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Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

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about as far as any man in his day.”

I felt like letting myself go before this masked scoundrel.
The density of his mask was an increasing wonder
to me. Bates was the most incomprehensible human
being I had ever known. I had been torn with a
thousand conflicting emotions since I overheard him discussing
the state of affairs at Glenarm House with
Pickering in the chapel porch; and Pickering’s acquaintance
with the girl in gray brought new elements
into the affair that added to my uneasiness. But here
was a treasonable dog on whom the stress of conspiracy
had no outward effect whatever.

It was an amazing situation, but it called for calmness
and eternal vigilance. With every hour my resolution
grew to stand fast and fight it out on my own account
without outside help. A thousand times during
the afternoon I had heard the voice of the girl in gray
saying to me: “You are a man, and I have heard that
you have had some experience in taking care of yourself,
Mr. Glenarm.”

It was both a warning and a challenge, and the memory
of the words was at once sobering and cheering.

Bates waited. Of him, certainly, I should ask no
questions touching Olivia Armstrong. To discuss her
with a blackguard servant even to gain answers to baffling
questions about her was not to my liking. And,
thank God! I taught myself one thing, if nothing
more, in those days at Glenarm House: I learned to
bide my time.

“I’ll give you a note to Mr. Stoddard in the morning.
You may go now.”

“Yes, sir.”

The note was written and despatched. The chaplain
was not at his lodgings, and Bates reported that he had
left the message. The answer came presently by the
hand of the Scotch gardener, Ferguson, a short, wiry,
raw-boned specimen. I happened to open the door myself,
and brought him into the library until I could read
Stoddard’s reply. Ferguson had, I thought, an uneasy
eye, and his hair, of an ugly carrot color, annoyed me.

Mr. Paul Stoddard presented his compliments and
would be delighted to dine with me. He wrote a large
even hand, as frank and open as himself.

“That is all, Ferguson.” And the gardener took himself
off.

Thus it came about that Stoddard and I faced each
other across the table in the refectory that same evening
under the lights of a great candelabrum which
Bates had produced from the store-room below. And
I may say here, that while there was a slight hitch sometimes
in the delivery of supplies from the village;
while the fish which Bates caused to be shipped from
Chicago for delivery every Friday morning failed once
or twice, and while the grape-fruit for breakfast
was not always what it should have been,—the supply
of candles seemed inexhaustible. They were produced
in every shade and size. There were enormous
ones, such as I had never seen outside of a Russian
church,—and one of the rooms in the cellar was filled
with boxes of them. The House of a Thousand Candles
deserved and proved its name.

Bates had certainly risen to the occasion. Silver and
crystal of which I had not known before glistened on
the table, and on the sideboard two huge candelabra
added to the festival air of the little room.

Stoddard laughed as he glanced about.

“Here I have been feeling sorry for you, and yet you
are living like a prince. I didn’t know there was so
much splendor in all Wabana County.”

“I’m a trifle dazzled myself. Bates has tapped a new
cellar somewhere. I’m afraid I’m not a good housekeeper,
to speak truthfully. There are times when I
hate the house; when it seems wholly ridiculous, the
whim of an eccentric old man; and then again I’m actually
afraid that I like its seclusion.”

“Your seclusion is better than mine. You know my
little two-room affair behind the chapel,—only a few,
books and a punching bag. That chapel also is one of
your grandfather’s whims. He provided that all the
offices of the church must be said there daily or the
endowment is stopped. Mr. Glenarm lived in the past,
or liked to think he did. I suppose you know—or maybe
you don’t know—how I came to have this appointment?”

“Indeed, I should like to know.”

We had reached the soup, and Bates was changing
our plates with his accustomed light hand.

“It was my name that did the business,—Paul. A
bishop had recommended a man whose given name was
Ethelbert,—a decent enough name and one that you
might imagine would appeal to Mr. Glenarm; but he
rejected him because the name might too easily be cut
down to Ethel, a name which, he said, was very distasteful
to him.”

“That is characteristic. The dear old gentleman!” I
exclaimed with real feeling.

“But he reckoned without his host,” Stoddard continued.
“The young ladies, I have lately learned, call
me Pauline, as a mark of regard or otherwise,—probably
otherwise. I give two lectures a week on church
history, and I fear my course isn’t popular.”

