THE STORY OF A BLOOMSBURY SENSATION.
By Arthur Preston.
Never did my prospects seem worse or more gloomy than in the winter of
I had returned to England from a five years' sojourn in the more
unsettled parts of British Columbia, after an unsuccessful pursuit of
fortune in that land of gold, mountains, and timber. It was at
Felixstowe—that charming watering-place, where my people then had a
house—that I first came into relation with those who were afterwards
to exercise such influences for good or evil on my life.
I was walking round the place renewing my acquaintance with the English
life, when I was confronted with the most beautiful face I have ever
seen. It belonged to a young girl of eighteen or nineteen, quietly
dressed in a green walking-skirt and tan jacket, while her blue eyes
looked out from under a mass of golden hair, in turn surmounted by a
As her eyes for a moment met mine, I was conscious of that magnetic
thrill which I was told afterwards my mistress exercised on all those
with whom she came in contact. She was accompanied by a lady somewhat
older than herself, and whom, from her likeness, I mentally set down as
being, if not her sister, at any rate her near relative. As soon as I
conveniently could, I turned round and followed them, and noticed them
enter a house which—as a perusal of the Felixstowe visitors' list,
hastily bought and perused, informed me—was at present occupied by Mr.
and Mrs. Delaine.
I was both astonished and delighted at this, as this Mrs. Delaine was a
person upon whom my mother had by mutual friends been asked to call.
That very afternoon, I determined, should obtain for me at least a
bowing acquaintance with her. Alas for my dreams! Our ring at the bell
produced a man-servant, who stated that Mrs. Delaine was away from
home, and he did not know when she would return. From then on I haunted
the walks about Felixstowe, meeting my divinity over and over again,
but never once could I see that she betrayed the least knowledge that
these frequent momentary meetings were anything but the results of
At last a day came when I no longer saw her. In vain I walked up and
down the promenade and through the town. Felixstowe was full indeed,
but to me it was empty, for the golden hair, the blue eyes, the tan
jacket, and the green skirt no longer greeted my longing and expectant
It was in Piccadilly—that world in miniature, and the scene of so many
strange occurrences—that the first act of the drama took place, of
which the foregoing was merely the prelude.
I was strolling down the thoroughfare, nearly a month after the
disappearance of my lady (for so I called her to myself), and thinking,
as indeed I always was, of her, when my own immediate affairs and
embarrassments did not fill my mind, when I met her face to face. The
thing was at once so natural and at the same time so coincident with my
own thoughts, that I could do little more than stare blankly after her.
It was nearly noon, and the well-dressed crowd jostled and pushed me as
I stood there. Mechanically I turned to follow after her, when she was
joined by the lady who had been with her at Felixstowe, and the two,
hailing a hansom, were driven away rapidly, leaving me staring stupidly
after the fast disappearing vehicle.
As I was retracing my steps I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I
perceived a tall man of about thirty-five or forty years of age, his
keen grey eyes surmounted by heavy black eyebrows and lashes, while a
big moustache almost hid his firm mouth, and drooped down to his heavy
"You know that lady?" he queried, more with the air of stating a fact
than of asking a question.
"I know that I am not in the habit of answering lunatics, or
impertinent strangers," I answered, hotly—for my temper is hasty, and
the man's manner was abrupt.
"Nevertheless, you do know her," he answered, doggedly.
A PRINCESS IN GREEN AND TAN.
I turned, leaving the man there, and walked into Sackville Street. I
had not gone twenty yards, when I heard his hurrying step behind me.
"She is in danger, Mr. Darcy," he hissed into my ear.
This time I turned round, amazed at the man's knowledge of my name.
"And she needs help," he said, looking me full in the face.
"You know my name," was all I could say, stupidly.
"It is my business to know things," he said, impatiently; "but will you
help her?" he added.
"Help whom, man?" I replied, testily.
"The lady who was at Felixstowe, and ten minutes ago got into a cab,"
"But there were two," I said.
"Only one needs help," he replied, grimly; "the other——" He broke off
abruptly. "But come to my rooms where we can talk without
interruption," he added.
I was so amazed that I followed the man unquestioningly to a quiet
turning off Burlington Street.
"Now," he said, when he had waved me to a chair and seated
himself—"now we can talk freely."
"You ask for my help," I said, "and on behalf of some lady who is in
danger. You talk in riddles, man; I——"
"Is it possible you do not know who she is?" he interrupted.
