Under Lock and Key_ A Story. Volume 2 (of 3)
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(Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
T. W. SPEIGHT,
AUTHOR OF "BROUGHT TO LIGHT," "FOOLISH MARGARET,"
IN THREE VOLUMES.
TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND.
[All rights of Translation and Reproduction are reserved.]
SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS, CHANDOS STREET,
|I.||JANET IN A NEW CHARACTER.|
|II||THE DAWN OF LOVE.|
|III||THE NARRATIVE OF SERGEANT NICHOLAS.|
|IV||COUNSEL TAKEN WITH MR. MADGIN.|
|V||MR. MADGIN AT THE HELM.|
|VI||MR. MADGIN's SECRET JOURNEY.|
|VII||ENTER MADGIN, JUNIOR.|
|VIII||MADGIN JUNIOR'S FIRST REPORT.|
|IX||LOST AS SOON AS FOUND.|
|XI||THE CONFESSION CONTINUED.|
|XII||MADGIN JUNIOR'S SECOND REPORT.|
|XIII||ROOM NUMBER FOUR IN THE CORRIDOR.|
|XIV||AT THE CURTAINED DOOR.|
|XV||THE LITTLE PACKET FROM LONDON.|
|XVI||MADGIN JUNIOR'S THIRD REPORT.|
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
JANET IN A NEW CHARACTER.
On entering Lady Pollexfen's room for the second time, Janet foundthat the mistress of Dupley Walls had completed her toilette in theinterim, and was now sitting robed in stiff rustling silk, with anIndian fan in one hand and a curiously-chased vinaigrette in theother. She motioned with her fan to Janet. "Be seated," she said, inthe iciest of tones, and Janet sat down on a chair a yard or tworemoved from her ladyship.
"Since you were here last, Miss Holme," she began, "I have seen SisterAgnes, who informs me that she has already given you an outline of theduties I shall require you to perform should you agree to accept thesituation which ill health obliges her to vacate. At the same time, Iwish you clearly to understand that I do not consider you in any waybound by what I may have done for you in time gone by, neither would Ihave you in this matter run counter to your inclinations in theslightest degree. If you would prefer that a situation as governessshould be obtained for you, say so without hesitation, and any smallinfluence I may have shall be used ungrudgingly in your behalf. Shouldyou agree to remain at Dupley Walls your salary will be thirty guineasa year. If you wish it, you can take a day for consideration, and letme have your decision in the morning."
Lady Pollexfen's mention of a fixed salary stung Janet to the quick;it was so entirely unexpected. It stung her, but only for a moment;the next she saw and gratefully recognised the fact that she should nolonger be a pensioner on the bounty of Lady Pollexfen. A dependent shemight be--a servant even, if you like; but at least she would beearning her living by the labour of her own hands, and even about thevery thought of such a thing there was a sweet sense of independencethat flushed her warmly through and through.
Her hesitation lasted but a moment, then she spoke. "Your ladyship isvery kind, but I require no time for consideration," she said. "I havealready made up my mind to take the position which you have sogenerously offered me, and if my ability to please you only proveequal to my inclination, your ladyship will not have much cause tocomplain."
A faint smile of something like satisfaction flitted across LadyPollexfen's face. "Very good, Miss Holme," she said, in a moregracious tone than she had yet used. "I am pleased to find that youhave taken so sensible a view of the matter, and that you understandso thoroughly your position under my roof. How soon shall you beprepared to begin your new duties?"
"I am ready at this moment."
"Come to me an hour hence and I will then instruct you."
In this second interview, brief though it was, Janet could not avoidbeing struck by Lady Pollexfen's stately dignity of manner. Her toneand style were those of a high-bred gentlewoman. It seemed scarcelypossible that she and the querulous shrivelled-up old woman in thecashmere dressing-robe could be one individual.
Unhappily, as Janet to her cost was not long in finding out, herladyship's querulous moods were much more frequent than her moods ofquiet dignity. At such times she was very difficult to please;sometimes, indeed, it was utterly impossible to please her not even anangel could have done it. Then, indeed, Janet felt her duty weigh veryhardly upon her. By nature her temper was quick and passionate--herimpulses high and generous; but when Lady Pollexfen was in her worsemoods she had to curb the former as with an iron chain, while thelatter were outraged continually by Lady Pollexfen's mean and miserlymode of life, and by a certain low and sordid tone of thought which atsuch times pervaded all she said and did. And yet, strange to say, shehad rare fits of generosity and goodwill--times when her soul seemedto sit in sackcloth and ashes, as if in repentance for those otheroccasions when the "dark fit" was on her and the things of this worldclaimed her too entirely as their own.
After her second interview with Lady Pollexfen, Janet at once hurriedoff to Sister Agnes to tell her the news. "On one point only, so faras I see at present, shall I require any special information," shesaid. "I shall require to know exactly the mode of procedure necessaryto be observed when I pay my midnight visits to Sir John Pollexfen."
"It is not my intention that you should visit Sir John," said SisterAgnes. "That portion of my old duties will continue to be performed byme."
"Not till you are stronger--not till your health is better than it isnow," said Janet earnestly. "I am young and strong; it is merely apart of what I have undertaken to do, and you must please let me doit. I have outgrown my childish fears and could visit the Black Roomnow without the quiver of a nerve."
