May Agnes Fleming.

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By May Agnes Fleming.

7. KATE DANTON. (New.)

Mrs. Fleming s stories are growing more and more popu
lar every day. Their delineations of character,
lifelike conversations, flashes of wit, con-
Btantly varying scenes, and deeply in
teresting plots, combine to place
their author in the very
first rank of Modern

All published uniform with this volume. Price $1.75 each,
and sent/rce by mail on receipt of price, by

Ct. W. CARI.ETON & CO., Publisher,
New York.







Such a mad Marriage ntver ivas before"

Taming of the Shrew.


G. W. Carlcton & Co., Publishers.




XII." They Shall Take Who Have the Power " 190

XIII. Lightly Won, Lightly Lost 200

XIV." Once More Ihe Gate Behind Me Falls " 214

XV." Stay " 224

XVI." Gordon Caryll " 230

X VI L Through the Sunset 237

XVIII. Killing the Fatted Calf 246

XIX. How the Old Year Ended 263


I. How the New Year Began 273

II. " La Belle Dame Sans Merci" 292

III. In the Streets 307

IV. Donny 3 J 7

V. What Love s Young Dream Sometimes Conies to 325

VI. At the Varieties 335

VII." After Many Days " 346

VIII. A Morning Call 357

IX." The Parting that They Had " 367

X." If any Calm, a Calm Despair" 375

XL M. Le Prince 385

XIL At the Bal d Opera. 393

XIIL After the Ball 400

XIV. Chez Madame 408

XV. " How the Night Fell" 416

XVI. "Loyal au Mort " 424

XVII. How the Mornir g Broke 438

XVIII. While it was Yet Day 446

XIX." Post Tcnebrae, Lux " 454




|T lay down in a sort of hollow, the hillside sloping
up behind, crowned with dark pine woods, shut in
by four grim wooden walls, two dark windows, like
scowling eyes, to be seen from the path, and was
known to all as " THE HOUSE THAT WOULDN T LET."

It stood neither on street nor high road. You left the
town behind you the queer, fortified, Frenchified town of
Quebec ; you passed through St. John s Gate, through St.
John s street-outside-the-gate, to the open country, and, a
mile on, you came upon a narrow, winding path, that seemed
straggling out of sight, and trying to hide itself among the
dwarf cedars and spruces. Following this for a quarter of a
mile, passing one or two small stone cabins, you came full
upon Saltmarsh this house that wouldn t let.

It was an ugly place a ramshackle place, the lonesomest
place you could see, but still why it wouldn t let was not so

The rent was merely nominal. Mr. Barteaux, its owner,
kept it in very good repair. There was a large vegetable
garden attached, where, if you were of an agricultural turn,
you might have made your rent twice over. There was
game in the woods; trout in the ice-cold brooks; but no


venturous sportsman took up his abode at Saltmarsh. It
wasn t even haunted ; it looked rather like that sort of thing,
but nobody ever went exactly so far as to affirm that it was.
No ghastly corpse-lights ever glimmered from those dull
upper windows, no piercing shrieks ever rent the midnight
silence, no spectre lady, white and tall, ever flitted through
the desolate rooms of Saltmarsh. No murder had ever
been done there ; no legend of any kind was connected with
the place, its history was prosy and commonplace to a de
gree. Yet still, year in, year out, the inscription remained
up over the dingy wooden gateway, THIS HOUSE TO BE LET ;
and no tenant ever came.

" Tom Grimshaw must have been mad when he built the
beastly old barn," the present proprietor would growl ;
"what with taxes, and repairs, and insurance, there it stands,
eating its own head off, and there it may stand, for what I
see, to the crack of doom. One would think the very trees
that surround it say, in their warning dreariness, as the sen-
tinels of Helheim used in Northern mythology :

" * Who passes here is damned. "

If this strong language rouses your curiosity, and you
asked the proprietor the history of the house, you got it
terse and lucid, thus :

" Old Tom Grimshaw built it, sir. Old Tom Grimshaw
was- my maternal uncle, rest his soul ; it is to be hoped he
has more sense in the other world than he .ever had in this.
He was a misogynist, sir, of the rabidest sort, hating a petti
coat as you and I hate the devil. Don t know what infernal
mischief the women had ever done him plenty, no doubt ; it
is what they were created for. The fact remains the sight
of one had much the same effect upon him as a red scarf on
a mad bull. He bought this marshy spot for a song, built
that disgustingly ugly house, barricaded himself with that
timber wall, and lived and died there, like Diogenes, or
Robinson Crusoe, or any other old bloke you like. As heir-
at-law, the old rattle-trap fell to me, and a precious legacy
it has been, I can tell you. It won t rent, and it has to be
kept in repair, and I wish to Heaven old Tom Grimsha\v
had taken it with him, wherever he is ! "


That was the history of Saltmarsh. For eight years it
was to be let, and hadn t let, and that is where the matter
began and ended.