"No," I said, "I do not, nor do I know you either. All I know of the
lady I can tell you in a few words," and then and there I told him of
my meeting her at Felixstowe, my call at the house, her disappearance,
and my recognition of her again in Piccadilly, which he himself had
witnessed. "But I have never spoken to her," I concluded.
"But of the lady with her?" he interrupted eagerly, "the lady who met
her in the street, and accompanied her in the hansom—was she there
all the time?"
"The lady with her?" I repeated, slowly. "I hardly noticed her." And in
very truth I had indeed hardly done so, having no eyes for anyone but
my lady, and beyond the fact that she was pretty (as indeed she must
needs be to so closely resemble my lady) I had not paid any attention
to her. "There was a lady closely resembling her with her all the
time," I continued, "and at one time another woman, and once a man."
"Dark, and with a scar on one cheek?" interposed my companion.
"Yes," I answered, slowly, for now he mentioned it I clearly recalled
noticing a scar on the fellow's cheek.
My companion mused for a few seconds, then—
"I had better give you the whole story," he said, and commenced as
"My name is Von Bieberstein, at one time equerry to Her Serene Highness
the Princess Elsa, Hereditary Princess of Schwannenwald, but I was
dismissed from her service through the machinations and false
representations of her enemies and mine, though God knows Her Highness
has no truer servant than I.
"She is the younger of the two ladies you have seen; the elder is Her
Highness's first cousin, the Grand Duchess Hedwig, also of
Schwannenwald, and heir after her cousin in the direct line to the
throne of Schwannenwald. She is an ambitious woman, and a fiend
incarnate, and as wicked as she is beautiful. The man with the scar was
her equerry, Von Zahn, and the two combined are as unscrupulous and as
dangerous a couple as you could find."
"'SHE IS IN DANGER,' HE HISSED."
"But, man," I broke in, "we are in London, and in the nineteenth
century. You cannot imagine Her Highness's life to be in danger."
"No, I don't," he answered, grimly, "I know it. Do you suppose crowns
are less valuable now than in the seventeenth century, or that when a
throne is at stake our boasted civilisation does not peel off as easily
as an old glove? It was a glimmering of this plot that cost me my
place, and almost my life."
As he spoke he bared his chest, and showed me the small round white
scar of a bullet wound. "Fired, if not by the Grand Duchess's finger,
at least by her direction," he said, with a grim smile. "But the
question is, will you help me?"
"I am a total stranger to you," I commenced, "and——"
"The affair at Eagle's Nest is not unknown even in Schwannenwald," he
said, with a smile.
I started. The affair to which he alluded had happened during my third
year in British Columbia, when a party of three white men (of which I
was one) and a lady had been surrounded in a log cabin by hostile
Indians. I was lucky enough at some little risk to escort the lady to a
place of safety.
Von Bieberstein rang, and ordered his man to bring up a bottle of
champagne and glasses.
"I have a health to give you," he said; "you can wait, John," he added
to the man. When the glasses were filled, Von Bieberstein rose to his
"To the health of Her Serene Highness the Princess Elsa," said he.
"And confusion to her enemies. May she never lack a plain English
gentleman to do her bidding for the sake of his lady and her own bonny
face!" I added, ecstatically.
Von Bieberstein looked at me for a moment, then—
"Spoken like the man of Eagle's Nest. Can you use a sword?" he said.
"I studied under Andretti at Milan in '84," I said, "but——"
"Let us try," he said, briefly, reaching a couple of foils from a
We fought for some few minutes, when with a quick movement he disarmed
me with a wrench.
"You are well enough," he said. "Nay, do not look so downfallen, man."
He smiled, noticing my foolish look. "It was but a trick of the wrist,
and better men than you have deemed it no shame for Von Bieberstein to
disarm them. Now, listen," he continued, laying aside his foil.
"To-night the Duchess Hedwig holds a council of the chief of her
supporters in the house she and her sister the Princess have taken in
Great Coram Square, Bloomsbury. The council will be held after the
Princess Elsa has retired to her own apartments in a different wing of
the house. It is there I must see her, and lay such proof of the plot
before her as will persuade her to fly. You, for your part, will be an
unobserved observer of the Duchess's council, for the double purpose of
identifying the persons present, and of guarding me against possible
"But of the danger to the Princess," I began. "Is she not——"
"The fact of her being at liberty to-day is an indication that no
immediate villainy is contemplated," broke in my companion.
"But how in the world can she be harmed here in London?" I exclaimed.
"She cannot be poisoned or shot, without investigation exposing the
whole dastardly plot."
