying prone.

Dropping the hat he hurried over the intervening space, and in a moment
more was kneeling beside the form of Lorelie Rivière. Beneath her lay
the third and lowest of the three ladders that formed the so-called
"Stairs of David." She had been either ascending or descending the
frail structure, and it had given way. The ladder, worm-eaten with age,
had snapped into three portions on touching the sands, and the shock of
its fall had deprived her of consciousness.

Her eyelids were closed. Silent and motionless she lay, her breathing
so faint as scarce to seem breathing at all, her delicate fingers still
clinging to a rung of the fallen ladder.

"Thank heaven, she is alive!" murmured Idris, a great dread rolling
from his heart.

He gently detached her fingers from the rung of the ladder, and,
tenderly raising her, rested her head upon his knee, turning her face
towards the breeze. As he did so, the murmuring sound, that had never
once ceased, seemed to swell louder, and his heart almost leaped into
his mouth when he noticed how rapidly the tide was advancing.

That terrible tide!

Were it not for the rush of waters swirling forward he might have
thought that some good fairy was favouring his heart's dearest wish.
The loveliest maiden whom he had ever seen was resting within his arms,
dependent upon him for safety. But what safety could he give? Their
position seemed hopeless. The last rung of the middle ladder hung
forty feet or more above his head. The lowest ladder lay on the sands
in three portions, and he realized at a glance the impossibility of
refixing them in their original position.

"No boat in sight! Impossible to scale the cliffs! Too far to swim with
her to Ormsby! What is to be our fate?" he muttered.

Idris had often looked death in the face, but never in circumstances
so hard as these. Was he to die holding this fair maiden in his arms,
helplessly witnessing her death-gasps? And the voice of the sea,
swelling ever higher and higher, seemed to give an answering cry of
"Yes, yes!"

The breeze blowing full upon her face had a reviving effect upon her.
Slowly she opened her eyes, and a look of innocent wonder came over her
face when she met Idris' earnest gaze bent upon her.

"You fell from the ladder, you remember," he said, answering the
question in her eyes. "Are you hurt? Have you broken any bones?"

"I--I think not," was the reply.

"Shall I help you to stand?"

She assented. But no sooner was she raised to her feet than throbs of
pain began to shoot through her left ankle, and she leaned for support
against the cliff, resting her right foot only upon the sand.

"My ankle pains me. I don't think I can walk."

While thus speaking she chanced to look upward at the ladder hanging
far above her head, and then, lowering her eyes to the flowing sea,
she suddenly took in the full peril of their position.

"The tide! the tide!" she murmured, clasping her hands. "We are lost."

"We certainly mustn't remain here. And if you cannot walk I must carry
you."

Idris' cheerful and brisk air did not deceive her. Glancing from left
to right she saw the futility of his proposal as well as he saw it
himself.

The contour of the shore formed a semicircular bay many miles in
length, and its sands were lined by a wall of lofty perpendicular
cliffs without a single gap to break their continuity. Idris and his
companion were standing somewhere near the centre of this curve. The
tide, extending in a straight line across the bay, had now closed in
upon the extreme points of the arc-like sweep, and was still advancing,
covering the sand and reducing at each moment the extent of their
standing room. Before Idris could have carried her half-a-mile the sea
would be breaking many feet deep upon the base of the cliffs.

"You cannot save me," said Mademoiselle Rivière, a sudden calmness
coming over her. "It is impossible. You must leave me and try to save
yourself."

The gentle maiden, whom a harsh word melts to tears, will often face
death with fortitude, the great crisis evoking all the latent heroism
of her nature. So it was now, and Idris, looking into the depth of
Mademoiselle Rivière's steadfast eyes, caught a glimpse of how those
Christian women may have looked who faced martyrdom in the pagan days
of old. Strange that a maiden, seemingly so good and brave, should have
excited the aversion of Beatrice!

"If you die, I die with you," said Idris. "But I have no intention of
letting either you or myself die. There is a way of escape open to us."

For, with a sudden thrill of joy, he remembered that, at a point a few
hundred yards to the north of their present position, he had passed
a great pile of rocks, fallen crags detached from the sides of the
overhanging precipice. The spot was invisible from where he now stood,
being hidden behind a projecting buttress of the cliff, but he judged
that the summit of this rocky mass was certainly above high-water mark.
There he and Mademoiselle Rivière must remain till the ebb of the tide,
unless they should be so fortunate as to attract the notice of some
passing boat.

Making known his intention, Idris added, "Pardon me; this is no time
for ceremony."

He lifted her in his arms, and she, with a sudden and natural revulsion
in favour of life, submitted to his will, placing her arms around his
neck to steady her person.

The humming sea, as if bent on securing its victims, came foaming with
threatening rapidity over the bare stretch of sand, throwing forward
long streamlets, that, like eager creatures in a race, seemed striving
with each other to be first at the foot of the cliff.

Though Lorelie Rivière was but a light weight Idris' progress
was necessarily slow. At each step his foot sank deeper into the
rapidly-moistening sand, and ere long the water itself was swirling
round his ankles, and flinging its sparkling spray against the base of
the precipice. And yet in all his life he had never experienced the
pure joy that filled him at that moment. The woman whom he most loved
was reclining within his arms, and clasped so closely to him, that he
could feel her breast swelling against his own, and her hair touching
his cheek. There was a subtle charm in the situation: what wonder,
then, that he desired to prolong it, and that he moved at a slower pace
as he drew near the pile of fallen crags?

The desired haven was gained at last, and Mademoiselle Rivière, partly
by her own efforts and partly with the help of Idris, clambered up the
face of the slippery and weed-grown rocks, the top of which formed an
irregular, hummocky platform, a few yards in extent.

"Saved!" she murmured, sinking down and scarcely able to repress a
tendency to cry. "But will not the tide cover this ledge?"

"No. See here!" replied Idris, plucking a weed beside her. "Samphire!
It never grows below salt water. We are quite safe."

Mademoiselle Rivière clasped her hands: her lips moved, and Idris knew
that she was breathing a silent prayer.

"You have saved my life," she said, looking up at him with gratitude
shining from her eyes. "How can I thank you?"

Though he had seen Mademoiselle Rivière but once, and then for a moment
only: though this was his first time of conversing with her, Idris
intuitively felt that she was the one woman in the world for him: and
that though happiness might be possible apart from her, such happiness
would be but the shadow of that derivable from her undivided love.

Fortune was certainly favouring him. He would have given half his
wealth to any one who could have brought about such a situation as
the present, and lo! the event had happened naturally, of itself,
and without any premeditation on his part. It was wonderful! Many
hours might pass ere he and Mademoiselle Rivière could quit the spot
where they now were. He determined to make good use of this golden
opportunity. He would exert all his powers to gain a place, if not
in her affection, at least in her friendship, so that her feeling on
parting from him should contain something of regret.

"How can I thank you?" she repeated.

"By not thanking me. How did the accident happen?"

"My hat was the cause of it all. I was standing on the edge of the
cliff when the wind carried it off to the sands below. Not wishing to
return home bare-headed, I clambered down 'The Stairs of David' after
it. The ladder gave way, and I fell. A sudden stop, and I remember no
more."

"It was well the ground at the foot of the cliff was soft sand," said
Idris.

"It was well, as you say," replied Mademoiselle Rivière with a shiver.
"I shall never forget the sensation of falling through the air."

"Does your ankle still pain you?" Idris asked, observing that she
shrank from placing her left foot on the ground.

"A little," she smiled.

"You are sure it is not dislocated--broken?"

"O no; it is merely a sprain. How long shall we have to remain here?"
she added.

This was a question that Idris himself had been considering. It
appeared that Mademoiselle Rivière, on setting out for her walk, had
not told any one of the direction she had intended to take: Idris had
been similarly negligent. Hence it was very unlikely that men from
Ormsby would come cruising along the shore in boats to search for them.
To scale the precipice was out of the question. To shout for aid would
be of little avail, for as the cliff above them was lofty, and the
highroad ran a considerable distance from its edge, there was little
probability that their voices would be heard. Their position rendered
it impossible to make any signals that would be visible at Ormsby, that
town being situated just behind the cliff that formed one extremity of
the bay.

"I fear," said Idris, after considering all these things, "that our
captivity is dependent upon the good graces of the tide."

"And the tide will be several hours in turning," said Mademoiselle
Rivière. "Well, I suppose I must play the philosopher, and accept the
situation. It is certainly better to be here than under the waves."

If her beauty charmed Idris, her manner, pleasant and without
affectation, charmed him still more.

So interested had he been in her companionship that he had hitherto
failed to notice that the face of the overhanging cliff was pierced by
a deep cavern, the mouth of which was on a level with the top of their
rocky platform.

"What is this?" he said, stepping forward to take a closer view. "A
cave, as I live. A coast-guard's place for watching smugglers, I
suppose."

"That must be the 'Hermit's Cave,'" said Mademoiselle Rivière, turning
her eyes upon it, "so named from an ancient recluse who is said to have
made it his home. I am told that the chair in which he sat is still to
be seen, cut out of the solid rock."

"Excellent! You must occupy that seat, mademoiselle. It will be more
pleasant there than sitting out here upon this slippery windy rock."

She rose, glad of the proposed change, for the wind was playing
confusion with her hair. Observing her wince, as her left foot touched
the ground, Idris said, with a smile:--

"You had better let me carry you."

Lorelie coloured, neither assenting nor opposing. Since Idris had
carried her once it would be prudery to resist now, and so, knowing
that she must either accept his aid or else crawl to the spot upon her
hands and knees, she entrusted herself to his arms, and in this way
gained the entrance of the cave, which was of considerable extent, and
strewn with logs, planks, and odd pieces of timber.

"Where does all this wood come from?" she asked.

"Wreckage-timber, probably; doubtless placed here by the coast-guard to
be used as firing in cold weather. See! here is the hermit's seat you
spoke of," said Idris, indicating a piece of rock jutting from the wall
of the cave near its entrance. It had been hollowed out by art into the
rude resemblance of an armchair, and within this recess Idris placed
his companion.

"I hope you dined well before setting out," he said, "for our grotto
offers nothing in the shape of commissariat."

"I am somewhat thirsty," replied Lorelie, as she turned her eyes upon a
tiny spring of water, which, issuing from a fissure in the wall of the
cave, flowed silently down into a depression hollowed out in the floor,
just beside the hermit's seat; then, overflowing from the basin into
a groove of its own making, the water became lost in an orifice a few
feet distant.

"Here is a remedy for thirst," said Idris. "The daily drink of our
hermit. 'The waters of Siloah that go softly,' was perhaps his name for
it. The eremite's crockeryware having perished, how do you propose to
drink?"

"With Nature's cup," smiled Lorelie, curving her hands into the shape
of a bowl.

Mindful of her ankle she slid cautiously upon her knees and bent, a
charming picture, over the pool.

"How clear and still," she murmured. "Its surface is like a mirror."

"Then do not gaze too long upon it, lest you meet the fate of
Narcissus."

"Narcissus?" she repeated, looking up at him with inquiring eyes.

"He died from the reflection of his own loveliness."

Idris regretted his words almost in the very moment of their utterance,
for he could tell by the sudden clouding of her face that she was
averse to the language of gallantry. Clearly she was not a woman to
be won by empty compliment, and he resolved to steer clear of such a
quicksand. He was glad to observe that when she had resumed her seat
the pleasant smile was again on her lip.

Attentive to every variation in her countenance he began to discern two
moods in Lorelie Rivière: the one vivacious and sprightly, and this
seemed to be her original disposition: the other, pensive and sad, the
result, so he judged, of some secret sorrow.

He longed to know more of this fair lady, slighted by Beatrice; the
lady who had once lived at Nantes in the very house that fronted the
scene of the murder of Duchesne, that murder for which his father had
been condemned: the lady who was erecting in St. Oswald's Churchyard a
marble cross inscribed with an epitaph that seemed almost applicable to
his father's case: the lady whose playing upon the organ had wrought so
weird an effect upon his mind.

All these things contributed to invest Lorelie Rivière with a charming
air of mystery, but Idris recognized that the time was not yet ripe to
press for confidences.

Dragging a few logs forward he disposed them so as to form a seat for
himself near the entrance of the cavern, remarking as he did so:--

"We must not forget to look out for passing boats."

The afternoon sun was filling the air with a dusky golden glow. The
waves dancing and sparkling below the mouth of the cave flashed
emerald and sapphire hues upon its roof, irradiating the place with an
ever-changing light.

To Idris the situation was a charming tableau, a living idyll, and one
that was rendered all the more pleasant by contrast with their recent
perilous position. Mademoiselle Rivière trembled as she reflected on
what might have happened but for the chance passing of this stranger.
Strange that until this moment it had not occurred to her to ask his
name!

"You know my name," she said, "but I have yet to learn yours."

"My name is Breakspear," he replied, withholding his true patronymic;
and feeling as he spoke a sense of shame of having to deceive her even
in so small a matter; "Idris Breakspear."

"_Idris!_" she said, with a sudden start, as if the name had touched
some chord in her memory. "Idris! It is a somewhat uncommon name."

"We will say, then, that its rarity is a point in its favour," smiled
Idris, who had observed her start, and wondered at the cause.

"Have we not met before, Mr. Breakspear?"

"I saw you two days ago in the Ravengar Chantry," he replied. He did
not say, as he might truthfully have said, that during these two days
he had been thinking of little else but that brief meeting. "Miss
Ravengar and I," he continued, "had been listening to your recital
on the organ. I must congratulate you on your skill as a musician,
Mademoiselle Rivière. May I ask the name of the last chant you played?
Was it taken from some oratorio, or was it your own improvisation?"

"The last chant?" repeated Lorelie, with a pensive air. "Let me think?
What was it? Did it run like this?"

And in a sweet silvery tone she trilled off a bar which Idris
immediately recognized as a part of the refrain that had been played by
her.

"That is the 'Ravengar Funeral March,'" explained Lorelie. "Its origin
goes far back into the depths of the dark ages, tradition affirming
that it is the composition of an ancient scald, and was first chanted
at the burial of the old Norse chieftain who founded the Ravengar
family. It has been the custom to play it at the funeral of every
Ravengar, though he would be a bold person who should say that the tune
has not undergone variations in its descent to our times. The unknown
minstrel with whom it originated was a genius, a mediæval Mozart. Could
you not fancy that you heard the tread of numerous feet in procession,
the clang of shield and spear, the groans of warriors, the plaintive
weeping of women?"

"It certainly _was_ a weird requiem; it moved me as no other piece of
music ever has."

And then, absorbed in a new idea, Idris forgot for the moment the
presence of even Lorelie Rivière.

"What are these Ravengars to me," he thought, "or am I to them, that
their Funeral Chant should produce in me such clairvoyant sensations?"

This question was succeeded by another. How had Mademoiselle Rivière
become familiar with this requiem? As if in answer to his thoughts
Lorelie remarked:--

"I heard Viscount Walden play it once in Venice: he gave it as a
specimen of the weird and uncanny in music. It so took my fancy that I
did not rest till I had obtained a copy of it."

It was somewhat disquieting to learn that she had met Lord Walden
abroad, and that she was on terms of sufficient friendship to beg from
him a copy of music. Had this friendship changed into something deeper?
Was he to regard Lord Walden in the light of a rival? Had Mademoiselle
Rivière come to Ormsby in order to be near the viscount? In saving her
from being overwhelmed by the tide Idris had doubtless gained a high
place in her favour, but then gratitude is not love, and Ravenhall and
a coronet were powerful attractions.

"Do you often play at St. Oswald's Church?" he asked, after an interval
of silence.

"Yes. I find a charm in its 'dim religious light.'"

"And the quietude of the place," said Idris, "is also favourable to the
study of mediæval historians--_Paulus Diaconus_, for example."

"Ah! Mr. Breakspear," she said, "so it was _you_ who carried off my
book from the organ-loft. I guessed as much when I went back, and found
it gone. You must not forget to return it, for I value it highly. Now,
confess, that you have wondered why I, a woman, should take to poring
over that old Lombard historian?"

"Curiosity is not confined to the sex with whom it is supposed to have
originated," smiled Idris, "and I am willing to admit, mademoiselle,
that I _have_ been puzzled. The book does not belong to the style of
literature usually patronized by ladies."

"_Merci!_ I regard that last remark as a compliment. Well, I will
explain the mystery, if you will promise to keep the matter a secret."
And upon Idris giving his assurance, she continued: "I am trying
to write a poetical play, a tragedy relating to the times of the
Italo-Lombard kings, and as I do not wish to commit anachronisms, it
behoves me to study the historical authorities in the original."

"I understand," answered Idris, his opinion of Lorelie rising higher
than ever: besides being a musician and a Latin scholar, she was also a
poetess! "And what are you going to call your play?"

"'The Fatal Skull,'" she replied. "You look surprised, Mr. Breakspear.
Is there already a play of that name?"

"I have never heard of it."

"Because one must not borrow another author's title, is it not so?"

"_The Fatal Skull!_" Idris could not but think it a curious coincidence
that Lorelie's drama should bear such a title, when he himself at this
time was much interested in a skull, to wit, that of Orm the Viking.

"Why so weird a title, mademoiselle?"

"Because it is appropriate to the leading incident in the piece: for
the play turns on the famous historic banquet at which the Lombard
Queen Rosamond was forced by her husband to drink from her father's
skull. So now you understand, Mr. Breakspear," she went on, "that
wherever the words 'Fatal Skull,' or the initials 'F. S.,' occur in the
margin of my book, they mean that there is something in the passage
thus marked capable of being worked into my drama."

"And when do you intend to publish it?"

"Not yet: perhaps never. I write, not for fame, but for my own
pleasure."

"Do not say that, mademoiselle. If one has noble thoughts the world
will be the better for hearing them. I hope, therefore, to see the day
when your work will be published: nay, more, I hope to see it acted."

"It is kind of you to say so," she murmured. The light of pleasure
in her eyes, and the colour mantling her cheek, so enhanced her
beauty that it was with difficulty the impulsive Idris could repress
the temptation of telling her of his love. But, even as he watched,
the look of pleasure faded from her face, and there succeeded the
melancholy air that he had previously noticed, an air that said almost
as plainly as words, "I am forgetting myself: it is not for me to be
glad."

Yet the smile returned to her lip when Idris ventured upon a suggestion.

"I see neither boat nor vessel within hail," he remarked, glancing over
the sea. "We have several hours yet before us. Now in the Christmas
tales, you know, when the stage-coach passengers are snowed up at
the country-inn, or the sea-voyagers wrecked on the lonely isle, they
always beguile the time by story-telling. It's the orthodox thing to
do. Suppose we imitate them."

"A good idea! and," added Lorelie archly, "it becomes the mover of the
proposition to take the initiative."

"Caught in the net I was preparing for another!" smiled Idris. "I was
hoping to hear you recite some portions of your play. But that will
come later. Well, mademoiselle, what shall my story be?"

"You said a while ago that you have led a somewhat adventurous life,
and that you once took part in a battle. I call for some of your
adventures."

"You flatter my vanity. A man's self is an insidious theme. The
_Apologia pro meâ vitâ_ is rarely to be trusted, the author being
naturally prone to magnify his virtues, and minimize his faults. Always
receive the autobiography _cum grano salis_."

"Very well," replied Lorelie, with a smile irresistible in its
witchery. "Begin your story, and I will supply the _granum salis_ as
you proceed."

Vain was it for Idris to protest. She was not to be deterred from her
purpose of hearing something of his personal history; and, accordingly,
after due reflection, he proceeded to relate some of his experiences in
the Græco-Turkish War of '97, in which he had taken a part, in common
with some other Englishmen of adventurous spirit.

Idris was master of a certain natural eloquence, an eloquence very
effective in the case of an imaginative maiden. At any rate Lorelie
seemed to take a deep interest in his words. Never before had he seen
so attentive a listener. Her face, like water lit by the changing
rays of the sun, reflected all the varying expressions on his own
countenance, as he passed from grave to gay, from scene to scene.

A significant incident occurred during the telling of these
reminiscences.

He was relating that on one occasion he had been entrusted by a Greek
commander with the task of conveying a secret dispatch to a village
beyond the enemy's lines. The ordinary route to this place ran
through a mountain-pass, which at that time was carefully guarded by
Bashi-Bazouks. Idris, therefore, determined to scale the face of an
almost perpendicular cliff, and passing, as it were, above the heads of
the watchers, come out in their rear. When he was three-fourths of the
way up the cliff his heart almost leaped into his mouth as he caught
a glimpse of a Bashi-Bazouk, dagger in hand, waiting for him at the
top. The shades of twilight were falling: to descend was impossible: to
go upward was to meet certain death: yet upward he continued to pull
himself, little by little, hoping that by some good fortune he might be
able to outwit the armed watcher. In graphic language he painted his
sensations as none could, save those only who have been in a position.

At this point Lorelie's interest became intense, even painful. So
vivid was her realization of the scene that she seemed at that very
moment to see Idris before her, clinging feebly to the edge of the
cliff in the dusky gloom, with the savage enemy above him dealing the
death-stroke. She leaned forward in her seat with parted lips: then,
quite unconsciously, and all-forgetful of her sprained ankle, she half
rose with her arm extended as if to ward off the coming blow.

"O, but you are _here_," she murmured, realizing her mistake. "How
absurd of me!" and, with a heightened colour, she sank back in
confusion.

"Yes, I am here," replied Idris, his heart leaping with delight at
this proof of her interest in his welfare. "Near the summit of the
cliff was a narrow shelf of rock: on this ledge I lay down and waited,
with my revolver pointing to the night sky. I knew that my gentleman
would peep over again presently to mark my progress. He did. What the
kites left of him you'll find at the foot of the cliff."

If pleasure at the death of a fellow-mortal be an anti-Christian
feeling, it must be confessed that Lorelie Rivière had little of the
Christian in her at that moment.

Now that he had once entered upon his personal history, she would not
let him quit it, betraying such interest that Idris almost wondered
whether she had a secret motive in wishing to hear his biography.

The most romantic part of his career, however, namely, that relating
to the runic ring and the quest for his father, he carefully reserved,
giving instead an account of his travels through Europe, and recalling
many a curious legend from "out-of-the-way" places.

Long ere Lorelie was sated with these reminiscences the first stars
of night glimmered in the blue air above: and, that nothing might be
wanting to complete a romantic situation, the moon, rising in all
her glory from the depth of ocean, silvered with its radiance the
entrance of the cave. The light passed within bringing into relief the
statuesque pose of Lorelie's figure. It gleamed on her wealth of raven
hair, and hallowed her face with new and mystic beauty, as, with her
cheek pillowed on her hands, she sat attentive to Idris, drinking in
his words as the fabled Oriental bird is said to drink the moonbeams.

So lovely and interested a listener might well have turned the head of
the frostiest hermit. What wonder, then, that the one thought in Idris'
mind at this moment was:--"O that this might last forever!"



CHAPTER IX

IDRIS MEETS A RIVAL


Observing a shiver on the part of Lorelie, due to the chilly air, Idris
rose to put into effect a plan that had suddenly occurred to him.
Charming as the situation was to himself, he had no wish to prolong it
at the expense of discomfort to his companion.

"'Ye gods, I grow a talker.' I do wrong to sit here inactive. The
air is becoming cold. Since no boat has hove in sight it is time we
tried to attract one. Some of this timber, piled upon the rocks at the
entrance of our cave, and set alight, will 'contrive a double debt to
pay'--of giving warmth to yourself, and of serving as a signal-fire to
the coast-guard of Ormsby."

Collecting a supply of logs and planks, Idris proceeded to form them
into a little pyramid upon the boulders outside the mouth of the
cavern. He applied a lighted match to the pile, and within a few
minutes a glorious bonfire was blazing upon the rock, challenging the
pale light of the moon, and flinging a ruddy glow over the breast of
the heaving waters around.

"Now, Mademoiselle Rivière, if you will sit in this nook here, you will
be both sheltered from the wind and warmed by the fire."

Lorelie accepted the suggestion: and, as her ankle was still painful,
she permitted Idris to assist her to the assigned spot, where she sat,
pleased with the cheerful warmth.

"This blaze ought surely to be seen and understood as a signal of
distress," said Idris.

As he stared at the distant moonlit cliff behind which the town of
Ormsby lay hidden, he suddenly became aware that Lorelie was speaking.

"Idris! Idris!"

He turned quickly with a curious feeling. Surely she was not addressing
him by his Christian name? Let his name sound ever so silvery as it
came from her lips, still, this mode of address in a friendship so
recently formed as theirs, was a familiarity which jarred upon him.

"Idris! Idris!" she repeated.

"Yes, _Mademoiselle_ Rivière," he replied, with a cold and significant
emphasis upon the second word.

But he found her eyes fixed, not upon him, but upon the flames. He
followed the direction of her gaze and beheld a surprising sight.
There, burning in the fire, was a thick piece of planking, and on the
part of it not yet consumed were five black-painted letters, forming in
their arrangement the word:--

"I-D-R-I-S!"

His own name! Yes: there it was, plain to be seen on the plank, the
black characters shining out clearly through the yellow flame.

Lorelie had simply been murmuring the word as it caught her eyes,
without any intention of addressing him by it.

How came his name to be inscribed on this piece of timber? If the
materials composing the fire were driftwood picked up from the beach
(and he did not doubt that such was the origin of the timber in the
cave), then this plank was probably a relic of a sunken vessel, the
word _Idris_ forming its name.

Was there any connection between himself and this lost barque other
than mere identity of name?

His active mind, eager to give an affirmative to this question,
immediately devised a theory. Captain Rochefort, on flying from
Brittany with Eric Marville, would be compelled by considerations of
safety either to disguise and rename the yacht in which the flight had
been effected, or, what was more probable, dispose of the _Nemesis_
in some way, and purchase another vessel. That Captain Rochefort had
so acted, naming his new barque after the son of his escaped friend,
became Idris' firm conviction: for, lost to reason in his excitement,
he overlooked the possibility that other yacht-owners might have a
partiality for the same name.

The plank now burning before his eyes had come from the figure-head of
the yacht in which his father and Captain Rochefort had cruised about,
after disposing of the _Nemesis_.

What more likely than that, on discovering the meaning of the Norse
runes (a copy of which had been made by Rochefort while the altar-ring
was in his possession), the two friends, in a spirit of adventure,
should steer their yacht's course to Ormsby, the site of the supposed
treasure? And here off this coast their vessel had foundered.

This conclusion, if correct, would seem almost to justify the idea that
it was impossible to escape from the malign influence of Odin's ring.

Desire for its possession had led Eric Marville into a mischance that
had doomed him to a prison-life: he had escaped from the convict's
cell, and had wrested the secret from the runic ring, only to meet with
a watery grave in sight of the very treasure-hill that he had come to
explore!

But, stay! had Eric Marville and Captain Rochefort perished in the
fierce currents of Ormsby Race, or had one, or both, been washed ashore
alive? Was the removal of the Viking's treasure due to one of them, or
to the joint action of the two?

So occupied was Idris with these thoughts that he had almost forgotten
the presence of Lorelie, but now, on glancing at her, he noticed that
her face wore a grave, not to say startled, expression, obviously due
to the name that had been so strangely presented to her view. The
discovery seemed to disquiet her as much as it disquieted himself.

Then in a moment it occurred to him that the dead in Saint Oswald's
Churchyard, whose grave she was decking with a marble cross, were men
who had perished in the sinking of this same vessel, _The Idris_.
Lorelie could explain the mystery, if she chose. He resolved to
question her.

"Mademoiselle Rivière," he began, in an earnest tone, "I believe it is
within your power to throw some light upon a matter that, to me, is
one almost of life and death. Pardon me, if I presume too much on our
very recent friendship. To come to the point, I beg, nay, I entreat of
you, to tell me all you know concerning the vessel whose timbers we see
burning before us, the yacht _Idris_, that went down in Ormsby Race on
the night of the thirteenth of October, 1876."

Swift surprise stole over Lorelie's face.

"And why should you think that _I_ know anything of that lost vessel?"

"Ah! mademoiselle, you are not erecting a costly memorial over the
grave of men of whom you know nothing."

Lorelie was silent for a few moments, as if reflecting how to answer an
obviously embarrassing question.

"It is true," she said at last. "I will admit that I _do_ know
something of that lost vessel, and that I have taken a deep interest in
it."

"The vessel carried some one dear to you?"

"Really, Mr. Breakspear, you are very curious," she cried, with a flash
of her bright eyes. "Before answering I must know the motive for this
catechism."

"I have reason to believe," answered Idris, "that there was on board
one, Eric Marville by name."

"And what," asked Lorelie--and at the chilling fall in her voice
Idris started--"what is Eric Marville to you, that you should take an
interest in his fate?"

For a moment Idris hesitated, loth to tell the woman whom he loved that
he was the son of a fugitive convict. Then he resolved to be frank,
believing that if she were a true woman she would not despise him for a
misfortune not of his own causing.

"Eric Marville," he answered humbly, "is my father's name."

At these words Lorelie Rivière shrank back in the Hermit's Seat,
staring at Idris, her face white, her hand lifted to her side.

"Your father?" she gasped. "You Eric Marville's son--_you_?"

"The same, mademoiselle."

"No, no. It cannot be. You have said that your name is Breakspear."

"For obvious reasons I have thought proper to assume my mother's maiden
name."

"Eric Marville's son!" she repeated wildly. "Impossible! I will not
believe it." Her wildness suddenly gave way to an air of disdain, and
she exclaimed: "Why do you seek to impose upon me? Idris Marville was
burned to death at Paris seven years ago."

"Not so," replied Idris, with a smile, as he proceeded to give his
reasons for permitting himself to be advertised as dead.

As Lorelie became gradually convinced of his identity a look of dismay
came over her face. She shrank from him, and glanced down upon the sea,
as if tempted to plunge beneath its surface.

"To think that you, you of all persons," she murmured in a tone of awe,
"should have saved my life!"

"Then by that fact, mademoiselle, I entreat you to tell me whether my
father perished in that shipwreck. You doubtless know something of his
sad history?"

"I ought to know," she returned, "seeing that my real name is Lorelie
Rochefort."

"What do you say?" cried Idris in amazement. "You are the daughter of
Captain Noel Rochefort?"

She inclined her head in assent.

"Then we shall be the best of friends, as our fathers were before us."

"You speak without knowledge," she replied, with a curious dry laugh.

"Did not Captain Rochefort prove his friendship by aiding my father to
escape?"

"At my mother's urging: he would not otherwise have moved in the
matter."

"Why was Madame Rochefort so anxious to see my father free?"

"You must not ask me that," replied Lorelie quickly, and looking
alarmed the moment afterwards, as if betrayed into a rash statement.

This was certainly a strange answer, and Idris pondered over it in the
silence that followed. There seemed no other explanation of her words
than that there had existed a guilty love-intrigue between Madame
Rochefort and Eric Marville. Was it possible that Lorelie herself was
the offspring of----? With a shiver he put the suspicion aside. No: he
would not think _that_!

"Is Captain Rochefort still living?"

"It is extremely unlikely."

"He went down with the yacht _Idris_?"

"In all probability."

"He was not among the bodies washed ashore?"

"They were bruised and swollen beyond recognition."

"Was my father on board the yacht the night it sank?"

"So far as I have been able to gather he was not."

"Not?" said Idris, in a tone of joy. "Then he may still be living. May
I ask, mademoiselle, how you have learned this?"

"From my father's last letter to my mother, with whom he kept up a
correspondence during his cruise. The letter is dated 'The yacht
_Idris_. In Ormsby Roads, October 13th, 1876. 7 P. M.,' and
the postscript is something to this effect, 'Marville is going ashore,
leaving me aboard. He will not return till the morrow. I am despatching
this letter to the post by the sailor who rows Marville ashore.' Those
are the last words my mother received. That same night, four hours
after the letter was written, the _Idris_ went down."

"And you cannot tell me whether my father is living to-day?"

"I know nothing more of Eric Marville since the night of the wreck."

"You have preserved all your father's letters?"

"Naturally."

Idris here ventured on a very bold request.

"Would it be asking too much to let me see this correspondence, or at
least, some part of it?"

"Not if you were to give me a diamond for each word it contained," she
said firmly.

"At least, mademoiselle," he continued more humbly, "you will give me
the purport of those passages that relate to my father?"

"That would be to compromise myself."

"Whatever secrets those letters contain shall be respected by me."

"Not so," said Lorelie sadly. "Mr. Breakspear, Idris Marville, or
whatever name you will, I believe you to be a man of honour----"

"Then why not trust me?"

"Because you would consider yourself justified in breaking your pledge
of secrecy. I dare not trust you. No oath could be binding in such a
case as this. You would proclaim aloud to the world the contents of
those letters."

In spite of her words, Idris, with justifiable curiosity, continued to
press her with questions relative to his father's movements after the
flight from Quilaix, but to all his interrogations Lorelie remained
coldly mute.

"And you will tell me nothing more than you have told?" he said at last.

His sorrowful tone seemed to touch her to the quick. The icy expression
faded from her face and gave way to one of warmth and tenderness. Her
eyes became luminous with tears, but, as if desirous of resisting his
pleading, she averted her head and hid her face in her hands.

"Do not question me further," she entreated. "Not to answer is painful,
but to answer would be more painful still. O, why did you reveal
your true name? I shall never be happy again. If I had but known you
twelve months ago, all would have been well, but now--now it is too
late. In revealing what you wish, nay, what you ought to know, I
should be injuring the interests of, not myself, for that would matter
little, but the interests of others. You do not understand--how should
you?--but some day you will learn my meaning, and then--and then----"
her voice faltered, "how the world will despise me! you more than all
others. Mr. Breakspear, if you knew my real character you would have
left me lying on the sand to be overwhelmed by the tide. I would that
you had!"

Though Idris knew not what meaning to affix to this speech, it did not
abate in one degree his love for her: nay, her very air of humiliation,
plaintive and touching, served only to enhance her attractiveness. When
he recalled the heroic look upon her face in the presence of death, and
the clasping of her hands in prayer upon her deliverance, he could not
bring himself to think ill of her. Her mysterious self-accusations must
be the result of some delusion: or, if something _did_ attach to her
that the world would call guilt, he did not doubt that justification
would be found for it.

"Mademoiselle," he replied, with a grave smile, "you seem to regard
me in the light of an enemy, when my chief desire is to occupy a high
place in your friendship." He would have said "heart" had he dared.
"Since the subject of the yacht is painful to you, I will not refer to
it again in your presence."

"Then my reticence will not make an enemy of you?" asked Lorelie,
raising her beautiful eyes with a yearning in them that moved him
strangely.

"Certainly not, mademoiselle. Let me know that you do not despise me on
account of my father's guilt, or supposed guilt, and I am content."

"Despise you? Oh, no! How can you say that? Mr. Breakspear," she
continued, with a faltering voice, "if--if there be one circumstance
more than another that enlists my sympathies in your behalf, it
is--the--the event of which you speak."

The pitying look in her eyes caused Idris' blood to course like liquid
fire through his veins. Had she been the guiltiest woman living that
glance would have palliated all and have made him her slave forever.

There is no knowing what he might have said or done at this moment had
he not been checked by a sudden exclamation from her. Looking in the
direction indicated by her he saw a boat rowed by seven of the Ormsby
fishermen coming over the waves towards them in gallant style.

"Our imprisonment is drawing to an end," said Idris, adding to himself,
"the more's the pity."

The sight of the approaching boat seemed to put an end to Lorelie's
emotion. She began to regain something of her former sweet self.

By her own unaided efforts she rose to her feet, and leaning against
the rock, waved her handkerchief as an encouragement to the rowers. A
cheer broke from the men as soon as they recognized her; for, by reason
of her liberality to the poor of Ormsby, Mademoiselle Rivière had
become, at least among the lower orders of the town, a favourite second
only to Beatrice Ravengar herself.

Ere long the boat's side grated against the rock, and Lorelie, assisted
by Idris on the one hand, and by a gallant fisherman on the other, was
lifted down from point to point, and finally lodged in the bow of the
rocking boat, Idris taking his seat beside her.

The still-flaming timbers of the fire having been extinguished by the
easy process of tossing them into the sea, the men pushed off, and the
Hermit's Cave rapidly receded from view.

In answer to the questioning of her rescuers Lorelie gave an account of
the circumstances which had led to the enforced captivity of herself
and Idris, adding:--

"We owe you something more substantial than thanks for responding so
quickly to our fire-signal."

"Lord bless you!" responded one of the crew gallantly, "to rescue such
a bonny bird we would row fifty miles."

They created quite a sensation as they drew near the beach of Ormsby,
where a miscellaneous crowd was assembled; for the news had been spread
abroad by Lorelie's frightened maid that her mistress had been missing
since the morning, and, accordingly, it had been conjectured that the
strange light visible at the foot of the distant cliff might have
some connection with her disappearance. And when it was seen that the
approaching boat contained the missing lady there arose an outburst of
cheering and a waving of hats, that drew the colour to her hitherto
pale cheek.

Among the first to meet the boat at the water's edge was Godfrey; and
on learning that Lorelie had hurt her foot, nothing less would satisfy
him than an immediate inspection of her ankle.

"The case may be more serious than you think it," said he.

So Lorelie, escorted by Idris and Godfrey, repaired, under smiling
protest, to the parlour of a cottage fronting the beach, where, after
due examination, the surgeon pronounced the injury to be nothing more
serious than a sprain.

"Still, you must not set your foot to the ground just yet," he added.
"We will procure a carriage to take you home."

Scarcely had he said this when the rattle of wheels was heard outside.
A vehicle of some sort had drawn up in front of the cottage. A minute
afterwards the parlour door opened giving entrance to Viscount Walden.

