The House of Whispers
William Le Queux

Part 1 out of 6
















































"Why, what's the matter, child? Tell me."

"Nothing, dad--really nothing."

"But you are breathing hard; your hand trembles; your pulse beats
quickly. There's something amiss--I'm sure there is. Now, what is it?
Come, no secrets."

The girl, quickly snatching away her hand, answered with a forced laugh,
"How absurd you really are, dear old dad! You're always fancying
something or other."

"Because my senses of hearing and feeling are sharper and more developed
than those of other folk perhaps," replied the grey-bearded old
gentleman, as he turned his sharp-cut, grey, but expressionless
countenance to the tall, sweet-faced girl standing beside his chair.

No second glance was needed to realise the pitiful truth. The man seated
there in his fine library, with the summer sunset slanting across the
red carpet from the open French windows, was blind.

Since his daughter Gabrielle had been a pretty, prattling child of nine,
nursing her dolly, he had never looked upon her fair face. But he was
ever as devoted to her as she to him.

Surely his was a sad and lonely life. Within the last fifteen years or
so great wealth had come to him; but, alas! he was unable to enjoy it.
Until eleven years ago he had been a prominent figure in politics and in
society in London. He had sat in the House for one of the divisions of
Hampshire, was a member of the Carlton, and one year he found his name
among the Birthday Honours with a K.C.M.G. For him everybody predicted a
brilliant future. The Press gave prominence to his speeches, and to his
house in Park Street came Cabinet Ministers and most of the well-known
men of his party. Indeed, it was an open secret in a certain circle that
he had been promised a seat in the Cabinet in the near future.

Then, at the very moment of his popularity, a terrible tragedy had
occurred. He was on the platform of the Albert Hall addressing a great
meeting at which the Prime Minister was the principal speaker. His
speech was a brilliant one, and the applause had been vociferous. Full
of satisfaction, he drove home that night to Park Street; but next
morning the report spread that his brilliant political career had ended.
He had suddenly been stricken by blindness.

In political circles and in the clubs the greatest consternation was
caused, and some strange gossip became rife.

It was whispered in certain quarters that the affliction was not
produced by natural causes. In fact, it was a mystery, and one that had
never been solved. The first oculists of Europe had peered into and
tested his eyes, but all to no purpose. The sight had gone for ever.

Therefore, full of bitter regrets at being thus compelled to renounce
the stress and storm of political life which he loved so well, Sir Henry
Heyburn had gone into strict retirement at Glencardine, his beautiful
old Perthshire home, visiting London but very seldom.

He was essentially a man of mystery. Even in the days of his universal
popularity the source of his vast wealth was unknown. His father, the
tenth Baronet, had been sadly impoverished by the depreciation of
agricultural property in Lincolnshire, and had ended his days in the
genteel quietude of the Albany. But Sir Henry, without betraying to the
world his methods, had in fifteen years amassed a fortune which people
guessed must be considerably over a million sterling.

From a life of strenuous activity he had, in one single hour, been
doomed to one of loneliness and inactivity. His friends sympathised, as
indeed the whole British public had done; but in a month the tragic
affair and its attendant mysterious gossip had been forgotten, as in
truth had the very name of Sir Henry Heyburn, whom the Prime Minister,
though his political opponent, had one night designated in the House as
"one of the most brilliant and talented young men who has ever sat upon
the Opposition benches."

In his declining years the life of this man was a pitiful tragedy, his
filmy eyes sightless, his thin white fingers ever eager and nervous, his
hours full of deep thought and silent immobility. To him, what was the
benefit of that beautiful Perthshire castle which he had purchased from
Lord Strathavon a year before his compulsory retirement? What was the
use of the old ancestral manor near Caistor in Lincolnshire, or the
town-house in Park Street, the snug hunting-box at Melton, or the
beautiful palm-shaded, flower-embowered villa overlooking the blue
southern sea at San Remo? He remembered them all. He had misty visions
of their splendour and their luxury; but since his blindness he had
seldom, if ever, entered them. That big library up in Scotland in which
he now sat was the room he preferred; and with his daughter Gabrielle to
bear him company, to smooth his brow with her soft hand, to chatter and
to gossip, he wished for no other companion. His life was of the past, a
meteor that had flashed and had vanished for ever.

"Tell me, child, what is troubling you?" he was asking in a calm, kind
voice, as he still held the girl's hand in his. The sweet scent of the
roses from the garden beyond filled the room.

A smart footman in livery opened the door at that moment, asking,
"Stokes has just returned with the car from Perth, Sir Henry, and asks
if you want him further at present."

"No," replied his blind master. "Has he brought back her ladyship?"

"Yes, Sir Henry," replied the man. "I believe he is taking her to the
ball over at Connachan to-night."

"Oh, yes, of course. How foolish I am! I quite forgot," said the Baronet
with a slight sigh. "Very well, Hill."

And the clean-shaven young man, with his bright buttons bearing the
chevron _gules_ betwixt three boars' heads erased _sable_, of the
Heyburns, bowed and withdrew.

"I had quite forgotten the ball at Connachan, dear," exclaimed her
father, stretching out his thin white hand in search of hers again. "Of
course you are going?"

"No, dad; I'm staying at home with you."

"Staying at home!" echoed Sir Henry. "Why, my dear Gabrielle, the first
year you're out, and missing the best ball in the county! Certainly not.
I'm all right. I shan't be lonely. A little box came this morning from
the Professor, didn't it?"

"Yes, dad."

"Then I shall be able to spend the evening very well alone. The
Professor has sent me what he promised the other day."

"I've decided not to go," was the girl's firm reply.

"I fear, dear, your mother will be very annoyed if you refuse," he

"I shall risk that, dear old dad, and stay with you to-night. Please
allow me," she added persuasively, taking his hand in hers and bending
till her red lips touched his white brow. "You have quite a lot to do,
remember. A big packet of papers came from Paris this morning. I must
read them over to you."

"But your mother, my dear! Your absence will be commented upon. People
will gossip, you know."

"There is but one person I care for, dad--yourself," laughed the girl

"Perhaps you're disappointed over a new frock or something, eh?"

"Not at all. My frock came from town the day before yesterday. Elise
declares it suits me admirably, and she's very hard to please, you know.
It's white, trimmed with tiny roses."

"A perfect dream, I expect," remarked the blind man, smiling. "I wish I
could see you in it, dear. I often wonder what you are like, now that
you've grown to be a woman."

"I'm like what I always have been, dad, I suppose," she laughed.

"Yes, yes," he sighed, in pretence of being troubled. "Wilful as always.
And--and," he faltered a moment later, "I often hear your dear dead
mother's voice in yours." Then he was silent, and by the deep lines in
his brow she knew that he was thinking.

Outside, in the high elms beyond the level, well-kept lawn, with its
grey old sundial, the homecoming rooks were cawing prior to settling
down for the night. No other sound broke the stillness of that quiet
sunset hour save the solemn ticking of the long, old-fashioned clock at
the farther end of the big, book-lined room, with its wide fireplace,
great overmantel of carved stone with emblazoned arms, and its three
long windows of old stained glass which gave it a somewhat
ecclesiastical aspect.

"Tell me, child," repeated Sir Henry at length, "what was it that upset
you just now?"

"Nothing, dad--unless--well, perhaps it's the heat. I felt rather unwell
when I went out for my ride this morning," she answered with a frantic
attempt at excuse.

The blind man was well aware that her reply was but a subterfuge.
Little, however, did he dream the cause. Little did he know that a dark
shadow had fallen upon the young girl's life--a shadow of evil.

"Gabrielle," he said in a low, intense voice, "why aren't you open and
frank with me as you once used to be? Remember that you, my daughter,
are my only friend!"

Slim, dainty, and small-waisted, with a sweet, dimpled face, and blue
eyes large and clear like a child's, a white throat, a well-poised head,
and light-chestnut hair dressed low with a large black bow, she
presented the picture of happy, careless youth, her features soft and
refined, her half-bare arms well moulded, and hands delicate and white.
She wore only one ornament--upon her left hand was a small signet-ring
with her monogram engraved, a gift from one of her governesses when a
child, and now worn upon the little finger.

That face was strikingly beautiful, it had been remarked more than once
in London; but any admiration only called forth the covert sneers of
Lady Heyburn.

"Why don't you tell me?" urged the blind man. "Why don't you tell me the
truth?" he protested.

Her countenance changed when she heard his words. In her blue eyes was a
look of abject fear. Her left hand was tightly clenched and her mouth
set hard, as though in resolution.

"I really don't know what you mean, dad," she responded with a hollow
laugh. "You have such strange fancies nowadays."

"Strange fancies, child!" echoed the afflicted man, lifting his grey,
expressionless face to hers. "A blind man has always vague, suspicious,
and black forebodings engendered by the darkness and loneliness of his
life. I am no exception," he sighed. "I think ever of the

"No, dear," exclaimed the girl, bending until her lips touched his white
brow softly. "Forget it all, dear old dad. Surely your days here, with
me, quiet and healthful in this beautiful Perthshire, are better, better
by far, than if you had been a politician up in London, ever struggling,
ever speaking, and ever bearing the long hours at the House and the
eternal stress of Parliamentary life?"

"Yes, yes," he said, just a trifle impatiently. "It is not that. I don't
regret that I had to retire, except--well, except for your sake perhaps,

"For my sake! How?"

"Because, had I been a member of this Cabinet--which some of my friends
predicted--you would have had the chance of a good marriage. But buried
as you are down here instead, what chances have you?"

