Transcriber's Note: The Table of Contents was not in the original text and has been generated for the convenience of the reader of this E-Book.
A Sequel to "The Hidden Hand"
MRS. E.D.E.N. SOUTHWORTH
"Ishmael," "Self-Raised," "Cruel as the Grave," "Tried for Her Life," Etc.
"And such a night "she" took the road in As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.
* * * * *
That night a child might understand The de'il had business on his hand."
A. L. BURT COMPANY, Publishers NEW YORK
Chapter I. THE ORPHAN'S TRIAL. II. OLD HURRICANE STORMS. III. CAP'S VISIT TO THE HIDDEN HOUSE. IV. THE HIDDEN HOLLOW. V. THE HIDDEN HOUSE. VI. THE INMATE OF THE HIDDEN HOUSE. VII. CAP'S RETURN. VIII. ANOTHER MYSTERY AT THE HIDDEN HOUSE. IX. CAP FREES THE CAPTIVE. X. CAP IN CAPTIVITY. XI. AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR AT MARAH'S COTTAGE. XII. CAP "RESTS ON HER LAURELS" AND "SPOILS FOR A FIGHT." XIII. BLACK DONALD. XIV. GLORY. XV. CAP CAPTIVATES A CRAVEN. XVI. CAP'S RAGE. XVII. CAPITOLA CAPS THE CLIMAX. XVIII. BLACK DONALD'S LAST ATTEMPT. XIX. THE AWFUL PERIL OF CAPITOLA. XX. THE NEXT MORNING. XXI. A FATAL HATRED. XXII. THE COURT-MARTIAL. XXIII. THE VERDICT. XXIV. THE END OF THE WAR. XXV. THE FORTUNATE BATH. XXVI. THE MYSTERIOUS MANIAC. XXVII. THE MANIAC'S STORY. XXVIII. END OF THE LADY'S STORY. XXIX. PROSPECTS BRIGHTEN. XXX. CAPITOLA A CAPITALIST. XXXI. "THERE SHALL BE LIGHT AT THE EVENTIDE."
A Sequel to THE HIDDEN HAND.
THE ORPHAN'S TRIAL.
"We met ere yet the world had come To wither up the springs of youth, Amid the holy joys of home, And in the first warm blush of youth. We parted as they never part, Whose tears are doomed to be forgot; Oh, by what agony of heart Forget me not!—forget me not!"
At nine o'clock the next morning Traverse went to the library to keep his tryst with Colonel Le Noir.
Seated in the doctor's leathern chair, with his head thrown back, his nose erect and his white and jeweled hand caressing his mustached chin, the colonel awaited the young man's communication.
With a slight bow Traverse took a chair and drew it up to the table, seated himself and, after a little hesitation, commenced, and in a modest and self-respectful manner announced that he was charged with the last verbal instructions from the doctor to the executor of his will.
Colonel Le Noir left off caressing his chin for an instant, and, with a wave of his dainty hand, silently intimated that the young man should proceed.
Traverse then began and delivered the dying directions of the late doctor, to the effect that his daughter Clara Day should not be removed from the paternal mansion, but that she should be suffered to remain there, retaining as a matronly companion her old friend Mrs. Marah Rocke.
"Umm! umm! very ingenious, upon my word!" commented the colonel, still caressing his chin.
"I have now delivered my whole message, sir, and have only to add that I hope, for Miss Day's sake, there will be no difficulty thrown in the way of the execution of her father's last wishes, which are also, sir, very decidedly her own," said Traverse.
"Umm! doubtless they are—and also yours and your worthy mother's."
"Sir, Miss Day's will in this matter is certainly mine. Apart from the consideration of her pleasure, my wishes need not be consulted. As soon as I have seen Miss Day made comfortable I leave for the far West," said Traverse, with much dignity.
"Umm! and leave mama here to guard the golden prize until your return, eh?" sneered the colonel.
"Sir, I do not—wish to understand you," said Traverse with a flushed brow.
"Possibly not, my excellent young friend," said the colonel, ironically; then, rising from his chair and elevating his voice, he cried, "but I, sir, understand you and your mother and your pretty scheme perfectly! Very ingenious invention, these 'last verbal instructions.' Very pretty plan to entrap an heiress; but it shall not avail you, adventurers that you are! This afternoon Sauter, the confidential attorney of my late brother-in-law, will be here with the will, which shall be read in the presence of the assembled household. If these last verbal directions are also to be found duplicated in the will, very good, they shall be obeyed; if not, they shall be discredited."
During this speech Traverse stood with kindling eyes and blazing cheeks, scarcely able to master his indignation; yet, to his credit be it spoken, he did "rule his own spirit" and replied with dignity and calmness:
"Colonel Le Noir, my testimony in regard to the last wishes of Doctor Day can, if necessary, be supported by other evidence—though I do not believe that any man who did not himself act in habitual disregard of truth would wantonly question the veracity of another."
"Sir! this to me!" exclaimed Le Noir, growing white with rage and making a step toward the young man.
"Yes, Colonel Le Noir, that to you! And this in addition; You have presumed to charge my mother, in connection with myself, with being an adventuress; with forming dishonorable 'schemes,' and in so charging her, Colonel Le Noir, you utter a falsehood!"
"Sirrah!" cried Le Noir, striding toward Traverse and raising his hand over his head, with a fearful oath, "retract your words or——"
Traverse calmly drew himself up, folded his arms and replied coolly:
"I am no brawler, Colonel Le Noir; the pistol and the bowie-knife are as strange to my hands as abusive epithets and profane language are to my lips; nevertheless, instead of retracting my words, I repeat and reiterate them. If you charge my mother with conspiracy you utter a falsehood. As her son I am in duty bound to say as much."
