Copyright
Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Jeffrey Kraus-yao


The House of a Thousand Candles


Meredith Nicholson


The House of a Thousand Candles

By
Meredith Nicholson
Author of The Main Chance
Zelda Dameron, Etc.

With Illustrations by
Howard Chandler Christy

“So on the morn there fell new tidings and other adventures”
Malory


1905


November


To Margaret My Sister


CONTENTS

CHAPTER
I The Will of John Marshall Glenarm
II A Face at Sherry’s
III The House of a Thousand Candles
IV A Voice From the Lake
V A Red Tam-O’-Shanter
VI The Girl and the Canoe
VII The Man on the Wall
VIII A String of Gold Beads
IX The Girl and the Rabbit
X An Affair With the Caretaker
XI I Receive a Caller
XII I Explore a Passage
XIII A Pair of Eavesdroppers
XIV The Girl in Gray
XV I Make an Engagement
XVI The Passing of Olivia
XVII Sister Theresa
XVIII Golden Butterflies
XIX I Meet an Old Friend
XX A Triple Alliance
XXI Pickering Serves Notice
XXII The Return of Marian Devereux
XXIII The Door of Bewilderment
XXIV A Prowler of The Night
XXV Besieged
XXVI The Fight in the Library
XXVII Changes and Chances
XXVIII Shorter Vistas
XXIX And So the Light Led Me


The House of a Thousand Candles


CHAPTER I

THE WILL OF JOHN MARSHALL GLENARM


Pickering’s letter bringing news of my grandfather’s
death found me at Naples early in October. John
Marshall Glenarm had died in June. He had left a
will which gave me his property conditionally, Pickering
wrote, and it was necessary for me to return immediately
to qualify as legatee. It was the merest luck
that the letter came to my hands at all, for it had been
sent to Constantinople, in care of the consul-general
instead of my banker there. It was not Pickering’s
fault that the consul was a friend of mine who kept
track of my wanderings and was able to hurry the
executor’s letter after me to Italy, where I had gone to
meet an English financier who had, I was advised, unlimited
money to spend on African railways. I am an
engineer, a graduate of an American institution familiarly
known as “Tech,” and as my funds were running
low, I naturally turned to my profession for employment.

But this letter changed my plans, and the following
day I cabled Pickering of my departure and was outward
bound on a steamer for New York. Fourteen
days later I sat in Pickering’s office in the Alexis Building
and listened intently while he read, with much
ponderous emphasis, the provisions of my grandfather’s
will. When he concluded, I laughed. Pickering was a
serious man, and I was glad to see that my levity pained
him. I had, for that matter, always been a source of
annoyance to him, and his look of distrust and rebuke
did not trouble me in the least.

I reached across the table for the paper, and he gave
the sealed and beribboned copy of John Marshall Glenarm’s
will into my hands. I read it through for myself,
feeling conscious meanwhile that Pickering’s cool gaze
was bent inquiringly upon me. These are the paragraphs
that interested me most:

I give and bequeath unto my said grandson, John Glenarm,
sometime a resident of the City and State of New
York, and later a vagabond of parts unknown, a certain
property known as Glenarm House, with the land thereunto
pertaining and hereinafter more particularly described,
and all personal property of whatsoever kind
thereunto belonging and attached thereto,—the said realty
lying in the County of Wabana in the State of Indiana,—
upon this condition, faithfully and honestly performed:

That said John Glenarm shall remain for the period
of one year an occupant of said Glenarm House and my
lands attached thereto, demeaning himself meanwhile in
an orderly and temperate manner. Should he fail at any
time during said year to comply with this provision, said
property shall revert to my general estate and become,
without reservation, and without necessity for any process
of law, the property, absolutely, of Marian Devereux, of
the County and State of New York.


“Well,” he demanded, striking his hands upon the
arms of his chair, “what do you think of it?”

For the life of me I could not help laughing again.
There was, in the first place, a delicious irony in the
fact that I should learn through him of my grandfather’s
wishes with respect to myself. Pickering and
I had grown up in the same town in Vermont; we had
attended the same preparatory school, but there had
been from boyhood a certain antagonism between us.
He had always succeeded where I had failed, which is to
say, I must admit, that he had succeeded pretty frequently.
When I refused to settle down to my profession,
but chose to see something of the world first,
Pickering gave himself seriously to the law, and there
was, I knew from the beginning, no manner of chance
that he would fail.

