VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.mysterystories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
HOME  -  STORIES  -  CATEGORIES

A Child Of The Rain
A Difficult Problem
A Grammatical Ghost
A Memorable Night
A Mysterious Case
A Mystery With A Moral
A Spectral Collie
A Terribly Strange Bed
American Horses
An Astral Onion
An Intangible Clue
As Told By Mr Gryce
Bourgonef
From The Loom Of The Dead
His Last Bow
Hunted Down
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Melmoth The Wanderer
Missing: Page Thirteen
My Fascinating Friend
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
On The Northern Ice
Problem Ix Violet's Own
Satire Of The Sea
Shall He Wed Her?
Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
Story Of The Vanishing Patient
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Affair Of The Tortoise
The Avenger
The Birth-mark
The Black Cross
The Box With The Iron Clamps
The Bronze Hand
The Cambered Foot
The Case Of He Golden Bullet
The Case Of Mr Foggatt
The Case Of The Dixon Torpedo
The Case Of The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow
The Case Of The Pool Of Blood In The Pastor's Study
The Case Of The Registered Letter
The Closed Cabinet
The Coin Of Dionysius
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Doctor His Wife And The Clock
The Dreaming Lady
The End Of The Road
The Fortune Teller
The Golden Slipper
The Gray Madam
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Grotto Spectre
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hermit Of Street
The Hole In The Mahogany Panel
The House By The Loch
The House Of Clocks
The House That Was Not
The Incantation
The Jew's Breastplate
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Last Adventure
The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor
The Lenton Croft Robberies
The Loss Of Sammy Crockett
The Lost Lady
The Lost Room
The Man In The Green Hat
The Mortals In The House
The Mysterious Card
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Old Stone House
The Piano Next Door
The Pumpkin Coach
The Quinton Jewel Affair
The Reward
The Room Of The Evil Thought
The Second Bullet
The Shape Of Fear
The Spread Rails
The Stanway Cameo Mystery
The Thing On The Hearth
The Torture By Hope
The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage
The Wrong Sign
The Yellow Flower
Their Dear Little Ghost

Anna Katharine Green

A Difficult Problem
A Memorable Night
A Mysterious Case
An Intangible Clue
As Told By Mr Gryce
Missing: Page Thirteen
Problem Ix Violet's Own
Shall He Wed Her?
The Black Cross
The Bronze Hand
The Case Of He Golden Bullet
The Case Of The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow
The Case Of The Pool Of Blood In The Pastor's Study
The Case Of The Registered Letter
The Doctor His Wife And The Clock
The Dreaming Lady
The Golden Slipper
The Gray Madam
The Grotto Spectre
The Hermit Of Street
The House Of Clocks
The Old Stone House
The Second Bullet



The Hermit Of Street








CHAPTER I. I COMMIT AN INDISCRETION.

I should have kept my eyes for the many brilliant and interesting sights
constantly offered me. Another girl would have done so. I myself might
have done so, had I been over eighteen, or, had I not come from
the country, where my natural love of romance had been fostered by
uncongenial surroundings and a repressed life under the eyes of a severe
and unsympathetic maiden aunt.

I was visiting in a house where fashionable people made life a perpetual
holiday. Yet of all the pleasures which followed so rapidly, one upon
another, that I have difficulty now in separating them into distinct
impressions, the greatest, the only one I never confounded with any
other, was the hour I spent in my window after the day's dissipations
were all over, watching--what? Truth and the necessities of my story
oblige me to say--a man's face, a man's handsome but preoccupied face,
bending night after night over a study-table in the lower room of the
great house in our rear.

I had been in the city three weeks, and I had already received--pardon
the seeming egotism of the confession--four offers, which, considering I
had no fortune and but little education or knowledge of the great world,
speaks well for something: I leave you to judge what. All of these
offers were from young men; one of them from a very desirable young man,
but I had listened to no one's addresses, because, after accepting them,
I should have felt it wrong to contemplate so unremittingly the face,
which, for all its unconsciousness of myself, held me spell-bound to an
idea I neither stopped nor cared to analyze.

Why, at such a distance and under circumstances of such distraction, did
it affect me so? It was not a young face (Mr. Allison at that time was
thirty-five); neither was it a cheerful or even a satisfied one; but
it was very handsome, as I have said; far too handsome, indeed, for a
romantic girl to see unmoved, and it was an enigmatic face; one that
did not lend itself to immediate comprehension, and that, to one of my
temperament, was a fatal attraction, especially as enough was known of
his more than peculiar habits to assure me that character, rather than
whim, lay back of his eccentricities.

But first let me explain more fully my exact position in regard to this
gentleman on that day in early spring, destined to be such a memorable
one in my history.

I had never seen him, save in the surreptitious way I have related, and
he had never seen me. The day following my arrival in the city I had
noticed the large house in our rear, and had asked some questions about
it. This was but natural, for it was one of the few mansions in the
great city with an old-style lawn about it. Besides, it had a peculiarly
secluded and secretive look, which even to my unaccustomed eyes, gave it
an appearance strangely out of keeping with the expensive but otherwise
ordinary houses visible in all other directions. The windows--and there
were many--were all shuttered and closed, with the exception of the
three on the lower floor and two others directly over these. On the top
story they were even boarded up, giving to that portion of the house
a blank and desolate air, matched, I was told, by that of the large
drawing-room windows on either side of the front door, which faced, as

you must see, on another street.

The grounds which, were more or less carefully looked after, were
separated from the street by a brick wall, surmounted by urns, from
which drooped the leafless tendrils of some old vines; but in the rear,
that is, in our direction, the line of separation was marked by a
high iron fence, in which, to my surprise, I saw a gate, which,
though padlocked now, marked old habits of intercourse, interesting
to contemplate, between the two houses. Through this fence I caught
glimpses of the green turf and scattered shrubs of a yard which had once
sloped away to the avenues on either side, and, more interesting
still, those three windows whose high-drawn shades offered such a vivid
contrast to the rest of the house.

In one of these windows stood a table, with a chair before it. I had as
yet seen no one in the chair, but I had noted that the table was heavily
covered with papers and books, and judged that the room was a library
and the table that of a busy man engaged in an endless amount of study
and writing.

The Vandykes, whom I had questioned on the matter, were very short in
their replies. Not because the subject was uninteresting, or one they
in any way sought to avoid, but because the invitations to a great party
had just come in, and no other topic was worthy their discussion. But I
learned this much. That the house belonged to one of New York's oldest
families. That its present owner was a widow of great eccentricity of
character, who, with her one child, a daughter, unfortunately blind from
birth, had taken up her abode in some foreign country, where she thought
her child's affliction would attract less attention than in her
native city. The house had been closed to the extent I have mentioned,
immediately upon her departure, but had not been left entirely empty.
Mr. Allison, her man of business, had moved into it, and, being fully
as eccentric as herself, had contented himself for five years with a
solitary life in this dismal mansion, without friends, almost without
acquaintances, though he might have had unlimited society and any amount
of attention, his personal attractions being of a very uncommon
order, and his talent for business so pronounced, that he was already
recognized at thirty-five as one of the men to be afraid of in Wall
Street. Of his birth and connections little was known; he was called
the Hermit of ------ Street, and--well,that is about all they told me at
this time.

