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THE BARONET'S BRIDE

Or, A Woman's Vengeance

by

MAY AGNES FLEMING

Author of _Lady Evelyn_, _Queen of the Isle_, _Who Wins?_,
_Estella's Husband_, _The Heiress of Glendower_, etc.

New York
The New York Book Company

1910







ALL'S WELL.

The clouds, which rise with thunder, slake
Our thirsty souls with rain;
The blow most dreaded falls to break
From off our limbs a chain;
And wrongs of man to man but make
The love of God more plain.
As through the shadowy lens of even
The eye looks farthest into heaven
On gleams of star and depths of blue
The glaring sunshine never knew!

JOHN G. WHITTIER.




SHADOW.

It falls before, it follows behind,
Darkest still when the day is bright;
No light without the shadow we find,
And never shadow without the light.

From our shadow we cannot flee away;
It walks when we walk, it runs when we run;
But it tells which way to look for the sun;
We may turn our backs on it any day.

Ever mingle the sight and shade
That make this human world so dear;
Sorrow of joy is ever made,
And what were a hope without a fear?

A morning shadow o'er youth is cast,
Warning from pleasure's dazzling snare;
A shadow lengthening across the past,
Fixes our fondest memories there.

One shadow there is, so dark, so drear,
So broad we see not the brightness round it;
Yet 'tis but the dark side of the sphere
Moving into the light unbounded.

ISA CRAIG-KNOX.





CHAPTER I.

THE BARONET'S BRIDE.

"And there is danger of death - for mother and child?"

"Well, no, Sir Jasper - no, sir; no certain danger, you know; but in
these protracted cases it can do no harm, Sir Jasper, for the clergyman
to be here. He may not be needed but your good lady is very weak, I am
sorry to say, Sir Jasper Kingsland."

"I will send for the clergyman," Sir Jasper Kingsland said. "Do your
best, Doctor Godroy, and for God's sake let me know the worst or best
as soon as may be. This suspense is horrible."

Doctor Parker Godroy looked sympathetically at him through his
gold-bowed spectacles.

"I will do my best, Sir Jasper," he said, gravely. "The result is in
the hands of the Great Dispenser of life and death. Send for the
clergyman, and wait and hope."

He quitted the library as he spoke. Sir Jasper Kingsland seized the
bell and rang a shrill peal.

"Ride to the village - ride for your life!" he said, imperatively, to
the servant who answered, "and fetch the Reverend Cyrus Green here at
once."

The man bowed and departed, and Sir Jasper Kingsland, Baronet, of
Kingsland Court, was alone - alone in the gloomy grandeur of the vast
library; alone with his thoughts and the wailing midnight storm.

A little toy time-piece of buhl on the stone mantel chimed musically
its story of the hour, and Sir Jasper Kingsland lifted his gloomy eyes
for a moment at the sound. A tall, spare middle-aged man, handsome
once - handsome still, some people said - with iron-gray hair and a
proud, patrician face.

"Twelve," his dry lips whispered to themselves - "midnight, and for
three hours I have endured this maddening agony of suspense! Another
day is given to the world, and before its close all I love best may be
cold and stark in death! Oh, my God! have mercy, and spare her!"

He lifted his clasped hands in passionate appeal. There was a picture
opposite - a gem of Raphael's - the Man of Sorrows fainting under the
weight of the cross, and the fire's shine playing upon it seemed to
light the pallid features with a derisive smile.

"The mercy you showed to others, the same shall be shown to you. Tiger
heart, you were merciless in the days gone by. Let your black, bad
heart break, as you have broken others!"

No voice had sounded, yet he was answered. Conscience had spoken in
trumpet-tones, and with a hollow groan the baronet turned away and
began pacing up and down.

It was a large and spacious apartment, this library of Kingsland Court,
dimly lighted now by the flickering wood-fire and the mellow glow of a
branch of wax-lights. Huge book-cases filled to overflowing lined the
four walls, and pictures precious as their weight in rubies looked
duskily down from their heavy frames. Busts and bronzes stood on
brackets and surmounted doors; a thick, rich carpet of moss-green,
sprinkled with oak leaves and acorns, muffled the tread; voluminous
draperies of dark green shrouded the tall, narrow windows. The massive
chairs and tables, fifty years old at least, were spindle-legged and
rich in carving, upholstered in green velvet and quaintly embroidered,
by hands moldered to dust long ago. Everything was old and grand, and
full of storied interest. And there, on the wall, was the crest of the
house - the uplifted hand grasping a dagger - and the motto, in old
Norman French, "Strike once, and strike well."

