"The Locked Chamber" Peterson's Magazine 41 (Jan 1862): 42-54
Publication Information: “The Locked Chamber” Peterson’s Ladies Magazine vol. 41, Jan. 1862, pp. 42-54
THE LOCKED CHAMBER.
BY THE AUTHOR OF “THE MURDER IN THE GLEN ROSS.”
One of the most curious cases I remember, when I practiced law in Virginia, was that of the Champernouns. The story is not long. In 1824, I was down in L—county, with Judge C—, at the Court of Appeals. Court adjourned the first week in October, but heavy rains made it impossible to return to Richmond, so that we were detained for about ten days in the village. Champagne and dinner parties among the neighboring planters eased the days off pleasantly enough; but still I was terribly impatient at the delay; for I knew my home business was suffering.
One rainy evening, I had finished supper, and drawn up my chair to the fire of my inn chamber, preparing for a cozy evening of solitary enjoyment, when a note in a yellow envelope caught my eye on the mantle-shelf.
“Dear Page,” so it ran, “I want you this evening at seven. A little matter of business strictly private. I don’t like the responsibility of managing it alone. I’ll call for you. We must go a mile or two in the country. Sharp seven, remember. Yours, Storrs.”
Storrs was one of the leading advocates of the county, a bluff, hard-drinking fellow of rough outside, but good heart. I looked at my watch: it was near seven; then rang for my boots.
I had hardly drawn them on when Storrs was announced. He soon told his business: it was to go and see a Gen. Champernoun.
“Champernoun?” I said. “The name is odd; smacks of the time of Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Bess.”
“Exactly. You’ve hit the weak point of the family,” replied Storrs. “Blood! They go back through Sir Walter to the Emperors of Byzant—the Lord knows where!”
“But what’s the matter?”
“Why, a case of larceny. Not very large: two thousand dollars. But,” his face curiously altered, “the thief can’t be found.”
“It seems to me,” I answered, “that is a case for the police, not for us.”
“Well, no,” he said, gravely. “The truth is, Page, I was called in privately—as a friend, you understand? I want you along because—well, it’s a queer affair, and I don’t see how it’s going to turn out. If it touches the honor of any of the family, these Champernouns have blood like fire, and—”
“I knew a Champernoun,” I said, finding he stopped, “at the law-school in Alexandria—Hugh.”
“Yes, the general’s brother. He never was of much account, threw half his fortune on to the card-table, and the other half into the champagne glass, and then ended by blowing out his brains one Sunday morning. The general—this one that we are going to see—adopted his son Rolfe, raised him with Ruth as if he were his own child. I always thought it would be a match, those two. Hinted as much to the general, one day last spring, and he looked as balmy as a May morning about it.”
“Is Ruth his daughter?” I asked, seeing that the subject interested him.
“Yes, an only child. She’ll be the richest heiress in the Piedmont counties, some day. But there’s the deuce to pay out there lately.”
“No, no. That only happened the other day. Rolfe—he’s a queer, quiet chap; like his mother’s family, obstinate, sullen. His mother was a Parr. Rolfe came to me last June, and began to read law in my office without his uncle’s knowledge. I saw there was something wrong; but the Champernouns keep their minds to themselves, so I said nothing. I had the few hundreds his father left in my hands. About a month ago he drew it and announced his intention of going to Kentucky to shift for himself. Every one thought the general intended to make him co-heir with Ruth. But there’s a screw loose somewhere. The old gentleman spoke to me of Rolfe's going, called it a young man’s whim; but I saw he was cut to the quick by it. He’s a tender-hearted old fellow. Rolfe is going soon, I believe in disgrace of some kind; for he has lodged in the village for the last week, and told me he depended on his uncle for no pecuniary aid. He goes out to the hall every day, however. It is time we were off, though,” glancing at his watch.
Champernoun Hall lay about four miles out in the country, but we were nearly two hours reaching it, so intolerable was the condition of the roads. The mud and rain splashed heavily upon the windows of the carriage until we drove up the long avenue leading through the negro quarters to the house. Lights were glancing in the low huts, and here and there a black face peered curiously out from a half-open door. The hall itself was a large, massive building with an unmistakable air of age and opulence. The entrance hall was well lighted, high and vaulted; the drawing-room, into which we were ushered, was furnished with a luxury and refinement of taste unusual in Virginia country. Gen. Champernoun was reading aloud to his daughter when we entered. He was a tall man, with a certain antique, stately grace, the face of a courtier, classical, fair, winning: cold, keen blue eyes, and a mobile mouth. No allusion was made to the cause of our visit. Politics, the cases in court, the Waverley novels, just then appearing, were discussed in turn for an hour, with a quiet, genial brilliancy of mind and manner that fascinated me. Gen. Champernoun’s wit, I noticed, never lapsed into humor; it was too subtle, too womanish in its refinement. His daughter, a pretty, rosy girl of sixteen, sat by the fire. A young man passed through the room whom the general presented as “my adopted son, Rolfe Champernoun.” Even at the momentary glance I was struck by the difference between the uncle and nephew: the younger being short and squarely-built, dark to swarthiness, walking with a slow, resolute tread. A man of iron will and purpose!
After he had gone out, Storrs alluded to the object of our visit. A shade of annoyance passed over the general’s face. I easily understood how, to a man of his peculiar stamp, the details of the affair mast be grating. He hastened, however, to place the incidents before us. Very clearly, too, it was done, with a business-like precision that somehow affected me oddly, as being incongruous with his general manner. It was but a trifling case in itself, yet an indefinable impression was made on my mind that some grave secret lay underneath, which Storrs and Gen. Champernoun both suspected and shrank back from. The facts were briefly these: Some two weeks before, Gen. Champernoun had received six thousand dollars from his agent in Norfolk. “With this money,” he said, “I paid some debts in the village on last Saturday, but, night overtaking me, I returned before my business was finished; I placed the remaining funds in a pocket-book, and threw it carelessly into a drawer of an Indian cabinet in my library. Day before yesterday my daughter was looking in the cabinet, and at my request counted the money, I am careless about business matters, and had doubted if it were right. She replaced it in the cabinet, and gave me the key. In the evening, designing to use it, I opened the cabinet, but the money was gone. Nothing else was touched. I consulted you, gentlemen, because I feared to implicate some of my servants by calling in the police. My people have grown old with me—I cannot throw suspicion on them.”
“Miss Champernoun,” said Storrs, “did you notice the denomination of the money?” The young lady colored, a good deal frightened by the solemnity of the tribunal. “There were six hundred in notes,” she said, timidly, “the rest was in paper checks.”
