“Ah!” exclaims Ethel, recoiling; but Arthur, stooping forward, carefully examines the dark staircase that lies before him wrapped in impenetrable gloom. Spider-nets have been drawn from wall to wall and hang in dusky clouds from the low ceiling; a faint, stale, stifling smell greets his nostrils, yet he lingers there and looks carefully around him.
“You’ll fall into it, if you don’t mind,” remarks Captain Ringwood. “One would think uncanny spots had an unwholesome attraction for you.”
Ringwood, ever since the memorable night in the smoking-room, when Sir Adrian was so near being killed, has looked askance at Arthur Dynecourt, and, when taking the trouble to address him at all, has been either sharp or pointed in his remarks. Arthur, contenting himself with a scowl at him, closes the little door again, and turns away from it.
“At night,” says Sir Adrian, in an amused tone, “the servants, passing by the door below that leads up to this one, run by it as though they fear some ghostly ancestors of mine, descending from the haunted chamber, will pounce out upon them with their heads under their arms, or in some equally unpleasant position. You know the door, don’t you, Arthur—the second from the turning?”
“No,” replies Arthur, with his false smile, “I do not; nor, indeed, do I care to know it. I firmly believe I should run past it too after nightfall, unless well protected.”
“That looks as if you had an evil conscience,” says Ringwood carelessly, but none the less purposely.
“It looks more as if I were a coward, I think,” retorts Arthur, laughing, but shooting an angry glance at the gallant captain as he speaks.
“Well, what does the immortal William say?” returns Ringwood coolly. “‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all!’”
“You have a sharp wit, sir,” says Arthur, with apparent lightness, but pale with passion.
“I say, look here,” breaks in Sir Adrian hastily, pulling out his watch; “it must be nearly time for tea. By Jove, quite half past four, and we know what Lady FitzAlmont will say to us if we keep her deprived of her favorite beverage for even five minutes. Come, let us run, or destruction will light upon our heads.”
So saying, he leads the way, and soon they leave the haunted chamber and all its gloomy associations far behind them.
Reluctantly, yet with a certain amount of curiosity to know what it is he may wish to say to her, Dora wends her way to the gallery to keep her appointment with Arthur. Pacing to and fro beneath the searching eyes of the gaunt cavaliers and haughty dames that gleam down upon him from their canvases upon the walls, Dynecourt impatiently awaits her coming.
“Ah, you are late!” he exclaims as she approaches. There is a tone of authority about him that dismays her.
“Not very, I think,” she responds pleasantly, deeming conciliatory measures the best. “Why did you not come to the library? We all missed you so much at tea!”