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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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There was a long silence, during which Mr. Bradford cleared his throat,
and wiped his glasses several times. "The farm has always been held in my
name," he continued, "to protect our lamented friend and benefactor from
additional disturbance. If - if the relations had known, his life would
have been even less peaceful than it was. A further farm, valued at twelve
thousand dollars, and also held in my name, is my friend's last gift to
me, as I discovered by opening a personal letter which was to be kept
sealed until this morning. I did not open it until late in the morning,
not wishing to show unseemly eagerness to pry into my friend's affairs. I
am too much affected to speak of it - I feel his loss too keenly. He was my
Colonel - I served under him in the war."

A mist filled the old man's eyes and he fumbled for the door-knob. Harlan
found it for him, turned the key, and opened the door. Mrs. Dodd, Mrs.
Holmes, Mrs. Smithers, and the suffering poet were all in the hall, their
attitudes plainly indicating that they had been listening at the door, but
something in Mr. Bradford's face made them huddle back into the corner,

Feeling his way with his cane, he went to the parlour door, where he stood
for a moment at the threshold, his streaming eyes fixed upon the portrait
over the mantel. The simple dignity of his grief forbade a word from any
one. At length he straightened himself, brought his trembling hand to his
forehead in a feeble military salute, and, wiping his eyes, tottered off


The Lady Elaine knows her Heart

_It was on a dark and stormy midnight, when the thunders boomed and the
dread fury of the lightnings scarred the overhanging cliffs, that the Lady
Elaine at last came to know her heart._

_She was in a cave, safe from all but the noise of the storm. A cheery
fire blazed at her door, and her bed within was made soft with pine boughs
and skins. For weeks they had journeyed here and there, yet there had been
no knight in whose face Elaine could find what she sought._

_As she lay on her couch, she reflected upon the faithful wayfarers who
had travelled with her, who had ever been gentle and courtly, saving her
from all annoyance and all harm. Yet above them all, there was one who,
from the time of their starting, had kept vigilant guard. He was the
humblest of them all, but it was he who made her rest in shady places by
the wayside when she herself scarce knew that she was weary; had given her
cool spring water in a cup cunningly woven of leaves before she had
realised her thirst; had brought her berries and strange, luscious fruits
before she had thought of hunger; and who had cheered her, many a time,
when no one else had guessed that she was sad._

_Outside, he was guarding her now, all heedless of the rain. She could see
him dimly in the shadow, then, all at once, more clearly in the firelight.
His head was bowed and his arms folded, yet in the strong lines of his
body there was no hint of weariness. Well did the Lady Elaine know that
until Dawn spun her web of enchantment upon the mysterious loom of the
East, he would march sleeplessly before her door, replenishing the fire,
listening now and then for her deep breathing, and, upon the morrow, gaily
tell her of his dreams._

_Dreams they were, indeed, but not the dreams of sleep. Upon these
midnight marchings, her sentinel gave his wandering fancy free rein. And
because of the dumb pain in his heart, these fancies were all the merrier;
more golden with the sun of laughter, more gemmed with the pearl of

_Proud-hearted, yet strangely homesick, the Lady Elaine was restless this
night. "I must go back," she thought, "to the Castle of Content, where my
dear father would fain have his child again. And yet I dread to go back
with my errand undone, my quest unrewarded._

_"What is it," thought Elaine, in sudden self-searching, "that I seek?
What must this man be, to whom I would surrender the keeping of my heart?
What do I ask that is so hard to find?_

_"Am I seeking for a god? Nay, surely not, but only for a man. Valorous he
must be, indeed, but not in the lists - 'tis not a soldier, for I have seen
them by the hundred since I left my home in the valley. 'Tis not a model
for the tapestry weaver that my heart would have, for I have seen the most
beautiful youths of my country since I came forth upon my quest._

_"Some one, perchance," mused the Lady Elaine, "whose beauty my eyes alone
should perceive, whose valour only I should guess before there was need to
test it. Some one great of heart and clean of mind, in whose eyes there
should never be that which makes a woman ashamed. Some one fine-fibred and
strong-souled, not above tenderness when a maid was tired. One who should
make a shield of his love, to keep her not only from the great hurts but
from the little ones as well, and yet with whom she might fare onward,
shoulder to shoulder, as God meant mates should fare._