Gray, lonely, weather-beaten, so I had seen the forlorn
house any time these twenty years ; so this evening of which
I am to write I saw it again, with the mysterious shadow of
desolation brooding over it, those two upper windows frown
ing down sullen eyes set in its sullen, silent face. From
childhood it had had its fascination for me it had been my
Bluebeard s castle, my dread, my delight. As I grew oldei,
this fascinating horror grew with -my growth, and at seven-
and-twenty it held me with as powerful a spell as it had done
at seven.

It was a cold and overcast February afternoon. An icy
blast swept up from the great frozen gulf, over the heights of
Quebec, over the bleak, treeless road, along which I hurried
in the teeth of the wind. In the west a stormy and lurid
sunset was fading out fierce reds and brazen yellows pal
ing into sullen gray. One long fiery lance of that wrathful
sunset, slanting down the pines, struck those upper windows
of Saltmarsh, and lit them into sheets of copper gold.

I was in a hurry I was the bearer of ill news and ill
news travels apace. It was bitterly cold, as I have said,
and snow was falling. I had still half a mile of lonesome
high road to travel, and night was at hand ; but the spell of
Saltmarsh, that had never failed to hold me yet, held me
again. I stood still and looked at it ; at those two red cy-
clopean eyes, those black stacks of chimneys, its whole for
bidding, scowling front.

" It is like a house under a curse," I thought ; "a dozen
murders might be done inside those wooden walls, and no
one be the wiser. Will any human being ever call Saltmarsh
home again, I wonder ? "

" This house is to let ? "

I am not nervous as a rule, but as a soft voice spoke
these words at my elbow, I jumped. I had heard no sound,
yet now a woman stood at my side, on the snow-beaten

" I beg your pardon ; I have startled you, I am afraid.


I have been here for some time looking at this house. I see
it is to let."

I stepped back and looked at her, too much surprised for
a moment to speak. To meet a stranger at Saltmarsh. in
the twilight of a bitter February day, was a marvel indeed.

I stood and looked at her ; and I thought then, as I think
now, as I will think to the last day of my life, that I saw one
of the most beautiful faces on which the sun ever shone.

I have said she was a woman a girl would have been the
fitter word ; whatever her age might have been, she did not
look a day over seventeen. She was not tall, and she was
very slender ; that may have given her that peculiarly childish
look I am a tall young woman, and she would not have
reached my shoulder. A dress of black silk trailed the
ground, a short jacket of finest seal wrapped her, a muff of
seal held her hands. A hood of black velvet was on her
head, and out of this rich hood her richer beauty shone upon
me, a new revelation of how lovely it is possible for a woman
to be. Years have come and gone since that evening, but
the wonderful face that looked at me that February twilight,
for the first time, is before me at this moment, as vividly as
then. Two great, tawny eyes, with a certain wildness in
their light, a skin of pearl, a red mouth like a child s, a low
forehead, a straight nose, a cleft chin, the gleam of small,
white teeth, rise before me like a vision, and I understand
how men, from the days of Samson the Strong, have lain
down life and honor, and their soul s salvation, for just such
women as this. Surely a strange visitant to the house that
wouldn t let, and in the last hour of the day.

All this in a moment of time, while we stand and face
each other. Then the soft voice speaks again, with a touch
of impatient annoyance in its tone :

" I beg your pardon. You heard me ? This house is to

I point to the sign, to the legend and inscription affixed
to the gate, and read it stoically aloud: "This house to
be let."

" Evidently my lady is not used to being kept waiting," 1
think, " whoever she is."


"Yes, yes, I see that," she says, still impatiently ; " there
is no one living in it at present, is there ? "

" Madame," I say, briefly, "no one has lived there for
eight years/

The wonderful tawny black eyes, almost orange in some
lights, and whose like I have never seen but in one other
face, dilate a little as they turn from me to the dead,
silent house.

