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nothing daunted, confronted her glances with a gaze as stern and steadfast as her own.
"Who are you, and what seek you?" exclaimed Lady Rookwood, after a brief pause, and, in spite of herself, her voice sounded tremulously. "What would you have, that you venture to appear before me at this season, and in this fashion?"
"I might have chosen a fitter opportunity," returned Luke, 66 were it needed. My business will not brook delay-you must be pleased to overlook this intrusion on your privacy, at a season of sorrow, like the present. As to the fashion of my visit, you must be content to excuse that. I cannot help myself. I may amend hereafter. Who I am, you are able, I doubt not, to divine. What I seek, you shall hear, when this old woman has left the room, unless you would have a witness to a declaration that concerns you as nearly as myself."
An indefinite feeling of apprehension had, from the first instant of Luke's entrance, crossed Lady Rookwood's mind. She, however, answered with some calmness:
"What you can have to say, is of small moment to me— nor does it signify who may hear it. It shall not, however, be said, that Lady Rookwood feared to be alone, even though she endangered her life."
"I am no assassin," replied Luke, "nor have sought the destruction of my deadliest foe—though 't were but retributive justice to have done so."
Lady Rookwood started.
"Nay, you need not fear me,” replied Luke; my revenge will be otherwise accomplished."
"Go," said Lady Rookwood to Agnes-"
out, in the antechamber."
yet-stay with"My lady," said Agnes, scarcely able to articulate, "shall
"Hear me, Lady Rookwood," interrupted Luke, "I repeat, I intend you no injury. My object here is solely to obtain a private conference. You can have no reason for denying me this request. I will not abuse your patience. Mine is no idle mission. Say you refuse me, and I will at once depart. I will find other means of communicating with you-less direct, and therefore less desirable.
be alone - undisturbed.
Make your election. But we must
lay hands upon me, and I will proclaim aloud what you would gladly hide, even from yourself."
"Leave us, Agnes," said Lady Rookwood" I have no fear of this man. I can deal with him myself, should I see occasion."
"Agnes," said Luke, in a stern, deep whisper, arresting the ancient hand-maiden as she passed him, “stir not from the door till I come forth. Have you forgotten your former mistress! -my mother? Have you forgotten Barbara Lovel, and that night?"
"In heaven's name, hush!" replied Agnes, with a shudder. "Let that be fresh in your memory. Move not a footstep, whatever you may hear," added he, in the same tone as before. "I will not-I will not." And Agnes departed.
Luke felt some wavering in his resolution when he found himself alone with the lady, whose calm, collected, yet haughty demeanour, as she resumed her seat, prepared for his communication, could not fail to inspire him with a certain degree of awe. Not unconscious of her advantage, nor slow to profit by it, Lady Rookwood remained perfectly silent, with her eyes steadily fixed upon his face, while his embarrassment momentarily increased. Summoning, at length, courage sufficient to address her, and ashamed of his want of nerve, he thus broke forth:
"When I entered this room, you asked my name and object. As to the first, I answer to the same designation as your ladyship. I have long borne my mother's name. I now claim my father's. My object is, the restitution of my rights."
"Soh!-it is as I suspected," thought Lady Rookwood, involuntarily casting her large eyes down-" Do I hear you rightly?" exclaimed she aloud- your name is
"Sir Luke Rookwood. As my father's elder born; by right of his right to that title."
If a glance could have slain him, Luke had fallen lifeless at the lady's feet. With a smile of ineffable disdain, she replied, "I know not why I hesitate to resent this indignity, even for an instant. But I would see how far your audacity will carry The name you bear is Bradley?"
"In ignorance I have done so," replied Luke. "I am the son of her whose maiden name was Bradley. She was
"'Tis false I will not hear it-she was not," cried Lady Rookwood; her vehemence getting the master of her prudence.
"Your ladyship anticipates my meaning," returned Luke. "Susan Bradley was the first wife of Sir Piers Rookwood."
"His minion-his mistress, if you will; nought else. Is it new to you, that a village wench, who lends herself to shame, should be beguiled by such shallow pretences? That she was so duped, I doubt not. But it is too late now to complain, and I would counsel you not to repeat your idle boast. It will serve no other purpose, trust me, than to blazon forth your own, your mother's dishonour."
"Lady Rookwood," sternly answered Luke, my mother's fame is as free from dishonour as your own. I repeat, she was the first wife of Sir Piers; and that I, her child, am first in the inheritance; nay, sole heir to the estates and title of Rookwood, to the exclusion of your son. Ponder upon that intelligence. Men say they fear you, as a thing of ill. I fear you not.
