Copyright
Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

. (page 10 of 19)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 10 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


“I suppose Mr. Pickering got away last night?” he
observed, and my pulse quickened at the name.

“I haven’t seen him yet,” I answered guardedly.

“Then of course he hasn’t gone!” and these words,
uttered in the big clergyman’s deep tones, seemed wholly
plausible. There was, to be sure, nothing so unlikely as
that Arthur Pickering, executor of my grandfather’s
estate, would come to Glenarm without seeing me.

“Sister Theresa told me this morning he was here.
He called on her and Miss Devereux last night. I
haven’t seen him myself. I thought possibly I might
run into him in the village. His car’s very likely on the
station switch.”

“No doubt we shall find him there,” I answered easily.

The Annandale station presented an appearance of
unusual gaiety when we reached the main street of the
village. There, to be sure, lay a private car on the
siding, and on the platform was a group of twenty or
more girls, with several of the brown-habited Sisters of
St. Agatha. There was something a little foreign in
the picture; the girls in their bright colors talking
gaily, the Sisters in their somber garb hovering about,
suggesting France or Italy rather than Indiana.

“I came here with the idea that St. Agatha’s was a
charity school,” I remarked to the chaplain.

“Not a bit of it! Sister Theresa is really a swell, you
know, and her school is hard to get into.”

“I’m glad you warned me in time. I had thought of
sending over a sack of flour occasionally, or a few bolts
of calico to help on the good work. You’ve saved my
life.”

“I probably have. I might mention your good intentions
to Sister Theresa.”

“Pray don’t. If there’s any danger of meeting her
on that platform—”

“No; she isn’t coming down, I’m sure. But you
ought to know her,—if you will pardon me. And Miss
Devereux is charming,—but really I don’t mean to be
annoying.”

“Not in the least. But under the circumstances,—
the will and my probationary year,—you can understand—”

“Certainly. A man’s affairs are his own, Mr. Glenarm.”

We stepped upon the platform. The private car was
on the opposite side of the station and had been
switched into a siding of the east and west road. Pickering
was certainly getting on. The private car, even
more than the yacht, is the symbol of plutocracy, and
gaping rustics were evidently impressed by its grandeur.
As I lounged across the platform with Stoddard, Pickering
came out into the vestibule of his car, followed by
two ladies and an elderly gentleman. They all descended
and began a promenade of the plank walk.

Pickering saw me an instant later and came up hurriedly,
with outstretched hand.

“This is indeed good fortune! We dropped off here
last night rather unexpectedly to rest a hot-box and
should have been picked up by the midnight express for
Chicago; but there was a miscarriage of orders somewhere
and we now have to wait for the nine o’clock, and
it’s late. If I’d known how much behind it was I
should have run out to see you. How are things going?”

“As smooth as a whistle! It really isn’t so bad when
you face it. And the fact is I’m actually at work.”

“That’s splendid. The year will go fast enough,
never fear. I suppose you pine for a little human society
now and then. A man can never strike the right
medium in such things. In New York we are all rushed
to death. I sometimes feel that I’d like a little rustication
myself. I get nervous, and working for corporations
is wearing. The old gentleman there is Taylor,
president of the Interstate and Western. The ladies
are his wife and her sister. I’d like to introduce
you.” He ran his eyes over my corduroys and leggings
amiably. He had not in years addressed me so pleasantly.

Stoddard had left me to go to the other end of the
platform to speak to some of the students. I followed
Pickering rather loathly to where the companions of
his travels were pacing to and fro in the crisp morning
air.

I laugh still whenever I remember that morning at
Annandale station. As soon as Pickering had got me
well under way in conversation with Taylor, he excused
himself hurriedly and went off, as I assumed, to be sure
the station agent had received orders for attaching the
private car to the Chicago express. Taylor proved to be
a supercilious person,—I believe they call him Chilly
Billy at the Metropolitan Club,—and our efforts to converse
were pathetically unfruitful. He asked me the
value of land in my county, and as my ignorance on this
subject was vast and illimitable, I could see that he was
forming a low opinion of my character and intelligence.
The two ladies stood by, making no concealment of their
impatience. Their eyes were upon the girls from St.
Agatha’s on the other platform, whom they could see
beyond me. I had jumped the conversation from Indiana
farm-lands to the recent disorders in Bulgaria,
which interested me more, when Mrs. Taylor spoke
abruptly to her sister.