After I came to see him (as I did that very evening), I could ask no
further questions concerning him. The beauty of his countenance, the
mystery of his secluded life, the air of melancholy and mental distress
which I imagined myself to detect in his manner--he often used to sit
for minutes together with his eyes fixed on vacancy and his whole face
expressive of the bitterest emotion--had wrought this spell upon my
imagination, and I could no more mingle his name with that of the
ordinary men and women we discussed than I could confound his solitary
and expressive figure with the very proper but conventional forms of the
simpering youths who followed me in parlors or begged to be allowed the
honor of a dance at the balls I attended with the Vandykes. He occupied
an unique place in my regard, and this without another human being's
knowledge. I wish I could say without my own; but, alas! I have promised
myself to be true in all the details of this history, and, child as I
was, I could not be ignorant of the fascination which held me for hours
at my window when I should have been in bed and asleep.

But let me hasten to the adventure which put an end to my dreams by
launching me into realities of a still more absorbing nature. I was not
very well one day, and even Mrs. Vandyke acknowledged that it would not
do for me to take the long-planned drive to Tuxedo. So, as I would not
let any one else miss this pleasure on my account, I had been left alone
in the house, and, not being ill enough for bed, had spent the most
of the morning in my window--not because he was in his; I was yet too
timid, and, let me hope, too girlishly modest, to wish to attract in
any way his attention--but because the sun shone there, and I was just
chilly enough to enjoy its mingled light and heat. Thus it was I came to
notice the following petty occurrence. In the yard of the house next to
that occupied by Mr. Allison was kept a tame rabbit, which often took
advantage of a hole it had made for itself under the dividing fence to
roam over the neighboring lawn. On this day he was taking his%c-customed
ramble, when something startled him, and he ran, not back to his hole,
but to our fence, through which he squeezed himself, evidently to his
own great discomfort; for once in our yard, and under the refuge of a
small bush he found there, nothing would lure him back, though every
effort was made to do so, both by the small boy to whom he belonged, and
the old serving-man or gardener, who was the only other person besides
Mr. Allison whom I ever saw on the great place. Watching them, I noted
three things: first, that it was the child who first thought of opening
the gate; secondly, that it was the serving-man who brought the key;
and, thirdly, that after the gate had been opened and the rabbit
recovered, the gate had not been locked again; for, just as the man was
about to do this, a call came from the front, of so imperative a nature,
that he ran forward, without readjusting the padlock, and did not come
back, though I watched for him in idle curiosity for a good half-hour.
This was in the morning. At seven o'clock--how well I remember the
hour!--I was sitting again in my window, waiting for the return of the
Vandykes, and watching the face which had now reappeared at its usual
place in the study. It was dark everywhere save there, and I was
marveling over the sense of companionship it gave me under circumstances
of loneliness, which some girls might have felt most keenly, when
suddenly my attention was drawn from him to a window in the story over
his head, by the rapid blowing in and out of a curtain, which had been
left hanging loose before an open sash. As there was a lighted gas-jet
near by, I watched the gyrating muslin with some apprehension, and was
more shocked than astonished when, in another moment, I saw the flimsy
folds give one wild flap and flare up into a brilliant and dangerous
flame. To shriek and throw up my window was the work of a moment, but
I attracted no attention by these means, and, what was worse, saw, with
feelings which may be imagined, that nothing I could do would be likely
to arouse Mr. Allison to an immediate sense of his danger, for not only
were the windows shut between us, but he was lost in one of his brooding
spells, which to all appearance made him quite impassible to surrounding
events.

"Will no one see? Will no one warn him?" I cried out, in terror of the
flames burning so brightly in the room above him. Seemingly not. No
other window was raised in the vicinity, and, frightened quite beyond
the exercise of reason or any instincts of false modesty, I dashed out
of my room downstairs, calling for the servants. But Lucy was in the
front area and Ellen above, and I was on the back porch and in the
garden before either of them responded.

Meanwhile, no movement was observable in the brooding figure of Mr.
Allison, and no diminution in the red glare which now filled the room
above him. To see him sitting there so much at his ease, and to behold
at the same moment the destruction going on so rapidly over his head,
affected me more than I can tell, and casting to the winds all selfish
considerations, I sprang through the gate so providentially left ajar
and knocked with all my might on a door which opened upon a side porch
not many feet away from the spot where he sat so unconcernedly.

The moment I had done this I felt like running away again, but hearing
his advancing step, summoned up my courage and stood my ground bravely,
determined to say one word and run.

But when the door opened and I found myself face to face with the man
whose face I knew only too well, that word, important as it was, stuck
in my throat; for, agitated as I was, both by my errand and my sudden
encounter with one I had dreamed about for weeks, he seemed to be much
more so, though by other reasons--by far other reasons--than myself. He
was so moved--was it by the appearance of a strange young girl on his
doorstep, or was it at something in my face or manner, or some-thing in
his thoughts to which that face or manner gave a shock?--that my petty
fears for the havoc going on above seemed to pale into insignificance
before the emotions called up by my presence. Confronting me with
dilating eyes, he faltered slowly back till his natural instincts of
courtesy recalled him to himself, and he bowed, when I found courage to
cry:

"Fire! Your house is on fire! Up there, overhead!"

The sound which left his lips as these words slipped from mine struck
me speechless again. Appalling as the cry "Fire!" is at all times and to
all men, it roused in this man at this time something beyond anything my
girlish soul had ever imagined of terror or dismay. So intense were the
feelings I saw aroused in him that I expected to see him rush into the
open air with loud cries for help. But instead of that, he pushed the
door to behind me, and locking me in, said, in a strange and hoarsened
tone?

"Don't call out, don't make any sound or outcry, and above all, don't
let any one in; I will fight the flames alone!" and seizing a lamp from
the study-table, he dashed from me towards a staircase I could faintly
see in the distance. But half-way down the hall he looked back at me,
and again I saw that look on his face which had greeted my unexpected
appearance in the doorway.

Alas! it was a thrilling look--a look which no girl could sustain
without emotion; and spellbound under it, I stood in a maze, alone and
in utter darkness, not knowing whether to unlock the door and escape or
to stand still and wait for his reappearance, as he evidently expected
me to do.

Meanwhile, the alarm had spread, and more than one cry arose from the
houses in the rear. I could hear feet running over the walks without,
and finally a knock on the door I was leaning against, followed by the
cry:

"Let us in! Fire! fire!"

But I neither moved nor answered. I was afraid to be found there,
crouching alone in a bachelor's residence, but I was equally afraid of
disobeying him, for his voice had been very imperious when he commanded
me not to let any one in; and I was too young to brave such a nature,
even if I had wished to, which I do not think I did.

