|Newspaper Title||Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931)|
|Trove Title||Mystery of the Red House: An American Story of Thrilling Interest|
! Mysteryoftlie Red House
I &K AMERICAN STORY OF THRIL I LING INTEREST.
I Bx Mary E. Betan.
(Commenced in the Evening News of Sep tember 20 J CHAPTER II.
1 1 \rent to see Laura this morning, accord ing to promise,' she said, ' And what Success ?' 4 None. It took stratagem to see her, even. The servants had evidently received orders not to admit me. I found her melancholy aid subdue!. It is plain she will submit to his tyranny; his high mighti ness awes her to his will. Besides, she wor ships him. I am now convinced it was true —the report that he had ordered her, under tjenaltv of a separation, to break off all in
H tercourse with me and you and the resb of H us Wretched Puritan that he is !' H ' Puritan ? Don't judge him by his H present straight-laced respectability. If you H knew his past. But no matter — or rather H all the better for me.' H ' What in the world do you mean ?' I ' Nothing ; only that Laura Montcalm H will go with us to Aphrodite Island to. H morrow.' H ' I can't see for my life what you found H that assertion upon/ H ' 1 don't always show my hand — even to H you. However, there is something I wish H to talk to you about. Can I see you this H evening ? Thvre is a matter in which 1 H teed your friendly co-operation.' H ' Very well ; hni take mj counsel, M Carleon Let Mrs. Montcalm alone That H husband of hers will never let her belong to H the Sans Scuci. If you persist, there will H be a something serious — a divorce, a duel, H maybe.' H ' So be it ; anything to stir this stagnant ? old town/ laughed Carleon, showing his H white teeth under his brown moustache, as H he bowed, and wheeled his horse. H He rode in a canter dowu to the old H cemetery on the skirts of the town Riding H close to the high brick wall that encircled it H —old and crumbling, and held together, it H would seem, by the ivy that covered it — he H peered over, and presently smiled to himself, ? bs he caught a glimpse of a grey figure H gliding among the shrubbery in the distance. H The next instant it disappeared among the H trees that grew thickly; near tbe river-bank. H He turned his horse's head and rode back H to the town well satisfied H Laura Montcalm had meantime reached H the place of meeting pointed out in the H note— the loneliest spot of all the ruined H churchyard known as the Haunted Willow, H the burial spot of a noted chemist, who had H been convicted of murder fifty years before, Hand had hanged himself in his cell. The ^M ground here fell in irregular terraces to the H river ; the trees were hung w ith wild-grapes H and bainboo vines, and wild ivy matted the ? ground. A large rock projected over the H water. Near it was a great weeping-willow, H overhanging a discolored granite slab, with Hthe name of the murderer-chemist in dim H lichen-crusted letters upon it. H Laura standing alone on one of the H wooded terraces of the declivity, had peered H cautiously through the undergrowth down Hinto this secluded covert. Seeing no one, Hehe descended the natural terrace and stood Hon the river-bank. She looked for a second Hinto the black, deep waters below, then H glanced about her to find a hidinsr-place. HAt a little distance from the Haunted H Willow were two large half-sunked lime H Btono rocK3, with blossomed rhododendrons H growing thickly about them. In the narrow H space between these boulders Lauracrouched Hdown among the thick wild ivy. The rho Hdodendron boughs screened her well, and in Hher grey attire she looked a part of the Hlichened ro*k she leaned against. H She looked at her watch. H ' Five minutes to six,1 she said ; ' I have H not long to wait.' H She gathered ivy leaves mechanically, and Hiore and crushed them with her nervons H finders. She said to herself she would not H look out from her covert until Eome noise H gave her the signal It was not long before Hthe noise came — a ruEtle, an inarticulate H sound between a sigh and an exclamation H made her heart leap wildly. She raised her H head and looked through the rhododendron H bows There by the willow stood a veiled H Woman, enveloped in a loose, dark wrap, H gazing about her As Laura looked, the H new comer threw off the veil and wrap, H flinging them upon the old chemist's toinb H stone, and stepped out upon the rock that H jutted over the water, where Laura had H »tood a few moments before. A slant, mellow Hbeam of the low 3un fell upon her