“That’s she—the one in the gray coat, talking to the
clergyman. She came a moment ago in the carriage.”

“The one with the umbrella? I thought you said—”

Mrs. Taylor glanced at her sister warningly, and
they both looked at me. Then they sought to detach
themselves and moved away. There was some one on
the farther side of the platform whom they wished to see,
and Taylor, not understanding their manoeuver—he was
really anxious, I think, not to be left alone with me—
started down the platform after them, I following. Mrs.
Taylor and her sister walked to the end of the platform
and looked across, a biscuit-toss away, to where Stoddard
stood talking to the girl I had already heard described
as wearing a gray coat and carrying an umbrella.

The girl in gray crossed the track quickly and addressed
the two women cordially. Taylor’s back was to
her and he was growing eloquent in a mild well-bred
way over the dullness of our statesmen in not seeing the
advantages that would accrue to the United States in
fostering our shipping industry. His wife, her sister
and the girl in gray were so near that I could hear
plainly what they were saying. They were referring
apparently to the girl’s refusal of an invitation to accompany
them to California.

“So you can’t go—it’s too bad! We had hoped that
when you really saw us on the way you would relent,”
said Mrs. Taylor.

“But there are many reasons; and above all Sister
Theresa needs me.”

It was the voice of Olivia, a little lower, a little more
restrained than I had known it.

“But think of the rose gardens that are waiting for
us out there!” said the other lady. They were showing
her the deference that elderly women always have for
pretty girls.

“Alas, and again alas!” exclaimed Olivia. “Please
don’t make it harder for me than necessary. But I gave
my promise a year ago to spend these holidays in Cincinnati.”

She ignored me wholly, and after shaking hands with
the ladies returned to the other platform. I wondered
whether she was overlooking Taylor on purpose to cut
me.

Taylor was still at his lecture on the needs of our
American merchant marine when Pickering passed hurriedly,
crossed the track and began speaking earnestly
to the girl in gray.

“The American flag should command the seas. What
we need is not more battle-ships but more freight carriers—”
Taylor was saying.

But I was watching Olivia Gladys Armstrong. In a
long skirt, with her hair caught up under a gray toque
that matched her coat perfectly, she was not my Olivia
of the tam-o’-shanter, who had pursued the rabbit; nor
yet the unsophisticated school-girl, who had suffered my
idiotic babble; nor, again, the dreamy rapt organist of
the chapel. She was a grown woman with at least
twenty summers to her credit, and there was about her
an air of knowing the world, and of not being at all a
person one would make foolish speeches to. She spoke
to Pickering gravely. Once she smiled dolefully and
shook her head, and I vaguely strove to remember where
I had seen that look in her eyes before. Her gold beads,
which I had once carried in my pocket, were clasped
tight about the close collar of her dress; and I was glad,
very glad, that I had ever touched anything that belonged
to her.

“As the years go by we are going to dominate trade
more and more. Our manufactures already lead the
world, and what we make we’ve got to sell, haven’t we?”
demanded Taylor.

“Certainly, sir,” I answered warmly.

Who was Olivia Gladys Armstrong and what was
Arthur Pickering’s business with her? And what was
it she had said to me that evening when I had found her
playing on the chapel organ? So much happened that
day that I had almost forgotten, and, indeed, I had
tried to forget I had made a fool of myself for the edification
of an amusing little school-girl. “I see you
prefer to ignore the first time I ever saw you,” she had
said; but if I had thought of this at all it had been
with righteous self-contempt. Or, I may have flattered
my vanity with the reflection that she had eyed me—
her hero, perhaps—with wistful admiration across the
wall.

Meanwhile the Chicago express roared into Annandale
and the private car was attached. Taylor watched
the trainmen with the cool interest of a man for whom
the proceeding had no novelty, while he continued to
dilate upon the nation’s commercial opportunities. I
turned perforce, and walked with him back toward the
station, where Mrs. Taylor and her sister were talking
to the conductor.

Pickering came running across the platform with several
telegrams in his hand. The express had picked up
the car and was ready to continue its westward journey.

“I’m awfully sorry, Glenarm, that our stop’s so
short,”—and Pickering’s face wore a worried look as he
addressed me, his eyes on the conductor.