"I want no chance, dad," replied the girl. "I shall never marry."

A painful thought crossed the old man's mind, being mirrored upon his
brow by the deep lines which puckered there for a few brief moments.
"Well," he exclaimed, smiling, "that's surely no reason why you should
not go to the ball at Connachan to-night."

"I have my duty to perform, dad; my duty is to remain with you," she
said decisively. "You know you have quite a lot to do, and when your
mother has gone we'll spend an hour or two here at work."

"I hear that Walter Murie is at home again at Connachan. Hill told me
this morning," remarked her father.

"So I heard also," answered the girl.

"And yet you are not going to the ball, Gabrielle, eh?" laughed the old
man mischievously.

"Now come, dad," the girl exclaimed, colouring slightly, "you're really
too bad! I thought you had promised me not to mention him again."

"So I did, dear; I--I quite forgot," replied Sir Henry apologetically.
"Forgive me. You are now your own mistress. If you prefer to stay away
from Connachan, then do so by all means. Only, make a proper excuse to
your mother; otherwise she will be annoyed."

"I think not, dear," his daughter replied in a meaning tone. "If I
remain at home she'll be rather glad than otherwise."

"Why?" inquired the old man quickly.

The girl hesitated. She saw instantly that her remark was an unfortunate
one. "Well," she said rather lamely, "because my absence will relieve
her of the responsibility of acting as chaperon."

What else could she say? How could she tell her father--the kindly but
afflicted man to whom she was devoted--the bitter truth? His lonely,
dismal life was surely sufficiently hard to bear without the extra
burden of suspicion, of enforced inactivity, of fierce hatred, and of
bitter regret. So she slowly disengaged her hand, kissed him again, and
with an excuse that she had the menus to write for the dinner-table,
went out, leaving him alone.

When the door had closed a great sigh sounded through the long,
book-lined room, a sigh that ended in a sob.

The old man had leaned his chin upon his hands, and his sightless eyes
were filled with tears. "Is it the truth?" he murmured to himself. "Is
it really the truth?"



There are few of the Perthshire castles that more plainly declare their
feudal origin and exhibit traces of obsolete power than does the great
gaunt pile of ruins known as Glencardine. Its situation is both
picturesque and imposing, and the stern aspect of the two square
baronial towers which face the south, perched on a sheer precipice that
descends to the Ruthven Water deep below, shows that the castle was once
the residence of a predatory chief in the days before its association
with the great Montrose.

Two miles from the long, straggling village of Auchterarder, in the
centre of a fine, well-wooded, well-kept estate, the great ruined castle
stands a silent monument of warlike days long since forgotten. There,
within those walls, now overgrown with ivy and weeds, and where big
trees grow in the centre of what was once the great paved courtyard,
Montrose schemed and plotted, and, according to tradition, kept certain
of his enemies in the dungeons below.

In the twelfth century the aspect of the deep glen was very different
from what it is to-day. In those days the Ruthven was a broad river,
flowing swiftly down to the Earn, and forming, by reason of a moat, an
effective barrier against attack. To-day, however, the river has
diminished into a mere burn meandering through a beautiful wooded glen
three hundred feet below, a glen the charms of which are well known
throughout the whole of Scotland, and where in summer tourists from
England endeavour to explore, but are warned back by Stewart, Sir
Henry's Highland keeper.

A quarter of a mile from the great historic ruin is the modern castle,
built mainly of stone from the ancient structure early in the eighteenth
century, with oak-panelled rooms, many quaint gables, stained glass, and
long, echoing corridors--a residence well adapted for entertaining on a
lavish scale, the front overlooking the beautiful glen, and the back
with level lawns and stretch of undulating park, well wooded and full of
picturesque beauty.

The family traditions and history of the old place and its owners had
induced Sir Henry Heyburn, himself a Fellow of the Society of
Antiquaries, to purchase it from Lord Strathavon, into whose possession
it had passed some forty years previously.

History showed that William de Graeme or Graham, who settled in Scotland
in the twelfth century, became Lord of Glencardine, and the great castle
was built by his son. They were indeed a noble race, as their biographer
has explained. Ever fearless in their country's cause, they sneered at
the mandates from impregnable Stirling, and were loyal in every

Glencardine was a stronghold feared by all the surrounding nobles, and
its men were full of valour and bravery. One story of them is perhaps
worth the telling. In the year 1490 the all-powerful Abbot of Inchaffray
issued an order for the collection of the teinds of the Killearns' lands
possessed by the Grahams of Glencardine in the parish of Monzievaird, of
which he was titular. The order was rigorously executed, the teinds
being exacted by force.

Lord Killearn of Dunning Castle was from home at the time; but in his
absence his eldest son, William, Master of Dunning, called out a number
of his clansmen, and marched towards Glencardine for the purpose of
putting a stop to the abbot's proceedings. The Grahams of Glencardine,
having been apprised of their neighbour's intention, mustered in strong
force, and marched to meet him. The opposing forces encountered each
other at the north side of Knock Mary, about two miles to the south-west
of Crieff, while a number of the clan M'Robbie, who lived beside the
Loch of Balloch, marched up the south side of the hill, halting at the
top to watch the progress of the combat. The fight began with great fury
on both sides. The Glencardine men, however, began to get the upper hand
and drive their opponents back, when the M'Robbies rushed down the hill
to the succour of the Killearns. The tables were now turned. The Grahams
were unable to maintain their ground against the combined forces which
they had now to face, and fled towards Glencardine, taking refuge in the
Kirk of Monzievaird. The Killearns had no desire to follow up their
success any farther, but at this stage they were joined by Duncan
Campbell of Dunstaffnage, who had come across from Argyllshire to avenge
the death of his father-in-law, Robert of Monzie, who, along with his
two sons, had a short time before been killed by the Lord of

An arrow shot from the church fatally wounded one of Campbell's men, and
so enraged were the besiegers at this that they set fire to the
heather-thatched building. Of the one hundred and sixty human beings who
are supposed to have been in the church, only one young lad escaped, and
this was effected by the help of one of the Killearns, who caught the
boy in his arms as he leaped out of the flames. The Killearns did not go
unpunished for their barbarous deed. Their leader, with several of his
chief retainers, was afterwards beheaded at Stirling, and an assessment
was imposed on the Killearns for behoof of the wives and children of the
Grahams who had perished by their hands.

The Killearn by whose aid the young Graham had been saved was forced to
flee to Ireland, but he afterwards returned to Scotland, where he and
his attendants were known by the name of "Killearn Eirinich" (or
Ernoch), meaning Killearn of Ireland. The estate which he held, and
which is situated near Comrie, still bears that name. The site of the
Kirk of Monzievaird is now occupied by the mausoleum of the family of
Murray of Ochtertyre, which was erected in 1809. When the foundations
were being excavated a large quantity of charred bones and wood was

The history of Scotland is full of references to the doings at
Glencardine, the fine home of the great Lord Glencardine, and of events,
both in the original stronghold and in the present mansion, which have
had important bearings upon the welfare of the country.

In the autumn of 1825 the celebrated poetess Baroness Nairne, who had
been born at Gask, a few miles away, visited Glencardine and spent
several weeks in the pleasantest manner. Within those gaunt ruins of the
old castle she first became inspired to write her celebrated "Castell
Gloom," near Dollar:

Oh Castell Gloom! thy strength is gone,
The green grass o'er thee growin';
On Hill of Care thou art alone,
The Sorrow round thee flowin'.

Oh Castell Gloom! on thy fair wa's
Nae banners now are streamin';
The howlit flits amang thy ha's,
And wild birds there are screamin'.

Oh, mourn the woe! oh, mourn the crime
Frae civil war that flows!
Oh, mourn, Argyll, thy fallen line,
And mourn the great Montrose!

The lofty Ochils bright did glow,
Though sleepin' was the sun;
But mornin's light did sadly show
What ragin' flames had done!
Oh, mirk, mirk was the misty cloud
That hung o'er thy wild wood!
Thou wert like beauty in a shroud,
And all was solitude.

A volume, indeed, could be written upon the history, traditions, and
superstitions of Glencardine Castle, a subject in which its blind owner
took the keenest possible interest. But, tragedy of it all, he had never
seen the lovely old domain he had acquired! Only by Gabrielle's
descriptions of it, as she led him so often across the woods, down by
the babbling burn, or over the great ivy-covered ruins, did he know and
love it.

Every shepherd of the Ochils knows of the Lady of Glencardine who, on
rare occasions, had been seen dressed in green flitting before the
modern mansion, and who was said to be the spectre of the young Lady
Jane Glencardine, who in 1710 was foully drowned in the Earn by her
jealous lover, the Lord of Glamis, and whose body was never recovered.
Her appearance always boded ill-fortune to the family in residence.

Glencardine was scarcely ever without guests. Lady Heyburn, a shallow
and vain woman many years younger than her husband, was always
surrounded by her own friends. She hated the country, and more
especially what she declared to be the "deadly dullness" of her
Perthshire home. That moment was no exception. There were half-a-dozen
guests staying in the house, but neither Gabrielle nor her father took
the slightest interest in any of them. They had been, of course, invited
to the ball at Connachan, and at dinner had expressed surprise when
their host's pretty daughter, the belle of the county, had declared that
she was not going.

"Oh, Gabrielle is really such a wayward child!" declared her ladyship to
old Colonel Burton at her side. "If she has decided not to go, no power
on earth will persuade her."