"Villain!" gasped Le Noir, shaking his fist and choking with rage; "villain! you shall repent this in every vein of your body!"
Then, seizing his hat, he strode from the room.
"Boaster!" said Traverse to himself, as he also left the library by another door.
Clara was waiting for him in the little parlor below.
"Well, well, dear Traverse," she said, as he entered. "You have had the explanation with my guardian, and—he makes no objection to carrying out the last directions of my father and our own wishes—he is willing to leave me here?"
"My dear girl, Colonel Le Noir defers all decision until the reading of the will, which is to take place this afternoon," said Traverse, unwilling to add to her distress by recounting the disgraceful scene that had just taken place in the library.
"Oh! these delays! these delays! Heaven give me patience! Yet I do not know why I should be so uneasy. It is only a form; of course he will regard my father's wishes."
"I do not see well how he can avoid doing so, especially as Doctor Williams is another witness to them, and I shall request the doctor's attendance here this afternoon. Dear Clara, keep up your spirits! A few hours now and all will be well," said Traverse, as he drew on his gloves and took his hat to go on his morning round of calls.
An early dinner was ordered, for the purpose of giving ample time in the afternoon for the reading of the will.
Owing to the kind forbearance of each member of this little family, their meeting with their guest at the table was not so awkward as it might have been rendered. Mrs. Rocke had concealed the insults that had been offered her; Traverse had said nothing of the affronts put upon him. So that each, having only their own private injuries to resent, felt free in forbearing. Nothing but this sort of prudence on the part of individuals rendered their meeting around one board possible.
While they were still at the table the attorney, Mr. Sauter, with Doctors Williams and Dawson, arrived, and was shown into the library.
And very soon after the dessert was put upon the table the family left it and, accompanied by Colonel Le Noir, adjourned to the library. After the usual salutations they arranged themselves along each side of an extension table, at the head of which the attorney placed himself.
In the midst of a profound silence the will was opened and read. It was dated three years before.
The bulk of his estate, after the paying a few legacies, was left to his esteemed brother-in-law, Gabriel Le Noir, in trust for his only daughter, Clara Day, until the latter should attain the age of twenty-one, at which period she was to come into possession of the property. Then followed the distribution of the legacies. Among the rest the sum of a thousand dollars was left to his young friend Traverse Rocke, and another thousand to his esteemed neighbor Marah Rocke. Gabriel Le Noir was appointed sole executor of the will, trustee of the property and guardian of the heiress.
At the conclusion of the reading Mr. Sauter folded the document and laid it upon the table.
Colonel Le Noir arose and said:
"The will of the late Doctor Day has been read in your presence. I presume you all heard it, and that there can be no mistake as to its purport. All that remains now is to act upon it. I shall claim the usual privilege of twelve months before administering upon the estate or paying the legacies. In the mean time, I shall assume the charge of my ward's person, and convey her to my own residence, known as the Hidden House. Mrs. Rocke," he said, turning toward the latter, "your presence and that of your young charge is no longer required here. Be so good as to prepare Miss Day's traveling trunks, as we set out from this place to-morrow morning."
Mrs. Rocke started, looked wistfully in the face of the speaker and, seeing that he was in determined earnest, turned her appealing glances toward Traverse and Doctor Williams.
As for Clara, her face, previously blanched with grief, was now flushed with indignation. In her sudden distress and perplexity she knew not at once what to do—whether to utter a protest or continue silent; whether to leave the room or remain. Her embarrassment was perceived by Traverse, who, stooping, whispered to her:
"Be calm, love; all shall be well. Doctor Williams is about to speak."
And at that moment, indeed, Doctor Williams arose and said:
"I have, Colonel Le Noir to endorse a dying message from Doctor Day entrusted to my young friend here to be delivered to you, to the effect that it was his last desire and request that his daughter, Miss Clara Day, should be permitted to reside during the term of her minority in this her patrimonial home, under the care of her present matronly friend, Mrs. Marah Rocke, Doctor Rocke and myself are here to bear testimony to these, the last wishes of the departed, which wishes, I believe, also express the desires of his heiress."
"Oh, yes, yes!" said Clara, earnestly. "I do very much desire to remain in my own home, among my old familiar friends. My dear father only consulted my comfort and happiness when he left these instructions."
"There can be, therefore, no reason why Miss Day should be disturbed in her present home," said Traverse.
Colonel Le Noir smiled grimly, saying:
"I am sorry, Doctor Williams, to differ with you or to distress Miss Day. But if, as she says, her lamented father consulted her pleasure in those last instructions, he certainly consulted nothing else—not the proprieties of conventionalism, the opinion of the world, nor the future welfare of his daughter. Therefore, as a man of Doctor Day's high position and character in his sane moments never could have made such a singular arrangement, I am forced to the conclusion that he could not, at the time of giving those instructions, have been in his right mind. Consequently, I cannot venture to act upon any 'verbal instructions,' however well attested, but shall be guided in every respect by the will, executed while yet the testator was in sound body and mind."
"Doctor Rocke and myself are both physicians competent to certify that, at the time of leaving these directions, our respected friend was perfectly sound in mind at least," said Doctor Williams.
"That, sir, I repeat, I contest. And, acting upon the authority of the will, I shall proceed to take charge of my ward as well as of her estate. And as I think this house, under all the circumstances, a very improper place for her to remain, I shall convey her without delay to my own home. Mrs. Rocke, I believe I requested you to see to the packing of Miss Day's trunks."
"Oh, heaven! shall this wrong be permitted?" ejaculated Marah.