“Drafts,” said her father, smiling, correcting her.
“Drafts on whom?” I inquired, watching how prettily the color came and faded on her cheeks.
“George Nolan, sir, of Alexandria.”
I saw Storrs give a slight start. “Was there any one in the library,” he asked, “when you counted the notes?”
“Only old Lemuel, the butler. He brought in the mail. But uncle Lem would no more take it than I would, Mr. Storrs,” she said, her face flushing indignantly.
“No,” Storrs replied, tapping the table with his pencil. “No one else?”
“Nobody but papa and Rolfe. I was getting a meerschaum for Rolfe, when papa asked me to count the notes.”Here he is, perhaps he noticed them better than I did. Yet no, he could not, for he went out before I had counted them.”
The young man entered as she spoke, and stood leaning against the window, carelessly watching the falling rain without.
“Who was in the library during the day?” inquired Storrs.
“No one. That is the mystery,” rejoined Gen. Champernoun. “I was there alone the entire day writing, except while dining.”
“Are there duplicate keys to the cabinet?”
“My daughter has one.”
“I gave it to Rolfe long ago, papa.”
“My son,” said the general, have you a key like mine?”
The young man turned with an abstracted look.
“On your watch-guard, Rolfe,” said his cousin. “I saw it there last night.”
“It is not there now,” he said, carelessly; “you were mistaken, probably,” resuming his outlook from the window.
“The only time the money could have been taken then, general, if I understand aright, was while you were dining?” asked Storrs.
“The only time.”
“Was your butler, Lemuel,” he asked, with a deprecating glance at the young lady, “in the dining room?”
“Behind my chair,” she said, quickly, “uncle Lemuel always waits on me.”
Storrs paused, baffled. “May I inquire who dined with you that day?”
“We were alone, Ruth and I. Even Rolfe was out, gunning in the park.”
Hitherto I had paid but little attention to the queries, but a sudden change in Storrs’ manner startled me. His red face grew actually pale, he put his hand in his pocket, drew it hastily out, rose, walked uncertainly to the window, then suddenly drawing out a paper, almost flung it down on the table.
“Is that one of the lost drafts?” he demanded.
Gen. Champernoun bent eagerly over it, then said, “Look, Ruth, your eyes are clearer than mine.”
The young lady took up the paper. “The name is the same,” she said, hesitatingly.
“It is one,” said her father. “I see now. Where did you—”
Storrs interrupted him. “I should like to see this cabinet, general.”
Gen. Champernoun bowed, and ushered us from the room. Crossing the hall, we entered the library, a high, octagon room, wainscoted with oak in the old fashion, and lined with books. One or two landscapes were on the walls.
“There it is,” said Gen. Champernoun, pointing to an inlaid Indian cabinet, and handing Storrs the key.
Storrs did not take it, but stood nervously drumming on the mantle-shelf with his fingers. “You asked me—sit down, general. For God’s sake don’t be worried. Boys will be boys, you know.” Storrs’ voice, never very clear, grew thick and husky beyond comprehension.
“I do not understand,” said Gen. Champernoun, gravely.
“No?” Storrs grew desperate. There was a dead silence, the stately old man looking in perplexity from one to the other. I, equally mystified, looked at Storrs.
At last the latter broke out. “This draft, my nephew recovered it yesterday evening.”
“From whom? Go on, Mr. Storrs,” said the general, as impatiently as his politeness would permit.
“This note accompanied it,” evaded Storrs. “Read it, Page, will you?”
I took the note.
“Dear Ned —This makes us all right. The draft is on Nolan, good as specie. I start on Thursday. Yours in haste,
I looked up after a moment’s pause. Storrs had said the blood of the Champernouns was fire. I believed it now. The face of the old man before me was pale with the white heat of passion.
“Do you know,” he said, calmly, “whom you accuse? A Champernoun! And of theft.”
Storrs grew cooler now. “I know. God knows, general, you dragged me into it, or I would have cut off my arm sooner than give you this pain. But the proof is damning. Think. Rolfe is leaving you in disgrace—without money.”
“I know,” groaned the old man. “I refused it, hoping the sooner to bring him back.”
“Without money,” Storrs resumed. “Only he saw the money in the cabinet; only he had a key; only he was absent from dinner. Whether,” he hesitated here. “Whether his past conduct, the reason for his leaving you, will give any clue to determine his guilt, you only know.”
This last sentence touched Gen. Champernoun to the quick. He drew his breath suddenly, as if some secret wound had been struck, but did not speak.
“Look at the note,” said Storrs, gently. “Is it Rolfe’s writing?”
He took the paper, his hand shaking violently. There was a long silence; then I heard a low groan and a sharp cry, “Oh! my son, my son!”
I did not look around, for I had stepped to the window, but I knew that the old man had sunk down helplessly, and that Storrs had gone to him.
It was a wretched half-hour that passed then, even for me, whose chief feeling was annoyance at having been dragged into the affair, a stranger whose presence was an additional humiliation. I went out into the hall and paced up and down, wishing Storrs had been anywhere, before he had brought me here, to witness the shame that had fallen on this proud old man.
At last Storrs called me back into the library. Gen. Champernoun was standing by the fire. He had regained his proud composure, though his hand still shook unsteadily, despite all his effort. He bowed, thanked me with his usual stately courtesy for coming out on a night so unpleasant, paused, and then went on hurriedly, “You are an honorable man. I read it in your face. You will keep this secret?”
“I will keep it,” I said, answering more the wild look of entreaty in his eye than his words.
He grasped my hand without speaking. Then sat down as if tired. “Now,” he said, glancing at Storrs, “tell Rolfe. But do not let him come here. I never will see his face again. And Ruth, tell her I cannot.”
Storrs left the room. I did not speak again, feeling that commonplace sympathy would be an insult. He sat by the lamp, shading his eyes with his hand. For a long time there was a silence in the house. Then I heard a firm, slow step coming down the ball, the door opened, and Rolfe Champernoun entered. Was that the face of a guilty man? I thought not. White, rigid, but with a curious, defiant look which I did not comprehend, but which did not look like guilt. He went up to his uncle, placed his hand on his shoulder, and forced him to look up. It was more the act of an accuser than a criminal.
The old man looked pitifully in his face. “God forgive you, Rolfe,” he said, “did not wish to see you again.”
Still the same unblanching scrutiny; then the young man turned away with a muttered, “Impossible.” He paced the floor without speaking, apparently unconscious of our presence.