"He is overhead! See him--see him!" I now heard shouted from the lawn.
"He has dragged the curtains down! He is showering the walls with water!
Look--look! how wildly he works! He will be burnt himself. Ah! ah!"
All of which gave me strange thrills, and filled the darkness which
encompassed me with startling pictures, till I could hardly stand the
stress or keep myself from rushing to his assistance.

While my emotions were at their height a bell rang. It was the front
doorbell, and it meant the arrival of the engines.

"Oh!" thought I, "what shall I do now? If I run out I shall encounter
half the neighborhood in the back yard; if I stay here how shall I be
able to meet the faces of the firemen who will come rushing in?"

But I was not destined to suffer from either contingency. As the bell
rang a second time, a light broke on the staircase I was so painfully
watching, and Mr. Allison descended, lamp in hand, as he had gone up. He
appeared calm now, and without any show of emotion proceeded at once to
the front door, which he opened.

What passed between him and the policeman whose voice I heard in the
hall, I do not know. I heard them go up-stairs and presently come down
again, and I finally heard the front door close. Then I began to make
an effort to gain some control over my emotions, for I knew he had not
forgotten me, and that he soon would be in the vestibule at my side.

But it was impossible for me to hope to meet him with an unconcerned
air. The excitement I was under and the cold--for I was dressed lightly
and the vestibule was chilly--had kept me trembling so, that my curls
had fallen all about my cheeks, and one had fallen so low that it
hung in shameful disorder to my very waist. This alone was enough to
disconcert me, but had my heart been without its secret--a secret I was
in mortal terror of disclosing in my confusion--I could have risen above
my embarrassment and let simple haste been my excuse. As it was, I must
have met him with a pleading aspect, very much like that of a frightened
child, for his countenance visibly changed as he approached me, and
showed quite an extraordinary kindness, if not contrition, as he paused
in the narrow vestibule with the blazing lamp held low in his hand.

"My little girl," he began, but instantly changed the phrase to "My
dear young lady, how can I thank you enough, and how can I sufficiently
express my regret at having kept you a prisoner in this blazing house? I
fear I have frightened you sorely, but---" And here, to my astonishment,
he found nothing to say, moved overmuch by some strong feeling, or
checked in his apologies by some great embarrassment.

Astonished, for he did not look like a man who could be lightly
disturbed, I glowed a fiery red and put my hand out towards the door.
Instantly he found speech again.

"One moment," said he. "I feel that I ought to explain the surprise, the
consternation, which made me forget. You know this is not my house,
that I am here in trust for another, that the place is full of rare
treasures."

Had he stopped again? I was in such a state of inner perturbation that
I hardly knew whether he had ceased to speak or I to hear. Something,
I did not know what, had shaken my very life's center--something in the
shape of dread, yet so mixed with delight that my hand fell from the
knob I had been blindly groping for and sank heavily at my side. His
eyes had not left my face.

"May I ask whom I have the honor of addressing?" he asked, in a tone I
might better never have heard from his lips.

To this I must make reply. Shuddering, for I felt something uncanny
in the situation, but speaking up, notwithstanding, with the round and
vibrating tones I had inherited from my mother, I answered, with the
necessary simplicity:

"I am Delight Hunter, a country girl, sir, visiting the Vandykes."

A flash that was certainly one of pleasure lighted up his face with a
brilliance fatal to my poor, quivering girl's heart.

"Allow me, Miss Hunter, to believe that you will not bring down the
indignation of my neighbors upon me by telling them of my carelessness
and indiscretion." Then, as my lips settled into a determined curve,
he himself opened the door, and bowing low, asked if I would accept his
protection to the gate.

But at the rush of the night air, such a sensation of shame overpowered
me that I only thought of retreat; and, declining his offer with a
wild shake of the head, I dashed from the house and fled with an
incomprehensible sense of relief back to that of the Vandykes. The
servants, who had seen me rush towards Mr. Allison's, were still in the
yard watching for me. I did not vouchsafe them a word. I could hardly
formulate words in my own mind. A great love and a great dread had
seized upon me at once. A great love for the man by whose face I had
been moved for weeks and a great dread--well, I cannot explain my
dread, not as I felt it that night. It was formless and without apparent
foundation; but it would no more leave me than my uneasy memory of the
fierce instinct which had led him at such a critical instant to close
his door against all help, though in so doing he had subjected a young
girl to many minutes of intense embarrassment and mortifying indecision.




CHAPTER II. A STRANGE WEDDING BREAKFAST.

Mr. Allison, who had never before been known to leave his books and
papers, not only called the next day to express his gratitude for what
he was pleased to style my invaluable warning, but came every day after,
till not only my heart but my reason told me that the great house in the
rear might ultimately be my home, if the passion which had now become my
life should prove greater than the dread which had not yet entirely left
me.

Mr. Allison loved me--oh, what pride in the thought!--but Mr. Allison
had a secret, or why did he so often break off abruptly in some telltale
speech and drop his eyes, which were otherwise always upon me. Something
not easy to understand lay between us--something which he alternately
defied and succumbed to, something which kept him from being quite the
good man I had pictured myself as marrying. Why I was so certain of this
latter fact, I cannot say. Perhaps my instinct was keen; perhaps the
signs of goodness are so unmistakable that even a child feels their want
where her heart leans hardest.

Yet everything I heard of him only tended to raise him in my estimation.
After he became an habitue of the house, Mrs. Vandyke grew more
communicative in regard to him. He was eccentric, of course, but his
eccentricities were such as did him credit. One thing she told me made
a lasting impression on me. Mrs. Ransome, the lady in whose house he
lived, had left her home very suddenly. He anticipated a like return;
so, ever since her departure, it had been his invariable custom to have
the table set for three, so that he might never be surprised by her
arrival. It had become a monomania with him. Never did he sit down
without there being enough before him for a small family, and as his
food was all brought in cooked from a neighboring restaurant, this
eccentricity of his was well known, and gave an added eclat to his
otherwise hermit-like habits. To my mind, it added an element of pathos
to his seclusion, and so affected me that one day I dared to remark to
him:

"You must have liked Mrs. Ransome very much you are so faithful in your
remembrance of her."

I never presumed again to attack any of his foibles. He gave me first
a hard look, then an indulgent one, and finally managed to say, after a
moment of quiet hesitation:

"You allude to my custom of setting two chairs at the table to which
they may return at any minute? Miss Hunter, what I do in the loneliness
of that great house is not worth the gossip of those who surround you."

Flushing till I wished my curls would fall down and hide my cheeks,
I tried to stammer out some apology. But he drove it back with a
passionate word:

"Delight, idol of my heart, come and see what a lonely place that old
house is. Come and live in that house--at least for a little time, till
I can arrange for you a brighter and a happier home--come and be my
wife."

It was sudden, it was all but unlooked-for, and like all his expressions
of feeling, frenzied rather than resolute. But it was a declaration that
met my most passionate longings, and in the elation it brought I forgot
for the moment the doubts it called up. Otherwise I had been a woman
rather than a girl, and this tale had never been written.

