The House of Whispers
William Le Queux
Part 2 out of 6
sight of these confidential reports or overhear them read by his
daughter. Before she sat down to read, she always shot the small brass
bolt on the door to prevent Hill or any other intruder from entering.
More than once the Baronet's wife had wanted to come in while the
reading was in progress, whereupon Sir Henry always excused himself,
saying that he locked his door against his guests when he wished to be
alone, an explanation which her ladyship accepted.
These strangely worded reports in French always puzzled the Baronet's
daughter. Sometimes she became seized by a vague suspicion that her
father was carrying on some business which was not altogether
honourable. Why should he enjoin such secrecy? Why should he cause her
to write and despatch with her own hand such curiously worded telegrams,
addressed always to the registered address: "METEFOROS, PARIS"?
Those neatly typed pages which she read could be always construed in two
or three senses. But only her father knew the actual meaning which the
writer intended to convey. For hours she would often be engaged in
reading them. Sometimes, too, telegrams in cipher arrived, and she would
then obtain the little, dark-blue covered book from the safe, and by its
aid decipher the messages from the French capital.
Questions, curious questions, were frequently asked by the anonymous
sender of the reports; and to these her father replied by means of his
private code. She had become during the past year quite an expert
typist, and therefore to her the Baronet entrusted the replies, always
impressing upon her the need of absolute secrecy, even from her mother.
"My affairs," he often declared, "concern nobody but myself. I trust in
you, Gabrielle dear, to guard my secrets from prying eyes. I know that
you yourself must often be puzzled, but that is only natural."
Unfamiliar as the girl was with business in any form, she had during the
past year arrived at the conclusion, after much debate within herself,
that this source of her father's income was a distinctly mysterious one.
The estates were, of course, large, and he employed agents to manage
them; but they could not produce that huge income which she knew he
possessed, for had she not more than once seen the amount of his balance
at his banker's as well as the large sum he had on deposit? The source
of his colossal wealth was a mystery, but was no doubt connected with
his curious and constant communications with Paris.
At rare intervals a grey-faced, grey-bearded, and rather stout
Frenchman--a certain Monsieur Goslin--called, and on such occasions was
closeted for a long time alone with Sir Henry, evidently discussing some
important affair in secret. To her ladyship, as well as to Gabrielle,
the Frenchman was most courteous, but refused the pressing invitations
to remain the night. He always arrived by the morning train from Perth,
and left for the south the same night, the express being stopped for him
by signal at Auchterarder station. The mysterious visitor puzzled
Gabrielle considerably. Her father entrusted him with secrets which he
withheld from her, and this often caused her both surprise and
annoyance. Like every other girl, she was of course full of curiosity.
Towards her Flockart became daily more friendly. On two occasions, after
breakfast, he had invited her to spend an hour or two fishing for trout
in the burn, which was unexpectedly in spate, and they had thus been
some time in each other's company.
She, however, regarded him with distinct distrust. He was undeniably
good-looking, nonchalant, and a thorough-going man of the world. But his
intimate friendship with Lady Heyburn prevented her from regarding him
as a true friend. Towards her he was ever most courteous, and paid her
many little compliments. He tied her flies, he fitted her rod, and if
her line became entangled in the trees he always put matters right. Not,
however, that she could not do it all herself. In her strong, high
fishing-boots, her short skirts hemmed with leather, her burberry, and
her dark-blue tam-o'-shanter set jauntily on her chestnut hair, she very
often fished alone, and made quite respectable baskets. To wade into the
burn and disentangle her line from beneath a stone was to her quite a
small occurrence, for she would never let either Stewart or any of the
under-keepers accompany her.
Why Flockart had so suddenly sought her society she failed to discern.
Hitherto, though always extremely polite, he had treated her as a child,
which she naturally resented. At length, however, he seemed to have
realised that she now possessed the average intelligence of a young
He had never repeated those strange words he had uttered when, on the
night of the ball at Connachan, he returned in secret to the castle and
beckoned her out upon the lawn. He had, indeed, never referred to his
curious action. Sometimes she wondered, so changed was his manner,
whether he had actually forgotten the incident altogether. He had showed
himself in his true colours that night. Whatever suspicions she had
previously held were corroborated in that stroll across the lawn in the
dark shadow. His tactics had altered, it seemed, and their objective
"It must be very dull for you here, Miss Heyburn," he remarked to her
one bright morning as they were casting up-stream near one another. They
were standing not far from a rustic bridge in a deep, leafy glen, where
the sunshine penetrated here and there through the canopy of leaves,
beneath which the burn pursued its sinuous course towards the Earn. The
music of the rippling waters over the brown, moss-grown boulders mingled
with the rustle of the leaves above, as now and then the soft wind swept
up the narrow valley. They were treading a carpet of wild-flowers, and
the air was full of the delicious perfume of the summer day. "You must
be very dull, living here so much, and going up to town so very seldom,"
"Oh dear no!" she laughed. "You are quite mistaken. I really enjoy a
country life. It's so jolly after the confinement and rigorous rules of
school. One is free up here. I can wear my old clothes, and go cycling,
fishing, shooting, curling; in fact, I'm my own mistress. That I
shouldn't be if I lived in London, and had to make calls, walk in the
Park, go shopping, sit out concerts, and all that sort of thing."
"But though you're out, you never go anywhere. Surely that's unusual for
one so active and--well"--he hesitated--"I wonder whether I might be
permitted to say so--so good-looking as you are, Gabrielle."
"Ah!" replied the girl, protesting, but blushing at the same time,
"you're poking fun at me, Mr. Flockart. All I can reply is, first, that
I'm not good-looking; and, secondly, I'm not in the least dull--perhaps
I should be if I hadn't my father's affairs to attend to."
"They seem to take up a lot of your time," he said with pretended
indifference, but, to his annoyance, landed a salmon parr at the same
"We work together most evenings," was her reply.
The question which he then put as he threw the parr back into the burn
struck her as curious. It was evident that he was endeavouring to learn
from her the nature of her father's correspondence. But she was shrewd
enough to parry all his ingenious cross-questioning. Her father's
secrets were her own.
"Some ill-natured people gossip about Sir Henry," he remarked presently,
as he made another long cast up-stream and allowed the flies to be
carried down to within a few yards from where he stood. "They say that
his source of income is mysterious, and that it is not altogether open
"What!" she exclaimed, looking at him quickly. "And who, pray, Mr.
Flockart, makes this allegation against my father?"
"Oh, I really don't know who started the gossip. The source of such
tales is always difficult to discover. Some enemy, no doubt. Every man
in this world of ours has enemies."
"What do you mean by the source of dad's income not being an honourable
The man shrugged his shoulders. "I really don't know," he declared. "I
only repeat what I've heard once or twice up in London."
"Tell me exactly what they say," demanded the girl, with quick interest.
Her companion hesitated for a few seconds. "Well, whatever has been
said, I've always denied; for, as you know, I am a friend of both Lady
Heyburn and of your father."
The girl's nostrils dilated slightly. Friend! Why, was not this man her
father's false friend? Was he not behind every sinister action of Lady
Heyburn's, and had not she herself, with her own ears, one day at Park
Street, four years ago, overheard her ladyship express a dastardly
desire in the words, "Oh, Henry is such a dreadful old bore, and so
utterly useless, that it's a shame a woman like myself should be tied up
to him. Fortunately for me, he already has one foot in the grave.
Otherwise I couldn't tolerate this life at all!" Those cruel words of
her stepmother's, spoken to this man who was at that moment her
companion, recurred to her. She recollected, too, Flockart's reply.
This hollow pretence of friendship angered her. She knew that the man
was her father's enemy, and that he had united with the clever, scheming
woman in some ingenious conspiracy against the poor, helpless man.
Therefore she turned, and, facing him boldly, said, "I wish, Mr.
Flockart, that you would please understand that I have no intention to
discuss my father or his affairs. The latter concern himself alone. He
does not even speak of them to his wife; therefore why should strangers
evince any interest in them?"
"Because there are rumours--rumours of a mystery; and mysteries are
always interesting and attractive," was his answer.
"True," she said meaningly. "Just as rumours concerning certain of my
father's guests possess an unusual interest for him, Mr. Flockart.
Though my father may be blind, his hearing is still excellent. And he is
aware of much more than you think."
The man glanced at her for an instant, and his face darkened. The girl's
ominous words filled him with vague apprehension. Was it possible that
the blind man had any suspicion of what was intended? He held his
breath, and made another vicious cast far up the rippling stream.
REVEALS A MYSTERIOUS BUSINESS
In the few days which followed, Lady Heyburn's attitude towards
Gabrielle became one of marked affection. She even kissed her in the
breakfast-room each morning, called her "dear," and consulted her upon
the day's arrangements.
Poor Sir Henry was but a cipher in the household. He usually took all
his meals alone, except dinner, and was very seldom seen, save perhaps
when he would come out for an hour or so to walk in the park, led by his
daughter, or else, alone, tapping before him with his stout stick. On
such occasions he would wear a pair of big blue spectacles to hide the
unsightliness of his gray, filmy eyes. Sometimes he would sit on one of
the garden seats on the south side of the house, enjoying the sunshine,
and listening to the songs of the birds, the hum of the insects, and the
soft ripples of the burn far below. And on such occasions one of his
wife's guests would join him to chat and cheer him, for everyone felt
pity for the lonely man living his life of darkness.
No one was more full of words of sympathy than James Flockart. Gabrielle
longed to warn her father of that man, but dared not do so. There was a
reason--a strong reason--for her silence. Sir Henry had declared that he
was interested in the man's intellectual conversation, and that he
rather liked him, though he had never looked upon his face. In some
things the old gentleman was ever ready to adopt his daughter's advice
and rely upon her judgment; but in others he was quite obstinate and
treated her pointed remarks with calm indifference.
One day, at Lady Heyburn's suggestion, Gabrielle, accompanied by
Flockart and another of the guests, a retired colonel, had driven over
in the big car to Perth to make a call; and on their return she spent
some hours in the library with her father, attending to his
That morning a big packet of those typed reports in French had arrived
in the usual registered, orange-coloured envelope, and after she had
read them over to the Baronet, he had given her the key, and she had got
out the code-book. Then, at his instructions, she had written upon a
yellow telegraph-form a cipher message addressed to the mysterious
"Meteforos, Paris." It read, when decoded:--
"Arrange with amethyst. I agree the price of pearls. Have no fear of
Smithson, but watch Peters. If London refuses, then Mayfair. Expect
report of Bedford."