“How far do you go?” I asked.

“California. We have interests out there and I have
to attend some stock-holders’ meetings in Colorado in
January.”

“Ah, you business men! You business men!” I said
reproachfully. I wished to call him a blackguard then
and there, and it was on my tongue to do so, but I concluded
that to wait until he had shown his hand fully
was the better game.

The ladies entered the car and I shook hands with
Taylor, who threatened to send me his pamphlet on
The Needs of American Shipping, when he got back to
New York.

“It’s too bad she wouldn’t go with us. Poor girl!
this must be a dreary hole for her; she deserves wider
horizons,” he said to Pickering, who helped him upon
the platform of the car with what seemed to be unnecessary
precipitation.

“You little know us,” I declared, for Pickering’s
benefit. “Life at Annandale is nothing if not exciting.
The people here are indifferent marksmen or there’d be
murders galore.”

“Mr. Glenarm is a good deal of a wag,” explained
Pickering dryly, swinging himself aboard as the train
started.

“Yes; it’s my humor that keeps me alive,” I responded,
and taking off my hat, I saluted Arthur Pickering
with my broadest salaam.


CHAPTER XV

I MAKE AN ENGAGEMENT


The south-bound train had not arrived and as I
turned away the station-agent again changed its time
on the bulletin board. It was now due in ten minutes.
A few students had boarded the Chicago train, but a
greater number still waited on the farther platform.
The girl in gray was surrounded by half a dozen students,
all talking animatedly. As I walked toward them
I could not justify my stupidity in mistaking a grown
woman for a school-girl of fifteen or sixteen; but is was
the tam-o’-shanter, the short skirt, the youthful joy in
the outdoor world that had disguised her as effectually
as Rosalind to the eyes of Orlando in the forest of Arden.
She was probably a teacher,—quite likely the
teacher of music, I argued, who had amused herself
at my expense.

It had seemed the easiest thing in the world to approach
her with an apology or a farewell, but those few
inches added to her skirt and that pretty gray toque
substituted for the tam-o’-shanter set up a barrier that
did not yield at all as I drew nearer. At the last moment,
as I crossed the track and stepped upon the other
platform, it occurred to me that while I might have
some claim upon the attention of Olivia Gladys Armstrong,
a wayward school-girl of athletic tastes, I had
none whatever upon a person whom it was proper to
address as Miss Armstrong,—who was, I felt sure, quite
capable of snubbing me if snubbing fell in with her
mood.

She glanced toward me and bowed instantly. Her
young companions withdrew to a conservative distance;
and I will say this for the St. Agatha girls: their manners
are beyond criticism, and an affable discretion is
one of their most admirable traits.

“I didn’t know they ever grew up so fast,—in a day
and a night!”

I was glad I remembered the number of beads in her
chain; the item seemed at once to become important.

“It’s the air, I suppose. It’s praised by excellent
critics, as you may learn from the catalogue.”

“But you are going to an ampler ether, a diviner air.
You have attained the beatific state and at once take
flight. If they confer perfection like an academic degree
at St. Agatha’s, then—”

I had never felt so stupidly helpless in my life.
There were a thousand things I wished to say to her;
there were countless questions I wished to ask; but her
calmness and poise were disconcerting. She had not,
apparently, the slightest curiosity about me; and there
was no reason why she should have—I knew that well
enough! Her eyes met mine easily; their azure depths
puzzled me. She was almost, but not quite, some one I
had seen before, and it was not my woodland Olivia.
Her eyes, the soft curve of her cheek, the light in
her hair,—but the memory of another time, another
place, another girl, lured only to baffle me.

She laughed,—a little murmuring laugh.

“I’ll never tell if you won’t,” she said.

“But I don’t see how that helps me with you?”

“It certainly does not! That is a much more serious
matter, Mr. Glenarm.”

“And the worst of it is that I haven’t a single thing
to say for myself. It wasn’t the not knowing that was
so utterly stupid—”

“Certainly not! It was talking that ridiculous twaddle.
It was trying to flirt with a silly school-girl. What
will do for fifteen is somewhat vacuous for—”

She paused abruptly, colored and laughed.

“I am twenty-seven!”

“And I am just the usual age,” she said.

“Ages don’t count, but time is important. There are
many things I wish you’d tell me,—you who hold the
key of the gate of mystery.”