"Why?" she asks.

I shrugged my shoulders.

" Need one ask that question, madame, after looking at
the house ? Who would care to live in so lonely, so lost a
place as that ? "

"/would. No one would ever think of coming here."

She made the answer almost under her breath, more to
herself than to me, her pale face turned toward the house.

Its pallor struck me now, not the pallor of ill health, or of
natural complexion, but such fixed whiteness, as some ex
traordinary terror may once in a lifetime blanch a human face.

" No one would ever think of coming here," I repeated,
inwardly. " I should think not indeed. Are you in hiding
then, my beautiful young lady, and afraid of being found
out ? You are lovelier than anything out of a frame. You
are one of the rich and elect of the earth, or you would not
be dressed like that, but who are you, and what are you do
ing here alone and at this hour ? "

The last red light of the sunset had entirely faded away.
Cold, gray, and overcast the wintry sky spread above us like
a pall, and over Cape Diamond, with its citadel crown,
swept the icy wind from the frozen St. Lawrence. One or
two white flakes came sifting down from the fast drifting sky
night and storm were falling together, and it was still half
a mile to my home.

" If you desire any information about this place, madame,"
I said, " you had better apply to Mr. Barteaux, No. St.
Louis Street, Quebec ; he is the present owner. It is to let,
|.nd he will be very glad of a tenant. Good-evening."

She made no reply, she did not even seem to have heard.
She stood, her hands in her muff, her eyes fixed with a


strangely sombre intensity on the blank wooden wall, her
profile gleaming cold and white in the steely twilight. I
know little of passion or despair, but surely it was most pas
sionate despair I read in those fixed, sightless eyes.

I turned and left her. I was interested of course, but it
would not do, to stand mooning here and let night overtake
me. Once, as I hurried along the deserted road, I looked
back. The small lonely figure still stood as I had left it,
motionless, a black speck against the chill darkness of the
wintry sky.

" Something wrong there," I thought ; " I wonder who she
is and what has brought her here. None of the officers
wives or daughters I have seen all of them at the major s.
One thing is certain, Mr. Barteaux will never rent Saltmarsh
to a slip of a girl like that."

And then the mysterious young lady and all connected
with her slipped from my mind, for the red light from my
mother s cottage streamed far afield, and the ill tidings i was
bringing home filled my whole thoughts.

In this strange record which it becomes my duty to write,
a few words of myself must be said, and may as well be said
here and done with. I was Joan Kennedy then, and am
Joan Kennedy still. I was seven-and-twenty years of age,
and the sole support of a feeble old mother and a sister of
twelve. My mother who had been a governess in her youth,
and in her native city of Glasgow, had educated me consid
erably above the station I filled, giving me a very thorough
English education, and teaching me to speak French with a
fine Scottish accent. At my father s death, ten years before,
I went out to service, and in service I had remained ever
since. This night, as I hastened homeward through the
snowy darkness, my errand was to tell my mother and sister
that I had lost my place, and had no present prospect of
being able to get another. That is Joan Kennedy s whole
past and present history, so far as you need know it.

The darkness was all white with whirling snow as I opened
the cottage door and entered. All was bright and cosy here.
A large red fire burned on the hearth, the tea table was
jpread, a little snub-nosed teapot wafted its incense alow


and aloft, my mother sat knitting in the ingle nook, and my
pretty sister Jessie sang, as she stitched away, at the table.
At sight of their snow-powdered visitor both dropped their
work in amaze.

" Joan ! " Then Jessie s arms were around my neck, and
my mother s poor old face lit up with delight; "Joan! in
this storm, and at this time of night and alone ! Are you
alone, Joan?"

" Who is likely to be with me, little Jess ? Yes, I am
alone ; and you are likely to have more of my delectable
society than perhaps may prove pleasant or profitable.
Mother dear, I have lost my place."


" I am not to blame, mother, believe that. Only (it is
not a pleasant thing to tell) Mrs. Englehart has taken it into
that supremely foolish head of hers to be jealous of me of
poor, plain Joan Kennedy ! The major, a kind old soul,
has spoken a friendly word or two in passing and behold
the result ! Don t let us talk about it. I ll start out to
morrow morning and search all Quebec, and get a situation
or perish in the attempt. And now, Mistress Jessie, I ll
take a cup of tea."