It is a very fine thing to be a baronet - a Kingsland of Kingsland, with
fifteen thousand a year, and the finest old house in the county; but if
Death will stalk grimly over your threshold and snatch away the life
you love more than your own, then even that glory is not omniscient.
For this wintery midnight, while Sir Jasper Kingsland walks moodily up
and down - up and down - Lady Kingsland, in the chamber above, lies ill
unto death.

An hour passes - the clock in the turret and the buhl toy on the stone
mantel toll solemnly one. The embers drop monotonously through the
grate - a dog bays deeply somewhere in the quadrangle below - the wailing
wind of coming morning sighs lamentingly through the tossing
copper-beeches, and the roar of the surf afar off comes ever and anon
like distant thunder. The house is silent as the tomb - so horribly
silent that the cold drops start out on the face of the tortured man.
Who knows? Death has been on the threshold of that upper chamber all
night, waiting for his prey. This awful hush may be the paean that
proclaims that he is master!

A tap at the door. The baronet paused in his stride and turned his
bloodshot eyes that way. His very voice was hollow and unnatural as he
said:

"Come in."

A servant entered - the same who had gone his errand.

"The Reverend Cyrus Green is here, sir. Shall I show him up?"

"Yes - no - I cannot see him. Show him into the drawing-room until he is
needed."

"He will not be needed," said a voice at his elbow, and Doctor Parker
Godroy came briskly forward. "My dear Sir Jasper, allow me to
congratulate you! All is well, thank Heaven, and - it is a son!"

Sir Jasper Kingsland sunk into a seat, thrilling from head to foot,
turning sick and faint in the sudden revulsion from despair to hope.

"Saved?" he said, in a gasping whisper. "_Both_?"

"Both, my dear Sir Jasper!" the doctor responded, cordially. "Your
good lady is very much prostrated - exhausted - but that was to be looked
for, you know; and the baby - ah! the finest boy I have had the pleasure
of presenting to an admiring world within ten years. Come and see
them!"

"May I?" the baronet cried, starting to his feet.

"Certainly, my dear Sir Jasper - most certainly. There is nothing in
the world to hinder - only be a little cautious, you know. Our good
lady must be kept composed and quiet, and left to sleep; and you will
just take one peep and go. We won't need the Reverend Cyrus."

He led the way from the library, rubbing his hands as your brisk little
physicians do, up a grand stair-way where you might have driven a coach
and four, and into a lofty and most magnificently furnished bed-chamber.

"Quiet, now - quiet," the doctor whispered, warningly. "Excite her, and
I won't be answerable for the result."

Sir Jasper Kingsland replied with a rapid gesture, and walked forward
to the bed. His own face was perfectly colorless, and his lips were
twitching with intense suppressed feeling. He bent above the still
form.

"Olivia," he said, "my darling, my darling!"

The heavy eyelids fluttered and lifted, and a pair of haggard, dark
eyes gazed up at him. A wan smile parted those pallid lips.

"Dear Jasper! I knew you would come. Have you seen the baby? It is a
boy."

"My own, I have thought only of you. My poor pale wife, how awfully
death-like you look!"

"But I am not going to die - Doctor Godroy says so," smiling gently.
"And now you must go, for I cannot talk. Only kiss me first, and look
at the baby."

Her voice was the merest whisper. He pressed his lips passionately to
the white face and rose up. Nurse and baby sat in state by the fire,
and a slender girl of fifteen years knelt beside them, and gazed in a
sort of rapture at the infant prodigy.

"Look, papa - look? The loveliest little thing, and nurse says the very
picture of you!"

Not very lovely, certainly; but Sir Jasper Kingsland's eyes lighted
with pride and joy as he looked. For was it not a boy? Had he not at
last, after weary, weary waiting, the desire of his heart - a son to
inherit the estate and perpetuate the ancient name?

"It is so sweet, papa!" Miss Mildred whispered, her small, rather
sickly face quite radiant; "and its eyes are the image of yours. He's
asleep now, you know, and you can't see them. And look at the dear,
darling little hands and fingers and feet, and the speck of a nose and
the dot of a mouth! Oh papa! isn't it splendid to have a baby in the
house?"

"Very splendid," said papa, relaxing into a smile. "A fine little
fellow, nurse! There, cover him up again and let him sleep. We must
take extra care of the heir of Kingsland Court. And Mildred, child,
you should be in bed. One o'clock is no hour for little girls to be
out of their nests."