"You love me, Delight" (he was already pressing me in his arms), "you
love me or you would never have rushed so impetuously to warn me of my
danger that night. Make me the maddest, happiest man in all the world
by saying you will not wait; that you will not ask counsel of anybody
or anything but your affection, but marry me at once; marry me while my
heart yearns for you so deeply; marry me before I go away----"

"Go away?"

"Yes, I am going away. Mrs. Ransome and her daughter are coming back and
I am going away. Will you go with me?"

With what intensity he spoke, yet with what hardness. I quivered while
I listened, yet I made no move to withdraw from him. Had he asked me to
step with him from the housetop I should hardly have refused while his
heart throbbed so wildly against mine and his eyes lured me on with such
a promise of ecstasy.

"You will?" How peremptory he could be. "You will?" How triumphant,
also.

I hardly realized what I had done till I stood abashed before Mrs.
Vandyke, and told her I had engaged myself to marry Mr. Allison before
he went to Europe. Then it seemed I had done a very good thing. She
congratulated me heartily, and, seeing I had a certain fear of taking my
aunt into my confidence, promised to sit down and write to her herself,
using every encomium she could think of to make this sudden marriage, on
my part, seem like the result of reason and wise forethought.

"Such an estimable man! such an old neighbor! so domestic in his tastes!
and, oh! so wise to find out and make his own the slyest and most
bewildering little beauty that has come into New York this many a
season!" These were some of her words, and, though pleasing at the time,
they made me think deeply--much more deeply than I wished to, after I
went upstairs to my room.

"Estimable! an old neighbor! domestic in his tastes!" Had she said:
"Handsome! masterful in his air and spirit! a man to make a girl forget
the real end of life and think only of present pleasure!" I should not
have had such a fierce reaction. But estimable! Was he estimable? I
tried to cry out yes! I tried to keep down the memory of that moment
when, with a dozen passions suddenly let loose (one of them fear), he
strode by me and locked the door against all help, under an impetus he
had tried in vain to explain. Nothing would quiet the still, small voice
speaking in my breast, or give to the moment that unalloyed joy which
belongs to a young girl's betrothal. I was afraid. Why?

Mr. Allison never came in the evening, another of his peculiarities.
Other men did, but what were other men to me now? This night I pleaded
weariness (Mrs. Vandyke understood me), and remained in my room. I
wanted to study the face of my lover under the new conditions. Was he
in his old seat? Yes. And would he read, as usual, or study? No. He had
thoughts of his own to-night, engrossing enough to hold him enthralled
without the aid of his ordinary occupations; thoughts, thoughts of me,
thoughts which should have cleared his brow and made his face a study of
delight to me. But was it so? Alas! I had never seen it so troubled; lit
with gleams of hope or happiness by spells, but mostly sunk in depths of
profoundest contemplation, which gave to it a melancholy from which I
shrank, and not the melancholy one longs to comfort and allay. What was
on his mind? What was in his heart? Something he feared to have noted,
for suddenly he rose with a start, and, for the first time since my eyes
had sought that window, pulled down the shades and thus shut himself out
from my view altogether. Was it a rebuke to my insistent watchfulness?
or the confession of a reticent nature fearing to be surprised in its
moment of weakness? I ought to know--I would know. To-morrow I would ask
him if there was any sorrow in his life which a confiding girl ought to
be made acquainted with before she yielded him her freedom. But the pang
which pierced me at the thought, proved that I feared his answer too
much to ever question him.

I am thus explicit in regard to my thoughts and feelings at this time,
that I may more fully account to you for what I did later. I had not,
what every one else seemed to have, full confidence in this man, and yet
the thrall in which I was held by the dominating power of his passion,
kept me from seeking that advice even from my own intuitions, which
might have led to my preservation. I was blind and knew I was blind, yet
rushed on headlong. I asked him no questions till our wedding day.

My aunt, who seemed quite satisfied with Mrs. Vandyke's explanations,
promised to be present at the ceremony, which was set at an alarmingly
near day. My lovers on the contrary--by whom I mean the half dozen men
who had been attentive to me--refused to attend, so I had one care less;
for the lack of time--perhaps I should say my lack of means--precluded
me from obtaining a very elaborate wedding dress, and I did not choose
to have them see me appear on such an occasion in any less charming
guise than I had been accustomed to wear at party or play. He did not
care what I wore. When I murmured something about the haste with which
he had hurried things forward, and how it was likely to interfere with
what most brides considered necessary to the proper celebration of such
an event, he caught me to his breast with a feverish gesture and vowed
that if he could have his way, there would be no preparation at all, but
just a ceremony before a minister which would make me his without the
least delay.

Men may enjoy such precipitation, but women do not. I was so troubled by
what seemed the meagerness of my wardrobe and the lack of everything
I had been accustomed to see brides bring their husbands, that I asked
Mrs. Vandyke one day if Mr. Allison was a rich man. She answered, with
a smile: "No, my dear, not as we New-Yorkers count riches. Having the
power of attorney for Mrs. Ransome, he handles a good deal of money;
but very little of it is his own, though to you his five-thousand-a-year
salary may seem a fortune."

This was so much Greek to me, though I did understand he was not
considered wealthy.

"Then my fawn-colored cloth will not be so very inappropriate for a
wedding dress?" I asked.

"I wish you could see yourself in it," she said, and that satisfied me.

We were married simply, but to the sound of wonderful music, in a
certain little church not far from ------ Street. My aunt was there and
my four lovers, though they had said, one and all, they would not come.
But I saw nothing, realized nothing, save the feverish anxiety of my
bridegroom, who, up to the minute the final vows were uttered, seemed to
be on a strain of mingled emotions, among which I seemed to detect that
old one of fear. A pitiful outlook for an adoring bride, you will think,
who, without real friends to interest themselves in her, allows herself
to be pushed to a brink she is wise enough to see, but not strong enough
to recoil from. Yes, but its full pathos did not strike me then. I only
felt anxious to have the ceremony over, to know that the die was
cast beyond my own powers of retraction; and when the words of the
benediction at last fell upon my ears, it was with real joy I turned to
see if they brought him as much rapture as they did me. Happily for that
moment's satisfaction they did, and if a friend had been there with eyes
to see and heart to feel, there would have been nothing in the air of
open triumph with which Mr. Allison led me down the aisle to awaken
aught but hope and confidence. My own hopes rose at the sight, and when
at the carriage door he turned to give me a smile before he helped me
in, nothing but the obstinacy of my nature prevented me from accepting
the verdict of my acquaintances, "That for a little country girl, with
nothing but her good looks to recommend her, Delight Hunter had done
remarkably well in the one short month she had been in the city."

Mr. Allison had told me that it would be impossible for him to take
me out of the city at present. It was therefore to the house on ------
Street we were driven. On the way he attempted to reconcile me to what
he feared might strike me as dreary in the prospect.