I threw off my shawl and bonnet, laughing for fear I
should break down and cry, and took my seat. As I did so,
there came a loud knock at the door. So loud, that
Jessie nearly dropped the snub-nosed teapot.

" Good gracious, Joan ! who is this ? "

I walked to the door and opened it then fell back aghast.
For firelight and candlelight streamed full across the face of
the lady I had seen at the House to Let.

" May I come in ?"

She did not wait for permission. She walked in past me,
straight to the fire, and stood before it. Furs and silks
were coated with the fast-falling snow. She drew her hands
out of her muff, tossed it aside, drew off her gloves, and held
to the blaze two small white hands, all twinkling with rings.
Mother sat speechlessly gazing at this dazzling apparition.
Jessie stood with eyes and mouth agape, and my own heart,
I must confess, fluttered nervously as I looked. Who was


she, and what did she want ? For fully a niinute she stood
staring at the fire, then feeling that some one must say some
thing, I took heart of grace, and said it.

" You have been caught in the snow-storm," I ventured,
drawing near. " I was afraid you would. Will you please
to sit down?"

She took no notice of the proffered politeness. The
tawny eyes turned from the fire to my face.

" Will you tell me your name ? " was the strange young
lady s abrupt question.

"Joan Kennedy."

" You are a single woman ? "

" I am, madame."

" You live here in this house, with " a pause and a

stare at mother and Jessie.

" With my mother and sister yes, at present. As a rule
I live at service in Quebec."

" In service ? " Another pause and a stare at me. " Joan
Kennedy, would you live with me? "

This was a leading question with a vengeance. " With
you, madame ? " I gasped.

" With me. I want a maid, a companion, what you will.
Wages are no object to a trustworthy person. I will give
anything she asks. I am all alone all alone " her lips
trembled, her voice died away ; " all alone in the world. I
have had great trouble and I want some quiet place to live
some quiet person to live with me, for awhile. I am go
ing to take that house to let. I was overtaken by the storm,
just now, and followed you here, instead of going back to the
hotel. I like your face you look as though you may have
had trouble yourself, and so could feel for others. I wish
you would come and live with me. I have told you I am
in dreadful trouble " she paused, a sort of anguish coining
over her face : " I have lost my husband," she said with a
great gasp, and covering her face with both hands broke out
into such a dreadful crying as I never heard or saw before.

" Oh, poor dear ! " said my mother. For me, I stood still
and looked at her. What could I say what could I do ?
Great sobs shook h^r from head to foot. A widow ! I glanced


a t her left hand. Yes, there among the diamonds gleamed that
plain band of gold that has brought infinite bliss or misery
to millions of women a wedding ring. It lasted not two
minutes. Almost fiercely she dashed away her tears and
looked up.

* My name is Mrs. Gordon," she said ; " as I tell you, I
am all alone. I came to Quebec yesterday, I saw that house
advertised, and so came to see it. It suits me, and I will
take it for the next six months at least. Some one must
live with me there. I like your looks. Will you come ? "

Would I come ? would I live in the House to Let ? I
stood gasping the proposal was like a cold douche it took
my breath away.

" I will pay any wages to a suitable person any wages"
emphatically this ; " and in advance. It is a lonely place,
it suits me the better for that, and you don t look like a
young woman afraid of bogies. If you won t come,"
haughtily, "of course I shall find some one else."

" I I have not refused," I gasped ; " it s all so sudden.
You must let me think it over. I will tell you to-morrow."

Her mood changed she lifted a face to mine that was
like the helpless, appealing face of a child she held up two
clasped hands.

" Do come," she said piteously ; " I will pay you anything
anything ! I only want to be quiet for awhile, and away
from everybody. I am all alone in the world. I have lost
my husband lost him lost him "

" The lady is going to faint ! " screamed Jessie.

Sure enough ! whether the heat of the fire had overcome
her, or the " dreadful trouble" of which she spoke had
broken her down, she swayed unsteadily to and fro, the
words dying on her lips, and I caught her as she felL

So it was that the first tenant of the House to Let came
into my home, and into my life, to change it utterly from
that hour.



|RS. GORDON did not leave our cottage that night
did not leave it for two whole weeks, and then
the house that wouldn t let was let at last, and Salt-
marsh had a tenant.

