Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

. (page 12 of 19)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 12 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

“Sister Theresa, you and I are understanding each
other much better than I imagined we should,”—and
we both laughed, feeling a real sympathy growing between

“Yes; I believe we are,”—and the smile lighted her
face again.

“So I can tell you two things. The first is that Arthur
Pickering will never find my grandfather’s lost
fortune, assuming that any exists. The second is that
in no event will he marry your niece.”

“You speak with a good deal of confidence,” she said,
and laughed a low murmuring laugh. I thought there
was relief in it. “But I didn’t suppose Marian’s affairs
interested you.”

“They don’t, Sister Theresa. Her affairs are not of
the slightest importance,—but she is!”

There was frank inquiry in her eyes now.

“But you don’t know her,—you have missed your

“To be sure, I don’t know her; but I know Olivia
Gladys Armstrong. She’s a particular friend of mine,
—we have chased rabbits together, and she told me a
great deal. I have formed a very good opinion of Miss
Devereux in that way. Oh, that note you wrote about
Olivia’s intrusions beyond the wall! I should thank
you for it,—but I really didn’t mind.”

“A note? I never wrote you a note until to-day!”

“Well, some one did!” I said; then she smiled.

“Oh, that must have been Marian. She was always
Olivia’s loyal friend!”

“I should say so!”

Sister Theresa laughed merrily.

“But you shouldn’t have known Olivia,—it is unpardonable!
If she played tricks upon you, you should not
have taken advantage of them to make her acquaintance.
That wasn’t fair to me!”

“I suppose not! But I protest against this deportation.
The landscape hereabouts is only so much sky,
snow and lumber without her.”

“We miss her, too,” replied Sister Theresa. “We have
less to do!”

“And still I protest!” I declared, rising. “Sister
Theresa, I thank you with all my heart for what you
have said to me,—for the disposition to say it! And
this debt to the estate is something, I promise you, that
shall not trouble you.”

“Then there’s a truce between us! We are not enemies
at all now, are we?”

“No; for Olivia’s sake, at least, we shall be friends.”

I went home and studied the time-table.



If you are one of those captious people who must
verify by the calendar every new moon you read of in
a book, and if you are pained to discover the historian
lifting anchor and spreading sail contrary to the reckonings
of the nautical almanac, I beg to call your attention
to these items from the time-table of the Mid-Western
and Southern Railway for December, 1901.

The south-bound express passed Annandale at exactly
fifty-three minutes after four P. M. It was scheduled
to reach Cincinnati at eleven o’clock sharp. These
items are, I trust, sufficiently explicit.

To the student of morals and motives I will say a
further word. I had resolved to practise deception in
running away from Glenarm House to keep my promise
to Marian Devereux. By leaving I should forfeit
my right to any part of my grandfather’s estate; I
knew that and accepted the issue without regret; but I
had no intention of surrendering Glenarm House to
Arthur Pickering, particularly now that I realized how
completely I had placed myself in his trap. I felt,
moreover, a duty to my dead grandfather; and—not
least—the attacks of Morgan and the strange ways of
Bates had stirred whatever fighting blood there was in
me. Pickering and I were engaged in a sharp contest,
and I was beginning to enjoy it to the full, but I did not
falter in my determination to visit Cincinnati, hoping
to return without my absence being discovered; so the
next afternoon I began preparing for my journey.

“Bates, I fear that I’m taking a severe cold and I’m
going to dose myself with whisky and quinine and go
to bed. I shan’t want any dinner,—nothing until you
see me again.”

I yawned and stretched myself with a groan.

“I’m very sorry, sir. Shan’t I call a doctor?”

“Not a bit of it. I’ll sleep it off and be as lively as
a cricket in the morning.”

At four o’clock I told him to carry some hot water
and lemons to my room; bade him an emphatic good
night and locked the door as he left. Then I packed
my evening clothes in a suit-case. I threw the bag and
a heavy ulster from a window, swung myself out upon
the limb of a big maple and let it bend under me to its
sharpest curve and then dropped lightly to the ground.