I am not more or less than human, and I remembered
with joy that once I had thrashed him soundly
at the prep school for bullying a smaller boy; but our
score from school-days was not without tallies on his
side. He was easily the better scholar—I grant him
that; and he was shrewd and plausible. You never
quite knew the extent of his powers and resources, and
he had, I always maintained, the most amazing good
luck,—as witness the fact that John Marshall Glenarm
had taken a friendly interest in him. It was wholly
like my grandfather, who was a man of many whims,
to give his affairs into Pickering’s keeping; and I could
not complain, for I had missed my own chance with
him. It was, I knew readily enough, part of my punishment
for having succeeded so signally in incurring
my grandfather’s displeasure that he had made it necessary
for me to treat with Arthur Pickering in this
matter of the will; and Pickering was enjoying the
situation to the full. He sank back in his chair with
an air of complacency that had always been insufferable
in him. I was quite willing to be patronized by a man
of years and experience; but Pickering was my own
age, and his experience of life seemed to me preposterously
inadequate. To find him settled in New York,
where he had been established through my grandfather’s
generosity, and the executor of my grandfather’s estate,
was hard to bear.

But there was something not wholly honest in my
mirth, for my conduct during the three preceding years
had been reprehensible. I had used my grandfather
shabbily. My parents died when I was a child, and he
had cared for me as far back as my memory ran. He
had suffered me to spend without restraint the fortune
left by my father; he had expected much of me, and I
had grievously disappointed him. It was his hope that
I should devote myself to architecture, a profession for
which he had the greatest admiration, whereas I had
insisted on engineering.

I am not writing an apology for my life, and I shall
not attempt to extenuate my conduct in going abroad
at the end of my course at Tech and, when I made
Laurance Donovan’s acquaintance, in setting off with
him on a career of adventure. I do not regret, though
possibly it would be more to my credit if I did, the
months spent leisurely following the Danube east of
the Iron Gate—Laurance Donovan always with me,
while we urged the villagers and inn-loafers to all manner
of sedition, acquitting ourselves so well that, when
we came out into the Black Sea for further pleasure,
Russia did us the honor to keep a spy at our heels. I
should like, for my own satisfaction, at least, to set
down an account of certain affairs in which we were
concerned at Belgrad, but without Larry’s consent I
am not at liberty to do so. Nor shall I take time here
to describe our travels in Africa, though our study of
the Atlas Mountain dwarfs won us honorable mention
by the British Ethnological Society.

These were my yesterdays; but to-day I sat in Arthur
Pickering’s office in the towering Alexis Building, conscious
of the muffled roar of Broadway, discussing the
terms of my Grandfather Glenarm’s will with a man
whom I disliked as heartily as it is safe for one man to
dislike another. Pickering had asked me a question,
and I was suddenly aware that his eyes were fixed upon
me and that he awaited my answer.

“What do I think of it?” I repeated. “I don’t know
that it makes any difference what I think, but I’ll tell
you, if you want to know, that I call it infamous, outrageous,
that a man should leave a ridiculous will of
that sort behind him. All the old money-bags who pile
up fortunes magnify the importance of their money.
They imagine that every kindness, every ordinary courtesy
shown them, is merely a bid for a slice of the cake.
I’m disappointed in my grandfather. He was a splendid
old man, though God knows he had his queer ways.
I’ll bet a thousand dollars, if I have so much money in
the world, that this scheme is yours, Pickering, and not
his. It smacks of your ancient vindictiveness, and John
Marshall Glenarm had none of that in his blood. That
stipulation about my residence out there is fantastic.
I don’t have to be a lawyer to know that; and no doubt
I could break the will; I’ve a good notion to try it,
anyhow.”

“To be sure. You can tie up the estate for half
a dozen years if you like,” he replied coolly. He did
not look upon me as likely to become a formidable
litigant. My staying qualities had been proved weak
long ago, as Pickering knew well enough.

“No doubt you would like that,” I answered. “But
I’m not going to give you the pleasure. I abide by the
terms of the will. My grandfather was a fine old gentleman.
I shan’t drag his name through the courts,
not even to please you, Arthur Pickering,” I declared
hotly.