His acknowledgment of the surgeon was limited to, "Ah! Godfrey:" of
Idris he took no notice at all. Walking up to Lorelie he smiled in a
manner which showed that they were no strangers to each other, and
Godfrey, recalling the viscount's utterances in the crypt of Ravenhall,
"I hope Lorelie will be satisfied," looked on at their meeting with
considerable interest, wondering whether there really were some guilty
secret between them.

"Mademoiselle Rivière, I am delighted to meet you in England," said
Ivar. "Passing along the road outside and observing the crowd in front
of this cottage I stopped my carriage to ascertain the cause. Imagine
my surprise on learning that _you_ were within. Welcome to Ormsby! You
find our climate a little trying, I expect, after the sunny air and the
blue skies of the Riviera? You have sprained your ankle, I understand,
and find a difficulty in walking. If you desire a carriage to convey
you home, mine is at your service."

Ivar's proposal to carry off Lorelie in his own carriage roused all
Idris' jealousy, of which he had the ordinary mortal's share. It was
not very agreeable to hear Lorelie assenting, and to observe that she
smiled upon Ivar as pleasantly as she had smiled upon himself.

With a motion of her hand she directed the viscount's attention to
Idris.

"Lord Walden, Mr.----"

"Breakspear," interposed Idris quickly, fearing lest she should
inadvertently pronounce the name of Marville.

Lorelie gave him a sympathetic glance, which assured him that his
secret was quite safe in her keeping.

"Lord Walden," she continued, "Mr. Breakspear, a gentleman to whom I
owe my life."

In some surprise Ivar turned to survey the saviour of Mademoiselle
Rivière, and beheld a man of about thirty years, with fine dark eyes
and an athletic figure--a man evidently of good birth; his countenance
expressive of a spirit that showed if he should set his mind upon
accomplishing an object, say of winning a woman's love, he would
succeed, or make it go extremely ill with those who endeavoured to
thwart him: and, noting all this, Ivar, who was of a mean nature, took
secret umbrage.

Idris was about to offer his hand, but observing that the viscount was
stiffly bowing with his hands behind him, he thought he could not do
better than imitate the other's example.

For a moment the two men eyed each other, both apparently animated by a
spirit of defiance, the cause of which was patent enough to Godfrey in
the person of the charming woman sitting between them.

Idris, mindful of the fact that he was the son of an escaped convict,
while Ivar was the descendant of a line of belted earls, felt bitterly
the contrast between their respective positions.

"How this fellow would sneer, if he knew the truth!" was his thought.

"Lord save us!" the woman, who owned the cottage, whispered to Godfrey.
"How like they are! The same proud face upon each!"

The surgeon glanced from one to the other, and was compelled to admit
that there certainly _was_ a resemblance in features between the two
men, a resemblance which would have been the stronger, had not Idris
been dark, and Ivar fair.

While Lorelie gave a brief account of her rescue, Ivar listened with
impatience, evidently of opinion that Fortune, while permitting Idris
to save Mademoiselle Rivière, might at least have had the good sense to
drown him afterwards.

"At the next Parish Council," said Lorelie to Godfrey, "you must call
attention to the 'Stairs of David.'"

"The ladder ought certainly to be seen to," said Idris, "but for my
part, mademoiselle," he added, bowing to Lorelie, "I shall never regret
the instability of that structure."

Ivar, who had refrained from speech both during Lorelie's story and at
its close, now offered his arm to help her to the carriage. A shade of
vexation passed over her face at the viscount's obvious indifference to
Idris' services on her behalf.

"My ankle is still weak," she said, turning to Idris. "Mr. Breakspear,
may I ask for your help, too?"

Idris responded with a cheerfulness that became the more cheerful as he
noticed Ivar's scowl.

Thus escorted Lorelie passed into the moonlit air without, and reached
the brougham. Idris held the door while she stepped in. The viscount
followed, shutting the door with a loud slam, that said as plainly as
words, "No more shall enter here."

Lorelie looked more vexed than ever at this discourtesy towards Godfrey
and Idris: but as the carriage was not hers it was out of her power to
offer them a seat.

However, as if desirous of sweetening the parting, she extended her
little hand through the carriage-window, accompanying her action with a
gracious smile.

"Good-night, Mr. Breakspear," she murmured, softly. "I shall never
forget the debt I owe you."

"Drive on," cried Ivar, brusquely, to the coachman. "The Cedars, North
Road."

The horses dashed off, and as the brougham turned the corner of the
road, Idris caught a glimpse of Lorelie, bending forward at the
carriage-window, with her face turned in his direction.

He lifted his hat, and the next moment she was lost to view.

"Idris," said Godfrey, "you love that young lady."

"And you must have a heart of stone not to love her, too."

"Humph! it would be rather awkward if all men were to desire the same
woman. Isn't one rival enough for you?"

Truth to tell, Idris had been much disquieted by the readiness with
which Lorelie had surrendered herself to the will of Viscount Walden.
It seemed almost as if some secret understanding existed between them.
Godfrey, though he refrained from saying so, had no doubt whatever on
the point.

"All things being equal," he continued, "I believe the lady would
favour you: but, you see, a prospective coronet is a very powerful
attraction, and I fear the coronet will gain the day."

Idris repudiated this forecast, vigorously anathematizing the name of
Viscount Walden, after which his thoughts turned to a theme, almost
equal in interest to his love for Lorelie, namely, his father's fate.

"He was not on the yacht when it sank, so Mademoiselle Rivière
declares: then what became of him? I did right to come to Ormsby, it
seems, since it was in this neighbourhood that he was last heard of.
But, alas! that was twenty-two years ago. Is he living to-day, and
shall I ever find him?"



CHAPTER X

A LITTLE PIECE OF STEEL


The clock was striking the hour of ten at night as Beatrice Ravengar
rose to put away the embroidery with which she had been occupied.

Save for the companionship of her faithful St. Bernard she was alone.
Godfrey was out visiting his patients. Idris had been absent since
noon, and Beatrice wondered what had become of him, little thinking
that he was passing his time in a moonlit cave, _tête-à-tête_ with
Mademoiselle Rivière. The page-boy, who was accustomed to sleep at his
own home, had taken his departure: and as for the housemaid, well,
every one knows that when housemaids promise to be home punctually by
nine P. M., they mean any time up to eleven, and Beatrice's
little domestic was no exception to this rule.

Methodical in all her ways Beatrice was in the habit of mapping out
beforehand a certain amount of work to be done during the day. Her
self-allotted tasks being now completed she was ready for bed, but
could not think of retiring before the return of the absentees.

With a little yawn she wondered what she should do to fill up the gap
of time, and seeing a book lying upon the table, one that Idris had
been reading earlier in the day, she took it up and found it to be a
novel.

Beatrice as a rule avoided fiction, but on the present occasion she
felt herself unequal to anything but the lightest kind of literary
confectionery, and, accordingly, settling herself comfortably in her
armchair, she began to read the novel, which bore the title of "_The
Fair Orientalist_." It was of the nightmare order, and dealt with the
doings of an Eastern lady, gifted with occult powers.

After the first chapter Beatrice glanced down to make sure that the
faithful Leo was lying at her feet: when reading a story of the
supernatural at night it is good to have a companion with us, though
that companion be but a dog.

Having finished the second chapter she threw a glance at the windows,
and was glad to observe that the blinds were drawn, since at night-time
panes of glass are sometimes apt to reflect the gaslight in such a way
as to create the impression that there are eyes on the outside watching
us.

At the end of the third chapter Beatrice had become positively alarmed
at the clairvoyance and occult powers ascribed to the Oriental lady:
and yet, so fascinated was she by the story that, despite her growing
fears, she found it impossible to lay down the book.

Hark! what was that?

A sound, coming apparently from the upper storey, echoed through
the lonely house. With a beating heart Beatrice ceased reading, and
listened. The sound was repeated, and she smiled at her fears. The
latticed window at the head of the staircase was open, and flapping
idly on its hinges. That was all!

This thought, however, was quickly followed by another that revived her
uneasiness. Since the casement had been ajar all the evening why had it
not flapped before?

"The wind must be rising," thought Beatrice: and with this reasonable
explanation she resumed her reading.

O, that window!

It persisted in flapping to and fro at intervals, the irregularity of
which was the most annoying part of the matter.

Sometimes the sound was so faint as to be scarcely audible: then,
after a lapse of silence so long as to promise that the torment had
altogether ceased, the casement would give a rattle louder than ever,
and more startling by contrast with the previous stillness. A little
more force on the part of the wind would result in the shattering of
those diamond panes.

"I must go up and shut it!"

Sensible resolve! But it was not carried out. The incident, trifling
though it was, combined with the effect of the novel, had reduced
her to a state of nervousness so great that she durst not ascend the
staircase to close the window. Despising herself for her cowardice she
remained in her armchair, neglecting the only effectual way of ending
the annoyance.

She glanced again at the dog, and derived some assurance from his quiet
air. Though wideawake he did not display any signs of alarm.

"One advantage brute creatures have over the human," thought she.
"_They_ never frighten themselves with ghostly fears."

She again fixed her eyes upon the book, endeavouring to ignore the real
terror by a forced attention to an imaginary one, a literary homæopathy
that was scarcely likely to be successful.

One of the powers possessed by the Fair Orientalist was that of enduing
inanimate objects with her own magnetism by virtue of which they became
gifted for the time being with sentience and motion.

The fancy now seized Beatrice, so deeply had she fallen under the spell
of the weird romance, that the restless casement above was moved by
similar means, and that its flapping was designed to call her attention
to--she knew not what. A strange idea! But it grew upon her, and
increased till it filled her mind to the exclusion of everything else.
The book, neglected, slid from her knees, and she sat listening to the
swinging of the casement. And as it is possible to tell the mood of a
musician by the notes he plays, so Beatrice fancied she could detect a
meaning in each variation of sound.

First, there was a sharp slam intended primarily to arrest attention,
like the ting-ting of the telegraph operator: next, a low plaintive
swing beseeching her to ascend the stairs and come to the rescue,
followed by a remonstratory flap censuring her for delaying. Then
ensued a slow solemn sound suggestive of the gravity of the situation:
finally, there came a loud rattle that echoed through the house as if
threatening penalties for her negligence.

The geologist will read history in a cliff: Beatrice read a whole
tragedy in the varying tones of that casement.

And now, a mysterious influence, emanating from the latticed window,
seemed to steal silently down the staircase like a ghost, and entering
the apartment where she sat and enwrapping her with an unseen pall of
horror, whispered a thought that swept all the warmth from her body and
left her icy-cold.

_The Viking's skull!_

At the head of the staircase, on the ledge of the embrasured window,
was the grim memorial, taken at midnight from the sepulchral mound.
Beatrice's mind became impressed with the belief that the casement
was flapping in sympathy with the skull, was its mouthpiece, so to
speak--nay more, that the dread relic itself was moaning to be taken
back to its ancient resting-place. Her quickening fancy drew a picture
of the skull, whispering, nodding, grinning, its hollow orbs illumined
with blue, phosphorescent light.

Gazing fearfully at the door she saw that it was open. She must close
it ere the horrid object should come gliding down the staircase into
the room.

Summoning up her small amount of remaining courage Beatrice rose, and
with timid, staccato steps, approached the door, attended by Leo. Mute
as a statue she stood in the attitude of listening, her fingers on the
door-handle.

Was it the voice of the breeze sighing through the half-opened
casement, or was it the skull whispering and chuckling with ghostly
glee? She had but to step forward two paces to be within the corridor,
and by looking up the staircase would see the skull at its head.

But this was more than she durst do. To her dismay Leo had walked out
of the room, and refused to return. She could not shut the door upon
the dog: in her present state of mind his presence was an absolute
necessity, and yet, to venture out into the passage to bring him back,
and by so doing come within sight of the skull, was a feat beyond her
courage.

The corridor-lamp had not been lighted. The glory of the full moon
shone on the staircase window at such an angle that the outline of the
casement was projected upon the floor of the passage directly within
view of the door at which she was standing. She could not avoid seeing
the oblong patch of spectral white. But that shadow in the centre like
a human head, black and still as if nailed to the flooring! It was the
silhouette of the skull!

Trembling, she averted her eyes from the shadow, and fortunately at
that moment Leo, having decided that the room was more comfortable than
the corridor, reentered the apartment, and Beatrice instantly closed
the door and turned the key, feeling more at ease now that an inch of
oak interposed between herself and the object at the stair head.

But now came another terror!

Leo had taken his place on the hearth-rug where he remained quiet for
a few minutes. Then, suddenly, he began to grow restive. Giving a low
growl he started to his feet, and after looking about on all sides
began to walk round the room, sniffing suspiciously at the floor, as if
he expected danger from the cellar below rather than from the staircase
above.

His investigations concluded, the poor brute sat down on his haunches,
and lifting up his head gave utterance to one long and plaintive howl.
And if ever dog uttered prophecy Leo uttered it at that moment, and the
tenor of his prediction was that some dire peril was at hand.

Beatrice, who had followed the animal from one part of the room to
another, repeating "Leo, Leo, what's the matter?" as if he were capable
of speech, knelt by his side and found him quivering in every limb, his
hair bristling as if with fear.

Hark!

A gust of wind, more forcible than any that had preceded it, slammed
the staircase window with a loud bang, shivering its diamond panes:
and--more alarming still!--this accident was accompanied by a sound
like the fall of some light object.

Beatrice doubted not for a moment that the skull had dropped from the
ledge and was now coming down the staircase.

Nor did she err. A second bump told her that the thing had rolled over
one stair. A third fall ensued, and then a fourth. These sounds did not
follow instantaneously one upon another, but there was between each a
distinct pause, suggestive of the idea that the skull was endowed with
a volition and a motion of its own: as if, in fact, it were choosing
its way, and descending at leisure.

Awaiting the issue Beatrice sat, the very picture of terror, her hands
clasped, her dilated eyes riveted on the door of the apartment. It
seemed many minutes since the skull had begun its descent, though,
perhaps, fifteen seconds had scarcely elapsed. Finally, the lowest
stair was reached, and the skull, pitching forward, rolled up to the
door of the apartment, as if seeking admittance.

At its dread knock the walls and floor of the room seemed to
tremble. The lights in the gasalier went out, leaving the chamber in
semi-darkness. The dying embers of the fire, flickering strangely and
unsteadily, caused weird shapes to spring up from floor to ceiling.

At the same time a vibratory motion was communicated to Beatrice's
person. She found herself oscillating to and fro, unable to check
herself. A mysterious power grasped her ankles with unseen fingers and
strove to elevate her in air.

Fully believing that her last hour had come Beatrice gave one long
pealing cry, in which the terrified yelp of the dog mingled. She was
shot violently forward: a noise like the rattle produced by a thousand
falling plates rang in her ears, and tumbling headlong to the carpet
she lost all consciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

When Beatrice next opened her eyes she found herself lying on the sofa
with three persons standing beside her: Godfrey was sprinkling her
face and throat with cold water: the housemaid was applying a bottle
of strong salts to her nostrils: and Idris was holding a candle, the
feeble light of which he strove to steady by shielding it with his
hand. The windows and door were wide open, and the cool night air was
blowing through the room, laden with a faint odour of escaped gas.

Beatrice gave a feeble smile of recognition, and then gazed vacantly
around the apartment, unable at first to recall what had preceded the
present state of affairs.

The room presented a scene of confusion. All the pictures hung awry:
the ornaments of the mantel had fallen, and lay, some shattered to
pieces, within the fireplace: fragments of one of the gasalier globes
starred the carpet: the doors of the bookcase were open, and many of
the volumes had been projected from their shelves to the floor. On the
table was the Viking's skull, the cause, in some mysterious way, of all
this disorder; at least, such was Beatrice's opinion.

"I have been horribly frightened!" she said, as soon as she had
recovered the use of speech.

"And well you might be!" replied Idris. "Godfrey and I had just reached
the door, when the house shook to its foundations, and out went all the
lights. By heaven! I thought the place was coming down. We have had an
earthquake shock."

But the imaginative mind of Beatrice, still under the spell of
"_The Fair Orientalist_," was not prepared to accept this rational
explanation.

"Earthquakes don't happen in England," she declared.

"Slight shocks occasionally occur here," said Idris, "and the
present one is a case in point. Why," he added, observing Beatrice's
dissentient shake of her head, "what else could it have been?"

"I cannot say," she answered, shivering, and glancing at the Viking's
skull. "But this much I know, that long before the house shook and the
gas went out, I was frightened by strange sounds coming from the head
of the staircase where the skull was, and so--and so----"

And here Beatrice paused, not knowing how to express to others that
which was not very clear to herself.

"And so you began to think that the skull was talking and threatening
you with mystic oracles? Fie, Trixie," said her brother, reprovingly.
"I did not think you could be so foolish."

But perceiving that it would be useless at this juncture to try to
reason her out of her belief, such process being best reserved for
the sober light of morning, Godfrey turned to give some orders to the
housemaid.

"Ha!" exclaimed Idris, picking up the novel from the floor, "so
you have been reading this? Then I don't wonder that you have been
frightened. '_The Fair Orientalist_' is not a book to be read at night
in a lonely house."

"I will not deny that the book frightened me, but what was it that
frightened Leo? _He_ cannot read ghost-stories, and yet he howled
piteously."

"Probably with that prevision instinctive in the brute race he
discerned the coming of this catastrophe."

Beatrice, having now recovered herself, proposed a tour of the house
with a view of ascertaining how much damage had been done.

The walls did not exhibit any cracks or fissures, and apparently were
as sound as before, but on the floor of every room proofs of the recent
earth-tremor were evident in the shape of fallen articles.

Breakage was especially triumphant in the kitchen.

"Ah me!" sighed Beatrice, sorrowfully. "Good-bye to my new tea-service!
And my pretty majolica bread-plate gone, too! Nothing will convince
me that this is not the work of the Viking. When he was alive I have
no doubt that, being a heathen, he took a pleasure in slaying good
Christian folk: and now that he is dead he shows his malignity by
destroying their crockery-ware. A noble Viking, one would think, should
be above such meanness."

On returning to the sitting-room Idris, for the enlightenment of
Beatrice, began to relate his adventure with Mademoiselle Rivière; and,
as Beatrice listened, she became strangely disquieted by the incident.
Why should this be?

But when Idris, in the course of his story, dwelt on the beauty of
Lorelie, and above all on the heroic light of her eyes when she bade
him leave her to save himself, Beatrice readily discerned by the
warmth of his tone how matters stood with him, and realizing this,
her agitation increased. Surprised, frightened, trembling, she found
herself borne along on the wild wave of her emotion to the certain
knowledge that her feelings towards Idris were not those of friendship
simply, but of love!

And perceiving how deeply enthralled he was by the witchery of Lorelie
Rivière her mind became tortured with exquisite pain.

Fearing that Idris and Godfrey might observe her emotion and divine
its cause, she seized a favourable moment to steal from the apartment,
without so little as a "Good-night," lest her voice should betray her.

And on attaining her dainty bedroom she flung herself upon the bed and
gave way to emotion, despising herself as foolish, and yet unable to
check her tears.

"If he but knew her true character!" she murmured: "If he but knew! But
it is not for me to tell him. He will--he must learn it in time. And
then--and then--perhaps--it may be--that----"

But Beatrice put this hope from her as too delightful ever to be
realized.

"Now to examine my noble Viking," said Idris, taking up the skull from
the table. "Let us see whether he has suffered any injury in his roll
down-stairs.--Hul-lo!"

Shaking the skull as he spoke, his attention was arrested by a faint
rattle within it, a sound that he had not heard in his previous
handlings of the relic.

"Listen, Godfrey!" he cried in a curious tone of voice, and shaking the
skull again. "What is this inside?"

He stopped the motion to examine the skull more carefully. Strange that
till this moment he had not noticed that the occipital bone was pierced
by a tiny hole of circular shape!

"Do you see this, Godfrey?" he said, pointing out the orifice. "This
could have been caused only by a sharp-pointed instrument. The thing
rattling within must be a fragment of some weapon."

He gave the skull another shake, when, from the vertebral orifice there
dropped a piece of rusty steel about two inches in length, slender,
rounded, and tapering to a point.

"No one could live with a thing like this in his head," said Idris. "So
it is clear that we have here a fragment of the identical weapon that
gave old Orm his _coup-de-grâce_."

A tiny piece of steel publicly exposed, say in a shop-window, will
attract little, if any notice: but let it be known that the said steel
is the instrument with which a murder has been wrought, and a whole
city will come trooping forth to view: and fancy prices will be offered
for it by connoisseurs of the gruesome.

Deep, therefore, was the interest with which the two friends viewed
their latest discovery.

"Then this cannot be the skull of Orm the Viking," remarked Godfrey,
after a thoughtful pause, "if the tapestry we brought away from the
tomb is to be received as an authority, since that represents him as
slain by an arrow piercing his breast."

This contradiction between the evidence presented by the skull and that
presented by the tapestry, perplexed Idris in no small degree. Having
conceived the somewhat pleasing notion that he was the possessor of
the skull of Orm the Golden, he was loth to relinquish his belief, and
prepared to argue the point.

"Artists, whether in needlework or in oils, are not always to be
accepted as historic authorities. I have no doubt _suppressio veri_ was
practised as much in the Viking age as in our own. If Orm died with a
wound in the occiput, what does that seem to show? That he must have
turned his back on his foes in defiance of the canons of Norse bravery.
Do you think that the weavers of the tapestry would let posterity know
that Orm had turned coward? No! therefore they make him die with an
arrow in his breast, facing the foe, bold to the last. The tumulus in
Ravensdale is certainly Orm's tomb: the name Ormfell and the tapestry
prove it, and hence the bones it contains must be those of Orm."

"Hum! I'm not convinced," replied Godfrey. "You believe this steel to
be the fragment of a battle-weapon: of what kind of weapon? It is too
slender to have formed part of a sword or a dagger: too finely-pointed
to have been the barb of a lance or an arrow."

"It may be a spike from that sort of mace which the Vikings in their
playful way were wont to call their 'Morning Star.' This is perhaps a
stellar ray."

"Rather fragile for the spike of a mace, isn't it?"

"True. I confess I am as much puzzled as yourself to name the weapon of
which this once formed part."

For a long time Idris continued to puzzle over the question, polishing
the steel fragment till it gleamed with a silvery-azure light. He
suggested its connection with all kinds of impossible weapons, but
could come to no satisfactory conclusion. Then, vexed by Godfrey's
scepticism, he said:--

"Well, old wiseacre, if this be not Orm's skull, tell me whose it is?"

"Impossible to say--at present. My opinion is that it is not an
ancient skull at all, but a modern one. The future will perhaps show
whether I am right. As 'there's a Divinity that shapes' human affairs,
it may be that the earthquake of to-night has been sent for a purpose.
It has had the effect of loosening the fragment of steel hitherto
immovably fixed in the cavity of the skull. You will, perhaps, consider
me fanciful, Idris, but I have a presentiment that we are on the
threshold of a startling discovery to which this piece of steel forms a
clue."



CHAPTER XI

THE LEGEND OF THE RUNIC RING


On the morning after his adventure on the seashore Idris went out with
the intention of calling upon Mademoiselle Rivière: and that he might
not lack reasonable pretext for his visit, he took with him the book
which she had asked him to return. Apart altogether from the charm
of her beauty Lorelie interested him, both as being the daughter of
Captain Rochefort, and likewise as the depositary of some strange
secret relating to his father's history. Though earnestly pressed by
Idris she had firmly declined to give any account of Eric Marville
from the time of his escape to the sinking of the yacht in Ormsby
Race. It was difficult to assign a motive for her refusal, but Idris
did not doubt that in course of time he would be able to overcome her
reticence: and therefore, if only on this account, Lorelie Rivière was
a person whose friendship it behoved him to cultivate.

The way to her villa, The Cedars, took him past Saint Oswald's Church,
and moved by a sudden impulse, he turned aside to enter the edifice,
which in more than one sense was hallowed ground to him, inasmuch as it
was here that he had first met with Lorelie.

Surely Eros was directing his steps! For, scarcely had he passed within
the porch of the Ravengar Chantry when his ear caught the soft rustle
of silk, and Mademoiselle Rivière herself was standing before him. She
had entered by another door, and the basket of flowers hanging from her
arm seemed to indicate that her object in visiting the church was to
deck its altar. Dressed in a graceful costume of black and silver that
harmonized exquisitely with her delicate complexion she looked more
beautiful and witching than ever in Idris' eyes, as with a bright smile
she extended her hand.

"And your sprained ankle?" he asked, when their first greetings were
over.

"Is not my presence here a satisfactory answer to that question?" she
smiled.

"May I ask for a flower in exchange, mademoiselle?" said Idris, as he
returned the book to her.

"Here is variety to choose from. Let me learn your favourite."

She held out the basket for Idris to make his choice.

"You are taking nothing but forget-me-nots," she cried.

"I am in a parabolical mood, you see. The name of this flower expresses
what my lips would say."

"And thereby you accuse me of ingratitude."

"How so?"

"By suggesting the possibility of my forgetting one who has saved my
life," replied Lorelie, the colour stealing over her cheek. She raised
her eyes to his with an expression in them that thrilled him, and
continued, "Shall I tell you the dream I had last night? I thought
I was still lying on those sands where I fell, unable to move. The
rising tide came on and rippled around me, striking a chill through my
clothing. At last the water was so high that it flowed over my face,
filling my mouth and nostrils. I fought with it, but it ascended higher
and ever higher above me, till I was deep down below the surface.

"And the curious part of it all was that I still lived. I lay there as
in a trance, motionless, staring upwards. I could see the air-bubbles
of my breath ascending to the surface. The moon with tremulous
motion shone through the glassy water, looking--oh! ever so far away.
The sea-weed drifted around and clung to my cheek and hair. Curious
sea-monsters came and looked at me, then went away again: shell-fish
crawled over me, and all night long the restless water flowed over my
face and plashed in and out of my mouth. Its faint murmur rings in my
ears still. In the morning I awoke and found it a dream. Then I said to
myself, 'This is what would have happened if--if no one had been near
to aid me.'"

"It is past now," replied Idris, observing her shiver. "Don't think any
more about it."

"The peril is past, but the memory of it remains. Ah, that dream! If
it should occur again to-night I shall begin to be like Richard III,
and tremble at the thought of sleep. Shall I put those flowers in your
coat, Mr. Breakspear? You seem to find it a difficulty."

Idris readily accepted her proffered aid.

"Forget-me-not," she murmured, fastening the nosegay to his
button-hole; and Idris wondered whether the words were addressed to
him, or whether she was simply repeating the name of the flower: the
latter it seemed by her next remark. "Why should our French _myosotis_
be called in English, 'Forget-me-not'? Can you tell me the origin of
the name?"

Idris could, and did: relating the somewhat apocryphal story of the
youth, who, in wading to the opposite bank of a river with a view of
procuring some flowers for his sweetheart, was swept off by the current
and drowned, but not before he had had time to fling the flowers at her
feet with the parting cry of "Forget-me-not!"

"The moral of which is," added Idris, "learn to swim."

"You are spoiling a pretty story by your cynicism," said Lorelie. "His
love was all the greater if he could not swim."

She turned to arrange her flowers upon the altar of the Ravengar
Chantry. Idris was watching her when his eye was caught by a shadow
outlined on the stone pavement. The sun was shining through the window
above the altar, and casting at his feet glowing splashes of various
hues. For a few seconds he continued to stare, doubtful whether he saw
aright, and then, slowly raising his gaze, he followed the slanting
shaft of coloured light upward from the pavement till his eyes rested
upon the stained window.

The central pane was blazoned with the armorial device of the
Ravengars. The shield, supported on each side by a raven, in canting
allusion to the family name, was charged in the centre with a silver
circlet, a thin purple line forming the perimeter.

_The runic ring!_

Yes: there was its facsimile gleaming from the coloured glass, and
seeming in the morning sunlight to sparkle with a new and mysterious
significance. That this argent circle was intended to represent the
Norse altar-ring Idris had not the shadow of a doubt: and for a moment
he felt resentment both against Beatrice and Godfrey: for, familiar as
they must be with this coat of arms--Beatrice herself, as a Ravengar,
being entitled to assume it--they had made no allusion to it when
he was telling them the story of the runic ring. It was singular,
too, that he himself should have failed to notice this blazon in his
previous visit to this chantry.

What was the reason for its figuring in the Ravengar shield?

Curious stories are often latent within armorial devices, as students
of heraldry can testify. Was it possible that this ring had been
adopted by the Ravengars of a past generation because it had been in
some way connected with their history?

"Mademoiselle Rivière," said Idris, impulsively, thinking that she
might be able to throw some light upon the matter, "can you tell
me whether the Ravengars of past times had any historic reason for
decorating their armorial shield with a silver ring?"

"There is an interesting legend to account for it," she said after
a moment's hesitation, "which you will find in a curious old book
entitled, '_Traditions of the House of Ravengar_.'"

"You know the story, then? May I not learn it from you rather than from
the book?"

"It is a story that will take a long time in the telling."

This, in Idris' opinion, was an excellent reason for hearing it.
Lorelie found herself unable to resist his persuasive manner: so,
sitting down, she proceeded to tell the story with a detail that showed
how it had caught her own imagination.

In the ninth century--so ran the legend--there lived a Norse sea-king,
who, either from the terror inspired by his arms, or from the gilt
figure on the prow of his galley, was called Draco, or "The Dragon."
From the great wealth acquired in his various water-expeditions he
gained the additional name of "The Golden."

Like many other heroes of the north this Draco claimed descent from
Odin, and among his hereditaments nothing was more prized by him than
the silver altar-ring used in the religious ceremonies of his clan,
since it was said to have belonged originally to his divine ancestor.

Draco lived at the time when the Norsemen were sailing by thousands
from their own land in order to gain by the sword new and fairer homes
in Britain. He, too, determined to have a share in the territorial
spoil, and accordingly, equipping his dragon-keels, and gathering his
warcarls around him, he sailed off over the seas.

On arriving within sight of the Northumbrian coast he had recourse to
the gods for fixing the precise point of his disembarkation: he let
fly two ravens consecrated to Odin, and following in their wake landed
where they had alighted.

He quickly put to the rout those Northumbrians who attempted to oppose
him, and proceeded to confirm his victory by building a fortress on the
site of the existing Ravenhall. Sallying forth from this place he would
plunder the neighbouring monasteries, or, putting out to sea, attack
the merchant vessels that passed his shores, thus becoming possessed in
course of time, of a vast quantity of treasure in the shape of gold and
silver, church-plate, coinage, jewels, and the like.

In his old age he met with the end deemed worthy of a warrior, being
slain in battle whilst contending against a neighbouring chieftain. At
his burial a Norse scald composed that wild barbaric requiem, which
Idris had heard Lorelie playing on the organ--a requiem that had
accompanied the funeral of every Ravengar since: though doubtless with
considerable variations from the original strain.

Draco left one son only, Magnus by name. He was but a child at the time
of his father's death, and the widowed mother, Hilda, fearing that
an attempt might be made to deprive him of his patrimonial treasure,
secretly buried it, purposing to give it to her son when he should be
of age to defend his rights.

For a time all went well. The warriors who had followed the standard
of Draco rallied around his son, and looked forward to the day when
he should emulate or surpass the deeds of his father. But eventually
murmurings arose. The boy was too much under his mother's influence,
they thought: the hand that should have been wielding the spear was
more often found holding the pen. She was accused of teaching him dark
and curious arts.

It was a long time, however, before the Vikings ventured to express
their displeasure openly, for they feared Hilda. She was an Alruna,
that is, an _all-runic_ or all-wise woman, who had power to cast
pernicious spells upon those who offended her.

At last, one day, provoked to the extreme by some act of imprudence
on her part, they came to Magnus and telling him that they were
going to banish his mother, they gave him the choice of being their
chieftain or of accompanying her into exile. Magnus elected to stand
with his father's warriors, and, as head of the clan, in full and
solemn doom-ring, he pronounced upon his mother sentence of perpetual
banishment.

Cut to the heart by this unfilial act Hilda vowed that she would never
reveal to him the hiding-place of the treasure: and so, being banished,
she returned to her native Norseland, taking with her the silver
altar-ring.

With the lapse of time, however, she began to relent towards her absent
son. She yearned to see him again, but was now too old to undertake
the fatigues attending the voyage. She resolved to break her oath of
silence and to tell him where the treasure lay concealed. To secure
herself from treachery on the part of her messenger, who might have
appropriated the wealth himself if entrusted with the secret of its
hiding-place, she had recourse to the following expedient. She engraved
upon the altar-ring a sentence indicative of the exact site of the
treasure, making use of runic letters, arranged in such a way that none
but Magnus could understand them: for cryptic writing had been one of
the many arts she had taught him. This done, she despatched the ring by
the hand of a herald.

But Magnus was now dead. His son and successor was Ulric, who, because
his lance bore a small pennon decorated with the figure of a raven, was
called Ravengar or Raven Spear, a name that became hereditary.

Hilda's messenger entered the hall at the hour when Ulric sat feasting
with his warriors. In accordance with the Norse rites of hospitality
the herald was given a seat at the board. No question was asked of him,
and he resolved to defer his message till the meal should be over.
This delay proved fatal to him, for, during the course of the feast,
he accidentally drew forth the altar-ring. In a moment the ancient
greybeards--old companions of Draco--recognized the sacred relic of
Odin, and sternly commanded the stranger to explain how he became
possessed of their former chieftain's ring: it had formed a part of the
missing treasure: he must, therefore, know where the remainder was.

With a stammering tongue the herald stated that he was a messenger from
the Lady Hilda, and pointing to the inscription upon the ring, said
that it indicated the hiding-place of the treasure.

Ulric, unskilled in the art of letters, passed the ring on to the
sagamen and scalds, who shook their heads over it. Magnus, the only
one capable of reading the riddle, was no more. The herald himself
was unable to decipher the message that his mistress had caused to be
engraved. To the assembled Vikings his words seemed an idle tale: his
ignorance was imputed to knavery: swords gleamed in the air: the oaken
rafters rang with excited cries.

At one end of the hall on a daïs there stood, as was usual in those
days, rude images of the gods. To this spot the herald was dragged and
told that unless he revealed the hiding-place of the treasure he should
be sacrificed there and then to Odin and Thor.

Vain was his plea of ignorance: vain his appeal for mercy: he was
slain by the dagger of Ulric, himself the priest as well as the chief
of the clan: the altar-ring was dipped in the blood of the victim, and
the red drops were sprinkled on all present. With his dying breath the
herald called upon heaven to be his avenger, invoking a curse upon the
head of him who should discover the treasure, and praying that the
finder might meet with a death as violent as his own.

Afterwards, when Ulric came to clean the ring, he found he could not
remove the stain of blood, and the sagamen who examined it declared
that the mark would never be effaced till one of the Raven-race should
die as an atonement for the death of the herald, whose sacred character
had been impiously set at nought.

Ulric retained the ring as the symbol of his authority: at his death it
passed to his son, and so from generation to generation it continued
in the Ravengar family as a venerated heirloom. In the days of Charles
II the first Earl of Ormsby, Lancelot Ravengar, adopted the ring as an
armorial device, taking as his supporters two ravens, in allusion to
the birds that were said to have directed the course of Draco's galley.

Such was the story of the runic ring, a story to which Idris listened
with the deepest interest. It was clear to him that his Viking Orm
and Lorelie's Draco were identical, the Norse form of the name having
doubtless been changed into its Latin equivalent by the original
monkish chronicler.

"And is the ring still in the possession of the Ravengars?" he asked,
when Lorelie had come to the end of her story.

"No: about fifty years ago it was stolen."

"Under what circumstances?"

"The affair was a mystery. The ring was kept with other heirlooms in
the jewel-room at Ravenhall. According to the butler it was secure in
its glass case when he locked the door of the jewel-room at night: in
the morning it was gone. Suspicion fell upon a steward who was under
notice of dismissal: it is supposed that he was actuated by a spirit
of revenge. The detectives employed in the case failed, however, to
connect him with the theft, nor did their investigations lead to any
result so far as regards the recovery of the ring."

"The steward, if he were guilty, probably disposed of the relic on the
Continent," said Idris. "At any rate it found its way to Nantes, for
the Ravengar heirloom must surely have been the very ring which led to
the murder of M. Duchesne and the consequent arrest of my father."

"I believe--nay, I am certain it was," answered Lorelie.

Her eyes drooped and a shadow passed over her face. Any reference to
Eric Marville seemed to trouble her, and Idris resolved to avoid the
mention of his name.

"And during the many centuries in which this ring was in the possession
of the Ravengars," he continued, "was no one ever found capable of
deciphering the runic inscription?"

"No one. In time past the ring was submitted to many antiquaries, but
they could make nothing of it."

Idris, though justly proud of his success in a matter wherein experts
had failed, kept his own counsel for the present, and refrained from
mentioning that _he_ had accomplished the feat.

"Then, of course, the treasure of old Orm--Draco, I mean--has never
been discovered?"

"Not by a Ravengar."

"But by some one else probably. It is not likely that the buried
treasure has remained undiscovered for a thousand years."

"The legend says that only a Ravengar can discover it, and that in the
very moment of discovery he will forfeit his life as an atonement for
the death of the herald. But this," added Lorelie with a smile, "is, of
course, mere poetic fancy."

"There is one omission in your story. You did not state where this
sea-king, Draco, was buried."

"The legend does not say. You are forgetting that it _is_ a legend,
invented, perhaps, by some imaginative king-at-arms in order to
decorate the vanity of the first Earl of Ormsby with a long pedigree
and a romantic origin."

But Idris had received proofs that the story was true in the main.
For example, there had actually existed an altar-ring such as
described--for he had seen and handled it himself--a ring engraved with
a sentence which not only spoke of a buried treasure, but also bore
the names of the very persons, Orm, Hilda, and Magnus, who had figured
so prominently in the story. The fragment of tapestry brought from the
interior of the ancient tumulus supplied additional evidence as to the
historic existence of the Golden Viking and the widowed Hilda.