"I'm not feeling at all well, mother," the girl responded from the
farther end of the table. "You'll make nice excuses for me, won't you?"

"I think it's simply ridiculous!" declared the Baronet's wife. "Your
first season, too!"

Gabrielle glanced round the table, coloured slightly, but said nothing.
The guests knew too well that in the Glencardine household there had
always been, and always would be, slightly strained relations between
her ladyship and her stepdaughter.

For an hour after dinner all was bustle and excitement; then, in the
covered wagonette, the gay party drove away, while Gabrielle, standing
at the door, shouted after them a merry adieu.

It was a bright, clear, moonlit night, so beautiful indeed that,
twisting a shawl about her shoulders, she went to her father's den,
where he usually smoked alone, and, taking his arm, led him out for a
walk into the park over that gravelled drive where, upon such nights as
that, 'twas said that the unfortunate Lady Jane could be seen.

When alone, the sightless man could find his way quite well with the aid
of his stick. He knew every inch of his domain. Indeed, he could descend
from the castle by the winding path that led deep into the glen, and
across the narrow foot-bridges of the rushing Ruthven Water, or he could
traverse the most intricate paths through the woods by means of certain
landmarks which only he himself knew. He was ever fond of wandering
about the estate alone, and often took solitary walks on bright nights
with his stout stick tapping before him. On rare occasions, however,
when, in the absence of her ladyship, he enjoyed the company of pretty
Gabrielle, they would wander in the park arm-in-arm, chatting and
exchanging confidences.

The departure of their house-party had lifted a heavy weight from both
their hearts. It would be dawn before they returned. She loved her
father, and was never happier than when describing to him things--the
smallest objects sometimes--which he himself could not see.

As they strolled on beneath the shadows of the tall elms, the stillness
of the night was broken only by the quick scurry of a rabbit into the
tall bracken or the harsh cry of some night-bird startled by their

Before them, standing black against the night-sky, rose the quaint,
ponderous, but broken walls of the ancient stronghold, where an owl
hooted weirdly in the ivy, and where the whispering of the waters rose
from the deep below.

"It's a pity, dear, that you didn't go to the dance," the old man was
saying, her arm held within his own. "You've annoyed your mother, I

"Mother is quite happy with her guests, dad; while I am quite happy with
you," she replied softly. "Therefore, why discuss it?"

"But surely it is not very entertaining for you to remain here with a
man who is blind. Remember, you are young, and these golden days of
youth will very soon pass."

"Why, you always entertain and instruct me, dad," she declared; "from
you I've learnt so much archaeology and so much about mediaeval seals
that I believe I am qualified to become a Fellow of the Society of
Antiquaries, if women were admitted to fellowship."

"They will be one day, my dear, if the Suffragettes are allowed their
own way," he laughed.

And then, during the full hour they strolled together, their
conversation mostly consisted of questions asked by her father
concerning some improvements being made in one of the farms which she
had visited on the previous day, and her description of what had been

The stable-clock had struck half-past ten on its musical chimes before
they re-entered the big hall, and, being relieved by Hill of the wraps,
passed together into the library, where, from a locked cabinet in a
corner, Gabrielle took a number of business papers and placed them upon
the writing-table before her father.

"No," he said, running his thin white hands over them, "not business
to-night, dear, but pleasure. Where is that box from the Professor?"

"It's here, dad. Shall I open it?"

"Yes," he replied. "That dear old fellow never forgets his old friend.
Never a seal finds its way into the collection at Cambridge but he first
sends it to me for examination before it is catalogued. He knows what
pleasure it is to me to decipher them and make out their
history--almost, alas! the only pleasure left to me, except you, my

"Professor Moyes adopts your opinion always, dad. He knows, as every
other antiquary knows, that you are the greatest living authority on the
subject which you have made a lifetime study--that of the bronze seals
of the Middle Ages."

"Ah!" sighed the old man, "if I could only write my great book! It is
the pleasure debarred me. Years ago I started to collect material; but
my affliction came, and now I can only feel the matrices and picture
them in my mind. I see through your eyes, dear Gabrielle. To me, the
world I loved so much is only a blank darkness, with your dear voice
sounding out of it--the only voice, my child, that is music to my ears."

The girl said nothing. She only glanced at the sad, expressionless face,
and, cutting the string of the small packet, displayed three bronze
seals--two oval, about two inches long, and the third round, about one
inch in diameter, and each with a small kind of handle on the reverse.
With them were sulphur-casts or impressions taken from them, ready to be
placed in the museum at Cambridge.

The old man's nervous fingers travelled over the surfaces quickly, an
expression of complete satisfaction in his face.

"Have you the magnifying-glass, dear? Tell me what you make of the
inscriptions," he said, at the same time carefully feeling the curious
mediaeval lettering of one of the casts.

At the same instant she started, rose quickly from her chair, and held
her breath.

A man, tall, dark-faced, and wearing a thin black overcoat, had entered
noiselessly from the lawn by the open window, and stood there, with his
finger upon his lips, indicating silence. Then he pointed outside, with
a commanding gesture that she should follow.

Her eyes met his in a glance of fierce resentment, and instinctively she
placed her hand upon her breast, as though to stay the beating of her

Again he pointed in silent authority, and she as though held in some
mysterious thraldom, made excuse to the blind man, and, rising, followed
in his noiseless footsteps.



Ten minutes later she returned, panting, her face pale and haggard, her
mouth hard-set. For a moment she stood in silence upon the threshold of
the open doors leading to the grounds, her hand pressed to her breast in
a strenuous endeavour to calm herself. She feared that her father might
detect her agitation, for he was so quick in discovering in her the
slightest unusual emotion. She glanced behind her with an expression
full of fear, as though dreading the reappearance of that man who had
compelled her to follow him out into the night. Then she looked at her
father, who, still seated motionless with his back to her, was busy with
his fingers upon something on the blotting-pad before him.

In that brief absence her countenance had entirely changed. She was pale
to the lips, with drawn brows, while about her mouth played a hard,
bitter expression, as though her mind were bent upon some desperate

That the man who had come there by stealth was no stranger was evident;
yet that between them was some deep-rooted enmity was equally apparent.
Nevertheless, he held her irresistibly within his toils. His
clean-shaven face was a distinctly evil one. His eyes were set too close
together, and in his physiognomy was something unscrupulous and
relentless. He was not the man for a woman to trust.

She stepped back from the threshold, and for a few seconds halted
outside, her ears strained to catch any sound. Then, as though
reassured, she pushed the chestnut hair from her hot, fevered brow, held
her breath with strenuous effort, and, re-entering the library, advanced
to her father's side.

"I wondered where you had gone, dear," he said in his low, calm voice,
as he detected her presence. "I hoped you would not leave me for long,
for it is not very often we enjoy an evening so entirely alone as

"Leave you, dear old dad! Why, of course not!" She laughed gaily, as
though nothing had occurred to disturb her peace of mind. "We were just
about to look at those seals Professor Moyes sent you to-day, weren't
we? Here they are;" and she placed them before the helpless and
afflicted man, endeavouring to remain undisturbed, and taking a chair at
his side, as was her habit when they sat together.

"Yes," he said cheerfully. "Let us see what they are."

The first of the yellow sulphur-casts which he examined bore the
full-length figure of an abbot, with mitre and crosier, in the act of
giving his blessing. Behind him were three circular towers with pointed
roofs surmounted by crosses, while around, in bold early Gothic letters,
ran the inscription


Slowly and with great care his fingers travelled over the raised letters
and design of the oval cast. Then, having also examined the battered old
bronze matrix, he said, "A most excellent specimen, and in first-class
preservation, too! I wonder where it has been found? In Italy, without

"What do you make it out to be, dad?" asked the girl, seated in the
chair at his side and as interested in the little antiquity as he was

"Thirteenth century, my dear--early thirteenth century," he declared
without hesitation. "Genuine, quite genuine, no doubt. The matrix shows
signs of considerable wear. Is there much patina upon it?" he asked.

She turned it over, displaying that thick green corrosion which bronze
acquires only by great age.

"Yes, quite a lot, dad. The raised portion at the back is pierced by a
hole very much worn."

"Worn by the thong by which it was attached to the girdle of successive
abbots through centuries," he declared. "From its inscription, it is the
seal of the Abbot Benedict of the Monastery of St. Ambrose, of Rancia,
in Lombardy. Let me think, now. We should find the history of that house
probably in Sassolini's _Memorials_. Will you get it down, dear?--top
shelf of the fifth case, on the left."

Though blind, he knew just where he could put his hand upon all his most
cherished volumes, and woe betide any one who put a volume back in its
wrong place!

Gabrielle rose, and, obtaining the steps, reached down the great
leather-bound quarto book, which she carried to a reading-desk and at
once searched the index.

The work was in Italian, a language which she knew fairly well; and
after ten minutes or so, during which time the blind man continued
slowly to trace the inscription with his finger-tips, she said, "Here it
is, dad. 'Rancia, near Cremona. The religious brotherhood was founded
there in 1132, and the Abbot Benedict was third abbot, from 1218 to
1231. The church still exists. The magnificent pulpit in marble,
embellished with mosaics, presented in 1272, rests on six columns
supported by lions, with an inscription: "_Nicolaus de Montava
marmorarius hoc opus fecit._" Opposite it is the ambo (1272), in a
simple style, with a representation of Jonah being swallowed by a whale.
In the choir is the throne adorned by mosaics, and the Cappella di San
Pantaleone contains the blood of the saint, together with some relics of
the Abbot Benedict. The cloisters still exist, though, of course, the
monastery is now suppressed.'"