"Mrs. Rocke, I will not go unless absolutely forced to do so by a decree of the court. I shall get Doctor Williams to make an appeal for me to the Orphans' Court," said Clara, by way of encouraging her friend.
"My dear Miss Day, that, I hope, will not be required. Colonel Le Noir acts under a misapprehension of the circumstances. We must enter into more explanations with him. In the mean time, my dear young lady, it is better that you should obey him for the present, at least so far as retiring from the room," said Doctor Williams.
Clara immediately rose and, requesting Mrs. Rocke to accompany her, withdrew from the library.
Doctor Williams then said:
"I advised the retirement of the young lady, having a communication to make the hearing of which in a mixed company might have cost her an innocent blush. But first I would ask you, Colonel Le Noir, what are those circumstances to which you allude which render Miss Day's residence here, in her patrimonial mansion, with her old and faithful friends, so improper?" inquired Doctor Williams, courteously.
"The growing intimacy, sir, between herself and a very objectionable party—this young man Rocke!" replied Colonel Le Noir.
"Ah! and is that all?"
"It is enough, sir," said Colonel Le Noir, loftily.
"Then suppose I should inform you, sir, that this young man, Doctor Rocke, was brought up and educated at Doctor Day's cost and under his own immediate eye?"
"Then, sir, you would only inform me that an eccentric gentleman of fortune had done—what eccentric gentlemen of fortune will sometimes do—educated a pauper."
At this opprobrious epithet Traverse, with a flushed face, started to his feet.
"Sit down, my boy, sit down; leave me to deal with this man," said Doctor Williams, forcing Traverse back into his seat. Then, turning to Colonel Le Noir, he said:
"But suppose, sir, that such was the estimation in which Doctor Day held the moral and intellectual worth of his young protege that he actually gave him his daughter?"
"I cannot suppose an impossibility, Doctor Williams," replied Colonel Le Noir, haughtily.
"Then, sir, I have the pleasure of startling you a little by a prodigy that you denominate an impossibility! Clara Day and Traverse Rocke were betrothed with full knowledge and cordial approbation of the young lady's father."
"Impossible! preposterous! I shall countenance no such ridiculous absurdity!" said Colonel Le Noir, growing red in the face.
"Miss Day, Doctor Rocke, Mrs. Rocke, and myself are witnesses to that fact."
"The young lady and the young man are parties immediately concerned—they cannot be received as witnesses in their own case; Mrs. Rocke is too much in their interest for her evidence to be taken; you, sir, I consider the dupe of these cunning conspirators—mother and son," replied Colonel Le Noir, firmly.
"Tut!" said Doctor Williams, almost out of patience. "I do not depend upon the words of Miss Day and her friends, although I hold their veracity to be above question; I had Doctor Day's dying words to the same effect. And he mentioned the existing betrothal as the very reason why Clara should remain here in the care of her future mother-in-law."
"Then, sir, that the doctor should have spoken and acted thus, is only another and a stronger reason for believing him to have been deranged in his last moments! You need give yourself no farther trouble! I shall act upon the authority of this instrument which I hold in my hand," replied Colonel Le Noir, haughtily.
"Then, as the depository of the dying man's last wishes and as the next friend of his injured daughter, I shall make an appeal to the Orphans' Court," said Doctor Williams, coldly.
"You can do as you please about that; but in the mean time, acting upon the authority of the will, I shall to-morrow morning set out with my ward for my own home."
"There may be time to arrest that journey," said Doctor Williams, arising and taking his hat to go.
In the passage he met Mrs. Rocke.
"Dear Doctor Williams," said Mrs. Rocke, earnestly, "pray come up to poor Clara's room and speak to her, if you can possibly say anything to comfort her; she is weeping herself into a fit of illness at the bare thought of being, so soon after her dreadful bereavement, torn away from her home and friends."
"Tut! tut! no use in weeping! all will yet be right."
"You have persuaded that man to permit her to remain here, then?" said Marah, gladly.
"Persuaded him! no, nor even undertaken to do so! I never saw him before to-day, yet I would venture to say, from what I have now seen of him, that he never was persuaded by any agent except his own passions and interests, to any act whatever. No, I have endeavored to show him that we have law as well as justice on our side, and even now I am afraid I shall have to take the case before the Orphans' Court before I can convince him. He purposes removing Clara to-morrow morning. I will endeavor to see the Judge of the Orphans' Court to-night, take out a habeas corpus, ordering Le Noir to bring his ward into court, and serve it on him as he passes through Staunton on his way home."
"But is there no way of preventing him from taking Clara away from the house to-morrow morning."
"No good way. No, madam, it is best that all things should be done decently and in order. I advise you, as I shall also advise my young friends, Traverse and Clara, not to injure their own cause by unwise impatience or opposition. We should go before the Orphans' Court with the very best aspect."
"Come, then, and talk to Clara. She has the most painful antipathy to the man who claims the custody of her person, as well as the most distressing reluctance to leaving her dear home and friends; and all this, in addition to her recent heavy affliction, almost overwhelms the poor child," said Mrs. Rocke, weeping.
"I will go at once and do what I can to soothe her," said Doctor Williams, following Mrs. Rocke, who led him up to Clara's room.
They found her prostrate upon her bed, crushed with grief.
"Come, come, my dear girl, this is too bad! It is not like the usual noble fortitude of our Clara," said the old man, kindly taking her hand.