I passed the gate and struck off toward the village
with a joyful sense of freedom. When I reached the
station I sought at once the south-bound platform, not
wishing to be seen buying a ticket. A few other passengers
were assembling, but I saw no one I recognized.
Number six, I heard the agent say, was on time; and
in a few minutes it came roaring up. I bought a seat
in the Washington sleeper and went into the dining-car
for supper. The train was full of people hurrying to
various ports for the holidays, but they had, I reflected,
no advantage over me. I, too, was bound on a definite
errand, though my journey was, I imagined, less commonplace
in its character than the homing flight of
most of my fellow travelers.

I made myself comfortable and dozed and dreamed as
the train plunged through the dark. There was a wait,
with much shifting of cars, where we crossed the Wabash,
then we sped on. It grew warmer as we drew
southward, and the conductor was confident we should
reach Cincinnati on time. The through passengers about
me went to bed, and I was left sprawled out in my open
section, lurking on the shadowy frontier between the
known world and dreamland.

“We’re running into Cincinnati—ten minutes late,”
said the porter’s voice; and in a moment I was in the
vestibule and out, hurrying to a hotel. At the St.
Botolph I ordered a carriage and broke all records
changing my clothes. The time-table informed me that
the Northern express left at half-past one. There was
no reason why I should not be safe at Glenarm House
by my usual breakfast hour if all went well. To avoid
loss of time in returning to the station I paid the hotel
charge and carried my bag away with me.

“Doctor Armstrong’s residence? Yes, sir; I’ve already
taken one load there”

The carriage was soon climbing what seemed to be a
mountain to the heights above Cincinnati. To this day
I associate Ohio’s most interesting city with a lonely
carriage ride that seemed to be chiefly uphill, through
a region that was as strange to me as a trackless jungle
in the wilds of Africa. And my heart began to perform
strange tattoos on my ribs I was going to the house
of a gentleman who did not know of my existence, to
see a girl who was his guest, to whom I had never, as
the conventions go, been presented. It did not seem
half so easy, now that I was well launched upon the adventure.

I stopped the cabman just as he was about to enter
an iron gateway whose posts bore two great lamps.

“That is all right, sir. I can drive right in.”

“But you needn’t,” I said, jumping out. “Wait here.”

Doctor Armstrong’s residence was brilliantly lighted,
and the strains of a waltz stole across the lawn cheerily.
Several carriages swept past me as I followed the walk.
I was arriving at a fashionable hour—it was nearly
twelve—and just how to effect an entrance without being
thrown out as an interloper was a formidable problem,
now that I had reached the house. I must catch
my train home, and this left no margin for explanation
to an outraged host whose first impulse would very
likely be to turn me over to the police.

I made a detour and studied the house, seeking a
door by which I could enter without passing the unfriendly
Gibraltar of a host and hostess on guard to
welcome belated guests.

A long conservatory filled with tropical plants gave
me my opportunity. Promenaders went idly through
and out into another part of the house by an exit I
could not see. A handsome, spectacled gentleman
opened a glass door within a yard of where I stood,
sniffed the air, and said to his companion, as he turned
back with a shrug into the conservatory:

“There’s no sign of snow. It isn’t Christmas weather
at all.”

He strolled away through the palms, and I instantly
threw off my ulster and hat, cast them behind some
bushes, and boldly opened the door and entered.

The ball-room was on the third floor, but the guests
were straggling down to supper, and I took my stand
at the foot of the broad stairway and glanced up carelessly,
as though waiting for some one. It was a large
and brilliant company and many a lovely face passed
me as I stood waiting. The very size of the gathering
gave me security, and I smoothed my gloves complacently.

The spectacled gentleman whose breath of night air
had given me a valued hint of the open conservatory
door came now and stood beside me. He even put his
hand on my arm with intimate friendliness.

There was a sound of mirth and scampering feet in
the hall above and then down the steps, between the
lines of guests arrested in their descent, came a dark
laughing girl in the garb of Little Red Riding Hood,
amid general applause and laughter.

“It’s Olivia! She’s won the wager!” exclaimed the
spectacled gentleman, and the girl, whose dark curls
were shaken about her face, ran up to us and threw
her arms about him and kissed him. It was a charming
picture,—the figures on the stairway, the pretty graceful
child, the eager, happy faces all about. I was too
much interested by this scene of the comedy to be uncomfortable.