Rolfe!” The old man’s tone was almost imploring, but he did not seem to hear it. Rolfe!” It grew sterner, and young Champernoun stopped and looked at him; and still with the curious gleam in his eye.
Something in his face touched me; hardly knowing what I did, I caught his arm. “For God’s sake prove yourself innocent!” I exclaimed, “for I believe you are.”
“I cannot,” he said, in the same abstracted way. “I never sent the note.”
“Go, Rolfe,” said his uncle, “this can never be forgotten. I forgave all that went before.”
The young man’s face grew paler than ever, but still he did not speak. The dull, stunned look puzzled me.
The door opened hastily, Ruth entered. “My child, this is no place for you!” exclaimed her father, starting forward.
I could hardly believe this was the shy, blushing girl I had seen an hour before. She went up quietly to her cousin, and, putting her hand on his arm, looked in his face. A strange look of pain and terror was on hers, rosy and dimpled as it was. The same old story!
“Rolfe,” she said, trying to smile, “you did not think I believed it, did you?”
He put his hand on her head smoothing her hair. “Little Ruth,” he said, as if she had been a child.
Gen. Champernoun’s face flushed with passion, “Leave him,” he said, going to her. “Would you persist in the mad frenzy? Never shall a Champernoun wed a felon!”
Rolfe laughed. “Let us have no tragedy,” he said, coldly. “I am but a poor actor in a domestic drama, as you know. I will come again,” he said, looking down at the little girl clinging to his arm, as if she alone were present, “when I can prove my innocence. Not until then. Then you will be my wife. Will you wait for me, Ruth?”
“I will wait for you,” she said, quietly.
Very quietly, almost coldly, they had both spoken, yet I felt as if a solemn vow was registered in heaven, which no years of agony should force them to break.
“Ruth!” She turned at her father’s sharp summons, but did not move. Rolfe stooped and kissed her. “Good-by,” he said, “I will come, Ruth. Not for years, perhaps. But I will come.”
Oh! this curious thing, a woman’s heart. A misfortune—a suspicion of crime had fallen on his head, and out of the timid child rose a calm, heroic woman. She stood, her hands folded as he had clasped them, watching him as he left the room, and went down the hall. Then she went to her father.
It was near midnight, and Storrs and I, glad of the lateness of the hour as an excuse to escape, left them with hurried and constrained adieus.
It was long before the tired horses dragged us up to the inn door. The fog was growing murkier every hour, the rain more impetuous.
“We will keep you with us a few days longer, Mr. Page,” said the landlord, as I entered the bar-room. “The freshet has washed away the bridge, and the road to Richmond is impassable; worse than ever.”
“I say, Page,” called Storrs, thrusting his head out of the carriage window, and interrupting my growl, “I say! Why not go down with me to Princess Anne county to-morrow, and take the depositions in the Nye case? It will save you a trip in the winter.”
The idea was a good one. I consented, and did accordingly go down to Princess Anne in the morning, though sudden business prevented Storrs from accompanying me. I was absent three days. When I returned, I found I would be able to start for home in another day.
That evening I was invited to a dinner party at Dr. Ambler’s, an old chum of mine, whose plantation lay some three or four miles from the Tillage. I was also to spend the night there. I was late going out; they were entering the dining-room when I arrived. Glancing round, I saw Storrs’ ruddy face among the rest, and, making my way over, secured a place beside him at the table.
“I want to ask you about that money affair,” I said, when the rattling of knives and forks had well begun.
“Yes,” he said, uneasily. “Well, I’ve been out with the general a good deal. He’s going fast, Page.”
“Yes. He was badly shaken all winter. I noticed it all along, but now he has fairly taken to his bed. His mind seems touched, I think.”
“And the young man—what has he done?”
“Everything that could be done, I suppose,” he said, drily.
I glanced at him. “I think him innocent,” I put out at a venture.
“Then I don’t!” he broke out, bringing down his glass with a crash. “No, the boy’s guilty. His conduct since forces it on me. Why, Page, how would an innocent man have acted in such a case? How would I? Stormed, raged, torn the whole matter up by the roots, upturned earth itself but I would have dragged out the truth.”
I laughed. “Yes, I can imagine. But the boy showed no lack of feeling that night. Oddly, I confess, but he is no ordinary man.”
“Bah! I don’t like your white heats. Besides, look at him after that. He has tried to clear the matter up—but how? With a dull, dogged despair, as if conscious it was needless, only trying because he thought I would expect it of him. No. I’ve no faith in him. Never liked the Parrs. Thank God, for the old man’s sake, the secret is safe with you and me. I gather, too, from words dropped by the general, that this is not the first offence. Only the crisis.”
“And the young lady?”
“She seems absorbed with distress about her father since he grew worse, waits on him night and day.”
“She has faith in Rolfe,” I said.
“Yes.” He hesitated. “But she has her father’s pride in due proportion. The other day I was there, and alluded gently enough to Rolfe’s efforts to find out the truth. The old man winced at the name. ‘God grant he may succeed,’ he said. Then, after a short silence, his voice trembled a little as he said, ‘My little girl thinks it all right, I know,’ patting her on the head. ‘But she has promised me, Storrs, never to marry the boy until he proves his innocence. You have promised, Ruth?’ She said very low, ‘Yes, I have promised. I never will. I am a Champernoun!’ You ought to have seen how the little thing’s face flushed, and her nostrils dilated when she said that! A Champernoun! Very comic that seems to us, but it is one of the most tremendous realities in life to them. After she went out, he said, ‘It was a bitter disappointment; he had hoped to see Ruth Rolfe Champernoun’s wife before he died,’ but broke down there, so I hurried to change the subject. There is a young fellow out at the Hall, Starke Forster, a son of the old doctor’s, from Loudon, you know? He has been there all summer, off and on. Has a fancy for Ruth, I think. By-the-way, Page, here is a letter from the general to you. He asked me to give it to you. Thanks, I suppose. He is very grateful.”
I slipped the letter in my pocket, and when the party retired from the table, went into the library to read it. It was curiously enough written, in a stiff, formal hand, abounding in stately three-syllabled adjectives. He thanked me for the kindness shown him, regretted its occasion in a few bitter, poignant words; then “reposed upon his trust in my honorable name and character to preserve his secret.” After this came the pith. He requested me “to find the unfortunate boy, (whose face he never would look upon again,) and inform him that an appointment had been secured for him as attache in the Spanish Legation about to sail for Madrid.” He urged me to press this offer on Rolfe’s acceptance as his only chance of aid from his family. Then—“with profoundest gratitude and considerations of highest respect, he was,” etc.
