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In My Lady's Bedchamber






'Well,' said Harry laughingly, as he showed me the family portraits, and
more especially the ladies, on the wall of the panelled dining-room,
'which of them would you choose if you were, like Henry VIII., on the
look-out for a fresh wife?'

'This one, I think,' I replied, as I gazed at a charming fragile beauty
in a big bonnet, beneath which shy eyes looked bewitchingly; 'surely she
was a Frenchwoman and painted by Fragonard?'

'Aha!' cried he, 'you are a bold man, for there are tales told of
her--strange tales of feminine and deadly jealousy for all her soft
demureness. She was French, as you say, and a devoted wife, I believe,
but probably her mari was not as faithful as he should have been. She
is said to haunt the house, but I haven't come across her yet myself.
You are to sleep in her bedchamber,' he added with a smile, 'so perhaps
you may be favoured with the sight of your charmer.'

I pressed naturally for further information, but he put me off by saying
it was too long a story, and that he had many other things to show me
on this my first evening in the manor house.

I had only just arrived by motor. We had dined, and my friend was
showing me round his possessions with all the pride of new and sudden
inheritance. Harry had always been lucky; he had a talent for 'dropping
in' for things unexpectedly. Thus at Eton, though really only thirteenth
man, he had played against Harrow; and now owing to unexpected deaths he
had become the possessor of a charming seventeenth-century manor house
on the northern Border--a house that, lying in a deep crook of the Tweed
and hidden by trees, had marvellously escaped the hand and torch of the
raider.

He had succeeded to his great-uncle--an antiquary and recluse--a
disappointed bachelor, and latterly, 'twas said, somewhat of a miser,
which was fortunate for my friend, who had very little of his own.

Harry was soon to be married, and I was to be best man. He had come down
to interview the agent and see what alterations and new furniture would
be required, and had insisted on my joining him for a few days' fishing
in the Tweed, while he was being inducted by agent and bailiff into his
estate and introduced to the tenantry. After surveying his ancestors'
portraits we adjourned to the hall, which was furnished with
battle-axes, Jethart spears, basket-hilted swords, maces, salmon
leisters, masks of otters and foumarts, foxes and badgers, and all the
various trophies of Border sport and warfare of old time. This was the
oldest part of the house, and proved by its stone-vaulted roof that it
had belonged to the old peel tower on to which the manor had been
engrafted; a fire of pine logs flamed in an open fireplace, gleaming and
glancing on the copper drums that held relays of firewood on either
hand.

Skins of red deer and the tufted pelts of kyloe cattle lay on the stone
floor: there were massive black oak coffers and a great wardrobe like
some huge safe for coats behind us, but two broad ancient leathern
armchairs stood by the hearth invitingly, suggestive of unperturbed
eighteenth-century ease, wherein we at once settled ourselves.

It was perhaps the absence of feminine taste and adornment that made the
house seem older than it really was; apart from the charming portraits
of the ladies in the dining-room the house resembled rather a Border
strength than a Jacobean manor house.

However, the atmosphere was rendered all the more romantic thereby, and
I lay back in my chair making believe to myself that I was staying with
a Lord Warden of the Marches in the days of the ancient feud between
England and Scotland.

We smoked and talked, however, not of the far, but of the immediate,
past, of Eton and Oxford, and of mutual friends till twelve o'clock
struck on the brazen rim of a Cromwellian clock, and we agreed that it
was bedtime.

I had clean forgotten all about the reputed ghost till my host said
'good-night' at the door of my bedroom and bade me call him if I got a
'gliff' in the night from the apparition of 'Silkie'--so he informed me
the lady was called locally. 'You've got your retriever with you,' he
said, 'so no doubt you will feel protected.'

'Brenda,' I replied, 'is Scotch by birth, so possibly she may be
superstitious. The event will determine. So long,' I said, as Harry went
off to the room of his late bachelor great-uncle.

Though very sleepy after a long motor ride I could not 'turn in' till I
had explored my bedroom, which was indeed a fascinating and enchanting
chamber. It seemed to be a coign plucked out of an old French chateau,
and inset here like a rare plant in an old stone wall. The panelling was
of Italian intarsia work inlaid with a renaissance design portraying
the tale of Cupid and Psyche; on the final panel Jupiter was handing the
cup of ambrosia to Psyche with the words, 'Sume, Psyche, et immortalis
esto, nec unquam digridietur a tuo nexu Cupido, sed istae vobis erunt
perpetuae nuptiae'; the floor was formed of parquetry, and the rugs
above were of fine Persian workmanship. The curtains of the window were
of purple silk, embroidered, I imagined, by the fair Frenchwoman
herself, and the great four-poster bed was of fine walnut with deep
mouldings, and adorned with the fleur-de-lys of France. The whole room
seemed to be redolent of the grace of a charming grande dame of old
France. I made up the fire with fresh pine logs upon the tiled hearth,
settled Brenda upon a rug by the side of it, undressed and went to bed,
enchanted by my surroundings, and very much inclined to envy my friend
his good fortune.

I fell asleep at once, for the bed was luxuriously comfortable, and I
was extraordinarily sleepy.

How long I slept I did not know, but when I awoke I had an immediate and
most lively intimation that some one was in the room. I drew myself
noiselessly upward, and at once my eyes rested upon a dainty figure
sitting in the chair by the dying fire, evidently engaged upon some
absorbing occupation. It was a woman clad in a sprigged silk gown, the
image of my lady of the dining-room portrait. What was she doing?
Seemingly pounding some substance in a small mortar. As I gazed
astounded a slight knock sounded on the door. My Lady seemed
extraordinarily perturbed; she started violently, seemed to shake
something white from the mortar as she gathered it hastily to her, moved
swiftly with the slightest rustle as of a scurrying mouse and vanished
through the door that led into the dressing-room.

I waited a few minutes to see if she would return, or perhaps some one
else enter by the other door, but no sound greeted my ear, and my eyes
could discover nothing unusual about the room.

I rose, and, moving on tiptoe, opened both doors, and with the light of
an electric torch I always carried with me, investigated the corridor
and dressing-room, but could make no discovery of any kind, nor perceive
where my fair visitant had vanished.

When I returned to my room I found Brenda had been disturbed by my
perambulation, for she was up and moving about restlessly. Giving her a
pat I bade her lie down again, and went back to bed determined to stay
awake for the chance of my Lady reappearing.

A few minutes after this Brenda seemed to be taken with a fit, for she
got up suddenly, made a bolt, as it were, for the door, shook with some
convulsive movements of her jaw, gave a horrible sort of strangled sob,
and fell with a heavy thud on the floor.

I leapt out of bed, got some water in a basin and knelt down beside her,
but she was already stiff, her teeth were clenched, and she showed a
horribly distorted mask.

A horrid suspicion awoke in my mind. I searched with my torch on the
floor where my Lady had dropped the powder, and I could plainly see the
wet edge of Brenda's tongue and the smudge of the white powder which she
had licked up.

I went back to where Brenda lay stiff and stark, and felt with a
trembling hand for her heart.

It beat no more; my Brenda was dead--poisoned by the beautiful Lady.





Next: The Warlock Of Glororum

Previous: The Doppel-ganger



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