At a quarter to four o’clock of a midsummer morning, as Mr. Beamish relates of his last share in the Tale of Chloe, a woman’s voice, in piercing notes of anguish, rang out three shrieks consecutively, which were heard by him at the instant of his quitting his front doorstep, in obedience to the summons of young Mr. Camwell, delivered ten minutes previously, with great urgency, by that gentleman’s lacquey. On his reaching the street of the house inhabited by Duchess Susan, he perceived many night-capped heads at windows, and one window of the house in question lifted but vacant. His first impression accused the pair of gentlemen, whom he saw bearing drawn swords in no friendly attitude of an ugly brawl that had probably affrighted her Grace, or her personal attendant, a woman capable of screaming, for he was well assured that it could not have been Chloe, the least likely of her sex to abandon herself to the use of their weapons either in terror or in jeopardy. The antagonists were Mr. Camwell and Count Caseldy. On his approaching them, Mr. Camwell sheathed his sword, saying that his work was done. Caseldy was convulsed with wrath, to such a degree as to make the part of an intermediary perilous. There had been passes between them, and Caseldy cried aloud that he would have his enemy’s blood. The night-watch was nowhere. Soon, however, certain shopmen and their apprentices assisted Mr. Beamish to preserve the peace, despite the fury of Caseldy and the provocations—’not easy to withstand,’ says the chronicler—offered by him to young Camwell. The latter said to Mr. Beamish: ’I knew I should be no match, so I sent for you,’ causing his friend astonishment, inasmuch as he was assured of the youth’s natural valour.
Mr. Beamish was about to deliver an allocution of reproof to them in equal shares, being entirely unsuspicious of any other reason for the alarum than this palpable outbreak of a rivalry that he would have inclined to attribute to the charms of Chloe, when the house-door swung wide for them to enter, and the landlady of the house, holding clasped hands at full stretch, implored them to run up to the poor lady: ’Oh, she’s dead; she’s dead, dead!’
Caseldy rushed past her.
‘How, dead! good woman?’ Mr. Beamish questioned her most incredulously, half-smiling.
She answered among her moans: ‘Dead by the neck; off the door—Oh!’
Young Camwell pressed his forehead, with a call on his Maker’s name. As they reached the landing upstairs, Caseldy came out of the sitting-room.
‘Which?’ said Camwell to the speaking of his face.
‘She !’ said the other.
‘The duchess?’ Mr. Beamish exclaimed.
But Camwell walked into the room. He had nothing to ask after that reply.
The figure stretched along the floor was covered with a sheet. The young man fell at his length beside it, and his face was downward.