"A very different medium will be employed," he replied. "I have good
reason for believing that dynamite——"
"Dynamite!" I exclaimed, incredulously.
"Ay, dynamite, man!" he replied, grimly. "You have already told me we
are not in the seventeenth century, and in a modern crime the
perpetrators will undoubtedly use modern weapons."
"But how, man?" I commenced, by no means convinced.
"There are always the Anarchists," said my companion, "and London,
thanks to the British Government, is known to be a hot-bed of them. Her
Highness has several times received threatening letters, and for the
rest the thing is easy. Come," he said, smiling, "you are on her side
now, and she sorely needs help. Meet me in Great Coram Square to-night
at ten, and bring a sword. A long cloak and a hansom will hide the
incongruity of the weapon in modern London. There may be use for it,
and for obvious reasons they will not use firearms."
"But——" I began, and paused, for I had a natural reluctance to
confess to this comparative stranger that the state of my purse
precluded the purchasing of swords and the taking of hansoms.
"Ah!" he said, smiling, and as usual divining my thoughts with great
perspicacity. "Is that how it is? Well, thank God, Schwannenwald can
always be sure that those that rally to her banner can at any rate go
properly equipped to the fight. And a brave man is none the worse when
he looks on his last florin, or takes the gold which he has earned," he
said, pressing a roll of notes on me.
"But I have not earned it," I objected.
"At any rate I think I can promise that before to-morrow morning you
will have done so." He smiled, and with a hearty grip of the hand he
waved me to the door. "To-night at ten," he said.
After a light meal I went out to make my preparations. A light rain was
falling as my hansom made its way through the crowded streets to the
quieter parts of Bloomsbury. About a hundred yards from my destination
I dismissed my cab, and walked to the square, which, owing to the rain
and the hour, was completely deserted. It was a gloomy spot, and Von
Bieberstein was nowhere to be seen. As I strolled up and down I
wondered which house was our destination. A light touch on the arm
recalled me, and turning I saw Von Bieberstein.
"I have a carriage at the corner waiting," he said, "and an hour, if
all goes well, should see the Princess on her way to safety. That is
the house yonder," he said, pointing to a gloomy-looking house on the
opposite side of the square, standing between two others whose boards
proclaimed them to be let. The house might have been as deserted as its
fellows had it not been for a faint light which gleamed through the
glass at the top of the front door. The rest of the house was in
"The apartments in use are at the back of the house," said Von
Bieberstein at my elbow.
"How are we to get in?" I whispered.
"I have arranged all that," he said, softly. "One of Her Highness's
women has left a basement window open. We shall make our way down the
area, enter the window, and ascend the back stairs till we stand inside
that front door. You will then make your way up the main staircase till
you come to a passage; proceeding along this, you will come to a door
on the right-hand side. Enter this, and you will see what you have to
"If in an hour you hear no alarm, make your way out as you came; but if
you are attacked, guard the door you entered by until I can come to you
or send assistance. There," he said, with a sigh, for he was no great
lover of long speeches, "that is all, and should anything happen to
us—well, good-bye, and remember Eagle's Nest"—this with a smile. He
gave me a hearty grip of the hand, and we made our way towards the
Every thing came about as Von Bieberstein had said. Leaving our cloaks
in the area, and with naked swords in our hands, we entered the window,
and in a few minutes stood inside the door, the exterior of which I had
seen from the square. A confused murmur came from above us, and a dim
light hung from a chain above our heads. Von Bieberstein pointed with
his sword to the staircase before us, and with a nod I made my way
towards it, holding my sword tightly in my hand. It was thickly
carpeted, and my ascent was made without noise, and I soon found myself
in the passage mentioned.
The voices grew more distinct as I proceeded, until at last, when I
reached the door on the right, I could hear a word here and there. The
door itself was ajar, but no glimmer of light made its way out, so with
my heart in my mouth I quietly pushed it open and entered. I found
myself in a long narrow room with one window heavily curtained at one
end, but my attention was riveted to what I saw immediately before me.
Two heavy curtains, closely drawn together with here and there a bright
chink of light penetrating where they met, divided the room I was in
from a larger one.
Cautiously advancing towards these, I managed by applying my eye to one
of the chinks to see into the room. Round a table, brilliantly lighted
by a cluster of electric lights immediately above it, were seated half
a dozen men in court dress and wearing swords; at the head of the table
and on a seat slightly higher than the others was seated a lady, whom I
at once recognised as the companion of my lady of Felixstowe. She was
in evening dress, and a coronet of diamonds surrounded her head. She
wore several sparkling orders, prominent among which I recognised the
White Eagle of the reigning house of Schwannenwald. I looked through my
chink long and curiously at her.