It was not signed by the Baronet's name, but by the signature he always
used on such telegraphic replies: "Senrab."
From such a despatch she could gather nothing. At his request she took
away the little blue-covered book and relocked it in the safe. Then she
rang for Hill, and told him to send the despatch by messenger down to
"Very well, miss," replied the man, bowing.
"The car is going down to take Mr. Seymour to the station in about a
quarter of an hour, so Stokes will take it."
"And look here," exclaimed the blind man, who was standing before the
window with his back to the crimson sunset, "you can tell her ladyship,
Hill, that I'm very busy, and I shan't come in to dinner to-night. Just
serve a snack here for me, will you?"
"Very well, Sir Henry," responded the smart footman; and, bowing again,
he closed the door.
"May I dine with you, dad?" asked the girl. "There are two or three
people invited to-night, and they don't interest me in the least."
"My dear child, what do you mean? Why, aren't Walter Murie and his
mother dining here to-night? I know your mother invited them ten days
"Oh, why, yes," replied the girl rather lamely; "I did not recollect.
Then, I suppose, I must put in an appearance," she sighed.
"Suppose!" he echoed. "What would Walter think if you elected to dine
with me instead of meeting him at table?"
"Now, dad, it is really unkind of you!" she said reprovingly. "Walter
and I thoroughly understand each other. He's not surprised at anything I
"Ah!" laughed the sightless man, "he's already beginning to understand
the feminine perverseness, eh? Well, my child, dine here with me if you
wish, by all means. Tell Hill to lay the table for two. We have lots of
work to do afterwards."
So the bell was rung again and Hill was informed that Miss Gabrielle
would dine with her father in the library.
Then they turned again to the Baronet's mysterious private affairs; and
when she had seated herself at the typewriter and re-read the
reports--confidential reports they were, but framed in a manner which
only the old man himself could understand--he dictated to her cryptic
replies, the true nature of which were to her a mystery.
The last of the reports, brief and unsigned, read as follows:--
"Mon petit garcon est tres gravement malade, et je supplie Dieu a genoux
de ne pas me punir si severement, de ne pas me prendre mon enfant.
"D'apres le dernier bulletin du Professeur Knieberger, il a la fievre
scarlatine, et l'issue de la maladie est incertaine. Je ne quitte plus
son chevet. Et sans cesse je me dis, 'C'est une punition du Ciel.'"
Gabrielle saw that, to the outside world, it was a statement by a
frantic mother that her child had caught scarlet-fever. "What could it
really mean?" she wondered.
Slowly she read it, and as she did so noticed the curious effect it had
upon her father, seated as he was in the deep saddle-bag chair. His face
grew very grave, his thin white hands clenched themselves, and there was
an unusually bitter expression about his mouth.
"Eh?" he asked, as though not quite certain of the words. "Read it
again, child, slower. I--I have to think."
She obeyed, wondering if the key to the cryptic message were contained
in some conjunction of letters or words. It seemed as though, in
imagination, he was setting it down before him as she pronounced the
words. This was often so. At times he would have reports repeated to him
over and over again.
"Ah!" he gasped at last, drawing a long breath, his hands still tightly
clenched, his countenance haggard and drawn. "I--I expected that. And so
it has come--at last!"
"What, dad?" asked the girl in surprise, staring at the crisp
typewritten sheet before her.
"Oh, well, nothing child--nothing," he answered, bestirring himself.
"But the lady whoever she is, seems terribly concerned about her little
boy. The judgment of Heaven, she calls it."
"And well she may, Gabrielle," he answered in a hoarse strained voice.
"Well she may, my dear. It is a punishment sent upon the wicked."
"Is the mother wicked, then?" asked the girl in curiosity.
"No, dear," he urged. "Don't try to understand, for you can never do
that. These reports convey to me alone the truth. They are intended to
mislead you, as they mislead other people."
"Then there is no little boy suffering from scarlet-fever?"
"Yes. Because it is written there," was his smiling reply. "But it only
refers to an imaginary child, and, by so doing, places a surprising and
alarming truth before me."
"Is the matter so very serious, dad?" she asked, noticing the curious
effect the words had had upon him.
"Serious!" he echoed, leaning forward in his chair. "Yes," he answered
in a low voice, "it is very serious, child, both to me and to you."
"I don't understand you, dad," she exclaimed, walking to his chair
throwing herself upon her knees, and placing her arms around his neck.
"Won't you be more explicit? Won't you tell me the truth? Surely you can
rely upon my secrecy?"
"Yes, child," he said, groping until his hand fell upon her hair, and
then stroking it tenderly; "I trust you. You keep my affairs from those
people who seek to obtain knowledge of them. Without you, I would be
compelled to employ a secretary; but he could be bought, without a
doubt. Most secretaries can."
"Ford was very trustworthy, was he not?"
"Yes, poor Ford," he sighed. "When he died I lost my right hand. But
fortunately you were old enough to take his place."
"But in a case like this, when you are worried and excited, as you are
at this moment, why not confide in me and allow me to help you?" she
suggested. "You see that, although I act as your secretary, dad, I know
nothing of the nature of your business."
"And forgive me for speaking very plainly, child, I do not intend that
you should," the old man said.
"Because you cannot trust me!" she pouted. "You think that because I'm a
woman I cannot keep a secret."
"Not at all," he said. "I place every confidence in you, dear. You are
the only real friend left to me in the whole world. I know that you
would never willingly betray me to my enemies; but----"
"Well, but what?"
"But you might do so unknowingly. You might by one single chance-word
place me within the power of those who seek my downfall."
"Who seeks your downfall, dad?" she asked very seriously.
"That's a matter which I desire to keep to myself. Unfortunately, I do
not know the identity of my enemies; hence I am compelled to keep from
you certain matters which, in other circumstances, you might know. But,"
he added, "this is not the first time we've discussed this question,
Gabrielle dear. You are my daughter, and I trust you. Do not, child,
misjudge me by suspecting that I doubt your loyalty."
"I don't, dad; only sometimes I----"
"Sometimes you think," he said, still stroking her hair--"you think that
I ought to tell you the reason I receive all these reports from Paris,
and their real significance. Well, to tell the truth, dear, it is best
that you should not know. If you reflect for a moment," went on the old
man, tears welling slowly in his filmy, sightless eyes, "you will
realise my unhappy situation--how I am compelled to hide my affairs even
from Lady Heyburn herself. Does she ever question you regarding them?"
"She used to at one time; but she refrains nowadays, for I would tell
"Has anyone else ever tried to glean information from you?" he inquired,
after a long breath.
"Mr. Flockart has done so on several occasions of late. But I pleaded
"Oh, Flockart has been asking you, has he?" remarked her father with
surprise. "Well, I suppose it is only natural. A blind man's doings are
always more or less a mystery to the world."
"I don't like Mr. Flockart, dad," she said.
"So you've remarked before, my dear," her father replied. "Of course you
are right in withholding any information upon a subject which is my own
affair; yet, on the other hand, you should always remember that he is
your mother's very good friend--and yours also."
"Mine!" gasped the girl, starting up. Would that she were free to tell
the poor, blind, helpless man the ghastly truth! "My friend, dad! What
makes you think that?"
"Because he is always singing your praises, both to me and your mother."
"Then I tell you that his expressions of opinion are false, dear dad."
She was silent. She dared not tell her father the reason; therefore, in
order to turn the subject, she replied, with a forced laugh, "Oh, well,
of course, I may be mistaken; but that's my opinion."
"A mere prejudice, child; I'm sure it is. As far as I know, Flockart is
quite an excellent fellow, and is most kind both to your mother and to
Gabrielle's brow contracted. Disengaging herself, she rose to her feet,
and, after a pause, asked, "What reply shall I send to the report, dad?"
"Ah, that report!" gasped the man, huddled up in his chair in serious
reflection. "That report!" he repeated, rising to straighten himself.
"Reply in these words: 'No effort is to be made to save the child's
life. On the contrary, it is to be so neglected as to produce a fatal
The girl had seated herself at the typewriter and rapidly clicked out
the words in French--words that seemed ominous enough, and yet the true
meaning of which she never dreamed. She was thinking only of her
father's misplaced friendship in James Flockart. If she dared to tell
him the naked truth! Oh, if her poor, blind, afflicted father could only
DECLARES A WOMAN'S LOVE
At nine o'clock that night Gabrielle left her father, and ascended to
her own pretty room, with its light chintz-covered furniture, its
well-filled bamboo bookcases, its little writing-table, and its narrow
bed in the alcove. It was a nest of rest and cosy comfort.
Exchanging her tweed dress, she put on an easy dressing-gown of pale
blue cashmere, drew up an armchair, and, arranging her electric
reading-lamp, sat down to a new novel she intended to finish.
Presently Elise came to her; but, looking up, she said she did not wish
to be disturbed, and again coiled herself up in the chair, endeavouring
to concentrate her thoughts upon her book. But all to no purpose. Ever
and anon she would lift her big eyes from the printed page, sigh, and
stare fixedly at the rose-coloured trellis pattern of the wall-paper
opposite. Upon her there had fallen a feeling of vague apprehension such
as she had never before experienced, a feeling that something was about
Lady Heyburn was, she knew, greatly annoyed that she had not made her
appearance at dinner or in the drawing-room afterwards. Generally, when
there were guests from the neighbourhood, she was compelled to sing one
or other of her Italian songs. Her refusal to come to dinner would, she
knew, cause her ladyship much chagrin, for it showed plainly to the
guests that her authority over her step-daughter was entirely at an end.
Just as the stable-clock chimed half-past ten there came a light tap at
the door. It was Hill, who, on receiving permission to enter, said, "If
you please, miss, Mr. Murie has just asked me to give you this"; and he
handed her an envelope.
Tearing it open eagerly, she found a visiting-card, upon which some
words were scribbled in pencil. For a moment after reading them she
paused. Then she said, "Tell Mr. Murie it will be all right."
"Very well, miss," the man replied, and, bowing, closed the door.
For a few moments she stood motionless in the centre of the room, her
lover's card still in her hand. Then she walked to the open window, and
looked out into the hot, oppressive night. The moon was hidden behind
dark clouds, and the stillness was precursory of the thunderstorm which
for the past hour or so had threatened. Across the room she paced slowly
several times, a deep, anxious expression upon her pale countenance;
then slowly she slipped off her gown and put on a dark stuff dress.