"The house is partially closed," said he, "and many of the rooms are
locked. Even the great drawing-rooms have an uninhabited look, which
will make them anything but attractive to a lover of sunshine and
comfort; but the library is cheerful, and in that you can sit and
imagine yourself at home till lean wind up my business affairs and make
possible the trip upon which I have set my heart."

"Does that mean," I faintly ventured, "that you will leave me to spend
much of my time alone in that great echoing house?"

"No," was his quick response, "you shall spend no time there alone. When
I go out you shall go too, and if business takes me where you cannot
accompany me I will give you money to shop with, which will keep you
pleasantly occupied till I can rejoin you. Oh, we will make it a happy
honeymoon, in spite of all obstacles, my darling. I should be a wretch
if I did not make it happy for you."

Here was my opportunity. I trembled as I thought of it, and stammered
quite like a foolish child as I softly suggested:

"For me? Is it not likely to be a happy one for you?"

I will not give his answer; it was a passionate one, but it was not
convincing. Pondering it and trying to persuade myself he alluded only
to business cares and anxieties, I let the minute slip by and entered
the house with doubts unsolved, but with no further effort to understand
him. Remember, he was thirty-five and I but a chit of eighteen.

In the hall stood the old serving-man with whose appearance I was
already so familiar. He had a smile on his face, which formed my only
welcome. He also had a napkin over his arm.

"Luncheon is served," he announced, with great formality; and then I saw
through an open door the glitter of china and glass, and realized I was
about to take my first meal with my husband.

Mr. Allison had already told me that he intended to make no changes in
his domestic arrangements for the few days we were likely to occupy this
house. I had therefore expected that our meals would be served from the
restaurant, and that Ambrose (the waiting-man) would continue to be the
only other occupant of the house. But I was not sure whether the table
would be still set for four, or whether he would waive this old custom
now that he had a wife to keep him company at the once lonely board. I
was eager to know, and as soon as I could lay aside my hat in the little
reception-room, I turned my face towards the dining-room door, where my
husband stood awaiting me with a bunch of great white roses in his hand.

"Sweets to the sweet," said he, with a smile that sunk down deep into
my heart and made my eyes moisten with joy. In the hackneyed expression
there rang nothing false. He was proud and he was glad to see me enter
that dining-room as his wife.

The next moment I was before the board, which had been made as beautiful
as possible with flowers and the finest of dinner services. But the
table was set for four, two of whom could only be present in spirit.

I wondered if I were glad or sorry to see it--if I were more pleased
with his loyalty to his absent employer, or disappointed that my
presence had not made everybody else forgotten. To be consistent, I
should have rejoiced at this evidence of sterling worth on his part; but
girls are not consistent--at least, brides of an hour are not--and I may
have pouted the least bit in the world as I pointed to the two places
set as elaborately as our own, and said with the daring which comes with
the rights of a wife:

"It would be a startling coincidence if Mrs. Ransome and her daughter
should return today. I fear I would not like it."

I was looking directly at him as I spoke, with a smile on my lips and my
hand on the back of my chair. But the jest I had expected in reply did
not come. Something in my tone or choice of topic jarred upon him, and
his answer was a simple wave of his hand towards Ambrose, who at once
relieved me of my bouquet, placing it in a tall glass at the side of my
plate.

"Now we will sit," said he.

I do not know how the meal would have passed had Ambrose not been
present. As it was, it was a rather formal affair, and would have been
slightly depressing, if I had not caught, now and then, flashing glances
from my husband's eye which assured me that he found as much to enchain
him in my presence as I did in his. What we ate I have no idea of. I
only remember that in every course there was enough for four.

As we rose, I was visited by a daring impulse. Ambrose had poured me out
a glass of wine, which stood beside my plate undisturbed. As I stooped
to recover my flowers again, I saw this glass, and at once lifted it
towards him, crying:

"To Mrs. Ransome and her daughter, who did not return to enjoy our
wedding-breakfast."

He recoiled. Yes, I am sure he gave a start back, though he recovered
himself immediately and responded with grave formality to my toast.

"Does he not like Mrs. Ransome?" I thought. "Is the somewhat onerous
custom he maintains here the result of a sense of duty rather than of
liking?"

My curiosity was secretly whetted by the thought. But with a girl's
lightness I began to talk of other things, and first of the house, which
I now for the first time looked at with anything like seeing eyes.

He was patient with me, but I perceived he did not enjoy this topic any
more than the former one. "It is not ours," he kept saying; "remember
that none of these old splendors are ours."

"They are more ours than they are Mrs. Ransome's, just now," I at last
retorted, with one of my girlhood's saucy looks. "At all events, I am
going to play that it is ours tonight," I added, dancing away from him
towards the long drawing-rooms where I hoped to come upon a picture of
the absent lady of the house.

"Delight "--he was quite peremptory now--

"I must ask you not to enter those rooms, however invitingly the doors
may stand open. It is a notion, a whim of mine, that you do not lend
your beauty to light up that ghostly collection of old pictures and ugly
upholstery, and if you feel like respecting my wishes----"

"But may I not stand in the doorway?" I asked, satisfied at having been
able to catch a glimpse of a full-length portrait of a lady who could
be no other than Mrs. Ransome. "See! my shadow does not even fall
across the carpet. I won't do the room any harm, and I am sure that Mrs.
Ransome's picture won't do me any."

"Come! come away!" he cried; and humoring his wishes, I darted away,
this time in the direction of the dining-room and Ambrose. "My dear,"
remonstrated my husband, quickly following me, "what has brought you
back here?"

"I want to see," said I, "what Ambrose does with the food we did not
eat. Such a lot of it!"

It was childish, but then I was a child and a nervous one, too. Perhaps
he considered this, for, while he was angry enough to turn pale, he did
not attempt any rebuke, but left it to Ambrose to say:

"Mr. Allison is very good, ma'am. This food, which is very nice, is
given each day to a poor girl who comes for it, and takes it home to her
parents. I put it in this basket, and Mr. Allison gives it to the girl
when she calls for it in the evening."

"You are good," I cried, turning to my husband with a fond look. Did
he think the em-phasis misplaced, or did he consider it time for me
to begin to put on more womanly ways, for drawing me again into the
library, he made me sit beside him on the big lounge, and after a kiss
or two, demanded quietly, but oh, how peremptorily:

"Delight, why do you so often speak of Mrs. Ransome? Have you any reason
for it? Has any one talked to you about her, that her name seems to be
almost the only one on your lips in the few, short minutes we have been
married?"

I did not know why this was so, myself, so I only shook my head and
sighed, repentingly. Then, seeing that he would have some reply, I
answered with what naivete I could summon up at the moment:

"I think it was because you seem so ashamed of your devotion to them. I
love to see your embarrassment, founded as it is upon the most generous
instincts."

His hand closed over mine with a fierceness that hurt me.

"Let us talk of love," he whispered. "Delight, this is our wedding-day."




CHAPTER III. ONE BEAD FROM A NECKLACE.

After supper Mr. Allison put before me a large book. "Amuse yourself
with these pictures," said he; "I have a little task to perform. After
it is done I will come again and sit with you."