_"Surely 'tis not so unusual, this thing that I ask - only an honest man
with human faults and human virtues, transfigured by a great love. And why
is it that in this quest of mine, I have found him not?"_

_"Princess," said a voice at her doorway, "thou art surely still awake.
The storm is lessening and there is naught to fear. I pray thee, try to
sleep. And if there is aught I can do for thee, thou knowest thou hast
only to speak."_

_From the warm darkness where she lay, Elaine saw his face with the
firelight upon it, and all at once she knew._

_"There is naught," she answered, with what he thought was coldness. "I
bid thee leave me and take thine own rest."_

_"As thou wilt," he responded, submissively, but though the sound was now
faint and far away, she still could hear him walking back and forth,
keeping his unremitting guard._

_So it was that at last Love came to the Lady Elaine. She had dreamed of
some fair stranger, into whose eyes she should look and instantly know him
for her lord, never guessing that her lord had gone with her when she left
the Castle of Content. There was none of those leaps of the heart of which
one of the maids at the Castle had read from the books while the others
worked at the tapestry frames. It was nothing new, but only a light upon
something which had always been, and which, because of her own blindness,
she had not seen._

_All through this foolish journey, Love had ridden beside the Lady Elaine,
asking nothing but the privilege of serving her; demanding only the right
to give, to sacrifice, to shield. And at last she knew._

_The doubting in her heart was for ever stilled and in its place was a
great peace. There was an unspeakable tenderness and a measureless
compassion, so wide and so deep that it sheltered all the world. For,
strangely enough, the love of the many comes first through the love of the

_The Lady Elaine did not need to ask whether he loved her, for,
unerringly, she knew. Mated past all power of change, they two were one
henceforward, though seas should roll between. Mated through suffering as
well, for, in this new bond, as the Lady Elaine dimly perceived, there was
great possibility of hurt. Yet there was no end or no beginning; it simply
was, and at last she knew._

_At length, she slept. When she awoke the morning was fair upon the
mountains, but still he paced back and forth before her door. Rising, she
bathed her face in the cool water he had brought her, braided her glorious
golden hair, changed her soiled habit for a fresh robe of white satin
traced with gold, donned her red embroidered slippers, and stepped out
into the sunrise, shading her eyes with her hand until they grew
accustomed to the dawn._

_"Good morrow, Princess," he said. "We - - "_

_Of a sudden, he stopped and fled like a wild thing into the forest, for
by her eyes, he saw what was in her heart, and his hot words, struggling
for utterance, choked him. "At last," he breathed, with his clenched hands
on his breast; "at last - but no, 'tis another dream of mine that I dare
not believe."_

_His senses reeled, for love comes not to a man as to a woman, but rather
with the sound of trumpets and the glare of white light. The cloistered
peace that fills her soul rests seldom upon him, and instead he is stirred
with high ambition and spurred on to glorious achievement. For to her,
love is the end of life; to him it is the means._

_The knights thought it but another caprice when the Lady Elaine gave
orders to return to the Castle of Content, at once, and by the shortest
way - all save one of them. With his heart rioting madly through his
breast, he knew, but he did not dare to look at Elaine. He was as one long
blinded, who suddenly sees the sun._

_So it was that though he still served her, he rode no longer by her side,
and Elaine, hurt at first, at length understood, and smiled because of her
understanding. All the way back, the Lady Elaine sang little songs to
herself, and, the while she rode upon her palfrey, touched her zither into
gentle harmonies. After many days, they came within sight of the Castle of

_As before, it was sunset, and the long light lay upon the hills, while
the valley was in shadow. Purple were the vineyards, heavy with their
clustered treasure, over which the tiny weavers had made their lace, and
purple, too, were the many-spired cliffs, behind which the sunset shone._

_A courier, riding swiftly in advance, had apprised the Lord of the Castle
of Content of the return of the Lady Elaine, and the maids from the
tapestry room, and the keeper of the wine-cellar, and the stable-boys, and
the candle-makers, and the light-bearers all rushed out, heedless of their
manners, for, one and all, they loved the Lady Elaine, and were eager to
behold their beautiful mistress again._