"Oh, Doctor, forgive—forgive me! but my courage must have been very small, for I fear it is all gone. But then, indeed, everything comes on me at once. My dear, dear father's death; then the approaching departure and expected long absence of Traverse! All that was grievous enough to bear; and now to be torn away from the home of my childhood, and from the friend that has always been a mother to me, and by a man, from whom every true, good instinct of my nature teaches me to shrink. I, who have always had full liberty in the house of my dear father, to be forced away against my will by this man, as if I were his slave!" exclaimed Clara, bursting into fresh tears of indignation and grief.
"Clara, my dear, dear girl, this impatience and rebellion is so unlike your gentle nature that I can scarcely recognize you for the mild and dignified daughter of my old friend. Clara, if the saints in heaven could grieve at anything, I should think your dear father would be grieved to see you thus!" said the old man in gentle rebuke that immediately took effect upon the meek and conscientious maiden.
"Oh! I feel—I feel that I am doing very wrong, but I cannot help it. I scarcely know myself in this agony of mingled grief, indignation and terror—yes, terror—for every instinct of my nature teaches me to distrust and fear that man, in whom my father must have been greatly deceived before he could have entrusted him with the guardianship of his only child."
"I think that quite likely," said the old man; "yet, my dear, even in respect to your dear father's memory, you must try to bear this trial patiently."
"Oh, yes, I know I must. Dear father, if you can look down and see me now, forgive your poor Clara, her anger and her impatience. She will try to be worthy of the rearing you have given her and to bear even this great trial with the spirit worthy of your daughter!" said Clara within her own heart; then, speaking up, she said: "You shall have no more reason to reprove me, Doctor Williams."
"That is my brave girl! That is my dear Clara Day! And now, when your guardian directs you to prepare yourself for your journey, obey him—go with him without making any objection. I purpose to arrest your journey at Staunton with a habeas corpus that he dare not resist, and which shall compel him to bring you into the Orphans' Court. There our side shall be heard, and the decision will rest with the judge."
"And all will be well! Oh, say that, sir! to give me the courage to act with becoming docility," pleaded Clara.
"I have not a doubt in this world that it will all be right, for, however Colonel Le Noir may choose to disregard the last wishes of your father, as attested by myself and young Rocke, I have not the least idea that the judge will pass them over. On the contrary, I feel persuaded that he will confirm them by sending you back here to your beloved home."
"Oh, may heaven grant it!" said Clara. "You do, indeed, give me new life."
"Yes, yes, be cheerful, my dear; trust in Providence and expect nothing short of the best! And now I dare not tarry longer with you, for I must see the Judge at his house this night. Good-by, my dear; keep up a good heart!" said the old man cheerfully, pressing her hand and taking his leave.
Mrs. Rocke accompanied him to the hall door.
"My dear madam, keep up your spirits also for the sake of your young charge! Make her go to bed early! To-morrow, when she thinks she is about to be torn from you forever, remind her in her ear that I shall meet the carriage at Staunton with a power that shall turn the horses' heads."
And so saying, the worthy old gentleman departed.
As Marah Rocke looked after him, she also saw with alarm that Colonel Le Noir had mounted his horse and galloped off in the direction of Staunton, as if impelled by the most urgent haste.
She returned to the bedside of Clara, and left her no more that night. As the colonel did not return to supper, they, the family party, had their tea in Clara's room.
Late at night Mrs. Rocke heard Colonel Le Noir come into the house and enter his chamber.
Poor Clara slept no more that night; anxiety, despite of all her efforts, kept her wide awake. Yet, though anxious and wakeful, yet by prayer and endeavor she had brought her mind into a patient and submissive mood, so that when a servant knocked at her door in the morning with a message from Colonel Le Noir that she should be ready to set forth immediately after breakfast, she replied that she should obey him, and without delay she arose and commenced her toilet.
All the family met for the last time around the board. The party was constrained. The meal was a gloomy one. On rising from the table Colonel Le Noir informed his ward that his traveling carriage was waiting, and that her baggage was already on, and requested her to put on her bonnet and mantle, and take leave of her servants.
Clara turned to obey—Traverse went to her side and whispered:
"Take courage, dear love. My horse is saddled. I shall ride in attendance upon the carriage whether that man likes it or not; nor lose sight of you for one moment until we meet Williams with his habeas corpus."
"Nor even then, dear Traverse, nor even then! You will attend me to the court and be ready to take me back to this dear, dear home!" murmured Clara in reply.
"Yes, yes, dear girl! There, be cheerful," whispered the young man, as he pressed her hand and released it.
Colonel Le Noir had been a silent but frowning spectator of this little scene, and now that Clara was leaving the room, attended by Mrs. Rocke, he called the latter back, saying:
"You will be so kind as to stop here a moment, Mrs. Rocke and you also, young man."
The mother and son paused to hear what he should have to say.
"I believe it is the custom here in discharging domestics to give a month's warning, or in lieu of that, to pay a month's wages in advance. There, woman, is the money. You will oblige me by leaving the house to-day, together with your son and all your other trumpery, as the premises are put in charge of an agent, who will be here this afternoon, clothed with authority to eject all loiterers and intruders."
While the colonel spoke Marah Rocke gazed at him in a panic from which she seemed unable to rouse herself, until Traverse gravely took her hand, saying:
"My dear mother, let me conduct you from the presence of this man, who does not know how to behave himself toward women. Leave me to talk with him, and do you, dear mother, go to Miss Day, who I know is waiting for you."
Marah Rocke mechanically complied and allowed Traverse to lead her from the room.
When he returned he went up to Colonel Le Noir, and, standing before him and looking him full and sternly in the face, said, as sternly:
"Colonel Le Noir, my mother will remain here and abide the decision of the Orphans' Court; until that has been pronounced, she does not stir at your or any man's bidding!"
"Villain, out of my way!" sneered Le Noir, endeavoring to pass him.