Until the clock had struck eleven she waited. Then, assuming her
tam-o'-shanter and twisting a silk scarf about her neck, she crept along
the corridor and down the wide oak stairs. Lights were still burning;
but without detection she slipped out by the main door, and, crossing
the broad drive, took the winding path into the woods.
The guests had all left, and the servants were closing the house for the
night. Scarce had she gone a hundred yards when a dark figure in
overcoat and a golf-cap loomed up before her, and she found Walter at
"Why, dearest!" he exclaimed, taking her hand and bending till he
pressed it to his lips, "I began to fear you wouldn't come. Why haven't
I seen you to-night?"
"Because--well, because I had a bad headache," was her lame reply. "I
knew that if I went in to dinner mother would want me to sing, and I
really didn't feel up to it. I hope, however, you haven't been bored too
"You know I have!" he said quickly in a low, earnest voice. "I came here
purposely to see you, and you were invisible. I've run the car down the
farm-road on the other side of the park, and left it there. The mater
went home in the carriage nearly an hour ago. She's afraid to go in the
car when I drive."
Slowly they strolled together along the dark path, he with her arm held
tenderly under his own.
"Think, darling," he said, "I haven't seen you for four whole days! Why
is it? Yesterday I went to the usual spot at the end of the glen, and
waited nearly two hours; but you did not come, although you promised me,
you know. Why are you so indifferent, dearest?" he asked in a plaintive
tone. "I can't really make you out of late."
"I'm not indifferent at all, Walter," she declared. "My father has very
much to attend to just now, and I'm compelled to assist him, as you are
well aware. He's so utterly helpless."
"Oh, but you might spare me just half-an-hour sometimes," he said in a
slight tone of reproach.
"I do. Why, we surely see each other very often!"
"Not often enough for me, Gabrielle," he declared, halting in the
darkness and raising her soft little hand to his eager lips. "You know
well enough how fondly I love you, how--"
"I know," she said in a sad, blank tone. Her own heart beat fast at his
"Then why do you treat me like this?" he asked. "Is it because I have
annoyed you, that you perhaps think I am not keeping faith with you? I
know I was absent a long time, but it was really not my own fault. My
people made me go round the world. I didn't want to, I assure you. I'd
far rather have been up here at Connachan all the time, and near you, my
"I believe you would, Walter," she answered, turning towards him with
her hand upon his shoulder. "But I do wish you wouldn't reproach me for
my undemonstrativeness each time we meet. It saddens me."
"I know I ought not to reproach you," he hastened to assure her. "I have
no right to do so; but somehow you have of late grown so sphinx-like
that you are not the Gabrielle I used to know."
"Why not?" And she laughed, a strange, hollow laugh. "Explain yourself."
"In the days gone by, before I went abroad, you were not so particular
about our meetings being clandestine. You did not care who saw us or
what people might say."
"I was a girl then. I have now learnt wisdom, and the truth of the
modern religion which holds that the only sin is that of being found
"But why are you so secret in all your actions?" he demanded. "Whom do
"Fear!" she echoed, starting and staring in his direction. "Why, I fear
nobody! What--what makes you think that?"
"Because it has lately struck me that you meet me in secret
because--well, because you are afraid of someone, or do not wish us to
"Why, how very foolish!" she laughed. "Don't my father and mother both
know that we love each other? Besides, I am surely my own mistress. I
would never marry a man I don't love," she added in a tone of quiet
"And am I to take it that you really do love me, after all?" he inquired
"Why, of course," she replied without hesitation, again placing her arm
about his neck and kissing him. "How foolish of you to ask such a
question, Walter! When will you be convinced that the answer I gave you
long ago was the actual truth?"
"Men who love as fervently as I do are apt to be somewhat foolish," he
"Then don't be foolish any longer," she urged in a matter-of-fact voice,
lifting her lips to his and kissing him. "You know I love you, Walter;
therefore you should also know that it I avoid you in public I have some
good reason for doing so."
"A reason!" he cried. "What reason? Tell me."
She shook her head. "That is my own affair," she responded. "I repeat
again that my affection for you is undiminished, if such repetition
really pleases you, as it seems to do."
"Of course it pleases me, dearest," he declared. "No words are sweeter
to my ears than the declaration of your love. My only regret is that,
now I am at home again, I do not see so much of you, sweetheart, as I
"Walter," she exclaimed in a slow, changed voice, after a brief silence,
"there is a reason. Please do not ask me to tell you--because--well,
because I can't." And, drawing a long breath, she added, "All I beg of
you is to remain patient and trust in me. I love you; and I love no
other man. Surely that should be, for you, all-sufficient. I am yours,
and yours only."
In an instant he had folded her slight, dainty form in his arms. The
young man was satisfied, perfectly satisfied.
They strolled on together through the wood, and out across the open
corn-fields. The moon had come forth again, the storm-clouds had passed,
and the night was perfect. Though she was trying against her will to
hold aloof from Walter Murie, yet she loved him with all her heart and
soul. Many letters she had addressed to him in his travels had remained
unanswered. This had, in a measure, piqued her. But she was in ignorance
that much of his correspondence and hers had fallen into the hands of
her ladyship and been destroyed.
As they walked on, talking as lovers will, she was thinking deeply, and
full of regret that she dared not tell the truth to this man who, loving
her so fondly, would, she knew, be prepared to make any sacrifice for
her sake. Suppose he knew the truth! Whatever sacrifice he made would,
alas! not alter facts. If she confessed, he would only hate her. Ah, the
tragedy of it all! Therefore she held her silence; she dared not speak
lest she might lose his love. She had no friend in whom she could
confide. From her own father, even, she was compelled to hide the actual
facts. They were too terrible. What would he think if the bitter truth
The man at her side, tall, brave, strong--a lover whom she knew many
girls coveted--believed that he was to marry her. But, she told herself
within her grief-stricken heart, such a thing could never be. A barrier
stood between them, invisible, yet nevertheless one that might for ever
debar their mutual happiness.
An involuntary sigh escaped her, and he inquired the reason. She excused
herself by saying that it was owing to the exertion of walking over the
rough path. Therefore they halted, and, with the bright summer moonbeams
falling upon her beautiful countenance, he kissed her passionately upon
the lips again and yet again.
They remained together for over an hour, moving along slowly, heedless
of where their footsteps led them; heedless, too, of being seen by any
of the keepers who, at night, usually patrolled the estate. Their walk,
however, lay at the farther end of the glen, in the coverts remote from
the house and nearer the high-road; therefore there was but little
danger of being observed.
Many were the pledges of affection they exchanged before parting. On
Walter's part they were fervent and passionate, but on the part of his
idol they were, alas! only the pretence of a happiness which she feared
could never be permanent.
Presently they retraced their steps to the edge of the wood beyond which
lay the house. They found the path, and there, at her request, he left
her. It was not wise that he should approach the house at that hour, she
So, after a long and fervent leave-taking, he held her in a last
embrace, and then, raising his cap, and saying, "Good-night, my darling,
my own well-beloved!" he turned away and went at a swinging pace down
the farm-road where he had left his car with lights extinguished.
She watched him disappear. Then, sighing, she turned into the dark,
winding path beneath the trees, the end of which came out upon the drive
close to the house.
Half-way down, however, with sudden resolve, she took a narrower path to
the left, and was soon on the outskirts of the wood and out again in the
The night was so glorious that she had resolved to stroll alone, to
think and devise some plan for the future. Before her, silhouetted high
against the steely sky, rose the two great, black, ivy-clad towers of
the ancient castle. The grim, crumbling walls stood dark and frowning
amid the fairy-like scene, while from far below came up the faint
rippling of the Ruthven Water. A great owl flapped lazily from the ivy
as she approached those historic old walls which in bygone days had held
within them some of Scotland's greatest men. She had explored and knew
every nook and cranny in those extensive ruins. With Walter's
assistance, she had once made a perilous ascent to the top of the
highest of the two square towers, and had often clambered along the
broken walls of the keep or descended into those strange little
subterranean chambers, now half-choked with earth and rubbish, which
tradition declared were the dungeons in which prisoners in the old days
had been put to the rack, seared with red-hot irons, or submitted to
other horrible tortures.
Her feet falling noiselessly, she entered the grass-grown courtyard,
where stood the ancient spreading yew, the "dule-tree," under which the
Glencardine charters had been signed and justice administered. Other big
trees had sprung from seedlings since the place had fallen into ruin;
and, having entered, she paused amidst its weird, impressive silence.
Those high, ponderous walls about her spoke mutely of strength and
impregnability. Those grass-grown mounds hid ruined walls and broken
foundations. What tales of wild lawlessness and reckless bloodshed they
all could tell!
Many of the strange stories she had heard concerning the old
place--stories told by the people in the neighbourhood--were recalled as
she stood there gazing wonderingly about her. Many romantic legends had,
indeed, been handed down in Perthshire from generation to generation
concerning old Glencardine and its lawless masters, and for her they had
always possessed a strange fascination, for had she not inherited the
antiquarian tastes of her father, and had she not read many works upon
folklore and such-like subjects.
Suddenly, while standing in the deep shadow, gazing thoughtfully up at
those high towers which, though ruined, still guarded the end of the
glen, a strange thing occurred--something which startled her, causing
her to halt breathless, petrified, rooted to the spot. She stared
straight before her. Something uncanny was happening there, something
that was, indeed, beyond human credence, and quite inexplicable.
CONCERNS THE WHISPERS
What had startled Gabrielle was certainly extraordinary and decidedly
uncanny. She was standing near the southern wall, when, of a sudden, she
heard low but distinct whispers. Again she listened. Yes. The sounds
were not due to her excited imagination at the recollection of those
romantic traditions of love and hatred, or of those gruesome stories of
how the Wolf of Badenoch had been kept prisoner there for five years and
put to frightful tortures, or how the Laird of Weem was deliberately
poisoned in that old banqueting-hall, the huge open fireplace of which
still existed near where she stood.
There was the distinct sound of low, whispered words! She held her
breath to listen. She tried to distinguish what the words were, but in
vain. Then she endeavoured to determine whence they emanated, but was
unable to do so. Again they sounded--again--and yet again. Then there
was another voice, still low, still whispering, but not quite so deep as
the first. It sounded like a woman's.