“The sentiment is worthy of a good man, Glenarm,”
he rejoined.

“But this woman who is to succeed to my rights,—I
don’t seem to remember her.”

“It is not surprising that you never heard of her.”

“Then she’s not a connection of the family,—no long-lost
cousin whom I ought to remember?”

“No; she was a late acquaintance of your grandfather’s.
He met her through an old friend of his,—
Miss Evans, known as Sister Theresa. Miss Devereux
is Sister Theresa’s niece.”

I whistled. I had a dim recollection that during my
grandfather’s long widowerhood there were occasional
reports that he was about to marry. The name of Miss
Evans had been mentioned in this connection. I had
heard it spoken of in my family, and not, I remembered,
with much kindness. Later, I heard of her joining a
Sisterhood, and opening a school somewhere in the
West.

“And Miss Devereux,—is she an elderly nun, too?”

“I don’t know how elderly she is, but she isn’t a nun
at present. Still, she’s almost alone in the world, and
she and Sister Theresa are very intimate.”

“Pass the will again, Pickering, while I make sure
I grasp these diverting ideas. Sister Theresa isn’t the
one I mustn’t marry, is she? It’s the other ecclesiastical
embroidery artist,—the one with the x in her
name, suggesting the algebra of my vanishing youth.”

I read aloud this paragraph:

Provided, further, that in the event of the marriage of
said John Glenarm to the said Marian Devereux, or in
the event of any promise or contract of marriage between
said persons within five years from the date of said John
Glenarm’s acceptance of the provisions of this will, the
whole estate shall become the property absolutely of St.
Agatha’s School, at Annandale, Wabana County, Indiana,
a corporation under the laws of said state.


“For a touch of comedy commend me to my grandfather!
Pickering, you always were a well-meaning
fellow,—I’ll turn over to you all my right, interest and
title in and to these angelic Sisters. Marry! I like the
idea! I suppose some one will try to marry me for my
money. Marriage, Pickering, is not embraced in my
scheme of life!”

“I should hardly call you a marrying man,” he observed.

“Perfectly right, my friend! Sister Theresa was considered
a possible match for my grandfather in my
youth. She and I are hardly contemporaries. And the
other lady with the fascinating algebraic climax to her
name,—she, too, is impossible; it seems that I can’t get
the money by marrying her. I’d better let her take it.
She’s as poor as the devil, I dare say.”

“I imagine not. The Evanses are a wealthy family,
in spots, and she ought to have some money of her own
if her aunt doesn’t coax it out of her for educational
schemes.”

“And where on the map are these lovely creatures to
be found?”

“Sister Theresa’s school adjoins your preserve; Miss
Devereux has I think some of your own weakness for
travel. Sister Theresa is her nearest relative, and she
occasionally visits St. Agatha’s—that’s the school.”

“I suppose they embroider altar-cloths together and
otherwise labor valiantly to bring confusion upon Satan
and his cohorts. Just the people to pull the wool over
the eyes of my grandfather!”

Pickering smiled at my resentment.

“You’d better give them a wide berth; they might
catch you in their net. Sister Theresa is said to have
quite a winning way. She certainly plucked your grandfather.”

“Nuns in spectacles, the gentle educators of youth
and that sort of thing, with a good-natured old man for
their prey. None of them for me!”

“I rather thought so,” remarked Pickering,—and he
pulled his watch from his pocket and turned the stem
with his heavy fingers. He was short, thick-set and
sleek, with a square jaw, hair already thin and a close-clipped
mustache. Age, I reflected, was not improving
him.

I had no intention of allowing him to see that I was
irritated. I drew out my cigarette case and passed it
across the table,

“After you! They’re made quite specially for me in
Madrid.”

“You forget that I never use tobacco in any form.”

“You always did miss a good deal of the joy of living,”
I observed, throwing my smoking match into his
waste-paper basket, to his obvious annoyance. “Well,
I’m the bad boy of the story-books; but I’m really sorry
my inheritance has a string tied to it. I’m about out
of money. I suppose you wouldn’t advance me a few
thousands on my expectations—”

“Not a cent,” he declared, with quite unnecessary
vigor; and I laughed again, remembering that in my
old appraisement of him, generosity had not been represented
in large figures. “It’s not in keeping with
your grandfather’s wishes that I should do so. You
must have spent a good bit of money in your tiger-hunting
exploits,” he added.