Traverse prevented him, saying:
"Sir, in consideration of your age, which should be venerable, your position which should prove you honorable, and of this sacred house of mourning in which you stand, I have endeavored to meet all the insults you have offered me with forbearance. But, sir, I am here to defend my mother's rights and to protect her from insult! And I tell you plainly that you have affronted her for the very last time! One more word or look of insult leveled at Marah Rocke and neither your age, position nor this sacred roof shall protect you from personal chastisement at the hands of her son!"
Le Noir, who had listened in angry scorn, with many an ejaculation of contempt, now at the conclusion which so galled his pride, broke out furiously, with:
"Sir, you are a bully! If you were a gentleman I would call you out!"
"And I should not come if you did, sir! Dueling is unchristian, barbarous and abominable in the sight of God and all good men. For the rest you may call me anything you please; but do not again insult my mother, for if you do I shall hold it a Christian duty to teach you better manners," said Traverse, coolly taking his hat and walking from the room. He mounted his horse and stood ready to attend Clara to Staunton.
Colonel Le Noir ground his teeth in impotent rage, muttering:
"Take care, young man! I shall live to be revenged upon you yet for these affronts!" and his dastard heart burned with the fiercer malignity that he had not dared to meet the eagle eye, or encounter the strong arm of the upright and stalwart young man. Gnashing his teeth with ill-suppressed fury, he strode into the hall just as Mrs. Rocke and Clara, in her traveling dress, descended the stairs.
Clara threw her arms around Mrs. Rocke's neck, and, weeping, said:
"Good-by, dear, best friend—good-by! Heaven grant it may not be for long! Oh, pray for me, that I may be sent back to you!"
"May the Lord have you in His holy keeping, my child! I shall pray until I hear from you!" said Marah, kissing and releasing her.
Colonel Le Noir then took her by the hand, led her out, and put her into the carriage.
Just before entering Clara had turned to take a last look at her old home—all, friends and servants, noticed the sorrowful, anxious, almost despairing look of her pale face, which seemed to ask:
"Ah, shall I ever, ever return to you, dear old home, and dear, familiar friends?"
In another instant she had disappeared within the carriage, which immediately rolled off.
As the carriage was heavily laden, and the road was in a very bad condition, it was a full hour before they reached the town of Staunton. As the carriage drew up for a few moments before the door of the principal hotel, and Colonel Le Noir was in the act of stepping out, a sheriff's officer, accompanied by Dr. Williams, approached, and served upon the colonel a writ of habeas corpus, commanding him to bring his ward, Clara Day, into court.
Colonel Le Noir laughed scornfully, saying:
"And do any of you imagine this will serve your purposes? Ha, ha! The most that it can do will be to delay my journey for a few hours until the decision of the judge, which will only serve to confirm my authority beyond all future possibility of questioning."
"We will see to that," said Doctor Williams.
"Drive to the Court House!" ordered Colonel Le Noir.
And the carriage, attended by Traverse Rocke, Doctor Williams and the Sheriff's officer, each on horseback, drove thither.
And now, reader, I will not trouble you with a detailed account of this trial. Clara, clothed in deep mourning, and looking pale and terrified, was led into the court room on the arm of her guardian. She was followed closely by her friends, Traverse Rocke and Doctor Williams, each of whom whispered encouraging words to the orphan.
As the court had no pressing business on its hands, the case was immediately taken up, the will was read and attested by the attorney who had drawn it up and the witnesses who had signed it. Then the evidence of Doctor Williams and Doctor Rocke was taken concerning the last verbal instructions of the deceased. The case occupied about three hours, at the end of which the judge gave a decision in favor of Colonel Le Noir.
This judgment carried consternation to the heart of Clara and of all her friends.
Clara herself sank fainting in the arms of her old friend, the venerable Doctor Williams.
Traverse, in bitterness of spirit, approached and bent over her.
Colonel Le Noir spoke to the judge.
"I deeply thank your honor for the prompt hearing and equally prompt decision of this case, and I will beg your honor to order the Sheriff and his officers to see your judgment carried into effect, as I foresee violent opposition, and wish to prevent trouble."
"Certainly. Mr. Sheriff, you will see that Colonel Le Noir is put in possession of his ward, and protected in that right until he shall have placed her in security," said the judge.
Clara, on hearing these words, lifted her head from the old man's bosom, nerved her gentle heart, and in a clear, sweet, steady voice said:
"It is needless precaution, your honor; my friends are no law-breakers, and since the court has given me into the custody of my guardian, I do not dispute its judgment. I yield myself up to Colonel Le Noir."
"You do well, young lady," said the judge.
"I am pleased, Miss Day, to see that you understand and perform your duty; believe me, I shall do all that I can to make you happy," said Colonel Le Noir.
Clara replied by a gentle nod, and then, with a slight blush mantling her pure cheeks she advanced a step and placed herself immediately in front of the judge, saying:
"But there is a word that I would speak to your honor."
"Say on, young lady," said the judge.
And as she stood there in her deep mourning dress, with her fair hair unbound and floating softly around her pale, sweet face, every eye in that court was spellbound by her almost unearthly beauty. Before proceeding with what she was about to say, she turned upon Traverse a look that brought him immediately to her side.
