+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

round her ladyship's tea-table, when she
committed her crowning act of folly by
offering to lay a wager with any one that
she would find out the secret room herself.
I need hardly say no one accepted the
challenge. But she was not to be
discouraged. She had seen her husband's
face go white, and the look which he had
shot at her gave a zest to her audacious
scheme. She repeated her declaration that
she would penetrate this wonderful mystery.
Such things were well enough to frighten
old women with in the middle ages, but
how any one could believe in predictions and
other rubbish of this kind in the present
day passed her comprehension. For her
part she had no faith in anything of the
kind, and to prove what folly it was, she
should leave no stone unturned to discover
this room about which such a fuss was
made: after which the secret, she declared,
should remain one no longer. I tried to
stop her; Pilson tried to stop her: it was
all no use. She had got the bit between
her teeth, so to speak, and away she went,
partly to show off, and partly out of spite,
regardless what she said, provided it
produced an effect and inflamed my lord yet
more. She pictured, laughingly, the
cobwebbed condition of the room, and how she
would turn in the housemaid with broom
and duster; after which she would give an
evening party there, and invite all the
ghosts to come, if they chose—"indeed the
black gentleman himself!" . . . . Poor
woman, she little knew what she was
invoking. No one laughed. Even the heir,
who, being shy, always smiled when
required, looked too stupefied to comply with
the demand on this occasion. To glance at
Lord Dunblane's face was enough to check
any inclination to hilarity. I have never
forgotten its expression. I had witnessed
his ungovernable passion scores of times,
prompting him to sudden acts of-violence.
But now, there was a certain admixture of
fear (she had divined rightly, I saw, when
she said he was afraid of her) with the rage
which trembled through his whole frame,
the like of which I have never beheld but
once since in my life. I saw a beast-tamer
enter the hyenas' den at the show last year.
The aspect of their malignant fury cowed
by terror, but watching for its opportunity
to burst forth, the savage hissing wherewith
they received the lash and showed their
fangs, recalled to me Dunblane's demeanour
as he listened to his wife. . . . . At
last, I could stand it no longer, and made
up my mind to tell a lie.

"Lady Dunblane," I said, "like most
Scotchmen, I am a trifle superstitious. This
is my last night under your hospitable roof,
and I am sure you would not willingly
disturb its rest. You are so happily constituted
as to be above fear of any kind. Others are
weaker. Let me earnestly advise you to
leave all the superstitions connected with
Dunblane Castle alone. Believe me, 'there
are more things in heaven and earth than
are dreamt of in your ladyship's philosophy.' "

She burst out a-laughing, as usual.
"Oh, Mr. Carthews, I'm ashamed of you.
But I see what it is. You are afraid, not
of the ghosts and the predictions, but of
my lord. Well, I shall see you in May,
when I pass through Aberdeen on my way
south, and I shall tell you all about it then;
for, depend upon it, I shall have found out
the secret by that time."

And so, in the insolence of youth and
high spirits and an indomitable will, she bade
me good-night, poor woman, and I never
saw her again.

Dunblane had left the room. Whether it
was pre-arranged that Pilson and the young
heir were to join him in his study, and that
later in the night the door of the secret room
should be unclosed, I know not. I am
inclined, from one or two circumstances, to
think that it was so; but, again, there are
other things which have made me doubt it.
At all events, when we three bade each other
good-night, neither Pilson nor young
Dunblane dropped anything which should lead
me to suppose they were not going straight
to their own rooms. They were not to
leave the castle till the day after me. It
was quite possible, therefore, that the chamber
was to be unlocked after my departure.

Now Ready, price 5s. 6d., bound in green cloth,
To be had of all Booksellers.

MESSRS. CHAPPELL AND CO. have great pleasure
in announcing that MR. CHARLES DICKENS will resume
and conclude his interrupted series of FAREWELL
READINGS at St. James's Hall, London, early in
the New Year.
The Readings will be TWELVE in NUMBER, and none
will take place out of London.
All communications to be addressed to Messrs.
CHAPPELL and Co., 50, New Bond-street, W.

The Right of Translating Articles from ALL THE YEAR ROUND is reserved by the Authors.