The Midnight Queen

Contents:
Author: May Agnes Fleming

Chapter III. The Court Page

The search was given over at last in despair, and the doctor took his hat and disappeared. Sir Norman and Ormiston stopped in the lower hall and looked at each other in mute amaze.

"What can it all mean?" asked Ormiston, appealing more to society at large than to his bewildered companion.

"I haven’t the faintest idea," said Sir Norman, distractedly; "only I am pretty certain, if I don’t find her, I shall do something so desperate that the plague will be a trifle compared to it!"

"It seems almost impossible that she can have been carried off - doesn’t it?"

"If she has!" exclaimed Sir Norman, "and I find out the abductor, he won’t have a whole bone in his body two minutes after!"

"And yet more impossible that she can have gone off herself," pursued Ormiston with the air of one entering upon an abstruse subject, and taking no heed whatever of his companion’s marginal notes.

"Gone off herself! Is the man crazy?" inquired Sir Norman, with a stare. "Fifteen minutes before we left her dead, or in a dead swoon, which is all the same in Greek, and yet he talks of her getting up and going off herself!"

"In fact, the only way to get at the bottom of the mystery," said Ormiston, "is to go in search of her. Sleeping, I suppose, is out of the question."

"Of course it is! I shall never sleep again till I find her!"

They passed out, and Sir Norman this time took the precaution of turning the key, thereby fulfilling the adage of locking the stable-door when the steed was stolen. The night had grown darker and hotter; and as they walked along, the clock of St. Paul’s tolled nine.

"And now, where shall we go?" inquired Sir Norman, as they rapidly hurried on.

"I should recommend visiting the house we found her first; if not there, then we can try the pest-house."

Sir Norman shuddered.

"Heaven forefend she should be there! It is the most mysterious thing ever I heard of!"

"What do you think now of La Masque’s prediction - dare you doubt still?"

"Ormiston, I don’t know what to think. It is the same face I saw, and yet - "

"Well - and yet - "

"I can’t tell you - I am fairly bewildered. If we don’t find the lady st her own house, I have half a mind to apply to your friend, La Masque, again."

"The wisest thing you could do, my dear fellow. If any one knows your unfortunate beloved’s whereabouts, it is La Masque, depend upon it."

"That’s settled then; and now, don’t talk, for conversation at this smart pace I don’t admire."

Ormiston, like the amiable, obedient young man that he was, instantly held his tongue, and they strode along at a breathless pace. There was an unusual concourse of men abroad that night, watching the gloomy face of the sky, and waiting the hour of midnight to kindle the myriad of fires; and as the two tall, dark figures went rapidly by, all supposed it to be a case of life or death. In the eyes of one of the party, perhaps it was; and neither halted till they came once more in sight of the house, whence a short time previously they had carried the death-cold bride. A row of lamps over the door-portals shed a yellow, uncertain light around, while the lights of barges and wherries were sown like stars along the river.

"There is the house," cried Ormiston, and both paused to take breath; "and I am about at the last gasp. I wonder if your pretty mistress would feel grateful if she knew what I have come through to-night for her sweet sake?"

"There are no lights," mad Sir Norman, glancing ,anxiously up at the darkened front of the house; "even the link before the door is unlit. Surely she cannot be there."

"That remains to be seen, though I’m very doubtful about it myself. Ah I who have we here?"

The door of the house in question opened, as he spoke, and a figure - a man’s figure, wearing a slouched hat and long, dark cloak, came slowly out. He stopped before the house and looked at it long and earnestly; and, by the twinkling light of the lamps, the friends saw enough of him to know he was young and distinguished looking.

"I should not wonder in the least it that were the bridegroom," whispered Ormiston, maliciously.

Sir Norman turned pale with jealousy, and laid his hand on his sword, with a quick and natural impulse to make the bride a widow forthwith. But he checked the desire for an instant as the brigandish-looking gentleman, after a prolonged stare at the premises, stepped up to the watchman, who had given them their information an hour or two before, and who was still at his post. The friends could not be seen, but they could hear, and they did so very earnestly indeed.

"Can you tell me, my friend," began the cloaked unknown, "what has become of the people residing in yonder house?"

The watchman, held his lamp up to the face of the interlocutor - a handsome face by the way, what could be seen of it - and indulged himself in a prolonged survey.

"Well!" said the gentleman, impatiently, "have you no tongue, fellow? Where are they, I say?"