"And this," remarked Sir Henry, turning over the old bronze seal in his
hand, "belonged to the Abbot Ambrose six hundred and fifty years ago!"

"Yes, dad," declared the girl, returning to his side and taking the
matrix herself to examine it under the green-shaded reading-lamp. "The
study of seals is most interesting. It carries one back into the dim
ages. I hope the Professor will allow you to keep these casts for your

"Yes, I know he will," responded the old Baronet. "He is well aware what
a deep interest I take in my hobby."

"And also that you are one of the first authorities in the world upon
the subject," added his daughter.

The old man sighed. Would that he could see with his eyes once again;
for, after all, the sense of touch was but a poor substitute for that of

He drew towards him the impression of the second of the oval seals. The
centre was divided into two portions. Above was the half-length figure
of a saint holding a closed book in his hand, and below was a youth with
long hands in the act of adoration. Between them was a scroll upon which
was written: "Sc. Martine O.P.N.," while around the seal were the words
in Gothic characters:


"This is fourteenth century," pronounced the Baronet, "and is from
Dulcigno, on the Adriatic--the seal of Henry, the vicar of the church of
that place. From the engraving and style," he said, still fingering it
with great care, now and then turning to the matrix in order to satisfy
himself, "I should place it as having been executed about 1350. But it
is really a very beautiful specimen, done at a time when the art of
seal-engraving was at its height. No engraver could to-day turn out a
more ornate and at the same time bold design. Moyes is really very
fortunate in securing this. You must write, my dear, and ask him how
these latest treasures came into his hands."

At his request she got down another of the ponderous volumes of
Sassolini from the high shelf, and read to him, translating from the
Italian the brief notice of the ancient church of Dulcigno, which, it
appeared, had been built in the Lombard-Norman style of the eleventh
century, while the campanile, with columns from Paestum, dated from

The third seal, the circular one, was larger than the rest, being quite
two inches across. In the centre of the top half was the Madonna with
Child, seated, a male and female figure on either side. Below were three
female figures on either side, the two scenes being divided by a festoon
of flowers, while around the edge ran in somewhat more modern
characters--those of the early sixteenth century--the following:


"This," declared Sir Henry, after a long and most minute examination,
"is a treasure probably unequalled in the collection at Cambridge, being
the actual seal of the Vicar-General of the Carmelite order. Its date I
should place at about 1150. Look well, dear, at those flower garlands;
how beautifully they are engraved! Seal-making is, alas! to-day a lost
art. We have only crude and heavy attempts. The company seal seems
to-day the only thing the engraver can turn out--those machines which
emboss upon a big red wafer." And his busy fingers were continuously
feeling the great circular bronze matrix, and a moment afterwards its

He was an enthusiastic antiquary, and long ago, in the days when the
world was light, had read papers before the Society of Antiquaries at
Burlington House upon mediaeval seals and upon the early Latin codices.
Nowadays, however, Gabrielle acted as his eyes; and so devoted was she
to her father that she took a keen interest in his dry-as-dust hobbies,
so that after his long tuition she could decipher and read a
twelfth-century Latin manuscript, on its scrap of yellow, crinkled
parchment, and with all its puzzling abbreviations, almost as well as
any professor of palaeography at the universities, while inscriptions
upon Gothic seals were to her as plain as a paragraph in a newspaper.
More than once, white-haired, spectacled professors who came to
Glencardine as her father's guests were amazed at her intelligent
conversation upon points which were quite abstruse. Indeed, she had no
idea of the remarkable extent of her own antiquarian knowledge, all of
it gathered from the talented man whose affliction had kept her so close
at his side.

For quite an hour her father fingered the three seal-impressions,
discussing them with her in the language of a savant. She herself
examined them minutely and expressed opinions. Now and then she glanced
apprehensively to that open window. He pointed out to her where she was
wrong in her estimate of the design of the circular one, explaining a
technical and little-known detail concerning the seals of the Carmelite

From the window a cool breath of the night-wind came in, fanning the
curtains and carrying with it the sweet scent of the flowers without.

"How refreshing!" exclaimed the old man, drawing in a deep breath. "The
night is very close, Gabrielle, dear. I fear we shall have thunder."

"There was lightning only a moment ago," explained the girl. "Shall I
put the casts into your collection, dad?"

"Yes, dear. Moyes no doubt intends that I should keep them."

Gabrielle rose, and, passing across to a large cabinet with many shallow
drawers, she opened one, displaying a tray full of casts of seals, each
neatly arranged, with its inscription and translation placed beneath,
all in her own clear handwriting.

Some of the drawers contained the matrices as well as the casts; but as
matrices of mediaeval seals are rarities, and seldom found anywhere save
in the chief public museums, it is no wonder that the bulk of private
collections consist of impressions.

Presently, at the Baronet's suggestion, she closed and locked the
cabinet, and then took up a bundle of business documents, which she
commenced to sort out and arrange.

She acted as her father's private secretary, and therefore knew much of
his affairs. But many things were to her a complete mystery, be it said.
Though devoted to her father, she nevertheless sometimes became filled
with a vague suspicion that the source of his great income was not
altogether an open and honest one. The papers and letters she read to
him often contained veiled information which sorely puzzled her, and
which caused her many hours of wonder and reflection. Her father lived
alone, with only her as companion. Her stepmother, a young,
good-looking, and giddy woman, never dreamed the truth.

What would she do, how would she act, Gabrielle wondered, if ever she
gained sight of some of those private papers kept locked in the cavity
beyond the black steel door concealed by the false bookcase at the
farther end of the fine old restful room?

The papers she handled had been taken from the safe by Sir Henry
himself. And they contained a man's secret.



In the spreading dawn the house party had returned from Connachan and
had ascended to their rooms, weary with the night's revelry, the men
with shirt-fronts crumpled and ties awry, the women with hair
disordered, and in some cases with flimsy skirts torn in the mazes of
the dance. Yet all were merry and full of satisfaction at what one young
man from town had declared to be "an awfully ripping evening." All
retired at once--all save the hostess and one of her male guests, the
man who had entered the library by stealth earlier in the evening and
had called Gabrielle outside.

Lady Heyburn and her visitor, James Flockart, had managed to slip away
from the others, and now stood together in the library, into which the
grey light of dawn was at that moment slowly creeping.

He drew up one of the blinds to admit the light; and there, away over
the hills beyond, the glen showed the red flush that heralded the sun's
coming. Then, returning to where stood the young and attractive woman in
pale pink chiffon, with diamonds on her neck and a star in her fair
hair, he looked her straight in the face and asked, "Well, and what have
you decided?"

She raised her eyes to his, but made no reply. She was hesitating.

The gems upon her were heirlooms of the Heyburn family, and in that grey
light looked cold and glassy. The powder and the slight touch of carmine
upon her cheeks, which at night had served to heighten her beauty, now
gave her an appearance of painted artificiality. She was undeniably a
pretty woman, and surely required no artificial aids to beauty. About
thirty-three, yet she looked five years younger; while her husband was
twenty years senior to herself. She still retained a figure so girlish
that most people took her for Gabrielle's elder sister, while in the
matter of dress she was admitted in society to be one of the leaders of
fashion. Her hair was of that rare copper-gold tint, her features
regular, with a slightly protruding chin, soft eyes, and cheeks perfect
in their contour. Society knew her as a gay, reckless, giddy woman, who,
regardless of the terrible affliction which had fallen upon the
brilliant man who was her husband, surrounded herself with a circle of
friends of the same type as herself, and who thoroughly enjoyed her life
regardless of any gossip or of the malignant statements by women who
envied her.

Men were fond of "Winnie Heyburn," as they called her, and always voted
her "good fun." They pitied poor Sir Henry; but, after all, he was
blind, and preferred his hobbies of collecting old seals and dusty
parchment manuscripts to dances, bridge-parties, theatres, aero shows at
Ranelagh, and suppers at the Carlton or Savoy.

Like most wealthy women of her type, she had a wide circle of male
friends. Younger men declared her to be "a real pal," and with some of
the older beaux she would flirt and be amused by their flattering

Gabrielle's mother, the second daughter of Lord Buckhurst, had been dead
several years when the brilliant politician met his second wife at a
garden-party at Dollis Hill. She was daughter of a man named Lambert, a
paper manufacturer, who acted as political agent in the town of Bedford;
and she was, therefore, essentially a country cousin. Her beauty was,
however, remarked everywhere. The Baronet was struck by her, and within
three months they were married at St. George's, Hanover Square, the
world congratulating her upon a very excellent match. From the very
first, however, the difference in the ages of husband and wife proved a
barrier. Ere the honeymoon was over she found that her husband, tied by
his political engagements and by his eternal duties at the House, was
unable to accompany her out of an evening; hence from the very first
they had drifted apart, until, eight months later, the terrible
affliction of blindness fell upon him.

For a time this drew her back to him. She was his constant and dutiful
companion everywhere, leading him hither and thither, and attending to
his wants; but very soon the tie bored her, and the attractions of
society once again proved too great. Hence for the past nine
years--Gabrielle being at school, first at Eastbourne and afterwards at
Amiens--she had amused herself and left her husband to his dry-as-dust
hobbies and the loneliness of his black and sunless world.