"You are not going out," I cried, starting up. "No," he smiled, "I am
not going out." I sank back and opened the book, but I did not look at
the pictures. Instead of that I listened to his steps moving about
the house, rear and front, and finally going up what seemed to be a
servant's staircase, for I could see the great front stairs from where
I sat, and there was no one on them. "Why do I not hear his feet
overhead?" I asked myself. "That is the only room he has given me leave
to enter. Does his task take him elsewhere?" Seemingly so, for, though
he was gone a good half hour, he did not enter the room above. Why
should I think of so small a matter? It would be hard to say; perhaps
I was afraid of being left in the great rooms alone; perhaps I was only
curious; but I asked myself a dozen times before he reappeared, "Where
is he gone, and why does he stay away so long?" But when he returned and
sat down I said nothing. There was a little thing I noted, however. His
hands were trembling, and it was five minutes before he met my inquiring
look. This I should not consider worth mentioning if I had not observed
the same hesitancy follow the same disappearance up-stairs on the
succeeding night. It was the only time in the day when he really left
me, and, when he came back, he was not like himself for a good half hour
or more. "I will not displease him with questions," I decided; "but some
day I will find my own way into those lofts above. I shall never be at
rest till I do."

What I expected to find there is as much a mystery to my understanding
as my other doubts and fears. I hardly think I expected to find anything
but a desk of papers, or a box with money in it or other valuables.
Still the idea that something on the floor above had power to shadow my
husband's face, even in the glow of his first love for me, possessed
me so completely that, when he fell asleep one evening on the library
lounge, I took the opportunity of stealing away and mounting the
forbidden staircase to the third floor. I had found a candle in my
bedroom, and this I took to light me. But it revealed nothing to me
except a double row of unused rooms, with dust on the handles of all the
doors. I scrutinized them all; for, young as I was, I had wit enough to
see that if I could find one knob on which no dust lay that would be the
one my husband was accustomed to turn. But every one showed tokens of
not having been touched in years, and, baffled in my search, I was about
to retreat, when I remembered that the house had four stories, and
that I had not yet come upon the staircase leading to the one above.
A hurried search (for I was mortally afraid of being surprised by my
husband,) revealed to me at last a distant door, which had no dust on
its knob. It lay at the bottom of a shut-in stair-case, and, convinced
that here was, the place my husband was in the habit of visiting, I
carefully fingered the knob, which turned very softly in my hand. But
it did not open the door. There was a lock visible just below, and that
lock was fastened.

My first escapade was without visible results, but I was uneasy from
that hour. I imagined all sorts of things hidden beyond that closed,
door. I remembered that the windows of the fourth story were all boarded
up, and asked myself why this had been done when the lower ones had been
left open. I was young, but I had heard of occupations which could only
be entered into by a man secretly. Did he amuse himself with forbidden
tasks in that secluded place above, or was I but exaggerating facts
which might have their basis simply in a quondam bachelor's desire for
solitude and a quiet smoke. "I will follow him up some night," thought
I, "and see if I cannot put an end at once to my unworthy fears and
unhappy suspicions." But I never did; something happened very soon to
prevent me.

I was walking one morning in the grounds that lay about the house, when
suddenly I felt something small but perceptibly hard strike my hat and
bound quickly off. Astonished, for I was under no tree, under nothing
indeed but the blue of heaven, I looked about for the object that had
struck me. As I did so, I perceived my husband in his window, but his
eyes, while upon me, did not see me, for no change passed over him as I
groped about in the grass. "In one of his contemplative moods," thought
I, continuing my search. In another instant I started up. I had found a
little thing like a bullet wrapped up in paper; but it was no bullet; it
was a bead, a large gold bead, and on the paper which surrounded it were
written words so fine I could not at first decipher them, but as soon as
I had stepped away far enough to be out of the reach of the eyes I both
loved and feared more than any in the world, I managed, by dint of great
patience, and by placing the almost transparent paper on which they were
written over one of the white satin strings of the cape I wore, to read
these words:

"Help from the passing stranger! I am Elizabeth Ransome, owner of the
house in which I have been imprisoned five years. Search for me in
the upper story. You will find me there with my blind daughter. He who
placed us here is below; beware his cunning."

And underneath, these words:

"This is the twenty-fifth attempt I have made to attract attention to
our unhappy fate. I can make but two more. There are but two beads left
of Theresa's necklace."

"What is the matter, ma'am? Are you ill?" It was Ambrose; I knew his
voice.

Crushing the paper in my hand, I tried to look up; but it was in vain.
The sting of sudden and complete disillusion had struck me to the heart;
I knew my husband to be a villain.




CHAPTER IV. I LEARN HYPOCRISY.

Only eighteen, but from that moment, a woman. Sunk in horror as I was,
I yet had wit enough to clap my hands to my head and say I had been
dazzled by the sun.

Ambrose, who, in the week I had been with them, had shown himself
delighted with the change my coming had made in the house, looked
alarmed at this and wanted to call Mr. Allison; but I forbade him, and
said I would go in by myself, which I did under a stress of will-power
rarely exercised, I dare believe, by a girl so young and so miserable.

"What shall I say to him? how shall I meet him? how can I hide my
knowledge and act as if this thing had never been?" For even in that
rush of confusing emotions I recognized one fact; that I must not betray
by look or word that I knew his dreadful secret. If he were villain
enough to keep a woman, and that woman the rightful owner of the
property he was himself enjoying, in a prison he had made for her in
her own house, then he was villain enough to strangle the one who had
discovered this fact, were she the cherished darling of his seared and
calculating heart. I was afraid of him now that I knew him, yet I never
thought of flying his presence or revealing his crime. He was, villain
or no villain, my husband, and nothing could ever undo that fact or make
it true that I had never loved him.

So I went in, but went in slowly and with downcast eyes. The bead and
the paper I had dropped into my vinaigrette, which fortunately hung at
my side.

"Humphrey," I said, "when are we going to leave this house? I begin to
find it lonesome."

He was preparing to gather up his papers for his accustomed trip down
town, but he stopped as I spoke, and look at me curiously.

"You are pale," he remarked, "change and travel will benefit you.
Dearest, we will try to sail for Europe in a week."

A week! What did he mean? Leave his prisoners--alas, I understood his
journeys to the top of the house now--and go away to Europe? I felt
myself grow livid at the thought, and caught a spray of lilac from the
table where I stood and held it to my face.

"Will your business affairs warrant it?" I asked. "Are you sure Mrs.
Ransome's affairs will not suffer by your absence?" Then, as I saw him
turn white, I made a ghastly effort, happily hid by the flowers I held
pressed against my face, and suggested, laughingly, "How, if she
should come back after your departure! would she meet the greeting she
deserves?"

He was half the room away from me, but I heard the click of subdued
passion in his throat, and turned sick almost to the point of fainting.
"It is four days since you mentioned Mrs. Ransome's name," he said.
"When we are gone from here you must promise that it shall never again
pass your lips. Mrs. Ransome is not a good woman, Delight."