"Your honor," she began, in a low, sweet, clear tone, "I owe it to Doctor Rocke here present, who has been sadly misrepresented to you, to say (what, under less serious circumstances, my girl's heart would shrink from avowing so publicly) that I am his betrothed wife—sacredly betrothed to him by almost the last act of my dear father's life. I hold this engagement to be so holy that no earthly tribunal can break or disturb it. And while I bend to your honor's decision, and yield myself to the custody of my legal guardian for the period of my minority, I here declare to all who may be interested, that I hold my hand and heart irrevocably pledged to Doctor Rocke, and that, as his betrothed wife, I shall consider myself bound to correspond with him regularly, and to receive him as often as he shall seek my society, until my majority, when I and all that I possess will become his own. And these words I force myself to speak, your honor, both in justice to my dear lost father and his friend, Traverse Rocke, and also to myself, that hereafter no one may venture to accuse me of clandestine proceedings, or distort my actions into improprieties, or in any manner call in question the conduct of my father's daughter." And, with another gentle bow, Clara retired to the side of her old friend.
"You are likely to have a troublesome charge in your ward," said the sheriff apart to the colonel, who shrugged his shoulders by way of reply.
The heart of Traverse was torn by many conflicting passions, emotions and impulses; there was indignation at the decision of the court; grief for the loss of Clara, and dread for her future!
One instant he felt a temptation to denounce the guardian as a villain and to charge the judge with being a corrupt politician, whose decisions were swayed by party interests!
The next moment he felt an impulse to catch Clara up in his arms, fight his way through the crowd and carry her off! But all these wild emotions, passions and impulses he succeeded in controlling.
Too well he knew that to rage, do violence, or commit extravagance as he might, the law would take its course all the same.
While his heart was torn in this manner, Colonel Le Noire was urging the departure of his ward. And Clara came to her lover's side and said, gravely and sweetly:
"The law, you see, has decided against us, dear Traverse. Let us bend gracefully to a decree that we cannot annul! It cannot, at least, alter our sacred relations; nor can anything on earth shake our steadfast faith in each other; let us take comfort in that, and in the thought that the years will surely roll round at length and bring the time that shall reunite us."
"Oh, my angel-girl! My angel-girl! Your patient heroism puts me to the blush, for my heart is crushed in my bosom and my firmness quite gone!" said Traverse, in a broken voice.
"You will gain firmness, dear Traverse. 'Patient!' I patient! You should have heard me last night! I was so impatient that Doctor Williams had to lecture me. But it would be strange if one did not learn something by suffering. I have been trying all night and day to school my heart to submission, and I hope I have succeeded, Traverse. Bless me and bid me good-by."
"The Lord forever bless and keep you, my own dear angel, Clara!" burst from the lips of Traverse. "The Lord abundantly bless you!"
"And you," said Clara.
And thus they parted.
Clara was hurried away and put into the carriage by her guardian.
Ah, no one but the Lord knew how much it had cost that poor girl to maintain her fortitude during that trying scene. She had controlled herself for the sake of her friends. But now, when she found herself in the carriage, her long strained nerves gave way—she sank exhausted and prostrated into the corner of her seat, in the utter collapse of woe!
But leaving the travelers to pursue their journey, we must go back to Traverse.
Almost broken-hearted, Traverse returned to Willow Heights to convey the sad tidings of his disappointment to his mother's ear.
Marah Rocke was so overwhelmed with grief at the news that she was for several hours incapable of action.
The arrival of the house agent was the first event that recalled her to her senses.
She aroused herself to action, and, assisted by Traverse, set to work to pack up her own and his wardrobe and other personal effects.
And the next morning Marah Rocke was re-established in her cottage.
And the next week, having equally divided their little capital, the mother and son parted—Traverse, by her express desire, keeping to his original plan, set out for the far West.
OLD HURRICANE STORMS.
"At this sir knight flamed up with ire! His great chest heaved! his eyes flashed fire. The crimson that suffused his face To deepest purple now gave place."
Who can describe the frenzy of Old Hurricane upon discovering the fraud that had been practised upon him by Black Donald?
It was told him the next morning in his tent, at his breakfast table, in the presence of his assembled family, by the Rev. Mr. Goodwin.
Upon first hearing it, he was incapable of anything but blank staring, until it seemed as though his eyes must start from their sockets!
Then his passion, "not loud but deep," found utterance only in emphatic thumps of his walking stick upon the ground!
Then, as the huge emotion worked upward, it broke out in grunts, groans and inarticulate exclamations!
Finally it burst forth as follows:
"Ugh! ugh! ugh! Fool! dolt! blockhead! Brute that I've been! I wish somebody would punch my wooden head! I didn't think the demon himself could have deceived me so! Ugh! Nobody but the demon could have done it! and he is the demon! The very demon himself! He does not disguise—he transforms himself! Ugh! ugh! ugh! that I should have been such a donkey!"
"Sir, compose yourself! We are all liable to suffer deception," said Mr. Goodwin.
"Sir," broke forth Old Hurricane, in fury, "that wretch has eaten at my table! Has drunk wine with me!! Has slept in my bed!!! Ugh! ugh!! ugh!!!"
"Believing him to be what he seemed, sir, you extended to him the rights of hospitality; you have nothing to blame yourself with!"
"Demmy, sir, I did more than that! I've coddled him up with negusses! I've pampered him up with possets and put him to sleep in my own bed! Yes, sir—and more! Look there at Mrs. Condiment, sir! The way in which she worshiped that villain was a sight to behold!" said Old Hurricane, jumping up and stamping around the tent in fury.
"Oh, Mr. Goodwin, sir, how could I help it when I thought he was such a precious saint?" whimpered the old lady.
"Yes, sir! when 'his reverence' would be tired with delivering a long-winded mid-day discourse, Mrs. Condiment, sir, would take him into her own tent—make him lie down on her own sacred cot, and set my niece to bathing his head with cologne and her maid to fanning him, while she herself prepared an iced sherry cobbler for his reverence! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, Mrs. Condiment, mum!" said Old Hurricane, suddenly stopping before the poor old woman, in angry scorn.