“I have spent all I had,” I replied amiably. “Thank
God I’m not a clam! I’ve seen the world and paid for
it. I don’t want anything from you. You undoubtedly
share my grandfather’s idea of me that I’m a wild man
who can’t sit still or lead an orderly, decent life; but
I’m going to give you a terrible disappointment. What’s
the size of the estate?”

Pickering eyed me—uneasily, I thought—and began
playing with a pencil. I never liked Pickering’s hands;
they were thick and white and better kept than I like
to see a man’s hands.

“I fear it’s going to be disappointing. In his trust-company
boxes here I have been able to find only about
ten thousand dollars’ worth of securities. Possibly—
quite possibly—we were all deceived in the amount of
his fortune. Sister Theresa wheedled large sums out of
him, and he spent, as you will see, a small fortune on
the house at Annandale without finishing it. It wasn’t
a cheap proposition, and in its unfinished condition it is
practically valueless. You must know that Mr. Glenarm
gave away a great deal of money in his lifetime. Moreover,
he established your father. You know what he
left,—it was not a small fortune as those things are
reckoned.”

I was restless under this recital. My father’s estate
had been of respectable size, and I had dissipated the
whole of it. My conscience pricked me as I recalled an
item of forty thousand dollars that I had spent—somewhat
grandly—on an expedition that I led, with considerable
satisfaction to myself, at least, through the
Sudan. But Pickering’s words amazed me.

“Let me understand you,” I said, bending toward
him. “My grandfather was supposed to be rich, and
yet you tell me you find little property. Sister Theresa
got money from him to help build a school. How much
was that?”

“Fifty thousand dollars. It was an open account.
His books show the advances, but he took no notes.”

“And that claim is worth—?”

“It is good as against her individually. But she contends—”

“Yes, go on!”

I had struck the right note. He was annoyed at my
persistence and his apparent discomfort pleased me.

“She refuses to pay. She says Mr. Glenarm made her
a gift of the money.”

“That’s possible, isn’t it? He was for ever making
gifts to churches. Schools and theological seminaries
were a sort of weakness with him.”

“That is quite true, but this account is among the
assets of the estate. It’s my business as executor to collect
it.”

“We’ll pass that. If you get this money, the estate is
worth sixty thousand dollars, plus the value of the land
out there at Annandale, and Glenarm House is worth—”

“There you have me!”

It was the first lightness he had shown, and it put me
on guard.

“I should like an idea of its value. Even an unfinished
house is worth something.”

“Land out there is worth from one hundred to one
hundred and fifty dollars an acre. There’s an even
hundred acres. I’ll be glad to have your appraisement
of the house when you get there.”

“Humph! You flatter my judgment, Pickering. The
loose stuff there is worth how much?”

“It’s all in the library. Your grandfather’s weakness
was architecture—”

“So I remember!” I interposed, recalling my stormy
interviews with John Marshall Glenarm over my choice
of a profession.

“In his last years he turned more and more to his
books. He placed out there what is, I suppose, the
finest collection of books relating to architecture to be
found in this country. That was his chief hobby, after
church affairs, as you may remember, and he rode it
hard. But he derived a great deal of satisfaction from
his studies.”

I laughed again; it was better to laugh than to cry
over the situation.

“I suppose he wanted me to sit down there, surrounded
by works on architecture, with the idea that
a study of the subject would be my only resource. The
scheme is eminently Glenarmian! And all I get is a
worthless house, a hundred acres of land, ten thousand
dollars, and a doubtful claim against a Protestant nun
who hoodwinked my grandfather into setting up a
school for her. Bless your heart, man, so far as my inheritance
is concerned it would have been money in my
pocket to have stayed in Africa.”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“But the personal property is all mine,—anything
that’s loose on the place. Perhaps my grandfather
planted old plate and government bonds just to pique
the curiosity of his heirs, successors and assigns. It
would be in keeping!”

I had walked to the window and looked out across
the city. As I turned suddenly I found Pickering’s
eyes bent upon me with curious intentness. I had never
liked his eyes; they were too steady. When a man always
meets your gaze tranquilly and readily, it is just
as well to be wary of him.

“Yes; no doubt you will find the place literally
packed with treasure,” he said, and laughed. “When
you find anything you might wire me.”

