My eyes turned immediately in the direction of the secret chamber. Its entrance was closed, but I knew she was hidden there as well as if the door had been open and I had seen her.
What should I do? For a moment I hesitated, then I rushed from the room and hastened back to Mr. Felt. I found him standing with his face to the door, eagerly awaiting my return.
“What has happened?” he asked, importunately. “Your face is as pale as death.”
“Because death is in the house. Madame —”
“Lies not in her bed, nor is she to be found in her room. There is another place, however, in which instinct tells me we shall find her, and if we do, we shall find her dead!”
“In her daughter’s room? At her daughter’s bedside?”
“No; in the secret chamber.”
He gazed at me with wild and haggard aspect.
“You are right,” he hoarsely assented. “Let us go; let us seek her; it may not be too late.”
The entrance to this hidden room was closed, as I have said, and as I had never assisted at its opening, I did not know where to find the hidden spring by means of which the panel was moved. We had, therefore, to endure minutes of suspense while Mr. Felt fumbled at the wainscoting. The candle I held shook with my agitation, and though I had heard nothing of the storm before, it seemed now as if every gust which came swooping down upon the house tore its way through my shrinking consciousness with a force and menace that scattered the last remnant of self-possession. Not an instant in the whole terrible day had been more frightful to me, no, not the moment when I first heard the sliding of this very panel and the sound of her crawling form approaching me through the darkness. The vivid flashes of lightning that shot every now and then through the cracks of the closely shuttered window, making a skeleton of its framework, added not a little to its terror, there being no other light in the room save that and the flickering, almost dying flame, with which I strove to aid Mr. Felt’s endeavors and only succeeded in lighting up his anxious and heavily bedewed forehead.
“Oh, oh!” was my moan; “this is terrible! Let us quit it or go around to my own room, where there is an open door.”
But he did not hear me. His efforts had become frantic, and he tore at the wainscoting as if he would force it open by main strength.
“You cannot reach her that way,” I declared. “Perhaps my hand may be more skillful. Let me try.”
But he only increased his efforts. “I am coming, Marah; I am coming!” he called, and at once, as if guided by some angel’s touch, his fingers slipped upon the spring. Immediately it yielded, and the opening so eagerly sought for was made.
“Go in,” he gasped, “go in.”
And so it was that the fate which had forced me against my will, and in despite of such intense shrinking, to pass so frequently into that hideous spot, where death held its revel and Nemesis awaited her victim, drove me thither once again, and, as I now hope, for the last time. For, there upon the floor, and almost in the same spot where we had found lying the remains of innocent Honora Urquhart, we saw, as my premonition had told me we should, the outstretched form of the unhappy being who had usurped her place in life, and now, in retribution of that act, had laid her head down upon the same couch in death. She was pulseless and quite cold. Upon her mouth her left hand lay pressed, as if, with her last breath, she sought to absorb the pure kiss which had been left there by the daughter she so much loved.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50