Local tradition had it that the place held the ghosts of those who had
died in agony within its noisome dungeons; but she had always been far
too matter-of-fact to accept stories of the supernatural. Yet at that
moment her ears did not deceive her. That pile of grim, gaunt ruins was
a House of Whispers!
Again she listened, never moving a muscle. An owl hooted weirdly in the
ivy far above her, while near, at her feet, a rabbit scuttled away
through the grass. Such noises she was used to. She knew every
night-sound of the country-side; for when she had finished her work in
the library she often went, unknown to the household, with Stewart upon
his nocturnal rounds, and walked miles through the woods in the night.
The grey-eyed, thin-nosed head-keeper was her particular favourite. He
knew so much of natural history, and he taught her all he knew. She
could distinguish the cries of birds in the night, and could tell by
certain sounds made by them, as they were disturbed, that no other
intruders were in the vicinity. But that weird whispering, coming as it
did from an undiscovered source, was inhuman and utterly uncanny.
Was it possible that her ears had deceived her? Was it one of the omens
believed in by the superstitious? The wall whence the voices appeared to
emanate was, she knew, about seven feet thick--an outer wall of the old
keep. She was aware of this because in one of the folio tomes in the
library was a picture of the castle as it appeared in 1510, taken from
some manuscript of that period preserved in the British Museum. She, who
had explored the ruins dozens of times, knew well that at the point
where she was standing there could be no place of concealment. Beyond
that wall, the hill, covered with bushes and brushwood, descended sheer
for three hundred feet or so to the bottom of the glen. Had the voices
sounded from one or other of the half-choked chambers which remained
more or less intact she would not have been so puzzled; but, as it was,
the weird whisperings seemed to come forth from space. Sometimes they
sounded so low that she could scarcely hear them; at others they were so
loud that she could almost distinguish the words uttered by the unseen.
Was it merely a phenomenon caused by the wind blowing through some crack
in the ponderous lichen-covered wall?
She looked beyond at the great dark yew, the justice-tree of the
Grahams. The night was perfectly calm. Not a leaf stirred either upon
that or upon the other trees. The ivy, high above and exposed to the
slightest breath of a breeze, was motionless; only the going and coming
of the night-birds moved it. No. She decided once and for all that the
noise was that of voices, spectral voices though they might be.
Again she strained her eyes, when still again those soft, sibilant
whisperings sounded weird and quite inexplicable.
Slowly, and with greatest caution, she moved along beneath the wall, but
as she did so she seemed to recede from the sound. So back she went to
the spot where she had previously stood, and there again remained
There were two distinct voices; at least that was the conclusion at
which she arrived after nearly a quarter of an hour of most minute
Once she fancied, in her excitement, that away in the farther corner of
the ruined courtyard she saw a slowly moving form like a thin column of
mist. Was it the Lady of Glencardine--the apparition of the hapless Lady
Jane Glencardine? But on closer inspection she decided that it was
merely due to her own distorted imagination, and dismissed it from her
Those low, curious whisperings alone puzzled her. They were certainly
not sounds that could be made by any rodents within the walls, because
they were voices, distinctly and indisputably _voices_, which at some
moments were raised in argument, and then fell away into sounds of
indistinct murmuring. Whence did they come? She again moved noiselessly
from place to place, at length deciding that only at one point--the
point where she had first stood--could the sounds be heard distinctly.
So to that spot once more the girl returned, standing there like a
statue, her ears strained for every sound, waiting and wondering. But
the Whispers had now ceased. In the distance the stable-clock chimed
two. Yet she remained at her post, determined to solve the mystery, and
not in the least afraid of those weird stories which the country-folk in
the Highlands so entirely believed. No ghost, of whatever form, could
frighten her, she told herself. She had never believed in omens or
superstitions, and she steeled herself not to believe in them now. So
she remained there in patience, seeking some natural solution of the
But though she waited until the chimes rang out three o'clock and the
moon was going down, she heard no other sound. The Whispers had suddenly
ended, and the silence of those gaunt, frowning old walls was
undisturbed. A slight wind had now sprung up, sweeping across the hills,
and causing her to feel chill. Therefore, at last she was reluctantly
compelled to quit her post of observation, and retrace her steps by the
rough byroad to the house, entering by one of the windows of the
morning-room, of which the burglar-alarm was broken, and which on many
occasions she had unfastened after her nocturnal rambles with Stewart.
Indeed, concealed under the walls she kept an old rusted table-knife,
and by its aid it was her habit to push back the catch and so gain
entrance, after reconcealing the knife for use on a future occasion.
On reaching her own room she stood for a few moments reflecting deeply
upon her remarkable and inexplicable discovery. Had the story of those
whisperings been told to her she would certainly have scouted them; but
she had heard them with her own ears, and was certain that she had not
been deceived. It was a mystery, absolute and complete; and, regarding
it as such, she retired to bed.
But her thoughts were very naturally full of the weird story told of the
dead and gone owners of Glencardine. She recollected that horrible story
of the Ghaist of Manse and of the spectre of Bridgend. In the library
she had, a year ago, discovered a strange old book--one which sixty
years before had been in universal circulation--entitled _Satan's
Invisible World Discovered_, and she had read it from beginning to end.
This book had, perhaps, more influence upon the simple-minded country
people in Scotland than any other work. It consisted entirely of
relations of ghosts of murdered persons, witches, warlocks, and fairies;
and as it was read as an indoor amusement in the presence of children,
and followed up by unfounded tales of the same description, the
youngsters were afraid to turn round in case they might be grasped by
the "Old One." So strong, indeed, became this impression that even
grown-up people would not venture, through fear, into another room or
down a stair after nightfall.
Her experience in the old castle had, to say the least, been remarkable.
Those weird whisperings were extraordinary. For hours she lay reflecting
upon the many traditions of the old place, some recorded in the historic
notices of the House of the Montrose, and others which had gathered from
local sources--the farmers of the neighbourhood, the keepers, and
servants. Those noises in the night were mysterious and puzzling.
Next morning she went alone to the kennels to find Stewart and to
question him. He had told her many weird stories and traditions of the
old place, and it struck her that he might be able to furnish her with
some information regarding her strange discovery. Had anyone else heard
those Whispers besides herself, she wondered.
She met several of the guests, but assiduously avoided them, until at
last she saw the thin, long-legged keeper going towards his cottage with
Dash, the faithful old spaniel, at his heels.
When she hailed him he touched his cap respectfully, changed his gun to
the other arm, and wished her "Guid-mornin', Miss Gabrielle," in his
strong Scotch accent.
She bade him put down his gun and walk with her up the hill towards the
"Look here, Stewart," she commanded in a confidential tone, "I'm going
to take you into my confidence. I know I can trust you with a secret."
"Ye may, miss," replied the keen-eyed Scot. "I houp Sir Henry trusts me
as a faithfu' servant. I've been on Glencardine estate noo, miss, thae
"Stewart, we all know you are faithful, and that you can keep your
tongue still. What I'm about to tell you is in strictest confidence. Not
even my father knows it."
"Ah! then it's a secret e'en frae the laird, eh?"
"Yes," she replied. "I want you to come up to the old castle with me,"
pointing to the great ruined pile standing boldly in the summer
sunlight, "and I want you to tell me all you know. I've had a very
uncanny experience there."
"What, miss!" exclaimed the man, halting and looking her seriously in
the face; "ha'e ye seen the ghaist?"
"No, I haven't seen any ghost," replied the girl; "but last night I
heard most extraordinary sounds, as though people were within the old
"Guid sake, miss! an' ha'e ye actually h'ard the Whispers?" he gasped.
"Then other people have heard them, eh?" inquired the girl quickly.
"Tell me all you know about the matter, Stewart."
"A'?" he said, slowly shaking his head. "I ken but a wee bittie aboot
"Who has heard them besides myself?"
"Maxwell o'Tullichuil's girl. She said she h'ard the Whispers ae nicht
aboot a year syne. They're a bad omen, miss, for the lassie deed sudden
a fortnicht later."
"Did anyone else hear them?"
"Auld Willie Buchan, wha lived doon in Auchterarder village, declared
that ae nicht, while poachin' for rabbits, he h'ard the voices. He telt
the doctor sae when he lay in bed a-deein' aboot three weeks
aifterwards. Ay, miss, I'm sair sorry ye've h'ard the Whispers."
"Then they're regarded as a bad omen to those who overhear them?" she
"That's sae. There's bin ithers wha acted as eavesdroppers, an' they a'
deed very sune aifterwards. There was Jean Kirkwood an' Geordie
Menteith. The latter was a young keeper I had here aboot a year syne. He
cam' tae me ae mornin' an' said that while lyin' up for poachers the
nicht afore, he distinc'ly h'ard the Whispers. Kennin' what folk say
aboot the owerhearin' o' them bein' fatal, I lauched at 'im an' told 'im
no' to tak' ony tent o' auld wives' gossip. But, miss, sure enough,
within a week he got blood-pizinin', an', though they took 'im to the
hospital in Perth, he deed."
"Then popular superstition points to the fact that anyone who
accidentally acts as eavesdropper is doomed to death, eh? A very nice
outlook for me!" she remarked.
"Oh, Miss Gabrielle!" exclaimed the man, greatly concerned, "dinna treat
the maitter lichtly, I beg o' ye. I did, wi' puir Menteith, an' he deed
juist like the ithers."
"But what does it all mean?" asked the daughter of the house in a calm,
matter-of-fact voice. She knew well that Stewart was just as
superstitious as any of his class, for some of the stories he had told
her had been most fearful and wonderful elaborations of historical fact.
"It means, I'm fear'd, miss," he replied, "that the Whispers which come
frae naewhere are fore-warnin's o' daith."
EXPLAINS SOME CURIOUS FACTS
Gabrielle was silent for a moment. No doubt Stewart meant what he said;
he was not endeavouring to alarm her unduly, but thoroughly believed in
supernatural agencies. "I suppose you've already examined the ruins
thoroughly, eh?" she asked at last.
"Examined them?" echoed the gray-bearded man. "I should think sae,
aifter forty-odd years here. Why, as a laddie I used to play there ilka
day, an' ha'e been in ilka neuk an' cranny."
"Nevertheless, come up now with me," she said. "I want to explain to you
exactly where and how I heard the voices."