slender, ? graceful figure in its robe of soft black, H bound at the waist with a silken cord, and Hnpon her dark delicate face under the black Hlaee mantilla The black tendril curls on Hthe low brow, the jetty arched brows, the H brilliant eyes, the rich, small mouth and ^?graceful tbroat — the eoiored sunset light ^M enhanced their beauty, and Laura's heart Hsaniv within her. H Zuhmee stood looking down at the dark ^B 'Water, but she turned her head every second ^Jfend seemed to wait impatiently. Laura, with Hher gaze riveted On the darkly brilliant face, Hdid not hear a firm step descending tbe ^M terrace ; but she saw the black-robed 'figure Hiurn quickly and waver an instant, then ^H frith a low exclamation start forward as ^Hthongh to. throw herBelf in the arms of the Hnew arrival. But Captain Montcalm fjtood ^?Unmoved, even repellent, his tall, soldierly Hforui as haughtily erect, his face as coldly jH impassive as ever. His Spanish ex-wife H 'topped just before him, and tbe two stood ^?looking at each other; she flushing and H paling, the red pomegranate bloom on her H breast rising and falling with the tide of ;H*eal emotion that swelled within her/ And Hhe — did his eyes soften, his mouth relax? — H Laura thought bo j she was sure or it when Hche saw Zulimee throw herself on his .breast Hind clasp her arms about him. Still he did ? Hot move. The woman's form shook, a ? ftnothered sob escaped her — Captain Mont ? calm looked down at her, and a quiver went ? over his face; he raised his arms and clasped ? her in a close embrace. It was a minute ? before her head was lifted ; then his was ? bowed over her and their lips met B Presently he led her to a seat on -the old ? grave-stone, and they sat and talked while ??the shadows lengthened. Only fragments ;B^tbeir conversation reached Laura's ear, '? 6^e neftr^ enough 'to make known to her IW *^e former relations between the two- The |fl feft-bauded marriage in Mexico ; the child ?j«Vrho cpjght still be living; and the tnisunder E|H standing (explained by Captain Montc&lxa)
which had led to the long separation — they spoke of all this, and from the fragments she caught of their talk, Laura's quick intelligence, sharpened by excitement made out the whole story Nothing of all she heard stung her as did the. words of Captain Montcalm uttered almost at the close of the interview : ' No, Zulimee/ he said, caressing her slim hand soothingly. The blame is not fully mine nor yours, it seems. It is fate that has spoiled our lives, I loved you always ; I have never loved any other woman. When I came and found you gone I was too curious to listen to explanations I did not stop to think that you might reasonably have gene
to seek me with the protection and help of a friend. It was a miserable play of cross purposes all around. If we had met there would have been explanations and all would have been well. We did not meet until now, when it is too late- Two years ago it would not have been too late.' * Is it surely too late now ?' Zulimee asked beseechingly * Have I not a prior claim ? You are married where you do not love' — and—' v He interrupted her. Laura could not hear what he said — something she caught about his abhorrence of the scandal and gossip that 'follow upon the separation of those who are married — something about ambition and office and his hope to forget his domestic disappointments ic active public business. Then he rose to go ; he kissed Zulimee once and again.. She said ; ' It is not pur last meeting. I shall see -you again/ When he was gone, she remained standing where he had left her, motionless for a moment. Then she clinched her small hand and exclaimed, in a husky, excited whisper : ' I have the prior claim — the rightful, if not the legal claim He shall regard it. If he does not do to her as he threatened, I will make him regret it/ Then she, too, left the spot where the shadows of twilight were gathering, and Laura was alone. She sat there among the green ivy that the dews were beginning to moisten, without moving — her face grey and chill as the stone shs leaned against. Something slimy and cold gliding across her hand as it lay upon the ground made her start at length. She looked, and saw a little mottled snake eyeing her curiously. It hissed softly and slid off among the leaves ' Go !' she said, bitterly. ' I would nob harm you, and I am not afraid of your harming me; it is the human snake I would like to crush, for it has stnng me — yes, to the heart. And shall I suffer it tamely ? Shall I not sting in return ?' CHAPTER III. Art and nature had made Aphrodite Island a little paradise. A strip of silvery eand beach girdled it like a ring of pearl and made its greenery gleam with emerald brilliancy The island was dotted with wild myrtle, live-oak and magnolia-trees An ornamented iron fence, invisible green in color, enclosed the grounds proper. ]?rom the great iroo gate an aveune led up to the graceful Moorish-looking mansion. In front, in the centre of a broad paved circle, a fountain played ; half a dozen bright jets pouring from the horns of marble Tritons into a sculptured basin, surrounded by broad leaved water plants A hedge of Cape jas mine, now in full bloom, snowy and scented, bordered the paved circle. In a magnolia grove at a little distance, the lawn party were seated at a banquet-table, made fairy like by its surroundings and appointments. Flowers were heaped everywhere. Roses garlanded the fruit-stands ; purple grapes and golden brown figs lay upon beds of lilies, and frosted cakes gleamed in a setting of crimson carnations- The flower-scented air pulsed to the soft strains of a string band, proceeding from ah adjacent arbour where the musicians were stationed. An hour ago they had played a gayer measure — and the dancers had whirled to the waltz music, in the paved circle before the mansion. Presently, at the signal from the host, Miles Carleon, the band returned to their former station — the broad marble steps of the house— and once more the music of Strauss came throbbing through the sunset air, to quicken the pulses of the banqueters * Another dance ! We will have another dance before we go,* cried a young man, pushing his wine from him. ' Another ? We shall have half a dozen, shall we not, belle madame?' asked a beard less youth of the fair, though passe woman at his side. * No, indeed,' returned Mrs. La Rue, tapping her questioner's arm with the cluster of grapes she was leisurely eating. ' One dance more is positively all that can be permitted. We must flit from this charmed spot with the daylight. We dare not linger/ ?She spoke in lowered tones, with a furtive glance to the head of the table, as though anxious that she should not be overheard by the host, or was it by the lady at his side — the lovely blonde, with the lustrous sea blue eyes ? But Miles Carieon was not listening to Mrs. La Rue ; he was bending over Laura Montcalm. ' You will give me this waltz ?' he pleaded. His tones were like a caress She drew back, flushing Then she Jooked np from the rose she had been absently dipping in her wine-glass, and said coldly : * I will not dance any more/ He looked at her keenly. * You are tired/ he eaid'. * You Have hardly been still to-day. Come and rest awhile in my little cave, the Grotto of CalypBo. I have kept that as one of my island lions -which you alone shall see/ * I cannot permit such a selfish arrange ment,' she said, still coldly, though his. homage was grateful to her brnised self lore: He looked annoyed. Presently lie said : * Yon have been in such brilliant spirits all day, what cloud has come over yon now?' Before she could answer, a voice at the other end of the table sang : - - ' The bright bout pastes, boob ita o'«* t Cue, the raven, mite ai the door/ ' Has the shadow ot the wMtiag raven fallen over you ?' Carleon said in a whisper full of significance, ' A contraction crossed her face ; she swept her hand over her brow as thongn to drive away some painful thought. * * Folly !' she cried, rising from the iable. ' What raven fihoald wait at my door ? Yes, Mr Carleon, you may snow me your grotto/ He drew her hand tnfdngh his ferzo, a faint carve of triumph on his handsoirie month. * As a reward, X will play Ulysses to four Calypso,' he laid. « I will relate ffiy aaW«
tures — at least the one you begged to hear ? — 'the little Venetian episode ' Mrs. La Rue looked after them from under her drooped lashes It was hard to interpret the significance of that look The party had risen, and were quitting the banquet grove for the open-air dancing hall — the paved space girdled by the jasmine hedge. The sunset fires were fading when the waltz ended. * Come/ said Mrs. La Rue, and she per emptorily led the way down the avenue towards the beach. Three painted pleasure boats rocked there on the tiny wavelets of the bay. * In with you/ she said, pointing to the boats with her parasol, and looking at the reluctant girls. With pretty pouting, they obeyed their chaperon, if chaperon Bella La Kue deserved to be called, when only her husband's wealth and her family