_But the Lord of the Castle of Content, speaking somewhat sternly, ordered
them one and all back to their places, and, shamefacedly, they obeyed. "I
would not be selfish," he muttered to himself, "but surely, Elaine is
mine, and the first gleam of her beauty belongs of right to these misty
old eyes of mine, that have long strained across the dark for the first
hint of her coming. Of a truth her quest has been long."_

_So it came to pass that when the company reached the road that led down
into the valley, the Lord of the Castle of Content was on the portico
alone, though he could not have known that behind every shuttered window
of the Castle, a humble servitor of Elaine's was waiting anxiously for her

_As before, Elaine rode at the head, waving her hand to her father, while
the cymbals and the bugles crashed out a welcome. She could not see, but
she guessed that he was there, and in return he waved a tremulous hand at
her, though well he knew that in the fast gathering twilight, the child of
his heart could not see the one who awaited her._

_One by one, as they came in single file down the precipice, the old man
counted them, much astonished to see that there was no new member of the
company - that as many were coming back as had gone away. For the moment
his heart was glad, then he reproached himself bitterly for his
selfishness, and was truthfully most tender toward Elaine, because she had
failed upon her quest._

_The light gleamed capriciously upon the bauble of the fool, which he
still carried, though now it hung downward from his saddle, foolishly
enough. "A most merry fool," said the Lord of Content to himself. "I was
wise to insist upon his accompanying this wayward child of mine."_

_Wayward she might be, yet her father's eyes were dim when she came down
into the valley, where there was no light save the evening star, a taper
light at an upper window of the Castle, and her illumined face._

_"How hast thou fared upon thy quest, Elaine?" he asked in trembling
tones, when at last she released herself from his eager embrace. He
dreaded to hear her make known her disappointment, yet his sorrow was all
for her, and not in the least for himself._

_"I have found him, father," she said, the gladness in her voice betraying
itself as surely as the music in a stream when Spring sets it free again,
"and, forsooth, he rode with me all the time."_

_"Which knight hast thou chosen, Elaine?" he asked, a little sadly._

_"No knight at all, dear father. I have found my knight in stranger guise
than in armour and shield. He bears no lance, save for those who would
injure me." And then, she beckoned to the fool._

_"He is here, my father," she went on, her great love making her all
unconscious of the shame she should feel._

_"Elaine!" thundered her father, while the fool hung his head, "hast thou
taken leave of thy senses? Of a truth, this is a sorry jest thou hast
chosen to greet me with on thy return."_

_"Father," said Elaine, made bold by the silent pressure of the hand that
secretly clasped hers, "'tis no jest. If thou art pained, indeed I am
sorry, but if thou choosest to banish me, then this night will I go gladly
with him I have chosen to be my lord. The true heart which Heaven has sent
for me beats beneath his motley, and with him I must go. Dear father,"
cried Elaine, piteously, "do not send us away!"_

_The stern eyes of the Lord of the Castle of Content were fixed upon the
fool, and in the gathering darkness they gleamed like live coals. "And
thou," he said, scornfully; "what hast thou to say?"_

_"Only this," answered the fool; "that the Princess has spoken truly. We
are mated by a higher law than that of thy land or mine, and 'tis this law
that we must obey. If thou sayest the word, we will set forth to my
country this very night, though we are both weary with much journeying."_

_"Thy land," said the Lord of the Castle, with measureless contempt, "and
what land hast thou? Even the six feet of ground thou needest for a grave
must be given thee at the last, unless, perchance, thou hast a handful of
stolen earth hidden somewhere among thy other jewels!"_

_"Your lordship," cried the fool, with a clear ring in his voice, "thou
shall not speak so to the man who is to wed thy daughter. I had not
thought to tell even her till after the priests had made us one, but for
our own protection, I am stung into speech._

_"Know then, that I am no fool, but a Prince of the House of Bernard. My
acres and my vineyards cover five times the space of this little realm of
thine. Chests of gold and jewels I have, storehouses overflowing with
grain and fine fabrics, three castles and a royal retinue. Of a truth,
thou art blind since thou canst see naught but the raiment. May not a
Prince wear motley if he chooses, thus to find a maid who will love him
for himself alone?"_

_"Prince Bernard," muttered the Lord of Content, "the son of my old
friend, whom I have long dreamed in secret shouldst wed my dear daughter
Elaine! Your Highness, I beg you to forgive me, and to take my hand."_

_But Prince Bernard did not hear, nor see the outstretched hand, for
Elaine was in his arms for the first time, her sweet lips close on his.
"My Prince, oh my Prince," she murmured, when at length he set her free;
"my eyes could not see, but my heart knew!"_

_So ended the Quest of the Lady Elaine._

With a sigh, Harlan wrote the last words and pushed the paper from him,
staring blankly at the wall and seeing nothing. His labour was at an end,
all save the final copying, and the painstaking daily revision which would
take weeks longer. The exaltation he had expected to be conscious of was
utterly absent; instead of it, he had a sense of loss, of change.

