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Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

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Bates (I still call him Bates,—he insists on it)
laughed. For the first time he thrust his hands into his
pockets and stood at his ease, one of us.

“Larry, you remember I showed a fondness for the
stage in our university days. When I got to America I
had little money and found it necessary to find employment
without delay. I saw Mr. Glenarm’s advertisement
for a valet. Just as a lark I answered it to see
what an American gentleman seeking a valet looked
like. I fell in love with Mr. Glenarm at sight—”

“It was mutual!” declared my grandfather. “I never
believed your story at all,—you were too perfect in the
part!”

“Well, I didn’t greatly mind the valet business; it
helped to hide my identity; and I did like the humor
and whims of Mr. Glenarm. The housekeeping, after
we came out here, wasn’t so pleasant”—he looked at his
hands ruefully—“but this joke of Mr. Glenarm’s making
a will and then going to Egypt to see what would
happen,—that was too good to miss. And when the
heir arrived I found new opportunities of practising
amateur theatricals; and Pickering’s efforts to enlist
me in his scheme for finding the money and making me
rich gave me still greater opportunities. There were
times when I was strongly tempted to blurt the whole
thing; I got tired of being suspected, and of playing
ghost in the wall; and if Mr. Glenarm hadn’t got here
just as he did I should have stopped the fight and
proclaimed the truth. I hope,” he said, turning to
me, “you have no hard feelings, sir.” And he threw
into the “sir” just a touch of irony that made us all
roar.

“I’m certainly glad I’m not dead,” declared my grandfather,
staring at Bates. “Life is more fun than I ever
thought possible. Bless my soul!” he said, “if it isn’t a
shame that Bates can never cook another omelette for
me!”

We sent Bates back with my grandfather from the
boat-house, and Stoddard, Larry and I started across the
ice; the light coating of snow made walking comparatively
easy. We strode on silently, Stoddard leading.
Their plan was to take an accommodation train at the
first station beyond Annandale, leave it at a town forty
miles away, and then hurry east to an obscure place in
the mountains of Virginia, where a religious order
maintained a house. There Stoddard promised Larry
asylum and no questions asked.

We left the lake and struck inland over a rough country
road to the station, where Stoddard purchased tickets
only a few minutes before the train whistled.

We stood on the lonely platform, hands joined to
hands, and I know not what thoughts in our minds and
hearts.

“We’ve met and we’ve said good-by in many odd corners
of this strange old world,” said Larry, “and God
knows when we shall meet again.”

“But you must stay in America—there must be no
sea between us!” I declared.

“Donovan’s sins don’t seem heinous to me! It’s simply
that they’ve got to find a scapegoat,”—and Stoddard’s
voice was all sympathy and kindness. “It will
blow over in time, and Donovan will become an enlightened
and peaceable American citizen.”

There was a constraint upon us all at this moment of
parting—so many things had happened that day—and
when men have shared danger together they are bound
by ties that death only can break. Larry’s effort at
cheer struck a little hollowly upon us.

“Beware, lad, of women!” he importuned me.

“Humph! You still despise the sex on account of
that affair with the colleen of the short upper lip.”

“Verily. And the eyes of that little lady, who guided
your grandfather back from the other world, reminded
me strongly of her! Bah, these women!”

“Precious little you know about them!” I retorted.

“The devil I don’t!”

“No,” said Stoddard, “invoke the angels, not the
devil!”

“Hear him! Hear him! A priest with no knowledge
of the world.”

“Alas, my cloth! And you fling it at me after I have
gone through battle, murder and sudden death with you
gentlemen!”

“We thank you, sir, for that last word,” said Larry
mockingly. “I am reminded of the late Lord Alfred:

“I waited for the train at Coventry;
I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge,
To watch the three tall spires,—’ ”

he quoted, looking off through the twilight toward St.
Agatha’s. “I can’t see a blooming spire!”

The train was now roaring down upon us and we
clung to this light mood for our last words. Between
men, gratitude is a thing best understood in silence;
and these good friends, I knew, felt what I could not
say.

“Before the year is out we shall all meet again,” cried
Stoddard hopefully, seizing the bags.

“Ah, if we could only be sure of that!” I replied. And
in a moment they were both waving their hands to me
from the rear platform, and I strode back homeward
over the lake.

A mood of depression was upon me; I had lost much
that day, and what I had gained—my restoration to the
regard of the kindly old man of my own blood, who had
appealed for my companionship in terms hard to deny—
seemed trifling as I tramped over the ice. Perhaps
Pickering, after all, was the real gainer by the day’s
event. My grandfather had said nothing to allay my
doubts as to Marion Devereux’s strange conduct, and
yet his confidence in her was apparently unshaken.