“Then you’ll have to pick the lock!”

She laughed lightly. The somber Sisters patrolling
the platform with their charges heeded us little.

“I had no idea you knew Arthur Pickering—when
you were just Olivia in the tam-o’-shanter.”

“Maybe you think he wouldn’t have cared for my
acquaintance—as Olivia in the tam-o’-shanter. Men
are very queer!”

“But Arthur Pickering is an old friend of mine.”

“So he told me.”

“We were neighbors in our youth.”

“I believe I have heard him mention it.”

“And we did our prep school together, and then
parted!”

“You tell exactly the same story, so it must be true.
He went to college and you went to Tech.”

“And you knew him—?” I began, my curiosity thoroughly
aroused.

“Not at college, any more than I knew you at Tech.”

“The train’s coming,” I said earnestly, “and I wish
you would tell me—when I shall see you again!”

“Before we part for ever?” There was a mischievous
hint of the Olivia in short skirts in her tone.

“Please don’t suggest it! Our times have been
strange and few. There was that first night, when you
called to me from the lake.”

“How impertinent! How dare you—remember that?”

“And there was that other encounter at the chapel
porch. Neither you nor I had the slightest business
there. I admit my own culpability.”

She colored again.

“But you spoke as though you understood what you
must have heard there. It is important for me to know.
I have a right to know just what you meant by that
warning.”

Real distress showed in her face for an instant. The
agent and his helpers rushed the last baggage down the
platform, and the rails hummed their warning of the
approaching train.

“I was eavesdropping on my own account,” she said
hurriedly and with a note of finality. “I was there by
intention, and”—there was another hint of the tam-o’-shanter
in the mirth that seemed to bubble for a moment
in her throat—“it’s too bad you didn’t see me, for
I had on my prettiest gown, and the fog wasn’t good for
it. But you know as much of what was said there as I
do. You are a man, and I have heard that you have had
some experience in taking care of yourself, Mr. Glenarm.”

“To be sure; but there are times—”

“Yes, there are times when the odds seem rather
heavy. I have noticed that myself.”

She smiled, but for an instant the sad look came into
her eyes,—a look that vaguely but insistently suggested
another time and place.

“I want you to come back,” I said boldly, for the
train was very near, and I felt that the eyes of the Sisters
were upon us. “You can not go away where I shall
not find you!”

I did not know who this girl was, her home, or her
relation to the school, but I knew that her life and
mine had touched strangely; that her eyes were blue,
and that her voice had called to me twice through the
dark, in mockery once and in warning another time,
and that the sense of having known her before, of having
looked into her eyes, haunted me. The youth in
her was so luring; she was at once so frank and so
guarded,—breeding and the taste and training of an
ampler world than that of Annandale were so evidenced
in the witchery of her voice, in the grace and ease that
marked her every motion, in the soft gray tone of hat,
dress and gloves, that a new mood, a new hope and
faith sang in my pulses. There, on that platform, I felt
again the sweet heartache I had known as a boy, when
spring first warmed the Vermont hillsides and the
mountains sent the last snows singing in joy of their
release down through the brook-beds and into the wakened
heart of youth.

She met my eyes steadily.

“If I thought there was the slightest chance of my
ever seeing you again I shouldn’t be talking to you
here. But I thought, I thought it would be good fun
to see how you really talked to a grown-up. So I am
risking the displeasure of these good Sisters just to test
your conversational powers, Mr. Glenarm. You see how
perfectly frank I am.”

“But you forget that I can follow you; I don’t intend
to sit down in this hole and dream about you. You
can’t go anywhere but I shall follow and find you.”

“That is finely spoken, Squire Glenarm! But I imagine
you are hardly likely to go far from Glenarm
very soon. It isn’t, of course, any of my affair; and yet
I don’t hesitate to say that I feel perfectly safe from
pursuit!”—and she laughed her little low laugh that
was delicious in its mockery.

I felt the blood mounting to my cheek. She knew,
then, that I was virtually a prisoner at Glenarm, and
for once in my life, at least, I was ashamed of my folly
that had caused my grandfather to hold and check me
from the grave, as he had never been able to control me
in his life. The whole countryside knew why I was at
Glenarm, and that did not matter; but my heart rebelled
at the thought that this girl knew and mocked me with
her knowledge.