Well, more delay. It might be days now before I could start home. No matter. The old man’s request must be gratified. But why was it made to me and not to Storrs, an old and valued friend of the family? And where, I thought, impatiently, as I returned to the drawing-room, was I to begin to look for young Champernoun?
Chance favored me that night, however. An hour after, I had just finished a game of chess, when a servant touched my arm.
“Gentl’man, Mars’ Page, to see you. Private business, he say.”
“To see me? Who is it, uncle?”
“Tink it young marster from Champernoun Hall, sah.”
“Oh! Take him to my room.”
In a moment I disengaged myself and went to my chamber, thanking my luck for driving the very man I wanted to see in my way. Young Champernoun was standing, cap in hand, as if his business was hasty. Despite his extreme youth, and the crime with which he was charged, something in the pale self-reliance of the man commanded my respect.
“You are welcome,” I said, extending my hand. “Your walk has been long and cold, I am afraid.”
He bowed quietly, disregarding the outstretched hand. I liked that. Whether it was conscious guilt or sturdy pride, it was honest. I handed him a chair, and began the usual commonplace opening about the weather, etc. He replied briefly with an abstracted air. When I paused, he said frankly, “My visit, Mr. Page, as you may guess, is not one of ceremony. Business entirely. I am forced to be in haste. I leave this part of the country to-night.”
“Then,” I replied, “it is most fortunate that you came.” I saw his humor to be brief, and fell in with it. “This letter will explain itself. It is a message entrusted to me from your uncle. I am glad you came to-night.”
He took the letter to the lamp and read it twice carefully. There was the same curious expression on his face as that which I had noticed the night at the hall—of mixed pain, doubt, and, above all, keen, eager scrutiny. When he had finished, he handed it carelessly back.
“You accept the appointment?” I said.
“Most assuredly not. I decline it.”
“What reason shall I give Gen. Champernoun for your refusal ?”
“None. He will understand it.”
“Mr. Champernoun,” I said, “do not be hasty. You are young, unfriended, and—”
He looked up quickly. The kindness of my tone touched him. After all, he was only a boy. His voice shook a little when he spoke. “I know. I am both. But I shall succeed, I am not afraid. You are kind, Mr. Page.” There was a pause; then he said, “You will wonder what brought me here to-night. I am going away. Should my innocence ever be proved, I will come back; but never until then. I came to you to ask you if you would let me know if ever the truth comes out.”
“Can you do nothing now to clear yourself, Rolfe?” I asked, quickly.
“Nothing. I tried, though but little. I did not expect to succeed in proving myself innocent.”
“That note?” I asked, hesitating. He colored.
“I never sent it. It was a forgery. Sent through the village post office, too, and therefore all clue is lost.”
I was puzzled. Why did he color?
“You think yourself the victim of a plot? Whom do you suspect then?” I myself thought of the butler, or—(a sudden thought flashed on me) there was a young man in the neighborhood, a guest now in the house—Forster.
He was silent. “I have spoken of no plot— I accuse no one,” he said, abruptly. “If the story were public, I might be tempted—God knows what I should do!”
For the first time the rigid self-control of the man gave way. His dark, homely face grew livid, and his forehead was covered with a clammy sweat. I did not break the silence. I was thoroughly baffled.
“No,” he said, looking up. “I can do nothing now. I came to you because I knew you had faith in me. Storrs has not. It is not easy to know that even one man thinks you—a thief.” He continued hurriedly, interrupting me when I would have spoken, “I know what you would say. One day it will come right, I know. But when it does, will you let me know?”
“I will; I promise you.”
“You do promise me?” Only to look in his face was to see that he was in deadly earnest. “It may be years before the truth comes out; but if I am an old, gray-headed man, you will let me know? It is a trifling thing to you, Mr. Page; but to me--”
“I promise you.”
He wrote an address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. “That will always find me,” he said, rising.
“Can I do nothing more for you? Stay and tell me your plans.”
His face flushed gratefully. “Nothing more. Nor can I even stay. I must reach C—before morning—” He hesitated. “I will shake hands with you now.”
I held out my band, hardly able to hide a smile at the boyish naivete that shone through the man’s sternness. “Good-by.”
He grasped it warmly, and so we parted. I followed him down the stairs and went back to the drawing-room.
What trifles are pivots of our lives! If the boy had but stayed with me until morning, two lives of slow, bitter heart-break would have been saved in the world.
It was late when the party broke up. I was fatigued with traveling and thoroughly sleepy; so was glad when the house became quiet and I could go to bed. As I was ready to put out my chamber light, I stepped to the window to look out at the night. Suddenly a horse galloped up the avenue, and I heard the bell ring violently. My host was a physician; so, supposing it to be some summons to a patient, I let the window curtain fall and went to bed. There was a sound of eager talking; then steps passing and repassing my door. Presently Storrs, whose chamber adjoined mine, was called. Just as I fell asleep, I heard his voice and Dr. Ambler's outside the door. “Shall I call Page?” said one. “No, not until morning; let him sleep.” And I thankfully turned over and went to sleep. In the morning I was roused by a rough shake.
“Page! Will you never waken?”
Looking up, I saw Storrs’ red, jolly face, strangely worn and haggard.
“What's the matter, old boy? Ambler’s champagne’s been too much for you!”
He did not smile. “Get up, Page. It is a Champernoun—the general--”
“Champernoun again! These Champernouns haunt me! What’s the matter now?”
“Dead!” I was awake now. Storrs turned away. “What do you mean?”
“Yes, dead. You know I told you he was ill. Last night he grew suddenly worse, and sent for Ambler and me. He died, poor fellow! about an hour ago. It’s an old, chronic affection of the heart and liver, Ambler says. He has seen this coming on for months.”
While I dressed myself, he proceeded to detail the particulars.
“And his daughter?” I asked.
“She is quite alone now. Poor child! God help her!” And Storrs’ rough voice choked.
At last he told me that Gen. Champernoun, the day or two before, had made his will, appointing Storrs executor and guardian. That he had given some private instructions to his daughter, and, in consequence of these, she had requested Storrs to detain me until she was able to see me, as I was in some way connected with what her father had said to her. At present she was too ill to explain, from grief and exhaustion. Of course there was no resisting this appeal. I remained. Of young Champernoun I heard nothing. He had left the village an hour after he parted from me, and did not hear of his uncle’s death for years.