"Indeed, I'm sure if I'd known it was Black Donald, I'd no more have suffered him inside of my tent than I would Satan!"
"Demmy, mum, you had Satan there as well! Who but Satan could have tempted you all to disregard me, your lawful lord and master, as you every one of you did for that wretch's sake! Hang it, parson, I wasn't the master of my own house, nor head of my own family! Precious Father Gray was! Black Donald was! Oh, you shall hear!" cried Old Hurricane, in a frenzy.
"Pray, sir, be patient and do not blame the women for being no wiser than you were yourself," said Mr. Goodwin.
"Tah! tah! tah! One act of folly is a contingency to which any man may for once in his life be liable; but folly is the women's normal condition! You shall hear! You shall hear! Hang it, sir, everybody had to give way to Father Gray! Everything was for Father Gray! Precious Father Gray! Excellent Father Gray! Saintly Father Gray! It was Father Gray here and Father Gray there, and Father Gray everywhere and always! He ate with us all day and slept with us all night! The coolest cot in the dryest nook of the tent at night—the shadiest seat at the table by day—were always for his reverence! The nicest tit-bits of the choicest dishes—the middle slices of the fish, the breast of the young ducks, and the wings of the chickens, the mealiest potatoes, the juiciest tomatoes, the tenderest roasting ear, the most delicate custard, and freshest fruit always for his reverence! I had to put up with the necks of poultry, and the tails of fishes, watery potatoes, specked apples and scorched custards—and if I dared to touch anything better before his precious reverence had eaten and was filled, Mrs. Condiment—there—would look as sour as if she had bitten an unripe lemon—and Cap would tread on my gouty toe! Mrs. Condiment, mum, I don't know how you can look me in the face!" said Old Hurricane, savagely. A very unnecessary reproach, since poor Mrs. Condiment had not ventured to look any one in the face since the discovery of the fraud of which she, as well as others, had been an innocent victim.
"Come, come, my dear major, there is no harm done to you or your family; therefore, take patience!" said Mr. Goodwin.
"Demmy, sir, I beg you pardon, parson, I won't take patience! You don't know! Hang it, man, at last they got me to give up one-half of my own blessed bed to his precious reverence—the best half which the fellow always took right out of the middle, leaving me to sleep on both sides of him, if I could! Think of it—me, Ira Warfield—sleeping between the sheets—night after night—with Black Donald! Ugh! ugh! ugh! Oh, for some lethean draught that I might drink and forget! Sir, I won't be patient! Patience would be a sin! Mrs. Condiment, mum, I desire that you will send in your account and supply yourself with a new situation! You and I cannot agree any longer. You'll be putting me to bed with Beelzebub next!" exclaimed Old Hurricane, besides himself with indignation.
Mrs. Condiment sighed and wiped her eyes under her spectacles.
The worthy minister, now seriously alarmed, came to him and said:
"My dear, dear major, do not be unjust—consider. She is an old faithful domestic, who has been in your service forty years—whom you could not live without! I say it under advisement—whom you could not live without!"
"Hang it, sir, nor live with! Think of her helping to free the prisoners! Actually taking Black Donald—precious Father Gray!—into their cell and leaving them together to hatch their—beg you pardon—horrid plots!"
"But, sir, instead of punishing the innocent victim of his deception, let us be merciful and thank the Lord, that since those men were delivered from prison, they were freed without bloodshed; for remember that neither the warden nor any of his men, nor any one else has been personally injured."
"Hang it, sir, I wish they had cut all our throats to teach us more discretion!" broke forth Old Hurricane.
"I am afraid that the lesson so taught would have come too late to be useful!" smiled the pastor.
"Well, it hasn't come too late now! Mrs. Condiment, mum, mind what I tell you! As soon as we return to Hurricane Hall, send in your accounts and seek a new home! I am not going to suffer myself to be set at naught any longer!" exclaimed Old Hurricane, bringing down his cane with an emphatic thump.
The sorely troubled minister was again about to interfere, when, as the worm if trodden upon, will turn, Mrs. Condiment herself spoke up, saying:
"Lor, Major Warfield, sir, there were others deceived besides me, and as for myself, I never can think of the risk I've run without growing cold all over!"
"Serves you right, mum, for your officiousness, and obsequiousness and toadying to—precious Mr. Gray!—serves you doubly right for famishing me at my own table!"
"Uncle!" said Capitola, "'Honor bright! Fair play is a jewel!' If you and I, who have seen Black Donald before, failed to recognize that stalwart athlete in a seemingly old and sickly man, how could you expect Mrs. Condiment to do so, who never saw him but once in her life, and then was so much frightened that she instantly fainted?"
"Pah! pah! pah! Cap, hush! You, all of you, disgust me, except Black Donald! I begin to respect him! Confound if I don't take in all the offers I have made for his apprehension, and at the very next convention of our party I'll nominate him to represent us in the National Congress; for, of all the fools that ever I have met in my life, the people of this county are the greatest! And fools should at least be represented by one clever man—and Black Donald is the very fellow! He is decidedly the ablest man in this congressional district."
"Except yourself, dear uncle!" said Capitola.
"Except nobody, Miss Impudence!—least of all me! The experience of the last week has convinced me that I ought to have a cap and bells awarded me by public acclamation!" said Old Hurricane, stamping about in fury.
The good minister finding that he could make no sort of impression upon the irate old man, soon took his leave, telling Mrs. Condiment that if he could be of any service to her in her trouble she must be sure to let him know.
At this Capitola and Mrs. Condiment exchanged looks, and the old lady, thanking him for his kindness, said that if it should become necessary, she should gratefully avail herself of it.