The man who had just put that curious question to her was perhaps her
closest friend. To her he owed everything, though the world was in
ignorance of the fact. That they were friends everybody knew. Indeed,
they had been friends years ago in Bedford, before her marriage, for
James was the only son of the Reverend Henry Flockart, vicar of one of
the parishes in the town. People living in Bedford recollected that the
parson's son had turned out rather badly, and had gone to America. But a
year or two after that the quiet-mannered old clergyman had died, the
living had been given to a successor, and Bedford knew the name of
Flockart no more. After Winifred's marriage, however, London society--or
rather a gay section of it--became acquainted with James Flockart, who
lived at ease in his pretty bachelor-rooms in Half-Moon Street, and who
soon gathered about him a large circle of male acquaintances. Sir Henry
knew him, and raised no objection to his wife's friendship towards him.
They had been boy and girl together; therefore what more natural than
that they should be friends in later life?

In her schooldays Gabrielle knew practically nothing of this man; but
now she had returned to be her father's companion she had met him, and
had bitter cause to hate both him and Lady Heyburn. It was her own
secret. She kept it to herself. She hid the truth from her father--from
every one. She watched closely and in patience. One day she would speak
and tell the truth. Until then, she resolved to keep to herself all that
she knew.

"Well?" asked the man with the soft-pleated shirt-front and white
waistcoat smeared with cigarette-ash. "What have you decided?" he asked

"I've decided nothing," was her blank answer.

"But you must. Don't be a silly fool," he urged. "You've surely had time
to think over it?"

"No, I haven't."

"The girl knows nothing. So what have you to fear?" he endeavoured to
assure her.

Lady Heyburn shrugged her shoulders. "How can you prove that she knows

"Oh, she has eyes for nobody but the old man," he laughed. "To-night is
an example. Why, she wouldn't come to Connachan, even though she knew
that Walter was there. She preferred to spend the evening here with her

"She's a little fool, of course, Jimmy," replied the woman in pink; "but
perhaps it was as well that she didn't come. I hate to have to chaperon
the chit. It makes me look so horribly old."

"I wish to goodness the girl was out of the way!" he declared. "She's
sharper than we think, and, by Jove! if ever she did know what was in
progress it would be all up for both of us--wouldn't it? Phew! think of

"If I thought she had the slightest suspicion," declared her ladyship
with a sudden hardness of her lips, "I'd--I'd close her mouth very

"And for ever, eh?" he asked meaningly.

"Yes, for ever."

"Bah!" he laughed. "You'd be afraid to do that, my dear Winnie," added
the man, lowering his voice. "Your husband is blind, it's true; but
there are other people in the world who are not. Recollect, Gabrielle is
now nineteen, and she has her eyes open. She's the eyes and ears of Sir
Henry. Not the slightest thing occurs in this household but it is told
to him at once. His indifference to all is only a clever pretence."

"What!" she gasped quickly; "do you think he suspects?"

"Pray, what can he suspect?" asked the man very calmly, both hands in
his trouser-pockets, as he leaned back against the table in front of

"He can only suspect things which his daughter knows," she said.

"But what does she know? What can she know?" he asked.

"How can we tell? I have watched, but can detect nothing. I am, however,
suspicious, because she did not come to Connachan with us to-night."


"Walter Murie may know something, and may have told her."

"If so, then to close her lips would be useless. It would only bring a
heavier responsibility upon us--and----" But he hesitated, without
finishing his sentence. His meaning was apparent from the wry face she
pulled at his remark. He did not tell her how he had, while she had been
dancing and flirting that night, made his way back to the castle, or how
he had compelled Gabrielle to go forth and speak with him. His action
had been a bold one, yet its result had confirmed certain vague
suspicions he had held.

Well he knew that the girl hated him heartily, and that she was in
possession of a certain secret of his--one which might easily result in
his downfall. He feared to tell the truth to this woman before him, for
if he did so she would certainly withdraw from all association with him
in order to save herself.

The key to the whole situation was held by that slim, sweet-faced girl,
so devoted to her afflicted father. He was not quite certain as to the
actual extent of her knowledge, and was as yet undecided as to what
attitude he should adopt towards her. He stood between the Baronet's
wife and his daughter, and hesitated in which direction to follow.

What did she really know, he wondered. Had she overheard any of that
serious conversation between Lady Heyburn and himself while they walked
together in the glen on the previous evening? Such a _contretemps_ was
surely impossible, for he remembered they had taken every precaution
lest even Stewart, the head gamekeeper, might be about in order to stop
trespassers, who, attracted by the beauties of Glencardine, tried to
penetrate and explore them, and by so doing disturbed the game.

"And if the girl really knows?" he asked of the woman who stood there
motionless, gazing out across the lawn fixedly towards the dawn.

"If she knows, James," she said in a hard, decisive tone, "then we must
act together, quickly and fearlessly. We must carry out that--that plan
you proposed a year ago!"

"You are quite fearless, then," he asked, looking straight into her fine

"Fearless? Of course I am," she answered unflinchingly. "We must get rid
of her."

"Providing we can do so without any suspicion falling upon us."

"You seem to have become quite white-livered," she exclaimed to him with
a harsh, derisive laugh. "You were not so a year ago--in the other

His brows contracted as he reflected upon all it meant to him. The girl
knew something; therefore, to seal her lips was imperative for their own
safety. She was their enemy.

"You are mistaken," he answered in a low calm voice. "I am just as
determined--just as fearless--as I was then."

"And you will do it?" she asked.

"If it is your wish," he replied simply.

"Good! Give me your hand. We are agreed. It shall be done."

And the man took the slim white hand the woman held out to him, and a
moment later they ascended the great oak staircase to their respective

The pair were in accord. The future contained for Gabrielle
Heyburn--asleep and all unconscious of the dastardly conspiracy--only
that which must be hideous, tragic, fatal.



Elise, Lady Heyburn's French maid, discovered next morning that an
antique snake-bracelet was missing, a loss which occasioned great
consternation in the household.

Breakfast was late, and at table, when the loss was mentioned, Gabrielle
offered to drive over to Connachan in the car and make inquiry and
search. The general opinion was that it had been dropped in one of the
rooms, and was probably still lying there undiscovered.

The girl's offer was accepted, and half an hour later the smaller of the
two Glencardine cars--the "sixteen" Fiat--was brought round to the door
by Stokes, the smart chauffeur. Young Gellatly, fresh down from Oxford,
begged to be allowed to go with her, and his escort was accepted.

Then, in motor-cap and champagne-coloured dust-veil, Gabrielle mounted
at the wheel, with the young fellow at her side and Stokes in the back,
and drove away down the long avenue to the high-road.

The car was her delight. Never so happy was she as when, wrapped in her
leather-lined motor-coat, she drove the "sixteen." The six-cylinder
"sixty" was too powerful for her, but with the "sixteen" she ran
half-over Scotland, and was quite a common object on the Perth to
Stirling road. Possessed of nerve and full of self-confidence, she could
negotiate traffic in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and on one occasion had
driven her father the whole way from Glencardine up to London, a
distance of four hundred and fifty miles. Her fingers pressed the button
of the electric horn as they descended the sharp incline to the
lodge-gates; and, turning into the open road, she was soon speeding
along through Auchterarder village, skirted Tullibardine Wood, down
through Braco, and along by the Knaik Water and St. Patrick's Well into
Glen Artney, passing under the dark shadow of Dundurn, until there came
into view the broad waters of Loch Earn.

The morning was bright and cloudless, and at such a pace they went that
a perfect wall of dust stood behind them.

From the margin of the loch the ground rose for a couple of miles until
it reached a plateau upon which stood the fine, imposing Priory, the
ancestral seat of the Muries of Connachan. The aspect as they drove up
was very imposing. The winding road was closely planted with trees for a
large portion of its course, and the stately front of the western
entrance, with its massive stone portico and crenulated cornice, burst
unexpectedly upon them.

From that point of view one seemed to have reached the gable-end of a
princely edifice, crowned with Gothic belfries; yet on looking round it
was seen that the approach by which the doorway had been reached was
lined on one side with buildings hidden behind the clustering foliage;
and through the archway on the left one caught a glimpse of the
ivy-covered clock-tower and spacious stable-yard and garage extending
northwards for a considerable distance.

Gabrielle ran the car round to the south side of the house, where in the
foreground were the well-kept parks of Connachan, the smooth-shaven lawn
fringed with symmetrically planted trees, and the fertile fields
extending away to the very brink of the loch.

The original fortalice of the Muries, half a mile distant, was, like
Glencardine, a ruin. The present Priory, notwithstanding its
old-fashioned towers and lancet windows, was a comparatively modern
structure, and the ivy which partially covered some of the windows could
claim no great antiquity; yet the general effect of the architectural
grouping was most pleasing, and might well deceive the visitor or
tourist into the supposition that it belonged to a very remote period.
It was, as a matter of fact, the work of Atkinson, who in the first
years of the nineteenth century built Scone, Abbotsford, and Taymouth

With loud warning blasts upon the horn, Gabrielle Heyburn pulled up; but
ere she could descend, Walter Murie, a good-looking, dark-haired young
man in grey flannels, and hatless, was outside, hailing her with

"Hallo, Gabrielle!" he cried cheerily, taking her hand, "what brings you
over this morning, especially when we were told last night that you were
so very ill?"

"The illness has passed," exclaimed young Gellatly, shaking his friend's
hand. "And we're now in search of a lost bracelet--one of Lady

"Why, my mother was just going to wire! One of the maids found it in the
boudoir this morning, but we didn't know to whom it belonged. Come
inside. There are a lot of people staying over from last night." Then,
turning to Gabrielle, he added, "By Jove! what dust there must be on the
road! You're absolutely covered."