It was nearly a fortnight before Miss Champernoun was able to leave her room. Then Storrs drove me out. She came down to meet us, poor child! in the drawing-room, where we had found her that night before. She was very white and weak, and looked even more childish in her black clothes. She seemed to have nerved herself for the great effort of going calmly through the interview; spoke with a slow, mechanical quiet, trying to be controlled and womanly; while her little fingers trembled and plucked at one another in such a helpless, pitiful way, that even my voice got unsteady when I looked at her. Yet so strange was the tenor of the whole scene, that I confess, as we drove home, I concluded that the sudden shock had affected her mind, and I fancy Storrs had the same opinion. It was briefly this: She told us that her father, on the night of his death, had given her certain directions, which she meant to obey, however strange they might seem. “That there was one of these which she had a fancy I should see carried into effect. Because,” (her voice shook here,) “I had been present on that night, and she thought that this arrangement of her father’s had some reference to that--” She stopped and sat moodily, thinking, not hearing our reply. “I must do just what he told me,” she said, in a frightened way. She rang the bell, and, going before us, led the way to the library.
Storrs and I looked on in silence while she directed several servants in their curious task. First, all the books were removed to another room. Her father’s portrait was carried to her own chamber; there were two windows in the apartment, these were closely fastened, nailed down, and the curtains tightly drawn. The Indian cabinet she locked herself. Every ray of light was excluded from the room; she then motioned us out, and following, closed the one door afterward, securing it by an iron padlock, of which she kept the key. The whole proceeding was ludicrous enough, but the girl’s death-struck face made it almost solemn. Her guardian smiled. “You have it safe enough there, Ruth, whatever is caged up. When will you let it out?”
She put her hand to her forehead in the same frightened, bewildered way. “Not for many years,” she said. “Many years. I shall be dead before then, I think.”
As soon as her task was over, we left her.
“What, in heaven’s name, does it mean?” I demanded, as we drove down the park.
Storrs was troubled. “I do not know.” he said; “it may be to bury the shame of the deed in the chamber where it came to light. God knows what crank was in the old man’s head. Perhaps to keep Ruth in mind of her cousin’s guilt, by putting a tomb in the house with her. A kind of slow torture.”
Some darker suspicions lay behind. It came out at last. “There was insanity in the Champernoun family long ago. Well, well, I hope it may all have a good ending.”
He did not pursue the subject, nor did I.
I must pass over a long interval at one step. Many years elapsed before I was again thrown into contact with the Champernouns, or heard the sequel of their story. For this reason: Immediately on my return to Richmond, I received unexpectedly an appointment abroad. I accepted it, and, finding that it paid better than the law, did not return to the states until my health gave way, and I was compelled to come. I then went to the western part of Virginia, and partially resumed the practice of my profession: only partially; entering my name on the Courts of Appeals, but none other. I had not been forgetful of my promise to the young man. During the first years of my absence I had written frequently to Storrs, to know if any light had been thrown upon the mystery, until he grew impatient at my disbelief of Rolfe’s guilt. Of young Champernoun I never heard. Naturally enough my own affairs drove the matter from my remembrance, until it was almost entirely forgotten.
Some fifteen years had passed, and I had given up practice and removed to Philadelphia, to spend the rest of my days in quiet, when, singularly enough, the Champernoun case came before me again, and I was accidentally a witness to its strange denouement.
In the winter of 18— I went to Baltimore and Washington for amusement. I was getting be an old man now; out of date quite; needed rubbing up now and then to keep awake and alive. Occasionally I took a jaunt to my old haunts where I had lived a busier life. Standing one morning on the steps, at Baltimore, I met an old friend of mine, Turner, of Alexandria. After we had gossiped for a few moments, he said, “I am going down to the court-house, to this great murder trial. You had better come. Thruston of New York is on the defence.
This Mr. Thruston then ranked high as a profound jurist, and a bold and clear logician. The case itself involved intricate and disputed, points of interest to the profession. For this reason we were not surprised to find, when we reached the court-room, that a large proportion of the audience were lawyers from the neighboring cities.
“Thruston has been up for an hour,” whispered a mutual friend, as we got, at last, a seat. The day was dull and dingy, so that I could but imperfectly see the speaker. He was a tall man, heavily built, apparently past the prime of life, or else prematurely old, the lines on his face being deeply out, and the hair iron-gray. Something in his quiet, commanding gestures; his dark face, cold and impenetrable as the Sphinx; the intolerable keenness of his eye, pressed me with the conviction that he was a man of hard and great experience, a man whose brain was slow, cold, of intense vital force. His speech confirmed me in that idea. There was no spontaneous outburst of feeling; no sudden thrill of shallow emotion: his arguments, like his voice, ran deep, monotonous, stirring the profound convictions of his hearers with an electric power. He spoke two hours, during which the silence was unbroken. While the judge was delivering his charge, a buzz of whispered comment ran over the house. To these law-surgeons the skill of the operator was a matter of deeper interest than the case of the patient.
“Turner,” I said, “where have I seen that man before? There is something strangely familiar in his face and gestures.”
“Probably long ago, in New York. He has always practised there, and in Lynn, I believe.”'
“Pardon me. Not always,” said our mutual friend. “Thruston said in my presence yesterday that he was a Virginian by birth.”
“Thruston!” said Turner. “It may be. The name is common enough down in Henrico. And his given name, Rolfe, I have heard in that family too.”
Rolfe? Rolfe? The tangled memory of an old story like a dream rose before me and gradually became clear. Rolfe—not Thruston but Champernoun. And there was the man before me! It was as plain as daylight. Allowing for the difference between boy and man, there could be no mistake. During the remainder of the time I sat trying to recall the details of the case which I had not thought of for years, and wondering how it ever had ended. I had a fancy to try his memory too. So, when the trial was over, and the jury had brought in a verdict of acquittal, I joined Judge C—, and requested an introduction to Thruston.
“Yes, certainly,” he answered, “I intended, bringing him to you. Old lights and new lights, eh?”
Thruston was standing in the midst of a crowd near the door. How old he looked! As we made our way toward him, I watched his manner while talking. Nothing fresh, genial in it; whatever his real self might be, it was buried beneath a courteous, impenetrable reserve. Buried, I thought, it might be, since the day when he lost name and honor when he was a boy. I wondered, did he remember?