c tnuections saved her from being ostracised for her imprudeneies. Yet she was anxious to keep within the bounds of social toleration, and she trembled lest she had overstepped them by this merry mad day in the Island Eden over which the serpent so notoriously trailed. She had turned a deaf ear to the entreaties to have one more waltz, or to wait half an hour for such a splendid moon-rise. * Stay on the enchanted island till moon rise !' she cried ' Never ; we would be transformed into sooty goblins by those arch professors of the black art, the gossips of Wallpprt/ * Where is Mrs. Montcalm ?' asked a young man, coming down to the shore. * She sent word we need not wait She is with Carleon ; he will take care of her,' returned Mrs. La Rue, without turning round. ' He ? Why, Mra La Sue, surely you will not permit — and I heaid — you must have heard that her husband has threat ened — ' * Do I heed all the gossip I hear P Carleon will row Mrs. Montcalm to Wall port before we can get there. As for her husband's threat, one wouldn't fancy it hung very heavily over her from her manner to day I never eaw her so eay/ * It was forced ; one could eee that, If I were you, Mrs. La Rne — ' * If I were you, Phil Thornbury, I would go and offer myself to Mrs. Montcalm as her guardian knight. I have no doubt she would recognise the claim of such, a sage Quixote-' The young man stood abashed, his chival rous impulse slain by that weapon so effective when one is young and sensitive— sarcasm from the lips of a fashionable woman. He took his place beside the others, the boats pushed off, and Laura Montcalm was left on Aphrodite Island. The waning of the daylight could not well be noted in the grotto to which Carleon had taken Mrs. Montcalm. A swinging Jamp of silver shaded by a globe of ground-glass diffused a eoft, moony radiance through the little retreat — a recess excavated in the side of a cliff and lined with tinted and speckled shells, bright-colored sea-weeds and fronds of white and pink coral. Marine curiosities, some graceful, some grotesque, were scattered here and there, a statuette of Venus Aphro dite ocenpied a niche in the wall ; another was filled by a marble image of Moore's for saken sea nymph in the act of undergoing transformation into a harp. ' Heaven looked with pity on tree love so tram, And changed to this soft harp the sea maiden's form ;' and in the centre of the grotto a tiny foun. tain filled the air with perfumed Bpray. Laura half forgot the achincr pain at her heart in looking about her. While she was examining the endless variety of shells, Carleon began his promised Yenefcian etory by showing her an exquisite ornament — a watch-case made of seed pearls and delicate shells — a souvenir, he said, of his acquaint ance with a beautiful nun of Venice, met first under circumstances of romance and danger. Probably the story was invented for the occasion, but told as Carleon could tell it, it served his purpose. It held the attention of his auditor and made her forget the flight of time. She was in the mood to welcome anything that would lift her out of herself, and Carleon' s low, trained voice, and loots that expressed tender yet respectful hoaiage, soothed and charmed her. He leaned nearer in his apparent uncon scious earnestness ; his hand fell upon her arm and toyed as though absently with her emerald bracelet. She .was beginning to fall under the fascination of his. presence and manner — a fascination acknowledged by all women who knew him, when a near note of music broke the spell. It came from the strings of a violin played at a little distance from the grotto. A plaintive, tender Btrain, Laura knew it well She had played it often on the piano lor her father, And David Holt had accom panied her on his violin— David Holt, her father's confidentialclerk, his almost adopted son, -whom he had left in his Will as Laura's guardian. Queer* homely, shy ©avid— -h6w.j good he had been to her ; how like a tender woman he had nursed her father in his long BioknesB-Hhow well she had liked him in spite of his ehy and awkward ways ; but how changed, how cold he had seemed wnen ehe returned from abroad no longer his girl ward, but a married woman, worshipping her handsome, grand-looking husband, and indignant because David did not seem im pressed with his god-like attributes This train of thought, set in motion by that familiar strain, passed swiftly throBgh her, brain* She had started up, saying hurriedly: ' I must go at once; it must be getting kte/ ^^ Qto si coH&'ift&jift')