There have been days when the Rookwoods held their dames in subjection. Discern you nought of that in me?" Once or twice during this speech Lady Rookwood's glances had wandered towards the bell-cord; as if about to summon aid, but the intention was abandoned almost as soon as formed, probably from apprehension of the consequences of any such attempt. She was not without alarm, as to the result of the interview, and was considering how she could bring it to a termination without endangering herself; and, if possible, secure the person of Luke, when the latter, turning sharply round upon her, and drawing a pistol, exclaimed, –
"Whither?" asked she in alarm.
"To the chamber of death!"
Why there? what would you do? Villain! I will not trust my life with you. I will not follow you."
"Hesitate not, as you value your life. Do aught to alarm the house, and I fire. Your safety depends upon yourself. I would see my father's body, ere it be laid in the grave. I will not leave you here."
"Go," said Lady Rookwood; "if that be all, I pledge myself you shall not be interrupted."
"I will not take your pledge; your presence shall be my surety. By my mother's unavenged memory, if you play me false, though all your satellites stand around you, you die upon the spot! Obey me, and you are safe. Our way leads to the
room by the private staircaseyou see I know the road.
we shall pass unobserved The room, by your own command,
save of the dead. We shall, therefore, be alone.
is vacant This done, I depart. You will then be free to act. me, and your blood be upon your own head." "Lead on," said Lady Rookwood, pressing towards the antechamber.
"The door I mean is there," pointing to another part of the room -" that panel
"Ha! how know you that?"
"No matter - follow."
Luke touched a spring, and the panel flying open, disclosed a dim recess, into which he entered; and, seizing Lady Rookwood's hand, dragged her after him.
THE CHAMBER OF DEATH.
It is the body I have orders given
THE recess upon which the panel opened had been a small oratory, and though entirely disused, still retained its cushions and its crucifix. There were two other entrances to this place of prayer; the one communicating with a further bedchamber, the other leading to the gallery. Through the latter, after closing the aperture, without relinquishing his grasp, Luke passed.
It was growing rapidly dark, and at the brightest seasons this gloomy corridor was but imperfectly lighted from narrow, painted, and wire-protected windows that looked into the old, quadrangular court-yard below; and as they issued from the oratory a dazzling flash of lightning (a storm having suddenly arisen) momentarily illumined the whole length of the passage, disclosing the retreating figure of a man, wrapped in a large sable cloak, at the other extremity of the gallery. Lady Rookwood uttered an outcry for assistance, but the man, whoever he
might be, disappeared in the instantaneously succeeding gloom, leaving her in doubt whether or not her situation had been perceived. Luke had seen this dark figure at the same instant; and, not without apprehensions lest his plans should be defeated, he griped Lady Rookwood's arm still more strictly, and placing the muzzle of the pistol to her breast, hurried her rapidly forwards.
All was now in total obscurity; the countenance of neither could be perceived as they trod the dark passage; but Luke's unrelaxed grasp indicated no change in his purposes, nor did the slow, dignified march of the lady betray any apprehension on her part. Descending a spiral staircase, which led from the gallery to a lower story, their way now lay beneath the entrance hall, a means of communication little used. Their tread sounded hollowly on the flagged floor- no other sound was heard. Mounting a staircase, similar to the one they had just descended, they arrived at another passage. A few paces brought them to a door. Luke turned the handle, and they stood within the chamber of the dead.
The room which contained the remains of poor Sir Piers was arrayed in all that mockery of state, which, vainly attempting to deride death, is, itself, a bitter derision of the living. It was the one devoted to the principal meals of the day a strange choice, but convenience had dictated its adoption by those with whom this part of the ceremonial had originated, and long custom had rendered its usage, for this purpose, almost prescriptive. This room, which was of some size, had originally formed part of the great hall, from which it was divided by a thick screen of black lustrously varnished oak, enriched with fanciful figures carved in bold relief. The walls were panelled with the same embrowned material, and sustained sundry portraits of the members of the family, in every possible costume, from the steely gear of Sir Ranulph, down to the flowing attire of Sir Reginald. Most of the race were ranged around the room; and, seen in the yellow light shed upon their features by the flambeaux, they looked like an array of stern and silent witnesses, gazing upon their departed descendant. The sides of the chamber were hung with black cloth, and upon a bier in the middle of the room rested the body. Broad escutcheons, decked out in glowing colours, pompously set forth the heraldic honours of the departed. Tall