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- A Terrible Secret - 1/86 -


A TERRIBLE SECRET.

A Novel.

BY

MAY AGNES FLEMING,

To

CHRISTIAN REID,

AUTHOR OF

"VALERIE AYLMER," ETC.,

AS A

TOKEN OF ADMIRATION AND ESTEEM,

THIS

STORY IS DEDICATED.

MAY AGNES FLEMING.

BROOKLYN,

_September_, 1874.

CONTENTS.

I.--Bride and Bridegroom Elect II.--Wife and Heir III.--How Lady Catheron came Home IV.--"I'll not Believe but Desdemona's Honest" V.--In the Twilight VI.--In the Moonlight VII.--In the Nursery VIII.--In the Darkness IX.--From the "Chesholm Courier" X.--From the "Chesholm Courier"--Continued XI.--"Ring out your Bells! Let Mourning Shows be Spread!" XII.--The first Ending of the Tragedy

PART II.

I.--Miss Darrell II.--A Night in the Snow III.--Trixy's Party IV.--"Under the Gaslight" V.--Old Copies of the "Courier" VI.--One Moonlight Night VII.--Short and Sentimental VIII.--In Two Boats IX.--Alas for Trix X.--How Trix took it XI.--How Lady Helena took it XII.--On St. Partridge Day XIII.--How Charley took it XIV.--To-morrow XV.--Lady Helena's Ball XVI.--"O My Cousin Shallow-hearted!" XVII.--"Forever and Ever" XVIII.--The Summons XIX.--At Poplar Lodge XX.--How the Wedding-day Began XXI.--How the Wedding-day Ended XXII.--The Day After XXIII.--The Second Ending of the Tragedy

PART III.

I.--At Madame Mirebeau's, Oxford Street II.--Edith III.--How they Met IV.--How they Parted V.--The Telling of the Secret VI.--The last Ending of the Tragedy VII.--Two Years After VIII.--Forgiven or--Forgotten? IX.--Saying Good-by X.--The Second Bridal XI.--The Night XII.--The Morning

CHAPTER I.

BRIDE AND BRIDEGROOM ELECT.

Firelight falling on soft velvet carpet, where white lily buds trail along azure ground, on chairs of white-polished wood that glitters like ivory, with puffy of seats of blue satin; on blue and gilt panelled walls; on a wonderfully carved oaken ceiling; on sweeping draperies of blue satin and white lace; on half a dozen lovely pictures; on an open piano; and last of all, on the handsome, angry face of a girl who stands before it--Inez Catheron.

The month is August--the day the 29th--Miss Catheron has good reason to remember it to the last day of her life. But, whether the August sun blazes, or the January winds howl, the great rooms of Catheron Royals are ever chilly. So on the white-tiled hearth of the blue drawing-room this summer evening a coal fire flickers and falls, and the mistress of Catheron Royals stands before it, an angry flush burning deep red on either dusk cheek, an angry frown contracting her straight black brows.

The mistress of Catheron Royals,--the biggest, oldest, queerest, grandest place in all sunny Cheshire,--this slim, dark girl of nineteen, for three years past the bride-elect of Sir Victor Catheron, baronet, the last of his Saxon race and name, the lord of all these sunny acres, this noble Norman pile, the smiling village of Catheron below. The master of a stately park in Devon, a moor and "bothy" in the highlands, a villa on the Arno, a gem of a cottage in the Isle of Wight. "A darling of the gods," young, handsome, healthy; and best of all, with twenty thousand a year.

She is his bride-elect. In her dark way she is very handsome. She is to be married to Sir Victor early in the next month, and she is as much in love with him as it is at all possible to be. A fair fate surely. And yet while the August night shuts down, while the wind whistles in the trees, while the long fingers of the elm, just outside the window, tap in a ghostly way on the pane, she stands here, flushed, angry, impatient, and sullen, her handsome lips set in a tight, rigid line.

She is very dark at all times. Her cousin Victor tells her, laughingly, she is an absolute nigger when in one of her silent rages. She has jet-black hair, and big, brilliant, Spanish eyes. She _is_ Spanish. Her dead mother was a Castilian, and that mother has left her her Spanish name, her beautiful, passionate Spanish eyes, her hot, passionate Spanish heart. In Old Castile Inez was born; and when in her tenth year her English father followed his wife to the grave, Inez came home to Catheron Royals, to reign there, a little, imperious, hot-tempered Morisco princess ever since.

She did not come alone. A big boy of twelve, with a shock head of blue-black hair, two wild, glittering black eyes, and a diabolically handsome face, came with her. It was her only brother Juan, an imp incarnate from his cradle. _He_ did not remain long. To the unspeakable relief of the neighborhood for miles around, he had vanished as suddenly as he had come, and for years was seen no more.

A Moorish Princess! It is her cousin and lover's favorite name for her, and it fits well. There is a certain barbaric splendor about her as she stands here in the firelight, in her trailing purple silk, in the cross of rubies and fine gold that burns on her bosom, in the yellow, perfumy rose in her hair, looking stately, and beautiful, and dreadfully out of temper.

The big, lonesome house is as still as a tomb. Outside the wind is rising, and the heavy patter, patter, of the rain-beats on the glass. That, and the light fall of the cinders in the polished grate, are the only sounds to be heard.

A clock on the mantel strikes seven. She has not stirred for nearly an hour, but she looks up now, her black eyes full of passionate anger, passionate impatience.

"Seven!" she says, in a suppressed sort of voice; "and he should have been here at six. What if he should defy me?--what if he does not come after all?"

She can remain still no longer. She walks across the room, and she walks as only Spanish women do. She draws back one of the window-curtains, and leans out into the night. The crushed sweetness of the rain-beaten roses floats up to her in the wet darkness. Nothing to be seen but the vague tossing of the trees, nothing to be heard but the soughing of the wind, nothing to be felt but the fast and still faster falling of the rain.

She lets the curtain fall, and returns to the fire.

"Will he dare defy me?" she whispers to herself. "Will he dare stay away?"

There are two pictures hanging over the mantel--she looks up at them as she asks the question. One is the sweet, patient face of a woman of thirty; the other, the smiling face of a fair-haired, blue-eyed, good-looking lad. It is a _very_ pleasant face; the blue eyes look at you so brightly, so frankly; the boyish mouth is so sweet-tempered and laughing that you smile back and fall in love with him at sight. It is Sir Victor Catheron and his late mother.

Miss Inez Catheron is in many respects an extraordinary young lady--Cheshire society has long ago decided that. They would have been more convinced of it than ever, could they have seen her turn now to


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