"Well," she laughed lightly, "it won't hurt me, I suppose. I'm not
afraid of it."

Stokes took charge of the car and shut off the petrol, while the three
went inside, passing into a long, cool cloister, down which was arranged
the splendid collection of antiques discovered or acquired by Malcolm
Murie, the well-known antiquary, who had spent many years in Italy, and
died in 1794. In cases ranged down each side of the long cloister, with
its antique carved chairs, armour, and statuary, were rare Etruscan and
Roman terra-cottas, one containing relics from the tomb of a warrior,
which included a sword-hilt adorned with gold and a portion of a golden
crown formed of lilies _in relievo_ of pure gold laid upon a mould of
bronze; another case was full of bronze ornaments unearthed near Albano,
and still another contained rare Abyssinian curios. The collection was
renowned among antiquaries, and was often visited by Sir Henry, who
would be brought there in the car by Gabrielle, and spend hours alone
fingering the objects in the various cases.

Sir George Murie and Sir Henry Heyburn were close friends; therefore it
was but natural that Walter, the heir to the Connachan estate, and
Gabrielle should often be thrown into each other's company, or perhaps
that the young man--who for the past twelve months had been absent on a
tour round the world--should have loved her ever since the days when she
wore short skirts and her hair down her back. He had been sorely puzzled
why she had not at the last moment come to the ball. She had promised
that she would be with them, and yet she had made the rather lame excuse
of a headache.

Truth to tell, Walter Murie had during the past week been greatly
puzzled at her demeanour of indifference. Seven days ago he had arrived
in London from New York, but found no letter from her awaiting him at
the club, as he had expected. The last he had received in Detroit a
month before, and it was strangely cold, and quite unusual. Two days ago
he had arrived home, and in secret she had met him down at the end of
the glen at Glencardine. At her wish, their first meeting had been
clandestine. Why?

Both their families knew of their mutual affection. Therefore, why
should she now make a secret of their meeting after twelve months'
separation? He was puzzled at her note, and he was further puzzled at
her attitude towards him. She was cold and unresponsive. When he held
her in his arms and kissed her soft lips, she only once returned his
passionate caress, and then as though it were a duty forced upon her.
She had, however, promised to come to the ball. That promise she had
deliberately broken.

Though he could not understand her, he made pretence of unconcern. He
regretted that she had not felt well last night--that was all.

At the end of the cloister young Gellatly found one of Lady Murie's
guests, a girl named Violet Priest, with whom he had danced a good deal
on the previous night, and at once attached himself to her, leaving
Walter with the sweet-faced, slim-waisted object of his affections.

The moment they were alone in the long cloister he asked her quickly,
"Tell me, Gabrielle, the real reason why you did not come last night. I
had looked forward very much to seeing you. But I was disappointed
--sadly disappointed."

"I am very sorry," she laughed, with assumed nonchalance; "but I had to
assist my father with some business papers."

"Your mother told everyone that you do not care for dancing," he said.

"That is untrue, Walter. I love dancing."

"I knew it was untrue, dearest," he said, standing before her. "But why
does Lady Heyburn go out of her way to throw cold water upon you and all
your works?"

"How should I know?" asked the girl, with a slight shrug. "Perhaps it is
because my father places more confidence in me than in her."

"And his confidence is surely not misplaced," he said. "I tell you
frankly that I don't like Lady Heyburn."

"She pretends to like you."

"Pretends!" he echoed. "Yes, it's all pretence. But," he added, "do tell
me the real reason of your absence last night, Gabrielle. It has worried

"Why worry, my dear Walter? Is it really worth troubling over? I'm only
a girl, and, as such, am allowed vagaries of nerves--and all that. I
simply didn't want to come, that's all."


"Well, to tell you the truth, I hate the crowd we have staying in our
house. They are all mother's friends; and mother's friends are never
mine, you know."

He looked at her slim figure, so charming in its daintiness. "What a
dear little philosopher you've grown to be in a single year!" he
declared. "We shall have you quoting Friedrich Nietzsche next."

"Well," she laughed, "if you would like me to quote him I can do so. I
read _Zarathustra_ secretly at school. One of the girls got a copy from
Germany. Do you remember what Zarathustra says: 'Verily, ye could wear
no better masks, ye present-day men, than your own faces,' Who could
recognise you?"

"I hope that's not meant to be personal," he laughed, gazing at the
girl's beautiful countenance and great, luminous eyes.

"You may take it as you like," she declared with a delightfully
mischievous smile. "I only quoted it to show you that I have read
Nietzsche, and recollect his many truths."

"You certainly do seem to have a gay house-party at Glencardine," he
remarked, changing the subject. "I noticed Jimmy Flockart there as

"Yes. He's one of mother's greatest friends. She makes good use of him
in every way. Up in town they are inseparable, it seems. They knew each
other, I believe, when they were boy and girl."

"So I've heard," replied the young man thoughtfully, leaning against a
big glass case containing a collection of _lares_ and _penates_--images
of Jupiter, Hercules, Mercury, &c., used as household gods. "I expected
that he would be dancing attendance upon her during the whole of the
evening; but, curiously enough, soon after his arrival he suddenly
disappeared, and was not seen again until nearly two o'clock." Then,
looking straight in the girl's fathomless eye, he added, "Do you know,
Gabrielle, I don't like that fellow. Beware of him."

"Neither do I. But your warning is quite unnecessary, I assure you. He
doesn't interest me in the least."

Walter Murie was silent for a moment, silent as though in doubt. A
shadow crossed his well-cut features, but only for a single second. Then
he smiled again upon the fair-faced, soft-spoken girl whom he loved so
honestly and so well, the woman who was all in all to him. How could he
doubt her--she who only a year ago had, out yonder in the park, given
him her pledge of affection, and sealed it with her hot, passionate
kisses? Remembrance of those sweet caresses still lingered with him. But
he doubted her. Yes, he could not conceal from himself certain very ugly
facts--facts within his own knowledge. Yet was not his own poignant
jealousy misleading him? Was not her refusal to attend the ball perhaps
due to some sudden pique or unpleasantness with her giddy stepmother?
Was it? He only longed to be able to believe that it might be so. Alas!
however, he had discovered the shadow of a strange and disagreeable



Along the cloister they went to the great hall, where Walter's mother
advanced to greet her. Full of regrets at the girl's inability to attend
the dance, she handed her the missing bracelet, saying, "It is such a
curious and unusual one, dear, that we wondered to whom it belonged.
Brown found it when she was sweeping my boudoir this morning. Take it
home to your mother, and suggest that she has a stronger clasp put on

The girl held the golden snake in her open hand. This was the first time
she had ever seen it. A fine example of old Italian workmanship, it was
made flexible, with its flat head covered with diamonds, and two bright
emeralds for the eyes. The mouth could be opened, and within was a small
cavity where a photo or any tiny object could be concealed. Where her
mother had picked it up she could not tell. But Lady Heyburn was always
purchasing quaint odds and ends, and, like most giddy women of her
class, was extraordinarily fond of fantastic jewellery and ornaments
such as other women did not possess.

Several members of the house-party at Connachan entered and chatted, all
being full of the success of the previous night's entertainment. Lady
Murie's husband had, it appeared, left that morning for Edinburgh to
attend a political committee.

A little later Walter succeeded in getting Gabrielle alone again in a
small, well-furnished room leading off the library--a room in which she
had passed many happy hours with him before he had gone abroad. He had
been in London reading for the Bar, but had spent a good deal of his
time up in Perthshire, or at least all he possibly could. At such times
they were inseparable; but after he had been "called"--there being no
necessity for him to practise, he being heir to the estates--he had gone
to India and Japan "to broaden his mind," as his father had explained.

"I wonder, Gabrielle," he said hesitatingly, holding her hand as they
stood at the open window--"I wonder if you will forgive me if I put a
question to you. I--I know I ought not to ask it," he stammered; "but it
is only because I love you so well, dearest, that I ask you to tell me
the truth."

"The truth!" echoed the girl, looking at him with some surprise, though
turning just a trifle paler, he thought. "The truth about what?"

"About that man James Flockart," was his low, distinct reply.

"About him! Why, my dear Walter," she laughed, "whatever do you want to
know about him? You know all that I know. We were agreed long ago that
he is not a gentleman, weren't we?"

"Yes," he said. "Don't you recollect our talk at your house in London
two years ago, soon after you came back from school? Do you remember
what you then told me?"

She flushed slightly at the recollection. "I--I ought not to have said
that," she exclaimed hurriedly. "I was only a girl then, and I--well, I
didn't know."

"What you said has never passed my lips, dearest. Only, I ask you again
to-day to tell me honestly and frankly whether your opinion of him has
in any way changed. I mean whether you still believe what you then

She was silent for a few moments. Her lips twitched nervously, and her
eyes stared blankly out of the window. "No, I repeat what--I--said
--then," she answered in a strange hoarse voice.

"And only you yourself suspect the truth?"

"You are the only person to whom I have mentioned it, and I have been
filled with regret ever since. I had no right to make the allegation,
Walter. I should have kept my secret to myself."

"There was surely no harm in telling me, dearest," he exclaimed, still
holding her hand, and looking fixedly into those clear-blue, fathomless
eyes so very dear to him. "You know too well that I would never betray

"But if he knew--if that man ever knew," she cried, "he would avenge
himself upon me! I know he would."

"But what have you to fear, little one?" he asked, surprised at the
sudden change in her.