"The Whispers are an uncanny thing," said the keeper, with his broad
accent. "I dinna like them, miss; I dinna like tae hear what ye tell me
"Oh, don't worry about me, Stewart," she laughed. "I'm not afraid of any
omen. I only mean to fathom the mystery, and I want your assistance in
doing so. But, of course, you'll say no word to a soul. Remember that."
"If it be yer wush, Miss Gabrielle, I'll say naething," he promised. And
together they descended the steep grass-slope and overgrown foundations
of the castle until they stood in the old courtyard, close to the
ancient justice-tree, the exact spot where the girl had stood on the
"I could hear plainly as I stood just here," she said. "The sound of
voices seemed to come from that wall there"; and she pointed to the gray
flint wall, half-overgrown with ivy, about six yards away.
Stewart made no remark. It was not the first occasion on which he had
examined that place in an attempt to solve the mystery of the nocturnal
whisperings. He walked across to the wall, tapping it with his hand,
while the faithful spaniel began sniffing in expectancy of something to
bolt. "There's naething here, miss--absolutely naething," he declared,
as they both examined the wall minutely. Its depth did not admit of any
chamber, for it was an inner wall; and, according to the gamekeeper's
statement, he had already tested it years ago, and found it solid
"If I went forward or backward, then the sounds were lost to me,"
Gabrielle explained, much puzzled.
"Ay. That's juist what they a' said," remarked the keeper, with an
apprehensive look upon his face. "The Whispers are only h'ard at ae
spot, whaur ye've juist stood. I've seen the lady a' in green masel',
miss--aince when I was a laddie, an' again aboot ten year syne."
"You mean, Stewart, that you imagined that you saw an apparition. You
were alone, I suppose?"
"Yes, miss, I was alane."
"Well, you thought you saw the Lady of Glencardine. Where was she?"
"On the drive, in front o' the hoose."
"Perhaps somebody played a practical joke on you. The Green Lady is
Glencardine's favourite spectre, isn't she--perfectly harmless, I mean?"
"Ay, miss. Lots o' folk saw her ten year syne. But nooadays she seems to
ha'e been laid. Somebody said they saw her last Glesca holidays, but I
dinna believe 't."
"Neither do I, Stewart. But don't let's trouble about the unfortunate
lady, who ought to have been at rest long ago. It's those weird
whisperings I mean to investigate." And she looked blankly around her at
the great, cyclopean walls and high, weather-beaten towers, gaunt yet
picturesque in the morning sunshine.
The keeper shook his shaggy head. "I'm afear'd, Miss Gabrielle, that
ye'll ne'er solve the mystery. There's somethin' sae fatal aboot the
whisperin's," he said, speaking in his pleasant Highland tongue, "that
naebody cares tae attempt the investigation. They div say that the
Whispers are the voice o' the De'il himsel'."
The girl, in her short blue serge skirt, white cotton blouse, and blue
tam-o'-shanter, laughed at the man's dread. There must be a distinct
cause for this noise she had heard, she argued. Yet, though they both
spent half-an-hour wandering among the ruins, standing in the roofless
banqueting hall, and traversing stone corridors and lichen-covered,
moss-grown, ruined chambers choked with weeds, their efforts to obtain
any clue were all in vain.
To Gabrielle it was quite evident that the old keeper regarded the
incident of the previous night as a fatal omen, for he was most
solicitous of her welfare. He went so far as to crave permission to go
to Sir Henry and put the whole of the mysterious facts before him.
But she would not hear of it. She meant to solve the mystery herself. If
her father learnt of the affair, and of the ill-omen connected with it,
the matter would surely cause him great uneasiness. Why should he be
worried on her account? No, she would never allow it, and told Stewart
plainly of her disapproval of such a course.
"But, tell me," she asked at last, as returning to the courtyard, they
stood together at the spot where she had stood in that moonlit hour and
heard with her own ears those weird, mysterious voices coming from
nowhere--"tell me, Stewart, is there any legend connected with the
Whispers? Have you ever heard any story concerning their origin?"
"Of coorse, miss. Through all Perthshire it's weel kent," replied the
man slowly, not, it seemed, without considerable reluctance. "What is
h'ard by those doomed tae daith is the conspiracy o' Charles Lord
Glencardine an' the Earl o' Kintyre for the murder o' the infamous
Cardinal Setoun o' St. Andrews, wha, as I dare say ye ken fra history,
miss, was assassinated here, on this very spot whaur we stan'. The Earl
o' Kintyre, thegither wi' Lord Glencardine, his dochter Mary, an' ane o'
the M'Intyres o' Talnetry, an' Wemyss o' Strathblane, were a year later
tried by a commission issued under the name o' Mary Queen o' Scots; but
sae popular was the murder o' the Cardinal that the accused were
"Yes," exclaimed the girl, "I remember reading something about it in
Scottish history. And the Whispers are, I suppose, said to be the
ghostly conspirators in conclave."
"That's what folk say, miss. They div say as weel that Auld Nick himsel'
was present, an' gied the decision that the Cardinal, wha was to be
askit ower frae Stirlin', should dee. It is his evil counsel that is
h'ard by those whom death will quickly overtake."
"Really, Stewart," she laughed, "you make me feel quite uncomfortable."
"But, miss, Sir Henry already kens a' aboot the Whispers," said the man.
"I h'ard him tellin' a young gentleman wha cam' doon last shootin'
season a guid dale aboot it. They veesited the auld castle thegither,
an' I happened tae be hereaboots."
This caused the girl to resolve to learn from her father what she could.
He was an antiquary, and had the history of Glencardine at his
So presently she strolled back to Stewart's cottage, and after receiving
from the faithful servant urgent injunctions to "have a care" of
herself, she walked on to the tennis-lawn, where, shaded by the high
trees, Lady Heyburn, in white serge, and three of her male guests were
"Father," she said that same evening, when they had settled down to
commence work upon those ever-arriving documents from Paris, "what was
the cause of Glencardine becoming a ruin?"
"Well, the reason of its downfall was Lord Glencardine's change of
front," he answered. "In 1638 he became a stalwart supporter of
Episcopacy and Divine Right, a course which proved equally fatal to
himself and to his ancient Castle of Glencardine. Reid, in his _Annals
of Auchterarder_, relates how, after the Civil War, Lord Dundrennan, in
company with his cousin, George Lochan of Ochiltree, and burgess of
Auchterarder and the Laird of M'Nab, descended into Strathearn and
occupied the castle with about fifty men. He hurriedly put it into a
state of defence. General Overton besieged the place in person, with his
army, consisting of eighteen hundred foot and eleven hundred horse, and
battered the walls with cannon, having brought a number of great
ordnance from Stirling Castle. For ten days the castle was held by the
small but resolute garrison, and might have held out longer had not the
well failed. With the prospect of death before them in the event of the
place being taken, Dundrennan and Lochan contrived to break through the
enemy, who surrounded the castle on all sides. A page of the name of
John Hamilton, in attendance upon Lord Dundrennan, well acquainted with
the localities of Glencardine, undertook to be their guide. When the
moon was down, Dundrennan and Lochan issued from the castle by a small
postern, where they found Hamilton waiting for them with three horses.
They mounted, and, passing quietly through the enemy's force, they
escaped, and reached Lord Glencardine in safety to the north. On the
morning after their escape the castle was surrendered, and thirty-five
of the garrison were sent to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. General Overton
ordered the remaining twelve of those who had surrendered to be shot at
a post, and the castle to be burned, which was accordingly done."
"The country-folk in the neighbourhood are full of strange stories about
ghostly whisperings being heard in the castle ruins," she remarked.
Her father started, and raising his expressionless face to hers, asked
in almost a snappish tone, "Well, and who has heard them now, pray?"
"Several people, I believe."
"And they're gossiping as usual, eh?" he remarked in a hard, dry tone.
"Up here in the Highlands they are ridiculously superstitious. Who's
been telling you about the Whispers, child?"
"Oh, I've learnt of them from several people," she replied evasively.
"Mysterious voices were heard, they say, last night, and for several
nights previously. It's also a local tradition that all those who hear
the whispered warning die within forty days."
"Bosh, my dear! utter rubbish!" the old man laughed. "Who's been trying
to frighten you?"
"Nobody, dad. I merely tell you what the country people say."
"Yes," he remarked, "I know. The story is a gruesome one, and in the
Highlands a story is not attractive unless it has some fatality in it.
Up here the belief in demonology and witchcraft has died very hard. Get
down Penny's _Traditions of Perth_--first shelf to the left beyond the
second window, right-hand corner. It will explain to you how very
superstitious the people have ever been."
"I know all that, dad," persisted the girl; "but I'm interested in this
extraordinary story of the Whispers. You, as an antiquary, have, no
doubt, investigated all the legendary lore connected with Glencardine.
The people declare that the Whispers are heard, and, I am told, believe
some extraordinary theory regarding them."
"A theory!" he exclaimed quickly. "What theory? What has been
"Nothing, as far as I know."
"No, and nothing ever will be discovered," he said.
"Why not, dad?" she asked. "Do you deny that strange noises are heard
there when there is so much evidence in the affirmative?"
"I really don't know, my dear. I've never had the pleasure of hearing
them myself, though I've been told of them ever since I bought the
"But there is a legend which is supposed to account for them, is there
not, dad? Do tell me what you know," she urged. "I'm so very much
interested in the old place and its bygone history."
"The less you know concerning the Whispers the better, my dear," he
Her father's ominous words surprised her. Did he, too, believe in the
fatal omen, though he was trying to mislead her and poke fun at the
"But why shouldn't I know?" she protested. "This is the first time, dad,
that you've tried to withhold from me any antiquarian knowledge that you
possess. Besides, the story of Glencardine and its lords is intensely
fascinating to me."
"So might be the Whispers, if ever you had the misfortune to hear them."
"Misfortune!" she gasped, turning pale. "Why do you say misfortune?"
But he laughed a strange, hollow laugh, and, endeavouring to turn his
seriousness into humour, said, "Well, they might give you a turn,
perhaps. They would make me start, I feel sure. From what I've been
told, they seem to come from nowhere. It is practically an unseen
spectre who has the rather unusual gift of speech."
It was on the tip of her tongue to explain how, on the previous night,
she had actually listened to the Whispers. But she refrained. She
recognised that, though he would not admit it, he was nevertheless
superstitious of ill results following the hearing of those weird
whisperings. So she made eager pretence of wishing to know the
historical facts of the incident referred to by the gamekeeper.