"This Draco," continued Idris, "if he received the sepulchral honours
due to a Norse chief, would be buried beneath an immense mound of
earth. If we are to look for his tomb in this neighbourhood we shall
perhaps find it in a tumulus on the seashore about four miles from
here."

"I know the eminence you refer to," replied Lorelie. "It is called
Ormfell, that is, Orm's Hill; and therefore it cannot be Draco's tomb,
otherwise it would be called Draconfell, or something similar."

Idris did not stop to show the fallacy of this mode of reasoning, but
continued:--

"Has this hillock never been opened by the Earls of Ormsby to see what
it contains?"

"Not that I am aware of."

It was strange, Idris thought, that while the tumulus had retained the
true Norse name of the Viking, his descendants, the Ravengars, should
have remembered him only by his Latinized name of Draco. This explained
why Ormfell had never suggested itself to them as the tomb of their
ancestor. In forgetting that he was likewise called Orm, they had
unwittingly deprived themselves of an indication as to the place of the
buried treasure.

Idris' musings were brought to an end by Lorelie's rising to take her
departure, which caused him to murmur something about the sadness of
parting.

"But if there were no parting there would never be the sweetness of
meeting," was her reply.

Was this no more than a pretty saying on her part; or did she really
look forward with pleasure to their next meeting?

Emboldened by her words he raised her hand to his lips before she was
aware of his intention.

"Mr. Breakspear, you must not do that," she said in a trembling voice,
and hastily withdrawing her hand from his. Her face was pale: a strange
look came into her eyes, and she turned and hurried away. Idris,
trembling lest he should have given offence, watched her till she was
out of sight, and then went slowly back to Wave Crest.

Verily he was a fortunate fellow! Fresh from a charming _tête-à-tête_
with one fair lady he was now to have the like with a second: for, on
passing through the garden-gate, he saw Beatrice Ravengar reading in a
low chair beneath the apple-trees--Beatrice, the sea-king's daughter,
the descendant of that very Viking whose bones reposed in Ormfell!

Her heart beat more quickly as Idris approached. He, little divining
the cause of the colour that played so enchantingly over her cheek,
thought Godfrey's sister a very pretty maiden indeed. True, she lacked
the dark starry beauty of Lorelie--Idris' tastes ran in favour of
brunettes--yet there was a subtle witchery in Beatrice's soft grey eyes
and winsome expression; in her sunny hair: and in her graceful figure,
set off as it then was, by a dainty dress of soft muslin.

"My name, being Breakspear," said he, with mock sternness, as he took
a seat beside her, "you will not be surprised to learn that I have a
lance to break with you."

"And what have I done that is amiss?" asked Beatrice, outwardly
smiling, but inwardly uneasy: for some secret feeling told her that
he had just left the presence of Mademoiselle Rivière, and she feared
lest that lady should have said something to prejudice her in the eyes
of Idris. A fair return, for had not she herself let fall in Idris'
presence words unfriendly to Lorelie?

"You have committed the sin of omission in not telling me that the
armorial shield of the Ravengars is decorated with a silver ring."

"I am aware that a ring figures in their coat of arms," said Beatrice,
with wide, wondering eyes, "but where is my fault in not telling you
of it? Surely," she added, with a sudden intuition as to his meaning,
"surely you do not mean to say that there is some connection between
your runic ring and the Ravengar device?"

Idris' reply was to repeat the story he had just heard.

"This is all new to me," said Beatrice, when he had finished, "but then
I never was a Ravengar. I am the daughter of my mother, and have taken
little, if any, interest in the genealogy and family traditions of my
ancestors, the belted earls."

"You should now look with more favour on the Viking's skull as being
that of your great forefather. His object in coming down the staircase
last night was evidently to introduce himself to you, his youngest
descendant.--But I have interrupted your reading, for which I beg
pardon. May I ask the title of your book?"

"Longfellow's '_Saga of King Olaf_.' You have read it?"

"No: but a Norse saga in verse is, by its very nature, certain to
interest me. Will you not read aloud, Miss Ravengar?"

There is little Beatrice would not have done to please Idris, and
accordingly she began the reading of the poem. Her voice was clear
and silvery, and marked at times by a cadence, plaintive and pretty.
Idris would have fared ill had he been required to give a summary of
the poem, for he paid little attention to the words, finding a greater
charm in the face and voice of the reader. More than once the thought
stole over him that if he had not seen Mademoiselle Rivière his love
might have found its resting-place in Beatrice.

Reading smoothly onward Beatrice came to the scene in which the
reluctant bride Gudrun, on her wedding-night, draws near to the couch
of Olaf, dagger in hand and murder in her heart.


     "'What is that,' King Olaf said,
     'Gleams so bright above thy head?
     Wherefore standest thou so white
         In pale moonlight?'

     "''Tis the bodkin that I wear
     When at night I bind my hair.'"


Beatrice paused. "Bodkin?" she said. "That's not the right word. Ladies
don't fasten their hair with bodkins."

"Poets do not speak with the precision of grammarians. I suppose he
should have said hairpin."

"Did they use hairpins in those days, then?"

"Without a doubt," replied Idris, being a little hazy on the point,
nevertheless.

"Gudrun must have worn a very large hairpin, if she could liken a
dagger to it."

"I suppose it was not very unlike the stiletto contrivances worn by
ladies of the present day," answered Idris.


     "''Tis the bodkin that I wear
     When at night I bind my hair.'"


repeated Beatrice. "At night? Did she wear it in her hair while
sleeping?"

"I never knew the lady," laughed Idris, "so I am unable to answer. Why
shouldn't she?"

"Because during sleep she might turn her head upon the point and
receive an unpleasant stab."

"You speak from experience?"

"An experience as recent only as last night."

"We must leave Gudrun's bodkin suspended in midair while you tell me
how this happened."

"There is really nothing to tell. When I went to bed I forgot to remove
the stiletto from my hair. Somehow, I was unable to sleep last night."

"You were thinking of the skull, perhaps?"

"Yes, it must have been that," replied Beatrice, colouring at this
prevarication, for had she spoken truly, she must have told him that
_he_ was the cause of her unrest.

"And so," she continued, "while I was tossing from side to side, the
stiletto must have got loose, and in turning my head on the pillow I
received a stab from the point of it. Nothing to speak of, a mere scalp
wound."

"It was well the point was not forced into your brain. I have heard
of fatal accidents resulting from the use of these stiletto-pins. You
discarded it at once?"

"Of course."

"Forever?"

"O, no. Only till the morning," replied Beatrice demurely.

"What? You have not let it serve as a warning? O, Miss Ravengar, Miss
Ravengar! what is this I see shimmering in your hair at the present
moment?"

"A proof of feminine vanity, for it is of no real use, being merely an
ornament."

"May I inspect the savage weapon that might have ended your existence,
and may yet, since you decline to learn wisdom from experience?"

Beatrice drew forth the hairpin. It was shaped like a dagger, the steel
being slender, rounded, and tapering to a point: the hilt of gold set
with brilliants.

As soon as Idris saw it he stared at it as if mesmerized, the tapering
point of the slender steel was so strangely suggestive of the metal
fragment that had fallen from the Viking's skull. He took it from his
pocket and held it out to her.

"Miss Ravengar, what should you say this is?"

"That?" replied Beatrice. "That is a part of a hairpin. See!"

She laid it upon her open palm beside her own stiletto. The terminal
of the latter corresponded exactly in form and colour with the broken
fragment: at least, the difference, if difference there were, was
imperceptible by the naked eye.

"It certainly _looks_ like a hairpin."

"Looks like it, do you say?" said Beatrice, with a sort of reproach in
her tone. "It _is_," she asseverated firmly.

"What reason have you for this opinion other than mere resemblance?"
asked Idris, a little surprised by her air of certitude.

"I do not reason upon it. I _know_ it is a hairpin," she replied, with
a peculiar emphasis upon the "know."

There was a strangeness in her manner, an entire reversal of her former
self: her face seemed hallowed by a light like the inspired expression
of a sibyl. The expression was momentary only, dying as soon as born,
but it left Idris curiously impressed.

"Hilda the Alruna may have looked like that, when delivering her
oracles," he thought.

"Why do you value this piece of steel?" asked Beatrice, as she restored
it to him.

"This little piece of steel, Miss Ravengar, is nothing less than the
instrument that gave your ancestor Orm his _coup-de-grâce_. It dropped
out of the skull last night. For the future my motto must be, 'When in
doubt, consult Miss Ravengar.' By your wit I was enabled to discover
the secret entrance to Ormfell; and now, when wondering of what this
steel fragment once formed part, you come to my aid again by reading a
poem concerning a Norse lady, whose intended action towards her husband
seems almost to have a direct bearing upon the Viking's skull. Our
Norse forefathers, you will remember, were accustomed to regard their
maidens as prophetesses, whose opinions, when solemnly invoked, were to
be received as oracles. I will imitate their example, and accept your
dictum that this is a fragment of a lady's hairpin."

Godfrey, who had joined the pair a few minutes previously, and had
stood a silent listener of the conversation, now intervened with a
remark.

"Well, then, you must admit," said he, "that this opinion clashes with
the story told by the tapestry, which tapestry avers that Orm died
with a cloth-yard shaft sticking in him."

"The two ideas are not irreconcilable," argued Idris. "My belief is
that we have here," holding up the piece of steel, "a silent testimony
to a domestic tragedy of a thousand years ago. Old Orm the Viking was
carried from the battle-field wounded by an arrow. His wife Hilda
was perhaps enamoured of some other warrior: and so, while affecting
to nurse her husband, she may have hastened his end by secretly
driving her strong hairpin into his head, a feat she could perform
with comparative safety to herself, there being no coroner's inquest
in those days. His death would be attributed to the arrow-wound, and
therefore is so represented on the tapestry."

"If your inference be right," said Beatrice, "it is a strange
verification of the old saying, 'Murder will out.' Fancy the crime
coming to light after the lapse of a thousand years! Though it is not
very kind of you, Mr. Breakspear," she added, with a mock pout, "to
attempt to prove that my ancestress Hilda was a murderess. You will be
saying next that a taste for assassination is one of our family traits,
and that the homicidal microbe runs in my blood."

"The lapse of ten centuries will have effectually eliminated it."

"_Merci!_" she returned, dropping him a mock curtsey. "Yes: it is
consoling to reflect that this little piece of family scandal is
removed from us by the space of a full millennium."

"But Idris is altogether wrong in his theory," remarked Godfrey
decisively. "This piece of steel is not ancient at all."

"Ay, ay, destroyer of my romance!" returned Idris. "Can you give me
satisfactory proof that it is not ancient?"

"I think so: if you will let me do what I like with it."

Idris shook his head.

"I value this fragment," he explained, "believing in its antiquity. You
would not willingly destroy the bullet that killed Nelson, nor will I
consent to destroy the weapon that slew my Viking."

"But if I could clearly demonstrate to you that it is a modern piece of
steel--what then?"

"In that case it would lose its chief value in my eyes, and it would
prove, among other things, that the skull is not Orm's: for if this
steel be modern, so likewise must be the skull. But how are you going
to prove its modernity? Are not iron and steel alike in all ages? Is
the steel that was wrought on the anvil of the Norse armourer different
from the steel forged to-day in the foundries of Sheffield?"

"Yes, in some respects. I want to conduct a chemical experiment with
this relic, an experiment which will necessitate its destruction.
Still, if I succeed in demonstrating its modernity you will not object?"

"Far from it. But are you likely to demonstrate it?"

"Well, of course, I am open to failure. My opinion rests upon a certain
assumption, which assumption, if correct, will conclusively show that
this steel was forged within modern times. _Nous verrons._"



CHAPTER XII

IDRIS DECLARES HIS LOVE


How long should a man have known a woman before venturing upon a
proposal of love? Such was the question now occupying the mind of Idris.

He had seen Mademoiselle Rivière three times only: he had not spent
above seven hours in her presence: yet had they been seven hundred
instead of seven he knew that his feeling for her would be no stronger
at the end of that time than at the beginning. The moon might have its
period of crescent and wane: not so his love: its circle was full and
complete from the first moment of his setting eyes upon her.

She was now the sole object of his thoughts. All other matters: the
quest for his father, the problem of the Viking's skull, were relegated
to the dim and distant future; what were they compared with the winning
of Lorelie?

He found himself continually dwelling upon her manner towards him at
the moment of their last parting. He was uncertain whether she was
startled only, or vexed, by his act of gallantry; whether he must draw
hope or despair from that event; and he knew not which was the wiser
course--to declare his love at once, or to defer the proposal till he
had gained a greater hold upon her affections. A too premature avowal
might be disastrous: on the other hand to be dilatory might lead to his
being forestalled by Viscount Walden.

This latter argument prevailed with him, and he resolved to see
Lorelie at once, and take the momentous step of giving utterance to his
feelings. Even rejection was preferable to the state of suspense in
which he was now living.

On presenting himself at The Cedars he was told by the maid who opened
the door that her mistress was out. Where had she gone? The maid was
not certain, but she fancied that "Ma'amzelle" had said something about
spending the afternoon in Ravenhall Park.

Accordingly Idris betook himself to this park, a large extent of which
was open to the public: and after a short search he found Lorelie
seated within a charming recess formed by dark rocks overhung with
blossoming foliage. She was holding in her hand a small writing-pad,
upon which lay some sheets of manuscript that she was apparently
correcting and annotating with a pencil, doubtless putting some
emendatory touches to her drama, _The Fatal Skull_.

The place, though picturesque, was hardly the ideal spot for his
love-avowal, since it was within sight of the majestic towers of
Ravenhall, which, in Idris' opinion, offered a very powerful argument
in favour of Lord Walden's suit.

On seeing Idris Lorelie at once made way for him on the seat beside
her, the glad light in her eyes showing that he was far from being an
unwelcome visitor.

Though Idris had set out in bold spirit, yet now, faced by opportunity,
he began to realize that the task required more courage than he was
master of: and for a long time he talked of other matters, or rather
he let Lorelie carry on the conversation, finding it easier to be a
listener than a speaker.

And Lorelie _could_ talk: charmingly, and upon many topics that are
supposed to be the peculiar province of the masculine mind. She had
never seemed so bright and interesting as on this present occasion.
How sweet and silvery her laugh! How pretty the curve of her lips, and
how glowing their colour! Supposing he were to stoop suddenly and kiss
them? Would not such an act be tantamount to a love-avowal, and thus
relieve him from the difficulty of an oral confession?

Lorelie, observant at last of Idris' quiet manner, rallied him on his
want of spirits.

"You seem very grave to-day, Mr. Breakspear?"

"Do I, mademoiselle? I am thinking."

"May I share your thoughts?"

"You may share my life if you will."

"Mr. Breakspear, what are you saying?" exclaimed Lorelie, quickly,
breathlessly.

"That I love you. Is that a fault? Nay, rather, it would be a fault not
to love you."

Lorelie drew a deep shuddering breath. Their eyes met: a strange
wistful tenderness in hers. Such a look Idris had never before received
from woman: he knew what it meant, and grew giddy at the thought that
he had the power to evoke it.

Then, in a moment, all was changed!

A priestess, starting in agony from the Delphic tripod, could not have
exhibited a wilder mien than did Lorelie at that moment as she rose to
her feet, her hands pressed to her bosom as if to repress the emotion
struggling there: in her eyes an expression of horror, the startled
guilty look of one who, tempted to listen to wrong, is suddenly
recalled to a sense of duty.

Idris had wanted to say more, to speak of the depth of his love, but
that look chilled all the warmth of his feelings, and checked the words
that were rising to his lips.

"Mr. Breakspear," she began, with a strange "catch" in her voice, "you
saved my life from the sea, and it may be that gratitude has led me
to--to--how shall I express myself?--to be too warm in my friendship.
I have not guarded myself sufficiently. If there has been anything
in my manner or words calculated to impress you with the belief
that your addresses would be acceptable to me, I beg--I entreat--of
you to forgive me. Such utterance--such action--on my part has been
unintentional. I cannot listen to you."

With many women a "No" may sometimes mean "Yes," but this was not the
case with Lorelie Rivière. Idris felt that her decision was final,
irrevocable. And yet what was the meaning of that first look of rapture
that had come into her eyes?

"You do well to refuse me, mademoiselle: to refuse in truth any suitor,
for who indeed is worthy of you, but----"

"Mr. Breakspear, for pity's sake be silent. See!"

She drew something from her dress-pocket, turned aside for a moment,
and then held out the third finger of her left hand. And at the sight
Idris, strong man though he was, staggered as a man may stagger on
hearing his death sentence.

"Great heaven! You are not married?" he said hoarsely.

"Ten months ago. Secretly. At Nice."

"To--to----?"

But he knew the name before she pronounced it.

"To Lord Walden--yes."

The earth that afternoon was roofed with a sky of deep delicious azure:
the soft breeze rippled the leaves of the woodland, and at each breath
the air became alive with the white blossoms of the trees. Nothing
could be sweeter or fairer than this summer day, but its charm was not
for Idris. With the knowledge that Lorelie could never be his, there
passed away a glory from the earth.

Mechanically he turned his eyes towards Ravenhall. Lorelie followed
the direction of his glance. Through a vista in the trees they could
see the castellated pile, set with mullioned casements, and fronted
with ivied terraces ascended by stately flights of stone steps. She
knew--and bitter was the knowledge--that Idris was thinking that
_there_ was the prize for which she had sold herself.

He wronged her, however, by this thought.

When Lorelie, eighteen months before, had listened to the vows of
Viscount Walden she had honestly believed herself to be in love with
him. Idris' avowal had shown her the hollowness of that belief. Vivid
as fire on a dark night there suddenly flashed upon her trembling mind
the overwhelming revelation that her feeling for her husband was as
nothing compared with her feeling for Idris. If all the happiness she
had previously known had been suddenly sublimated and concentrated
into one single intense sensation of a moment's duration it would not
have equalled the rapture evoked by Idris' avowal. But in a moment the
feeling had gone, giving place to the dull lethargy of despair. Though
realizing but too plainly that she had married the wrong man, the
knowledge of the fact did not diminish the loyalty due to her husband.
Faithful she would ever remain, but it was not her fault if the love
that she could henceforth give him would be scarcely deserving of the
name.

She would have died rather than have given utterance to this
confession, but Idris had read the secret in her eyes: she knew that
he had read it, and the knowledge added to her confusion and made her
unable to meet his glance.

There was a long silence between them. What was there to talk about?
Their mutual love? That was of necessity a forbidden subject; and to
talk of anything less than this seemed a mockery of the deep feelings
within them.

Parted from Lorelie by adverse fortune what remained for Idris but to
face the situation bravely?

"Mademoiselle," he said, using from habit the title that was no longer
hers, "I take my leave. Forgive me, if my words have caused you pain.
Farewell."

"But not forever. We may meet from time to time as--as friends."

Did she not realize that such friendship might be perilous? No: and
as Idris gazed upon her clear eyes he saw there a spirit too pure to
suffer itself to do wrong.

"You must forget," she faltered, "that you have ever entertained
this--this feeling for me."

Idris smiled bitterly. He knew--_she_ knew--that it was the one event
in their lives they never would forget.

At their last parting he had kissed her hand: he did not venture even
to touch it now, but, lifting his hat, he quietly withdrew.

With tears in her eyes Lorelie watched him till he was lost to view.

"If you knew the truth," she murmured, "your feeling for me would not
be love but hatred."

In melancholy mood Idris returned to Wave Crest. Beatrice, quick to
interpret his looks, guessed what had happened: and though the result
was such as she herself desired, yet the sight of his dejection touched
her to the quick and filled her with a mixed feeling of pity and anger.
Who, forsooth, was Mademoiselle Rivière that she should treat Idris'
love as of no account?

Aware that Lorelie was not favourably regarded by Beatrice, Idris
had prudently refrained from making the latter a confidante of his
love-affair, but now, sitting down beside her, he proceeded to tell her
all.

But when Beatrice heard the amazing news that Lorelie Rivière was in
reality Viscountess Walden, and therefore her cousin by marriage, a
look not merely of wonder but of dismay stole over her face.

"Have you proof of this?" she asked breathlessly.

"Proof of what?" exclaimed Godfrey, entering the room at this juncture.

"That Mademoiselle Rivière is Ivar's wife," she replied.

"Well, I did not ask her to produce her marriage certificate," said
Idris, somewhat vexed that Lorelie's word should be doubted. "For the
truth of her words I had better refer you to your cousin, Lord Walden
himself. We see now the cause of his surliness the other night. Any
fellow with so lovely a wife might be jealous on learning that she had
spent five hours in a lonely cave _tête-à-tête_ with a stranger."

"He might, nevertheless, have had the grace to give you a few words of
thanks for saving her life," remarked Godfrey. "I suppose it is from
fear of his father that he keeps the marriage a secret?"

"Presumably."

"Hum! rather hazardous to bring her so near to Ravenhall," said Godfrey.

"And she is really married?" murmured Beatrice. "O, how I have wronged
her!"

"In what way?" asked Godfrey. "Come, Trixie, let us learn the reason of
your past aversion."

It was some time before Beatrice could be induced to reply.

"You remember the case of old Gideon?" she said at last.

"Perfectly," replied Godfrey, adding for Idris' enlightenment, "he was
an old farmer at the point of death. I was unable to procure a nurse,
and Trixie generously offered her services. The poor fellow died at
midnight; and Trixie, though pressed to remain, left the place and
came walking home all by herself, reaching here at two in the morning.
But what has this to do with Mademoiselle Rivière--I beg her pardon,
Lady Walden?"

"On my way home," replied Beatrice, "I had to pass her villa, and whom
should I see walking up the garden-path towards the house but Ivar
himself! He had not noticed me, and I did not make myself known to him:
in truth I was so much amazed that I could do nothing but stand silent
under the shadow of the trees, watching, or, if you will, playing the
spy. I saw him open the door of the villa with a key of his own, and
go in. Not knowing that he was married to Mademoiselle Rivière, what
conclusion could I come to but that--that----"

And here Beatrice paused, leaving her hearers to guess the nature of
her conclusion.

"And you thought _that_ of Mademoiselle Rivière?" said Idris: and
Beatrice felt keenly the reproach in his tone.

"I have never whispered my suspicion to any one--not even to you,
Godfrey."

"The sequel shows the advantage of holding one's tongue," replied her
brother. "It has saved you from having to make a humiliating apology
to the new viscountess. Well, seeing that she is now your cousin, you
cannot do better than acknowledge the relationship by making a call
upon her."

But Beatrice shrank from this ordeal.

"I have always shown her by my manner that I dislike her. She must
think me an odious creature."

"On the contrary," replied Idris, "whenever your name has been
mentioned she has spoken well of you, and has expressed herself as
desirous of your friendship."

Beatrice was finally persuaded into promising that she would pay the
new viscountess a visit on the morrow: after which, Godfrey, turning
to Idris, addressed himself to a new theme.

"I spent this morning," he said, "in my laboratory over that piece of
steel taken from your so-called Viking's skull, and I have discovered
it to be of modern fabrication."

"Ah! and how do you prove it?" said Idris, preparing to argue the point.

"Chemical analysis shows that the steel contains two per cent. of
platinum."

"What of that?" said Idris bluntly.

"Much. Platinum is a metal of modern discovery, first hit on in the
year--well, I forget the exact date, some time about the beginning of
the eighteenth century. Therefore, any steel that is combined with
platinum must have been forged within the past two hundred years, and
consequently cannot be a relic of Norse days."

"For what purpose is platinum mixed with the steel?"

"To impart additional hardness."

"I must accept your dictum as final. Of course the conclusion is that
if the steel be modern, the skull must be modern, too. I must give
up my belief, Miss Ravengar, that I possess the skull of your Viking
ancestor. But then," he went on, "Orm was buried within that hillock:
the pictured tapestry and the name Ormfell prove it. What, then, has
become of his remains?"

"Crumbled to dust, perhaps, with the lapse of time," suggested Beatrice.

"The existence of the tapestry confutes you. Solid bone would not
crumble, if a woollen fabric will endure."

"True," replied Beatrice, with a puzzled look. "I am forgetting the
tapestry. Here's a mystery, indeed! What has become of the Viking's
bones?"

"If the skeleton within the tumulus be that of a modern person," said
Idris, "how on earth came it there? Who buried him, and----"

"We do not yet know that it is a 'him,'" interjected Godfrey. "The
skeleton may be the remains of a woman."

"I speak provisionally. Who buried him, or her, and why should such a
strange grave be chosen?"

"Because," replied the surgeon, gravely, "because, my dear Idris,
cannot you see that the present occupant of Ormfell did not die a
natural death? The piece of steel lodged in the brain proves that.
He was murdered, murdered with a stiletto hairpin: and he, or they,
that did the deed, knowing, as we know, that Ormfell contains a
grave-chamber, disposed of the victim's body by placing it within the
hillock, no doubt thinking that the remains, if ever discovered, would
be taken for those of some ancient warrior, an error into which we
ourselves would have fallen had not that tapestry remained, I might
say, providentially remained, to tell us otherwise."

For a few moments both Beatrice and Idris sat dumbfounded at this
startling theory.

"By heaven! I believe you are right," cried Idris. "And yet this
murder-theory of yours is open to objection. There is the difficulty of
conveying a dead body to Ormfell. Consider the risk of detection that
the murderer would run."

"The murder may have taken place within Ormfell itself," suggested
Beatrice.

"That is my view," replied Godfrey, "for there are signs which seem to
point to that conclusion."

"What signs are they?" asked Idris.

"You will perhaps think my first reason fanciful," replied Godfrey.
"You have continually maintained," he went on, addressing Idris,
"that the divining rod took a downward bend at a certain point in the
mortuary chamber. What formed the attractive force? 'The voice of thy
brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground!' Shall we say that that
was the true cause? For human blood _has_ been shed there. Have you
forgotten how the tapestry taken from that very spot reddened the water
in which it was placed? Now let us suppose that some one standing at
that point was suddenly struck down from behind: his natural action in
falling would be to clutch at the nearest thing he could lay hold of."

"Which in his case would be the tapestry," interjected Idris.

"Just so: and that is my way of accounting for the tearing of that
fabric, and the downward curvature of the rod to which it was attached.
The tapestry at the same time became saturated with the blood of the
victim."

"Your opinion seems reasonable," remarked Idris, "except as regards
the divining rod; I can't believe that dried blood could produce such
an effect. But the difficulty remains--what has become of the Viking's
bones?"

And to this question Godfrey could give no satisfactory answer.

"When do you think this murder took place?" Idris asked. "In our own
days, or long before them?"

"I see no way at present of fixing the date," Godfrey replied.

"It may have been twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago, or even more,"
ventured Idris.

"Any period since the era of the discovery of platinum," answered
Godfrey.

"Is there no way in these scientific times of ascertaining the age of
that skull?" asked Beatrice.

Godfrey shook his head.

"The most skilled anatomist would be puzzled to determine the age of a
given skull," he replied.

Idris paced uneasily to and fro, assigning the skull in turn to each
of those who, to his knowledge, had been in any way connected with
the runic ring--his father, Lorelie's father, the unknown assassin of
Duchesne, and lastly the masked man of Quilaix.

"Whoever the victim was," said Beatrice, slowly and thoughtfully, "he
must have been murdered by a woman."

"_A woman!_" ejaculated Idris. He could not tell why at that moment a
cold feeling should come over him.

"A woman!" repeated Beatrice, solemnly: "for I still adhere to my
belief that the piece of steel was a fragment of a stiletto hairpin,
and who but a woman would think of using such an instrument?"



CHAPTER XIII

AT LORELIE'S VILLA


On the following day Beatrice Ravengar, with some misgivings, set out
for the purpose of making an afternoon call upon Mademoiselle Rivière,
or, to use her rightful title, Viscountess Walden.

Idris accompanied her, nominally as her escort, in reality consumed
with the longing to meet Lorelie again. True wisdom told him that he
was but tormenting himself in thus seeing her, that the better way was
to avoid her altogether: but he found this latter course impossible:
he despised himself for his weakness, yet as the moth is attracted by
the light so was Idris attracted by the fascinating personality of
Viscountess Walden.

On arriving at The Cedars Beatrice was received in a manner so gracious
and winning that her misgivings were immediately put to flight.

"We are cousins, you and I," said Lorelie, kissing her affectionately,
"and must ever be good friends."

Beatrice, quick to read character, could tell that the other was really
desirous of her friendship: and as she recalled her unjust suspicion
she felt full of a guilty shame, and was almost tempted to fall upon
her knees, confess her fault, and beg for pardon.

Aware of the circumstances under which Lorelie and Idris had last
parted, Beatrice viewed their greeting of each other with an interest
that was almost painful to her, and the viscountess knowing that she
was watched, extended to Idris the dignified courtesy that she might
have extended to a stranger, though all the time she was inwardly
tormented lest Idris should think her unduly cold. None but herself
knew how her heart was pulsating beneath her calm exterior. She was
not to be blamed, she argued, for the feeling that had sprung up
self-originated within her breast. Action and tongue may be controlled:
thought never. So long, then, as she controlled her words and action,
what more was required of her? What more? A secret voice seemed to say,
"Never to see Idris again!"

They sat on the veranda conversing on various topics, and as Beatrice
listened to the charming words and the sweet laugh of the viscountess,
and contemplated her brilliant beauty, she no longer wondered that
Idris should have fallen in love with her.

During the course of the conversation some details of Lorelie's history
became revealed.

She was now twenty-three years of age, and had been born at Nantes in
the same year in which her father, Captain Rochefort, had aided Eric
Marville to escape from the Breton prison. Her father she had never
known, nor had he ever been seen again by Madame Rochefort after his
flight in the yacht _Nemesis_.

When Lorelie was sixteen years of age her mother died, leaving to her
an income sufficient with economy for her maintenance. Henceforward she
had led a solitary independent life, content with her books and music.
In her twenty-first year she met Lord Walden at Monaco.

They were married privately, and while the earl supposed his son
to be carrying on the course of study requisite for the diplomatic
profession, that son was in reality quietly celebrating his honeymoon
on the Riviera.

After a few months of wedded life Lorelie suddenly conceived the
purpose of visiting Ormsby, though her husband was opposed to the
idea. By preconcerted arrangement she took up her residence at The
Cedars, some weeks prior to Ivar's home-coming, lest their coincident
arrival should give rise to suspicion.

And here she remained, concealing her rightful name and rank in
compliance with Ivar's wish, and waiting till a favourable opportunity
should arrive for making the marriage known to the stern old earl.

Secret contempt stole over Idris at the course pursued by the viscount.
A man might be very well content to brave his father's anger and the
loss of an estate, however splendid, for such a wife as Lorelie. By
some subtle process of telepathy his thoughts communicated themselves
to her, and knowing that _he_ would not have hesitated at such
sacrifice, the viscountess trembled and durst not meet his glance,
lest he should read in her eyes more than he ought. Contrary to the
proverb the third person on this occasion was not _de trop_. Lorelie
felt grateful for the presence of Beatrice, and clung to her as to a
protecting angel.

"May I add one to this pleasant trio?" said a new voice, breaking in
upon them: and, looking up, Idris caught the suspicious glance of the
man whom he was striving not to hate--Lorelie's husband!

Lord Walden coldly acknowledged Idris' presence, smiled at Beatrice,
and still keeping up the pretence of being merely a personal friend of
Lorelie's, was addressing her as "Mademoiselle Rivière," when Beatrice
intervened with, "Why disguise the truth, Cousin Ivar? We know that
there is no Mademoiselle Rivière now."

"Ah! then that makes it much more pleasant for all concerned."

But though he spoke thus, there was on his face a look that showed he
was not over-pleased to learn that the truth had become known.

"You may rely upon our secrecy," added Beatrice, thinking to put him at
his ease.

"I trust so," replied Ivar, coldly.

He took a seat beside Lorelie, and proceeded to roll a cigarette,
remarking as he did so, "You do not object?"

Lorelie assented with a smile that evoked the jealousy of the foolish
Idris. If a woman may not smile upon her husband, upon whom may she
smile?

Concluding that he and Beatrice were better away, Idris now arose, but
Lorelie opposed their departure.

"Going after so short a stay?" she remonstrated. "Now you are here you
must remain for the evening, and--and Mr. Breakspear as well," she
added, glancing at Idris.

Her manner was so persuasive that the two visitors lacked courage
to refuse the invitation. Thinking, however, that the viscount and
his wife might wish to exchange confidences, Idris offered his arm
to Beatrice and invited her to a stroll through the grounds that
surrounded the villa.

As Beatrice withdrew leaning on the arm of Idris and blushing at some
compliment of his, Lorelie glanced after them with a touch of envy
in her eyes. Her days for receiving such attentions were over: her
husband had ceased to be her lover. She could not avoid contrasting
the appearance of the two men--Ivar's pallid face and languid air with
Idris' healthful bronzed complexion and splendid physique. There was
a difference of ten years in their ages: and though Ivar was scarcely
past twenty, his face bore signs of dissipation--signs which his wife
perceived with surprise and sorrow.

No sooner were Idris and Beatrice out of earshot than Ivar turned a
frowning countenance upon his wife.

"Why have you told them of our marriage?"

"It was necessary, Ivar."

As she recalled the occasion of its disclosure a faint colour tinged
her cheek; and Ivar, though not usually a quick-witted person,
immediately suspected the cause.

"Necessitated by that fellow's making love to you, I presume?" he said,
eyeing her keenly.

"Ivar," she answered quietly, evading his question, "so long as men
think me free----"

"Free! that's a good word."

"So long as I am supposed to be unmarried," she continued, correcting
her expression, "so long shall I be liable to receive attentions from
other men. You can easily remedy this by making our marriage known."

"O, harping on that string again," said Ivar impatiently. "It's out
of the question--at present. The governor would never forgive me for
marrying a woman of no family, especially," he added, with something
like a sneer, "especially a woman who admits that there is a shadow on
her name."

There was a flash of resentment in the eyes that were turned suddenly
upon him.

"You can bear me witness it was before our marriage and not after that
I confessed to having a secret."

"You would not tell me its nature."

"No: nor ever shall," replied Lorelie, with a hardening of her
features. "You were willing to take me as I was, and to ask no
questions as to my past. You promised never to refer to my secret.
But--how often have you reproached me with it?"

Ivar smoked on in moody silence. It was true he had given no thought
to her secret in his first glow of passion. A slave to sensuality he
had married Lorelie for her beauty, not knowing who or whence she was,
ignorant even that her true name was Rochefort. Now that her beauty was
beginning to pall upon him, a fact he took little pains to disguise,
this secret that darkened her past began to trouble him. What
answer was he to give to the editors of "Debrett" and "Burke," when
interrogated as to his wife's family?

"Ivar," Lorelie continued earnestly, "your visits here are beginning to
be noticed. My character is becoming exposed to suspicions. You will
let the world know that I am your wife, will you not?"

No true man could have resisted the appealing glance of her eyes, the
pleading tone of her soft voice; but Ivar, being no true man, was proof
against both.

"Impossible, at present," he frowned. "I have raised you from
comparative poverty to affluence; I have surrounded you with luxury,
and, by heaven! you little know at what cost, and at what risk to
myself! I have made you my wife: be content with that. You will be a
countess some day; think of your future triumph over those who slight
you now. If people talk, you must put up with it, or go away from
Ormsby. It was against my wish that you came here. But your vanity is
such that you must feast your eyes daily upon your future heritage of
Ravenhall."

"It was neither the desire to see the Ravengar lands, nor the wish even
to be near you, that drew me to Ormsby, but a very different motive."

"In the devil's name, what motive?" said Ivar, elevating his eyebrows
in surprise.

"It is a part of the secret of my life. But, being here, here I remain.
And, Ivar, I must be acknowledged," she added firmly.

"Of course: you are burning to exhibit yourself as Viscountess Walden;
to shine in ancestral diamonds; to reign at Ravenhall; to be queen of
the county-side; to be courted and admired at fêtes and balls."

"No, Ivar, no; I care nothing for these things, but much for the name
of wife. To think that I must plead with my own husband to redeem my
name from reproach! What have you to fear from your father's anger? As
you are his legitimate and only son he cannot deprive you of the title,
even if he would; as to the Ravengar estate, that is entailed, and must
therefore descend to you. Of what, then, are you afraid?"

"It is true that the original estate, the estate of the first earl, is
entailed; but since his day the Ravengar lands have more than doubled.
These later acquisitions the governor can dispose of as he will. If
I offend him he may make them over to some one else, to Beatrice for
example, since she is a great favourite of his."

"That's a temptation with me to reveal our marriage," said Lorelie with
a smile. "One half of the Ravengar estate would form a pretty dowry for
her and Mr. Breakspear."

"Her and Breakspear?" Ivar repeated. "Is it your wish, then, that he
should marry Beatrice? That fellow may have saved your life," he added
darkly, "but it doesn't follow that you must seek to reward him with
the hand of my cousin."

"Events are shaping themselves that way," Lorelie remarked quietly,
with a glance at the distant Beatrice, who was laughing gaily while
Idris bent over her. "And really it can be no concern of yours whom she
marries."

"She is a Ravengar," replied Ivar, loftily. "There is the family name
to be considered. Pray, who is this insolent Breakspear, that first
makes love to you, and now aspires to Beatrice?"

"Mr. Idris Breakspear----" began Lorelie, and then she stopped,
surprised at the look upon Ivar's face.

"_Idris!_" said the viscount quickly. "Is his name Idris?"

"Yes, why?"

"O, nothing. It's an uncommon name, that's all." With a half-laugh, he
added, more to himself than to Lorelie: "Idris Breakspear. Humph! Now
if it were Idris Marville!"

It was now Lorelie's turn to be surprised. Till this moment she had
been unaware that the name of Idris Marville was known to her husband.

"But, Ivar," she answered quietly, "Marville, and not Breakspear,
happens to be his true name."