“But it is something, on the other hand, to be in touch
with such an institution. They are a very sightly company,
those girls. I enjoy watching them across the
garden wall. And I had a closer view of them at the
station this morning, when you ran off and deserted
me.”

He laughed,—his big wholesome cheering laugh.

“I take good care not to see much of them socially.”

“Afraid of the eternal feminine?”

“Yes, I suppose I am. I’m preparing to go into a
Brotherhood, as you probably don’t know. And girls
are distracting.”

I glanced at my companion with a new inquiry and
interest.

“I didn’t know,” I said.

“Yes; I’m spending my year in studies that I may
never have a chance for hereafter. I’m going into an
order whose members work hard.”

He spoke as though he were planning a summer outing.
I had not sat at meat with a clergyman since the
death of my parents broke up our old home in Vermont,
and my attitude toward the cloth was, I fear, one of
antagonism dating from those days.

“Well, I saw Pickering after all,” I remarked.

“Yes, I saw him, too. What is it in his case, genius
or good luck?”

“I’m not a competent witness,” I answered. “I’ll be
frank with you: I don’t like him; I don’t believe in
him.”

“Oh! I beg your pardon. I didn’t know, of course.”

“The subject is not painful to me,” I hastened to
add, “though he was always rather thrust before me as
an ideal back in my youth, and you know how fatal that
is. And then the gods of success have opened all the
gates for him.”

“Yes,—and yet—”

“And yet—” I repeated. Stoddard lifted a glass of
sherry to the light and studied it for a moment. He did
not drink wine, but was not, I found, afraid to look
at it.

“And yet,” he said, putting down the glass and speaking
slowly, “when the gates of good fortune open too
readily and smoothly, they may close sometimes rather
too quickly and snap a man’s coat-tails. Please don’t
think I’m going to afflict you with shavings of wisdom
from the shop-floor, but life wasn’t intended to be too
easy. The spirit of man needs arresting and chastening.
It doesn’t flourish under too much fostering or
too much of what we call good luck. I’m disposed to
be afraid of good luck.”

“I’ve never tried it,” I said laughingly.

“I am not looking for it,” and he spoke soberly.

I could not talk of Pickering with Bates—the masked
beggar!—in the room, so I changed the subject.

“I suppose you impose penances, prescribe discipline
for the girls at St. Agatha’s,—an agreeable exercise of
the priestly office, I should say!”

His laugh was pleasant and rang true. I was liking
him better the more I saw of him.

“Bless you, no! I am not venerable enough. The
Sisters attend to all that,—and a fine company of
women they are!”

“But there must be obstinate cases. One of the
young ladies confided to me—I tell you this in cloistral
confidence—that she was being deported for insubordination.”

“Ah, that must be Olivia! Well, her case is different.
She is not one girl,—she is many kinds of a girl
in one. I fear Sister Theresa lost her patience and
hardened her heart.”

“I should like to intercede for Miss Armstrong,” I
declared.

The surprise showed in his face, and I added:

“Pray don’t misunderstand me. We met under
rather curious circumstances, Miss Armstrong and I.”

“She is usually met under rather unconventional circumstances,
I believe,” he remarked dryly. “My introduction
to her came through the kitten she smuggled
into the alms box of the chapel. It took me two days
to find it.”

He smiled ruefully at the recollection.

“She’s a young woman of spirit,” I declared defensively.
“She simply must find an outlet for the joy of
youth,—paddling a canoe, chasing rabbits through the
snow, placing kittens in durance vile. But she’s demure
enough when she pleases,—and a satisfaction to
the eye.”

My heart warmed at the memory of Olivia. Verily
the chaplain was right—she was many girls in one!

Stoddard dropped a lump of sugar into his coffee.

“Miss Devereux begged hard for her, but Sister Theresa
couldn’t afford to keep her. Her influence on the
other girls was bad.”

“That’s to Miss Devereux’s credit,” I replied. “You
needn’t wait, Bates.”

“Olivia was too popular. All the other girls indulged
her. And I’ll concede that she’s pretty. That gipsy
face of hers bodes ill to the hearts of men—if she ever
grows up.”

“I shouldn’t exactly call it a gipsy face; and how
much more should you expect her to grow? At twenty
a woman’s grown, isn’t she?”