"Blessed if I know," said the watchman. "I, wasn’t set here to keep guard over them was I? It looks like it, though," said the man in parenthesis; "for this makes twice to-night I’ve been asked questions about it."

"Ah!" said the gentleman, with a slight start. "Who asked you before, pray?"

"Two young gentlemen; lords, I expect, by their dress. Somebody ran screaming out of the house, and they wanted to know what was wrong."

"Well?" said the stranger, breathlessly, "and then?"

"And then, as I couldn’t tell them they went in to see for themselves, and shortly after came out with a body wrapped in a sheet, which they put in a pest-cart going by, and had it buried, I suppose, with the rest in the plague-pit."

The stranger fairly staggered back, and caught at s pillar near for support. For nearly ten minutes, he stood perfectly motionless, and then, without a word, started up and walked rapidly away. The friends looked after him curiously till he was out of eight.

"So she is not there," said Ormiston; "and our mysterious friend in the cloak is as much at a loss as we are ourselves. Where shall we go next - to La Masque or the peat-house?"

"To La Masque - I hate the idea of the pest-house!"

"She may be there, nevertheless; and under present circumstances, it is the beat place for her."

"Don’t talk of it!" said Sir Norman, impatiently. "I do not and will not believe she is there! If the sorceress shows her to me in the caldron again, I verily believe I shall jump in head foremost."

"And I verily believe we will not find La Masque at home. She wanders through the streets at all hours, but particularly affects the night."

"We shall try, however. Come along!"

The house of the sorceress was but a short distance from that of Sir Norman’s plague-stricken lady-love’s; and shod with a sort of seven-league boots, they soon reached it. Like the other, it was all dark and deserted.

"This is the home," said Ormiston, looking at it doubtfully, "but where is La Masque?"

"Here!" said a silvery voice at his elbow; and turning round, they saw a tall, slender figure, cloaked, hooded, and masked. "Surely, you two do not want me again to-night?"

Both gentlemen doffed their plumed hats, and simultaneously bowed.

"Fortune favors us," said Sir Norman. "Yes, madam, it is even so; once again to-night we would tax your skill."

"Well, what do you wish to know?"

"Madam, we are in the street."

"Sir, I’m aware of that. Pray proceed,"

"Will you not have the goodness to permit us to enter?" said Sir Norman, inclined to feel offended. "How can you tell us what we wish to know, here?"

"That is my secret," said the sweet voice. "Probably Sir Norman Kingsley wishes to know something of the fair lady I showed him some time ago?"

"Madam, you’ve guessed it. It is for that purpose I have sought you now."

"Then you have seen her already?"

"I have."

"And love her?"

"With all my heart!"

"A rapid flame," said the musical voice, in a tone that had just a thought of sarcasm; "for one of whose very existence you did not dream two hours ago."

"Madame La Masque," said Norman, flushed sad haughty, "love is not a question of time."

"Sir Norman Kingsley," said the lady, somewhat sadly, "I am aware of that. Tell me what you wish to know, and if it be in my power, you shall know it."

"A thousand thanks! Tell me, then, is she whom I seek living or dead?"

"She is alive."

"She has the plague?" said Sir Norman.

"I know it."

"Will she recover?"

"She will."

"Where is she now?"

Ls Masque hesitated and seemed uncertain whether or not to reply. Sir Norman passionately broke in:

"Tell me, madam, for I must know!"

"Then you shall; but, remember, if you get into danger, you must not blame me."

"Blame you! No, I think I would hardly do that. Where am I to seek for her?"

"Two miles from London beyond Newgate," said the mask. "There stand the ruins of what was long ago a hunting-lodge, now a crumbling skeleton, roofless and windowless, and said, by rumor, to be haunted. Perhaps you have seen or heard of it?"

"I have seen it a hundred times," broke in Sir Norman. "Surely, you do not mean to say she is there?"

"Go there, and you will see. Go there to-night, and lose no time - that is, supposing you can procure a license."

"I have one already. I have a pass from the Lord Mayor to come and go from the city when I please."

"Good! Then you’ll go to-night."

"I will go. I might as well do that as anything else, I suppose; but it is quite impossible," said Sir Norman, firmly, not to say obstinately, "that she can be there."

"Very well you’ll see. You had better go on horseback, if you desire to be back in time to witness the illumination."