"'TO THE HEALTH OF HER SERENE HIGHNESS,' SAID HE."
Standing beside her chair was the equerry Von Zahn, who at that moment
"I think we are all agreed, gentlemen," he was saying, "that in the
troublous times that must succeed the lamented demise of His present
Majesty, the throne of Schwannenwald will have need of a clear head and
a firm ruler. Beauty is of course to be respected, but the two do not
always go together. When they are united"—and here he bowed with
respect to the Duchess—"I for my part see no reason to look further."
His words seemed to have the assent of the men at the table, with the
exception of one man who seemed about to speak. But the equerry,
evidently divining this, went on quickly.
"Her Serene Highness," he said, "who has already deigned to give us
many tokens that our humble counsels are not altogether unappreciated
by her, has chosen to-night for a final attestation of this, and
proposes to confer on the gentlemen here present the Royal Order of the
Garter of Schwannenwald. Allow me, gentlemen, to be the first to
congratulate you on this honour."
With this, he stepped to a side table and returned with a jeweller's
box and a small velvet cushion, the former of which he handed to the
Duchess. The Duchess placed her hand in the box and laid one of the
glittering orders on the cushion, which the equerry immediately bore
round to the first recipient, who, rising, fell on his knee at the
Duchess's chair, murmuring his thanks and devotion as he kissed her
hand. The same thing happened until it came to the turn of the man who
had been inclined to speak at the first. Then I noticed a shade cross
the Duchess's face, and—
"How is this, sir?" she cried angrily to the equerry. "Is Count
Heindrich to receive no order, or is this some ill-timed pleasantry on
your part?" and she held up the empty box.
"Your Highness misjudges me," answered the equerry; "the mistake is
evidently a stupid one of the jeweller's, and if I have your Highness's
permission, and that of Count Heindrich,"—and he glanced towards that
gentleman, who was now scowling freely—"I will to-morrow——"
"Nay, if that be all," broke in the Duchess, gaily, "I think I can
rectify it, at any rate for the time," and she rose from her seat and
disappeared behind a large screen. A moment later she reappeared,
holding something in her hand.
"After all, it is the giver, not the gift," she said, advancing with a
blush to Count Heindrich, "and 'twas how the order originated," and she
handed the pretty bauble to him. It was a dainty notion, cleverly
conceived and cleverly carried out, and I could see from the flush that
mantled the heavy face of the man that he was her slave from that time.
This incident had hardly terminated, when there was a knock on a door
of the room situated beyond the council table and immediately opposite
where I stood, and the equerry hastily went out, closing the door
behind him. He re-entered almost immediately, bearing a small scrap of
paper, twisted in the form of a note, which he handed to the Duchess,
who opened and read it.
"Gentlemen," she said, "I am compelled to break up the meeting, and to
ask you to retire at once, and by the usual exit."
As soon as their footsteps had died away, the Duchess rose to her feet,
and went slowly towards the wall. As she did so, the electric light in
her room was suddenly extinguished, while mine became a blaze of light,
and at the same time the heavy curtains dividing the rooms rolled wide
The Duchess regarded me for a minute with a quiet smile, then—
"Good evening, Mr. Darcy," she said; "our poor houses seem to have an
attraction for you; but may I venture to point out that private houses
in Bloomsbury are not such public property as the walks at Felixstowe.
Or perhaps," she went on, before I could open my mouth, "another trusty
sword has come to range itself under my banner," and she pointed at my
I shook my head impatiently. "Your Highness knows well enough why I am
here," I said, sternly.
"But that is just what Her Highness does not know," she said,
petulantly. "Can it be possible you are on the other side—on
"I am on the side where an English gentleman ought to be," I answered,
"on the side of justice against injustice, of trust against black
deceit, and of innocence against infamy."
"For one who does not know her, you sum up my pretty cousin's virtues
very well indeed," she cried. "That is just what she is: trustful and
innocent. Ten thousand curses on her doll's face! Fancy that baby on
the throne of Schwannenwald in such times as are coming. But she shall
never have it."
At that instant the clash of steel upon steel rang through the house.
The Duchess sprang away from me as though I had pricked her with my
"Heindrich! Von Zahn!" she called, shrilly, but only the Count rushed
into the room. "That man must not escape," she cried, as she ran
quickly past him, and out of the door beyond.