He looked at me quizzically.

“Fifteen, you mean! Olivia Armstrong—that little
witch—the kid that has kept the school in turmoil all
the fall?”

There was decided emphasis in his interrogations.

“I’m glad your glasses are full, or I should say—”

There was, I think, a little heat for a moment on both
sides.

“The wires are evidently crossed somewhere,” he said
calmly. “My Olivia Armstrong is a droll child from
Cincinnati, whose escapades caused her to be sent home
for discipline to-day. She’s a little mite who just about
comes to the lapel of your coat, her eyes are as black
as midnight—”

“Then she didn’t talk to Pickering and his friends
at the station this morning—the prettiest girl in the
world—gray hat, gray coat, blue eyes? You can have
your Olivia; but who, will you tell me, is mine?”

I pounded with my clenched hand on the table until
the candles rattled and sputtered.

Stoddard stared at me for a moment as though he
thought I had lost my wits. Then he lay back in his
chair and roared. I rose, bending across the table toward
him in my eagerness. A suspicion had leaped into
my mind, and my heart was pounding as it roused a
thousand questions.

“The blue-eyed young woman in gray? Bless your
heart, man, Olivia is a child; I talked to her myself on
the platform. You were talking to Miss Devereux.
She isn’t Olivia, she’s Marian!”

“Then, who is Marian Devereux—where does she
live—what is she doing here—?”

“Well,” he laughed, “to answer your questions in order,
she’s a young woman; her home is New York;
she has no near kinfolk except Sister Theresa, so she
spends some of her time here.”

“Teaches—music—”

“Not that I ever heard of! She does a lot of things
well,—takes cups in golf tournaments and is the nimblest
hand at tennis you ever saw. Also, she’s a fine
musician and plays the organ tremendously.”

“Well, she told me she was Olivia!” I said.

“I should think she would, when you refused to meet
her; when you had ignored her and Sister Theresa,—
both of them among your grandfather’s best friends,
and your nearest neighbors here!”

“My grandfather be hanged! Of course I couldn’t
know her! We can’t live on the same earth. I’m in
her way, hanging on to this property here just to defeat
her, when she’s the finest girl alive!”

He nodded gravely, his eyes bent upon me with sympathy
and kindness. The past events at Glenarm
swept through my mind in kinetoscopic flashes, but the
girl in gray talking to Arthur Pickering and his
friends at the Annandale station, the girl in gray who
had been an eavesdropper at the chapel,—the girl in
gray with the eyes of blue! It seemed that a year passed
before I broke the silence.

“Where has she gone?” I demanded.

He smiled, and I was cheered by the mirth that
showed in his face.

“Why, she’s gone to Cincinnati, with Olivia Gladys
Armstrong,” he said. “They’re great chums, you
know!”


CHAPTER XVII

SISTER THERESA


There was further information I wished to obtain,
and I did not blush to pluck it from Stoddard before
I let him go that night. Olivia Gladys Armstrong lived
in Cincinnati; her father was a wealthy physician at
Walnut Hills. Stoddard knew the family, and I asked
questions about them, their antecedents and place of
residence that were not perhaps impertinent in view of
the fact that I had never consciously set eyes on their
daughter in my life. As I look back upon it now my
information secured at that time, touching the history
and social position of the Armstrongs of Walnut Hills,
Cincinnati, seems excessive, but the curiosity which the
Reverend Paul Stoddard satisfied with so little trouble
to himself was of immediate interest and importance.
As to the girl in gray I found him far more difficult.
She was Marian Devereux; she was a niece of Sister
Theresa; her home was in New York, with another
aunt, her parents being dead; and she was a frequent
visitor at St. Agatha’s.

The wayward Olivia and she were on excellent terms,
and when it seemed wisest for that vivacious youngster
to retire from school at the mid-year recess Miss Devereux
had accompanied her home, ostensibly for a visit,
but really to break the force of the blow. It was a pretty
story, and enhanced my already high opinion of Miss
Devereux, while at the same time I admired the unknown
Olivia Gladys none the less.