"I don’t particularly desire to see the illumination, as I know of; but I will ride, nevertheless. What am I to do when I get there?"

"You will enter the ruins, and go on till you discover a spiral staircase leading to what was once the vaults. The flags of these vaults are loose from age, and if you should desire to remove any of them, you will probably not find it an impossibility."

"Why should I desire to remove them?" asked Sir Norman, who felt dubious, and disappointed, and inclined to be dogmatical.

"Why, you may see a glimmering of light - hear strange noises; and if you remove the stones, may possibly see strange sights. As I told you before, it is rumored to be haunted, which is true enough, though not in the way they suspect; and so the fools and the common herd stay away."

"And if I am discovered peeping like a rascally valet, what will be the consequences?"

"Very unpleasant ones to you; but you need not be discovered if you take care. Ah! Look there!"

She pointed to the river, and both her companions looked. A barge gayly painted and gilded, with a light in prow and stern, came gliding up among less pretentious craft, and stopped at the foot of a flight of stairs leading to the bridge. It contained four persons - the oarsman, two cavaliers sitting in the stern, and a lad in the rich livery of a court-page in the act of springing out. Nothing very wonderful in all this; and Sir Norman and Ormiston looked at her for an explanation.

"Do you know those two gentlemen?" she asked.

"Certainly," replied Sir Norman, promptly; "one is the Duke of York, the other the Earl of Rochester."

"And that page, to which of them does he belong?"

"The page!" said Sir Norman, with a stare, as he leaned forward to look; "pray, madam, what has the page to do with it?"

"Look and see!"

The two peers has ascended the stairs, and were already on the bridge. The page loitered behind, talking, as it seemed, to the waterman.

"He wears the livery of the Earl of Rochester," said Ormiston, speaking for the first time, "but I cannot see his face."

"He will follow presently, and be sure you see it then! Possibly you may not find it entirely new to you."

She drew back into the shadow as she spoke; and the two nobles, as they advanced, talking earnestly, beheld Sir Norman and Ormiston. Both raised their hats with a look of recognition, and the salute was courteously returned by the others.

"Good-night, gentlemen," said Lord Rochester; "a hot evening, is it not? Have you come here to witness the illumination?"

"Hardly," said Sir Norman; "we have come for a very different purpose, my lord."

"The fires will have one good effect," said Ormiston laughing; "if they clear the air and drive away this stifling atmosphere."

"Pray God they drive away the plague!" said the Duke of York, as he and his companion passed from view.

The page sprang up the stairs after them, humming as he came, one of his master’s love ditties - songs, saith tradition, savoring anything but the odor of sanctity. With the warning of La Masque fresh in their mind, both looked at him earnestly. His gay livery was that of Lord Rochester, and became his graceful figure well, as he marched along with a jaunty swagger, one hand on his aide, and the other toying with a beautiful little spaniel, that frisked in open violation of the Lord Mayor’s orders, commanding all dogs, great and small, to be put to death as propagators of the pestilence. In passing, the lad turned his face toward them for a moment - a bright, saucy, handsome face it was - and the next instant he went round an angle and disappeared. Ormiston suppressed an oath. Sir Norman stifled a cry of amazement - for both recognized that beautiful colorless face, those perfect features, and great, black, lustrous eyes. It was the face of the lady they had saved from the plague-pit!"

"Am I sane or mad?" inquired Sir Norman, looking helplessly about him for information. Surely that is she we are in search of."

"It certainly is!" said Ormiston. "Where are the wonders of this night to end?"

"Satan and La Masque only know; for they both seem to have united to drive me mad. Where is she?"

"Where, indeed?" said Ormiston; "where is last year’s snow?" And Sir Norman, looking round at the spot where she had stood a moment before, found that she, too, had disappeared.

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Chicago: May Agnes Fleming, "Chapter III. The Court Page," The Midnight Queen, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Midnight Queen (New York: George E. Wood, 1912), Original Sources, accessed September 21, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN95CUVMJVFHS92.

MLA: Fleming, May Agnes. "Chapter III. The Court Page." The Midnight Queen, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Midnight Queen, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1912, Original Sources. 21 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN95CUVMJVFHS92.

Harvard: Fleming, MA, 'Chapter III. The Court Page' in The Midnight Queen, ed. . cited in 1912, The Midnight Queen, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN95CUVMJVFHS92.