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About ten minutes later, the bell rang for tea, and, as Virginia did not
come down, Mrs. Otis sent up one of the footmen to tell her. After a
little time he returned and said that he could not find Miss Virginia
anywhere. As she was in the habit of going out to the garden every
evening to get flowers for the dinner-table, Mrs. Otis was not at all
alarmed at first, but when six o'clock struck, and Virginia did not
appear, she became really agitated, and sent the boys out to look for
her, while she herself and Mr. Otis searched every room in the house. At
half-past six the boys came back and said that they could find no trace
of their sister anywhere. They were all now in the greatest state of
excitement, and did not know what to do, when Mr. Otis suddenly
remembered that, some few days before, he had given a band of gipsies
permission to camp in the park. He accordingly at once set off for
Blackfell Hollow, where he knew they were, accompanied by his eldest son
and two of the farm-servants. The little Duke of Cheshire, who was
perfectly frantic with anxiety, begged hard to be allowed to go too,
but Mr. Otis would not allow him, as he was afraid there might be a
scuffle. On arriving at the spot, however, he found that the gipsies had
gone, and it was evident that their departure had been rather sudden, as
the fire was still burning, and some plates were lying on the grass.
Having sent off Washington and the two men to scour the district, he ran
home, and despatched telegrams to all the police inspectors in the
county, telling them to look out for a little girl who had been
kidnapped by tramps or gipsies. He then ordered his horse to be brought
round, and, after insisting on his wife and the three boys sitting down
to dinner, rode off down the Ascot road with a groom. He had hardly,
however, gone a couple of miles, when he heard somebody galloping after
him, and, looking round, saw the little Duke coming up on his pony, with
his face very flushed, and no hat. "I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Otis," gasped
out the boy, "but I can't eat any dinner as long as Virginia is lost.
Please don't be angry with me; if you had let us be engaged last year,
there would never have been all this trouble. You won't send me back,
will you? I can't go! I won't go!"
The Minister could not help smiling at the handsome young scapegrace,
and was a good deal touched at his devotion to Virginia, so leaning down
from his horse, he patted him kindly on the shoulders, and said, "Well,
Cecil, if you won't go back, I suppose you must come with me, but I must
get you a hat at Ascot."
"Oh, bother my hat! I want Virginia!" cried the little Duke, laughing,
and they galloped on to the railway station. There Mr. Otis inquired of
the station-master if any one answering to the description of Virginia
had been seen on the platform, but could get no news of her. The
station-master, however, wired up and down the line, and assured him
that a strict watch would be kept for her, and, after having bought a
hat for the little Duke from a linen-draper, who was just putting up his
shutters, Mr. Otis rode off to Bexley, a village about four miles away,
which he was told was a well-known haunt of the gipsies, as there was a
large common next to it. Here they roused up the rural policeman, but
could get no information from him, and, after riding all over the
common, they turned their horses' heads homewards, and reached the Chase
about eleven o'clock, dead-tired and almost heart-broken. They found
Washington and the twins waiting for them at the gate-house with
lanterns, as the avenue was very dark. Not the slightest trace of
Virginia had been discovered. The gipsies had been caught on Brockley
meadows, but she was not with them, and they had explained their sudden
departure by saying that they had mistaken the date of Chorton Fair, and
had gone off in a hurry for fear they should be late. Indeed, they had
been quite distressed at hearing of Virginia's disappearance, as they
were very grateful to Mr. Otis for having allowed them to camp in his
park, and four of their number had stayed behind to help in the search.
The carp-pond had been dragged, and the whole Chase thoroughly gone
over, but without any result. It was evident that, for that night at any
rate, Virginia was lost to them; and it was in a state of the deepest
depression that Mr. Otis and the boys walked up to the house, the groom
following behind with the two horses and the pony. In the hall they
found a group of frightened servants, and lying on a sofa in the library
was poor Mrs. Otis, almost out of her mind with terror and anxiety, and
having her forehead bathed with eau de cologne by the old housekeeper.
Mr. Otis at once insisted on her having something to eat, and ordered up
supper for the whole party. It was a melancholy meal, as hardly any one
spoke, and even the twins were awestruck and subdued, as they were very
fond of their sister. When they had finished, Mr. Otis, in spite of the
entreaties of the little Duke, ordered them all to bed, saying that
nothing more could be done that night, and that he would telegraph in
the morning to Scotland Yard for some detectives to be sent down
immediately. Just as they were passing out of the dining-room, midnight
began to boom from the clock tower, and when the last stroke sounded
they heard a crash and a sudden shrill cry; a dreadful peal of thunder
shook the house, a strain of unearthly music floated through the air, a
panel at the top of the staircase flew back with a loud noise, and out
on the landing, looking very pale and white, with a little casket in her
hand, stepped Virginia. In a moment they had all rushed up to her. Mrs.
Otis clasped her passionately in her arms, the Duke smothered her with
violent kisses, and the twins executed a wild war-dance round the group.
"Good heavens! child, where have you been?" said Mr. Otis, rather
angrily, thinking that she had been playing some foolish trick on them.
"Cecil and I have been riding all over the country looking for you, and
your mother has been frightened to death. You must never play these
practical jokes any more."
"Except on the Ghost! except on the Ghost!" shrieked the twins, as they
"My own darling, thank God you are found; you must never leave my side
again," murmured Mrs. Otis, as she kissed the trembling child, and
smoothed the tangled gold of her hair.
"Papa," said Virginia, quietly, "I have been with the Ghost. He is dead,
and you must come and see him. He had been very wicked, but he was
really sorry for all that he had done, and he gave me this box of
beautiful jewels before he died."
The whole family gazed at her in mute amazement, but she was quite grave
and serious; and, turning round, she led them through the opening in the
wainscoting down a narrow secret corridor, Washington following with a
lighted candle, which he had caught up from the table. Finally, they
came to a great oak door, studded with rusty nails. When Virginia
touched it, it swung back on its heavy hinges, and they found themselves
in a little low room, with a vaulted ceiling, and one tiny grated
window. Imbedded in the wall was a huge iron ring, and chained to it was
a gaunt skeleton, that was stretched out at full length on the stone
floor, and seemed to be trying to grasp with its long fleshless fingers
an old-fashioned trencher and ewer, that were placed just out of its
reach. The jug had evidently been once filled with water, as it was
covered inside with green mould. There was nothing on the trencher but
a pile of dust. Virginia knelt down beside the skeleton, and, folding
her little hands together, began to pray silently, while the rest of the
party looked on in wonder at the terrible tragedy whose secret was now
disclosed to them.
"Hallo!" suddenly exclaimed one of the twins, who had been looking out
of the window to try and discover in what wing of the house the room was
situated. "Hallo! the old withered almond-tree has blossomed. I can see
the flowers quite plainly in the moonlight."
"God has forgiven him," said Virginia, gravely, as she rose to her feet,
and a beautiful light seemed to illumine her face.
"What an angel you are!" cried the young Duke, and he put his arm round
her neck, and kissed her.
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