When Stoddard left me I dug out of a drawer my
copy of John Marshall Glenarm’s will and re-read it for
the first time since Pickering gave it to me in New
York. There was one provision to which I had not
given a single thought, and when I had smoothed the
thin type-written sheets upon the table in my room I
read it over and over again, construing it in a new light
with every reading.

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.

“Bully for the old boy!” I muttered finally, folding
the copy with something akin to reverence for my
grandfather’s shrewdness in closing so many doors upon
his heirs. It required no lawyer to interpret this
paragraph. If I could not secure his estate by settling
at Glenarm for a year I was not to gain it by marrying
the alternative heir. Here, clearly, was not one of those
situations so often contrived by novelists, in which the
luckless heir presumptive, cut off without a cent, weds
the pretty cousin who gets the fortune and they live
happily together ever afterward. John Marshall Glenarm
had explicitly provided against any such frustration
of his plans.

“Bully for you, John Marshall Glenarm!” I rose
and bowed low to his photograph.

On top of my mail next morning lay a small envelope,
unstamped, and addressed to me in a free running hand.

“Ferguson left it,” explained Bates.

I opened and read:

If convenient will Mr. Glenarm kindly look in at St.
Agatha’s some day this week at four o’clock. Sister Theresa
wishes to see him.

I whistled softly. My feelings toward Sister Theresa
had been those of utter repugnance and antagonism. I
had been avoiding her studiously and was not a little
surprised that she should seek an interview with me.
Quite possibly she wished to inquire how soon I expected
to abandon Glenarm House; or perhaps she wished to
admonish me as to the perils of my soul. In any event
I liked the quality of her note, and I was curious to
know why she sent for me; moreover, Marian Devereux
was her niece and that was wholly in the Sister’s favor.

At four o’clock I passed into St. Agatha territory
and rang the bell at the door of the building where I
had left Olivia the evening I found her in the chapel.
A Sister admitted me, led the way to a small reception-room
where, I imagined, the visiting parent was received,
and left me. I felt a good deal like a school-boy
who has been summoned before a severe master for
discipline. I was idly beating my hat with my gloves
when a quick step sounded in the hall and instantly a
brown-clad figure appeared in the doorway.

“Mr. Glenarm?”

It was a deep, rich voice, a voice of assurance, a
voice, may I say? of the world,—a voice, too, may I
add? of a woman who is likely to say what she means
without ado. The white band at her forehead brought
into relief two wonderful gray eyes that were alight
with kindliness. She surveyed me a moment, then her
lips parted in a smile.

“This room is rather forbidding; if you will come
with me—”

She turned with an air of authority that was a part
of her undeniable distinction, and I was seated a moment
later in a pretty sitting-room, whose windows
gave a view of the dark wood and frozen lake beyond.

“I’m afraid, Mr. Glenarm, that you are not disposed
to be neighborly, and you must pardon me if I seem to
be pursuing you.”

Her smile, her voice, her manner were charming. I
had pictured her a sour old woman, who had hidden
away from a world that had offered her no pleasure.

“The apologies must all be on my side, Sister Theresa.
I have been greatly occupied since coming here,—
distressed and perplexed even.”

“Our young ladies treasure the illusion that there
are ghosts at your house” she said, with a smile that
disposed of the matter.

She folded her slim white hands on her knees and
spoke with a simple directness.

“Mr. Glenarm, there is something I wish to say to
you, but I can say it only if we are to be friends. I
have feared you might look upon us here as enemies.”

“That is a strong word,” I replied evasively.

“Let me say to you that I hope very much that nothing
will prevent your inheriting all that Mr. Glenarm
wished you to have from him.”

“Thank you; that is both kind and generous,” I said
with no little surprise.

“Not in the least. I should be disloyal to your grandfather,
who was my friend and the friend of my family,
if I did not feel kindly toward you and wish you well.
And I must say for my niece—”

“Miss Devereux.” I found a certain pleasure in pronouncing
her name.

“Miss Devereux is very greatly disturbed over the
good intentions of your grandfather in placing her name
in his will. You can doubtless understand how uncomfortable
a person of any sensibility would be under the
circumstances. I’m sorry you have never met her. She
is a very charming young woman whose happiness does
not, I may say, depend on other people’s money.”

She had never told, then! I smiled at the recollection
of our interviews.

“I am sure that is true, Sister Theresa.”