His surroundings seemed hopelessly sordid and ugly, now that the glow was
gone. All unknowingly, when Harlan pencilled: "The End," in fanciful
letters at the bottom of the last page, he had had practically his last
joy of his book. The torturing process of revision was to take all the
life out of it. Sentences born of surging emotion would seem vapid and
foolish when subjected to the cold, critical eye of his reason, yet he
knew, dimly, that he must not change it too much.

"I'll let it get cool," he thought, "before I do anything more to it."

Yet, now, it was difficult to stop working. The rented typewriter, with
its enticing bank of keys, was close at hand. A thousand sheets of paper
and a box of carbon waited in the drawer of Uncle Ebeneezer's desk. His
worn _Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases_ was at his elbow. And they
were poor. Then Harlan laughed, for they were no longer poor, and he had
wholly forgotten it.

There was a step upon the porch outside, then Dorothy came into the hall.
She paused outside the library door for a moment, ostensibly to tie her
shoe, but in reality to listen. A wave of remorseful tenderness
overwhelmed Harlan and he unlocked the door. "Come in," he said, smiling.
"You needn't be afraid to come in any more. The book is all done."

"O Harlan, is it truly done?" There was no gladness in her voice, only
relief. Doubt was in every intonation of her sentence; incredulity in
every line of her body.

With this pitiless new insight of his, Harlan saw how she had felt for
these last weeks and became very tenderly anxious not to hurt her; to
shield his transformed self from her quick understanding.

"Really," he answered. "Have I been a beast, Dorothy?"

The question was so like the boy she used to know that her heart leaped
wildly, then became portentously still.

"Rather," she admitted, grudgingly, from the shelter of his arms.

"I'm sorry. If you say so, I'll burn it. Nothing is coming between you and
me." The words sounded hollow and meaningless, as he knew they were.

She put her hand over his mouth. "You won't do any such thing," she said.
Dorothy had learned the bitterness of the woman's part, to stand by,
utterly lonely, and dream, and wait, while men achieve.

"Can I read it now?" she asked, timidly.

"You couldn't make it out, Dorothy. When it's all done, and every word is
just as I want it, I'll read it to you. That will be better, won't it?"

"Can Dick come, too?" She asked the question thoughtlessly, then flushed
as Harlan took her face between his hands.

"Dorothy, did you know Dick before we were married?"

"Why, Harlan! I never saw him in all my life till the day he came here.
Did you think I had?"

Harlan only grunted, but she understood, and, in return, asked her
question. "Did you write the book about Elaine?" she began, half ashamed.

"Dear little idiot," said Harlan, softly. "I'd begun the book before she
came or before I knew she was coming. I never saw her till she came to
live with us. You're foolish, dearest, don't you think you are?"

He was swiftly perceiving the necessity of creating a new harmony to take
the place of that old one, now so strangely lost.

"There are two of us," returned Dorothy, with conviction, wiping her

"I wish you'd ask me things," said Harlan, a little later. "I'm no mind
reader. And, besides, the seventh son of a seventh son, born with a caul,
and having three trances regularly every day after meals, never could hope
to understand a woman unless she was willing to help him out a little,

Which, after all, was more or less true.


Uncle Ebeneezer's Diary

Harlan had taken his work upstairs, that the ceaseless clatter of the
typewriter might not add to the confusion which normally prevailed in the
Jack-o'-Lantern. Thus it happened that Dorothy was able to begin her
long-cherished project of dusting, rearranging, and cataloguing the

There is a fine spiritual essence which exhales from the covers of a book.
Shall one touch a copy of Shakespeare with other than reverent hands, or
take up his Boswell without a smile? Through the worn covers and broken
binding the master-spirit still speaks, no less than through the centuries
which lie between. The man who had the wishing carpet, upon which he sat
and wished and was thence immediately transported to the ends of the
earth, was not possessed of a finer magic than one who takes his Boswell
in his hands and then, for a golden quarter of an hour, lives in a bygone
London with Doctor Johnson.