Lord Walden stopped short in his smoking, took the cigarette from his
lips, and stared open-mouthed at Lorelie with a look very much like
fear upon his face.

"What do you say?" he muttered hoarsely. "Idris Marville. But, bah!" he
continued, an expression of relief clearing his features: "that can't
be the fellow I have in mind. My Idris Marville died at Paris seven
years ago."

"And so did he--in the newspapers. For a reason of his own he let the
world think that he had perished in a hotel-fire."

At this statement Ivar's agitation became extreme. The cigarette
dropped from his fingers; his face became livid.

"Why should his being alive trouble you?" asked Lorelie, looking in
wonder at her husband.

For some moments Ivar hesitated, and when at last his answer came,
Lorelie intuitively felt that he was not stating the true cause of his
disquietude.

"You would marry that fellow to Beatrice?" he said, moistening his dry
white lips. "Why he is the son of a--a--felon: his father was tried for
murder at Nantes, and found guilty."

"Have you made a point of studying the bygone criminal trials of
France? If not, how have you learned this?"

"I heard the story from--from my father," replied Ivar slowly, as if
reluctant to make the admission.

At this Lorelie gave a very palpable start. A curious light came into
her eyes. She seemed as if struck by some new and surprising idea.

"And how came _he_ to learn it?"

"He was in Brittany at the time of the trial, and could not avoid
hearing all about it. The crime created, as newspapers say, a great
sensation. For weeks the people of Nantes talked of little else."

"Your father's ten years' absence from Ravenhall was spent in Brittany,
then?"

"A portion of the time," replied Ivar, evidently uneasy under his
wife's catechism.

"And so this murder-trial," observed Lorelie, with a thoughtful
air, "this trial which took place so far back as twenty-seven years
ago--that is before you and I were born--has formed a topic of
conversation between yourself and your father. What necessity led him
to talk of the matter to you?"

But Ivar waived this question by asking one.

"What has brought that fellow to Ormsby?" he said, nodding his head in
the direction of Idris.

"He is trying to discover his father; for he believes, rightly or
wrongly, that Eric Marville is still alive. He has traced him to this
neighbourhood," she added, her eyes attentive to every variation in
Ivar's countenance.

"And here he may end his quest," said the viscount, "for Eric Marville
was shipwrecked off this coast and drowned many years ago. At least,
that is my father's statement," he added in some confusion, and looking
like a man who has been unwittingly betrayed into a rash statement.

"What was the name of the vessel in which Eric Marville went down?"
asked Lorelie, speaking as if she had never before heard of it.

"_The--The Idris_," returned the viscount, giving the name with obvious
reluctance.

There was on Lorelie's face a smile that somehow made Ivar feel as if
he had walked into a net prepared for him.

"And how long ago is it since this vessel was wrecked?"

"Twenty-two years ago."

"Twenty-two years ago," murmured Lorelie, with the air of one making a
mental calculation, "will take us back to 1876."

"October the thirteenth, 1876, if you wish for the exact date."

"And was it not on this same night of October the thirteenth, 1876,
that your father the earl walked into Ravenhall after a mysterious
absence of ten years?"

"What of that?"

"O nothing! Mere coincidence, of course. And so," continued Lorelie,
with a retrospective air, "and so the foundering of the yacht _Idris_
is another of the little matters about which your father has conversed
with you. Strange that a peer of the realm should take such interest in
the fate of an escaped felon!" She paused, as if expecting Ivar to make
some reply, but he did not speak. "Well," she went on, "I will make
the confession that I, too, take an interest--a strong interest--in
this Eric Marville; nay, I will go so far as to say that to discover
what ultimately became of him is one of the objects that has led me to
Ormsby. And in pursuance of this object I have had the good fortune to
obtain from its present editor a copy of _The Ormsby Weekly Times_,
dated October 20th, 1876, in which paper there is given an account both
of the foundering of the yacht and also of the inquest upon the bodies
that were washed ashore. Now, as the coroner was unable to ascertain
either the name of the vessel, or the names of any of the men aboard,
is it not a little curious that the earl should know that the yacht was
called _Idris_, and that it carried on board one Eric Marville? How
comes your father to know more than could be elicited in the coroner's
court?"

"Egad, you'd better ask him," returned Ivar sullenly.

"Well, I must controvert your father on one point. Eric Marville was
_not_ drowned. I have proof that he was on shore at the time the yacht
sank."

The viscount was obviously startled by this statement.

"Oh! then what became of him?"

"Have I not said that I am trying to find out?"

"You've got a difficult task before you. No one has heard of him since
the night of the wreck."

"No one has heard of him by the name Marville, of course. He would not
be likely to adhere to a name that would suggest reminiscences of the
felon from Valàgenêt. He perhaps resumed his old family name."

"His old family name," repeated Ivar. "What is your reason for
supposing that Marville was not his true name?"

"Because it does not appear among the list of names in the peerage."

"The peerage?"

"Do you not know that Marville claimed to be a peer of the realm?"

The viscount smiled, but it was obvious that he was ill at ease.

"Felon in Brittany; peer in Britain. A likely story that! Odd that the
detectives and journalists did not discover the fact at the time of his
trial."

"It is odd, as you say, Ivar. He certainly kept his secret well. I do
not think he revealed it even to his wife."

"Which proves his lack of a coronet. It is not likely that he would
conceal from his wife the fact that he was heir to a peerage."

"He doubtless had his reasons. Having perhaps quarrelled with his
family he may have left England forever, determined to begin life anew
in another land, and to hide his identity under an assumed name. An
imperial archduke of Austria has done the like in our time, and so
successfully, too, as to baffle all endeavours to trace him."

"And, pray, to what peerage did this Marville lay claim?"

"I do not know."

"Dormant, or _in esse_?"

"I do not know."

"What was its rank? A baronage: a viscountship: a----"

"I do not know."

Ivar seemed rather pleased than otherwise with Lorelie's want of
knowledge.

"Where, when, and under what circumstances, then, did Eric Marville
claim to be a peer?"

"So far as I am aware he referred to it but once, and then to no more
than one person, a French military officer, now dead. 'I am heir to a
peerage and could take my rank to-morrow, if I chose,' were his words."

"And that's all the evidence you have?"

"All the evidence I have, Ivar."

"Marville was boasting, beyond a doubt. Does that fellow," he
continued, glancing at Idris' distant figure, "know of his father's
claim to a peerage?"

"He has not the least inkling of it."

"You'll act wisely by keeping the notion out of his pate."

"Why so?"

"It's one thing to claim a peerage, but quite another thing to prove
one's claim. Why fill the fellow with false hopes? Be guided by me, and
refrain from telling him of his father's pretensions."

"Very well, Ivar," responded Lorelie, quietly, "I will be guided by
you. As your wife it is my duty to do nothing to the detriment of your
future interests."

For a moment the two stared curiously at each other.

"My interests?" muttered the viscount. "I don't understand you."

"I think you do," she said gravely. "But," she added, rising to her
feet, "I am neglecting my visitors," and so saying she moved off in the
direction of Idris and Beatrice, who were slowly pacing to and fro on
one side of the lawn.

"Not even the coronet to console me now!" she murmured darkly. "A
fitting punishment this for my long and guilty silence! Justice,
justice, now thy scourge is coming upon me!"

Ivar did not follow his wife, but sat motionless for some moments,
staring after her in blank dismay, and completely confounded by the
startling hints that she had let fall.

"Idris Marville not dead," he muttered, removing with his handkerchief
the cold moisture that glistened on his forehead. "That fellow he!
Living here at Ormsby--in the same house with Beatrice! And Lorelie
suspects! Suspects? She _knows_. By God! supposing she tells him! But,
bah! she will not--she dare not--declare it; she stands to lose too
much." He recalled her words to the effect that she would do nothing
detrimental to his interests. The meaning of this assurance was
obvious, and Ivar breathed more freely. "She'll keep the secret for her
own sake. She'll not be so mad as to cut her own throat. In marrying
her I've stopped her mouth. But if she had known as much a year ago as
she knows to-day----!"

The smile had returned to Lorelie's lips by the time she reached Idris
and Beatrice, and at her invitation they repaired to the drawing-room.
Lord Walden, with a black feeling of hatred in his heart against both
his wife and Idris, slowly followed without speaking, and flung himself
on a distant ottoman as if desiring no companionship but his own.

Idris, thus ignored by the viscount, could but ignore him in turn.
He had never beheld a more sullen and a more ungracious clown than
Lorelie's husband, and he much regretted that he had not followed his
first impulse to depart.

The drawing-room was a handsome apartment, containing many evidences of
taste and wealth. Lorelie took a pride in pointing out her treasures.

"My father," she remarked, observing Beatrice's eyes set upon a
portrait in oils representing a handsome man in the uniform of a French
military officer.

Idris viewed with interest the likeness of the man who for about the
space of a minute had flashed across his childhood's days.

"A man who will ever command my respect," he murmured, "since in
rescuing my father from prison he was forced by that act to become an
exile from his native land."

An expression of pain passed over Lorelie's face.

"Mr. Breakspear, you do not know what you are saying."

"Forgive me. I promised never to allude to that event, and I am
breaking my word. I apologize."

And he wondered, as he had often wondered, why reference to this
matter should trouble her. She had no cause to be ashamed of her
father's deed. Captain Rochefort's act in favour of a friend whom he
believed to be innocent was, from Idris' point of view, a gallant and
romantic enterprise, and in the judgment of most persons would deserve
condonation, if not approval.

After the portrait of Captain Rochefort, what most interested Beatrice
was an antique vase standing upon the carved mantel. It was of gold,
set with precious stones, and the interior was concealed from view by a
tight-fitting lid.

"What a pretty vase!" she said, and with Lorelie's sanction she lifted
it from the mantel. As she did so a cold tremor passed over her. She
placed the urn upon the table, and in a moment the feeling was gone.
She took up the vase again, and the unpleasant sensation returned. Was
this due to something exhaled from the interior of the urn? She drew a
deep breath through her nostrils, but failed to detect any odour.

Puzzled and annoyed, Beatrice became morbidly curious to learn its
contents.

"The lid fits very tightly," she said, addressing Lorelie. "How do you
remove it?"

"It is secured by a hidden spring," replied the viscountess. "If you
can discover the secret, you will be doing me a favour, for I have
never been able to open it myself."

"Then you do not know what treasure it may contain," smiled Beatrice.
"Attar of roses, spices from Arabia, pearls from the Orient, may lurk
within." She shook the urn, and a faint sound accompanied the movement.
"Listen! there is certainly something inside."

"I am full of curiosity myself to know what it is," said Lorelie, "I
have spent hours in trying to discover the spring."

"Then it is useless for me to try."

But though Beatrice spoke thus, she nevertheless made the attempt,
toying with the vase and pressing various figures sculptured upon the
sides. All to no purpose. The jewels sparkled like wicked eyes, seeming
to mock her endeavours. The sound caused by the shaking of the urn
was like the collision of paper pellets, shavings of wood, or of some
other substance equally light. And all the time while handling the vase
Beatrice was conscious of a strange feeling of repulsion. What caused
it she could not tell: the fact was certain: the reason inexplicable.

"Is this vase an heirloom?" she asked, desirous of learning whence
Lorelie had obtained it, and yet not liking to appear too curious.

The viscountess hesitated a moment, evidently adverse to replying, and
then stooped over Beatrice and kissed her.

"Will you think me discourteous, Beatrice, if--if I do not tell you how
I came by it?"

While speaking she glanced aside at Ivar who, from his position on
the couch, was watching the scene with so perturbed an air that Idris
was led to believe there was some strange secret connected with this
vase--a secret known to both husband and wife. Great as was his love
for Lorelie, Idris was compelled to admit that she was very mysterious
in some of her ways.

Then a strange thing happened.

Idris, keenly attentive to all that was passing, observed a curious
expression stealing over Beatrice's face. Once before he had seen this
expression, namely, at the time when she gave her opinion on the piece
of steel taken from the Viking's skull. The pupils of her eyes were
contracted, and set with a bright fixity of gaze upon the jewelled urn.
The rigidity of her figure indicated a cataleptic state.

Her lips parted, and in a voice strangely unlike her own, she said:--

"The ashes of the dead!"

At this Lorelie gave a faint cry and drew away the vase, glancing again
at Ivar. Then, with her hands she closed the eyes of Beatrice, and
shook her gently. Beatrice opened her eyes again, and looked around
with the surprised air of one aroused suddenly from sleep.

"Do you know what you have been saying?" Lorelie asked.

"No--what?"

"That this is a funereal urn."

"Have I been self-hypnotized again?"

"Again?" repeated Lorelie. "Do you often fall into this state?"

"Occasionally--when gazing too long at some bright object: and then the
object seems to whisper its history to me, or rather, as Godfrey more
sensibly remarks, my mind begins to weave all kinds of fancies around
it."

"Why, you must be a clairvoyante," said Lorelie, studying the other
intently. "'The ashes of the dead?' Yes, this may be a crematory vase.
What do you say, Ivar?" she added, turning to the viscount.

"Of course Beatrice knows," was his reply, "for is she not a daughter
of the gods, a descendant of a Norse prophetess? But, Beatrice, I think
that the blood of Hilda the Alruna must have become so diluted during
the course of ten centuries that your claim to the hereditary gift of
intuition is a little laughable."

"I am not aware of having made any such claim," replied Beatrice,
quietly.

"And such claim, if made, would be justified," retorted Idris, roused
by Lord Walden's sneering air, "for Miss Ravengar has given me previous
proof of possessing remarkable intuitive powers."

"Let us say no more on the matter," said Lorelie, gently.

She restored the urn to its place on the mantelpiece, and, desirous of
removing the somewhat unpleasant impression created by the incident,
immediately started a conversation on other topics.

The talk turned presently upon literature, and Idris, remembering that
Lorelie was an author, said:--

"Lady Walden, will you not give us a reading from your play?"

"O, yes, do!" cried Beatrice, impulsively.

Lorelie hesitated. The drama written by her had been a work of time and
patience: it was as near perfection as she would ever be able to bring
it: she had poured her noblest feelings into the work. But she knew
that what seems good to the author often seems bad to the critic: that
the thoughts, supposed to be original, prove to be merely echoes of
what others have said before in far better language: that the line that
separates eloquence from bombast is easily passable on the wrong side.

These were the motives disposing Lorelie to keep her tragedy
to herself. The person who should have been the first to give
encouragement on this occasion was mute; for Ivar maintained an air of
indifference.

"Deserves kicking," was Idris' secret comment, as he became conscious
of a suggestion of humiliation in Lorelie's manner, due to her
husband's want of appreciation. "And," he added to himself, "I should
very much like to do the kicking."

Moved at last by the solicitations of her two visitors Lorelie produced
the manuscript of her play and prepared to read some portions of it.

"This drama of mine, '_The Fatal Skull_'," she began, "derives its name
from the central incident in it--an incident of early Italian history.
Alboin, King of the Lombards, had become enamoured of Rosamond, the
beautiful daughter of Cunimund, King of the Gepids. Both father and
daughter, however, rejected the suit, for Lombards and Gepids had long
been at feud. Embassies having failed, Alboin resolved to attain his
object by force, and, accordingly, entered the territories of Cunimund
with an army. In the battle that followed, the Gepid king was slain,
his forces put to the rout, and his daughter Rosamond became the prize
and the reluctant bride of the conqueror Alboin."

"How dreadful," murmured Beatrice, "to be compelled to marry the man
who had slain her father!"

"The sequel is more dreadful," returned Lorelie. "The death of Cunimund
was not sufficient to satiate the hatred of Alboin; the skull of the
fallen king, fashioned into a drinking cup, became the most treasured
ornament of his sideboard.

"Feasting one day with his companions-in-arms, Alboin called for
the skull of Cunimund. 'The cup of victory'--to quote the words of
Gibbon--'was accepted with horrid applause by the circle of the Lombard
chiefs. "Fill it again with wine," exclaimed the inhuman conqueror,
"fill it to the brim; carry this goblet to the queen, and request
in my name that she would rejoice with her father." In an agony of
grief and rage, Rosamond had strength to utter, "Let the will of my
lord be obeyed," and, touching it with her lips, pronounced a silent
imprecation that the insult should be washed away in the blood of
Alboin.'"

"And did she kill her husband?" asked Beatrice.

"Yes, with the help of his armour-bearer Helmichis."

Having thus set forth the argument, Lorelie, unfolding her manuscript,
began to read certain scenes from her play. The reading of them was a
revelation both to Idris and Beatrice: there was a masculine vigour
in the lines: the thoughts were as noble as they were original, and
graced by many poetic images and by passages of exquisite beauty.

Charmed by the melody of Lorelie's voice, charmed still more by the
lovely face set in a frame of dark hair, Idris sat entranced, with
something more than admiration in his eyes. And as Beatrice observed
his rapt attitude, his accelerated breathing, she trembled uneasily;
not for herself, but for Lorelie. In the near future, when the young
viscountess should have come to learn the worthlessness of her husband,
and to experience the misery of existence with him, would she have
sufficient strength and purity of soul to resist the temptation of
flying to the arms of Idris? Their meeting with each other was a
foolish playing with fire, and could have but one ending. Beatrice
ceased to listen to the reading of the play, and grew miserable with
her own thoughts.

"Lady Walden," said Idris, when she had finished her recital, "your
drama is a work of real genius."

His praise was sweeter to Lorelie than the praise of a thousand other
critics, and her cheek flushed with triumph.

"You certainly ought to have it put upon the stage," he continued.

"Yes," chimed in Ivar: for even _his_ sullen nature had been moved to
admiration: "you must not hide your light under a bushel. If one is a
genius, let the world know it."

"If this play should ever be acted," said Lorelie, "then let _me_ take
the chief part in it. Who more fit to play the _rôle_ of Rosamond than
the creator of Rosamond?"

"Well, whenever you desire to begin rehearsals," said Idris, jocularly,
"Miss Ravengar can supply you with one item of stage property in the
shape of a real skull."

"But you would not drink from a real skull?" said Beatrice.

"It would add to the effect," smiled Lorelie.

"Drink from a real skull? Ah, how horrid!" exclaimed Beatrice.

In reciting the words of the wronged and indignant Queen, Lorelie had
caught the genuine spirit of the character: and now, inspired by the
idea of becoming its exponent upon the stage, she rose to her feet, her
eyes sparkling as with the light of future triumph.

As she stood upon the hearth in statuesque pose, she seemed to be
the very queen of tragedy, to be breathing, as it were, the air of
vengeance; a spirit so contrary to her usual sweet self that Idris did
not like to witness its assumption, however suitable it may have been
to the character of the fierce Rosamond.

"I can see the eyes of the theatre riveted upon me," she murmured,
picturing to herself the future representation of her drama, "as I
enter the banqueting-hall of the Lombard chiefs, and advance to drink
from the fatal cup! How the audience will thrill as they watch! How
awful the silence as Rosamond places her lips to her father's skull!"

She illustrated her words by taking the antique vase from the mantel
and going through the action of drinking from it, shuddering as she did
so; though whether her shudder was mere simulation, or a real thing
occasioned by the supposed nature of its contents was more than Idris
could tell.

"And when the hour for vengeance came, I would rise to the height of
the occasion, and strike down Alboin--_so!_"

Drawing from her hair a long and gleaming hairpin shaped like a
stiletto, she went through the motion of stabbing an imaginary figure.

"'Die!'" she exclaimed, in an exultant tone, and quoting the words of
her play. "'This Rosamond sends.'"

There was a weird roll of her glittering eyes as she flung out her left
hand tightly clenched: a swiftness and ferocity in the downward stroke
of the stiletto in her right, so suggestive of real murder that Idris
glanced at her feet, almost expecting to see a human figure lying there.

Beatrice gave a cry of genuine terror. Ivar looked on with evident
admiration.

For a few seconds Lorelie maintained a rigid bending pose, her eyes
dilated with terror, staring at the hearth as if she beheld something
there. Then, with a motion startling in its suddenness, she recovered
her erect attitude, and reeled backward with her lifted hand clenched
upon her brow. The stiletto dropped from her limp fingers, and the
peculiar ringing sound produced by its contact with the tiled hearth
was fresh in Idris' ears for many days afterwards.

"'_A-a-ah!_'" she cried in a long-drawn thrilling sibilant whisper,
which, nevertheless, penetrated to every corner of the apartment, and
again quoting from her play. "'Ah! He moves! His eyes open! That look
of reproach! I dare not,'" she went on, gasping for breath, "'I dare
not strike again! Helmichis, do thou strike for me.'"

With averted face she staggered back and dropped upon a couch,
apparently exhausted by real or simulated emotion.

"Bravo! bravo!" cried Ivar, clapping his hands. "The divine Sarah
couldn't do it better. By heaven! we ought to have this play staged,
with you in the _rôle_ of Rosamond. You'd be the talk of London."

As for Idris, the _diablerie_ of Lorelie's manner had given him a
sensation very much akin to horror.

"What have I been witnessing?" he murmured. "A piece of acting merely,
or a reminiscence of a real tragedy?"

Beatrice, deadly white, and with her eyes closed, lay back upon an
ottoman silent and motionless.

"What do you say?" said Lorelie, coming quickly forward in response to
a remark from Idris.

"I think Miss Ravengar has fainted," he repeated.

"Egad! Lorelie," said Ivar, amused. "There's a tribute to your acting,
if you like."

Lady Walden instantly busied herself in applying restoratives to the
swooning Beatrice.

"I am sorry to have frightened you," she said in gentle tones to
Beatrice when the latter had recovered. "It was very absurd of me to
act so."

But Lorelie's tenderness met with no response from Beatrice, whose eyes
were full of a wild haunting horror. She shrank from Lorelie's touch;
she avoided her glance; her whole manner showed that she was anxious
for nothing so much as to get away from her presence.

"I--I think I'll go home now," she said, glancing at Idris. "Godfrey
will be waiting for us. We promised to return early."

"The walk through the fresh air will do you good," remarked Idris, who
was himself desirous of withdrawing.

It was in vain that Lorelie pressed her visitors to stay. Beatrice
declared that she must go, and within the space of a few minutes she
had taken a very abrupt leave of her hostess.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

That night Idris' sleep was broken by troubled dreams, in all of which
a woman's image mingled, always in the act of striking down some
shadowy foe; but the venue was changed from the elegant apartment at
The Cedars to the grey stone interior of Ormfell!



CHAPTER XIV

TOLD BY THE VASE


Next morning Idris strove to put aside the fear that had found
expression in his dreams, but the dark idea would persist in forcing
itself upon him. He grew angry with himself. Heavens! was he not master
of his own mind that he could not throw off this suspicion of the woman
whom he loved? Strange and mysterious Lorelie might be, but that she
was a taker of human life he found it impossible to believe.

Doubtless it was true that a murder had taken place within Ormfell,
but that the crime had been wrought by a stiletto hairpin was merely a
conjecture on the part of Beatrice, who had no valid reason to offer in
support of her theory: yet, imbued with this fancy she was persistent
in maintaining that a woman must have been the author of the deed.

Assuming it, however, to be a fact that the piece of steel was a
fragment of a hairpin, and the person who used it as an instrument of
death a woman, it did not follow because Lorelie had drawn a stiletto
pin from her hair in order to illustrate an assassination-scene in her
play, that he must identify her with the guilty woman.

There was not only no evidence to connect Lorelie with the crime, but
much to prove the contrary. For instance, it requires a very long
period of time before a human body will become reduced to the state
of a skeleton such as that which Idris and Godfrey had found in the
interior of the ancient tumulus.

But Lorelie's coming to Ormsby had taken place less than five months
ago. Therefore, unless the remains had been brought from elsewhere, she
could have had no hand in the crime.

But had the remains been brought from elsewhere? and was Godfrey wrong
in limiting the scene of the murder to the interior of Ormfell? With a
sudden thrill of surprise and fear Idris recalled the reliquary brought
to Ravenhall by Ivar on the night of his return from the continent. The
story of the viscount's midnight visit to the vault had been told him
in confidence by Godfrey, and Idris therefore knew that this mysterious
visit had some connection with Lorelie's affairs. The meaning of it all
had completely puzzled the two friends; but now, while pondering over
Ivar's action, Idris felt a return of all his misgivings.

Oblivious of the flight of time he remained on his pillow occupied in
gloomy thought, and when at last he did get up and go down-stairs, he
found that he must breakfast alone, for Beatrice was absent, having
left a message with the maid to the effect that she had gone to The
Cedars.

The Cedars of all places! How came it that Beatrice, after having
evinced such fear of Lorelie on the previous evening, should repair
thither the next morning? Was it to tell Lorelie of her suspicions? to
warn her that the crime was known? to put her on her guard?

Some such motive must have actuated her: so Idris, thinking that he
could not do better than imitate her example, set off himself in the
direction of The Cedars.

On his arrival he learned from the maid who opened the door that
Beatrice was in the drawing-room with Lorelie.

"Let me see them, please."

Without ascertaining whether his presence would be acceptable to her
mistress, the girl ushered him into the drawing-room with the words,
"Mr. Breakspear, ma'amzelle," and there left him.

Idris looked around. No one was visible, but from the other side of
the curtains that draped one end of the room came the sound of voices.
The maid in introducing him had pronounced his name so softly that
apparently those behind the portière were unaware of his presence.

The two curtains forming the portière not being closely drawn left an
opening, through which Idris, as he went forward, caught a glimpse of a
small boudoir. Both Lorelie and Beatrice were there.

On the point of addressing them, he was suddenly stopped in his purpose
by something odd in the appearance and attitude of each.

Beatrice occupied a position at a low table, upon which stood the
vase that had attracted her curiosity on the previous day, the vase
containing "the ashes of the dead."

She sat erect and silent, her hands resting on her lap, her face as
rigid as if sculptured from marble: her attitude gave an impression
that if pushed she would fall over like a dead weight. Her eyes were
set upon the glittering vase with a curious far-off expression in them,
as if observant of some scene a thousand miles away.

Facing her a few paces off, with her eyes concentrating all their
brightness and force upon Beatrice's face, sat Lady Walden. It was
clear at a glance that she held Beatrice's mind and will completely
under her own control.

"As I live," murmured Idris, "she has hypnotized Beatrice. She is going
to conduct some experiment with the vase."

Having an honourable man's aversion to play the spy he was about to
make his presence known, when, suddenly, checked by some motive for
which he could not account, he determined to remain an unseen watcher.

Lorelie rose and placed Beatrice's hands upon the vase, where they
rested, passive and limp. This movement was accompanied by a shiver on
the part of the medium. If the soul be capable of abstraction from the
body, Idris might have believed that Beatrice's soul had left her at
that moment to animate the vase, for the urn seemed to become instinct
with motion, and to sparkle with a new light.

"Speak, Beatrice," said Lorelie in a solemn tone. "Speak from the
depth of this vase: listen to the voice of its quivering atoms: recall
from it the scenes and sounds of the past.--Tell me, what do you
feel--hear--see?"

A hollow voice arose, a voice that sounded like a mockery of Beatrice's
tones: and although her lips moved, the words seemed to emanate, not
from her, but from the urn.

"It is dark ... very dark ... nothing can be seen.... No sun ... no
stars ... no light.... All is cold ... and damp ... and still.... There
is no air ... or wind ... no life ... or motion.... It is like the
grave.... Above, beneath, on all sides, the earth presses.... Always
the earth around ... nothing but earth.... For ages and ages, deep down
in the ground."

She repeated this last sentence several times.

"For ages and ages, deep down in the ground."

"What next?" asked Lorelie.

"A sound ... faint ... far-off.... Now it comes nearer ... it is as
of a spade digging ... it is coming down ... down ... down.... The
earth above loosens ... disappears.... The blowing of fresh air ...
the gleam of daylight.... Now the blue sky looks down.... Lifted up
by strong hands to the glorious sunshine above.... It is the edge of
a pit.... Small pieces of gold mixed with earth lie about.... It is
spring-time.... The air is full of the sound of falling waters....
There are green hills around, dark here and there with pines and
firs.... Above them snow shining in the sun.... There are men about
... digging ... men with deep blue eyes and flaxen hair.... They wear
close-fitting tunics.... Their legs are bare, crossed by thongs of
leather, ... They talk a strange language.... Now they stop digging ...
laugh ... and drink mead from ox-horns."

Idris started, beginning to detect a glimmer of meaning in these
utterances, hitherto as dark as a Delphic oracle.

"It is hot ... very hot.... There is a fire ... flames playing in
golden and ruddy hues on the rafters above.... Many pieces of metal
are stacked upon the shelves around.... Shields, spears, swords, all
newly-wrought, are lying about.... The clangour of the anvil arises....
The red sparks fly around.... Men are moving to and fro, all busy....
One is pouring molten metal into a clay mould.... It is liquid, glowing
gold.... He is casting a vase ... a funereal urn ... _this!_"

Idris had heard something of the marvels of clairvoyance, but
clairvoyance like this fairly took his breath away. It was clear that
Beatrice was giving the whole history of the vase, from the time when
the metal composing it first issued from the earth in the shape of ore
in the old Norse fatherland!

"It is a long, low, wooden hall. The lady is beautiful, with dark
eyes and raven hair. There are some maidens around. They are at
needlework. They have one long piece of cloth on their knees, and are
sewing different coloured threads into it. The lady directs them. Now
she moves towards the bed. There is some one lying on it, hidden by a
bearskin. At the head is the golden vase. The lady lifts the coverlet.
Beneath, there reposes a dead man, with yellow hair and beard. He lies
upon his shield, his spear and sword beside him. The lady falls across
the body weeping."

This scene was clear enough to Idris' comprehension. The dark-haired
lady was the ancestress of Beatrice herself, Hilda the Alruna, mourning
the death of her husband, Orm the Viking: and the maidens were the
captive nuns who had wrought the figured tapestry that had decorated
the interior of Ormfell.

"The maidens tremble as the stern-faced warriors enter the hall to
carry away the body of their chief. He is borne aloft to the place of
sepulture upon his brazen shield. The lady follows, clasping the urn to
her bosom."

Beatrice paused for a moment, and then began another picture.

"The green hill-tomb rises high in sunny air, and close by murmurs the
voice of the restless sea. The dead warrior is laid upon an altar of
wood. Many persons stand around. A fair-haired boy touches the pile
with a flaming torch. As he does so, a shout goes up to the sky."

Though Beatrice's utterances were not marked by any rhythmic measure,
she nevertheless began to intone them to an air, which Idris
immediately recognized as the Ravengar Funeral March, the requiem that
had made so strange an impression upon him when played by Lorelie upon
the organ of St. Oswald's Church.

"See the gleam of lifted lance and shield! Hark to the wailing of the
women, as they beat their breasts and rend their tresses for the death
of their great chief! List to the warriors, as they clash their brazen
bucklers with clanging sword-strokes! Now rises the wild barbaric song
of the long-haired scald, hymning to his harp the heroic deeds of the
dead, and chanting the dirge that shall never be forgotten by the
Raven-race. Upward mount the flames of the pyre. See how the maddened
raven, tied to the fagot with silken thread, flaps his wings and
screams with terror, pecking at the bond that holds him. The volumed
smoke hides him from view: the fire severs the thread: now he soars
heavenward, bearing the soul of the warrior to Valhalla. The fire burns
long, glowing in the breath of the breeze. Now it fades: glimmers: and
dies out. The lady draws near with the urn: within it are reverently
placed the ashes of the dead."

Beatrice ceased her intonation, and continued in a quieter tone.

"It is a square place, built of stone. Men are moving about. Some carry
torches. Others are decking the walls with tapestry, hanging it from a
metal rod. There is a stone receptacle in the centre. The dark-haired
lady places the urn within this, and retires. The lights vanish. All is
silence and darkness--silence and darkness."

It was clear that Beatrice had been describing the incidents attending
the death and burial of Orm. Her account had cleared up one mystery.
The contents of the urn were nothing less than the ashes of the old
Viking, the ancestral dust from which Beatrice herself had sprung! This
completely answered the question as to what had become of his remains,
and furnished additional proof that the skeleton in the sarcophagus was
not that of Orm.

But here a disquieting thought presented itself. Who had removed this
urn from the tomb in Ormfell, and in what way had Lorelie become
possessed of it? He dismissed the question for the moment in order to
listen to Beatrice who was speaking again.

"Footsteps round about. Light shines through the interstices of the
tomb. Some one is speaking. It is the dark-haired lady. There is a man
with her. They take off the lid of the tomb and put in all kinds of
bright things--coins and rings: gold and silver ingots: cups, lamps,
precious stones, and the like. They sparkle in the light. The tomb is
full. They lay the rest on the floor. Now they steal away. The light
goes with them. Silence and darkness again."

Thus far Beatrice's monologue had dealt with a period of history
distant by a thousand years, and had told Idris little that he did
not already know. Would she continue the story of the urn through the
succeeding centuries? Would she reach modern times, and speak of those
who had removed the treasure? would she describe the murder that had
taken place, and tell how the urn came to be in Lorelie's possession?

Spellbound he waited for the sequel. If any one had told him that the
Viking's treasure was lying upon the roadway outside to be his own for
the mere trouble of walking thither, he would not have stirred from his
position.

Beatrice had been silent for some time, when Lorelie, speaking in the
same tone of authority that she had used throughout, said:--

"What comes next?"

"The dropping of moisture from the roof."

"What next?"

"Silence and darkness."

Idris began to think that he was doomed to disappointment. Each scene
described by Beatrice had been followed by an interval, sometimes long,
sometimes short, apparently proportionate to the actual length of time
that had elapsed between each event. How many minutes were to serve
as a measure of the space that separated the age of Orm from the date
of the removal of the treasure? Not so many, he trusted, as to cause
Lorelie to bring her experiment to a close.

"How much time is passing?"

"Centuries--long centuries--centuries of silence and darkness."

For a long time Beatrice continued to sit without speaking. At length,
to Idris' satisfaction, she resumed her monologue.

"A muffled noise like a spade digging. The falling of earth. Some one
is going to enter."

"Is this person the first to enter the hillock since the days of the
dark-haired lady?"

"The very first.--Cool air blows down the passage, filling the chamber
with its freshness. It penetrates the chinks of the tomb."

"Are there several men, or only one?"

"One only."

"What is he doing?"

"He waits a long time at the entrance. Now he comes forward along the
passage. He carries a light: it gleams through the interstices of the
tomb. He walks about, his feet striking against pieces of metal. He
seems to be picking up some. Now, with a cry, he drops them. They ring
on the hard earth. There are fresh footsteps coming along the passage.
Coming quickly, too!"

Beatrice's voice had lost some of its cold ring: she seemed to be less
of an automaton and more of a living woman, capable of being moved by
what she saw and heard. Idris did not fail to notice the change. It
was an agreeable change, but ominous for his hopes. She seemed to be
emerging from her trance: emerging, too, at a very significant point of
the story.

He noticed, too, that Lorelie's interest had kept pace with his own:
there was on her face a look of painful anxiety that had been entirely
absent in the earlier stages of the experiment.

"A second man has entered the place. There is a silence. They seem to
be standing still, looking at each other. Now they walk to and fro
speaking."

"What do they say?"

"Their voices are hushed! Ha! A sound like the tearing of cloth.
The dull thud as of a body falling to the earth. A gasp, and all is
still. The footsteps move about again. It seems as if only one man
is there. He comes slowly forward and approaches the tomb. He places
the light upon the floor. He is going to lift the lid. It is heavy.
He can scarcely move it. He pushes it aside with his hands. Ah!" she
exclaimed in a tone of disgust, "ah! his fingers are wet with blood.
Some drops fall into the tomb. Oh!" she gasped in the voice of one who
suddenly realizes an awful truth. "Oh! he is a murderer! He has killed
the other. He peers into the tomb. The lamp on the floor lights up his
face. I can see the sparkle of his eyes. _Oh! it is----_"

In sheer horror Beatrice paused as if recognizing the visionary face.

"What! You know him," cried Lorelie, wildly: and to Idris' mind there
was as much horror in her voice as in that of Beatrice. "You know him?
Who is it?"

Instead of replying Beatrice tried to lift her hands as though their
removal from the vase would dissolve the terrible vision. Lorelie came
swiftly forward and stayed her action with an imperative gesture.

Much as Idris felt the necessity for intervention, he refrained, for he
was as eager for the name as Lorelie herself.

"You recognize him?" cried Lorelie. "Who is it? His name? Who has more
right to know it than I? Speak! God of heaven, I'll wrest the name
from you, though you were dying---- No! stop! silence!" she suddenly
exclaimed. "Do not say the name."

Eager to learn the secret Idris had been incautiously pressing against
the silken portière, and even in the midst of her agitation, Lorelie
had seen the movement of the curtain.

There was a moment's silence, and then she cried:--

"Who is there?"

"A friend," replied Idris: and seeing that he was discovered he lifted
the curtain and entered the recess. "Let us have the name, and then----"

"It was honourable of you to play the spy!" said Lorelie, coldly: and
Idris could not help feeling that he deserved the reproach.

"Miss Ravengar," he said, stepping up to Beatrice and taking both her
hands in his own: "tell me whose face you see peering into the tomb."

"A face peering into the tomb? I--I don't understand."

Beatrice's voice had assumed its sweet natural ring. From her low seat
she looked up at Idris with the light of gladness in her eyes at seeing
him, a colour on her cheek at finding her hands clasped in his.

For a moment he eyed her keenly, thinking that in order to shield
the guilty person she was going to deny the recognition. Then the
truth flashed upon him. She had emerged from her hypnotic trance. On
detecting his presence the viscountess by some quick sleight of hand
must have restored her to her normal state of mind.

Beatrice's wondering eyes showed that she was entirely ignorant of the
story that had flowed from her lips.

That story had accomplished one good end. She had spoken of the
assassin as a man, and a weight was lifted from Idris' mind. Thank
heaven, Lorelie was not the author of the deed! But a troubling thought
remained. Was she a friend of the assassin, an accessory after the
fact? If not, why was she so anxious to conceal his name?