“I shall see you Christmas Eve,” I said, “wherever
you may be.”

“In three days? Then you will come to my Christmas
Eve party. I shall be delighted to see you,—and
flattered! Just think of throwing away a fortune to
satisfy one’s curiosity! I’m surprised at you, but gratified,
on the whole, Mr. Glenarm!”

“I shall give more than a fortune, I shall give the
honor I have pledged to my grandfather’s memory to
hear your voice again.”

“That is a great deal,—for so small a voice; but
money, fortune! A man will risk his honor readily
enough, but his fortune is a more serious matter. I’m
sorry we shall not meet again. It would be pleasant to
discuss the subject further. It interests me particularly.”

“In three days I shall see you,” I said.

She was instantly grave.

“No! Please do not try. It would be a great mistake.
And, anyhow, you can hardly come to my party
without being invited.”

“That matter is closed. Wherever you are on Christmas
Eve I shall find you,” I said, and felt my heart
leap, knowing that I meant what I said.

“Good-by,” she said, turning away. “I’m sorry I
shan’t ever chase rabbits at Glenarm any more.”

“Or paddle a canoe, or play wonderful celestial music
on the organ.”

“Or be an eavesdropper or hear pleasant words from
the master of Glenarm—”

“But I don’t know where you are going—you haven’t
told me anything—you are slipping out into the
world—”

She did not hear or would not answer. She turned
away, and was at once surrounded by a laughing throng
that crowded about the train. Two brown-robed Sisters
stood like sentinels, one at either side, as she stepped
into the car. I was conscious of a feeling that from the
depths of their hoods they regarded me with un-Christian
disdain. Through the windows I could see the
students fluttering to seats, and the girl in gray seemed
to be marshaling them. The gray hat appeared at a
window for an instant, and a smiling face gladdened, I
am sure, the guardians of the peace at St. Agatha’s, for
whom it was intended.

The last trunk crashed into the baggage car, every
window framed for a moment a girl’s face, and the
train was gone.


CHAPTER XVI

THE PASSING OF OLIVIA


Bates brought a great log and rolled it upon exactly
the right spot on the andirons, and a great constellation
of sparks thronged up the chimney. The old relic of a
house—I called the establishment by many names, but
this was, I think, my favorite—could be heated in all
its habitable parts, as Bates had demonstrated. The
halls were of glacial temperature these cold days, but
my room above, the dining-room and the great library
were comfortable enough. I threw down a book and
knocked the ashes from my pipe.

“Bates!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I think my spiritual welfare is in jeopardy. I need
counsel,—a spiritual adviser.”

“I’m afraid that’s beyond me, sir.”

“I’d like to invite Mr. Stoddard to dinner so I may
discuss my soul’s health with him at leisure.”

“Certainly, Mr. Glenarm.”

“But it occurs to me that probably the terms of Mr.
Glenarm’s will point to my complete sequestration here.
In other words, I may forfeit my rights by asking a
guest to dinner.”

He pondered the matter for a moment, then replied:

“I should think, sir,—as you ask my opinion,—that
in the case of a gentleman in holy orders there would
be no impropriety. Mr. Stoddard is a fine gentleman;
I heard your late grandfather speak of him very
highly.”

“That, I imagine, is hardly conclusive in the matter.
There is the executor—”

“To be sure; I hadn’t considered him.”

“Well, you’d better consider him. He’s the court of
last resort, isn’t he?”

“Well, of course, that’s one way of looking at it,
sir.

“I suppose there’s no chance of Mr. Pickering’s dropping
in on us now and then.”

He gazed at me steadily, unblinkingly and with entire
respect.

“He’s a good deal of a traveler, Mr. Pickering is. He
passed through only this morning, so the mail-boy told
me. You may have met him at the station.”

“Oh, yes; to be sure; so I did I” I replied. I was not
as good a liar as Bates; and there was nothing to be
gained by denying that I had met the executor in the
village. “I had a very pleasant talk with him. He was
on the way to California with several friends.”

“That is quite his way, I understand,—private cars
and long journeys about the country. A very successful
man is Mr. Pickering. Your grandfather had great
confidence in him, did Mr. Glenarm.”

“Ah, yes! A fine judge of character my grandfather
was! I guess John Marshall Glenarm could spot a rascal


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 10 of 19)