It would be of little use at this late day to detail all the
arguments -she used to win me for her attendant and com
panion the most irresistible argument of all was wages,
treble, fourfold what I had ever earned before, and paid in
advance. Of her and her story I had very serious doubts,
but beggars must not be choosers. I took her money and
became her paid companion.

For hours that night, after mother and Jessie were in bed,
I sat beside Mrs. Gordon, listening to the story she told of
herself. Brief, vague, and unsatisfactory to a degree, that
story was. She had been an orphan from childhood. She
was not wealthy, but she had sufficient ; great trouble had
suddenly come upon her, and she had lost her husband after
four months of wedded life. That was all.

" Lost your husband ! " I repeated, curiously, looking at
her. " Do you mean that your husband is dead ? "

A simple and natural question, surely; but her face, pale
before, turned of a dead whiteness from brow to chin.

" Dead of course," she answered, huskily ; " for pity s
sake, don t ask me questions. It is only a week ago, and I
cannot bear it. Only a week, and it seems like a century.
And to think to think of all the long, lonely, empty years
that are to come ! Never to hear his voice, never to see his
face more ! "

And then she broke down again and wept oh, how she
wept ! My heart was full of compassion, and yet only


dead one week, and running away like this, not in mourning,
not a friend in the world, rich, young and beautiful. A
queer story on the face of it a very queer story indeed.

Who is to gauge the power of woman s beauty ? If she
had been a plain young person, I believe ten pounds a week
would not have tempted me to take up with her and bury
myself alive at Saltmarsh. But her wonderful beauty fairly
fascinated me, her lovely face won me, even against my bet
ter judgment.

"And if that face can make a fool of you, Joan, my dear,"
I said to myself, as I went to bed, "what awful havoc it
must make among mankind ! How very unpleasant for poor
Mr. Gordon to die and leave it, and how desperately fond
she must have been of him, to be sure ! "

"You will let me stay here until the house yonder is
ready," she said next morning, with the air of one not used
to being refused. " I dislike hotels people stare so. I will
make you no trouble, and I want to be perfectly quiet, and
quite alone."

It was curious to see her with her lovely face, her elegant
dress, her diamond rings, and her dark flowing hair, so
strangely out of place in our small, bare, homely house. I
hardly know whether she should have stayed or not, but our
poverty pleaded for her, and I consented to all she pro
posed. To take the house for her, to see it furnished, to
attend to everything, while she herself kept absolutely out
of sight.

My new duties began at once. I went to Mr. Barteaux,
and abruptly informed him I had a tenant for the House to

"A widow lady, sir," I said; "a Mrs. Gordon. Any
reasonable rent she is willing to pay, and I am engaged to
live with her."

" Bless my soul ! " said Mr. Barteaux. " You don t say
so ! A tenant at last. A widow lady, eh ? How many in
family, Joan ? "

I knew the vision before Mr. Barteaux s mind s eye. A
florid matron of fifty, with half-a-dozen strapping boys and


11 No family, sir. Quite a young widow. You must close
the bargain with me, Mr. Barteaux ; her loss is recent, she
is in trouble, and doesn t feel like transacting business her
self. There are no references ; instead, she will pay in ad
vance if you choose."

We closed the bargain there and then ; and that very day
Saltmarsh was thrown open to the sunshine and free winds
of Heaven. What an odd, awesome feeling it gave me
to go with my mysterious new mistress through the gruesome
apartments, silent and forsaken so long. Four, out of the
ten rooms the house contained, were chosen to be furnished
and fitted up, papered, painted, whitewashed, carpeted, cur
tained. All fell to me, and all was done in two brief weeks,
and well done, though I say it, and Mrs. Gordon and Joan
Kennedy, it was known to all Quebec, were domesticated at

I wonder now, as I sit here and look back at that strange
time, that even poverty could have tempted me to endure
the life I led all those dreary months. The listless, lonely
days spent in reading or rambling through the empty, echo
ing rooms, the long awesome nights when the winds held
high carnival without and the rats high jinks within. No
one ever came to the house, except a stout Frenchwoman,
who did our washing and general drudgery, coming every
morning and going every night. For me, my position was a
sinecure, nothing to do, and treble wages for doing it, but

Online LibraryMay Agnes FlemingA mad marriage. A novel → online text (page 1 of 36)