The young ladies trooped out, and the bride was left alone, paler than her snowy robes.
A moment, and Lucy was back with the bearer of the letter, a respectable-looking young person enough.
Lucy left her mistress and the girl standing together. Five minutes after the bell rang sharply. Lucy hastened back; on the threshold the bride met and stopped her, with a white, startled face.
“Tell them to postpone the ceremony for an hour, Lucy. Come back here then. For the next hour I wish to be left alone. Tell Mr. Walraven.”
She shut the door in the amazed attendant’s face. Lucy heard the key turn. A second she stood petrified, then she hastened off to deliver her message.
Mr. Walraven stood aghast. Lucy was plied with questions. Who was the girl? What was she like? What had she said? Where had she come from?
Sir Roger was wildly alarmed at first, but Mr. Walraven reassured him. The company waited, on the qui vive, for they knew not what. Eleven o’clock came. Lucy went up to the bride’s room; the door was still fast; she knocked—there was no reply; she called—there was no answer. Then Lucy screamed, and in a twinkling a crowd was around the door. They shook it, they rapped, they called, all in vain. Dead silence reigned.
“Force the door!” exclaimed Carl Walraven, hoarsely.
Strong men forced it. There was a rush in, a recoil, a cry of consternation, for the apartment was empty; the bird had flown.
How the search began no one ever knew, but begin it did. The house was hunted from top to bottom; still in vain. Not a trace of the bride could be found.
The wedding party dispersed in wild confusion, but the search went on. Through the night it lasted; but morning broke, and still no trace. The bride had disappeared as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up!
Where the bride was.
The letter in the buff envelope which had so startled Mollie was very brief. There were but eight or nine lines, wretchedly scrawled:
“Mollie Dane,—Come to me at once, if you want to find out who you are, who your parents were, what Carl Walraven is to you. This is your wedding-night; but come. I am very ill—dying; I may not see morning. If you delay, it will be too late. The bearer is my friend; she will conduct you to me. Tell no one. Carl Walraven will prevent you, if he can. I say to you, come—come—come.
If there was one thing on earth that flighty Mollie was really in earnest about, it was in knowing her own history. Her marriage sunk into insignificance in comparison.
She dispatched Lucy at once for the bearer of the note, sent her friends to the right-about, and closeted herself with the young woman—a pale young woman, with dark eyes and an intelligent face.