"Oh, papa! as if I could sleep and not see the baby!"

"Well, you have seen it, and now run away to your room. Mamma and baby
both want to sleep, and nurse doesn't need you, I am sure."

"That I don't," said nurse, "nor the doctor, either. So run away, Miss
Milly, and go to sleep yourself. The baby will be here, all safe for
you, in the morning."

The little girl - a flaxen-haired, pretty-featured child - kissed the
baby, kissed papa, and dutifully departed. Sir Jasper followed her out
of the room, down the stairs, and back into the library, with the face
of a man who has just been reprieved from sudden death. As he
re-entered the library, he paused and started a step back, gazing
fixedly at one of the windows. The heavy curtain had been partially
drawn back, and a white, spectral face was glued to the glass, glaring
in.

"Who have we here?" said the baronet to himself; "that face can belong
to no one in the house."

He walked straight to the window - the face never moved. A hand was
raised and tapped on the glass. A voice outside spoke:

"For Heaven's sake, open and let me in, before I perish in this bitter
storm."

Sir Jasper Kingsland opened the window and flung it wide.

"Enter! whoever you are," he said. "No one shall ask in vain at
Kingsland, this happy night."

He stepped back, and, all covered with snow, the midnight intruder
entered and stood before him. And Sir Jasper Kingsland saw the
strangest-looking creature he had ever beheld in the whole course of
his life.




CHAPTER II.

ACHMET THE ASTROLOGER.

An old man, yet tall and upright, wearing a trailing cloak of dull
black, long gray hair flowing over the shoulders, and tight to the
scalp a skull-cap of black velvet. A patriarchal board, abundant and
silver-white, streamed down his breast, and out of a dull, white face,
seamed and wrinkled, looked a pair of eyes piercing and black.

Sir Jasper took a stop backward, and regarded this singular apparition
in wonder. The old man folded his arms across his bosom - and made him
a profound Oriental salaam.

"The Lord of Kingsland gazes in amaze at the uninvited stranger. And
yet I think destiny has sent me hither."

"Who are you?" the baronet demanded. "What jugglery is this? Are you
dressed for an Eastern dervish in a melodrama, and have you come here
to play a practical joke? I am afraid I can not appreciate the humor
of the masquerade. Who are you?" sternly.

"Men call me Achmet the Astrologer."

"An astrologer? Humph! your black art, it seems, could not protect you
from a January storm," retorted Sir Jasper, with a cynical sneer. "But
come in - come in. Astrologer or demon, or whatever you are, you look
too old a man to be abroad such a night, when we would not turn an
enemy's dog from the house. The doors of Kingsland are never closed to
the tired wayfarer, and of all nights in the year they should not he
closed to-night."

"When an heir is born to an ancient name and a princely inheritance,
you speak rightly, my Lord of Kingsland."

"How say you? What do you know of the events of this night, Sir
Astrologer?"

"Much, Sir Jasper Kingsland, and for the very reason you
deride - because I am an astrologer. I read the stars, and I lift the
veil of the future, and, lo! I behold your life years before you have
lived it!"

Sir Jasper Kingsland laughed a cynical, unbelieving laugh.

"You jeer at me, you scoff at my words," murmured the old man, in soft,
steady tones, "and yet there was no one to tell me on my way here that
a son and heir had been born to the house of Kingsland within the past
hour."

He lifted his arm and pointed to the clock, his dark eyes fixed upon
the baronet's changing face.

"You deride the power I profess, yet every day you quote your English
poet, and believe him when he says: 'There are more things in heaven
and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' But I am accustomed
to derision, and it does not offend me. Let me prove my power, so that
even the most resolute skeptic dare doubt no longer. Judge of my skill
to read the future by my ability in reading the past. I have come
here - I have taken a long journey to look into the future of your
new-born son. Before I begin, let me look into the past of his father.
Sir Jasper Kingsland, let me read your palm."

But Sir Jasper drew back.

"You have taken a long journey to look into the future of my son?
Pray, what is my son to you?"

"That is my secret, Sir Jasper, and my secrets I keep. Come, hold
forth your hand, and test my skill."

"Why should I? Even if you can bring before me my past life, of what
use will it be, since I must know all better than you?"

"My power to read the past may prove my power to read the future."

"Nay, you may easily know the past, without magical skill. Many
thanks, my venerable friend, but I will not put your necromancy to the
test."

"Is Sir Jasper Kingsland afraid?" he said. "Surely not, for he comes
of a daring race. And yet it seems like it."