“Now I wish to speak to you about a matter of some
delicacy. It is, I understand perfectly, no business of
mine how much of a fortune Mr. Glenarm left. But
this matter has been brought to my attention in a disagreeable
way. Your grandfather established this
school; he gave most of the money for these buildings.
I had other friends who offered to contribute, but he insisted
on doing it all. But now Mr. Pickering insists
that the money—or part of it at least—was only a loan.”

“Yes; I understand.”

“Mr. Pickering tells me that he has no alternative in
the matter; that the law requires him to collect this
money as a debt due the estate.”

“That is undoubtedly true, as a general proposition.
He told me in New York that he had a claim against
you for fifty thousand dollars.”

“Yes; that is the amount. I wish to say to you, Mr.
Glenarm, that if it is necessary I can pay that amount.”

“Pray do not trouble about it, Sister Theresa. There
are a good many things about my grandfather’s affairs
that I don’t understand, but I’m not going to see an
old friend of his swindled. There’s more in all this
than appears. My grandfather seems to have mislaid
or lost most of his assets before he died. And yet he
had the reputation of being a pretty cautious business
man.”

“The impression is abroad, as you must know, that
your grandfather concealed his fortune before his
death. The people hereabouts believe so; and Mr. Pickering,
the executor, has been unable to trace it.”

“Yes, I believe Mr. Pickering has not been able to
solve the problem,” I said and laughed.

“But, of course, you and he will coöperate in an effort
to find the lost property.”

She bent forward slightly; her eyes, as they met
mine, examined me with a keen interest.

“Why shouldn’t I be frank with you, Sister Theresa?
I have every reason for believing Arthur Pickering a
scoundrel. He does not care to coöperate with me in
searching for this money. The fact is that he very
much wishes to eliminate me as a factor in the settlement
of the estate. I speak carefully; I know exactly
what I am saying.”

She bowed her head slightly and was silent for a moment.
The silence was the more marked from the fact
that the hood of her habit concealed her face.

“What you say is very serious.”

“Yes, and his offense is equally serious. It may
seem odd for me to be saying this to you when I am a
stranger; when you may be pardoned for having no
very high opinion of me.”

She turned her face to me,—it was singularly gentle
and refined,—not a face to associate with an idea of
self-seeking or duplicity.

“I sent for you, Mr. Glenarm, because I had a very
good opinion of you; because, for one reason, you are
the grandson of your grandfather,”—and the friendly
light in her gray eyes drove away any lingering doubt
I may have had as to her sincerity. “I wished to warn
you to have a care for your own safety. I don’t warn
you against Arthur Pickering alone, but against the
countryside. The idea of a hidden fortune is alluring;
a mysterious house and a lost treasure make a very enticing
combination. I fancy Mr. Glenarm did not realize
that he was creating dangers for the people he
wished to help.”

She was silent again, her eyes bent meditatively upon
me; then she spoke abruptly.

“Mr. Pickering wishes to marry my niece.”

“Ah! I have been waiting to hear that. I am exceedingly
glad to know that he has so noble an ambition.
But Miss Devereux isn’t encouraging him, as near as
I can make out. She refused to go to California with
his party—I happen to know that.”

“That whole California episode would have been
amusing if it had not been ridiculous. Marian never
had the slightest idea of going with him; but she is
sometimes a little—shall I say perverse?—”

“Please do! I like the word—and the quality!”

“—and Mr. Pickering’s rather elaborate methods of
wooing—”

“He’s as heavy as lead!” I declared.

“—amuse Marian up to a certain point; then they annoy
her. He has implied pretty strongly that the claim
against me could be easily adjusted if Marian marries
him. But she will never marry him, whether she benefits
by your grandfather’s will or however that may be!”

“I should say not,” I declared with a warmth that
caused Sister Theresa to sweep me warily with those
wonderful gray eyes. “But first he expects to find this
fortune and endow Miss Devereux with it. That is a
part of the scheme. And my own interest in the estate
must be eliminated before he can bring that condition
about. But, Sister Theresa, I am not so easily got rid
of as Arthur Pickering imagines. My staying qualities,
which were always weak in the eyes of my family, have
been braced up a trifle.”

“Yes.” I thought pleasure and hope were expressed
in the monosyllable, and my heart warmed to her.


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