He smiled; the idea seemed to give him pleasure.

“Are you sure there’s nothing else?” I asked. “No
substitute,—no codicil?”

“If you know of anything of the kind it’s your duty
to produce it. We have exhausted the possibilities. I’ll
admit that the provisions of the will are unusual; your
grandfather was a peculiar man in many respects; but
he was thoroughly sane and his faculties were all sound
to the last.”

“He treated me a lot better than I deserved,” I said,
with a heartache that I had not known often in my
irresponsible life; but I could not afford to show feeling
before Arthur Pickering.

I picked up the copy of the will and examined it.
It was undoubtedly authentic; it bore the certificate of
the clerk of Wabana County, Indiana. The witnesses
were Thomas Bates and Arthur Pickering.

“Who is Bates?” I asked, pointing to the man’s signature.

“One of your grandfather’s discoveries. He’s in
charge of the house out there, and a trustworthy fellow.
He’s a fair cook, among other things. I don’t know
where Mr. Glenarm got Bates, but he had every confidence
in him. The man was with him at the end.”

A picture of my grandfather dying, alone with a
servant, while I, his only kinsman, wandered in strange
lands, was not one that I could contemplate with much
satisfaction. My grandfather had been an odd little
figure of a man, who always wore a long black coat and a
silk hat, and carried a curious silver-headed staff, and
said puzzling things at which everybody was afraid either
to laugh or to cry. He refused to be thanked for favors,
though he was generous and helpful and constantly
performing kind deeds. His whimsical philanthropies
were often described in the newspapers. He had once
given a considerable sum of money to a fashionable
church in Boston with the express stipulation, which
he safeguarded legally, that if the congregation ever
intrusted its spiritual welfare to a minister named
Reginald, Harold or Claude, an amount equal to his
gift, with interest, should be paid to the Massachusetts
Humane Society.

The thought of him touched me now. I was glad to
feel that his money had never been a lure to me; it did
not matter whether his estate was great or small, I
could, at least, ease my conscience by obeying the behest
of the old man whose name I bore, and whose interest in
the finer things of life and art had given him an undeniable
distinction.

“I should like to know something of Mr. Glenarm’s
last days,” I said abruptly.

“He wished to visit the village where he was born,
and Bates, his companion and servant, went to Vermont
with him. He died quite suddenly, and was buried beside
his father in the old village cemetery. I saw him
last early in the summer. I was away from home and
did not know of his death until it was all over. Bates
came to report it to me, and to sign the necessary papers
in probating the will. It had to be done in the place of
the decedent’s residence, and we went together to Wabana,
the seat of the county in which Annandale lies.”

I was silent after this, looking out toward the sea
that had lured me since my earliest dreams of the world
that lay beyond it.

“It’s a poor stake, Glenarm,” remarked Pickering
consolingly, and I wheeled upon him.

“I suppose you think it a poor stake! I suppose you
can’t see anything in that old man’s life beyond his
money; but I don’t care a curse what my inheritance is!
I never obeyed any of my grandfather’s wishes in his
lifetime, but now that he’s dead his last wish is mandatory.
I’m going out there to spend a year if I die
for it. Do you get my idea?”

“Humph! You always were a stormy petrel,” he
sneered. “I fancy it will be safer to keep our most
agreeable acquaintance on a strictly business basis. If
you accept the terms of the will—”

“Of course I accept them! Do you think I am going
to make a row, refuse to fulfil that old man’s last wish!
I gave him enough trouble in his life without disappointing
him in his grave. I suppose you’d like to have
me fight the will; but I’m going to disappoint you.”

He said nothing, but played with his pencil. I had
never disliked him so heartily; he was so smug and
comfortable. His office breathed the very spirit of prosperity.
I wished to finish my business and get away.

“I suppose the region out there has a high death-rate.
How’s the malaria?”

“Not alarmingly prevalent, I understand. There’s a
summer resort over on one side of Lake Annandale.
The place is really supposed to be wholesome. I don’t
believe your grandfather had homicide in mind in sending
you there.”

“No, he probably thought the rustication would make
a man of me. Must I do my own victualing? I suppose
I’ll be allowed to eat.”

“Bates can cook for you. He’ll supply the necessities.
I’ll instruct him to obey your orders. I assume


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 1 of 19)