When the book-lover enters his library, no matter what storm and tumult
may be in his heart, he has come to the inmost chamber of Peace. The
indescribable, musty odour which breathes from the printed page is
fragrant incense to him who loves his books. In unseemly caskets his
treasures may be hidden, yet, when the cover is reverently lifted, the
jewels shine with no fading light. The old, immortal beauty is still
there, for any one who seeks it in the right way.

Dorothy had two willing assistants in Dick and Elaine. One morning,
immediately after breakfast, the three went to the library and locked the
door. Outside, the twins rioted unheeded and the perennially joyous Willie
capered unceasingly. Mr. Perkins, gloomy and morose, wrote reams of poetry
in his own room, distressed beyond measure by the rumble of the
typewriter, but too much cast down to demand that it be stopped.

Mrs. Dodd and Mrs. Holmes, closely united through misfortune, were
well-nigh inseparable now, while Mrs. Smithers, still sepulchral, sang
continually in a loud, cracked voice, never by any chance happening upon
the right note. As Dorothy said, when there are only eight tones in the
octave, it would seem that sometime, somewhere, a warbler must coincide
for a brief interval with the tune, but as Dick further commented,
industry and patience can do wonders when rightly exercised.

Uncle Israel's midnight excursion to the orchard had given him a fresh
attack of a familiar and distressing ailment to which he always alluded as
"the brown kittys." Fortunately, however, the cure for asthma and
bronchitis was contained in the same quart bottle, and needed only to be
heated in order to work upon both diseases simultaneously.

Elaine rolled up the sleeves of her white shirt-waist, and turned in her
collar, thereby producing an effect which Dick privately considered
distractingly pretty. Dorothy was enveloped from head to foot in a
voluminous blue gingham apron, and a dust cap, airily poised upon her
smooth brown hair, completed a most becoming costume. Dick, having duly
obtained permission, took off his coat and put on his hat, after which the
library force was ready for action.

"First," said Dorothy, "we'll take down all the books." It sounded simple,
but it took a good share of the day to do it, and the clouds of dust
disturbed by the process produced sneezes which put Uncle Israel's feeble
efforts to shame. When dusting the shelves, after they were empty, Elaine
came upon a panel in the wall which slid back.

"Here's a secret drawer!" she cried, in wild delight. "How perfectly
lovely! Do you suppose there's anything in it?"

Dorothy instantly thought of money and diamonds, but the concealed
treasure proved to be merely a book. It was a respectable volume, however,
at least as far as size was concerned, for Elaine and Dorothy together
could scarcely lift it.

It was a leather-bound ledger, of the most ponderous kind, and was
fastened with a lock and key. The key, of course, was missing, but Dick
soon pried open the fastening.

All but the last few pages in the book were covered with fine writing, in
ink which was brown and faded, but still legible. It was Uncle Ebeneezer's
penmanship throughout, except for a few entries at the beginning, in a
fine, flowing feminine hand, which Dorothy instantly knew was Aunt

"On the night of our wedding," the book began, "we begin this record of
our lives, for until to-day we have not truly lived." This was signed by
both. Then, in the woman's hand, was written a description of her
wedding-gown, which was a simple white muslin, made by herself. Her
ornaments were set down briefly - only a wreath of roses in her hair, a
string of coral beads, and the diamond brooch which was at that moment in
Dorothy's jewel-box.

For three weeks there were alternate entries, then suddenly, without date,
were two words so badly written as to be scarcely readable: "She died."
For days thereafter was only this: "I cannot write." These simple words
were the key to a world of pain, for the pages were blistered with a man's
hot tears.

Then came this: "She would want me to go on writing it, so I will, though
I have no heart for it."

From thence onward the book proceeded without interruption, a minute and
faithful record of the man's inner life. Long extracts copied from books
filled page after page of this strange diary, interspersed with records of
business transactions, of letters received and answered, of wages paid,

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 13 of 16)