"You know how my mother hates me, how they all detest me--all except
dear old dad, who is so terribly helpless, misled, defrauded, and
tricked--as he daily is--by those about him."

"I know, darling," said the young man. "I know it all only too well.
Trust in me;" and, bending, he kissed her softly upon the lips.

What was the real, the actual truth, he wondered. Was she still his, as
she had ever been, or was she playing him false?

Little did the girl dream of the extent of her lover's knowledge of
certain facts which she was hiding from the world, vainly believing them
to be her own secret. Little did she dream how very near she was to

Walter Murie had, after a frivolous youth, developed at the age of
six-and-twenty into as sound, honest, and upright a young man as could
be found beyond the Border. As full of high spirits as of high
principles, he was in every way worthy the name of the gallant family
whose name he bore, a Murie of Connachan, both for physical strength and
scrupulous honesty; while his affection for Gabrielle Heyburn was that
deep, all-absorbing devotion which makes men sacrifice themselves for
the women they love. He was not very demonstrative. He never wore his
heart upon his sleeve, but deep within him was that true affection which
caused him to worship her as his idol. To him she was peerless among
women, and her beauty was unequalled. Her piquant mischievousness amused
him. As a girl, she had always been fond of tantalising him, and did so
now. Yet he knew her fine character; how deeply devoted she was to her
afflicted father, and how full of discomfort was her dull life, now that
she had exchanged her school for the same roof which covered Sir Henry's
second wife. Indeed, this latter event was the common talk of all who
knew the family. They sighed and pitied poor Sir Henry. It was all very
sad, they said; but there their sympathy ended. During Walter's absence
abroad something had occurred. What that something was he had not yet
determined. Gabrielle was not exactly the same towards him as she used
to be. His keen sensitiveness told him this instinctively, and, indeed,
he had made a discovery that, though he did not admit it now, had
staggered him.

He stood there at the open window chatting with her, but what he said he
had no idea. His one thought--the one question which now possessed
him--was whether she still loved him, or whether the discovery he had
made was the actual and painful truth. Tall and good-looking,
clean-shaven, and essentially easy-going, he stood before her with his
dark eyes fixed upon her--eyes full of devotion, for was she not his

She was telling him of a garden-party which her mother had arranged for
the following Thursday, and pressing him to attend it.

"I'm afraid I may have to be in London that day, dearest," he responded.
"But if I may I'll come over to-morrow and play tennis. Will you be at
home in the afternoon?"

"No," she declared promptly, with a mischievous laugh, "I shan't. I
shall be in the glen by the first bridge at four o'clock, and shall wait
for you there."

"Very well, I'll be there," he laughed. "But why should we meet in
secret like this, when everybody knows of our engagement?"

"Well, because I have a reason," she replied in a strained voice--"a
strong reason."

"You've grown suddenly shy, afraid of chaff, it seems."

"My mother is, I fear, not altogether well disposed towards you,
Walter," was her quick response. "Dad is very fond of you, as you well
know; but Lady Heyburn has other views for me, I think."

"And is that the only reason you wish to meet me in secret?" he asked.

She hesitated, became slightly confused, and quickly turned the
conversation into a different channel, a fact which caused him increased
doubt and reflection.

Yes, something certainly had occurred. That was vividly apparent. A gulf
lay between them.

Again he looked straight into her beautiful face, and fell to wondering.
What could it all mean? So true had she been to him, so sweet her
temperament, so high all her ideals, that he could not bring himself to
believe ill of her. He tried to fight down those increasing doubts. He
tried to put aside the naked truth which had arisen before him since his
return to England. He loved her. Yes, he loved her, and would think no
ill of her until he had proof, actual and indisputable.

As far as the eligibility of Walter Murie was concerned there was no
question. Even Lady Heyburn could not deny it when she discussed the
matter over the tea-cups with her intimate friends.

The family of the Muries of Connachan claimed a respectable antiquity.
The original surname of the family was De Balinhard, assumed from an
estate of that name in the county of Forfar. Sir Jocelynus de
Baldendard, or Balinhard, who witnessed several charters between 1204
and 1225, is the first recorded of the name, but there is no documentary
proof of descent before that time; and, indeed, most of the family
papers having been burned in 1452, little remains of the early history
beyond the names and succession of the possessors of Balinhard from
about 1250 till 1350, which are stated in a charter of David II. now
preserved in the British Museum. This charter records the grant made by
William de Maule to John de Balinhard, _filio et heredi quondam Joannis
filii Christini filii Joannis de Balinhard_, of the lands of Murie, in
the county of Perthshire, and from that period, about 1350, the family
has borne the name of De Murie instead of De Balinhard. In 1409 Duthac
de Murie obtained a charter of the Castle of Connachan, possession of
which has been held by the family uninterruptedly ever since, except for
about thirty years, when the lands were under forfeiture on account of
the Rebellion of 1715.

Near Crieff Junction station the lands of Glencardine and Connachan
march together; therefore both Sir Henry Heyburn and his friend, Sir
George Murie, had looked upon an alliance between the two houses as
quite within the bounds of probability.

If the truth were told, Gabrielle had never looked upon any other man
save Walter with the slightest thought of affection. She loved him with
the whole strength of her being. During that twelve long months of
absence he had been daily in her thoughts, and his constant letters she
had read and re-read dozens of times. She had, since she left school,
met many eligible young men at houses to which her mother had grudgingly
taken her--young men who had been nice to her, flattered her, and
flirted with her. But she had treated them all with coquettish disdain,
for in the world there was but one man who was her lover and her
hero--her old friend Walter Murie.

At this moment, as they were together in that cosy, well-furnished room,
she became seized by a twinge of conscience. She knew quite well that
she was not treating him as she ought. She had not been at all
enthusiastic at his return, and she had inquired but little about his
wanderings. Indeed, she had treated him with a studied indifference, as
though his life concerned her but little. And yet if he only knew the
truth, she thought; if he could only see that that cool, unresponsive
attitude was forced upon her by circumstances; if he could only know how
quickly her heart throbbed when he was present, and how dull and lonely
all became when he was absent!

She loved him. Ah, yes! as truly and devotedly as he loved her. But
between them there had fallen a dark, grim shadow--one which, at all
hazards and by every subterfuge, she must endeavour to hide. She loved
him, and could, therefore, never bear to hear his bitter reproaches or
to witness his grief. He worshipped her. Would that he did not, she
thought. She must hide her secret from him as she was hiding it from all
the world.

He was speaking. She answered him calmly yet mechanically. He wondered
what strange thoughts were concealed beneath those clear, wide-open,
child-like eyes which he was trying in vain to fathom. What would he
have thought had he known the terrible truth: that she had calmly, and
after long reflection, resolved to court death--death by her own
hand--rather than face the exposure with which she had that previous
night been threatened.



A week had gone by. Stewart, the lean, thin-faced head-keeper, who spoke
with such a strong accent that guests from the South often failed to
understand him, and who never seemed to sleep, so vigilant was he over
the Glencardine shootings, had reported the purchase of a couple of new

Therefore, one morning Lady Heyburn and her constant cavalier, Flockart,
had walked across to the kennels close to the castle to inspect them.

At the end of the big, old-fashioned stable-yard, with grey stone
outbuildings ranged down either side, and the ancient mounting-block a
conspicuous object, were ranged the modern iron kennels full of pointers
and spaniels. In that big, old, paved quadrangle, the cobbles of which
were nowadays stained by the oil of noisy motor-cars, many a Graham of
Glencardine had mounted to ride into Stirling or Edinburgh, or to drive
in his coach to far-off London. The stables were now empty, but the
garage adjoining, whence came the odour of petrol, contained the two
Glencardine cars, besides three others belonging to members of that
merry, irresponsible house-party.

The inspection of the pointers was a mere excuse on her ladyship's part
to be alone with Flockart.

She wished to speak with him, and with that object suggested that they
should take the by-road which, crossing one of the main roads through
the estate, led through a leafy wood away to a railway level-crossing
half a mile off. The road was unfrequented, and they were not likely to
meet any of the guests, for some were away fishing, others had motored
into Stirling, and at least three had walked down into Auchterarder to
take a telegram for their blind host.

"Well, my dear Jimmy," asked the well-preserved, fair-haired woman in
short brown skirt and fresh white cotton blouse and sun-hat, "what have
you discovered?"

"Very little," replied the easy-going man, who wore a suit of rough
heather-tweed and a round cloth fishing-hat. "My information is
unfortunately very meagre. You have watched carefully. Well, what have
you found out?"

"That she's just as much in love with him as before--the little fool!"

"And I suppose he's just as devoted to her as ever--eh?"

"Of course. Since you've been away these last few days he's been over
here from Connachan, on one pretext or another, every day. Of course
I've been compelled to ask him to lunch, for I can't afford to quarrel
with his people, although I hate the whole lot of them. His mother gives
herself such airs, and his father is the most terrible old bore in the
whole country."

"But the match would be an advantageous one--wouldn't it?" suggested the
man strolling at her side, and he stopped to light a cigarette which he
took from a golden case.

"Advantageous! Of course it would! But we can't afford to allow it, my
dear Jimmy. Think what such an alliance would mean to us!"

"To you, you mean."

"To you also. An ugly revelation might result, remember. Therefore it
must not be allowed. While Walter was abroad all was pretty plain
sailing. Lots of the letters she wrote him I secured from the post-box,
read them, and afterwards burned them. But now he's back there is a
distinct peril. He's a cute young fellow, remember."