It was a lie yet his manner of speaking it, and the look with which he
now approached me, made me feel helpless again, and I made haste to rush
from the room, ostensibly to prepare for our trip down town, in order
to escape my own weakness and gain a momentary self-possession before we
faced the outside world. Only eighteen years old and confronted by such
a diabolical problem!




CHAPTER V. THE STOLEN KEY.

I Was too young to reason in those days. Had I not been, had I been able
to say to myself that no act requiring such continued precaution
could take place in the heart of a great city without ultimate, if not
instant, detection, instinct would still have assured me that what I
read was true, however improbable or unheard of it might seem. That
the recognition of this fact imposed upon me two almost irreconcilable
duties I was slower to perceive. But soon, too soon, it became apparent
even to my girlish mind, that, as the wife of the man who had committed
this great and inconceivable wrong, I was bound, not only to make
an immediate attempt to release the women he so outrageously held
imprisoned in their own house, but to so release them that he should
escape the opprobrium of his own act.

That I might have time to think, and that I might be saved, if but for
one day, contact with one it was almost my duty to hate, I came back to
him with the plea that I might spend the day with the Vandykes instead
of accompanying him down town as usual. I think he was glad of the
freedom my absence offered him, for he gave me the permission I asked,
and in ten minutes I was in my old home. Mrs. Vandyke received me with
effusion. It was not the first time she had seen me since my marriage,
but it was the first time she had seen me alone.

"My dear!" she exclaimed, turning me about till my unwilling face met
the light, "is this the wild-wood lassie I gave into Mr. Allison's
keeping a week ago!"

"It is the house!" I excitedly gasped, "the empty, lonely, echoing
house! I am afraid in it, even with my husband. It gives me creepy
feelings, as if a murder had been committed in it."

She broke into a laugh; I hear the sound now, an honest, amused and
entirely reassuring laugh, that relieved me in one way and depressed me
in another. "The idea! that house!" she cried. "I never thought you
a girl to have nervous fancies. Why, it is the most matter-of-fact old
mansion in the city. All its traditions are of the most respectable
kind; no skeleton in those closets! By the way, my dear, has Mr. Allison
shown you any of the curious old things those rooms must contain?"

I managed to stammer out a reply, "Mr. Allison does not consider that
his rights extend so far. I have never crossed the drawing-room floor."

"Well! that is carrying honor to an extreme. I am afraid I should not
be able to suppress my curiosity to that extent. Is he afraid of the old
lady returning unexpectedly and catching him?"

I could not echo her laugh; I could not even smile; I could only pucker
up my brows as if angry.

"Everything is kept in shape, so that if she does return she will find
the house comfortable," I said; then, with a rising sense of having by
this speech suggested a falsehood, I hastily dropped the topic, and,
with an entire change of manner, remarked, airily:

"Mrs. Ransome must have gone off very suddenly, to leave everything so
exposed in a house as splendid as that. Most people, however rich, see
to their choice things more carefully."

She rose to the bait. "Mrs. Ransome is a queer woman. Her things are of
but little account to her; to save her daughter from a moment's pain
she would part with the house itself, let alone the accumulations it
contains. That is why she left the country so suddenly."

I waited a moment under the pretense of admiring a locket she wore, then
I suggested, quietly:

"My husband told you that?"

The answer was as careless as the speaker.

"Oh, I don't know who told me. It's five years ago now, but every one
at the time understood that she was angry, because some one mentioned
blindness before her daughter. Mrs. Ransome had regarded it as a
religious duty to raise her daughter in ignorance of her affliction.
When she found she could not do so among her friends and acquaintances,
she took her away to a strange land. It is the only tradition, which is
not commonplace, which belongs to the family. Let us go up and see my
new gowns. I have had two come home from Arnold's since you went away."

I thought the gowns would keep a minute longer. "Did Mrs. Ransome say
good-by to her friends?" I asked. "Somehow this matter strikes me as
being very romantic."

"Oh, that shows what a puss you are. No, Mrs. Ransome did not say
good-by to her friends, that is, not to us. She just went, leaving
everything in your husband's charge, who certainly has acquitted himself
of the obligation most religiously. And now will you see the gowns?"

I tortured myself by submitting to this ordeal, then I ventured on
another and entirely different attempt to clear up the mystery that
was fast stifling out my youth, love and hope. I professed to have an
extraordinary desire to see the city from the house-top. I had never
been any higher up than the third story of any house I had been in, and
could not, I told her, go any higher in the house in which I was then
living. Might I go up on her roof? Her eyes opened, but she was of an
amiable, inconsequent disposition and let me have my way without too
much opposition. So, together with a maid she insisted upon sending with
me, I made my way through the skylight on to the roof, and so into full
view of the neighboring house-tops.

One glance at the spot I was most interested in, and I found myself too
dizzy to look further. In the center of Mrs. Ransome's roof there was to
be seen what I can best describe as an extended cupola without windows.
As there was no other break visible in the roof, the top of this must
have held the skylight, which, being thus lifted many feet above the
level of the garret floor, would admit air and light enough to the
boarded-up space below, but would make any effort to be heard or seen,
on the part of any one secreted there, quite ineffectual. One might, by
a great effort, fling up a bead out of this funnel-shaped opening,
but, even to my limited sense of mechanics, the chances seemed very
unfavorable towards it doing much more than roll over the spacious roof
into the huge gutters surrounding it.

Yet, if it chose to bound, it might clear the coping and fall, as one
had fallen, on the devoted head of a person walking on the lawn below.
All this I saw at a glance, and then, sick and dizzy, I crept back, and,
with but little apology for my abruptness, took leave of Mrs. Vandyke
and left the house.

The resolution I took in doing this was worthy of an older head and a
more disciplined heart. By means that were fair, or by means that were
foul, I meant to win my way into that boarded-up attic and see for
myself if the words hidden away in my vinaigrette were true. To do
this openly would cause a scandal I was yet too much under my husband's
influence to risk; while to do it secretly meant the obtaining of keys
which I had every reason to believe he kept hidden about his person.
How was I to obtain them? I saw no way, but that did not deter me from
starting at once down town in the hope of being struck by some brilliant
idea while waiting for him in his office.

Was it instinct that suggested this, or was the hand of Providence in
all that I did at this time? I had no sooner seated myself in the little
room, where I had been accustomed to wait for him, than I saw what sent
the blood tingling to my finger-tips in sudden hope. It was my husband's
vest hanging in one corner, the vest he had worn down town that morning.
The day was warm and he had taken it off. If the key should be in it!