Then, at the top of the stair, her height accented by
her gown of white, stood Marian Devereux, hesitating
an instant, as a bird pauses before taking wing, and then
laughingly running between the lines to where Olivia
faced her in mock abjection. To the charm of the girl
in the woodland was added now the dignity of beautiful
womanhood, and my heart leaped at the thought
that I had ever spoken to her, that I was there because
she had taunted me with the risk of coming.

[Illustration: At the top of the stair, her height accented by her gown of white,
stood Marian Devereux.]

Above, on the stair landing, a deep-toned clock began
to strike midnight and every one cried “Merry Christmas!”
and “Olivia’s won!” and there was more hand-clapping,
in which I joined with good will.

Some one behind me was explaining what had just
occurred. Olivia, the youngest daughter of the house,
had been denied a glimpse of the ball; Miss Devereux
had made a wager with her host that Olivia would appear
before midnight; and Olivia had defeated the plot
against her, and gained the main hall at the stroke of

“Good night! Good night!” called Olivia—the real
Olivia—in derision to the company, and turned and ran
back through the applauding, laughing throng.

The spectacled gentleman was Olivia’s father, and he
mockingly rebuked Marian Devereux for having encouraged
an infraction of parental discipline, while she
was twitting him upon the loss of his wager. Then her
eyes rested upon me for the first time. She smiled
slightly, but continued talking placidly to her host.
The situation did not please me; I had not traveled so
far and burglariously entered Doctor Armstrong’s house
in quest of a girl with blue eyes merely to stand by while
she talked to another man.

I drew nearer, impatiently; and was conscious that
four other young men in white waistcoats and gloves
quite as irreproachable as my own stood ready to claim
her the instant she was free. I did not propose to be
thwarted by the beaux of Cincinnati, so I stepped toward
Doctor Armstrong.

“I beg your pardon, Doctor—,” I said with an assurance
for which I blush to this hour.

“All right, my boy; I, too, have been in Arcady!” he
exclaimed in cheerful apology, and she put her hand
on my arm and I led her away.

“He called me ‘my boy,’ so I must be passing muster,”
I remarked, not daring to look at her.

“He’s afraid not to recognize you. His inability to
remember faces is a town joke.”

We reached a quiet corner of the great hall and I
found a seat for her.

“You don’t seem surprised to see me,—you knew I
would come. I should have come across the world for
this,—for just this.”

Her eyes were grave at once.

“Why did you come? I did not think you were so
foolish. This is all—so wretched,—so unfortunate. You
didn’t know that Mr. Pickering—Mr. Pickering—”

She was greatly distressed and this name came from
her chokingly.

“Yes; what of him?” I laughed. “He is well on his
way to California,—and without you!”

She spoke hurriedly, eagerly, bending toward me.

“No—you don’t know—you don’t understand—he’s
here; he abandoned his California trip at Chicago; he
telegraphed me to expect him—here—to-night! You
must go at once,—at once!”

“Ah, but you can’t frighten me,” I said, trying to
realize just what a meeting with Pickering in that house
might mean.

“No,”—she looked anxiously about,—”they were to
arrive late, he and the Taylors; they know the Armstrongs
quite well. They may come at any moment
now. Please go!”

“But I have only a few minutes myself,—you
wouldn’t have me sit them out in the station down
town? There are some things I have come to say, and
Arthur Pickering and I are not afraid of each other!”

“But you must not meet him here! Think what that
would mean to me! You are very foolhardy, Mr. Glenarm.
I had no idea you would come—”

“But you wished to try me,—you challenged me.”

“That wasn’t me,—it was Olivia,” she laughed, more
at ease, “I thought—”

“Yes, what did you think?” I asked. “That I was
tied hand and foot by a dead man’s money?”

“No, it wasn’t that wretched fortune; but I enjoyed
playing the child before you—I really love Olivia—and
it seemed that the fairies were protecting me and that
I could play being a child to the very end of the chapter
without any real mischief coming of it. I wish
I were Olivia!” she declared, her eyes away from me.

“That’s rather idle. I’m not really sure yet what
your name is, and I don’t care. Let’s imagine that we
haven’t any names,—I’m sure my name isn’t of any
use, and I’ll be glad to go nameless all my days if

“If only—” she repeated idly, opening and closing
her fan. It was a frail blue trifle, painted in golden

“There are so many ‘if onlies’ that I hesitate to
choose; but I will venture one. If only you will come
back to St. Agatha’s! Not to-morrow, or the next day,
but, say, with the first bluebirds. I believe they are
the harbingers up there.”