"No," exclaimed the blind man softly but firmly, taking her hand and
stroking her arm tenderly, as was his habit when he wished to persuade
her. "No, Gabrielle dear," he said; "we will change the subject now. Do
not bother your head about absurd country legends of that sort. There
are so many concerning Glencardine and its lords that a whole volume
might be filled with them."
"But I want to know all about this particular one, dad," she said.
"From me you will never know, my dear," was his answer, as his gray,
serious face was upturned to hers. "You have never heard the Whispers,
and I sincerely hope that you never will."
WHAT FLOCKART FORESAW
The following afternoon was glaring and breathless. Gabrielle had taken
Stokes, with May Spencer (a girl friend visiting her mother), and driven
the "sixteen" over to Connachan with a message from her mother--an
invitation to Lady Murie and her party to luncheon and tennis on the
following day. It was three o'clock, the hour when silence is upon a
summer house-party in the country. Beneath the blazing sun Glencardine
lay amid its rose-gardens, its cut beech-hedges, and its bowers of
greenery. The palpitating heat was terrible--the hottest day that
At the end of the long, handsome drawing-room, with its pale blue carpet
and silk-covered furniture, Lady Heyburn was lolling lazily in her chair
near the wide, bright steel grate, with her inseparable friend, James
Flockart, standing before her.
The striped blinds outside the three long, open windows subdued the
sun-glare, yet the very odour of the cut flowers in the room seemed
oppressive, while without could be heard the busy hum of insect life.
The Baronet's handsome wife looked cool and comfortable in her gown of
white embroidered muslin, her head thrown back upon the silken cushion,
and her eyes raised to those of the man, who was idly smoking a
cigarette, at her side.
"The thing grows more and more inexplicable," he was saying to her in a
low, strained voice. "All the inquiries I've caused to be made in London
and in Paris have led to a negative result."
"We shall only know the truth when we get a peep of those papers in
Henry's safe, my dear friend," was the woman's reply.
"And that's a pretty difficult job. You don't know where the old fellow
keeps the key?"
"I only wish I did. Gabrielle knows, no doubt."
"Then you ought to compel her to divulge," he urged. "Once we get hold
of that key for half-an-hour, we could learn a lot."
"A lot that would be useful to you, eh?" remarked the woman, with a
"And to you also," he said. "Couldn't we somehow watch and see where he
hides the safe-key? He never has it upon him, you say."
"It isn't on his bunch."
"Then he must have a hiding-place for it, or it may be on his
watch-chain," remarked the man decisively. "Get rid of all the guests as
quickly as you can, Winnie. While they're about there's always a danger
of eavesdroppers and of watchers."
"I've already announced that I'm going up to Inverness next week, so
within the next day or two our friends will all leave."
"Good! Then the ground will be cleared for action," he remarked, blowing
a cloud of smoke from his lips. "What's your decision regarding the
"The same as yours."
"But she hates me, you know," laughed the man in gray flannel.
"Yes; but she fears you at the same time, and with her you can do more
by fear than by love."
"True. But she's got a spirit of her own, recollect."
"That must be broken."
"And what about Walter?"
"Oh, as soon as he finds out the truth he'll drop her, never fear. He's
already rather fond of that tall, dark girl of Dundas's. You saw her at
the ball. You recollect her?"
Flockart grunted. He was assisting this woman at his side to play a
desperate game. This was not, however, the first occasion on which they
had acted in conjunction in matters that were not altogether honourable.
There had never been any question of affection between them. The pair
regarded each other from a purely business standpoint. People might
gossip as much as ever they liked; but the two always congratulated
themselves that they had never committed the supreme folly of falling in
love with each other. The woman had married Sir Henry merely in order to
obtain money and position; and this man Flockart, who for years had been
her most intimate associate, had ever remained behind her, to advise and
to help her.
Perhaps had the Baronet not been afflicted he would have disapproved of
this constant companionship, for he would, no doubt, have overheard in
society certain tittle-tattle which, though utterly unfounded, would not
have been exactly pleasant. But as he was blind and never went into
society, he remained in blissful ignorance, wrapped up in his mysterious
"business" and his hobbies.
Gabrielle, on her return from school, had at first accepted Flockart as
her friend. It was he who took her for walks, who taught her to cast a
fly, to shoot rooks, and to play the national winter game of
Scotland--curling. He had in the first few months of her return home
done everything in his power to attract the young girl's friendship,
while at the same time her ladyship showed herself extraordinarily well
disposed towards her.
Within a year, however, by reason of various remarks made by people in
her presence, and on account of the cold disdain with which Lady Heyburn
treated her afflicted father, vague suspicions were aroused within her,
suspicions which gradually grew to hatred, until she clung to her
father, and, as his eyes and ears, took up a position of open defiance
towards her mother and her adventurous friend.
The situation each day grew more and more strained. Lady Heyburn was,
even though of humble origin, a woman of unusual intelligence. In
various quarters she had been snubbed and ridiculed, but she gradually
managed in every case to get the better of her enemies. Many a man and
many a woman had had bitter cause to repent their enmity towards her.
They marvelled how their secrets became known to her.
They did not know the power behind her--the sinister power of that
ingenious and unscrupulous man, James Flockart--the man who made it his
business to know other people's secrets. Though for years he had been
seized with a desire to get at the bottom of Sir Henry's private
affairs, he had never succeeded. The old Baronet was essentially a
recluse; he kept himself so much to himself, and was so careful that no
eyes save those of his daughter should see the mysterious documents
which came to him so regularly by registered post, that all Flockart's
efforts and those of Lady Heyburn had been futile.
"I had another good look at the safe this morning," the man went on
presently. "It is one of the best makes, and would resist anything,
except, of course, the electric current."
"To force it would be to put Henry on his guard," Lady Heyburn remarked,
"If we are to know what secrets are there, and use our knowledge for our
own benefit, we must open it with a key and relock it."
"Well, Winnie, we must do something. We must both have money--that's
quite evident," he said. "That last five hundred you gave me will stave
off ruin for a week or so. But after that we must certainly be well
supplied, or else there may be revelations well--which will be as ugly
for yourself as for me."
"I know," she exclaimed. "I fully realise the necessity of getting
funds. The other affair, though we worked it so well, proved a miserable
"And very nearly gave us away into the bargain," he declared. "I tell
you frankly, Winnie, that if we can't pay a level five thousand in three
weeks' time the truth will be out, and you know what that will mean."
He was watching her handsome face as he spoke, and he noticed how pale
and drawn were her features as he referred to certain ugly truths that
might leak out.
"Yes," she gasped, "I know, James. We'd both find ourselves under
arrest. Such a _contretemps_ is really too terrible to think of."
"But, my dear girl, it must be faced," he said, "if we don't get the
money. Can't you work Sir Henry for a bit more, say another thousand.
Make an excuse that you have bills to pay in London--dressmakers,
jewellers, milliners--any good story will surely do. He gives you
anything you ask for."
She shook her head and sighed. "I fear I've imposed upon his good-nature
far too much already," she answered. "I know I'm extravagant; I'm sorry,
but can't help it. Born in me, I suppose. A few months ago he found out
that I'd been paying Mellish a hundred pounds each time to decorate Park
Street with flowers for my Wednesday evenings, and he created an awful
scene. He's getting horribly stingy of late."
"Yes; but the flowers were a bit expensive, weren't they?" he remarked.
"Not at all. Lady Fortrose, the wife of the soap-man, pays two hundred
and fifty pounds for flowers for her house every Thursday in the season;
and mine looked quite as good as hers. I think Mellish is much cheaper
than anybody else. And, just because I went to a cheap man, Henry was
horrible. He said all sorts of weird things about my reckless
extravagance and the suffering poor--as though I had anything to do with
them. The genuine poor are really people like you and me."
"I know," he said philosophically, lighting another cigarette. "But all
this is beside the point. We want money, and money we must have in order
to avoid exposure. You--"
"I was a fool to have had anything to do with that other little affair,"
"It was not only myself who arranged it. Remember, it was you who
suggested it, because it seemed so easy, and because you had an old
score to pay off."
"The woman was sacrificed, and at the same time an enemy learnt our
"I couldn't help it," he protested. "You let your woman's vindictiveness
overstep your natural caution, my dear girl. If you'd taken my advice
there would have been no suspicion."
Lady Heyburn was silent. She sat regarding the toe of her patent-leather
shoe fixedly, in deep reflection. She was powerless to protest, she was
so entirely in this man's hands. "Well," she asked at last, stirring
uneasily in her chair, "and suppose we are not able to raise the money,
what do you anticipate will be the result?"
"A rapid reprisal," was his answer. "People like them don't
"Yes, I see," she remarked in a blank voice. "They have nothing to lose,
so they will bring pressure upon us."
"Just as we once tried to bring pressure upon them. It's all a matter of
money. We pay the price arranged--a mere matter of business."
"But how are we to get money?"
"By getting a glance at what's in that safe," he replied. "Once we get
to know this mysterious secret of Sir Henry's, I and my friends can get
money easily enough. Leave it all to me."
"This matter you will please leave entirely to me, Winnie," he repeated
with determination. "We are both in danger--great danger; and that being
so, it is incumbent upon me to act boldly and fearlessly. I mean to get
the key, and see what is within that safe."
"But the girl?" asked her ladyship.
"Within one week from to-day the girl will no longer trouble us," he
said with an evil glance. "I do not intend that she shall remain a
barrier against our good fortune any longer. Understand that, and remain
perfectly calm, whatever may happen."
"But you surely don't intend--you surely will not--"
"I shall act as I think proper, and without any sentimental advice from
you," he declared with a mock bow, but straightening himself instantly
when at the door was heard a fumbling, and the gray-bearded man in blue
spectacles, his thin white hand groping before him, slowly entered the
CONCERNS THE CURSE OF THE CARDINAL
Gabrielle and Walter were seated together under one of the big oaks at
the edge of the tennis-lawn at Connachan. With May Spencer and Lady
Murie they had been playing; but his mother and the young girl had gone
into the house for tea, leaving the lovers alone.
"What's the matter with you to-day, darling?" he had asked as soon as
they were out of hearing. "You don't seem yourself, somehow."
She started quickly, and, pulling herself up, tried to smile, assuring
him that there was really nothing amiss.
"I do wish you'd tell me what it is that's troubling you so," he said.