A question or two on the part of Idris elicited the fact that it was
Beatrice herself who had suggested the experiment with the vase.
Lorelie, who was versed in the art of hypnotism, had readily assented,
being as eager as Beatrice to learn its secret.

And now that the experiment was over Beatrice looked from Lorelie to
Idris, and from Idris to Lorelie, wondering why each seemed so grave.

"What have I been saying?" she asked.

Lorelie turned to Idris. "How long have you been here?"

"From the beginning of your experiment," he answered.

"Then Beatrice shall learn the story from you."

"But the story lacks completion. You left the experiment unfinished at
its most interesting point.--Lady Walden," continued Idris, gravely,
"you know now, if you did not know before, that a murder was committed
within the interior of Ormfell. Justice requires that the murderer
should be punished."

"Go on," she murmured, as he paused.

"That urn," he continued, pointing to the golden vase, "formed a part
of the treasure that led to the crime. Whoever gave you the urn was
either the assassin, or obtained it through the agency of the assassin."

Idris paused again, and Lorelie herself uttered the question that was
in his mind.

"And, therefore, you would learn the name of the giver?"

Idris bowed.

"Mr. Breakspear, you ask too much."

"You desire to shield a murderer?"

"That is nothing new--with me. I have been doing that for many years."

No look could be more mournful than that accompanying her words.

"You will not give me the name that was trembling upon the lips of Miss
Ravengar?"

"I did not hear it," replied Lorelie, evasively.

"But you have formed a suspicion?"

"My suspicions might compromise the innocent, even as I myself have
been compromised," she added, with a reproachful glance at Beatrice.

"Forgive me," murmured Beatrice, with drooping eyes.

"Are we not all liable to error?" said Lorelie, kissing her tenderly.
"I commend your frankness in coming to state your suspicions, painful
though it was for me to listen. No; though fallen from what I might
be, I have not yet stooped to murder." And then, turning to Idris, she
said:--

"If I refuse your request I do so in order that I may not rashly accuse
the innocent. When I have verified my suspicions, you shall know the
truth: for, if I am not mistaken, no one will have more right to the
knowledge than yourself. And then," she added, with a melancholy smile,
"then it may be that you will find your desire for justice evaporating."



CHAPTER XV

A PACKET OF OLD LETTERS


For more than an hour after the departure of Idris and Beatrice,
Lorelie remained where they had left her. She had sunk into a deep
reverie, which, judged by the expression of her face, was of a painful
character.

"Whence did Ivar obtain that vase?" she murmured. "He has always
refused to tell. 'Take it, and ask no questions,' has always been his
answer. "'That urn,'" she continued, repeating Idris' words, "'formed
a part of the treasure that led to a murder. Whoever gave you the urn
was either the assassin, or obtained it through the agency of the
assassin.' Ivar gave it to me, but he was not the assassin. No! the
deed was wrought by the hand of one who escaped from the wreck of
the _Idris_. Let me read those letters again in the light of the new
knowledge acquired to-day."

She rose, and from a drawer in a cabinet took a packet of letters.

"What would Idris Breakspear give to read these!" she murmured. "But
the day is not far distant when I must put them into his hands; and
then," she faltered, "and then--how great will be his contempt for me!"

Carrying the letters to the table she sat down and untied the thread
that bound them.

The first one was written in a woman's hand; and the envelope
containing it bore the words, "To my daughter Lorelie."

Madame Rochefort had, when dying, given this letter to Lorelie with
the injunction that it was not to be read till after its writer had
been laid in the grave.

"Dearest Lorelie," it ran, "it may be that the disclosure contained
in this letter will cause you to view the memory of your mother with
feelings of shame, if not of contempt: but leave the judgment of my
conduct, or, if you should so term it, my sin, to that higher tribunal
before which I now stand, and be not too quick to condemn, since no
woman can rightly judge me unless she herself has stood in a similar
position to mine.

"You will surmise by these words that I have some strange confession to
make, and such in truth is the case.

"You, my daughter, in common with the rest of the world, have hitherto
regarded Eric Marville as a murderer, and your father, Noel Rochefort,
as a man of stainless honour. Learn now the truth that these opinions
must be reversed: it was your father, and not Eric Marville, that
murdered Henri Duchesne. And for twenty years I have kept this guilty
secret locked within my breast, shielding my husband's reputation to
the injury of another's.

"Let me tell the tale, and that in as few words as possible, for it is
a melancholy reminiscence; why should I linger over it?

"I married your father in 1869.

"During the first year of our wedded life we lived at Nantes, your
father's regiment having been stationed there.

"Our circle of friends included, besides others, the Englishman,
Eric Marville; and the Gascon, Henri Duchesne. The latter, some
years before, had been a suitor for my hand; and to my uneasiness I
discovered that though he himself was now married, he had not abandoned
his passion for me. I remained deaf to his advances. Thereupon his love
turned to hatred, and, desirous of evoking my husband's suspicion and
jealousy, he had the baseness to boast among his friends that he had
found in me an easy conquest. Though full of secret fury your father
hesitated to send a challenge, since Duchesne was deadly with pistol
and sword: to face him in duel was to face certain death.

"Your father was a Corsican and took a Corsican's way of avenging
himself.

"One memorable summer night I was sitting alone in the upper room of
our house, which overlooked the Place Graslin, awaiting the return
of your father from the Armorique Club. The hour was late. All was
quiet in the square below. I opened the window and looked out upon the
moonlit night. A footstep upon the pavement attracted my attention,
and stepping forwards I looked downwards over the rail of the veranda.
Henri Duchesne was standing below: he looked up, saw me, and kissed
his hand. At that moment, from the shadow of the doorway, there leaped
a man whose fingers immediately twined themselves around Duchesne's
throat. Though taken by surprise he instantly recovered himself, and
drew forth a dagger, the recent gift, as I afterwards learned, of Eric
Marville.

"I tried to call for help, but found myself dumb with horror. Mutely I
leaned against the rail of the veranda watching the silent and savage
death-grapple taking place beneath my very feet. The dagger changed
hands: a swift stroke, and Duchesne lay stretched upon the pavement.

"The whole affair did not last more than a minute. I recoiled from the
veranda, cold and trembling. Though I had not seen his face I knew only
too well who it was that had wrought the deed.

"I staggered to a sofa and fainted.

"When I awoke, your father was sitting beside me.

"'It was a dream,' I murmured.

"'It was no dream, Thérèse, but reality, nor do I regret the deed. He
sought your dishonour. He deserved to die. It was an act of justice.'

"'Let us fly from Nantes before you are discovered,' I said.

"'Unwise! Stationed here with my regiment, and living close to the
scene of the deed, I dare not fly. Suspicion would fall upon me at
once.'

"Next day we heard that Eric Marville had been arrested for the murder.
'Have no fear on his account,' said your father to me. 'He did not
commit the deed: how, then, can they prove that he did?' The trial drew
nigh, and to my dismay I learned that I, as being present in the house
at the time of the murder, was cited to give evidence. Your father,
anticipating every kind of question that could be put, instructed me
what to say, and for many days continued drilling me in the answers
I was to give. When the time came for me to take my place in court I
stood up and swore an oath--heaven forgive the falsehood!--that I was
asleep at the time of the murder, and heard nothing whatever of the
scuffle.

"The trial ended: the prisoner was found guilty, and condemned to the
guillotine. Never shall I forget Madame Marville's cry of agony when
the sentence was pronounced. How often in the dead of night have I
started from sleep with that cry ringing in my ears!

"From the tribunal I returned home heart-broken by the black wickedness
of which I had been guilty. If Marville died, what was I but his
murderess?

"'Noel,' I said, that same night, 'you will not let the innocent
suffer?'

"'What would you have me do?' was his reply. 'Walk to the guillotine
instead of him? Upon my word, you are an affectionate wife!'

"I shuddered, for he spoke truth. I could prove the innocence of Eric
Marville only at the price of Noel's death.

"Was it for the wife to bring her husband to the guillotine?

"How I preserved my reason at this time I do not know. It came
somewhat as a relief to learn that Marville's sentence was changed to
imprisonment for life.

"'If you may not prove his innocence,' I said, 'there is one thing you
can do for him. Aid him to escape from prison to some far-off land,
where he may live in happiness with his wife and child.'

"'Ah! I might do that,' your father replied. The notion seemed to
appeal to his spirit of daring and adventure. 'That's a devilish good
idea of yours, Thérèse. There would be a dash of excitement in it!
Only,' he added, gloomily, stopping in his walk, 'it will mean the
utter ruin of my career. It is whispered that the Ministry intend to
appoint me to the next Colonial Governorship. I should like to see the
fellow free, but his rescue must be left to others. It cannot be done
by me. I should have to escape with him, and become exiled from France
forever. No! no! it's impossible.'

"But I would not let the idea sleep. I gave him no rest, continually
urging him to the work of rescue, even threatening to reveal the
truth in connection with the murder, till at last, wearied by my
importunities, he matured a plan for Marville's rescue. The result you
know. After an imprisonment of five years Eric Marville escaped from
Valàgenêt Prison, and was hurried on board the yacht _Nemesis_ that
was waiting for him in Quilaix Bay. Your father went with him; as a
law-breaker he could not remain in France. I would have accompanied
their flight, but the hour of your birth was drawing near. It had
been arranged, therefore, that I should join them at a later date.
Alas! I never set eyes upon your father again. He corresponded with
me at irregular intervals, but after a lapse of eighteen months his
letters ceased. The yacht in which he was cruising from place to place
foundered off the English coast, and I have no reason to believe that
he escaped a watery grave.

"If thus certain of his death, why, you may ask, did I not immediately
make known the truth concerning the murder?

"Fear for myself, love for you, were the motives prompting me to
concealment.

"I was an accessory after the fact, a perjurer likewise, and therefore
amenable to the law. You were a babe of eighteen months, pretty
and charming, the light of my life. To proclaim the truth meant
imprisonment for me, separation from you; and withal, disgrace upon our
common name. I could not bear the thought of this, and, therefore, deaf
to the voice of justice, I continued to keep the truth hidden.

"But now, assured by the physician that I have not many days to live, I
dare not die without making you the confidante of my guilty secret.

"This letter, signed with my name, together with your father's
correspondence, which is contained in my private desk, will afford
sufficient evidence of the innocence of Eric Marville.

"To you, then, my daughter, I leave the duty of clearing the memory
of an injured man, hoping that you will be brave enough to face the
consequent ignominy which must forever rest upon our name.

"THÉRÈSE ROCHEFORT."


Lorelie laid down the letter with a sigh.

"But I was not brave enough," she murmured.

Her father, Noel Rochefort, was credited with having destroyed a
brilliant future by his chivalrous enterprise of rescuing from prison
a friend whom he deemed to be innocent: and, as the daughter of such,
Lorelie, wherever she went, found herself an object of interest and
sympathy, almost a heroine. Must she now proclaim that her father, the
supposed hero, was in reality a murderer, and one, too, so base that in
order to save his own neck he would have seen an innocent man, and his
friend, go to the guillotine?

She was sixteen years of age at the time of her mother's death, and
lovely in face and figure; her friends flattered her vanity by averring
that with her beauty and accomplishments she might win the love of a
nobleman, or even of a prince! But what nobleman or prince would marry
the daughter of a felon? Therefore, she resolved to let the truth be
hidden. If Eric Marville were still living he was free; let him rejoice
in that fact: if dead, her attestation of his innocence would do him no
good. True, she knew that Marville had left a son, who must often have
felt shame at the stigma resting on his name. But this son would now
be twenty-three years of age; he had grown up, she cynically argued,
accustomed to the feeling, whereas in her case the knowledge had come
upon her with a sudden and overwhelming shock. She pictured the pitying
looks of her friends, the gibes of the malicious (for her beauty
had made for her many enemies), and she shrank from facing the new
situation. No: let the unknown Idris Marville bear the disgrace that of
right belonged to her. And when, a month or two later, she learned from
the newspapers that this same Idris Marville had perished in a fire at
Paris, she felt a sense of relief.

But retribution was to follow!

The day came when her life was in such danger that she must have
perished but for the providential help of a certain stranger; and when
that stranger proved to be none other than the Idris Marville whom she
was wronging by her guilty silence, her feeling of remorse was so great
that she was almost tempted to leap from the rock into the sea. To
withhold the truth was pain, yet to declare it would be to earn Idris'
contempt. Every kindly word, every pleasant look on his part, had gone
to her heart like so many thrusts of steel.

The irony of fate! She had married Viscount Walden in the expectation
of succeeding to a coronet, and now the belief was gradually forming
in her mind that Idris was the rightful heir of Ravenhall: Beatrice
Ravengar, and not herself, was destined to be the Countess of Ormsby.

O, if at the age of sixteen, and following the dictates of justice,
she had tried to find Idris Marville, and finding, had given him her
mother's written confession, how different her life might have been!
Idris would perhaps have been attracted by her then as he had been
seven years later. But now? She was united to a husband whom she felt
to be worthless: a husband who had ceased to care for her: a husband
whose title of right belonged to Idris.

"I am justly punished," she murmured, bitterly.

The remaining contents of the packet drawn by Lorelie from the
escritoire consisted of the correspondence mentioned by Madame
Rochefort in her inculpatory letter.

Arranging these missives according to the order of time in which they
were written Lorelie took up the first, which dealt with the events
that followed upon the flight from Quilaix.


     "The Pelayo Hotel, Pajares.
     25th April, 1875.

     "The newspapers will already have told you how admirably the
     rescue was planned and carried out, so I need not dwell upon that
     point.

     "There was, however, one awkward hitch in the arrangement--the
     death of Mrs. Marville: but I am not to blame for _that_. Had Eric
     listened to me it would not have happened; my intention was to
     proceed direct to the yacht: he would turn aside to take his wife
     with him: now he has no wife.

     "Eric Marville is free, and I hope you are satisfied.

     "The superscription of this letter will show you that we are no
     longer on board the _Nemesis_.

     "'What is Pajares?' you may ask. A mere hamlet on the northern
     slope of the Asturian Sierras, so high up as to be almost in the
     clouds: and the building dignified with the name of hotel is but a
     miserable log _posada_.

     "How we come to be here is soon told.

     "To fly from Quilaix to the open sea was an easy task: the
     difficulty was to attain dry land again in safety; for, as
     our romantic escapade would form the chief topic in all the
     newspapers, it was pretty certain that at every port a watch would
     be kept for our yacht. We feared putting into harbour. But land we
     must--somewhere. We could not cruise forever on the open main. How
     to land without detection was the problem.

     "Chance decided our course of action. We lay becalmed in a wild
     rocky bay off the Asturian coast. Anchoring a mile from land we
     swept the shore with the glass: there was neither village nor
     human dwelling visible, not a living creature in sight. It was the
     very spot for our purpose; and, as if to favour us still more, a
     mist came on. Marville proposed that we should go ashore in the
     boat, and get rid of the tell-tale yacht by scuttling it there and
     then. I was compelled to agree to this plan, for I could devise
     none better. It went to my heart to watch the beautiful _Nemesis_
     sinking out of sight forever, but it would have gone to my heart
     still more to be captured by a French cruiser, and provided with a
     cell at Valàgenêt.

     "Fortunately, the sea was as smooth as glass and the wind still
     as we rowed off, otherwise enveloped in a fog on an ironbound
     coast we might have fared ill. We ran the boat ashore in safety,
     destroyed it immediately afterwards, and paid off our crew, who
     were as glad as ourselves to be quit of the yacht, for they,
     too, as fellow-conspirators in the rescue-plot, were amenable to
     justice.

     "We dispersed: and since the crew went eastward, Marville and
     I turned our faces westward, and walking all night as chance
     directed, found ourselves at early dawn at Gijon, where we rested.
     We assumed the character of pedestrian tourists. From Gijon we
     moved on to Oviedo, and thence to the mountain-hamlet of Pajares,
     where I write this.

     "I have found Marville far from being a pleasant companion: the
     death of his wife has gloomed his spirits, and has poisoned the
     pleasure he might otherwise derive from his newly-acquired freedom.

     "His talk, on the few occasions when he _does_ talk, turns mainly
     upon that accident, and upon the look of horror which his boy gave
     him. 'He will never want to see me again,' he mutters moodily.

     "I was not sorry when he proposed that we should part. He saw
     that his gloom was an ill-match for my cheerful nature. With his
     love of mountaineering he resolved to cross the sierras, and to
     penetrate into Leon. He set off without a guide. From the door
     of the _posada_ I watched him ascending the mountain-path, his
     solitary black form outlined against the white snow. He dwindled
     to a speck, and that was the last I saw of him. Shall we ever see
     each other again? He forgot to make arrangements for a future
     meeting, and I didn't remind him of the point.

     "He has done me irreparable injury. For him I have wrecked a
     brilliant military career, lost a Colonial Governorship, and
     made myself an exile forever from _la belle France_. Why should
     I confess the deed to him? Haven't I made the fellow sufficient
     atonement?"


Lorelie took up another letter, which was dated more than a twelvemonth
after the first.


     "Hôtel d'Angleterre,
     Salerno,
     10th May, 1876.

     "I verily believe that the continual mention of an absent evil has
     the power of causing that evil to appear. In every one of your
     letters you have alluded, despite my forbiddance, to Eric Marville
     and his innocence. Your persistency in this respect seems to have
     raised him up again from the things of the past--a past I was
     beginning to forget.

     "You can guess what is coming.

     "I have met with Eric Marville. More than a year has passed since
     I parted from him in the village inn of Pajares, hoping never more
     to set eyes upon him: and now his disturbing presence is with me
     again. 'Disturbing?' you say. Yes. You know the aphorism, 'We hate
     those whom we have injured;' and I suppose I _have_ injured him:
     you so often say it in your letters that I have come at last to
     believe it.

     "What folly led me to Campania? I might have foreseen our meeting;
     for, prior to the rescue, did not I transfer his banking account
     under an assumed name to Messrs. Stradella, of Naples?

     "But to our meeting.

     "Yesterday I made an excursion to Paestum, and, fortunately, had
     the place to myself. Not one tourist was there. Solitary and
     charmed I wandered for a whole day among the magnificent ruins of
     the past.

     "Amid the stillness of a lovely twilight I sat down at the base
     of a marble column belonging to the Temple of Neptune. The whole
     circle of the sky, from the wine-dark sea before me to the peaks
     of the cypress-clad mountains behind, was flushed with the deep
     violet hues to be seen only in this southern clime.

     "I smoked a cigar and drank in the pure air of peace. It was a
     time disposing one to turn poet, monk, or somebody equally moral.
     I had almost forgotten that night at Nantes.

     "Suddenly my eye caught sight of a shadow. I looked up; and there
     was Eric Marville watching me with an expression that made me feel
     uneasy, I could not tell why.

     "On seeing that I had noticed him he came forward. He did not
     offer his hand, but smiled mysteriously, almost exultantly, so it
     seemed to me, and took a seat opposite me on a fallen pillar.

     "At first we talked commonplaces. Presently he remarked:

     "'I am going yachting among the fiords of Norway. You must
     accompany me.'

     "His manner implied that _he_ was master and _I_ servant! Why
     should he desire me for his _compagnon de voyage_, seeing that, as
     matters are at present, we are so unlike each other, he gloomy, I
     gay?

     "'There is a fine yacht for sale at Naples. The price is moderate.
     I propose that we divide it between us.'

     "Do you believe, Thérèse, that man is a free agent, with full
     control over his own actions? Of course you answer 'Yes'; your
     father-confessor has preached the doctrine a hundred times. I
     answer 'No'! How, otherwise, can I account for my conduct? I hate
     the fellow; I do not wish to go yachting; I have a presentiment
     that ill will come of it. Nevertheless, I have given him my
     promise. Explain _that_, if you can."


     "The Hôtel Crocelle, Naples,
     2d June, 1876.

     "The transfer of the yacht is complete. It is as pretty a vessel
     as one could desire. Over it my first open variance with Marville
     arose. I say 'open,' because, secretly, we have been in a state of
     hostility to each other since the day of our meeting at Paestum.

     "Marville was desirous of changing the name of our new-bought
     yacht. I suggested _Lorelie_, after the little daughter whom I
     trust one day to see; he wished it to be called _Idris_, after
     _his_ child. The spin of a coin decided the point in his favour.
     The crew are all English, and have given proof of it. When
     Marville ordered the new name to be painted, they begged him not
     to rechristen the vessel, declaring that to do so would bring
     ill-luck. Marville treated their opinion with contempt. He rolled
     up his shirt-sleeves, slung a plank over the side, and set to work
     himself, painting the name _Idris_ as if to the manner born. Two
     of the crew deserted in consequence. Strange that English sailors,
     so bold in fight, should be so superstitious!"


     "The Yacht _Idris_, Gibraltar,
     7th July, 1876.

     "Marville is a wretched companion. Twelve months of freedom ought
     to have made him as bright and gay as in the old days, instead of
     which he is the same melancholy being who left me at Pajares, with
     only one topic of conversation--his unjust conviction.

     "You ask me whether I shall ever tell him that it was I who slew
     Duchesne? You might as well ask me whether I want my throat cut at
     once? That little affair at Nantes was the beginning of a train of
     circumstances that ended in the death of his wife. He would hold
     me primarily responsible for this last unlucky accident. Tell him
     the true story! I would as soon tell the Minister of Justice, who
     would at least see that I had a fair trial, whereas Marville, in
     his present state of gloom, is incapable of listening to reason.
     Yesterday, while toying with his knife at dinner, he muttered, 'I
     would that the assassin of Duchesne were before me now!' You can
     guess how I felt at those words. I am in a trying situation. Every
     day I have to listen to a new theory accounting for the cause of
     the murder, with remarks as to how an intelligent detective ought
     to set to work. It is not enough for me to smoke in silence;
     he wants to hear theories from _me_ on the matter, and becomes
     angry because I have none to give. I wish to God he would talk of
     something else besides the one everlasting theme! I feel that I
     shall be betraying myself some day.

     "You remember the silver altar-ring engraved with runic letters,
     the ring that he entrusted to my secret keeping on the morning of
     his arrest? After his trial I handed the relic to his wife, but
     scarcely knowing why, I made a copy of the runic inscription. This
     copy happened to be among my papers on board the _Nemesis_, and,
     believe me, when leaving the sinking yacht, Marville betrayed more
     concern over this wretched piece of writing than over anything
     else on board.

     "It seems that he has been studying my transcript during the past
     year, trying to extract some meaning from it: and though failing
     hitherto, he still perseveres.

     "He talks oddly at times, and I am beginning to believe that his
     mind is unhinged. He declared to-day that he is the rightful heir
     to a peerage, and could take his rank to-morrow if he chose. Of
     course I believe this!"


     "The Yacht _Idris_, Penzance,
     12th July, 1876.

     "If you perceive a difference in my penmanship ascribe it to my
     trembling hand. I am in a state of nervous fear. The strangest,
     the most inexplicable, the weirdest event of my life, happened
     yesterday. I was cleansing my hands in a bowl of water. Marville
     was standing beside me. Suddenly he observed in a very strange
     tone, 'Do your hands always redden the water like that?'

     "I glance downwards. The water in the basin--believe me or not, as
     you will--was as crimson as blood! My God! it looked for all the
     world like the water in which I washed my hands that night!

     "I could see by the mirror that my face had turned as white as
     chalk. My agitation was too obvious to escape Marville's notice.
     He smiled strangely, and turned away. What does it mean? Can it be
     that he suspects me of--_that_? I have not yet recovered from the
     shock, though it happened twenty-four hours ago, nor have I washed
     my hands since then. My God! if it should happen again! I never
     expected to feel regret for the death of Duchesne; nevertheless,
     I do. It has reduced me to a devilishly nervous state of mind. I
     suppose moralists would say that I am suffering retribution.

     "One of the sailors declares that he heard me talking in my sleep.
     I must keep my cabin-door locked at night. If I should babble of
     _that_, and wake to find Marville sitting by my bedside with an
     awful smile and with glassy eyes fixed on me!"


     "The Yacht _Idris_, Trondheim,
     10th September, 1876.

     "I verily believe that Marville is mad! He pretends that he
     has deciphered the runic inscription. It relates to the buried
     treasure of an old Norse Viking--which treasure, he avers, still
     exists in the spot where it was hidden, a thousand years ago, the
     site being some point on the eastern coast of England. A short run
     across the North Sea will bring us to the place. He is bent on
     finding it. Is it not clear that he is mad?

     "Hitherto _I_ have taken charge of the yacht. Now _he_ has
     assumed the command, heedless of my mild protests. The crew do
     not like this change of masters. His seamanship is of the wildest
     character. He delights to sport with reefs and eddies, with winds
     and storms. Thank heaven! we are going no farther north, or he
     would take a diabolical pleasure in steering us all into the
     Maëlstrom in order to demonstrate how cleverly he could get us
     out again. This may be all very well for him, who is in love with
     death, but for my part I prefer to live.

     "He has exchanged his former melancholy mood for one of reckless
     mirth. He drinks: talks loudly: laughs: and promises to divide
     his imaginary treasure among the crew. 'To obtain it,' he says,
     'we shall have to penetrate to the chamber of the dead, for its
     hiding-place is the tomb. But the ancient curse must be fulfilled;
     and you,' he added, turning to me, 'shall be our Protesilaus.'

     "My classics have grown rusty. Who the devil was Protesilaus?"


     "The Yacht _Idris_, Bergen,
     7th October, 1876.

     "I have discovered who Protesilaus was--a Greek hero who
     sacrificed his life to procure the safety of his friends.
     Curious! What does Marville mean by calling me Protesilaus?

     "A strange occurrence took place last night. A subdued wailing
     was heard among the shrouds. The thick fog prevented us from
     discovering the origin of the sound. Fear fell on the crew, and
     none of them would ascend the rigging to ascertain the cause. They
     muttered that it was a ghost, and that it foreboded ill to all on
     board. Marville laughed at them for a pack of fools! Of course it
     was nothing but the moaning of some seabird, but, for all that, in
     my then state of mind it was sufficiently disquieting.

     "I retired to rest, but only to lie awake all night with that
     eerie sound playing around the vessel. The sailors have lost all
     cheerfulness, and believe themselves to be living on a doomed
     ship. 'What vessel ever did well, after she was re-named?' asked
     one. I confess that I myself am affected by the general gloom,
     but when I expressed to Marville my intention of remaining at
     Bergen till his return from the treasure-search, he cried, 'No,
     no! you, of all persons, must not leave us.' Why not? I thought of
     Protesilaus again.

     "The more I consider his moody watchful manner towards me of late,
     the more convinced I grow that he suspects me of the killing of
     Duchesne. He has lured me on board this yacht with the object of
     torturing my conscience; by perpetually dwelling upon the crime he
     hopes to entrap me into a confession. So far he has failed, but my
     position is a terrible one. I feel intuitively that he is maturing
     some scheme of vengeance.

     "'Why do I not escape?' you may ask. Impossible! The sailors, I
     believe, have orders to watch me. If I go ashore he accompanies
     me, ostensibly from friendship, in reality to keep guard over me.
     His dreadful smile fascinates me, and chains me to him. I seem
     to have lost all freedom of will and action, and to have fallen
     completely under the spell of some weird being from another world.
     I feel that ere long he will draw the secret from me.

     "When I behold my reflection in the glass I cannot refrain
     from the thought, 'Can that be the once brilliant and handsome
     Rochefort?' I look ten years older--grey, haggard. I should be
     quite safe in returning to France, for no one would recognize me
     now.

     "If there be a tribunal above to which one is responsible for the
     deeds done on earth, I trust that the remorse I have suffered of
     late will be taken into account."


     "The Yacht _Idris_. In Ormsby Roads,
     13th October, 1876, 7 p.m.

     "We are anchored off the English coast in front of a little town
     called Ormsby-on-Sea. To the right of the town and about a mile
     from the shore rise the towers of some old castle, embowered in
     a woodland vale, and forming a pretty feature in the landscape.
     Marville seems to take a great interest in this edifice; all this
     morning he has been studying it through the telescope.

     "'Haven't seen the place for ten years,' he muttered, 'wonder if
     _he_ is still alive.'

     "I asked him the name of the place. A scowl was my only answer.
     He hasn't improved in amiability since we left Bergen. In the
     dictatorial spirit assumed by him of late he will not permit
     any of us to land. He himself is going ashore for some purpose
     which he refuses to disclose. He will not return to the yacht
     till to-morrow. I am dispatching this letter to the post by
     the sailor who is to row Marville ashore--a sailor whom I can
     trust.--Farewell!"


"The last letter we ever received from him," murmured Lorelie, laying
down the missive.

The tone of the final letters conveyed an impression terrible in its
suggestiveness to her mind now that by means of her hypnotic experiment
she had become aware of the tragedy that had taken place within the
interior of Ormfell.

"The _Idris_ went down on the evening of October 13th," she murmured,
"and late that same night Olave Ravengar returned to Ravenhall after an
absence of ten years. Is this a coincidence, or is the present earl the
same person as Eric Marville? Did my father go down with the yacht, or
did he escape the sea only to fall within the interior of Ormfell by
the hand of the man whom he had wronged?"



CHAPTER XVI

LORELIE AT RAVENHALL


Lord Walden was reading a newspaper one afternoon in the quietude
of his own room at Ravenhall, when the step of some person entering
the chamber unannounced caused him to look up, and he found Lorelie
standing before him.

"Hul-lo!" he muttered, throwing down the newspaper, and startled beyond
measure at seeing his wife so near his father's presence. "What brings
_you_ here?"

"To claim my rights," she answered quietly. "Why should the wife occupy
a modest villa while the husband lives in castled state?"

She took off her toque and mantle, threw them upon the table, and, with
the air of one who had come to stay, sat down in an armchair opposite
him.

For some moments Ivar frowned darkly at his fair young wife, and was
obviously dismayed by her determination.

When the earl, a few weeks previously, had urged upon him the necessity
for marrying Beatrice, Ivar had lacked the courage to confess that he
had a wife already, knowing that the statement would be certain to
evoke his father's anger, and Ivar stood in considerable awe of his
father.

Accordingly, he had made a pretence of submission, and had gone so far
as to delude the earl with the fiction that he was paying successful
court to Beatrice. This contemptible subterfuge was not one that could
be long continued in any circumstances; but Lorelie's sudden resolve
for recognition threatened to bring matters to a climax that very day.

"You have come here to create a vulgar scene before all the servants, I
see," scowled Ivar.

"I have come here to redeem my name," she answered indignantly. "Do you
know that at the flower-show yesterday ladies turned aside to avoid me,
and that I caught the half-whispered words, 'Lord Walden's mistress'?
Do you wish me to return to The Cedars to live there under such a name?
I will keep silent no longer. To day all Ormsby shall know that I am
Viscountess Walden."

Vainly did Ivar try to temporize, to persuade, to cajole, to threaten.
Lorelie continued inflexible.

"Take me to your father," she said. "My maiden name will compel him to
acknowledge me."

"What is there in the name of Rivière to charm him?" asked Ivar, in
surprise.

"Nothing, but much in the name of Rochefort," she answered, rising to
her feet. "Will you go with me, or shall I go alone to inform him that
I have married a craven who lacks the spirit and courage to tell the
truth?"

Ivar saw the necessity of yielding. Looking with a very ill grace at
his wife he touched a hand-bell on the table.

"Where is the earl?" he asked of the footman, who appeared in answer to
the summons.

"His lordship is taking the air on the western terrace," was the reply.

The viscount rose and moved off in the direction of the said terrace
accompanied by his wife, while the footman stared curiously after them.

Lorelie had come to Ravenhall for the purpose of verifying, if
possible, the strange suspicion she had of late begun to entertain
that the present Earl of Ormsby was none other than Eric Marville. If
this surmise were correct, it behoved her to make known to him the
truth concerning the murder of Duchesne. But of what avail was it to
clear the character of Eric Marville from the guilt of the long-past
crime, if her other suspicion should prove true that he was the slayer
of her father? She was precluded from denouncing him for this latter
deed by reason of her position as his daughter-in-law, and by the
thought that Captain Rochefort, in falling by the hand of the man whom
he had wronged, had met with a justly merited doom.

If the earl were really Eric Marville, it followed that Idris, as his
elder son, was being unjustly deprived of his rights by the younger
half-brother Ivar.

Ignorant of the causes that had contributed to render Idris an object
of aversion to the earl, Lorelie, nevertheless, determined to compel
the earl to acknowledge him. Thus much justice should at least be done.
And in coming to this resolve Lorelie tried to persuade herself that
she was actuated simply by the desire for justice, whereas her heart
more truly told her that secret love for Idris was her controlling
motive.

On reaching the western terrace they found the earl standing at one end
of it with his back towards them. He had just come from the library
after a long spell of study, and was now refreshing his tired eyes
by a contemplation of the lawns and the woods that surrounded his
castellated mansion.

On hearing footsteps he turned, and his cold grey eyes lighted upon
Lorelie: not, however, for the first time, since her pew in St.
Oswald's Church faced his own; but beyond the fact that she was called
Mademoiselle Rivière he knew nothing whatever respecting her, and, it
may be added, had no desire to know more.

He supposed that Ivar had been showing her over his historic mansion,
portions of which were open to the public on certain days. But this
western terrace was private ground, reserved for the family. What did
Ivar mean by bringing this young lady to him, who had no desire for
an introduction? With something like a frown upon his face he awaited
their approach.

Could this cold and dignified peer of the realm, thought Lorelie, be
the man who, twenty-three years before, had escaped from a felon's cell
in Brittany? Was this really the father of Idris? It seemed too strange
to be true. Was his the face that Beatrice in her hypnotic trance had
seen peering into the Viking's tomb? A chilling sensation seized her as
Ivar escorted her towards the presence of the man whom she believed to
be her father's murderer.

Lord Ormsby was the first to speak.

"Mademoiselle Rivière, I believe," he said, bowing stiffly.

"Not so, my lord."

"No?" queried the earl.

"No!" she replied with a smile that annoyed him. As if it mattered to
him who she was!

"Hum, some mistake. What name, then, may I ask----?"

"Viscountess Walden, my lord," she replied, with an air as stately as
his own.

For a few moments the earl's surprise was too great for words. He sank
upon a stone seat, and stared from one to the other.

"You hear what this woman says," he remarked in a harsh voice, turning
to his son. "Is it true?"

"We are married--yes," returned Ivar, sullenly.

"You have given me to understand," continued the earl, "that you were
paying your addresses to Beatrice."

"Father, listen to me," muttered Ivar. "I was already married at the
time when you pressed Beatrice's name upon me, and seeing how earnestly
you were set upon the match I--I lacked the courage to--to state the
truth."

Lorelie heard her husband's words with secret contempt. The craven was
almost apologizing for marrying her! With an effort she controlled her
feelings, and remained silent.

Casting a contemptuous glance at his son the earl turned, and with a
coldly critical eye surveyed his new daughter-in-law. Yes, she was
undeniably beautiful, with an exquisite taste in dress; and bore
herself with the air and dignity of a princess; clearly an ornament to
Ravenhall, provided only that her antecedents were above the criticism
of Society.

"And who and whence is the lady that now bears Viscount Walden's name?"
he asked.

"My name is Lorelie, _née_ Rochefort."

"_Rochefort?_" repeated the earl, with a sharp intonation on the word.

"I am the daughter of Captain Noel Rochefort, of Nantes."

The earl's sudden start did not escape her attentive eyes. It seemed to
give confirmation to her suspicion.

"Your lordship has perhaps heard of him? His is a notable name."

"No. Yes. That is to say," replied the earl in some confusion, "unless
my memory is at fault, some one of that name figured prominently in the
French newspapers about twenty-three years ago. Did your father aid in
the escape of a certain prisoner from Valàgenêt?"

"Your lordship has an excellent memory."

"I was in Brittany at the time of the escape, and the story was in
everybody's mouth. The name of the prisoner was--was," pursued the
earl, with the air of one striving to recall a forgotten fact, "was
Eric Marville, I think."

"I must again commend your lordship's memory."

"Of what crime was this Marville found guilty?"

"He was accused of murder."

"Murder. Ay! so it was. I remember now," replied the earl with a
thoughtful air.

Few could have surmised from his manner that in recalling the name of
Eric Marville he was, in reality, speaking of himself, and Lorelie
found herself in a state of doubt again.

"Your father," continued the earl, "was a great friend of this
Marville, otherwise he would not have planned and carried out this
rescue-plot?"

"We may presume that he was."

The earl's conduct would certainly have seemed singular to an ordinary
by-stander. The lady before him was waiting for recognition as his
daughter-in-law, but neglecting that as a matter of no consequence, he
was interesting himself in events that had happened more than twenty
years before. Lorelie found her suspicion returning.

"Do you know what ultimately became of this Marville--I mean of your
father, or rather of both of them?"

"They went yachting together in '76, and their vessel went down in
Ormsby Race."

"So near our own doors? Strange! Then this Marville was drowned?"

"I have reason to believe that he was not."

"Ay! and what is your reason?"

"My lord, do _you_ ask that?" she answered with significant intonation.

"I don't understand you."

But he did not press for her meaning; Lorelie marked that. And there
was an interval of silence ere he resumed his catechism.

"Your father, Captain Rochefort--was _he_ drowned?"

"I have reasons--very strong reasons--for believing that he escaped the
fury of the sea, only to be murdered."

While speaking she kept her gaze fixed upon the earl's face to mark
the effect of her words. Unless she was mistaken there was in his eyes
something very like the light of fear.

"Murdered?" he said. "What leads you to this strange belief?"

"With your lordship's permission I will reserve my reasons for another
time.--You have not yet said," she added quietly, "whether you
acknowledge me."

"You are my son's wife, and, therefore, my daughter. Welcome to
Ravenhall!"