Her very ease was a balm to my spirit; she was now
a veritable daughter of repose. One arm in its long
white sheath lay quiet in her lap; her right hand held
the golden butterflies against the soft curve of her cheek.
A collar of pearls clasped her throat and accented the
clear girlish lines of her profile. I felt the appeal of
her youth and purity. It was like a cry in my heart,
and I forgot the dreary house by the lake, and Pickering
and the weeks within the stone walls of my prison.

“The friends who know me best never expect me to
promise to be anywhere at a given time. I can’t tell;
perhaps I shall follow the bluebirds to Indiana; but
why should I, when I can’t play being Olivia any

“No! I am very dull. That note of apology you
wrote from the school really fooled me. But I have
seen the real Olivia now. I don’t want you to go too
far—not where I can’t follow—this flight I shall hardly
dare repeat.”

Her lips closed—like a rose that had gone back to be
a bud again—and she pondered a moment, slowly freeing
and imprisoning the golden butterflies.

“You have risked a fortune, Mr. Glenarm, very, very
foolishly,—and more—if you are found here. Why,
Olivia must have recognized you! She must have seen
you often across the wall.”

“But I don’t care—I’m not staying at that ruin up
there for money. My grandfather meant more to me
than that—”

“Yes; I believe that is so. He was a dear old gentleman;
and he liked me because I thought his jokes adorable.
My father and he had known each other. But
there was—no expectation—no wish to profit by his
friendship. My name in his will is a great embarrassment,
a source of real annoyance. The newspapers
have printed dreadful pictures of me. That is why I
say to you, quite frankly, that I wouldn’t accept a cent
of Mr. Glenarm’s money if it were offered me; and
that is why,”—and her smile was a flash of spring,—“I
want you to obey the terms of the will and earn your

She closed the fan sharply and lifted her eyes to mine.

“But there isn’t any fortune! It’s all a myth, a joke,”
I declared.

“Mr. Pickering doesn’t seem to think so. He had
every reason for believing that Mr. Glenarm was a very
rich man. The property can’t be found in the usual
places,—banks, safety vaults, and the like. Then where
do you think it is,—or better, where do you think
Mr. Pickering thinks it is?”

“But assuming that it’s buried up there by the lake
like a pirate’s treasure, it isn’t Pickering’s if he finds
it. There are laws to protect even the dead from robbery!”
I concluded hotly.

“How difficult you are! Suppose you should fall
from a boat, or be shot—accidentally—then I might
have to take the fortune after all; and Mr. Pickering
might think of an easier way of getting it than by—”

“Stealing it! Yes, but you wouldn’t—!”

Half-past twelve struck on the stairway and I started
to my feet.

“You wouldn’t—” I repeated.

“I might, you know!”

“I must go,—but not with that, not with any hint of

“If you let him defeat you, if you fail to spend your
year there,—we’ll overlook this one lapse,”—she looked
me steadily in the eyes, wholly guiltless of coquetry but
infinitely kind,—“then,—”

She paused, opened the fan, held it up to the light
and studied the golden butterflies.


“Then—let me see—oh, I shall never chase another
rabbit as long as I live! Now go—quickly—quickly!”

“But you haven’t told me when and where it was we
met the first time. Please!”

She laughed, but urged me away with her eyes.

“I shan’t do it! It isn’t proper for me to remember,
if your memory is so poor. I wonder how it would seem
for us to meet just once—and be introduced! Good
night! You really came. You are a gentleman of your
word, Squire Glenarm!”

She gave me the tips of her fingers without looking
at me.

A servant came in hurriedly.

“Miss Devereux, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Pickering
are in the drawing-room.”

“Yes; very well; I will come at once.”

Then to me:

“They must not see you—there, that way!” and she
stood in the door, facing me, her hands lightly touching
the frame as though to secure my way.

I turned for a last look and saw her waiting—her
eyes bent gravely upon me, her arms still half-raised,
barring the door; then she turned swiftly away into the

Outside I found my hat and coat, and wakened my
sleeping driver. He drove like mad into the city, and
I swung upon the north-bound sleeper just as it was
drawing out of the station.