"By Heaven! if a younger man had spoken those words I would have hurled
him by the throat from yonder window. Be careful of your words, old
man, else even your hoary hairs may fail to save you."

Once more the astrologer bent servilely.

"I cry your mercy, my haughty Lord of Kingsland. It shall be as you
say. I will depart as I came. I will not serve you nor your new-born
son, since you refuse to be served. I will depart at once. I fear no
earthly storm. Good-night, Sir Jasper Kingsland. Look to the heir of
your house yourself. When 'angels unaware' visit you again, treat them
better than you have treated me."

With a gesture indescribably grand and kingly, the silver-haired old
man turned to go, folding his long cloak about him. But the voice of
the baronet called him back.

"Stay," he said. "You speak of serving my son. What danger threatens
his infant life that you can avert?"

"I know of none. I have not cast the horoscope yet."

"Then you wish to do so?"

"With your good permission. I have taken a long journey for that very
purpose, Sir Jasper."

"Then you shall," the baronet cried, yielding to a swift impulse - "you
shall cast his horoscope. If it can avert no evil, it can, at least,
cause none. But, first, there is no action without its ruling motive.
What are me or mine to you, to make you take a long and toilsome
journey on our account?"

The old man paused, drawn up to his fullest height, imposing as a new
King Lear, his deep, dark eyes glowing with inward fire.

"I will tell you," he said. "Years ago, Sir Jasper, when you were a
young man, you did an honor and a service to one I dearly love; that I
have never forgotten and never will forget! You have ceased to
remember it years ago, no doubt; but I never have, nor ever will until
my dying day."

"A service! an honor! What could it have been? I recollect nothing of
it."

"I expected as much; but my memory is a good one. It is stamped on my
heart forever. Great men like Sir Jasper Kingsland, grandees of the
land, forget these little things. I owe you a long debt, Sir Jasper,
and I will pay it to the uttermost farthing, so help me God!"

His black eyes blazed, his low voice rose, his arm uplifted fiercely
for an instant in dire menace. Then, quick as lightning flashes, all
was transformed. The eyes were bent upon the carpet, the arms folded,
the voice sunk, soft and servile.

"Forgive me!" he murmured. "In my gratitude I forget myself. But you
have my motive in coming here - the desire to repay you; to look into
the future of your son; to see the evils that may threaten his youth
and manhood, and to place you on your guard against them. 'Forwarned
is fore-armed,' you know. Do not doubt my power. In far-off Oriental
lands, under the golden stars of Syria, I learned the lore of the wise
men of the East. I learned to read the stars as you Englishmen read
your printed books. Believe and trust, and let me cast the horoscope
of your son."

"First let me test your vaunted power. Show me my past, before you
show me my son's future."

He held forth his hand with a cynical smile,

"As you will. Past and future are alike to me - save that the past is
easier to read. Ah! a palm seamed and crossed and marked with troubled
lines. Forty years have not gone and left no trace behind - "

"Forty years!" interrupted Sir Jasper, with sneering emphasis. "Pray
do not bungle in the very beginning."

"I bungle not," answered Achmet, sternly. "Forty years ago, on the
third of next month, you, Jasper Southdown Kingsland, were born beneath
this very roof."

"Right!" he said. "You know my age. But go on."

"Your boyhood you passed here - quiet, eventless years - with a
commonplace mother and a dull, proud father. At ten, your mother went
to her grave. At twelve, the late Sir Noel followed her. At thirteen,
you, a lonely orphan, were removed from this house to London in the
charge of a guardian that you hated. Am I not right?"

"You are. Pray go on."

"At fourteen, you went to Rugby to school. From that time until you
attained your majority your life passed in public schools and
universities, harmlessly and monotonously enough. At twenty-one, you
left Cambridge, and started to make the grand tour. You were tolerably
clever; you were young and handsome, and heir to a noble inheritance.
Your life was to be the life of a great and good man - a benefactor to
the human race. Your memory was to be a magnificent memento for a
whole world to honor. Your dreams were wild, vague, and impracticable,
and ended in - nothing."

Sir Jasper Kingsland listened and stared like a man in a dream. Achmet
the Astrologer continued to read the palm with a fixed, stony face.

"And now the lines are crossed, and the trouble begins. As usual, a
woman is at the bottom of it. Sir Jasper Kingsland is in love."

There was a pause. The baronet winced a little.