Rising from his seat he approached and kissed her. And at this seal of
recognition Ivar heaved a sigh of relief. The trying ordeal was over,
and it had not ended, as he had fancied that it might, in his enforced
retirement from Ravenhall.

When the earl touched Lorelie's cheek with his lips he found her skin
as cold as marble. She had submitted to the act, not knowing how to
repulse it; but--kissed by her father's murderer! To receive such a
kiss seemed to her mind like a condonation of the crime--a purchase of
her position at the price of her father's blood.

She grew faint. Why was she placing herself in a position where day
by day she would encounter the presence of this terrible earl? for to
her he was terrible. A great longing came upon her to go back to The
Cedars; but the thought of Idris calmed her. For his sake she would
stay. Her belief that he was the rightful heir of Ravenhall was, after
all, a matter of conjecture, not of knowledge: she must have proofs
before telling him of her opinion: and, in her judgment, such proofs
would be found at Ravenhall.

Hating herself for the hypocrisy she masked her feelings with a smile
and endeavoured to appear gratified with her new position.

Learning that Lorelie had not yet seen the interior of Ravenhall the
earl, as if wishful to conciliate her, undertook to conduct her over
the mansion.

He escorted his new daughter-in-law through the finer parts of the
castle, pointing out the various treasures contained within its walls:
but though he talked much during this tour of inspection Lorelie was
conscious all the time of being furtively scanned by him, as if he were
trying to fathom her character and aims: and the belief was borne in
upon her mind that she was the object of his suspicion and fear.

He bade her select as her own whatever apartments might take her fancy,
and introduced her to the housekeeper, telling the latter that, as
regarded the domestic arrangements of Ravenhall, she must now receive
her orders from the new viscountess. Then, having rendered these
honours, the earl went back to his library with the remark that they
would meet again at dinner.

"Egad, we're in luck's way!" exclaimed the delighted Ivar. "Who'd have
thought the old boy would prove so gracious? But why have you always
kept it a secret from me that you are Captain Rochefort's daughter?" He
gave Lorelie no time to reply, for, suddenly struck by a new thought,
he continued, "O, by the way, just a hint, lest you should unwittingly
betray a secret of mine. Don't let the governor ever know that I have
given you a golden vase."

"Very well, Ivar. But may I ask your reason for this caution?"

The viscount tugged the ends of his light moustache with a
shamefacedness very unusual in him.

"Hum! ah! well! I suppose I had better speak the truth. The fact is
I've had to forestall my future heritage by appropriating some pieces
of the family plate."

"Appropriating! That is a good word, Ivar."

"Call it what you like. It was necessitated by the expense of keeping a
wife. Your tastes are costly. Pictures, works of art, rare furniture,
rich dresses are the breath of life to you. Deny it if you can. I
was obliged to resort to some expedient in order to satisfy your
extravagance. That vase was one of my--er--appropriations. I gave it to
you to convert into cash, but you seem to prefer keeping it."

"And so the money you have given me during the past few months has come
from the sale of this plate?"

Ivar nodded assent.

"Was this plate contained in the jewel-room through which the earl has
just taken us?"

"O, dear no! The store I refer to is far too valuable and tempting
to be exposed to the eyes of even the oldest and most trusted of
our family servants--at least, that's the governor's opinion. He is
somewhat eccentric, you know. So he keeps this treasure to himself in a
secret place."

Lorelie did not ask Ivar to name this secret place: she had her own
opinion as to the locality, and would not have believed Ivar if he had
declared it to be elsewhere.

"Your father inspects these treasures occasionally, I presume?"

"Of course--with the joy of an old miser."

"And he keeps a catalogue of them?"

"You bet he does!"

"Then how have you contrived to keep your appropriations undiscovered?"

A look of low conceit and cunning overspread the face of the viscount.

"Ah! that's my secret. The governor thinks he still possesses the
missing plate. It's there before his eyes, and yet it isn't there. He
sees it, and yet he doesn't see it. He's an artful fellow, the old
boy! But for once he's been outwitted. You don't understand. Some day
I'll explain my meaning. Meantime, remember, mum's the word on this
business."

And here Ivar went off to inspect a new hunter that had just arrived,
while Lorelie turned away with a look of unspeakable horror in her eyes.

"So the Viking's treasure found its way to Ravenhall," she murmured.
"And by whose hand it is clear. The price of my father's blood! My God!
to think that I have been living on money derived from such a source!"

That same evening at sunset Lorelie sat alone on the grand terrace
overlooking the undulating landscape that surrounded Ravenhall. Behind
her rose the ivied mansion with its fine halls and treasures of art.
Roses, glowing in sculptured vases along the terrace, filled the air
with their sweetness. Marble fountains flashed aloft their silvery
spray. Below, in front of her, green lawns and woodlands stretched away
to the margin of a shimmering lake--all bathed in the dusky golden glow
of sunset.

This day should have been one of the proudest of her life. She had
received recognition from the earl, and was now an acknowledged wife, a
peeress, and the destined queen of the county-side.

While living at The Cedars she had been slighted by some of the society
of Ormsby, and had been cruelly traduced by others; how great, then,
would be the mortification of her enemies to learn that the person whom
they had contemned held the proud rank of Viscountess Walden! They
would be but too willing now to efface the past and do her homage;
for, to be on visiting terms at Ravenhall was the ambition of all the
_élite_ of Ormsby. What a triumph for her! Youth and beauty, rank and
wealth--all were hers!

That was one side of the medal; how different the reverse!

Her father was a murderer; her father-in-law was a murderer; her
husband was, in his own language, an "appropriator," or, in other
words, a thief: and she herself was but a spy at Ravenhall, seeking for
proofs to deprive him of his prospective wealth and title! Even now he
manifested indifference to her: what would be his feelings if, through
her instrumentality, Idris Breakspear should succeed to the coronet of
the Ravengars?

Whether she spoke out, or whether she remained mute, a melancholy
future lay before her. On the one hand splendour purchased at the price
of injustice to Idris: on the other the lifelong hatred of her husband
for preferring the interests of Idris to his own.

The voice of Ivar jarred upon her meditations. He was lounging along
the terrace smoking the inevitable cigarette.

"My lady doesn't seem very happy now that she dwells 'in marble halls,
with vassals and serfs by her side.' Look around you," he continued,
with a sweep of his arm that took in the whole landscape. "As far as
you can see, north, east, south, and west, all is ours. Isn't the
prospect fair enough for you?"

"As fair as the Dead Sea fruit--all ashes to the taste."

She lifted her head, and he saw that her face was pale, that her eyes
were suffused with tears, that her expression was one of unutterable
melancholy.

"Why the devil did you come here, if you don't like it? Upon my word
you are hard to please! Is this your gratitude to the pater for his
gracious reception of you!"

"To be called 'Viscountess Walden,' and 'Your ladyship,'" she murmured
to herself, "knowing all the time that I am listening to a lie!"

Ivar started, but made no reply. He lounged off to the end of the
terrace, where he stood watching his wife with a dark expression on his
face.

"Got a fit of the blues on!" he muttered. "Thinking of Breakspear, and
how hard it is he should be kept from his own, and so forth. By God!
supposing she lets her craze for that fellow carry her to the extreme
of declaring the truth! She loves him, and a woman in love will commit
any folly. She's not to be trusted."

While he was occupied with these uneasy reflections a footman appeared,
carrying on a silver salver a letter addressed to the viscount.

Ivar gave a start when he perceived the handwriting on the envelope,
and ere opening it cast a glance at the distant Lorelie.

The note was a sweet-scented one, signed "Lilias Winter," and contained
a request for a subscription to a local charity, at least so the
simple-minded would have read it, but to Ivar it conveyed a very
different meaning. Interpreted by a prearranged code the note signified
that on the part of the sender circumstances were favourable that night
for receiving a visit from the viscount. For Ivar, with a perversity of
taste, not uncommon in the immoral, found more pleasure in carrying on
an intrigue with a widow of forty than in cultivating the society of
his fair young wife.

A few days previously, when ignorant of the existence of Idris, the
viscount would have laughed in Lorelie's face had she reproached him
with this amour.

Now he suddenly became conscious that this intrigue was no laughing
matter.

His succession to the title and estates depended on his wife's good
will. Any act on his part tending to provoke her might end in his
ruin. When the handsome widow, who had entertained hopes herself of
one day becoming Viscountess Walden, should learn of Ivar's marriage,
disappointment and jealousy might prompt her to reveal this amour
to Lorelie. And then----? Ill usage from her husband Lorelie might
tolerate, but infidelity, never! Goaded by such an outrage she would
fling his interests to the winds, and make it known that Idris was the
rightful heir of Ravenhall.

"No help for it," muttered Ivar. "I must tell the governor at once, and
tell him all without disguise; that Idris Marville is not only alive,
but dwelling here to-day at Ormsby; that Lorelie suspects who he is,
and that Lilias will have to be bribed into silence, otherwise she will
create a scandal of which Lorelie will avail herself to our confusion
and ruin. Breakspear at present is ignorant of his lineage; something
must be done to prevent him from ever learning it--_but what?_"

       *       *       *       *       *       *

The lights in the library at Ravenhall burned till a late hour that
night, or rather they were continued till far into the morning.

The sleep of the new viscountess in her distant bedchamber was fitful
and troubled, but there would have been no sleep at all for her could
she have known the character of the conversation taking place in the
library between the Ravengars, father and son.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SECRET OF THE FUNERAL CRYPT


On the day following her recognition at Ravenhall Lorelie sat at
luncheon with the earl and the viscount. The servants had retired,
leaving them free to indulge in private conversation.

"To my fair daughter-in-law," said the earl, touching his glass with
his lips and bowing to Lorelie, who returned the greeting but coldly.
The space of twenty-four hours had not reconciled her any the more to
his presence.

"Do you know that old Lanfranc is dead?" remarked Ivar, addressing his
father.

"No. Where did you learn that?"

"Saw it just now in the obituary column of the _Times_."

"May one ask who Lanfranc is?" said Lorelie.

"Sir George Lanfranc," replied the earl, "is----"

"Was," corrected Ivar.

"Our family solicitor," continued the earl, with a frown--he hated to
be corrected--"and one of the privileged four admitted to the knowledge
of our secret funeral vault."

"The other three being----?" queried Lorelie.

"Ivar and I, as a matter of course: and the Rector of Ormsby."

"I think I could name a fifth," murmured Lorelie to herself.

For, on the day prior to her coming to Ravenhall she had chanced to
meet with Godfrey, and, moved by a sudden impulse, he had told her
how he had followed Ivar to the crypt and what had happened there, not
omitting Lord Walden's utterance that it was done on Lorelie's account.
The story was a complete revelation to her, and, while thanking Godfrey
for his communication, she determined to discover the meaning of the
strange affair with which Ivar had associated her name. A favourable
opportunity seemed now to present itself, and she resolved to essay a
bold stroke.

"We shall have to choose some one to supply Lanfranc's place," said the
earl, turning to his son.

"Permit me to offer myself," suggested Lorelie.

Lord Ormsby raised his eyebrows in manifest surprise.

"Ladies have never been admitted to that vault," he replied. "In that
respect it resembles the Baptist's Chapel in the Genoese Cathedral."

"But that chapel _is_ open to ladies on one day in the year," replied
Lorelie. "Therefore, your parallel will not hold."

"Are you really serious in making this suggestion?" asked the earl.

"Perfectly."

"What is your reason?"

Lorelie shrugged her shoulders.

"You don't require reason from a woman," she replied. "It would be hard
for me to give my reason. Curiosity, mainly: the desire of seeing what
no other woman has seen, or ever will see."

"The initiated have to swear an oath to keep the secret," said Ivar.

"That gives quite a romantic charm to the adventure," Lorelie replied.

The earl sat silent for a moment as if weighing the matter, and then
cast at his son a look which seemed to convey a silent suggestion, a
suggestion that appeared to meet with tacit acceptance from the other.

"There is really no reason why we should not admit you to the vault,"
he remarked. "Better one of the family than an outsider. And you are
one of us now," he added with a sigh, as though the fact were much to
be regretted. "You shall be one of the privileged four, if you desire
it. When would you like to pay your first visit?"

"Why not now?" she asked impulsively, rising from her seat as she spoke.

"Humph!" replied the earl, thoughtfully. "Suppose we say to-night. The
late hour will enable us the better to escape the prying eyes of the
servants. You consent? Good! Then we will meet in this dining-hall a
little before twelve to-night. But--not a whisper of this to any one.
Let the matter be kept secret."

Lorelie rose and sought the retirement of her own room, not without
wonder that the earl should accept her strange proposal almost as soon
as he heard it. Then, as she recalled the curious look he had cast at
Ivar, together with his injunction to observe secrecy respecting the
intended visit, there swept over her a sudden wave of cold feeling
induced by a thought so dreadful that she could scarcely bring herself
to entertain it. But the idea would persist in stamping itself in
letters of fire upon her mind.

"I know he hates me!" she gasped. "I saw that in his eyes when he first
heard my name. I know he hates me, but--my God! to such an extent as
_that_! Is he afraid that the daughter will seek to avenge her father?
And will he get Ivar to consent?"

While she was occupied with these terrible misgivings her husband came
slouching in. He seated himself on a chair and regarded her for a
moment with a strange expression that set her trembling.

"So you've quite made up your mind to visit the vault?"

She assented with a nod, not daring to trust herself to speak. Her
heart was beating like a steam-hammer; faint murmurs were ringing in
her ears; she seemed to see Ivar as through a mist.

"Bah! you lack the courage. You will be crying off from the venture
before the night comes."

His sneer roused her spirit, and she spoke in a low tone, striving to
control the tremors of her voice.

"I will not cry off: no," she added, emphasizing her words, as if to
fix his attention, "not if it should end in my death."

Ivar started and glanced suspiciously at her.

Suddenly Lorelie rose, and walking to an oak-press produced a small
piece of faded black velvet fringed on one edge with silver lace.
Sitting down with needle and thread she proceeded with deft fingers to
manipulate this velvet into a sort of ornamental bow, without cutting
the fabric or in any way diminishing its original size.

Her husband moodily watched her, wondering why she should form a
dress-ornament from such faded stuff and why she should select this
particular juncture for making it.

"What's that thing you are making?" he asked in a sullen voice.

"Merely a bow," she answered, extending the half-finished article
towards him. "Of what do you suppose this velvet once formed part?"

"It might have been cut from a pall by the look of it."

"I commend your discernment. You are not far wrong."

"Perhaps you will enlighten me," he asked, scowling, as he noticed her
air of satisfaction at his perplexity.

"It is not the first time you have seen this velvet and its parent
fabric," said Lorelie.

Approaching a mirror she held the bow against the neck-band of her
dress.

"I shall wear this bow to-night. True, it does not look very pretty,
yet it may serve as a talisman, and----"

But on looking up she found that Ivar was gone. The velvet dropped to
the carpet, and she clasped her hands.

"They mean it," she murmured. "I can read it in Ivar's guilty
manner--half-resolve, half-fear: letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I
would.' My God! But I will go through with it. I will put their base
courage to the test."

Her first fears had vanished, leaving her hard and firm as steel.
The spirit that loves danger for its own sake, the spirit derived
from her Corsican ancestors, began to reawake in the breast of their
nineteenth-century descendant.

At six in the evening Lorelie, who had spent the afternoon in arranging
her plan of action, stole quietly to her bedroom, having told the
butler she would not come down to dinner.

"I must sleep," she murmured, "that my faculties may be fresh and
unimpaired for to-night's work."

Her first care was to lock and bolt the door that opened upon the
corridor, and next that communicating with Ivar's bedroom. She paid
considerable attention to these doors, as well as to the fastenings of
the windows. A traveller putting up for the night at some lonely and
suspicious hostelry could not have shown more caution. Thus secured
from intrusion she laid herself down, dressed as she was, upon the bed.
But fully two hours elapsed ere she succeeded in falling asleep.

When she awoke she found herself shivering with cold and in total
darkness. For a few moments she lay dreamily conscious that some
ordeal awaited her, but unable at first to recall what it was. Then
memory revived. The visit to the vault! Yes! that was it; and the
thought made her pulses quicken.

She rose, procured a light, and found that it was close upon midnight.

"So late! They will begin to think that I am not coming."

Fastening the velvet bow to the neck-band of her dress she unlocked the
chamber-door and walked out into the corridor. A deep silence reigned
throughout the mansion, a silence that to her imagination had something
awesome in it. It seemed like the prelude to a tragedy. With a firm
step she descended the staircase and made her way to the dining-hall,
where a murmur of voices told her that the earl and Ivar were awaiting
her.

Their conversation ceased upon her entrance, and both looked up, Ivar
seeming somewhat perturbed in spirit, the earl smiling and evidently
pleased that she had come.

"We were just discussing the probability of your appearing," said he.
"Ivar was confident that you would cry off from the business. And,
certainly, a coffin-vault is not a very cheerful place."

"It is not the dead one has to fear," replied Lorelie, "but the living."

"Your wife has more courage than you gave her credit for, Ivar,"
remarked the earl approvingly. "If you will carry the lamp I will give
her my arm."

"Thank you," replied Lorelie, declining the proffered arm, "but I can
walk without aid."

They set forward from the dining-hall, the earl going first, Ivar
a model of ill-grace walking beside Lorelie. He did not speak, but
glanced curiously at her from time to time.

The expedition was so strange, so unlike anything she had ever known
before, that Lorelie began to wonder whether the whole scene was
not a dream. It was difficult to believe that the earl, so smiling
and courteous, could really entertain the black design of which she
suspected him.

At the end of the Picture Gallery they reached that little lumber-room
which Godfrey Rothwell had so long hesitated to enter on that memorable
night when tracking Ivar to the vault. Making his way to the hearth the
earl stood in the wide space beneath the mantel, and lifting his hand
within the chimney he touched what Lorelie judged was a hidden spring,
for his action was immediately followed by a faint creaking of pulleys
and ropes, and then the perpendicular slab forming one side of the
fireplace began slowly to descend, revealing behind it an empty space.

"The secret way to our crypt," remarked the earl.

He passed through the entrance. Ivar, who had not spoken one word since
leaving the dining-hall, followed. Lorelie went last.

She looked about her. The light carried by Ivar faintly illumined the
place. She was standing in a narrow passage, paved, walled, and roofed,
with stone. Its length could not be ascertained by the eye, for it
stretched away indefinitely in the gloom.

The earl began to manipulate the machinery, and the stone slab slowly
ascended till its lower end rested upon the hearth again. Lorelie,
attentive to his action, grasped with quick eye the principle of the
mechanism. Such knowledge would be useful in the event of her having to
return alone.

All communication with the outer world was now cut off. She was
completely at the mercy of the two men, and though this was only what
she had foreseen, yet none the less the sudden realization of the fact
caused a certain chilling of her high courage.

The order of their march was now changed: they walked abreast: Lorelie
in the centre, the earl on her right, Ivar, still silent, on her left.

Though apparently staring about with interest and curiosity Lorelie in
reality never took her eyes from the earl. It might have been simply
the effect of the flickering light, but in her opinion his face had
an exultant and sinister expression. She became more than ever on her
guard, and any sudden movement on his part caused her right hand to
seek her dress pocket in which a loaded revolver lay concealed.

A steep descent of stone steps now yawned in front of them. With her
left hand Lorelie drew her dainty skirts around her, and glanced in
disgust at the black slimy ooze and the patches of fungous growth.

"These stairs look slippery," she murmured.

"A former lord of Ormsby broke his neck down these very steps,"
remarked the earl.

"I have no wish to imitate his feat," said Lorelie, drawing back a
little. "Do you go first. If I slip I shall be but a light weight,
whereas if you should fall upon me," she added, with a shrug of her
shoulders, "there is no knowing what might happen."

The earl gave her a suspicious look as if detecting a hidden meaning
in her words: then, compliant with her wish, he led the way down the
steps. Lorelie came last, feeling more at ease in being at the rear.

The stairs terminated in the flagged flooring of another long passage,
at the end of which was the crypt.

As Lorelie entered she could not repress a shiver, the atmosphere of
the place striking her senses with a damp chilling effect.

Ivar, by aid of the light he had carried, proceeded to kindle the lamp
pendent from the roof, and every object in the chamber became clearly
visible.

At a glance Lorelie took in the whole scene--the octagonal crypt, the
black velvet curtains draping the alcoves, the massive oak table,
and the four antique carved chairs: everything just as Godfrey had
described it.

As her eye fell upon the silver lace edging the lower end of a curtain
adjacent to the door, her face expressed satisfaction, a satisfaction
that became instantly lost in a very different feeling: for there,
on the floor by one of the alcoves, was a chest of cypress wood, an
object she readily identified as the reliquary that had figured so
conspicuously in Godfrey's narration. The lid stood erect and she
noticed that the contents consisted of a whitish powder.

"_Quicklime!_" she murmured with a cold thrill.

Becoming doubly vigilant she sat down in one of the chairs and prepared
herself for emergencies.

On the table stood a decanter partly filled with wine, and beside it
some glasses. Observant of everything Lorelie saw that though the
smooth surface of the table was overlaid with a coating of dust, the
display of glass exhibited not a trace of it; evidently the wine was of
recent introduction--perhaps placed there specially for her use.

"What! you have wine here? Pour me out a glass, Ivar."

Speaking in the tone of a woman who suspects nothing she reclined in
her seat in a graceful attitude, extending a glass towards Ivar, and
watching him keenly from beneath the lashes of her half-closed eyes.
Her husband, his face as white as a ghost's, filled her glass, and
setting down the decanter, breathed hard. The earl looked on with
seeming indifference.

With steady motion Lorelie lifted the glass, taking a longer time over
the action than was necessary, as if even the foretaste of drinking
were a pleasure not to be curtailed. Ivar was watching her with an
expression the like of which she had never before seen on his face.

Her lips touched the edge of the glass, and there rested a moment: and
then, without having tasted the wine, she raised the glass and held
it between her half-closed eyes and the lamp above, an action that
displayed to the full the beauty of her rounded arm and bust.

"How bright and clear it is!" she murmured, in a softly modulated
voice. "By the way," she added, suddenly opening her eyes wide, "what
wine do you call this?"

"A choice vintage. Malvazia, one of the rarest of the Madeiras,"
replied the earl.

Lorelie lowered the glass quickly, in real or feigned disappointment.

"_O-oh!_" she murmured, pouting. "A pity--that! I cannot bear Malvazia:
it always gives me the headache. I must refrain from drinking.--And
yet," she added, inhaling the fragrance, "the bouquet is tempting."

She toyed a moment or two with the glass, as if about to drink, but
finally set it down upon the table, glancing at the two men with a
silvery laugh. Her radiant air contrasted strangely with the sombre
spirit which seemed to enwrap both of them.

"This is a very pretty chamber," she said, poising her head upon her
hands, and affecting to survey the crypt with interest. "Nothing very
terrible about it, after all. I might have spared myself the letter to
Dr. Rothwell."

"What is that?" said the earl, with a quick nervous start.

"_Peccavi!_ I have done very wrong, I admit," said Lorelie, with a
sweet smile. "I have ventured to disobey your command that I should
tell nobody of this, our midnight adventure: for, as one never knows
what may happen when visiting the haunts of the dead, I could not
refrain from communicating with Dr. Rothwell on the matter. He is aware
of this visit of ours to the crypt. Commend my wisdom, my lord, in thus
taking precautions to secure our safe return."

Never did human countenance change so quickly as did that of the earl
at these words. He glanced at Ivar. Dismay was reflected in the eyes of
each.

"Here is the note I received from him this afternoon," continued
Lorelie imperturbably, drawing forth the communication and tossing it
carelessly upon the table. "You observe his words. 'Dear Lady Walden, I
give you my promise that if I do not meet you at the porch of Ravenhall
to-morrow morning at eight, I will come and seek you in the vault."

"He would have some trouble in finding it," sneered the earl.

"Not at all. Dr. Rothwell knows his way to this crypt as well as you or
Ivar. He made a secret visit here on April the tenth of this year, the
night on which Ivar returned home from the continent."

"Godfrey _was_ at Ravenhall that night," muttered the viscount uneasily.

"He was here--in this vault, I repeat, at three in the morning. And
the scene he witnessed was past belief. It would do you good, Ivar, to
listen to his story. It would really interest you; you, perhaps, more
than any other person."

It is no exaggeration to say that at these words Ivar became green
with fear. He turned his head from the earl in order to conceal his
agitation. The secret which he had believed to be locked within his own
breast was known to others--was being hinted at in the presence of his
father, the very person from whom he most desired to conceal it. How
much did Lorelie know? What would she be saying next? Words, perhaps,
that would bring him to ruin.

"Ivar, I see, is persuaded of the truth of my statement. You are more
sceptical, my lord, but you shall be convinced."

She detached the velvet bow from her neckband and flung it lightly
beside Godfrey's note.

"Cut the threads of that; unfold the velvet, and you will find that
its shape corresponds exactly with the little rent at the foot of that
curtain. It was Dr. Rothwell who cut off this piece of velvet, bringing
it away with him to prove--if proof should ever be required--that he
has stood in the secret crypt of the Ravengars. Do you still doubt me,
my lord, or do you require further proof?"

On the contrary he was so certain of the truth of her words that he did
not attempt to verify them, but stood, fingering the velvet bow with a
dark expression of countenance.

Looking upon Lorelie as an enemy to be silenced at all costs he had
brought her to this vault intending that she should never leave it.
Ivar was a reluctant accomplice, his reluctance arising not from any
conscientious scruples, but from the dangerous consequences attending
the commission of such a deed. The disappearance of the new viscountess
on the second day of her coming to Ravenhall would be an event that
could not fail to bring suspicion and inquiry in its train.

Lorelie had divined their plot, and having taken steps for its
frustration, had fearlessly accompanied them to the destined scene of
her death. And here she was, a slender, fragile woman, in a lonely
situation, with no one to hear her cry for help, in the presence of
two men desirous of her death, and yet, thanks to her forethought, as
safe as if attended by an armed escort.

Her calm air, her radiant beauty, added fuel to the earl's secret
rage. If he had followed his first impulse he would have seized her
in his arms and twining his fingers around her throat have silenced
her forever. But prudence compelled him to refrain from violence. The
thought of having to face on the morrow the stern inquiring eyes of
Godfrey acted as a potent check.

Fortunately for himself he had not proceeded to the length of openly
avowing his awful purpose: he was therefore free to deny it, if she had
any suspicion, as he was strongly disposed to believe that she had.
Besides, what mattered her suspicion? She had no real proof to offer
the world. Opposed to her single testimony was the joint testimony of
himself and her husband.

He began to breathe freely again. The matter might yet end well as
regarded his own safety--the only consideration that troubled him.

Lorelie, knowing the cause of his mortification, sat at ease in her
chair, secretly enjoying her triumph.

At last, feigning to be angry, she exclaimed:--

"How silent you are! Are you going to let me depart from this vault
without enlightening me as to its mysteries? Come, Ivar, play the part
of cicerone. Draw aside the curtain from each alcove, and give me
the names and biographies of the coffined dead. I am in an historic
genealogic mood."

Ivar, not knowing whether to obey, glanced irresolutely at his father.

"Gratify the curious fool," the earl muttered moodily.

With an ill grace at having to obey the wife whom he hated, and
troubled by a secret foreboding that his guilty secret was about to
transpire, Ivar approached the alcove nearest the door, and, lifting
the velvet drapery, disclosed a deep recess, the walls of which were
pierced with niches containing coffins.

"This," he remarked sullenly, touching one, "is the coffin of Lancelot
Ravengar, the first earl of Ormsby."

And so he proceeded from one alcove to another, giving the names of the
dead peers, his amiability not improved by the caustic remarks made by
Lorelie.

"A dull catalogue of nonentities, unknown to fame," she said, when Ivar
had finished his recital. "But I observed that you entirely passed
over the fourth alcove. Why? Raise the curtain and let me see what it
contains."

With manifest reluctance the viscount lifted the drapery, revealing in
the alcove a coffin on trestles.

"This is the coffin of Urien Ravengar, my grandfather."

"In saying that, you of course mean simply that that is the name on the
plate."

"That coffin," broke in the earl in a harsh voice, "contains the body
of my father, Urien Ravengar."

"I do not think so," replied Lorelie quietly.

In a blaze of wrath the earl turned suddenly upon Ivar.

"Fool! what have you been telling this woman?"

"I? Nothing!" replied the viscount, shrinking back. And seeing
disbelief expressed on his father's face, he added, "Ask her: if she
speak truth she will tell you that nothing relating to this coffin has
passed my lips."

"Then how--how?" began the earl: then, breaking off abruptly, he turned
to Lorelie with the question: "Tell me, then, what this coffin does
contain?"

"That is what I wish to learn," she replied coolly. "It is my chief
reason for visiting this vault."

"You will remain in ignorance."

"I shall depart enlightened. Was it not from that coffin, Ivar," she
said, turning to him, "that you took the golden vase you gave me some
time ago?"

She was drawing a bow at a venture, but the arrow found its mark. The
sweat glistened on Ivar's forehead. He betrayed all the confusion of a
guilty person. His father eyed him suspiciously.

"A golden vase!" he exclaimed with a bitter smile. "Ivar, I must look
into that coffin!"

Thus speaking he made his way to the alcove where the viscount was
standing. Moved by curiosity Lorelie also drew near.

"Take the screwdriver, and remove the lid," said Lord Ormsby in a stern
voice.

Sullenly and mutely Ivar proceeded to do his father's bidding.

No one spoke, and nothing disturbed the stillness save the crisp
revolution of the screwdriver. With folded arms and compressed lips the
earl stood looking on, an expression on his face that boded ill for his
son should he find his suspicion verified.

The last screw was loosed, and as Ivar raised the lid Lorelie's eyes
instantly closed, dazzled by a thousand rays of many-coloured light,
shooting up in all directions from the coffin, like bright spirits
rejoicing to be free.

Putting up her hand to shield her sight from the radiance she
endeavoured to obtain a clear idea of what was before her.

The coffin, of more than ordinary size, was a veritable treasure-chest,
filled to the lid with plate and precious stones, the latter forming by
far the larger part of the contents.

Forgetful of her aversion to the earl, forgetful of her recent peril,
forgetful of everything but the sight before her, Lorelie stood
with parted lips and dilated eyes, spellbound by the glittering
array of wealth. Her knowledge of art taught her that the antiquity
and workmanship of the ornaments far exceeded the intrinsic value
of the materials composing them. There was a crucifix, formed from
one entire piece of amber, the plunder of some Saxon monastery: an
ivory drinking-horn, engraved with runic letters, that spoke of the
old Norseland: a golden lamp, inscribed with a verse from the Koran,
a relic of Moorish rule in Spain: rare coins, that had found their
way from the Byzantine treasury. Every part of mediæval Europe had
apparently contributed some memorial to this store.

But, as previously stated, the quantity of plate was small in
comparison with the gems. It was these that riveted Lorelie's
attention. Never in any collection of crown-jewels had she seen the
equal of these stones for variety and size, for brilliance and beauty.
The richest caliph of the East might have envied the possessor of such
a store. It suggested a dream of the "Arabian Nights."

"Ah! you may well gaze!" cried the earl to Lorelie, in a fierce
exultant tone. "Find me the man in Britain who owns such wealth as
this! Take every object out of the coffin," he continued, addressing
Ivar. "Lay each and all upon the table. Let Lady Walden handle them
that she may realize the wealthy match she has made."

Lorelie quite understood the earl's motive in making this display.
Since he could not get rid of her, his only other policy was to
conciliate her. She smiled disdainfully to herself. It was not to her
interest, however, to quarrel with him at present: she must simulate
friendly relations till the purpose for which she had come to Ravenhall
should be accomplished.

"Yes, let me see everything," she said in seeming eagerness.

Drawing the table to the entrance of the alcove Ivar proceeded to empty
the coffin of its contents. During this operation Lorelie's surprise
rose almost to fever-heat at sight of some of the objects drawn forth.

When the coffin had been emptied, the earl produced a pocketbook
containing a list of the treasures.

"'Article 1,'" he read out. "'Ancient Norse funereal urn, of pure gold,
set with opals.'"

The viscount handed a vase to his father.

"Safe, I see," said the earl. "I have been unjust to you in thought,
Ivar," he continued, apologetically. "When your wife spoke of a golden
vase given her by you, my thoughts associated themselves with this. I
acknowledge my error."

Ivar cast an anxious look at Lorelie, dreading lest her words should
lead to the betrayal of his secret. But Lorelie said nothing, though in
a state of extreme amazement and perplexity: for the jewelled vessel
now in the earl's hands seemed to be the very vase given to her by Ivar
some weeks previously--the vase that had played so important a part in
her hypnotic experiment with Beatrice.

On coming to Ravenhall Lorelie had left it behind her at The Cedars:
how came it to be here in the vault of the Ravengars? Was it a replica?
If so, it was certainly a marvellous imitation of the original, since
she could detect no points of difference.

"Observe the lustre of the opals," said the earl, his eyes gleaming
with pleasure; and Lorelie perceived that his love of study, great
though it might be, had not quenched in him the passion of avarice. "An
interesting and precious relic of Norse antiquity, this!" continued the
earl, tapping the urn affectionately. "It contains the ashes of Draco
the Golden, the founder of our family. From the grey dust within this
urn all we Ravengars have sprung."

The vase at The Cedars also held the remains of the same Viking, if the
story told by Beatrice in her hypnotic trance was to be relied upon.
The supposition that the ashes of Orm had been divided between two urns
seemed absurd: and yet how otherwise was this mystery to be explained,
unless indeed Ivar, unknown to her, had paid a visit to The Cedars,
and having obtained the vase, had restored it to the place whence he
had originally taken it. Unlikely as this last hypothesis might be, it
seemed the only one capable of meeting the requirements of the case.

The earl, having carefully deposited the urn in one corner of the
coffin, referred again to his catalogue.

"'Article 2. Norse altar-ring of pure silver, inscribed with runic
characters.' Yes, this is it," he continued, receiving the article from
Ivar's hand. "The ring of Odin, that figures in our armorial shield.
Many a legend of blood clings to this relic. What a history it could
unfold, were it but endowed with speech!"

The golden vase had puzzled Lorelie, but this silver relic puzzled
her still more. She did not doubt that the object before her was the
identical ring, the non-production of which at the trial of Eric
Marville, was one of the points that had told against him. She knew
the story of its theft from Mrs. Breakspear, and, like Idris, knew
not whither it had vanished. Now, after all these years, it thus
reappeared! By what circuitous route, through how many bloodstained
hands, had it passed before regaining its ancient abode?

Mechanically she took the ring from the earl's hand. If this were
indeed the very relic, there should be a black mark upon the inner
perimeter of the ring. Upon examining it, however, she could discover
no stain at all: the metal band was bright and unsullied.

Was this ring, like the vase, a replica: or was there truth in the
ancient legend that the bloodstain would vanish when some one should
meet with a violent end as an atonement for the slaying of the Norse
herald? Certain it was that a death _had_ occurred in connection with
the finding of the treasure.

With a bewildered air she handed back the ring to the earl, who placed
it within the coffin beside the vase, and turned again to his list.

"'Article 3. A sapphire drinking-cup. Weight'--ah! look at this!" he
cried, breaking off from his reading in an ecstasy of delight. "Look at
it! Handle it! Admire it! Can the Dresden Gallery produce its like?"

A low and prolonged cry of admiration flowed from Lorelie's lips. The
object handed to her by the earl was a miniature goblet, the tiny bowl,
stem, and stand being delicately sculptured from one entire sapphire.
It was a work of art, as well as a splendid gem. With the delight of
a child over a new toy Lorelie raised the gleaming brilliant aloft,
placing it between her eye and the light in order to mark its lovely
azure transparency. Its beauty was such as almost to reconcile her to
her lot with Ivar. To think if she chose, she might in time to come be
the joint-possessor of such a gem!

"A million of money would not buy that cup," cried the earl, watching
her look of admiration. "It belonged originally to the great Caliph,
Abderahman the Second, and was taken by Draco and his Vikings at the
sacking of the Moorish palace at Seville. It vanished from human ken,
and has lain hidden in a night of ten centuries. The lapidaries of the
present age scoff at its description in history, believing the gem to
be the creation of Arabian fancy: but here it is, existing to-day, to
confute their shallow scepticism. Were this gem known to the world it
would take the title of 'The Queen of Sapphires.'"

Charmed beyond the power of words to describe, Lorelie turned the cup
slowly round, flashing the light from a hundred facets: and then--and
then--she made a discovery. A minute air-bubble was faintly visible in
the crystalline azure!

She glanced at the earl. His triumphant face showed that he had not the
least inkling of the truth. She looked at Ivar, who happened at this
moment to be standing behind his father. The sudden change in Lorelie's
countenance assured the viscount of the fact of her discovery: and now,
he, the coward who had been willing to take her life, was appealing to
her by gesture and expression to keep her knowledge a secret from his
father.

For that which gave the earl such pride was in truth nothing but an
artificial gem, a marvellous imitation of the real thing, but still
merely a piece of coloured glass!

Lorelie became more perplexed than ever at this discovery. How came
Ivar to know that the gem was false, and why was he so anxious to
conceal the truth from his father?

Then in a moment everything became clear.