I tramped on, and leaving the lake, half-unconsciously
struck into the wood beyond the dividing wall, where
snow-covered leaves and twigs rattled and broke under
my tread. I came out into an open space beyond St.
Agatha’s, found the walk and turned toward home.

As I neared the main entrance to the school the door
opened and a woman came out under the overhanging
lamp. She carried a lantern, and turned with a hand
outstretched to some one who followed her with careful
steps.

“Ah, Marian,” cried my grandfather, “it’s ever the
task of youth to light the way of age.”


CHAPTER XXIX

AND SO THE LIGHT LED ME


He had been to see Sister Theresa, and Marian was
walking with him to the gate. I saw her quite plainly
in the light that fell from the lamp overhead. A long
cloak covered her, and a fur toque capped her graceful
head. My grandfather and his guide were apparently
in high spirits. Their laughter smote harshly upon me.
It seemed to shut me out,—to lift a barrier against me.
The world lay there within the radius of that swaying
light, and I hung aloof, hearing her voice and jealous of
the very companionship and sympathy between them.

But the light led me. I remembered with bitterness
that I had always followed her,—whether as Olivia,
trailing in her girlish race across the snow, or as the
girl in gray, whom I had followed, wondering, on that
night journey at Christmas Eve; and I followed now.
The distrust, my shattered faith, my utter loneliness,
could not weigh against the joy of hearing that laugh
of hers breaking mellowly on the night.

I paused to allow the two figures to widen the distance
between us as they traversed the path that curved
away toward the chapel. I could still hear their voices,
and see the lantern flash and disappear. I felt an impulse
to turn back, or plunge into the woodland; but I
was carried on uncontrollably. The light glimmered,
and her voice still floated back to me. It stole through
the keen winter dark like a memory of spring; and so
her voice and the light led me.

Then I heard an exclamation of dismay followed by
laughter in which my grandfather joined merrily.

“Oh, never mind; we’re not afraid,” she exclaimed.

I had rounded the curve in the path where I should
have seen the light; but the darkness was unbroken.
There was silence for a moment, in which I drew quite
near to them.

Then my grandfather’s voice broke out cheerily.

“Now I must go back with you! A fine person you
are to guide an old man! A foolish virgin, indeed, with
no oil in her lamp!”

“Please do not! Of course I’m going to see you quite
to your own door! I don’t intend to put my hand to
the lantern and then turn back!”

“This walk isn’t what it should be,” said my grandfather,
“we’ll have to provide something better in the
spring.”

They were still silent and I heard him futilely striking
a match. Then the lantern fell, its wires rattling
as it struck the ground, and the two exclaimed with renewed
merriment upon their misfortune.

“If you will allow me!” I called out, my hand fumbling
in my pocket for my own match-box.

I have sometimes thought that there is really some
sort of decent courtesy in me. An old man caught in
a rough path that was none too good at best! And a
girl, even though my enemy! These were, I fancy, the
thoughts that crossed my mind.

“Ah, it’s Jack!” exclaimed my grandfather. “Marian
was showing me the way to the gate and our light went
out.”

“Miss Devereux,” I murmured. I have, I hope, an
icy tone for persons who have incurred my displeasure,
and I employed it then and there, with, no doubt, its
fullest value.

She and my grandfather were groping in the dark for
the lost lantern, and I, putting out my hand, touched
her fingers.

“I beg your pardon,” she murmured frostily.

Then I found and grasped the lantern.

“One moment,” I said, “and I’ll see what’s the trouble.”

I thought my grandfather took it, but the flame of
my wax match showed her fingers, clasping the wires of
the lantern. The cloak slipped away, showing her arm’s
soft curve, the blue and white of her bodice, the purple
blur of violets; and for a second I saw her face, with a
smile quivering about her lips. My grandfather was
beating impatiently with his stick, urging us to leave the
lantern and go on.

“Let it alone,” he said. “I’ll go down through the
chapel; there’s a lantern in there somewhere.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” she remarked; “but I recently
lost my best lantern!”

To be sure she had! I was angry that she should so
brazenly recall the night I found her looking for Pickering’s
notes in the passage at the Door of Bewilderment!

She had lifted the lantern now, and I was striving to
touch the wax taper to the wick, with imminent danger
to my bare fingers.

“They don’t really light well when the oil’s out,” she
observed, with an exasperating air of wisdom.

I took it from her hand and shook it close to my ear.

“Yes; of course, it’s empty,” I muttered disdainfully.