"Ever since I returned from abroad you've not been yourself. It's no use
denying it, you know."
"I haven't felt well, perhaps. I think it must be the weather," she
But he, viewing the facts in the light of what he had noticed at their
almost daily clandestine meetings, knew that she was concealing
something from him.
Before his departure on that journey to Japan she had always been so
very frank and open. Nowadays, however, she seemed to have entirely
changed. Her love for him was just the same--that he knew; it was her
unusual manner, so full of fear and vague apprehension, which caused him
so many hours of grave reflection.
With her woman's cleverness, she succeeded in changing the topic of
conversation, and presently they rose to join his mother at the
tea-table in the drawing-room.
Half-an-hour later, while they were idling in the hall together, she
suddenly exclaimed, "Walter, you're great on Scottish history, so I want
some information from you. I'm studying the legends and traditions of
our place, Glencardine. What do you happen to know about them?"
"Well," he laughed, "there are dozens of weird tales about the old
castle. I remember reading quite a lot of extraordinary stories in some
book or other about three years ago. I found it in the library here."
"Oh! do tell me all about it," she urged instantly. "Weird legends
always fascinate me. Of course I know just the outlines of its history.
It's the tales told by the country-folk in which I'm so deeply
"You mean the apparition of the Lady in Green, and all that?"
"Yes; and the Whispers."
He started quickly at her words, and asked, "What do you know about
them, dear? I hope you haven't heard them?"
She smiled, with a frantic effort at unconcern, saying, "And what harm,
pray, would they have done me, even if I had?"
"Well," he said, "they are only heard by those whose days are numbered;
at least, so say the folk about here."
"Of course, it's only a fable," she laughed. "The people of the Ochils
are so very superstitious."
"I believe the fatal result of listening to those mysterious Whispers
has been proved in more than one instance," remarked the young man quite
seriously. "For myself, I do not believe in any supernatural agency. I
merely tell you what the people hereabouts believe. Nobody from this
neighbourhood could ever be induced to visit your ruins on a moonlit
"That's just why I want to know the origin of the unexplained
"How can I tell you?"
"But you know--I mean you've heard the legend, haven't you?"
"Yes," was his reply. "The story of the Whispers of Glencardine is well
known all through Perthshire. Hasn't your father ever told you?"
"Because, no doubt, he fears that you might perhaps take it into your
head to go there one night and try to listen for them," her lover said.
"Do not court misfortune, dearest. Take my advice, and give the place a
very wide berth. There is, without a doubt, some uncanny agency there."
The girl laughed outright. "I do declare, Walter, that you believe in
these foolish traditions," she said.
"Well, I'm a Scot, you see, darling, and a little superstition is
perhaps permissible, especially in connection with such a mystery as the
strange disappearance of Cardinal Setoun."
"Then, tell me the real story as you know it," she urged. "I'm much
interested. I only heard about the Whispers quite recently."
"The historical facts, so far as I can recollect reading them in the
book in question," he said, "are to the effect that the Most Reverend
James Cardinal Setoun, Archbishop of St. Andrews, Chancellor of the
Kingdom, was in the middle of the sixteenth century directing all his
energies towards consolidating the Romish power in Scotland, and not
hesitating to resort to any crime which seemed likely to accomplish his
purpose. Many were the foul assassinations and terrible tortures upon
innocent persons performed at his orders. One person who fell into the
hands of this infamous cleric was Margaret, the second daughter of
Charles, Lord Glencardine, a beautiful girl of nineteen. Because she
would not betray her lover, she was so cruelly tortured in the
Cardinal's palace that she expired, after suffering fearful agony, and
her body was sent back to Glencardine with an insulting message to her
father, who at once swore to be avenged. The king had so far resigned
the conduct of the kingdom into the hands of his Eminence that nothing
save armed force could oppose him. Setoun knew that a union between
Henry VIII. and James V. would be followed by the downfall of the papal
power in Scotland, and therefore he laid a skilful plot. Whilst advising
James to resist the dictation of his uncle, he privately accused those
of the Scottish nobles who had joined the Reformers of meditated treason
against His Majesty. This placed the king in a serious dilemma, for he
could not proceed against Henry without the assistance of those very
nobles accused as traitors. The wily Cardinal had hoped that James
would, in self-defence, seek an alliance with France and Spain; but he
was mistaken. You know, of course, how the forces of the kingdom were
assembled and sent against the Duke of Norfolk. The invader was thus
repelled, and the Cardinal then endeavoured to organise a new expedition
under Romish leaders. This also failing, his Eminence endeavoured to
dictate to the country through the Earl of Arran, the Governor of
Scotland. By a clever ruse he pretended friendship with Erskine of Dun,
and endeavoured to use him for his own ends. Curiously enough, over
yonder"--and he pointed to a yellow parchment in a black ebony frame
hanging upon the panelled wall of the hall--"over there is one of the
Cardinal's letters to Erskine, which shows the infamous cleric's smooth,
insinuating style when it suited his purpose. I'll go and get it for you
The young man rose, and, taking it down, brought it to her. She saw that
the parchment, about eight inches long by four wide, was covered with
writing in brown ink, half-faded, while attached was a formidable oval
red seal which bore a coat of arms surmounting the Cardinal's hat.
With difficulty they made out this interesting letter to read as
"RYCHT HONOURABLE AND TRAIST COUSING,--I commend me hartlie to you,
nocht doutting bot my lord governour hes written specialye to you at
this tyme to keep the diet with his lordship in Edinburgh the first day
of November nixt to cum, quhilk I dout nocht bot ye will kepe, and I
know perfitlie your guid will and mynd euer inclinit to serue my lord
governour, and how ye are nocht onnely determinit to serue his lordship,
at this tyme be yourself bot als your gret wais and solistatioun maid
with mony your gret freyndis to do the samin, quhilk I assuris you sall
cum bayth to your hier honour and the vele of you and your houss and
freyndis, quhilk ye salbe sure I sall procure and fortyfie euir at my
power, as I have shewin in mair speciale my mynd heirintil to your
cousin of Brechin, Knycht: Praing your effectuously to kepe trist, and
to be heir in Sanct Androwis at me this nixt Wedinsday, that we may
depairt all togydder by Thurisday nixt to cum, towart my lord governour,
and bring your frendis and servandis with you accordantly, and as my
lord governour hais speciale confidence in you at this tyme; and be sure
the plesour I can do you salbe evir reddy at my power as knawis God,
quha preserve you eternall.
"At Sanct Androwis, the 25th day of October (1544). J. CARDINALL OFF
"To the rycht honourable and our rycht traist cousing the lard of Dvn."
"Most interesting!" declared the young girl, holding the frame in her
"It's doubly interesting, because it is believed that Erskine's brother
Henry, finding himself befooled by the crafty Cardinal, united with Lord
Glencardine to kill him and dispose of his body secretly, thus ridding
Scotland of one of her worst enemies," Walter went on. "For the past
five years stories had been continually leaking out of Setoun's inhuman
cruelty, his unscrupulous, fiendish tortures inflicted upon all those
who displeased him, and how certain persons who stood in his way had
died mysteriously or disappeared, no one knew whither. Hence it was
that, at Erskine's suggestion, Wemyss of Strathblane went over to
Glencardine, and with Charles, Lord Glencardine, conspired to invite the
Cardinal there, on pretence of taking counsel against the Protestants,
but instead to take his life. The conspirators were, it is said, joined
by the Earl of Kintyre and by Mary, the sixteen-year-old daughter of
Lord Charles, and sister of the poor girl so brutally done to death by
his Eminence. On several successive nights the best means of getting rid
of Setoun were considered and discussed, and it is declared that the
Whispers now heard sometimes at Glencardine are the secret deliberations
of those sworn to kill the infamous Cardinal. Mary, the daughter of the
house, was allowed to decide in what manner her sister's death should be
avenged, and at her suggestion it was resolved that the inhuman head of
the Roman Church should, before his life was taken, be put to the same
fiendish tortures as those to which her sister had been subjected in his
"It is curious that after his crime the Cardinal should dare to visit
Glencardine," Gabrielle remarked.
"Not exactly. His lordship, pretending that he wished to be appointed
Governor of Scotland in the place of the Earl of Arran, had purposely
made his peace with Setoun, who on his part was only too anxious to
again resume friendly relations with so powerful a noble. Therefore,
early in May, 1546, he went on a private visit, and almost unattended,
to Glencardine, within the walls of which fortress he disappeared for
ever. What exactly occurred will never be known. All that the Commission
who subsequently sat to try the conspirators were able to discover was
that the Cardinal had been taken to the dungeon beneath the north tower,
and there tortured horribly for several days, and afterwards burned at
the stake in the courtyard, the fire being ignited by Lord Glencardine
himself, and the dead Cardinal's ashes afterwards scattered to the
"A terrible revenge!" exclaimed the girl with a shudder. "They were
veritable fiends in those days."
"They were," he laughed, rehanging the frame upon the wall. "Some
historians have, of course, declared that Setoun was murdered at Mains
Castle, and others declare Cortachy to have been the scene of the
assassination; but the truth that it occurred at Glencardine is proved
by a quantity of the family papers which, when your father purchased
Glencardine, came into his possession. You ought to search through
"I will. I had no idea dad possessed any of the Glencardine papers," she
declared, much interested in that story of the past. "Perhaps from them
I may be able to glean something further regarding the strange Whispers
"Make whatever searches you like, dearest," he said in all earnestness,
"but never attempt to investigate the Whispers themselves." And as they
were alone, he took her little hand in his, and looking into her face
with eyes of love, pressed her to promise him never to disregard his
She told him nothing of her own weird experience. He was ignorant of the
fact that she had actually heard the mysterious Whispers, and that, as a
consequence, a great evil already lay upon her.
FOLLOWS FLOCKART'S FORTUNES
One evening, a few days later, Gabrielle, seated beside her father at
his big writing-table, had concluded reading some reports, and had
received those brief, laconic replies which the blind man was in the
habit of giving, when she suddenly asked, "I believe, dad, that you have
a quantity of the Glencardine papers, haven't you? If I remember aright,
when you bought the castle you made possession of these papers a
"Yes, dear, I did," was his answer. "I thought it a shame that the
papers of such a historic family should be dispersed at Sotheby's, as
they no doubt would have been. So I purchased them."