“Page, of Virginia,” said the judge. At the name, while he bowed, a keen flash shot from his half-closed eyes at my face. My bent figure and white hair were no disguise; during our short conversation he never ceased his unflinching scrutiny. He remembered, that was plain enough. I thought, too, he was willing to dare my remembrance. As long as I stood near him he faced me, with kindling eyes and covert flash of meaning on his face; spoke to me alone; once threw back his hair impatiently as if eager of recognition. I did not give it, and soon turned away. My heart failed me, I felt it cruel that I had come at all. Why should I recall to the man who had conquered success, perhaps happiness, that little hateful passage of his youth? I turned away, as I said, with assumed indifference; as I did it, I saw a cloud of disappointment on his face, and then he instantly relapsed into his cold gravity.
The next day I went down to Washington. While I was smoking a cigar, my fellow travelers were gossiping over the news in the morning papers. My head was so full of the old Champernoun story, that I almost started when the name of one of the parties was mentioned.
“Starke Forster has got his office at last,” said Turner. “I thought the new cabinet would put him in.”
“Forster?” I asked, “of Loudon county?”
“Yes. He goes out as special minister to Russia with secret instructions on the late difficulty. I wonder if he will take a wife with him?”
“Has he never married?” I said.
“Married, and a widower,” said another of the party. “He has returned to his old allegiance now, though, Miss Champernoun.”
“Who is she?” I said, for my attention was now thoroughly aroused.
“Have you never seen her, Mr. Page? I thought you were from the Piedmont counties. She is in Washington just now, the heiress of the season. Not young, but in the prime of splendid beauty.”
“What a misapplied term!” said Turner. “Picturesque, if you will, but don’t call that cold, high-blooded Ruth Champernoun beautiful.”
“I wonder,” I ventured, curiosity conquering courtesy, “that she never has married?”
“Too ambitious,” growled Turner.
That evening there was a reception at the house of one of the queens of Washington society, Mrs. Earle. Receptions were then in Washington very much what they are now. Music, lights, diamonds, pretty girls, and black-coated Congressmen, with here and there a uniform or diplomat. Suddenly I saw a face I remembered, it was that of Miss Champernoun. She was leaning upon the arm of a man who I learned was her reported fiancé, Forster: a tall man, with an overcoming, faded, weak air in eyes, hair, and skin: a thin mouth, eyes of pale, tigerish blue. Miss Champernoun was magnificently dressed in some soft clinging robe of royal purple, with a pale, high-bred face, crowned with heavy folds of brown hair, very grave, stately, earnest; with wistful, dark eyes. I was old to be sure, but I had a touch of romance about me yet. I wondered, as I watched her still imperial ways, why she never had married. “Too ambitious,” Turner had said. That was likely. And yet—I thought of the shy, little girl in the library, of the solemn, “I will come, Ruth. Not for years perhaps. But I will come.” And the quiet answer, “I will wait, Rolfe.” Was she waiting? That would be a curious bit of romance in these work-day times, sure enough. How Turner would laugh if he knew what I was thinking!
As I thus soliloquized. Turner came up. “I want to introduce you to Miss Champernoun,” he said.
I could not tell if she recognized me. Her self-possession was too thorough. She received me most courteously, detained me by her side, presenting me to her companion. “Cold, high- blooded,” very good terms to describe her. Her coldness irritated me to test it. A sudden fancy seized me to discover if my imagined romance was true. Turning to Forster, in a pause of the conversation, I said carelessly, “I saw a relative of Miss Champernoun’s in Baltimore, yesterday, Rolfe Champernoun.”
“A mistake, 1 imagine,” he replied, in his soft way, “she has no relative of that name.”
She looked up in his face with a curious, steady glance. I knew that instant that Starke Forster knew the whole story, and used it as a power over her.
“No relative of that name,” he repeated, quietly, gently drawing her hand within his arm.
She turned to me, saying in her grave way, “It is Mr. Forster who is mistaken: Rolfe is my cousin, my adopted brother. I hear of him sometimes from others, though I never see him. I thank you for telling me of him.”
Forster’s face colored with a half-sneer. I could see that his irritation was deep, though he covered it with a light laugh, adding playfully, “I thought that he was dead long since. You have been singularly silent about him. He was a young man of promise. I wonder with your internal pride of kindred you have not claimed the relationship, Miss Champernoun.”
He had struck fire now! Her cheek flamed scarlet; her eyes flashed defiant as I have seen a caged panther; but her voice was as low and calm as ever. She even smiled carelessly as she said, “Do you laugh at my pride of blood? I know it, but then the blood is pure. Like the old Scotch race, mine is a family where ‘all the women have been true, all the men honorable.”
He bowed, but did not answer. Aha, I thought, my bit of romance is not so silly after all. God bless that woman! she is as true as steel. She would wait until her hair was gray. A crowd of strangers came up to be presented to the reigning belle, and Turner and I turned away.
“When do you leave the city, Mr. Page?” she said, holding out her hand.
“I will see you again,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation.
The next day I stayed in the hotel all day, expecting a summons to see her, but none came; and, more disappointed than I cared to avow, I started to the depot to take the evening train, when a note was placed in my hand. I read it in the cars. I have a curious fancy about letters; the characters of the writers start up before me from the sheet and envelope, sharply outlined as in their faces. There is not a fold, a drop of wax, a syllable, which, if rightly studied, is not a type of the great traits of the unseen nature, energy, refinement, arrogance, pitiful self-vanity. This note was that of a lady by birth and culture: more than that, of a woman, simple, pure, self-reliant.
She tossed aside all surface-words, and came at once to the thought which concerned us both.
She thanked me for telling her of her cousin. That was all the hint of feeling in the letter. The remainder was an earnest entreaty that I would visit her in the coming October. Not alone because she felt for me a sincere dependence and friendship, but that certain instructions of her father’s will were then to be carried into effect, in which I could afford her aid and essential service. She did not explain any farther, but urged me to gratify her in her request. “My father’s will,” she said, “was singular in its requirements, yet I hope,” (here I thought the lines grew tremulous,) “by obeying them, much may be at last made clear which has long been painful and dark. You will come, will you not?”
That was all. Was all that had been painful to be made clear, then? How? And if it was, what then? A sudden thought struck me. Turner was in the cars with me going to Richmond. I touched him as he was settling himself for a nap.
“Turner! Is that New York lawyer married?”
“Married? Who, Thruston? Yes, into the Van Zandt family.”
“Oh—h—” I lit my cigar, thinking what an old fool I had been.