"It is in Spain - glowing, gorgeous Spain - and she is one of its
loveliest children. The oranges and pomegranates scent the burning
air, the vineyards glow in the tropic sun, and golden summer forever
reigns. But the glowing southern sun is not more brilliant than the
Spanish gypsy's flashing black eyes, nor the pomegranate blossoms half
so ripe and red as her cheeks. She is Zenith, the Zingara, and you
love her!"

"In the fiend's name!" Sir Jasper Kingsland cried, "what jugglery is
this?"

"One moment more, my Lord of Kingsland," he said, "and I have done.
Let me see how your love-dream ends. Ah! the old, old story. Surely I
might have known. She is beautiful as the angels above, and as
innocent, and she loves you with a mad abandon that is worse than
idolatry - as only women ever love. And you? You are grand and noble,
a milor Inglese, and you take her love - her crazy worship - as a
demi-god might, with uplifted grace, as your birthright; and she is
your pretty toy of an hour. And then careless and happy, you are gone.
Sunny Spain, with its olives and its vineyards, its pomegranates and
its Zenith the Gitana, is left far behind, and you are roaming, happy
and free, through La Belle France. And lo! Zenith the forsaken lies
prone upon the ground, and goes stark mad for the day-god she has lost.
There, Sir Jasper Kingsland! the record is a black one. I wish to read
no more."

He flung the baronet's hand away, and once more his eyes glowed like
the orbs of a demon. But Sir Jasper Kingsland, pale as a dead man, saw
it not.

"Are you man or devil?" he said, in an awe-struck tone. "No living
mortal knows what you have told me this night."

Achmet the Astrologer smiled - a dire, dark smile.

"Man, in league with the dark potentate you have named, if you like.
Whatever I am, I have truthfully told you the past, as I will
truthfully tell your son's future."

"By palmistry?"

"No, by the stars. And behold!" drawing aside the curtain, "yonder
they shine!"

"Take me to an upper room," the astrologer exclaimed, in an inspired
tone, "and leave me. Destiny is propitious. The fate that ruled your
son's birth has set forth the shining stars for Achmet to read. Lead
on!"

Like a man in a dreamy swoon, Sir Jasper Kingsland obeyed. He led the
astrologer up the grand sweeping staircases - up and up, to the very top
of the house - to the lofty, lonely battlements. Cloudless spread the
wide night sky; countless and brilliant shone the stars; peaceful and
majestic slept, the purple sea; spotless white gleamed the snowy earth.
A weird, witching scene.

"Leave me," said the astrologer, "and watch and wait. When the first
little pink cloud of sunrise blushes in the sky, come to me. My task
will have ended."

He waved him away with a regal motion. He stood there gazing at the
stars, as a king looking upon his subjects. And the haughty baronet,
without a word, turned and left him.

The endless hours wore on - two, three, and four - and still the baronet
watched and waited, and looked for the coming of dawn. Faintly the
silver light broke in the Orient, rosy flushed the first red ray. Sir
Jasper mounted to the battlements, still like a man in a dazed dream.

Achmet the Astrologer turned slowly round. The pale, frosty sunrise
had blanched his ever-white face with a livid hue of death. In one
hand he held a folded paper, in the other a pencil. He had been
writing.

"Have you done?" the baronet asked.

"I am done. Your son's fate is here."

He touched the paper.

"Is that for me?" he asked, shrinking palpably from it even while he
spoke.

"This is for you." The astrologer handed him the paper as he spoke.
"It is for you to read - to do with after as you see fit. I have but
one word to say: not I, but a mightier power traced the words you will
read - your son's irrevocable fate. Don't hope to shirk it. My task is
ended, and I go. Farewell!"

"No, no," the baronet cried; "not so! Remain and breakfast here. The
morning is but just breaking."

"And before yonder sun is above the horizon I will be far away. No,
Sir Jasper Kingsland, I break no bread under your roof. I have done my
work, and depart forever. Look to your son!"

He spoke the last words slowly, with a tigerish glare of hate leaping
out of his eyes, with deadly menace in every syllable. Then he was
gone down the winding stair-way like a black ghost, and so out and away.

Sir Jasper Kingsland took the folded paper and sought his room. There
in the pale day-dawn he tore it open. One side was covered with
cabalistic characters, Eastern symbols, curious marks and
hieroglyphics. The other side was written in French, in long, clear,
legible characters. There was a heading: "Horoscope of the Heir of
Kingsland." Sir Jasper sat down and began to read.

Nearly an hour after, a servant, entering to replenish the faded fire,
fled out of the room and startled the household with his shrieks. Two


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