"You've never let me see them," she said. "As you know, you've taught me
so much antiquarian knowledge that I'm becoming an enthusiast like
"You can see them, dear, of course," was his reply. "They are in that
big ebony cabinet at the end of the room yonder--about two hundred
charters, letters, and documents, dating from 1314 down to 1695."
"I'll go through them to-morrow," she said. "I suppose they throw a good
deal of light upon the history of the Grahams and the actions of the
great Lord Glencardine?"
"Yes; but I fear you'll find them very difficult to read," he remarked.
"Not being able to see them for myself, alas! I had to send them to
London to be deciphered."
"And you still have the translations?"
"Unfortunately, no, dear. Professor Petre at Oxford, who is preparing
his great work on Glencardine, begged me to let him see them, and he
still has them."
"Well," she laughed, "I must therefore content myself with the
originals, eh? Do they throw any further light upon the secret agreement
in 1644 between the great Marquess of Glencardine, whose home was here,
and King Charles?"
"Really, Gabrielle," laughed the old antiquary, "for a girl, your
recollection of abstruse historical points is wonderful."
"Not at all. There was a mystery, I remember, and mysteries always
"Well," he replied after a few moments' hesitation, "I fear you will not
find the solution of that point, or of any other really important point,
contained in any of the papers. The most interesting records they
contain are some relating to Alexander Senescallus (Stewart), the fourth
son of Robert II., who was granted in 1379 a Castle of Garth. He was a
reprobate, and known as the Wolf of Badenoch. On his father's accession
in 1371, he was granted the charters of Badenoch, with the Castle of
Lochindorb and of Strathavon; and at a slightly later date he was
granted the lands of Tempar, Lassintulach, Tulachcroske, and Gort
(Garth). As you know, many traditions regarding him still survive; but
one fact contained in yonder papers is always interesting, for it shows
that he was confined in the dungeon of the old keep of Glencardine until
Robert III. released him. There are also a quantity of interesting facts
regarding 'Red Neil,' or Neil Stewart of Fothergill, who was Laird of
Garth, which will some day be of value to future historians of
"Is there anything concerning the mysterious fate of Cardinal Setoun
within Glencardine?" asked the girl, unable to curb her curiosity.
"No," he replied in a manner which was almost snappish. "That's a mere
tradition, my dear--simply a tale invented by the country-folk. It seems
to have been imagined in order to associate it with the mysterious
Whispers which some superstitious people claim to have heard. No old
castle is complete nowadays without its ghost, so we have for our share
the Lady of Glencardine and the Whispers," he laughed.
"But I thought it was a matter of authenticated history that the
Cardinal was actually enticed here, and disappeared!" exclaimed the
girl. "I should have thought that the Glencardine papers would have
referred to it," she added, recollecting what Walter had told her.
"Well, they don't; so why worry your head, dear, over a mere fable? I
have already gone very carefully into all the facts that are proved, and
have come to the conclusion that the story of the torture of his
Eminence is a fairy-tale, and that the supernatural Whispers have only
been heard in imagination."
She was silent. She recollected that sound of murmuring voices. It was
certainly not imagination.
"But you'll let me have the key of the cabinet, won't you, dad?" she
asked, glancing across to where stood a beautiful old Florentine cabinet
of ebony inlaid with ivory, and reaching almost to the ceiling.
"Certainly, Gabrielle dear," was the reply of the expressionless man.
"It is upstairs in my room. You shall have it to-morrow."
And then he lapsed again into silence, reflecting whether it were not
best to secure certain parchment records from those drawers before his
daughter investigated them. There was a small roll of yellow parchment,
tied with modern tape, which he was half-inclined to conceal from her
curious gaze. Truth to tell, they constituted a record of the torture
and death of Cardinal Setoun much in the same manner as Walter Murie had
described to her. If she read that strange chronicle she might, he
feared, be impelled to watch and endeavour to hear the fatal Whispers.
Strange though it was, yet those sounds were a subject which caused him
daily apprehension. Though he never referred to them save to ridicule
every suggestion of their existence, or to attribute the weird noises to
the wind, yet never a day passed but he sat calmly reflecting. That one
matter which his daughter knew above all others caused him the most
serious thought and apprehension--a fear which had become doubly
increased since she had referred to the curious and apparently
inexplicable phenomenon. He, a refined, educated man of brilliant
attainments, scouted the idea of any supernatural agency. To those who
had made mention of the Whispers--among them his friend Murie, the Laird
of Connachan; Lord Strathavon, from whom he had purchased the estate;
and several of the neighbouring landowners--he had always expressed a
hope that one day he might be fortunate enough to hear the whispered
counsel of the Evil One, and so decide for himself its true cause. He
pretended always to treat the affair with humorous incredulity, yet at
heart he was sorely troubled.
If his young wife's remarkable friendship with the man Flockart often
caused him bitter thoughts, then the mysterious Whispers and the
fatality so strangely connected with them were equally a source of
A few days later Flockart, with clever cunning, seemed to alter his
ingenious tactics completely, for suddenly he had commenced to bestir
himself in Sir Henry's interests. One morning after breakfast, taking
the Baronet by the arm, he led him for a stroll along the drive, down to
the lodge-gates, and back, for the purpose, as he explained, of speaking
with him in confidence.
At first the blind man was full of curiosity as to the reason of this
unusual action, as those deprived of sight usually are.
"I know, Sir Henry," Flockart said presently, and not without
hesitation, "that certain ill-disposed people have endeavoured to place
an entirely wrong construction upon your wife's friendship towards me.
For that reason I have decided to leave Glencardine, both for her sake
and for yours."
"But, my dear fellow," exclaimed the blind man, "why do you suggest such
"Because your wife's enemies have their mouths full of scandalous lies,"
he replied. "I tell you frankly, Sir Henry, that my friendship with her
ladyship is a purely platonic one. We were children together, at home in
Bedford, and ever since our schooldays I have remained her friend."
"I know that," remarked the old man quietly. "My wife told me that when
you dined with us on several occasions at Park Street. I have never
objected to the friendship existing between you, Flockart; for, though I
have never seen you, I have always believed you to be a man of honour."
"I feel very much gratified at those words, Sir Henry," he said in a
deep, earnest voice, glancing at the grey, dark-spectacled face of the
fragile man whose arm he was holding. "Indeed, I've always hoped that
you would repose sufficient confidence in me to know that I am not such
a blackguard as to take any advantage of your cruel affliction."
The blind Baronet sighed. "Ah, my dear Flockart! all men are not
honourable like yourself. There are many ready to take advantage of my
lack of eyesight. I have experienced it, alas! in business as well as in
my private life."
The dark-faced man was silent. He was playing an ingenious, if
dangerous, game. The Baronet had referred to business--his mysterious
business, the secret of which he was now trying his best to solve.
"Yes," he said at length, "I suppose the standard of honesty in business
is nowadays just about as low as it can possibly be, eh? Well, I've
never been in business myself, so I don't know. In the one or two small
financial deals in which I've had a share, I've usually been 'frozen
out' in the end."
"Ah, Flockart," sighed the Laird of Glencardine, "you are unfortunately
quite correct. The so-called smart business man is the one who robs his
neighbour without committing the sin of being found out."
This remark caused the other a twinge of conscience. Did he intend to
convey any hidden meaning? He was full of cunning and cleverness.
"Well," Flockart exclaimed, "I'm truly gratified to think that I retain
your confidence, Sir Henry. If I have in the past been able to be of any
little service to Lady Heyburn, I assure you I am only too delighted.
Yet I think that in the face of gossip which some of your neighbours
here are trying to spread--gossip started, I very much fear, by Miss
Gabrielle--my absence from Glencardine will be of distinct advantage to
all concerned. I do not, my dear Sir Henry, desire for one single moment
to embarrass you, or to place her ladyship in any false position. I----"
"But, my dear fellow, you've become quite an institution with us!"
exclaimed Sir Henry in dismay. "We should all be lost without you. Why,
as you know, you've done me so many kindnesses that I can never
sufficiently repay you. I don't forget how, through your advice, I've
been able to effect quite a number of economies at Caistor, and how
often you assist my wife in various ways in her social duties."
"My dear Sir Henry," he laughed, "you know I'm always ready to serve
either of you whenever it lies in my power. Only--well, I feel that I'm
in your wife's company far too much, both here and in Lincolnshire.
People are talking. Therefore, I have decided to leave her, and my
decision is irrevocable."
"Let them talk. If I do not object, you surely need not."
"But for your wife's sake?"
"I know--I know how cruel are people's tongues, Flockart," remarked the
"Yes; and the gossip was unfortunately started by Gabrielle. It was
surely very unwise of her."
"Ah!" sighed the other, "it is the old story. Every girl becomes jealous
of her step-mother. And she's only a child, after all," he added
"Well, much as I esteem her, and much as I admire her, I feel, Sir
Henry, that she had no right to bring discord into your house. I hope
you will permit me to say this, with all due deference to the fact that
she's your daughter. But I consider her conduct in this matter has been
Again the Baronet was silent, and his companion saw that he was
reflecting deeply. "How do you know that the scandal was started by
her?" he asked presently, in a low, rather strained voice.
"Young Paterson told me so. It appears that when she was staying with
them over at Tullyallan she told his mother all sorts of absurd stories.
And Mrs. Paterson who, as you know, is a terrible gossip--told the Reads
of Logie and the Redcastles, and in a few days these fictions, with all
sorts of embroidery, were spread half over Scotland. Why, my friend
Lindsay, the member for Berwick, heard some whispers the other day in
the Carlton Club! So, in consequence of that, Sir Henry, I'm resolved,
much against my will and inclination, I assure you, to end my friendship
with your wife."
"All this pains me more than I can tell you," declared the old man. "The
more so, too, that Gabrielle should have allowed her jealousy to lead
her to make such false charges."
"Yes. In order not to pain you. I have hesitated to tell you this for
several weeks. But I really thought that you ought at least to know the
truth, and who originated the scandal. And so I have ventured to-day to
speak openly, and to announce my departure," said the wily Flockart. He
was putting to the test the strength of his position in that household.
He had an ulterior motive, one that was ingenious and subtle.
"But you are not really going?" exclaimed the other. "You told me the
other day something about my factor Macdonald, and your suspicions of
"My dear Sir Henry, it will be far better for us both if I leave. To
remain will only be to lend further colour to these scandalous rumours.
I have decided to leave your house."
"You believe that Macdonald is dishonest, eh?" inquired the afflicted
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