That was in February. I answered her note immediately, accepting the invitation. In October I started for Champernoun Hall, where she still resided with her guardian and his wife. She was ill when I came; so two days elapsed before I saw her. Storrs received me—jolly, boisterous, fun-loving as ever. The third day Miss Champernoun came down stairs. It may have been because of the peculiar circumstances in which I had first seen this girl, and that these circumstances had entangled me with the deepest passions and losses of her life, but I had for her an unaccountable tenderness, such as a father might have for a child. I think she knew it by instinct. Her manner to me was different from her usual stately gravity: quiet, but giving way, now and then, to a childish glee, or a moody weariness. During the first weeks of my stay I watched her closely. She seemed to place a quiet confidence in me that touched my old heart curiously; yet never, by word or look, did she allude again to what had passed, nor to the object of my visit, until I had been there more than three weeks. Then, one evening, she came to me as I was reading in the library, and began to speak of it with a straightforward haste that showed how great was the effort at control and calmness. The room we were in adjoined the locked chamber; for it still was locked. By the family it never was mentioned. The door, with its heavy bar and padlock, might have been that of a charnel-house, so grave was their silence when they passed it. The servants, of course, had numberless strange tales of buried corpses that walked at night; of the old general’s ghost, that could be heard pacing to and fro whenever the anniversary of his death came round.
You can imagine the wild surmises which such a source would produce; human nature abhors a mystery—the nature of staid Virginia planters more than all. The neighborhood, during all these fifteen years, never had ceased to wonder, and pish, and pshaw. Miss Champernoun, this evening, as she stood by the mantle-piece, declining an offered chair by a quick waive of her hand, broke into the forbidden topic without a pause. She told me she had sent for me to help her as a friend who knew the case, not a lawyer. Then she spoke of the lost money without reserve.
“I have not been idle,” she said. “I have tried, never ceased trying, to clear up this mystery; but in vain. You know what my father's orders were in regard to that room, where--” She did not finish the sentence. It may be the old scene rose before her too sharply real; she motioned to the closed door. I bowed. “I do not know his object for so strange a wish. I have wearied myself in trying to solve it. But I obeyed it. Whatever it was, I am soon to know.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “My father directed me that the room should remain locked for fifteen years. At the end of that time I was to open it. I and my cousin, Rolfe Champernoun.” She spoke the name with a sudden blenching of the lip, but quietly. This was to be a business matter to be gone through without a pang. She had schooled herself so. She resumed. “If one were dead, by the survivor. I believe that in the cabinet are papers of importance to him. I have thought my father supposed his punishment would then be sufficient, and would tender him a late forgiveness, and, perhaps, restore him to his rightful heirship. The fifteen years are nearly over.” She paused here. “Will you stay with me?” she said. “Will you send for Rolfe?” Her fingers beat nervously on the marble and her lips were colorless; but she looked up in my face calm as ever. She was going bravely through her task.
“Yes, I will send for him,” I said; adding, “you have not seen your cousin since that night, I suppose?”
I wondered if she thought of the “I will wait for you, Rolfe.” Never, in all my practice, had I turned up such a case as this. It was fit for a novel, I thought, trying to sneer at it, and ending by sitting down in no amiable mood to write to Mr. Rolfe Thruston. With the fear of the member of the Van Zandt family before my eyes, I confined myself to a bare statement of the facts, requesting him to be at Champernoun Hall on the twentieth.
The letter was dispatched the next morning. Then we quietly waited. Storrs knew nothing of what was going on.
No answer came. As the weeks wore on, and the day drew nearer, I grew uneasy and nervous like a woman. He was not coming after all! He had taken the money; he was married as I knew; and this woman had sacrificed her life for nothing! I was blind not to see it from the first.
Ruth never alluded to the subject again; only every morning she watched for the post, and, when no letter came, smothered a hopeless sigh. That is a trick some women have, and go on, getting paler and thinner every day, thinking nobody knows or sees. But I saw it all. That through all these long, weary years she had looked forward to this one day, when all was to be righted, all made clear. Somehow, she did not know in what way; but she trusted. I saw it all: read back over the leaves of the life of pain, and fever, and balked hopes; and saw—what she would not see—the bitter end waiting for her.
Well, the nineteenth came. Still, no letter. I had given up all hope of seeing him days before. I think she did that evening. I could not bear to look at her. After all, it was better that he did not come. She did not know the man was married. As he was married, he had better stay away, I thought.
That evening she went from the tea-table, and sat at her sewing in the drawing-room. To spare her, I contrived to get Storrs away from her to a game of chess. About nine o’clock a servant entered and handed me a note. I think she saw him; for she stopped sewing, and sat deadly still.
I rose and went to her, saying, in a light tone, “Our friend has come, Miss Champernoun. I will go down to the village to see him, if you will permit me.”
I did not once look at her, but hurried out without waiting for an answer.
I found him at the inn. If he felt any emotion at his return, he showed none. Whatever feeling the man bad lay in too deep and rugged a channel for outward display. He was most courteous; regretted that I had not received his letter (for he had written); discussed the changes in the face of the country, and accompanied me part of the way home. That was all.
Only when he bade me good-night, he said, “Shall I see Miss Champernoun when I come to the hall to-morrow ?”
“I cannot tell what her wish may be,” I replied drily, for I remembered the Van Zandt. He bowed and went back to the inn.
The next morning I contrived to send Storrs off on a visit for the day. It was late before Miss Champernonn came down. In her simple, white wrapper she looked bright and fresh as on that night, long ago, but with a new, curious light in her eyes.
I had told her of her cousin’s change of name; but that was all I told her about him. I had not the heart.
She stayed beside me all the morning as if afraid to be alone. The sick, proud heart waiting these long years! We were in the drawing-room when he came. “Mr. Thruston, to see Mr. Page,” the servant announced. I hesitated.
“Where shall I see him, Ruth?” I said.
I glanced at her. Cold, high-blooded. Still and calm, as a royal lady should be—the cool morning wind scarce lifting the folded coronet of hair, or stirring the crimson cashmere that swept around her. But her lips were tightly shut as if to hide a deathly faintness.
I met him at the door, and introduced them. “Miss Champernoun—Mr. Thruston.” She bowed, and smiled just as she would have done to my friend Turner. What an altogether admirable thing is etiquette!
However, this sort of thing could not last long; so I proceeded to business.
“The parties being present,” I said, “the room can now be opened.”
One or two servants were called, and we crossed the hall. They removed the bar, turned the rusted key with difficulty, and threw open the door. The chamber looked oddly enough. The light, when the shutters were unbarred, came in gray and misty through the dust and cobwebs. Moths, spiders, and rats scattered in every direction. I motioned to Mr. Thruston to enter; but he stood aside.