“Oh, Mr. Glenarm!” she cried, turning away toward
my grandfather.

I heard his stick beating the rough path several yards
away. He was hastening toward Glenarm House.

“I think Mr. Glenarm has gone home.”

“Oh, that is too bad!” she exclaimed.

“Thank you! He’s probably at the chapel by this
time. If you will permit me—”

“Not at all!”

A man well advanced in the sixties should not tax his
arteries too severely. I was quite sure that my grandfather
ran up the chapel steps; I could hear his stick
beating hurriedly on the stone.

“If you wish to go farther”—I began.

I was indignant at my grandfather’s conduct; he had
deliberately run off, leaving me alone with a young
woman whom I particularly wished to avoid.

“Thank you; I shall go back now. I was merely walking
to the gate with Mr. Glenarm. It is so fine to have
him back again, so unbelievable!”

It was just such a polite murmur as one might employ
in speaking to an old foe at a friend’s table.

She listened a moment for his step; then, apparently
satisfied, turned back toward St. Agatha’s. I followed,
uncertain, hesitating, marking her definite onward
flight. From the folds of the cloak stole the faint perfume
of violets. The sight of her, the sound of her
voice, combined to create—and to destroy!—a mood
with every step.

I was seeking some colorless thing to say when she
spoke over her shoulder:

“You are very kind, but I am not in the least afraid,
Mr. Glenarm.”

“But there is something I wish to say to you. I
should like—”

She slackened her step.

“Yes.”

“I am going away.”

“Yes; of course; you are going away.”

Her tone implied that this was something that had
been ordained from the beginning of time, and did not
matter.

“And I wish to say a word about Mr. Pickering.”

She paused and faced me abruptly. We were at the
edge of the wood, and the school lay quite near. She
caught the cloak closer about her and gave her head a
little toss I remembered well, as a trick compelled by the
vagaries of woman’s head-dress.

“I can’t talk to you here, Mr. Glenarm; I had no intention
of ever seeing you again; but I must say this—”

“Those notes of Pickering’s—I shall ask Mr. Glenarm
to give them to you—as a mark of esteem from me.”

She stepped backward as though I had struck her.

“You risked much for them—for him”—I went on.

“Mr. Glenarm, I have no intention of discussing that,
or any other matter with you—”

“It is better so—”

“But your accusations, the things you imply, are unjust,
infamous!”

The quaver in her voice shook my resolution to deal
harshly with her.

“If I had not myself been a witness—” I began.

“Yes; you have the conceit of your own wisdom, I
dare say.”

“But that challenge to follow you, to break my pledge;
my running away, only to find that Pickering was close
at my heels; your visit to the tunnel in search of those
notes,—don’t you know that those things were a blow
that hurt? You had been the spirit of this woodland to
me. Through all these months, from the hour I watched
you paddle off into the sunset in your canoe, the thought
of you made the days brighter, steadied and cheered me,
and wakened ambitions that I had forgotten—abandoned
—long ago. And this hideous struggle here,—it seems
so idle, so worse than useless now! But I’m glad I followed
you,—I’m glad that neither fortune nor duty kept
me back. And now I want you to know that Arthur
Pickering shall not suffer for anything that has happened.
I shall make no effort to punish him; for your
sake he shall go free.”

A sigh so deep that it was like a sob broke from her.
She thrust forth her hand entreatingly.

“Why don’t you go to him with your generosity?
You are so ready to believe ill of me! And I shall not
defend myself; but I will say these things to you, Mr.
Glenarm: I had no idea, no thought of seeing him at
the Armstrongs’ that night. It was a surprise to me,
and to them, when he telegraphed he was coming. And
when I went into the tunnel there under the wall that
night, I had a purpose—a purpose—”

“Yes?” she paused and I bent forward, earnestly
waiting for her words, knowing that here lay her great
offending.

“I was afraid,—I was afraid that Mr. Glenarm might
not come in time; that you might be dispossessed,—lose
the fight, and I came back with Mr. Pickering because
I thought some dreadful thing might happen here—to
you—”

She turned and ran from me with the speed of the
wind, the cloak fluttering out darkly about her. At the
door, under the light of the lamp, I was close upon her.
Her hand was on the vestibule latch.

“But how should I have known?” I cried. “And you
had taunted me with my imprisonment at Glenarm;
you had dared me to follow you, when you knew that
my grandfather was living and watching to see whether
I kept faith with him. If you can tell me,—if there
an answer to that—”

“I shall never tell you anything—more! You were so
eager to think ill of me—to accuse me!”