I had never done a mean or underhanded thing before in my life, but I
sprang at that vest without the least hesitation, and fingering it with
the lightest of touches, found in the smallest of inside pockets a
key, which instinct immediately told me was that of the door I had once
endeavored to pass. Oh, the rush of feeling overwhelming me as I held
it in my hand! Would he miss it if I carried it off? Would I be able to
return to the house, see what I wanted to see, and get back in time to
restore it before he wanted his vest? It was early yet, and he was very
busy; I might succeed, and if I failed, and he detected his loss, why I
alone would be the sufferer; and was I not a sufferer now? Dropping the
key into my pocket, I went back into the outer room, and leaving word
that I had remembered a little shopping which would take me again up
town, I left the building and returned to ------ Street. My emotions
were indescribable, but I preserved as sedate an appearance as possible,
and was able to account for my return in a natural enough way to Ambrose
when he opened the door for me. To brave his possible curiosity by going
up-stairs, required a still greater effort; but the thought that my
intentions were pure and my daring legitimate, sustained me in the
ordeal, and I ran, singing, up the first flight, glad that Ambrose
had no better ear for music than to be pleased with what he probably
considered an evidence of happiness on the part of his young mistress.

I was out of breath with suspense, as well as with my rapid movements,
when I reached the shut-in staircase and carefully unlocked its narrow
door. But by the time I had reached the fourth floor, and unlocked, with
the same key, the only other door that had a streak of light under it,
I had gained a certain degree of tense composure born of the desperate
nature of the occasion. The calmness with which I pushed open the door
proved this--a calmness which made the movement noiseless, which was the
reason, I suppose, why I was enabled to suppress the shriek that rose
to my lips as I saw that the room had occupants, and that my worst fears
were thus realized.

A woman was sitting, with her back to me, at a table, and before her,
with her face turned my way, was a young girl in whom, even at first
glance, I detected some likeness to myself. Was this why Mr. Allison's
countenance expressed so much agitation when he first saw me? The next
moment this latter lifted her head and looked directly at me, but with
no change in her mobile features; at which token of blindness I almost
fell on my knees, so conclusively did it prove that I was really looking
upon Mrs. Ransome and her daughter.

The mother, who had been directing her daughter's hands in some
needlework, felt that the latter's attention had been diverted.

"What is it, dear?" she asked, with an indescribable mellowness of
voice, whose tone thrilled me with a fresh and passionate pity.

"I thought I heard Mr. Allison come in, but he always knocks; besides,
it is not time for him yet." And she sighed.

That sigh went through my heart, rousing new feelings and deeper
terrors; but I had no time to indulge in them, for the mother turned
at the gasp which left my lips, and rising up, confronted me with an
amazement which left her without any ability to speak.

"Who is it, mother?" inquired the blind girl, herself rising and beaming
upon me with the sweetest of looks.

"Let me answer," I ventured, softly. "I am Mr. Allison's wife. I have
come to see if there is anything I can do to make your stay here more
comfortable."

The look that passed over the mother's face warned me to venture no
further in the daughter's presence. Whatever that mother had
suffered, the daughter had experienced nothing but satisfied love and
companionship in these narrow precincts. Her rounded cheeks showed this,
and the indescribable atmosphere of peace and gladness which
surrounded her. As I saw this, and realized the mother's life and the
self-restraint which had enabled her to accept the inevitable without
raising a complaint calculated to betray to the daughter that all was
not as it should be with them, I felt such a rush of awe sweep over me
that some of my fathomless emotion showed in my face; for Mrs. Ransome's
own countenance assumed a milder look, and advancing nearer, she
pointed out a room where we could speak apart. As I moved towards it she
whispered a few words in her daughter's ear, then she rejoined me.

"I did not know Mr. Allison was married," were her first words.

"Madame," said I, "I did not know we were the guests of a lady who
chooses to live in retirement." And opening my vinaigrette, I took out
the bead and the little note which had enwrapped it. "This was my first
warning that my husband was not what I had been led to consider him,"
I murmured. "Mrs. Ransome, I am in need of almost as much pity as
yourself. I have been married just six days."

She gave a cry, looked me wildly in the face, and then sank upon her
knees, lifting up thanks to heaven. "Twenty-four of these notes," said
she; "have I written, and flung upward through that lofty skylight,
weighted by the beads he left wound about my darling daughter's neck.
This one only has brought me the least response. Does he know? Is he
willing that you should come up here?"

"I have come at the risk of my life," I quietly answered. "He does
not know that I have surprised his secret. He would kill me if he did.
Madame, I want to free you, but I want to do it without endangering
him. I am his wife, and three hours ago I loved him."

Her face, which had turned very pale, approached mine with a look
I hardly expected to encounter there. "I understand," she said; "I
comprehend devotion; I have felt it for my daughter. Else I could not
have survived the wrong of this incarceration, and my forcible severance
from old associations and friends. I loved her, and since the
knowledge of her affliction, and the still worse knowledge that she had
been made the victim of a man's greed to an extent not often surpassed
in this world, would have made her young life wretched without securing
the least alleviation to our fate, I have kept both facts from her, and
she does not know that closed doors mean bondage any more than she knows
that unrelieved darkness means blindness. She is absolutely ignorant
that there is such a thing as light."

"Oh, madame!" I murmured, "Oh, madame! Show a poor girl what she can do
to restore you to your rights. The door is open and you can descend; but
that means----- Oh, madame, I am filled with terror when I think what.
He may be in the hall now. He may have missed the key and returned. If
only you were out of the house!"

"My dear girl," she quietly replied, "we will be some day. You will see
to that, I know. I do not think I could stay here, now that I have seen
another face than his. But I do not want to go now, to-day. I want to
prepare Theresa for freedom; she has lived so long quietly with me that
I dread the shock and excitement of other voices and the pressure of
city sounds upon her delicate ears. I must train her for contact with
the world. But you won't forget me if I allow you to lock us in again?
You will come back and open the doors, and let me go down again through
my old halls into the room where my husband died; and if Mr. Allison
objects---- My dear girl, you know now that he is an unscrupulous man,
that it is my money he begrudged me, and that he has used it and made
himself a rich man. But he has one spark of grace in him. He has never
forgotten that we needed bread and clothes. He has waited on us himself,
and never have we suffered from physical want. Therefore, he may not
object now. He may feel that he has enriched himself sufficiently to
let us go free, and if I must give my oath to let the past go without
explanation, why I am ready, my dear; nothing can undo it now, and I am
grown too old to want money except for her." "I cannot," I murmured, "I
cannot find courage to present the subject to him so. I do not know my
husband's mind. It is a fathomless abyss to me. Let me think of some
other way. Oh, madam! if you were out of the house, and could then
come----" Suddenly a thought struck me. "I can do it; I see the way to
do it--a way that will place you in a triumphant position, and yet save
him from suspicion. He is weary of this care. He wants to be relieved of
the dreadful secret which anchors him to this house, and makes a hell of
the very spot in which he has fixed his love. Shall we undertake to
do his for him? Can you trust me if I promise to take an immediate
impression of this key, and have one made for myself, which shall insure
my return here?"

"My dear," she said, taking my head between her two trembling hands, "I
have never looked upon a sweeter face than my daughter's till I looked
upon yours to-day. If you bid me hope, I will hope, and if you bid
me trust, I will trust. The remembrance of this kiss will not let you





Next: As Told By Mr Gryce

Previous: The Gray Madam



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 1812