“I have said,” he remarked, in his grave tone, “that I never will enter that room until every suspicion is wiped from my name. Miss Champernoun must go in alone.”
She smiled. I think she liked to hear him allude, even in that way, to the past. It showed he had not forgotten. Neither spoke. She went in. Thruston and I returned to the drawing-room. I heard the key turn in the ebony cabinet, a confused, hurried noise, and then a profound silence that seemed intolerably long. My companion was calm no longer. Now and then he wiped the clammy sweat from his forehead, and his breathing grew heavy and repressed. He saw that I noticed his agitation, and said, as if in apology.
“It is a long time since I was the given the name of thief, and now, I think, I will lose it,” trying to smile as he spoke.
At last the door of the looked room opened again, and Miss Champernoun came out. She walked unsteadily, her face was white and sick as if she had been struck a mortal blow. She came to Thruston and handed him a yellow, dingy package; tried to speak, but, finding she could not, went past him up to her own chamber.
He took the package to the window and opened it. I thought I heard an exclamation like “Thank God!” but I was not sure. After a long pause he turned and came toward me. I never shall forget the curious gesture—a sudden wringing of his hands as if he washed from them some stain, and threw it away forever; then he thrust one into mine, his face gleaming with irrepressible excitement. The man actually was not able to articulate.
“I understand!” I exclaimed, scarcely less moved. “Your burden is gone?”
“Gone, thank God!” I am a free man now. I can look you in the face.”
“It has been a heavy weight for a Champernoun to bear.”
“Say rather a man. I have no pride in the Champernoun blood. Let me go now. Come down in an hour, and I will explain it to you.”
I waited impatiently, and as soon as the hour was over, posted down to the Village after him. I found him walking in the border of the park. There I heard the story. It was a long one. I will tell it in as few words as I can.
I began, all eagerness.
“It is a plot, I know. And Starke Forster was the Guy Fawkes at the beginning.”
He laughed. “No, no—listen one moment. Did you know my uncle, Ruth’s father?” He went on to paint him in far other colors than Storrs would have chosen, yet, I knew, truer. A man of weak mind, with two ruling passions, pride of blood, and a love of diplomacy, finesse in little things. “He could not eat his dinner without a manoeuvre. You have seen such men? Aside from that he was not a bad sort of man, not malicious nor cruel, only weak. He never liked me. Partly because he hated the Parrs, (my mother was a Parr,) and partly,” he hesitated, and then went boldly on, “ because I loved Ruth.”
“I thought,” I said, “that he wished for the match. Storrs told me he did.”
“No. He bitterly opposed it, urged her to marry Forster, which she would not do. It is a long story. We came to an open quarrel. I resolved to go to Kentucky. My uncle, I believe, felt his health failing, and determined to devise some plan to prevent our ever fulfilling our plighted troth. The only way to do this was to disgrace me in her eyse, for her pride of blood is as strong as his own. A Champernoun would never wed a felon.”
“I see!” I broke out. “I understand. You think the money never was stolen? That the whole scheme was a plot of your uncle’s?”
“Yes, I thought it always. And in proof here is the money and a letter from him avowing the whole affair.”
“You suspected this at the time?” I said. “Why did you not speak then?”
“To what purpose should I have spoken? Who would have believed me? Not Ruth. If I had thrown such an imputation on her father, she would have hated me as passionately as she loved me. She almost worshiped her father. See what she suffers to-day from finding out what he was.”
“Still I do not comprehend. When you heard of his death, then was your time to speak.”
“I did not hear of his death for year—then what proof could I bring? If I had heard of this locked room, I should have suspected something, and forced Storrs to open it.”
“But this very whim is to me the most unaccountable part of the whole affair. Why should he leave this confession to blast his memory after he was dead?”
“If you had known the man, you would see that it was in perfect consonance with his character. He was weak, and when death approached, he feared to die with this wrong unatoned. Yet he could not bear to undo it at once, lest he should throw us together again. By this late reparation he eased his conscience, and gratified his wish, for in fifteen years he thought, of course, one of us would be dead or—married.”
There was an embarrassed pause.
As we talked we had gradually neared the Hall, and came up the avenue. He entered with me uninvited.
The morning passed uneasily. Rolfe did not return to the inn, but lingered in the drawing room, talking on every subject but one—his cousin. At last Starke Forster was alluded to.
“Do you believe he knew of this plan?” I asked.
“I believe he suspected it, but I do not think my uncle took him into his confidence.” There was a moment’s pause. “He goes to Russia, I hear?” he said, his voice changing.
“Yes. In December.”
“Does he—“ with a desperate effort at carelessness. “Report says—Miss Champernoun accompanies him?”
“No,” I said, drily.
His face flashed. I was indignant. What concern was it of his? Was he not content with the Van Zandt family? So a little spitefully, an hour afterward, I made casual allusion to said family, and an especial reference to his wife. He looked startled: then answered, with a haughty reserve, “It was a mistake. I have never married.”
I lit my cigar again, I was not such an old fool after all.”
My story is nearly done. Miss Champernoun did not leave her room, and her cousin went back to the inn disappointed. But in the evening he sauntered up with me from the village again. She was in the conservatory, and we went to find her there, and stood talking for an hour or more. The broken sunlight fell on her slight lithe figure in its sweeping, crimson robe, and touched the brown curls that fell loose the first time in many years. But I thought somehow there was another sunshine gleaming in broken lights through her dark, wistful eyes, and the changing color of her cheek. We talked on the topics of the day. Miss Champernoun, it is true, said but little, but then silence suited her stately reserve.
But after awhile, as they passed through the hall, they came near the door of the locked chamber, still gray with dust and cobwebs of years. Rolfe stopped, and, taking her by the hand as if she were a child, drew her in. Looking down at her, he said, gravely.
“Ruth, I have come.”
I saw her turn her face, wet with sudden tears, up to his, and heard the quiet answer.
“I have waited, Rolfe.”
That was all.
1. Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) ruled England from 1558 to 1603. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) was an English gentleman, soldier, explorer, and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth.
2. The Emperors of Byzant may be a reference to the emperors of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire and founded in 330 AD.
3. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) wrote a series of historical romances set primarily in Scotland during Jacobite rule and collectively referred to as the Waverly Novels. The first novel, Waverley, was published in 1814, and the series was popular throughout the nineteenth century.
4. A meerschaum is a tobacco pipe.
5. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was part of a group of Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against Queen Elizabeth.
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