Flockart smiled. "We must discover a means by which to part them," he
said slowly but decisively. "I quite agree with you that to allow the
matter to go any further would be to court disaster. We have a good many
enemies, you and I, Winnie--many who would only be too pleased and eager
to rake up that unfortunate episode. And I, for one, have no desire to
figure in a criminal dock."

"Nor have I," she declared quickly.

"But if I went there you would certainly accompany me," he said, looking
straight at her.

"What!" she gasped in quick dismay. "You would tell the truth and--and
denounce me?"

"I would not; but no doubt there are others who would," was his answer.

For a few moments her arched brows were knit, and she remained silent.
Her reflections were uneasy ones. She and the man at her side, who for
years had been her confidant and friend, were both in imminent peril of
exposure. Their relations had always been purely platonic; therefore she
was not afraid of any allegation against her honour. What her enemies
had said were lies--all of them. Her fear lay in quite a different

Her poor, blind, helpless husband was in ignorance of that terrible
chapter of her own life--a chapter which she had believed to be closed
for ever, and yet which was, by means of a chain of unexpected
circumstances, in imminent danger of being reopened.

"Well," she inquired at last in a blank voice, "and who are those others
who, you believe, would be prepared to denounce me?"

"Certain persons who envy you your position, and who, perhaps, think
that you do not treat poor old Sir Henry quite properly."

"But I do treat him properly!" she declared vehemently. "If he prefers
the society of that chit of a girl of his to mine, how can I possibly
help it? Besides, people surely must know that, to me, the society of a
blind old man is not exactly conducive to gaiety. I would only like to
put those women who malign me into my place for a single year. Perhaps
they would become even more reckless of the _convenances_ than I am!"

"My dear Winnie," he said, "what's the use of discussing such an old and
threadbare theme? Things are not always what they seem, as the man with
a squint said when he thought he saw two sovereigns where there was but
one. The point before us is the girl's future."

"It lies in your hands," was her sharp reply.

"No; in yours. I have promised to look after Walter Murie."

"But how can I act?" she asked. "The little hussy cares nothing for
me--only sees me at table, and spends the whole of her day with her

"Act as I suggested last week," was his rejoinder. "If you did that the
old man would turn her out of the place, and the rest would be easy


"Ah!" he laughed derisively, "I see you've some sympathy with the girl
after all. Very well, take the consequences. It is she who will be your
deadliest enemy, remember; she who, if the disaster falls, will give
evidence against you. Therefore, you'd best act now, ere it's too late.
Unless, of course, you are in fear of her."

"I don't fear her!" cried the woman, her eyes flashing defiance. "Why do
you taunt me like this? You haven't told me yet what took place on the
night of the ball."

"Nothing. The mystery is just as complete as ever."

"She defied you--eh?"

Her companion nodded.

"Then how do you now intend to act?"

"That's just the question I was about to put to you," he said. "There is
a distinct peril--one which becomes graver every moment that the girl
and young Murie are together. How are we to avert it?"

"By parting them."

"Then act as I suggested the other day. It's the only way, Winnie,
depend upon it--the only way to secure our own safety."

"And what would the world say of me, her stepmother, if it were known
that I had done such a thing?"

"You've never yet cared for what the world said. Why should you care
now? Besides, it never will be known. I should be the only person in the
secret, and for my own sake it isn't likely that I'd give you away. Is
it? You've trusted me before," he added; "why not again?"

"It would break my husband's heart," she declared in a low, intense
voice. "Remember, he is devoted to her. He would never recover from the

"And yet the other night after the ball you said you were prepared to
carry out the suggestion, in order to save yourself," he remarked with a
covert sneer.

"Perhaps I was piqued that she should defy my suggestion that she should
go to the ball."

"No, you were not. You never intended her to go. That you know."

When he spoke to her this man never minced matters. The woman was held
by him in a strange thraldom which surprised many people; yet to all it
was a mystery. The world knew nothing of the fact that James Flockart
was without a penny, and that he lived--and lived well, too--upon the
charity of Lady Heyburn. Two thousand pounds were placed, in secret,
every year to his credit from her ladyship's private account at
Coutts's, besides which he received odd cheques from her whenever his
needs required. To his friends he posed as an easy-going man-about-town,
in possession of an income not large, but sufficient to supply him with
both comforts and luxuries. He usually spent the London season in his
cosy chambers in Half-Moon Street; the winter at Monte Carlo or at
Cairo; the summer at Aix, Vichy, or Marienbad; and the autumn in a
series of visits to houses in Scotland.

He was not exactly a ladies' man. Courtly, refined, and a splendid
linguist, as he was, the girls always voted him great fun; but from the
elder ones, and from married women especially, he somehow held himself
aloof. His one woman-friend, as everybody knew, was the flighty,
go-ahead Lady Heyburn.

Of the country-house party he was usually the life and soul. No man
could invent so many practical jokes or carry them on with such
refinement of humour as he. Therefore, if the hostess wished to impart
merriment among her guests, she sought out and sent a pressing
invitation to "Jimmy" Flockart. A first-class shot, an excellent
tennis-player, a good golfer, and quite a good hand at putting a stone
in curling, he was an all-round sportsman who was sure to be highly
popular with his fellow-guests. Hence up in the north his advent was
always welcomed with loud approbation.

To those who knew him, and knew him well, this confidential conversation
with the woman whose platonic friendship he had enjoyed through so many
years would certainly have caused greatest surprise. That he was a
schemer was entirely undreamed of. That he was attracted by "Winnie
Heyburn" was declared to be only natural, in view of the age and
affliction of her own husband. Cases such as hers are often regarded
with a very lenient eye.

They had reached the level-crossing where, beside the line of the
Caledonian Railway, stands the mail-apparatus by which the down-mail for
Euston picks up the local bag without stopping, while the up-mail drops
its letters and parcels into the big, strong net. For a few moments they
halted to watch the dining-car express for Euston pass with a roar and a
crash as she dashed down the incline towards Crieff Junction.

Then, as they turned again towards the house, he suddenly exclaimed,
"Look here, Winnie. We've got to face the music now. Every day increases
our peril. If you are actually afraid to act as I suggest, then tell me
frankly and I'll know what to do. I tell you quite openly that I have
neither desire nor intention to be put into a hole by this confounded
girl. She has defied me; therefore she must take the consequences."

"How do you know that your action the other night has not aroused her

"Ah! there you are quite right. It may have done so. If it has, then our
peril has very considerably increased. That's just my argument."

"But we'll have Walter to reckon with in any case. He loves her."

"Bah! Leave the boy to me. I'll soon show him that the girl's not worth
a second thought," replied Flockart with nonchalant air. "All you have
to do is to act as I suggested the other night. Then leave the rest to

"And suppose it were discovered?" asked the woman, whose face had grown
considerably paler.

"Well, suppose the worst happened, and it were discovered?" he asked,
raising his brows slightly. "Should we be any worse off than would be
the case if this girl took it into her head to expose us--if the facts
which she could prove placed us side by side in an assize-court?"

The woman--clever, scheming, ambitious--was silent. The question
admitted of no reply. She recognised her own peril. The picture of
herself arraigned before a judge, with that man beside her, rose before
her imagination, and she became terrified. That slim, pale-faced girl,
her husband's child, stood between her and her own honour, her own
safety. Once the girl was removed, she would have no further fear, no
apprehension, no hideous forebodings concerning the imminent future. She
saw it all as she walked along that moss-grown forest-road, her eyes
fixed straight before her. The tempter at her side had urged her to
commit a dastardly, an unpardonable crime. In that man's hands she was,
alas! as wax. He poured into her ear a vivid picture of what must
inevitably result should Gabrielle reveal the ugly truth, at the same
time calmly watching the effect of his words upon her. Upon her decision
depended his whole future as well as hers. What was Gabrielle's life to
hers, asked the man point-blank. That was the question which decided
her--decided her, after long and futile resistance, to promise to commit
the act which he had suggested. She gave the man her hand in pledge.

Then a slight smile of triumph played about his cruel nether lip, and
the pair retraced their steps towards the castle in silence.



Loving and perishing: these have tallied from eternity. Love and death
walk hand-in-hand. The will to love means also to be ready for death.

Gabrielle Heyburn recognised this truth. She had the will to love, and
she had the resolve to perish--perish by her own hand--rather than allow
her secret to be exposed. Those who knew her--a young, athletic,
merry-faced, open-air girl on the verge of budding womanhood, so
true-hearted, frank, and free--little dreamed of the terrible nature of
that secret within her young heart.

She held aloof from her lover as much as she dared. True, Walter came to
Glencardine nearly every day, but she managed to avoid him whenever
possible. Why? Because she knew her own weakness; she feared being
compelled by his stronger nature, and by the true affection in which she
held him, to confess. They walked together in the cool, shady glen
beside the rippling burn, climbed the neighbouring hills, played tennis,
or else she lay in the hammock at the edge of the lawn while he lounged
at her side smoking cigarettes. She did all this because she was

Her most enjoyable hours were the quiet ones spent at Her father's side.
Alone in the library, she read to him, in French, those curious business
documents which came so often by registered post. They were so strangely
worded that, not knowing their true import, she failed to understand
them. All were neatly typed, without any heading to the paper. Sometimes
a printed address in the Boulevard des Capucines, Paris, would appear on
letters accompanying the enclosures. But all were very formal, and to
Gabrielle extremely puzzling.

Sir Henry always took the greatest precaution that no one should obtain


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