Always pressed for money, and precluded by his father's parsimony
from obtaining it, Ivar had formed the plan of appropriating a
certain portion of the plate and gems contained in the coffin. To
secure himself from detection he had artfully replaced the originals
by clever facsimiles, fabricated on the continent by goldsmiths and
glass-workers of the class who would ask no inconvenient questions
provided that they were well paid for their work. To obtain the
necessary counterfeits Ivar must have conveyed the originals to the
continent, a very hazardous thing to do, seeing that if the earl had
paid a visit of inspection to the treasure during his son's absence,
discovery would have been inevitable. The counterfeits being completed,
Ivar had brought them concealed in the reliquary to Ravenhall, and had
transferred them to the coffin, his remark while doing so--the remark
overheard by Godfrey--to wit, "I hope Lorelie will be satisfied,"
being doubtless drawn from him by the fact that Lorelie was often
making monetary demands upon him, a fact which she herself would be the
first to admit, though she little dreamed of the means taken by him to
supply her costly tastes. She could not avoid the feeling that, to some
extent, she was responsible for Ivar's peculations: and, therefore,
compliant with his wish, she kept silent, and permitted the earl to
remain in his ignorance.

The contents of the coffin were a mixture of the genuine and the
spurious. The altar-ring was the genuine article: it would not have
paid for the trouble of counterfeiting. The jewelled vase was spurious:
on glancing again at this last, Lorelie wondered how she could have
taken the metal for gold: it now seemed to her eyes merely like common
bronze. The "sapphire cup" was but worthless glass: she almost sighed
at the thought that the lovely original should have been exchanged for
current coin of the realm. The selling of such a gem was an act little
short of sacrilege.

"Well may you linger over it!" cried the earl, thinking that her long
retention of the cup was the result of admiration. "Such a gem as that
is too lovely for earth, too precious even for an empress to drink
from."

"But not for a Ravengar, surely?" said Lorelie.

And taking up the decanter she filled the azure cup with wine, and held
it out to him.

"Drink, my lord," she said smiling, and recalling his own words, "''Tis
of a choice vintage, one of the rarest of the Madeiras.'"

But from that cup the earl recoiled as from the summons of Death
himself.

"Why, you start as though 'twere poison," laughed Lorelie. "Will you
not drink, Ivar?" she added, turning to the viscount and offering him
the cup. "What! and do you, too, shrink from a few drops of innocent
Malvazia? refuse the honour of drinking from the great Abderahman's
cup? the caliph's own, veritable, genuine, historic cup! you
understand?"

He did--fully. Stepping forward, she said in a fierce thrilling
whisper:--

"How much is your life worth, if I let your father know that this cup
is but a piece of coloured glass?"

It was not in Lorelie's nature to take pleasure in another's pain; yet
on the present occasion the despair and fear expressed in Ivar's eyes
was a luxury to her, almost compensating for his attempt on her life.

"It was for your sake I did it," he muttered with white lips.

Contemptuously turning away from him, she said:--

"Well, then, if neither will drink, I, too, shall refuse. I will
imitate those excellent examples, my husband and father. Let us be
classical and pour out a libation. Here's to the great Archfiend
himself, the author and giver of the treasure, for Heaven, I am
convinced, has had little to do with it."

She inverted the cup: but, either by accident or design, the greater
part of the liquid fell in splashes upon her dress, very few drops
reaching the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

On reaching her bedroom Lorelie's first care was to lock the door: her
next, to cut from her dress every portion stained with wine. These
fragments of cloth she placed in a glass phial, steeping them in water.
Then the spirit that had sustained her through the long and terrible
ordeal gave way, and reeling forward she fell heavily across the bed.



CHAPTER XVIII

A CRANIOLOGICAL EXPERIMENT


Idris Breakspear strolled slowly to and fro beneath the lime-trees
in the garden of Wave Crest, reading for the twentieth time a letter
received by him the previous evening.

Accompanying the letter was a note worded thus:--"The enclosed
speaks for itself. Can you ever forgive me for my seven years'
silence?--LORELIE ROCHEFORT."

The missive forwarded to Idris was her mother's confession relative
to the murder of M. Duchesne, a confession which, it need scarcely be
said, overwhelmed Idris with amazement.

The hope entertained by him during so many long years was at last
realized: it was now within his power to clear his father's memory;
but the knowledge brought with it as much pain as pleasure, for to
establish his father's innocence was to bring ignominy upon the name of
the woman he loved.

A soft footfall attracted his attention, and raising his eyes from
the letter he saw Lady Walden herself. Sadly and timidly she stood,
obviously in doubt as to the sort of reception she would meet with. To
face the reproachful eyes of Idris was a more trying ordeal than that
of accompanying the earl to the terrible vault.

She was the first to speak.

"You are reading my mother's letter, I perceive. You know now that it
was my father and not yours that murdered Duchesne. I have come," she
faltered, "I have come to ask, yet scarcely daring to ask, whether you
can forgive me for maintaining silence hitherto. I have longed to tell
you the truth, but have been afraid. Do not," she added, breathlessly,
"do not reproach me. You cannot reproach me more than my own conscience
has."

The look of sorrow in her eyes instantly effaced from Idris' mind all
resentment for his father's wrongs. The oath sworn to his mother in
childhood's days became forgotten.

"Lady Walden," he replied, "if there be anything on my part to forgive,
I freely forgive. I cannot blame you for seeking to shield your
father's name."

The look of gratitude that came over her face thrilled Idris, who would
gladly have forgiven her ten times as much for such a glance as she now
gave him.

She had expected to be treated with coldness, if not with anger by
Idris, instead of which she received from him the same tender respect
as heretofore. She trembled with secret pleasure to think that she
still held a place in his regard.

"And now you know the truth, you will publish it to the world," she
said.

"I think not," he replied, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. "No, I am
sure I shall not."

"You will not redeem your father's memory from guilt?" said Lorelie,
with a little gasp of surprise. "Why not?"

"Because the fair name of Lady Walden must not be darkened by the
shadow of the past."

Her eyes drooped. She had no need to ask why he was desirous of
shielding her name from reproach, knowing full well that it was from
love of her.

"But this--this is not just," she said in a low voice.

"To proclaim the truth would injure the living," he replied, "without
in any way benefiting the dead."

"It is not right," she declared, "that your father and you should bear
the stigma that belongs to me and mine. I will proclaim the truth
myself."

"Lady Walden, if it be your desire to please me, you will maintain
silence. But pardon my discourtesy, you are standing all this time."

He led her to a garden-seat, and took his place beside her.

"You once asked me," said Lorelie, "to let you read my father's
correspondence. I have brought his letters with me. They are here."

She held out a packet of letters.

"Will you not read them to me, Lady Walden? You can then omit what you
think necessary."

"I have no wish to conceal anything contained in them," she answered,
placing the letters in his hand. "But before you read, let me forestall
and correct an erroneous impression you may be likely to draw from
them. Guided partly by these letters, partly by other considerations,
I have, till a few days ago, entertained the belief that the Earl of
Ormsby was none other than--your father, Eric Marville."

Despite his desire to be serious Idris could not refrain from smiling
at this statement.

"And what has led you to discard this extraordinary theory?" he asked.

"I was glancing yesterday over a copy of an old French
newspaper--_L'Étoile de la Bretagne_--in which is given a full
description of your father as he appeared at his trial in the Palais de
Justice. Now in this account Eric Marville is described as having very
dark eyes, whereas Lord Ormsby's eyes are light grey in colour."

"Which deprives me of the honour of claiming an earl as my father,"
said Idris, with an air of mock disappointment.

"I do not think you will esteem it much of an honour when you hear what
I have to say. But, first, will you not read these letters?"

Idris, though much surprised by her words, made no further comment, but
turned to the correspondence of Captain Rochefort.

Lorelie had arranged the letters in chronological order, and Idris
began his perusal, becoming more interested with each successive
missive. When he had finished reading he looked extremely grave, and
said:--

"The final letters, interpreted by what we know to have taken place
within Ormfell, would almost seem to suggest--how shall I say it?--that
your father was killed by mine!"

"That at first was my belief, but I know now it cannot have been."

"I trust that you are right. But why cannot it have been?"

"Beatrice in her hypnotic trance recognized the face of the assassin.
But she has never seen either your father or mine. Therefore we cannot
impute the murder to either of these."

"True!" replied Idris, with a sudden feeling of relief. "But tell me,
Lady Walden, what face _did_ she see, for I am convinced that you know."

"If," she replied evasively, "if we can discover the present possessor
of the Viking's treasure, we shall obtain a strong clue to the
assassin?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Well, then, the Viking's treasure is at Ravenhall, concealed in the
secret vault."

And she proceeded to intensify Idris' surprise by relating the incident
of her visit to the crypt, saying nothing, however, as to the earl's
purpose in taking her thither.

"Who placed the treasure there?" asked Idris.

"Four persons only have had access to this vault--the earl, Viscount
Walden, the family solicitor, and the Rector of Ormsby. The two latter
we can at once dismiss from our list of 'suspects.'"

Idris turned a startled face upon Lorelie.

"Surely you would not have me charge your husband--your father-in-law,
with murder!"

"I strongly suspect the latter from the perturbed air manifested by him
when I once hinted at my knowledge of the crime."

"The grave and dignified earl the author of such a deed! Impossible!"

"Not more impossible than that my own father should be a murderer!"

Idris started at her bitter tone. Truly the Fates had dealt hardly with
her in the matter of kinsfolk. Those ladies of Ormsby who were disposed
to envy Mademoiselle Rivière her new rank would have had little cause
for envy could they have seen into her mind at that moment.

"I have found," continued Lorelie, "the very instrument with which the
deed was wrought. It is here."

As she spoke she produced a jewelled hat-pin shaped like a stiletto,
the steel blade being broken off short at the hilt.

"This belonged to the late Countess of Ormsby, in whose jewel-case
it has lain for over twenty years: at least, so the old housekeeper
declares. The blade was broken a short time before the death of the
countess, and has never been repaired."

"Does the housekeeper give any account of how the steel came to be
broken?"

"She tells a very significant story. The countess lost this stiletto
when walking in the park one day. On discovering her loss she
immediately set the servants to look for it, but their search was
unavailing. Next morning, however, the earl returned the hat-pin to the
countess, saying that while taking a walk by moonlight he had found it
in its broken condition.

"Now my belief is that the earl, having discovered that Ormfell was
the site of a buried treasure, was proceeding thither at night, either
alone or attended by a servant, for the purpose of opening the hillock,
and while on his way through the park he chanced to light upon his
wife's hat-pin. Naturally he did not leave it lying upon the ground,
but picked it up and placed it upon his person. And this is the weapon
with which he attacked the other man, whoever he may have been, that
was with him in the hillock. When the countess next morning received
back her hat-pin from her husband, she little knew of the terrible use
to which it had been put."

"Your theory, if correct, proves that the deed was unpremeditated,
otherwise the earl would have gone provided with a more efficient
weapon. Do you know the date of the countess's death?"

"She died in the autumn of '77."

"Then the crime must have taken place more than twenty-one years ago."

Idris fell to thinking: and the result of his thought was that it would
be an ungrateful task to bring to justice an aged peer for a crime
committed more than twenty years ago. For all he knew to the contrary
the deed might have been a case of justifiable homicide: the earl had
perhaps been compelled to slay the other in self-defence. Besides,
was he not Lorelie's father-in-law? If ignominy fell upon the House
of Ravengar it must fall likewise upon her. No breath of scandal must
touch her name. Idris felt that his hands were tied: he could make no
move in the matter.

"We know the author of the deed, it seems," he murmured, "but the
identity of the victim still remains a mystery. Who was he?"

"That is a problem I am trying to solve."

"And you say the Viking's treasure is in the crypt of Ravenhall? What
is Lord Ormsby's object in keeping it concealed?"

"I can but guess. Treasure-trove, as you know, is the property of
the Crown: therefore the earl, on finding it, was compelled to act
circumspectly. The sudden acquisition of a vast quantity of plate
and jewels might have given rise to awkward questions on the part of
the steward, and especially on the part of Lanfranc, the Ravenhall
solicitor, a man somewhat given to suspicion. The earl was therefore
obliged to secrete his ill-acquired wealth: and this he did by placing
it within one of the coffins in the crypt, gratifying his avarice by
occasional visits of inspection. That is my theory, but of course I may
be wrong."

"Mortifying that he should have to secrete it," remarked Idris, "when
if the story of the runic ring be true, the wealth is his by hereditary
right, as the eldest lineal descendant of Orm the Viking."

"Mr. Breakspear, your right to that treasure is greater than the
earl's."

Idris was disposed to think so, too, in virtue of the long years he had
spent in his attempts to decipher the runic ring. But this was not what
Lorelie meant.

"Did you not notice what my father says in one of these letters, that
Eric Marville claimed to be heir to a peerage?"

"It did not escape me. A surprising statement, if true."

"And the interest taken by your father in the runic ring, the heirloom
of the Ravengars, proves his peerage to have been the Earldom of
Ormsby."

"I fear you are dealing in fanciful hypotheses," smiled Idris.

"Your likeness to the family portraits of the Ravengars is very
remarkable."

"Mere coincidence."

"Not so. It is as certain that you are the rightful Earl of Ormsby as
it is that the sun is shining."

"But how? In what way?" cried Idris, impressed, in spite of himself, by
her air of conviction.

"That I cannot tell. I am trying to find out."

"I thank you, Lady Walden, for interesting yourself in my fortunes, but
supposing that your surmise should prove correct--what then?"

"You will take the title and station that are rightfully yours."

"And, by so doing, deprive you of your position? No, Lady Walden, I
cannot do that. If, as is implied by your words, you are seeking to
prove that I have a claim to the Earldom of Ormsby, I would ask you to
desist. Let matters be as they are. I am quite content to remain plain
Idris Breakspear, and to leave to you the coronet of the Ravengars.
I do not believe that I am of noble birth, but in any case I will do
nothing detrimental to your position."

"My position!" thought Lorelie, bitterly, as she recalled the attempt
made upon her life. "Heaven help me to escape from my position! But,"
she said, aloud, "you are doing a wrong to your future wife. She may
not appreciate the generosity that deprives her of a coronet."

"My future wife!" smiled Idris. "I shall never marry."

"And why not?"

"They do not love who love twice."

Lorelie, knowing his meaning, trembled, miserable and happy at one and
the same time.

"I am glad," he continued, "to have this opportunity of saying
good-bye, Lady Walden, for I leave England soon, probably forever."

Lorelie received this news with dismay. Whether the feeling of pleasure
derivable from Idris' friendship was a right or a wrong feeling she
had never stopped to inquire, but it _was_ a pleasure, and a sense of
desolation fell upon her on hearing that she was to enjoy it no longer.

"A friend of mine has received a secret commission from the Indian
Government to explore Tibet, the tour to include the forbidden city of
Lassa. I have agreed to accompany him."

Lorelie was not ignorant of the perils attending such an enterprise.

"You will never return," she cried.

"So much the better," he answered quietly.

She glanced at him for a moment, and then her eyes fell, for she
understood him. Involuntarily her mind was led to contrast the husband,
who had sought to take her life, with Idris, so anxious to keep her
name fair before the world: Idris, whose love was such that he was
willing to sacrifice everything--even his life--for her sake! She could
not hide the tears glistening beneath her lashes. The situation was
a trying one for both, but fortunately at this moment a third person
appeared on the scene.

Beatrice emerged from the garden-porch, and Lorelie, averting her head,
essayed to remove the traces of tears from her eyes.

Beatrice gave her visitor a glad greeting, but there was a subdued air
about her, due, as Lorelie knew, to sorrow at the thought of Idris'
departure.

"Has Mr. Breakspear told you that he is going to leave us?" she asked,
and receiving an affirmative, she continued mournfully:--"As this is
perhaps the last time we shall be together you must stay with us as
long as you can. We are just about to have luncheon. Will you not join
us?"

Lorelie readily assented, and went up-stairs with Beatrice to remove
her hat and mantle.

"You are not looking very well, Lady Walden."

"No, Beatrice. And I shall never be well again."

Something in her tone went to Beatrice's heart: she guessed that
Lorelie's unhappiness arose from Ivar's ill-treatment of her.

The beautiful face was suffused by an expression so miserable that
Beatrice, the maiden of eighteen, involuntarily drew the married
woman of twenty-three within her arms and kissed her consolingly, as
though the viscountess were a little child. And Lorelie, glad of such
sympathy, clung to Beatrice's embrace.

"Beatrice," she said presently, "if you should hear that I have slipped
from a battlement on the roof of Ravenhall and dislocated my neck, or
that I have lost my life by falling into the lake in the park, remember
that this event will not have happened by accident."

"What do you mean?" gasped Beatrice, thinking that Lorelie was
contemplating suicide.

"Let your brother say whether I am wrong. Did he analyze the contents
of the phial that I sent him?"

"He said that the water contained--I forget how many grains of
strychnine," replied Beatrice, innocently.

"Then I was right," said Lorelie, with a face as white as death. "O,
Beatrice, the earl and Ivar tried to poison me!"

"Lady Walden, how dare you say that?" said Beatrice, with a burst of
indignation.

It was against Ravengars that Lorelie's charge was made, and Beatrice
suddenly remembered that she herself was a Ravengar. Bad as Ivar might
be she could not believe him capable of murder: and as for the earl,
had he not always treated her with kindness?

But when Lorelie began to relate the incident of her visit to the
crypt, Beatrice's scepticism slowly vanished, and she listened with a
growing horror upon her face. And when the story was ended, she sat
cold and trembling, unable at first to speak.

"Are they aware that you suspected their design?" she asked.

"I do not think so. I continue to speak and act as if I have every
confidence in them."

"How can you bear to live with them? What they have attempted once they
may attempt again. How can you trust yourself at the same table with
them?"

"By eating of the dishes of which they eat; they are not likely to
poison themselves. I must remain at Ravenhall till I have accomplished
my task."

"And what is that?"

"To obtain proofs of Mr. Breakspear's right to the earldom: for,
Beatrice, I have reasons for believing that he is the rightful Earl of
Ormsby."

And Lorelie proceeded to repeat the arguments she had addressed to
Idris, with some others in addition.

"Have you told Mr. Breakspear this?" said Beatrice, breathless with
excitement.

"Yes, and he refuses to move in the matter."

"But we will make him," cried Beatrice, impulsively. "We will persuade
him to give up this mad journey to Tibet. Lady Walden----"

"Do not recall my unhappiness by using that name: besides it is not
justly mine. Call me Lorelie."

"Lorelie, then. I will come to Ravenhall and live there with you."

Lorelie's smile was like sunlight sweeping over a dark landscape.

"If anything could make me happy it would be your daily companionship,
dearest Beatrice."

"It is not safe for you to live alone at Ravenhall," continued
Beatrice. "I will return with you to keep watch and ward over you.
Together we will work and make what discoveries we can. If Idris really
be the owner of Ravenhall we will do our best to establish him in his
rights."

The light of justice shone from Beatrice's eyes. There should be a
righting of the wrong. Since the earl and Ivar had not hesitated at
murder, let them suffer the punishment due to their guilt by losing
their rank and estates.

"And when that is done," said Lorelie, "it will be for me to retire
to a convent, and for Idris to place a coronet on these tresses," she
added, touching Beatrice's hair.

"Ah, no!" replied Beatrice, sadly. "He will not marry me. Idris never
loved any one but you. It is impossible for him to have you, yet he
will never love any one else."

Lorelie was touched to the quick by Beatrice's look of distress. She
felt that if she herself had not appeared upon the scene, Beatrice
might now be happy in the love of Idris.

"Beatrice, believe me, I would gladly die if my death would enable you
to gain his love."

Beatrice did not doubt the sincerity of this assurance. Brave-hearted
and generous the little maiden harboured no resentment against her
rival.

"He will come to you some day," said Lorelie, kissing the other
tenderly. "He has been with you long enough to know your worth. He will
find a want of something in his life when he is away from you. He will
begin to ask himself what it is. 'It is Beatrice,' his heart will
answer: and he will return to seek you."

Beatrice shook her head, refusing to believe in this bright forecast.

"Have you told Idris of the attempt made upon your life?" she asked.

"No."

"We shall be doing well not to tell him of it. He is hot-blooded where
your welfare is concerned: his rage would lead him to horsewhip both
the earl and Ivar, or to do something equally rash. It is for us to
mete out the punishment. We will do it more circumspectly. We will lull
them into a false state of security, and then, when they least expect
it----"

What more she would have said was cut short by Godfrey who, standing
at the foot of the staircase, asked whether he and Idris were or were
_not_ to have the society of the ladies at luncheon; and thus adjured
the two went down to the dining-room.

Godfrey was much struck with Lorelie's pallid look, and determined,
before letting her depart, to take a diagnosis of her state, and
prescribe accordingly.

Though full of wonder when Beatrice began to tell him of her intention
to live at Ravenhall as Lorelie's companion, he made no objection,
surmising that there was a mystery somewhere, and that she had good
reason for the course she was taking.

"I shall be sorry to lose you, Trixie," he remarked.

"It is only for a time," replied his sister.

"By the way," said Godfrey, turning to address Idris, "I attended an
old gentleman yesterday, one enthusiastically devoted to botany, and
a little 'touched,' I fancy, over his favourite pursuit. He told me
among other matters that he had once sown some mandrake seeds on the
northern side of Ormfell with a view of learning whether the plant
would outlive the rigours of our Northumbrian winter. Great was his
indignation to find one day that the plant had been wilfully plucked
up by the roots. I did not tell him that I could give the names of the
guilty persons, but contented myself with suggesting that the renewal
of his botanic experiment might have more success if confined to the
limits of his own garden."

"Ah! then there is one mystery cleared up," observed Idris.

"But there are others," remarked Lorelie, "which you are leaving behind
unsolved. Cannot you persuade Mr. Breakspear," she added, turning to
Godfrey, "to abandon his expedition?"

"O, Idris will come back safely," cheerfully responded the surgeon, who
did not view the enterprise with the same fears as the ladies. "He will
return covered with glory. He will have added a valuable chapter to
geographical science, and will of course write a book."

"Of surprising dulness," interjected Idris.

"Of surpassing interest," corrected Godfrey. "I wonder you never took
to authorship, for you have what I classify as the literary head."

"Don't! My vanity is great enough already."

"Did you not know that Godfrey is an expert in phrenology?" asked
Beatrice.

"Not till this moment. But the news comes very opportunely. Man,
know thyself! Godfrey, give me an introduction to Idris Breakspear.
Manipulate my cranium, and let me have a true account of my character.
Be critical, and spare not!"

And Godfrey, responsive to Idris' humour, proceeded to make a study of
his head.

"Take my note-book, Miss Ravengar," smiled Idris, pushing it towards
her, "and record my wicked characteristics. Now, Godfrey, begin."

"Amativeness," said the doctor, placing his finger-tips beneath Idris'
ears, while Beatrice laughingly wrote the word.

"You begin alphabetically, do you?" remarked Idris. "Amativeness: that,
being interpreted, meaneth love--of--of the ladies generally. That
organ is very large, of course?"

"No. Fairly large."

"O, come, you must be making a mistake. Feel again! It's a libel to
limit my amatory sentiment to 'fairly large' only."

"I put it down as seven," replied Godfrey.

"What's the highest figure to which you ascend?"

"Nine--in my system."

"And I do not attain the top figure? Can't you make it eight, or at
least seven and three-quarters?"

"The pupil must not dictate to the master," said Beatrice.

"Combativeness," Godfrey went on, his fingers ascending slightly.

"Combativeness," repeated Idris: "readiness to fight for--for the
ladies. Don't say that isn't large."

"It is. Very large indeed."

"Good! There may be some truth in phrenology after all. Put
'combativeness' down as nine, Miss Ravengar. Go on, Godfrey! Next item,
please!"

So amid Idris' badinage Godfrey proceeded with his statements, all of
which Beatrice laughingly wrote down. Presently a grave expression
stole over Godfrey's face, and before he had ended his task the
expression had become one of doubt and perplexity. Both Lorelie and
Beatrice noticed it. Idris, however, was precluded by his position from
seeing Godfrey's look.

"Well, now, this is very pleasant reading," said Idris banteringly,
receiving his pocketbook from Beatrice, and glancing over what she had
written. "I feel as a returned spirit may be supposed to feel when he
peruses the virtues inscribed on his tombstone and fails to recognize
himself. Such a character as this, duly attested and signed 'G.
Rothwell, M. D.,' ought to procure me a free pass to any part of Tibet."

He began to talk of his intended expedition, and a trifling argument
arising between himself and Godfrey relative to some point of Tibetan
geography, Beatrice, as if to settle the dispute, wickedly despatched
Idris to the library for a book that she knew he would not find there.

As soon as he had vanished through the doorway she turned to her
brother.

"Godfrey, why did you look so serious while studying Idris' head?"

"Did I look serious?"

"Did you look----? Just listen to him, Lorelie! Don't equivocate. You
have discovered something: I know you have. Something that troubles
you. What is it? Didn't Idris' character impress you favourably?"

"Idris' character is exactly as I gave it."

"Then why look as if he were an ogre?"

"It is but twenty-four hours since I examined another head."

"Whose?"

"You shall learn presently. Here is the result of my study of '_Nemo_,'
as I call him."

He drew out his own pocketbook and directed Beatrice's attention to a
certain page headed "_Character of Nemo_."

Very much puzzled, Beatrice conned his notes, but had not proceeded
very far before she snatched up Idris' pocketbook and began to compare
the remarks in each.

"'Amativeness--seven. Combativeness--nine,'" she murmured, reading the
list of characteristics. "Why, there is no difference between them,"
she exclaimed. "Idris and your '_Nemo_' have heads exactly alike."

"The very thought that struck me just now."

"Who is this '_Nemo_'?"

"That is what I wish to know."

"Didn't the man give you his name, then?"

"I didn't ask him for it."

"Why not?"

"He wouldn't have told me if I had."

"He wished to remain incognito?"

"He didn't give verbal expression to that effect in fact he had lost
the power of speaking."

"Was he dumb, then?"

"Very much so."

"O, Godfrey, do be explicit, and speak so that we can understand."

"Truth to tell, the man was dead!"

Beatrice gave a little scream.

"And his head reposes in that cabinet," continued Godfrey.

"You mean the Viking's skull?"

"You've hit the mark."

"But what--what----?"

"What made me desirous of learning the character of the man to whom the
skull belonged? A passing whim--nothing more. As I was casually opening
the cabinet yesterday the skull caught my eye. 'Come!' said I, 'let me
see the sort of fellow you were when alive.' And this," added Godfrey,
tapping his note-book, "this is the result. Idris spends long years in
deciphering a runic inscription on an ancient ring: acting on the vague
hints furnished by it he undertakes an expedition to Ormfell, obtaining
as his reward a skull whose phrenological development corresponds
exactly with his own. He was quite right in his opinion that the
Viking's tomb would contain a clue towards solving his father's fate,
for it is my firm belief that the skull in that cabinet is none other
than the skull of Eric Marville!"



CHAPTER XIX

THE VENGEANCE OF THE SKULL


Viscount Walden's twenty-first birthday was drawing near, and Ravenhall
was making grand preparations for the occasion. Invitations were
issued to the local magnates and their families--invitations eagerly
accepted, for everybody was curious to see both the earl, who had
so long secluded himself from society, and the new viscountess,
whose secret marriage had invested her with a romantic interest.
Entertainment of various kinds was provided, for the earl's guests,
as well as for the tenantry of his estates, the day to terminate in
a grand ball, preceded by the performance of a poetic drama, written
by Lady Walden, and entitled _The Fatal Skull_, a drama in which the
authoress herself was to take the leading _rôle_. The other _dramatis
personæ_ were drawn from a select circle of Ormsby society, and their
frequent rehearsals filled Ravenhall with a mirth and a gaiety not
known in that gloomy mansion for many years. Lorelie took upon herself
the office of stage-directress, and flung herself heart and soul into
the work. She was ably seconded by Beatrice Ravengar, who, to the
surprise of everybody in Ormsby, had left her brother Godfrey in order
to be the companion of the new viscountess. A number of carpenters and
scene-shifters from London had transformed the great hall of the castle
into a suitable stage and auditorium. Scenic artists were busy at the
canvas. Money was freely lavished upon the appropriate theatrical
costumes. A leading society-paper had asked for, and had obtained,
the favour of having a reporter present to record the day's doings;
in short, everything had been done to ensure success, and the amateur
actors looked forward to the event with a pleasurable zest.

The great day came at last, as sunny and fair as could be desired.
The earl moved about among his guests and tenantry with a dignified
courtesy, bestowing 'nods and becks and wreathed smiles' on all sides,
in a manner surprising to those who had hitherto regarded him as a sort
of gloomy Manfred.

Ivar was on excellent terms with himself: he flirted with the ladies,
and patronized the young men with a truly lordly air. A descendant
of a noble house: heir to a splendid estate: husband of a wife
whose loveliness and literary abilities were the theme of universal
praise--what more could he desire? Indifferent himself to Lorelie's
charms he was not displeased to witness the admiration they excited in
others. She was a part of his property, as it were: it was but fitting
that she should receive her tribute of praise along with the other
items of the Ravengar estate.

Lady Walden made an ideal hostess, and the guests whispered in
secret that if the rumour were true that her own family was not of
the highest, her beauty and sprightliness amply compensated for the
deficiency. From her manner one would have thought her the happiest
lady in the county. Once only did she give evidence of the real
feeling that lay masked beneath her pleasant exterior, and that was
when the Mayor of Ormsby, standing upon the flight of steps leading
up to the grand entrance of Ravenhall, read a long address to Ivar,
congratulating him on the attainment of his majority, and expressing
the hope that both the viscount and his lady might long live to enjoy
their exalted rank. At this Lorelie's lips curved for a moment into a
bitter smile, and she cast a significant glance at Beatrice, who was
seldom absent from her side that day. To those who noted the smile it
recurred with peculiar force upon the morrow.

With the coming of twilight Beatrice stole away from the company to a
private portion of the park, taking her course towards a little gateway
in the western wall. Near this gate was a wooden bench, and seating
herself upon it she drew forth a telegram and glanced at the message it
contained, which was singularly brief:--"Will be at the place appointed
by seven o'clock."

The sender of this telegram was punctual to the minute. St. Oswald's
Church clock was chiming the hour when there came a knocking at the
wicket-gate. Instantly unlocking it Beatrice threw it open, and stood
face to face with Idris Breakspear.

She greeted him with an air which Idris intuitively felt to be a
foreboding of grave things.

"On the point of sailing for India," he observed, "I received a letter
from Miss Ravengar bidding me return at once to Ormsby. Such a message
cannot be ignored, and therefore I am here. And the question is, 'Why
am I here?'"

"I have not sent for you without cause. It is your duty to follow me,
to ask no questions, but to await developments."

"And where are you taking me?" he asked, as she locked the gate.

"There!" exclaimed Beatrice, appealing to an imaginary audience. "His
first utterance is a defiance of my orders. However, I will answer that
question. You are coming with me to Ravenhall."

Impressed by the oddity of her manner Idris made no demur but offered
his arm and accepted her guidance.

Their way led by a private path amid dense shrubbery: now and again
through a long-drawn vista in the trees Idris caught a glimpse of the
more distant portions of the park.

The dusk of a lovely summer's eve was descending upon the lordly
terraces and verdant lawns of Ravenhall. Mellowed by the distance the
music of a regimental band floated on the air. _Al fresco_ dancing was
taking place beside the margin of a grey-gleaming lake. Above was a
sky of darkest blue: below, the myriad lanterns shining amid the dark
foliage made the park appear like a scene from fairyland.

Idris contemplated the picture with mixed feelings. If--and it was a
very great "if," he admitted--Lorelie was right in asserting that he
himself was the true Earl of Ormsby, then all this fair estate was
really his. Well, he had resigned his claim in favour of Lorelie, and
would not go from his word. But not till this moment did he fully
realize the extent of the sacrifice.

"It is a gala day, I perceive," he remarked. "I learned on my way
from the station that Lord Walden has attained his majority. He has a
splendid estate _in futuro_. He ought to be a proud man to-day."

"He _is_ proud, ignorant that, like Agamemnon, he is treading on purple
to his doom."

Idris was surprised at these words, surprised still more by the
bitterness with which Beatrice emphasized them. What did this speech
portend?

"You have been living at Ravenhall for the past two months, I
understand?" he remarked, for want of something better to say.

"Yes, as Lorelie's companion. This is our last day here. Lorelie and I
take our departure to-night."

Idris was more mystified than ever. Beatrice smiled as if enjoying his
perplexity.

They had now reached the western wing of the mansion, and Beatrice,
unlocking a small door, invited Idris to enter.

"Am I to be smuggled in?"

"Yes, for this once, Cousin Idris."

"_Cousin_ Idris," he repeated, emphasizing the first word.

"Did I say 'cousin'?" she asked, with a simulation of innocence. "Well,
I won't withdraw the term. Let it remain."

Idris stared hard at her, trying to read her thoughts. If he were
really a Ravengar it might be that he was cousin to Beatrice. Was it
possible that she and Lorelie had obtained proofs of this? Nay, could
it be true that he was really entitled to the earldom? Had he been
summoned here by Beatrice to take part in some plot by which the earl
should be made to confess himself a usurper? Full of wonder he silently
followed his guide. They traversed several corridors and ascended two
staircases without encountering any one, a fact which led Idris to
believe that Beatrice had prearranged matters with a view to keeping
his visit a secret. Opening a door in an upper corridor Beatrice drew
him forward, remarking: "This is our destination."

Idris, looking around, found himself in a dainty little chamber very
like an opera-box in appearance, inasmuch as there was a sort of
balcony on one side of it. Silken draperies prevented him from seeing
into what this balcony projected, but from below it there came the
subdued murmur of voices.

"We are here," said Beatrice, "to view Lorelie's tragedy. It is to be
acted to-night, and in this little place you and I will be able to
witness the play unseen either by actors or audience."

Stepping forward she cautiously put the curtains aside, an action which
disclosed the fact that they were standing on an elevated balcony that
projected into, and looked down upon, a grand Gothic hall, brilliantly
illuminated with electric light.

Under the manipulation of carpenters and upholsterers the place had
assumed a somewhat theatre-like aspect. The southern end of the hall
was appropriated to the stage, which for the time being was hidden
from view by the folds of a heavy curtain. The pavement of the body of
the hall was covered with velvet carpeting. Fauteuils, lounges, seats
of every description, were disposed here and there: and these were
now becoming occupied by a number of fashionably-dressed ladies and
gentlemen, the time fixed for the beginning of the performance being
close at hand.

"I daresay," said Beatrice, "you are wondering whether it is reasonable
on the part of Lorelie and myself to stop your voyage and to summon you
here merely to witness a play? The sequel will show. It is something
more than a play that you are asked to witness: it is an experiment. If
Lorelie were to choose a motto for her drama it would be the words of
Hamlet:--


                   "'The play's the thing
     Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.'"


"I am altogether in the dark," said her companion, lugubriously.

"Be patient, Cousin Idris, and you shall have light anon."

"Cousin Idris again! Come, if we really _are_ cousins, I shall exercise
a cousin's privilege."

So saying he stole his arm around her, and turned her pretty face
upward to his own. And Beatrice, unable to escape, submitted her lips
to his, laughing, yet feeling more disposed to cry, knowing full well
that there was another whom he would much rather have kissed.

She broke from his arms and essayed to hide her confusion in the study
of a playbill printed on white satin. Of the _dramatis personæ_, four
names only were familiar to Idris.


     _Rosamond_ (Queen of the Lombards)      LADY WALDEN.
     _Alboin_ (King of the Lombards)         LORD WALDEN.
     _Cunimund_ (King of the Gepidæ)         DR. G. ROTHWELL.
     _Paulinus_ (a bishop)                   THE EARL OF ORMSBY.


"The earl among the actors?" cried Idris in surprise.

"The play, as an experiment, would be a failure without him," returned
Beatrice, oracularly. "To persuade him to take part in it was a matter
requiring very delicate handling on the part of Lorelie and myself. But
we have gained our end, you see."

At this juncture there arose the twanging of violin-strings, the
puffing of wind instruments, and other sounds preliminary to orchestral
music. Then in a moment more the overture had begun.

Idris, having drawn a velvet lounge to a point convenient for obtaining
a clearer view of the stage, seated Beatrice beside himself. They were
almost screened from sight by the arrangement of the silken curtains,
and by a profusion of flowers and fernery that decorated the exterior
ledge of the balcony.

The overture was a really brilliant piece, but Beatrice appeared to
give little heed to it.

"There was once," she murmured, in a dreamy voice, "there was once a
son, who at the age of seven years promised his mother on oath that
when he became a man he would do his utmost to clear his father's name
from a false charge. The son attained manhood; the opportunity came
for proving his father's innocence, and what did the son do? Nothing!
Absolutely nothing!"

"Would you have me darken Lorelie's name?" asked Idris, with a slight
touch of anger in his voice.

But without heeding this interruption Beatrice went on:--

"And therefore, as you have failed in your duty, Lorelie herself will
perform the act of justice to the dead. At this very hour two leading
newspapers--the one in Paris, the other in London--are setting up
the type of an article entitled 'The story of an almost forgotten
tragedy,' an article that will bear the signature of Lorelie Rochefort.
To-morrow morning the world will learn that Eric Marville was innocent
of the crime laid to his charge. And to-night, here, in this very
hall, Lorelie hopes to prove who Eric Marville really was: and her
experiment, if it terminate as she expects, will depress her fortune in
just the same proportion as it will raise yours.

"And this she does by way of making atonement to you for her guilty
silence in the matter of Eric Marville's innocence. That silence was
the only fault in a life otherwise noble and good; how good no one
knows so well as myself. But see! the play is beginning."

As Beatrice spoke, the music of the orchestra stopped with a sudden
crash. The electric light was switched off, leaving the body of the
hall in semi-darkness. The buzz of conversation ceased, and amid a
death-like silence the curtain rose on the opening act of the tragedy
of _The Fatal Skull_.

The first scene of this drama was styled on the playbill, "An
audience-chamber in the palace of Cunimund."

Clad in barbaric splendour, and seated upon a canopied throne, was the
royal Cunimund, in the person of Godfrey Rothwell. On each side of him
stood armed warriors and venerable counsellors, among the latter being
the earl himself in his character of Bishop Paulinus, a _rôle_ for
which his grave and dignified bearing seemed naturally adapted.