“It was because I love you; it was my jealousy of that
man, my boyhood enemy, that made me catch at any
doubt. You are so beautiful,—you are so much a part
of the peace, the charm of all this! I had hoped for
spring—for you and the spring together!”

“Oh, please—!”

Her flight had shaken the toque to an unwonted angle;
her breath came quick and hard as she tugged at
the latch eagerly. The light from overhead was full
upon us, but I could not go with hope and belief struggling
unsatisfied in my heart. I seized her hands and
sought to look into her eyes.

“But you challenged me,—to follow you! I want to
know why you did that!”

She drew away, struggling to free herself

“Why was it, Marian?”

“Because I wanted—”

“Yes.”

“I wanted you to come, Squire Glenarm!”


Thrice spring has wakened the sap in the Glenarm
wood since that night. Yesterday I tore March from
the calendar. April in Indiana! She is an impudent
tomboy who whistles at the window, points to the sunshine
and, when you go hopefully forth, summons the
clouds and pelts you with snow. The austere old woodland,
wise from long acquaintance, finds no joy in her.
The walnut and the hickory have a higher respect for
the stormier qualities of December. April in Indiana!
She was just there by the wall, where now the bluebird
pauses dismayed, and waits again the flash of her golden
sandals. She bent there at the lakeside the splash of
a raindrop ago and tentatively poked the thin, brittle
ice with the pink tips of her little fingers. April in the
heart! It brings back the sweet wonder and awe of those
days, three years ago, when Marian and I, waiting for
June to come, knew a joy that thrilled our hearts like
the tumult of the first robin’s song. The marvel of it
all steals over me again as I hear the riot of melody in
meadow and wood, and catch through the window the
flash of eager wings.

My history of the affair at Glenarm has overrun the
bounds I had set for it, and these, I submit, are not
days for the desk and pen. Marian is turning over the
sheets of manuscript that lie at my left elbow, and demanding
that I drop work for a walk abroad. My
grandfather is pacing the terrace outside, planning, no
doubt, those changes in the grounds that are his constant
delight.

Of some of the persons concerned in this winter’s
tale let me say a word more. The prisoner whom Larry
left behind we discharged, after several days, with all
the honors of war, and (I may add without breach of
confidence) a comfortable indemnity. Larry has made
a reputation by his book on Russia—a searching study
into the conditions of the Czar’s empire, and, having
squeezed that lemon, he is now in Tibet. His father
has secured from the British government a promise of
immunity for Larry, so long as that amiable adventurer
keeps away from Ireland. My friend’s latest letters to
me contain, I note, no reference to The Sod.

Bates is in California conducting a fruit ranch, and
when he visited us last Christmas he bore all the marks
of a gentleman whom the world uses well. Stoddard’s
life has known many changes in these years, but they
must wait for another day, and, perhaps, another historian.
Suffice it to say that it was he who married us
—Marian and me—in the little chapel by the wall, and
that when he comes now and then to visit us, we renew
our impression of him as a man large of body and of
soul. Sister Theresa continues at the head of St. Agatha’s,
and she and the other Sisters of her brown-clad
company are delightful neighbors. Pickering’s failure
and subsequent disappearance were described sufficiently
in the newspapers and his name is never mentioned at
Glenarm.

As for myself—Marian is tapping the floor restlessly
with her boot and I must hasten—I may say that I am
no idler. It was I who carried on the work of finishing
Glenarm House, and I manage the farms which my
grandfather has lately acquired in this neighborhood.
But better still, from my own point of view, I maintain
in Chicago an office as consulting engineer and I have
already had several important commissions.

Glenarm House is now what my grandfather had
wished to make it, a beautiful and dignified mansion.
He insisted on filling up the tunnel, so that the Door of
Bewilderment is no more. The passage in the wall and
the strong box in the paneling of the chimney-breast
remain, though the latter we use now as a hiding-place
for certain prized bottles of rare whisky which John
Marshall Glenarm ordains shall be taken down only on
Christmas Eves, to drink the health of Olivia Gladys
Armstrong. That young woman, I may add, is now a
belle in her own city, and of the scores of youngsters all
the way from Pittsburg to New Orleans who lay siege
to her heart, my word is, may the best man win!

And now, at the end, it may seem idle vanity for a
man still young to write at so great length of his own
affairs; but it must have been clear that mine is the
humblest figure in this narrative. I wished to set forth
an honest account of my grandfather’s experiment in
looking into this world from another, and he has himself
urged me to write down these various incidents
while they are still fresh in my memory.

Marian—the most patient of women—is walking toward
the door, eager for the sunshine, the free airs of
spring, the blue vistas lakeward, and at last I am ready
to go.




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