When I reached the house I found, to my astonishment,
that the window I had left open as I scrambled
out the night before was closed. I dropped my bag and
crept to the front door, thinking that if Bates had discovered
my absence it was useless to attempt any further
deception. I was amazed to find the great doors
of the main entrance flung wide, and in real alarm I
ran through the hall and back to the library.

The nearest door stood open, and, as I peered in, a
curious scene disclosed itself. A few of the large cathedral
candles still burned brightly in several places,
their flame rising strangely in the gray morning light.
Books had been taken from the shelves and scattered
everywhere, and sharp implements had cut ugly gashes
in the shelving. The drawers containing sketches and
photographs had been pulled out and their contents
thrown about and trampled under foot.

The house was as silent as a tomb, but as I stood on
the threshold trying to realize what had happened, something
stirred by the fireplace and I crept forward, listening,
until I stood by the long table beneath the great
chandelier. Again I heard a sound as of some animal
waking and stretching, followed by a moan that was
undoubtedly human. Then the hands of a man clutched
the farther edge of the table, and slowly and evidently
with infinite difficulty a figure rose and the dark face
of Bates, with eyes blurred and staring strangely, confronted

He drew his body to its height, and leaned heavily
upon the table. I snatched a candle and bent toward
him to make sure my eyes were not tricking me.

“Mr. Glenarm! Mr. Glenarm!” he exclaimed in
broken whispers. “It is Bates, sir.”

“What have you done; what has happened?” I demanded.

He put his hand to his head uncertainly and gaped
as though trying to gather his wits.

He was evidently dazed by whatever had occurred,
and I sprang around and helped him to a couch. He
would not lie down but sat up, staring and passing his
hand over his head. It was rapidly growing lighter,
and I saw a purple and black streak across his temple
where a bludgeon of some sort had struck him.

“What does this mean, Bates? Who has been in the

“I can’t tell you, Mr. Glenarm.”

“Can’t tell me! You will tell me or go to jail!
There’s been mischief done here and I don’t intend to
have any nonsense about it from you. Well—?”

He was clearly suffering, but in my anger at the sight
of the wreck of the room I grasped his shoulder and
shook him roughly.

“It was early this morning,” he faltered, “about two
o’clock, I heard noises in the lower part of the house.
I came down thinking likely it was you, and remembering
that you had been sick yesterday—”

“Yes, go on.”

The thought of my truancy was no balm to my conscience
just then.

“As I came into the hall, I saw lights in the library.
As you weren’t down last night the room hadn’t been
lighted at all. I heard steps, and some one tapping with
a hammer—”

“Yes; a hammer. Go on!”

It was, then, the same old story! The war had been
carried openly into the house, but Bates,—just why
should any one connected with the conspiracy injure
Bates, who stood so near to Pickering, its leader? The
fellow was undoubtedly hurt,—there was no mistaking
the lump on his head. He spoke with a painful difficulty
that was not assumed, I felt increasingly sure, as
he went on.

“I saw a man pulling out the books and tapping the
inside of the shelves. He was working very fast. And
the next thing I knew he let in another man through
one of the terrace doors,—the one there that still stands
a little open.”

He flinched as be turned slightly to indicate it, and
his face twitched with pain.

“Never mind that; tell the rest of your story.”

“Then I ran in, grabbed one of the big candelabra
from the table, and went for the nearest man. They
were about to begin on the chimney-breast there,—it
was Mr. Glenarm’s pride in all the house,—and that
accounts for my being there in front of the fireplace.
They rather got the best of me, sir.

“Clearly; I see they did. You had a hand-to-hand
fight with them, and being two to one—”

“No; there were two of us,—don’t you understand,
two of us! There was another man who came running
in from somewhere, and he took sides with me. I
thought at first it was you. The robbers thought so,
too, for one of them yelled, ‘Great God; it’s Glenarm!’
just like that. But it wasn’t you, but quite another person.”

“That’s a good story so far; and then what happened?”

“I don’t remember much more, except that some one
soused me with water that helped my head considerably,
and the next thing I knew I was staring across the table
there at you.”

“Who were these men, Bates? Speak up quickly!”

My tone was peremptory. Here was, I felt, a crucial

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 12 of 19)