Idris gazed upon the earl with considerable interest, beholding him
for the first time. This was the man whom Lorelie--oddly enough now it
seemed--had identified with his own father! She had been compelled to
admit herself in error, but was there truth in her other theory that
the earl was the author of the deed done in Ormfell? He turned from the
contemplation of this problem to listen to the words of the play.

The opening speech of King Cunimund, addressed to his followers, showed
that he had assembled them for the purpose of giving audience to a
herald from the Lombard king, Alboin. The messenger being admitted,
demanded, on behalf of his royal master, the hand of Cunimund's
daughter, the fair princess Rosamond. From the herald's address Alboin
appeared to be a somewhat savage wooer, inasmuch as he was encamped
with an army upon the frontier, prepared, in the event of refusal, to
ravage the Gepid kingdom with fire and sword.

"It is for Rosamond herself to decide the question," was the just
arbitrament of Cunimund, when the herald had finished his oration.

So a messenger was despatched off the stage to bring in the princess.
Then, from the right wing, to the sound of music soft and sweet,
Lorelie entered in the character of Rosamond, the limelight playing
with enchanting effect over the curves of her graceful figure and over
the silken sheen of her dress. In Idris' eyes she had never looked more
lovely, her natural beauty being enhanced by the attractions of art.
And Beatrice, watching his face, sighed, for she knew herself to be
forgotten.

Idris had hoped to receive a glance from Lorelie on her entrance, but
in this he was disappointed: her whole soul was evidently absorbed in
the part she was playing.

With a half-smile upon her lip Rosamond listened while her father
Cunimund briefly explained the purpose for which she had been summoned.
Then, standing erect with girlish grace Rosamond pleaded, in sweet and
maidenly language, not to be given up to the will of a king well known
for his savage character. There was something so pathetic and touching
in her appeal as she stood alone facing the rough warriors, that tears
rose to the eyes of many ladies in the audience. It seemed not to be
acting, but nature itself.

Tumultuous shouts from the Gepid warriors applauded Rosamond's
decision, and the curtain descended upon an exciting tableau--the
running to and fro of men, the buckling on of armour, and the giving of
orders for the coming fray.

On turning to ascertain Idris' opinion of the first act Beatrice found
him with a look of perplexity on his face.

"The earl! The earl!" he murmured. "Am I dreaming, or have I seen him
before? His attitude in raising his hand to his brow recalls a gesture
on the part of some one I have known in far-off times. In his voice,
too, there is something familiar: it is like the echo of one heard in
my childhood."

Beatrice gave a faint cry of surprise.

"Lorelie was right, then, in her conjecture," she said. "Yes:
Cousin Idris, you _have_ seen the earl before under very different
circumstances from the present. Patience! you shall learn where ere
long."

Quickly the curtain rose upon the second act.

The scene represented the interior of a church by night. Lamps gleaming
from lofty columns shed a solemn light around.

Rosamond was present with her maidens and a few armed attendants.
Their words showed that the Gepid army had suffered defeat. Cunimund
himself was dead--not killed in fair and open fight, but treacherously
assassinated by the bishop Paulinus, who had gone over to the Lombard
side in the midst of the battle, carrying with him the head of the
fallen king, and securing by that gift the favour of Alboin. The
Lombards were now marching upon the Gepid capital, and Rosamond was
seeking to elude capture by taking sanctuary.

Vain hope! From without came cries, the tramp of warriors, the clang
of arms. Torches gleamed through the windows of the church. Rosamond's
attendants tried to bar the door: their feeble efforts yielded to the
superior force of the foe, and the Lombards entered the church with
Alboin at their head, the _rôle_ of that king being sustained by Ivar.
The sanctuary became the scene of an unequal combat. Soon the sword
glimmered in the grasp of the last defender, and the triumphant and
savage Alboin seized the lovely and shrinking form of Rosamond.

Not till Alboin had sworn to accomplish his purpose, with or without
marriage, did Rosamond yield her reluctant assent to become his
wife. The ceremony took place on the spot, Paulinus himself, the
traitor-bishop, performing the marriage-rite.

Rosamond, half-fainting, was led by her attendant maidens to the
altar, and holding Alboin's hand, was forced to utter the words of the
wedding-ritual amid the rude shouting of the Lombard soldiery, one of
whom carried the head of Cunimund affixed to the point of a pike.

Language fails to convey an adequate conception of the wild horror
displayed by Rosamond at this juncture in being mated to a man she
loathed, and by an ecclesiastic whose hands were red with her father's
blood. In an agony of grief and rage she mingled the holy words of the
ritual with fierce "asides." She was no longer the sweet maiden of the
first act, but a woman thirsting for vengeance.

It struck Idris that the situation of Rosamond offered an analogy to
that of Lorelie herself in being wedded to an uncongenial consort
and living in daily communion with a man guilty of bloodshed. Then
slowly the belief came over him that this emotion on her part was not
a piece of acting, but the real expression of her feelings. It was no
mock princess that he beheld, breathing an imaginary hatred against
stage-foes, but a wronged woman animated with a deadly purpose against
her husband and her father-in-law. What had happened to transform
Lorelie's sweet and gracious nature to this dark and vengeful mood?

"As I live," muttered Idris, when the curtain had descended upon the
scene, "she is importing her own personal feelings into the piece. She
hates the earl and Ivar, and is laying some snare for them."

"You have hit it," replied Beatrice. "This play is for their
humiliation and ruin."

"How is it that her object did not reveal itself to them during the
rehearsal?"

"Because she did not act then in the same spirit as now: and, moreover,
she will insert some words not in the printed edition of her play in
order to mark their effect upon the earl. There will be no need to ask
what words, or for what purpose uttered: you will know as soon as you
hear. See!" exclaimed Beatrice, in a voice trembling with suppressed
excitement, "the third act is beginning."

As the curtain ascended again a murmur of admiration rose from the
audience at the beauty of the tableau revealed to view. The scene
represented the refectory of a palace, and was so arranged that the
actual walls of the Gothic hall in which the audience sat formed the
wings and rear of the stage scenery, thus producing an effect more
realistic than could have been attained by painted canvas. A spacious
and splendid arched casement facing the audience made a part of this
refectory; the scene had been purposely timed with regard to the moon's
course, and it was no mock planet, but the real silver orb of night
that shone through the panes of stained glass from a sky of darkest
blue. The moonlight without contrasted curiously with the glow cast by
the lamps pendent from the vaulted roof of the supposed banqueting hall.

A feast was taking place, given by King Alboin to celebrate his victory
over Cunimund. Historically speaking, the memorable and fatal banquet
with which the name of Rosamond is associated, happened several years
after the defeat of the Gepid king, but for the sake of dramatic effect
Lorelie had represented it as the immediate consequence of that defeat.

Robed in purple, and with a jewelled diadem upon his head, sat Alboin,
and beside him, and now his chief counsellor, the traitor-bishop
Paulinus, whose episcopal attire was stiff with brocade and gems.
Disposed along the board with picturesque effect were the Lombard
chiefs and warriors, all arrayed in gleaming mail.

The royal table glittered with a profusion of plate. The shelves of a
carved oaken sideboard were filled with a variety of golden and silver
vessels. The stage twinkled with so many dazzling points of light that
it became hurtful to gaze too long upon it. All the Ravengar heirlooms
were being paraded in this banqueting-scene, probably to impress the
visitors with the extent of the Ravengar wealth.

"Are those jewels, and is that plate real?" muttered Idris, examining
them through a lorgnette.

"All genuine, and not stage-property. I was once promised," murmured
Beatrice in a dreamy manner, "I was once promised a moiety of that
wealth.--I wonder, Cousin Idris, whether you will keep your word: for
it is all yours, or soon will be."

Idris did not catch the last part of her utterance, but he had heard
enough to understand whence came all this display.

"The Viking's treasure!" he cried in wonderment. "But that
blue-gleaming cup that the earl is lifting to his lips!--that cannot be
a sapphire: it must be coloured glass."

"It is a real gem, I assure you. Isn't it a lovely thing? There cannot
be its equal in the wide world. And think of it! Ivar was on the point
of selling it, and other rarities, but fortunately, Lorelie stopped him
in time. But I'll reserve that story."

The walls of the supposed banqueting hall were hung with tapestry,
sufficient in length to drape both the wings and the background.
This arras, decorated with figures in needlework, was obviously very
ancient, apparently one of the Ravengar heirlooms employed to give an
air of antiquity to the refectory-scene.

It was somewhat difficult to obtain a clear view of this tapestry owing
to the intervention of the banqueting-table and the picturesque figures
grouped around it; but, bringing his lorgnette to bear upon such parts
of it as were visible, Idris observed that one of its needlework
pictures was subscribed with the words:--"ORMUS HILDAM NUBIT."

"Orm weds Hilda," he muttered. "By heaven! that is the tapestry that
once decorated the interior of the Viking's tomb!"

"True," returned Beatrice. "But--we are losing the words of the play."

This last was quite true. So occupied had Idris been in contemplating
the scenic effects, that he had not yet caught a word of the act then
in progress.

Fixing his attention upon the dialogue Idris noticed that Alboin (or
Ivar) was inviting his companions-in-arms to drink to their recent
victory. While speaking he lifted on high his own goblet, a goblet of
a very curious character, for it was fashioned from a human skull,
supposedly that of the fallen Cunimund. The upper portion of the
cranium had been sawn off, and being attached to the lower part by
silver hinges, formed the lid of the grim drinking-vessel.

"Do you recognize the relic taken by you from Ormfell?" asked Beatrice.

"That cup is not the 'Viking's' skull," returned Idris decisively, as
he surveyed it through his glasses. "Its colour is white: mine was a
yellowish-brown. Now, notice the lid; it is lifted and turned towards
us: it ought to contain a circular perforation, but there is none, you
see. Trust me, I know my relic too well to be deceived."

"You are quite right, Cousin Idris: the cup now in Ivar's hands is
_not_ the 'Viking's' skull; being merely the one used in the rehearsal.
It would have been a betraying of her purpose had Lorelie employed the
real relic, but it will make its appearance soon."

She turned her attention to the dialogue again, and Idris did the same,
wondering what the end of it would be.

Extending the skull-cup to a slave, Ivar-Alboin cried, in the words of
history:--

"Fill this goblet to the brim: carry it to the queen, and bid her in my
name drink to the memory of her father."

The attendant poured wine into the cup and carried it off the stage
for the purpose of presenting it to Queen Rosamond. And pre-informed
by Beatrice, Idris knew that the goblet carried out would not be the
same as that which would be brought in. Lorelie would enter with the
identical skull taken from Ormfell. Why should this be? He awaited the
sequel with breathless interest, an interest that would have been far
more intense had he known with what person Godfrey had connected this
same skull. But some things had been kept from the knowledge of Idris,
and this was one of them.

The advent of Queen Rosamond was heralded by music of a singular
character. The softer and more melodious instrument ceased, and there
arose a threnody drawn entirely from violin-chords and from the
metallic wires of the harp--a threnody that was staccato, shivering,
weird. The faint whisperings which had been going on here and there
among the audience instantly ceased: every one sat spellbound, thrilled
with awe by that unearthly music, as if it were a prelude to the
entrance of Death himself.

Idris recognized the air as the requiem that was never heard except at
the death of a Ravengar. That it should now be played seemed suggestive
of some coming tragedy. He learned from Beatrice that this requiem had
formed no part of the rehearsals: and, indeed, the wondering looks
interchanged among the amateurs on the stage showed that it came upon
them as a surprise. Idris was not slow to mark the perturbed air of the
earl-bishop. If it were Lorelie's object to unnerve him, she had to
some extent succeeded.

Amid this eerie refrain Queen Rosamond slowly entered the banqueting
hall, carrying in her hands the dread cup, the fatal skull of her
father Cunimund. The eyes of every one, both on and off the stage, were
riveted upon her movements. She had exhibited splendid acting in the
two previous scenes; was she now about to surpass herself?

She was robed in a vesture of violet satin, embroidered with gold, that
shimmered as she moved; and in her flowing raven hair there gleamed
an ornament that gave Idris a thrill of surprise, for he immediately
recognized it as the stiletto hair-pin that had wrought the fatal deed
in Ormfell.

By aid of the lorgnette he surveyed the object she was carrying. Yes:
that golden-brown thing was indeed the 'Viking's skull,' set in silver,
and mounted as a cup--a cup in appearance only, for the cranium was
perfect and entire, and had not been fashioned into a lid.

Rosamond had entered through an arched door in the wall on the
right-hand side of the stage. Ivar-Alboin's throne was on the extreme
left, and therefore to reach him it was necessary to traverse the
entire length of the stage.

Slowly, very slowly, she advanced with silent and majestic tread,
holding aloft the fatal skull.

To Idris, the moment was one of thrilling interest. He felt that the
crucial point of the experiment had come: the object for which Lorelie
had caused her play to be staged was now about to be disclosed.

Not a word passed Lorelie's lips as she moved forward, the ghostly
_tremolo_ music going on all the time. She looked neither to right nor
left: she had eyes for one person only, and that was the earl, and him
she regarded with the air of a triumphant accuser.

And the earl, observant of her manner, and always suspicious of her
since that memorable night in the vault, dreading lest she should have
divined his purpose in taking her there, grew troubled. It began to
dawn upon him that Lorelie had an ulterior purpose in staging her play,
a purpose fraught with ill to himself. His eye rested on the skull she
was carrying: he noted the difference, yet no inkling of her real aim
entered his mind. He stared at her, trying to read her thoughts: she
returned his gaze: their looks became a silent duel.

At last she reached the place where Alboin sat. The shivering music
came to an end, enabling her voice to be heard.

"Ere I comply with my lord-king's request," she said, addressing Ivar,
and using the words of the play, "let me learn from whose skull I
drink."

She set the relic upon the table, keeping one hand over the cranium.
Idris felt that she did this for the purpose of hiding the fatal
perforation. But though her words were addressed to Ivar, she did not
for one moment remove her eyes from the earl's face.

"It is the skull of thy late sire, the royal Cunimund."

"Not so, husband mine," she cried, with a sudden change of voice that
startled everybody present, actors and spectators alike, "not so! Let
us leave acting and be real.--Tell me, my lord of Ravenhall," she said,
bending over the table and addressing the earl in a thrilling sibilant
whisper that penetrated to every part of the hall, "_tell me, whose
skull is this?_"

She withdrew her hand from the skull and pointed to the orifice in the
cranium.

A strange gasp broke from the earl. He cast one glance of fear at
Lorelie, and then sat with parted lips and dilated eyes staring at
the thing before him. Lorelie's significant manner, his own guilty
conscience, the circular perforation in the occiput, were sufficient
to tell him whose skull it was. In one swift awful moment he realized
that his secret was known to the woman whom he had most reason to
fear, and he intuitively divined that she was about to make it known
to all present. And then? He gasped for breath; his throat seemed to
be compressed: he twitched at it with his fingers as if to loosen some
tightly-drawn noose.

He knew now why she had shewn such persistency in urging him to take
part in the play. "Only a minor part, a few words to utter, nothing
more," had been her plea. He knew now why she had flattered, insisted,
threatened: her motive was to surprise and confuse him: to entrap him
into a confession by suddenly producing the skull before his eyes.

And she had nearly succeeded. Sudden amazement had almost wrung the
secret from him. He compressed his lips tightly: he must not speak,
lest by some incautious word he should betray himself. Silence!
Silence! there lay his safety. With such cunning had he overlaid all
traces of the crime that it could not be proved except by his own
confession.

The audience, after a glance at the play-book, looked at each other
in bewilderment, wondering why the viscountess had departed from the
written words of her drama. Instead of playing as finely as heretofore,
she had actually committed the gross blunder of addressing the Bishop
Paulinus as, "My lord of Ravenhall!"

Receiving no answer to her question, for the earl sat silent and
motionless, Lorelie rested her hand upon the table, lightly shook the
sleeve of her silken dress, and the next moment the runic altar-ring
was sparkling on her wrist.

"By the sacred ring of Odin, stolen by you from Edith Breakspear, I
adjure you, speak! Whose skull is this?"

Something like a groan issued from the earl's lips. So, his theft of
the ring was likewise known to this terrible woman!--a theft committed
so long ago that it had almost faded from his memory: and, lo! here the
deed was, starting up to confront him after a lapse of twenty-three
years!

[Illustration]

For a moment he forgot his present position: the stage, the lights,
the audience, all were gone. He found himself again in that quiet
twilight chamber at Quilaix; again he saw the sad eyes, the pale
face of the woman from whom he had taken the ring: again her solemn
utterance sounded in his ears:--"If it should bring upon you the curse
which it has brought upon me and mine, you will live to rue this day."

The voice of Lorelie speaking again, roused him from his reverie.

"By this hoarded treasure, gained at the price of blood, I adjure you,
speak! Whose skull is this?"

Mechanically his eyes wandered over the festal-board with its array
of plate and jewels. The splendid parade of wealth made his present
position only the more ghastly. Like a spectre from the tomb Nemesis
arose to mock him amid the very riches which his guilt had purchased.

A silence had fallen both upon actors and audience. They had begun
to catch a glimpse of the true meaning of this strange tableau. As
motionless as statues they sat: they scarcely breathed: it would have
required an earthquake or the conflagration of the hall itself to have
moved them.

In silent despair the earl looked around upon the array of still faces
set with earnest attention upon him, and then he turned again to the
skull. All lifeless as it was, it was victor over him to-day. It seemed
to be grinning at him in conscious mockery. Powerless itself to speak
it had found a mouthpiece, an avenger, in the person of Lorelie.

Why had he allowed this woman to leave the secret vault, where her life
had been in his hands? He might have known that she would never rest
till she had avenged herself upon him.

He looked into the depth of her dark blue eyes--eyes that were
steeled to pity. "Like for like," they seemed to say: she would show
him the same mercy that he would have shown her, though in truth,
Lorelie thought not of herself, but of the dead Eric Marville, so
cruelly wronged both by her father and herself: Eric Marville, who had
generously refrained from claiming the peerage justly his in order that
the present earl might enjoy it. And he had received his death-stroke
from the hand of the very man whom he had benefited! Was this a case
for pity!

"By yon tapestry, silent witness of the deed, I adjure you, speak!
Whose skull is this?"

A portion of the arras within view of the earl was clutched from behind
by an unseen hand, and was suddenly rent in twain from top to bottom
with a sharp ripping sound: then came the fall of some dull body,
(though nothing was seen by the audience), followed by a faint soughing
like an expiring breath.

The earl shook convulsively. The very sounds that had accompanied the
fall of his victim in Ormfell!

With slow motion Lorelie raised her hand to her head. The earl followed
her action with his eyes, wondering what new terror was in store
for him. Drawing the broken stiletto pin from her hair she placed
the fragment of the blade within the orifice of the skull, where it
remained, the jewelled hilt projecting above, and glittering with weird
effect.

"By the very stiletto that let out the life of your victim, I adjure
you, speak! Whose skull is this?"

She was determined to have her answer, and that openly.

In darkness and secrecy the deed had been wrought: amid brilliant light
and before a crowd of hearers the truth should be proclaimed. Like some
struggling victim in the torture-chamber, who, doggedly speechless, is
forced onward to the rack that will soon wring the confession from his
reluctant lips, so the earl, in dumb agony, felt himself drawn onward
to tell the dread secret of his life.

The jewelled hilt of the stiletto protruding from the skull exercized
a fascination over him: he could not take his gaze from it: like a
gleaming eye it seemed to be commanding him to admit his guilt.

Idris, attentive to every variation in the face of the earl, saw that
he was sinking into a cataleptic state. Unable to obtain the required
confession in any other way Lorelie had resorted to her knowledge of
hypnotism, and had found the earl powerless to resist her mesmeric
influence.

"Speak! Whose skull is this?" she asked once more.

"_My brother's._"

The earl spoke like an automaton, in a tone, cold, mechanical,
passionless--a tone he maintained throughout the whole of his
subsequent answering.

A wave of surprise passed over the audience. Till that moment it had
not been known that Urien Ravengar, the preceding earl, had had more
than one son.

"When did your brother die?"

"Twenty-one years ago."

"In what place did he die?"

"In the interior of Ormfell."

"How came he to die?"

"_I killed him!_"

At this answer a thrill pervaded the assembly. Half-articulate screams
arose from the ladies. From fair jewelled hands play-bills and books of
the words slid to the floor. There they lay unheeded, being no longer
required. The sham-tragedy was over: a new and unrehearsed drama of
real life was taking place before their eyes, and the audience bent
forward to watch and to listen.

Ivar, with a troubled look, rose at this point and made an attempt to
stay Lorelie's action.

"Let down the curtain," he cried to an attendant in the wings. "What
devil's work is this?" he continued, turning fiercely upon his wife.
"Let it cease! Restore my father to his normal state. You have
mesmerized him, and, mistress of his mind, you are making him say
whatever you wish. Do you think that any one here believes him?"

One word from her, one imperious gesture, one flash of her eyes, was
sufficient to quell Ivar's opposition.

"_Malvazia!_" she whispered, pointing to the sapphire cup.

The viscount shrank back, knowing that the hour of his fall and
humiliation was at hand.

"Let none intervene," said Lorelie, addressing her audience with quiet
dignity.

And during the remainder of the scene there was neither movement nor
sound on the part of the spectators, not even from Idris and Ivar, the
two persons most interested in the dialogue.

In cold measured tones Lorelie proceeded with her merciless catechism.

"Was he a younger brother?"

"My senior by three years."

"Why was he not acknowledged by your father, the late earl?"

"He was the son of a secret marriage--a marriage with a village maiden
named Agnes Marville."

"Where can the record of this marriage be found?"

"In the parish church of Oakhurst in Kent."

"Your father did not tell this Agnes that he was a peer of the realm:
and, as soon as a son was born, he deserted her: nay, more, while she
was still living he made a second marriage, which, therefore, renders
your own birth illegitimate. Is not this so?"

"Yes."

"When did the son of this Agnes discover that he was the rightful heir
of Ravenhall?"

"On attaining manhood."

"What course did he take?"

"He wrote a letter to my father to the effect that as that father had
repudiated him in infancy he on his part would accept the repudiation."

"And so, waiving his just rights, he went to live in Brittany under the
name of Eric Marville. Why did you, too, leave England about the same
time?"

"The letter written by Eric fell into my hands and caused a quarrel
between my father and myself."

"Did you, when abroad, ever see your half-brother?"

"During his trial I stood among the spectators."

"Did you not make yourself known to him?"

"No, for I hated him."

"Did you show your hatred in any way?"

"I secretly promised his prosecuting counsel a large sum if he should
secure a conviction."

"How long did you remain abroad?"

"Ten years."

"And by a strange coincidence on the very night of your return to
Ravenhall your brother's yacht went down in Ormsby Race. You believed
he had gone down with it, till----?"

"Till he surprised me in Ormfell as I was in the act of removing the
treasure."

"Let us hear what took place."

"We quarrelled. He had discovered the part I had played in the trial at
Nantes, and also that it was I who had taken the runic ring from his
wife. He threatened to assert his claim to the earldom, and so I struck
him down with a stiletto hair-pin, the only weapon I had upon me at the
time."

"How did you dispose of the body?"

"I left it, covered with quicklime, in Ormfell, so that, if ever
discovered, it might be taken for the remains of some ancient warrior."

"Did your brother have any children?"

"One son."

"Who is, of course, the rightful earl of Ormsby. By what name is this
son known?"

"Idris Breakspear."

Lorelie put no more questions. She had discovered what she wished.
Light had been cast on dark places and all was clear. She had made her
atonement to Idris: and, with a significant glance at the balcony where
he sat, she waved her hand, and at that signal the curtain descended.

Ere the amazed audience had time to exchange remarks the earl's voice
was again heard, proceeding from the other side of the curtain.

"What do you say, Ivar?" he cried, in wild staccato utterances. "I
have accused myself ... of murder?... That my title ... and yours
... are invalid? It is false!... Gentlemen, I am not responsible ...
for my utterances.... This woman hates me.... She is a hypnotizer
... has taken my mind captive ... made me say ... whatever suits her
purpose.... Pay no heed to anything I have said ... in this state ...
of----"

His utterance was checked by a fit of coughing, followed by a strange
gasp, and then all was still.

The next moment one of the amateur actors appeared at the side of the
stage-curtain and beckoned to Godfrey, who, his part having ceased with
the first act, had taken his place amongst the audience. The surgeon
passed behind the curtain, then quickly reappeared.

"Get the company away as quickly as can be managed," he whispered to
the steward of Ravenhall, "the earl is dead!"



CHAPTER XX

FINALE


"The earl dead!" murmured Beatrice in a tone of awe. "Death! _That_ was
no part of Lorelie's design." And, after a brief pause, she added, "It
is the judgment of God."

Awe-struck by the terrible ending of the play the whispering guests
began a hurried departure. Idris, however, at Godfrey's suggestion,
remained behind.

The body of Olave Ravengar, _un_-lawful Earl of Ormsby, was carried to
the chamber usually assigned to the lying-in-state of the dead lords of
Ravenhall.

Having attended to this duty Ivar, passing through the entrance-hall,
suddenly caught sight of Idris in conversation with Godfrey.

For a moment he stared superciliously at his rival.

"Impostor!" he muttered, with affected indignation. "John! Roger!" he
continued, addressing two tall footmen who stood near, "put this fellow
outside the park gates."

"Perhaps," said Godfrey, quietly, "as your title is at present in
question, it will be well to wait till it be legally ascertained
whether you have the right to give orders here."

Ivar scowled, first at the speaker, then at the throng of mute and
immovable servants, who showed little disposition to acknowledge his
authority.

His mind reverted to Lorelie, the author of this, his downfall: had
she chosen to keep his secret he might have retained his usurped rank.
She should suffer for this: she at least was his, if Ravenhall were
not, and he would exercise his authority by applying a horsewhip to
her shoulders. It would be a pleasure to hear her screams! Yes: he
would do it, though his father were lying dead in the house. There was
an additional pleasure in the thought that by subjecting Lorelie to
indignity and humiliation he would be mortifying Idris.

"Where is Lady Walden?" he demanded, turning upon one of the servants.
"I must," he continued, with an ugly smile at Idris, "I must have a
word with her."

"Your wife--she repudiates the title of Lady Walden--is now at Wave
Crest," replied Godfrey. "I am desired by her to state that you will
never see her again."

"Indeed?" sneered Ivar, haughtily. "She shall return. A wife's place is
by her husband's side."

"That sentiment comes with an ill grace from an adulterer who once
offered his wife poison to drink," responded Godfrey.

Ivar grew white to the very lips.

"What do you mean?" he muttered. "O, I see! Some wild accusation
of Lorelie's. Honourable gentlemen, ye are!" he continued, with an
assumption of dignity that sat somewhat awkwardly upon him. "Honourable
gentlemen, to corrupt a wife, and use her as a tool against her
husband! This stage-play of to-night, this hypnotizing of my father's
mind, this forcing him to utter whatever you wish, has been very finely
arranged on the part of you all. It is a plot to deprive me of my
rights. You shall hear what my solicitor has to say on the matter. It
is one thing to claim an estate, and another to make good the claim."

"Quite so," replied Godfrey, who acted as spokesman for Idris, since
the latter was too much bewildered by the novelty and strangeness of
his position to say anything: "quite so. And therefore we have invited
your solicitor to an interview with us to-morrow morning at ten o'clock
in the library, when I trust you will be present, for we shall offer
you abundant proofs of our position."

On the following morning Ivar repaired to the library, where he found
the late earl's solicitor in company with Idris and Godfrey.

Ivar was well aware that Idris was the rightful heir of Ravenhall.
His only hope was that the other might find it impossible to prove
the legitimacy of his title. But in this he was quickly doomed to
disappointment.

With a face that grew darker and darker he listened to the evidence
that had been accumulated by the joint labours of Lorelie and Beatrice.
The prior and secret marriage of the old earl, Urien Ravengar, with
the village maiden, Agnes Marville: the birth of a child named Eric,
together with Idris' legitimate filiation to the latter, were all
clearly set forth.

The lawyer was at first disposed to be sceptical, but became fully
convinced in the end.

"I fear it is of no use to dispute the evidence," he whispered to Ivar.
"Contest the claim and you're sure to lose. Better to appeal to the
generosity of your newfound cousin and heir, and try to come to some
monetary arrangement with him."

Ivar sat for a few minutes in moody silence. Then, looking up and
scowling at Idris, he muttered:--

"If I've got to give up Ravenhall, I may as well go at once. I won't be
beholden to that fellow for a roof."

"Surely you will remain till your father's funeral shall have taken
place?" said Idris.

"Damn the funeral!" muttered the late viscount, savagely. "What good
shall I do myself by waiting for it? Will it bring the governor
back to life? I'll not stay here to be pitied, and jeered at, as
the discoroneted viscount. You killed my father by your wiles. You
yourselves can now bury him."

And with these words he passed through the doorway and was gone: and
even the coroner's summons failed to secure his attendance at the
inquest held upon the body of the earl. Lorelie was present, and, after
giving her evidence, quietly withdrew, accompanied by Beatrice.

But when Idris, a few hours later, called at Wave Crest, he was met on
the threshold by Beatrice with the tidings that Lorelie had left Ormsby.

"Where has she gone?"

"Indeed I do not know," replied Beatrice, who looked the picture of
grief. "She would not tell me her destination or plans. I did my best
to persuade her to stay, but in vain."

       *       *       *       *       *       *

A year after Lorelie's disappearance there occurred in a society-paper
a paragraph relative to an event which, however melancholy in itself,
could scarcely be viewed by Idris with any other feeling than that of
satisfaction. This event was the death of Ivar, who was said to have
been carried off by fever in an obscure lodging in London. Inquiries
on the part of Idris proved that the story was true: and he found,
moreover, that Ivar, in his last hours, had been nursed by a lady whose
description answered to that of Lorelie.

The forgiving and generous disposition evinced by this act did but
endear her the more to Idris.

But where was she? He was certain that she loved him. Why then did she
continue to hide herself?

All attempts on his part to trace her failed completely: and a
haunting fear seized him that she had retired for life to the seclusion
of a French convent.

Two years went by, and Idris had almost given up the hope of ever
seeing her again, when, passing one afternoon by the Church of St.
Oswald, he heard the sound of its organ.

Attracted, partly by the music, partly by the thought that it was in
this church that he had first set eyes upon Lorelie, he entered the
Ravengar Chantry, and sat down to listen.

Something in the style of the music caused a strange suspicion to
steal over him. He rose, walked quietly forward, and gazed up at the
organ-loft.

The musician was Lorelie!

Screening himself from view he waited till she had finished her
playing: waited till she had dismissed her attendant-boy, and then
quietly intercepted her as she was passing through the Ravengar Chantry.

She started, and seemed almost dismayed at seeing him.

"I--I did not know you were at Ormsby," she murmured. "I thought you
were on the Continent."

"Lorelie, where have you been so long?"

"I have been living in the south of France for the past two years. A
few days ago a longing came upon me to see Ormsby once more, and----"

She ceased speaking, and her eyes drooped as Idris gently held her by
the wrists.

"And now that you _are_ here," he said, "do you think that I shall ever
let you go again? Lorelie, you know how much I love you. Why, then,
have you avoided me? But for you I should not now possess a coronet: is
it not fair that you should share it?"

"No: Idris, this must not be," she murmured, gently essaying to free
herself. "There is one who loves you better than I--one more deserving
of your love."

"And who is that?"

"Beatrice."

"And is it on her account that you have absented yourself so long,
willing to sacrifice your own happiness to hers? Lorelie, you are too
generous. Beatrice is indeed a charming and pretty maiden, and had I
never seen you I might perhaps have loved her. I had the conceit that
she might be growing fond of me, so I took steps to cure her of the
fancy."

"How?" asked Lorelie, with wondering eyes.

"By showing her that there are much finer fellows than myself in
existence. With Godfrey's consent I took her to London. At Ormsby I was
a hero in her eyes, for there were few here with whom she might measure
me: but in London it was different. 'Pretty Miss Ravengar' became quite
an attraction in Society. Eligible young men surrounded her, eager for
a glance and a smile: and--well--to make my story short, next spring
we shall have to address our little Trixie as Lady St. Cyril. She will
have half the Viking's treasure as her dowry. And so, you see, my sweet
countess----"

Their lips drew near and met in one long, clinging kiss.

In the circle of Idris' arms Lorelie found a refuge from all her
past troubles. Fair and clear before her the future lay like a
sunny sparkling lake with one barque gliding over it: Idris was the
steersman, and she had nothing to do but to lie back on silken pillows,
still and happy, and float wherever he chose to direct.


THE END



_By the Author of "The Viking's Skull"_

THE SHADOW OF THE CZAR

By JOHN R. CARLING

Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50. _Fifth Edition_

"An engrossing romance of the sturdy, wholesome sort, in which the
action is never allowed to drag," (_St. Louis Globe-Democrat_) best
describes this popular novel. "The Shadow of the Czar" is a stirring
story of the romantic attachment of a dashing English officer for
Princess Barbara, of the old Polish Principality of Czernova, and the
conspiracy of the Duke of Bora, aided by Russia, to dispossess the
Princess of her throne.

It is not an historical novel--the author makes his own events after
the manner of Anthony Hope, and the _Boston Herald_ is of the opinion
that it "excels in interest Anthony Hope's best efforts." "Rarely do we
find a story in which more happens, or in which the incidents present
themselves with more suddenness and with greater surprise," says the
New York Sun.

"Mr. Carling has a surprising faculty of making it appear that things
ought to have happened as he says they did, and as long as the book is
being read he even succeeds in making it appear that they did happen
so," says the _St. Louis Star_.

"The Shadow of the Czar" fairly captivated two countries. In England
the _Newcastle Daily Journal_ says it "transcends in interest 'The
Prisoner of Zenda.'"

LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
BOSTON, MASS.


_A Stirring Tale of the Plains_

THE RAINBOW CHASERS

By JOHN H. WHITSON

Author of "Barbara, A Woman of the West," etc.

Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50

Full of the atmosphere of the West, with a cowboy, land speculator,
and lover for its hero, Mr. Whitson's new novel, without being in the
least a copy, has many of the attractions of Mr. Wister's hero, "The
Virginian."

"The Rainbow Chasers" is a virile American novel and treats of the
elemental forces of Western life and the results of the great fever
of speculation in land. The prairies and forests of the West are
the scenes which the author has chosen for a novel which is full of
interest and strength.

The characters of the story are vigorous men, men with red blood in
their veins, men of action who build up new communities.


_A New Romance by the Author of "The Shadow of the Czar"_

THE VIKING'S SKULL

By JOHN R. CARLING, author of "The Shadow of the Czar," etc.
Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50

Mr. Carling has written a spirited story of love and adventure, with an
ingeniously constructed plot, which tells how Idris Marville, true Earl
of Ormsby, recovered a treasure hidden by one of his progenitors,--a
Viking of the Ninth Century,--and how he cleared the memory of his
father, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder. There are many
powerful scenes in the book and abundant love interest. The whole story
is exceptionally strong, dramatic, vivid, and interest-compelling.

LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
BOSTON, MASS.


_The Story of a Man's Triumph over the Flesh_

THE WOOD-CARVER OF 'LYMPUS

By MARY E. WALLER, author of "A Daughter of the Rich," etc.
Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50

The hero of Miss Waller's new story is one of the most powerful and
original characters portrayed in recent fiction. Hugh Armstrong, used
to a busy out-of-door life, in felling a tree meets with an accident
and loses the use of his limbs. At first he finds it impossible to
adjust himself to his shut-in life, but a friend suggests wood-carving
to him. Through work and love a great change comes over him, and the
author has portrayed to us in a powerful manner Armstrong's salvation.
The scenes are laid in the Green Mountains of Vermont.


_A New Novel of Present-Day Virginia Life_

WHERE THE TIDE COMES IN

By LUCY MEACHAM THRUSTON, author of "Mistress Brent," "A Girl of
Virginia," etc. Illustrated.

12mo. $1.50

In her new story Mrs. Thruston portrays a heroine as charming as her
delightful "Girl of Virginia." The scenes of the novel are laid at
Norfolk and Portsmouth, and the vicissitudes of the Southern vegetable
farmer, who depends on the irrepressible negro, are strongly pictured.
The novel is a genuine love-story with a touch of politics, and the
Southern atmosphere is delightfully unhackneyed.

LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
BOSTON, MASS.


_The Story of an American Woman's Summer Abroad_

A WOMAN'S WILL

By ANNE WARNER. Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50

A brilliant and entertaining love-story is this, narrated almost wholly
in dialogue, the hero being a German of rank, and a famous violin
player and composer, and the heroine, an American widow, whose marriage
had been an unhappy one. The charm of the story is in the skilfully
drawn characters, the bright dialogue, and the realistic painting of
the scenes in which the events take place, Munich, Zurich, and Lucerne.


_A Tale of Norway in the Tenth Century_

THE NORTH STAR

By M. E. HENRY-RUFFIN. Illustrated. 12mo. $1.50

This Viking romance is a tale of love and adventure with King Olaf
Tryggveson for the hero. The story opens with a scene at a fair in
Ireland, where Olaf meets a beautiful Irish princess, and later changes
to Norway, where Olaf returns to be received as King. Such history and
legend as have come to us of that time furnish fertile imagination a
frame for stirring incident and rapid action.


_By the Author of "The God of Things"_

THE EFFENDI

By FLORENCE BROOKS WHITEHOUSE. With illustrations 12mo. $1.50

The Prologue of this engrossing romance of the Soudan deals with the
siege of Khartoum and the death of the hero, Gordon, and the Epilogue
with the retribution which England exacted from the Arab hordes.
Between the two is placed a dramatic story of love and adventure.

LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., PUBLISHERS
BOSTON, MASS.





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