But I had no intention of attempting to escape. Now, if at all, was the
time arrived when I was to earn that roll of notes which Von
Bieberstein had forced on me that morning. I had taken up my position
at the door by which I had entered, and waited sword in hand. Nor had I
long to wait. With an oath the Count sprang towards me, and as our
swords touched I knew I had to deal with an ugly customer.
THE DUCHESS HELD A SECRET MEETING TO SECURE THE THRONE
For some few minutes we fought in silence, and indeed it was all I
could do to guard myself from the furious lunges of the Count, and
before we had been five minutes at the game I knew the man was my
master in fence, and that if I could withstand him for as long again it
would be as much as I could do. At the same instant that I recognised
this fact, I heard Von Bieberstein's voice below.
"Darcy! Darcy!" it cried, "come on, man."
But whether he called for aid or to warn me I had no means of telling,
nor did I dare take my eyes off the Count for a second.
"I am here!" I shouted, as loud as I could, but indeed it was a poor
shout at best, as I was well-nigh winded.
At that moment, and by the same trick of fence that Von Bieberstein had
used that morning, the Count disarmed me, and my weapon flew jangling
against the wall of the room. I heard a hurrying step, a revolver was
fired, so close to my ear that it well-nigh deafened me, and the Count,
his arm drawn back for the lunge that was to finish me, fell headlong
"Run, man, for your life," I heard Von Bieberstein's voice say, "we are
safer on a volcano than here," and he started off down the passage. I
raced after him: down the staircase I tore, and through the open door.
I heard a low roar behind me, a sheet of red flame appeared before my
eyes, and I remembered no more.
It seems that, after I had left him in the house in Great Coram Square,
he had made his way to the Princess Elsa's apartments, and after some
difficulty had persuaded her to listen to him. She was on the point of
accompanying him from the house, when Von Zahn, who may or may not have
suspected something, had come upon and immediately attacked him. He
was, however, no match for his antagonist, and Von Bieberstein had,
after two minutes, passed his sword through his body. It was the clash
of their swords that had alarmed the Duchess when she was with me.
Von Bieberstein, after hastily conducting the Princess to the awaiting
carriage, had rushed back to the house for me, arriving in the nick of
time. As he had smelt burning on his second entry into the house, and
guessed that the fuse connected with the dynamite had been lighted, his
bravery in coming to my assistance can better be imagined than
described. It was a small portion of falling masonry from the front of
the house that had knocked me senseless, and indeed nearly killed me.
The Princess returned safely to Schwannenwald, but when I had nearly
recovered my health and strength, Von Bieberstein announced she was on
her way back to London again, her father having died, and had taken a
suite of apartments at L——'s Hotel, and there we also took up our
But it was not until the day following her arrival that Von Bieberstein
announced to me that Her Highness awaited my attendance on her.
She was standing by the open window when I went in (for it was late in
June), and she turned to me with a smile. "Your face is not altogether
unfamiliar to me, Mr. Darcy," she said, "but I never thought I should
be under such obligations to the owner."
"'I AM YOUR HIGHNESS'S MOST OBEDIENT SERVANT,' I SAID."
"I am always your Highness's most obedient servant," I said, sinking on
"Nay," she returned, raising me, "if that were so, we should have to
put you in livery, and the most I could do would be to let you choose
"I should choose green and tan," I said, enthusiastically.
"That would be rather bizarre for a man, would it not?" she smiled.
"I venture to think otherwise, your Highness," I rejoined.
"Nevertheless, I should not like it," she said.
"Gold is a pretty colour," said I, looking at her hair, "or blue," I
added, looking at her eyes.
A blush, a frown, a smile, chased one another across her face, but the
"I am afraid you are as foolish as you are brave, Mr. Darcy," she said;
"but I shall need an extra equerry, and if you would care to enter my
service permanently, the place is at your disposal."
I fell again on my knee, mumbling my acknowledgments, for indeed I had
not dared to look for so much.
There was a knock at the door, and Von Bieberstein entered.
"I have offered Mr. Darcy the position of equerry in my service," began
the Princess, "and he has consented to fill it. Will you see that the
"Of green and tan," I said, softly.
"What?" ejaculated Von Bieberstein.
"I ought perhaps to have said blue and gold," I answered, as I bowed my
way from the room.
Von Bieberstein looked after me anxiously, but there was a smile on the
Such was the way in which I became equerry to a Princess in Green and