"You think so, by daylight, but wait till the house is dark andsilent, and then say the same conscientiously--if you can."
But Janet was determined not to yield the point, nor could SisterAgnes move her from her decision. Ultimately a compromise was enteredinto by which it was agreed that for one evening at least they shouldvisit the Black Room together, and that the settlement of the questionshould be left till the following day.
Precisely as midnight struck they set out together up the wideold-fashioned staircase, past the door of Janet's old room, up thenarrower staircase beyond, till the streak of light came into view andthe grim nail-studded door itself was reached. Janet was secretly gladthat she was not there alone, so much she acknowledged to herself asthey halted for a moment while Sister Agnes unlocked the door. Butwhen the latter asked her if she were not afraid, if she would notmuch rather be snug in bed, Janet only said: "Give me the key, tell mewhat I have to do inside the room, and then leave me."
But Sister Agnes would not consent to that, and they entered the roomtogether. Instead of seven years, it seemed to Janet only seven hourssince she had been there last, so vividly was the recollection of herfirst visit still impressed upon her mind. Everything was unchanged inthat chamber of the dead, except, perhaps, the sprawling cupids on theceiling, which looked a shade dingier than of old, and more in need ofsoap and water than ever. But the black draperies on the walls, thehuge candles in the silver tripods, the pall-covered coffin in themiddle of the room, were all as Janet had seen them last. There, too,was the oaken prie-dieu a yard or two away from the head of thecoffin. Sister Agnes knelt on it for a few moments, and bent her headin silent prayer.
"My visit to this room every midnight," said Sister Agnes, "is madefor the simple purpose of renewing the candles, and of seeing thateverything is as it should be. That the visit should be made atmidnight, and at no other time, is one of Lady Pollexfen's whims--awhim that by process of time has crystallized into a law. The room isnever entered by day."
"Was it whim or madness that caused Sir John Pollexfen to leave ordersthat his body should be kept above ground for twenty years?"
"Who shall tell by what motive he was influenced when he had thatparticular clause inserted in his will? Dupley Walls itself hangs onthe proper fulfilment of the clause. If Lady Pollexfen were to causeher husband's remains to be interred in the family vault before theexpiry of the twenty years, the very day she did so the estate wouldpass from her to the present baronet, a distant cousin, between whomand her ladyship there has been a bitter feud of many years' standing.Although Dupley Walls has been in the family for a hundred and fiftyyears, it has never been entailed. The entailed estate is inYorkshire, and there Sir Mark, the present baronet, resides. LadyPollexfen has the power of bequeathing Dupley Walls to whomsoever shemay please, providing she carry out strictly the instructionscontained in her husband's will, it is possible that in a court of lawthe will might have been set aside on the ground of insanity, or thewhole matter might have been thrown into Chancery. But Lady Pollexfendid not choose to submit to such an ordeal. All the courts of lawin the kingdom could have given her no more than she possessedalready--they could merely have given her permission to bury herhusband's body, and it did not seem to her that such a permissioncould compensate for the turning into public gossip of a privatechapter of family history. So here Sir John Pollexfen has remainedsince his death, and here he will stay till the last of the twentyyears has become a thing of the past. Two or three times every yearMr. Winter, Sir Mark's lawyer, comes over to Dupley Walls to satisfyhimself by ocular proof that Sir John's instructions are being dulycarried out. This he has a legal right to do in the interests of hisclient. Sometimes he is conducted to this room by Lady Pollexfen,sometimes by me; but even in his case her ladyship will not relax herrule of not having the room visited by day."
Sister Agnes then showed Janet that behind the black draperies therewas a cupboard in the wall, which on being opened proved to contain aquantity of large candles. One by one Sister Agnes took out of thesilver tripod what remained of the candles of the previous day, andfilled up their places with fresh ones. Janet looked on attentively.Then, for the second time, Sister Agnes knelt on the prie-dieu for afew moments, and then she and Janet left the room.
Next day Sister Agnes was so ill, and Janet pressed so earnestly to beallowed to attend to the Black Room in place of her, and alone, thatshe was obliged to give a reluctant consent.
It was not without an inward tremor that Janet heard the clock striketwelve. Sister Agnes had insisted on accompanying her part of the wayupstairs, and would, in fact, have gone the whole distance with her,had not Janet insisted on going forward alone. In a single breath, asit seemed to her, she ran up the remaining stairs, unlocked the door,and entered the room. Her nerves were not sufficiently composed toallow of her making use of the prie-dieu. All she cared for justthen was to get through her duty as quickly as possible, and get backin safety to the world of living beings downstairs. She set her teeth,and by a supreme effort of will went through the small duty that wasrequired of her steadily but swiftly. Her face was never turned awayfrom the coffin the whole time; and when she had finished her task shewalked backwards to the door, opened it, walked backwards out, and inanother breath was downstairs, and safe in the protecting arms ofSister Agnes.
Next night she insisted upon going entirely alone, and made so lightof the matter that Sister Agnes no longer opposed her wish to make themidnight visit to the Black Room a part of her ordinary duty. Butinwardly Janet could never quite overcome her secret awe of the roomand its silent occupant. She always dreaded the coming of the hourthat