That day the camp meeting broke up.
Major Warfield struck tents and with his family and baggage returned to Hurricane Hall.
On their arrival, each member of the party went about his or her own particular business.
Capitola hurried to her own room to take off her bonnet and shawl. Pitapat, before attending her young mistress, lingered below to astonish the housemaids with accounts of "Brack Donel, dress up like an ole parson, an' 'ceiving everybody, even ole Marse!"
Mrs. Condiment went to her store room to inspect the condition of her newly put up preserves and pickles, lest any of them should have "worked" during her absence.
And Old Hurricane, attended by Wool, walked down to his kennels and his stables to look after the well-being of his favorite hounds and horses. It was while going through this interesting investigation that Major Warfield was informed—principally by overhearing the gossip of the grooms with Wool—of the appearance of a new inmate of the Hidden House—a young girl, who, according to their description, must have been the very pearl of beauty.
Old Hurricane pricked up his ears! Anything relating to the "Hidden House" possessed immense interest for him.
"Who is she, John?" he inquired of the groom.
"'Deed I dunno, sir, only they say she's a bootiful young creature, fair as any lily, and dressed in deep mourning."
"Humph! humph! humph! another victim! Ten thousand chances to one, another victim! who told you this, John?"
"Why, Marse, you see Tom Griffith, the Rev. Mr. Goodwin's man, he's very thick long of Davy Hughs, Colonel Le Noir's coachman. And Davy he told Tom how one day last month his marse ordered the carriage, and went two or three days' journey up the country beyant Staunton, there he stayed a week and then came home, fetching along with him in the carriage this lovely young lady, who was dressed in the deepest mourning, and wept all the way. They 'spects how she's an orphan, and has lost all her friends, by the way she takes on."
"Another victim! My life on it—another victim! Poor child! She had better be dead than in the power of that atrocious villain and consummate hypocrite!" said Old Hurricane, passing on to the examination of his favorite horses, one of which, the swiftest in the stud, he found galled on the shoulders. Whereupon he flew into a towering passion, abusing his unfortunate groom by every opprobrious epithet blind fury could suggest, ordering him, as he valued whole bones, to vacate the stable instantly, and never dare to set foot on his premises again as he valued his life, an order which the man meekly accepted and immediately disobeyed, muttered to himself:
"Humph! If we took ole marse at his word, there'd never be man or 'oman left on the 'state," knowing full well that his tempestuous old master would probably forget all about it, as soon as he got comfortably seated at the supper table of Hurricane Hall, toward which the old man now trotted off.
Not a word did Major Warfield say at supper in regard to the new inmate of the Hidden House, for he had particular reasons for keeping Cap in ignorance of a neighbor, lest she should insist upon exchanging visits and being "sociable."
But it was destined that Capitola should not remain a day in ignorance of the interesting fact.
That night, when she retired to her chamber, Pitapat lingered behind, but presently appeared at her young mistress's room door with a large waiter on her head, laden with meat, pastry, jelly and fruit, which she brought in and placed upon the work stand.
"Why, what on the face of earth do you mean by bringing all that load of victuals into my room to-night? Do you think I am an ostrich or a cormorant, or that I am going to entertain a party of friends?" asked Capitola, in astonishment, turning from the wash stand, where she stood bathing her face.
"'Deed I dunno, Miss, whedder you'se an ostrizant or not, but I knows I don't 'tend for to be 'bused any more 'bout wittels, arter findin' out how cross empty people can be! Dar dey is! You can eat um or leab um alone, Miss Caterpillar!" said little Pitapat, firmly.
Capitola laughed. "Patty" she said, "you are worthy to be called my waiting maid!"
"And Lors knows, Miss Caterpillar, if it was de wittels you was a-frettin' arter, you ought to a-told me before! Lors knows dere's wittels enough!"
"Yes, I'm much obliged to you, Patty, but now I am not hungry, and I do not like the smell of food in my bedroom, so take the waiter out and set it on the passage table until morning."
Patty obeyed, and came back smiling and saying:
"Miss Caterpillar, has you hern de news?"
"What news, Pat?"
"How us has got a new neighbor—a bootiful young gal—as bootiful as a picter in a gilt-edged Christmas book—wid a snowy skin, and sky-blue eyes and glistenin' goldy hair, like the princess you was a readin' me about, all in deep mournin' and a weepin' and a weepin' all alone down there in that wicked, lonesome, onlawful ole haunted place, the Hidden House, along of old Colonel Le Noir and old Dorkey Knight, and the ghost as draws people's curtains of a night, just for all de worl' like dat same princess in de ogre's castle!"
"What on earth is all this rigmarole about? Are you dreaming or romancing?"
"I'm a-telling on you de bressed trufe! Dere's a young lady a-livin at de Hidden House!"
"Eh? Is that really true, Patty?"
"True as preaching, miss."
"Then, I am very glad of it! I shall certainly ride over and call on the stranger," said Capitola, gaily.
"Oh, Miss Cap! Oh, miss, don't you do no sich thing! Ole Marse kill me! I heerd him t'reaten all de men and maids how if dey telled you anything 'bout de new neighbor, how he'd skin dem alive!"
"Won't he skin you?" asked Cap.
"No, miss, not 'less you 'form ag'in me, 'case he didn't tell me not to tell you, 'case you see he didn't think how I knowed! But, leastways, I know from what I heard, ole marse wouldn't have you to know nothin' about it, no, not for de whole worl'."
"He does not want me to call at the Hidden House! That's it! Now why doesn't he wish me to call there? I shall have to go in order to find out, and so I will," thought Cap.
CAP'S VISIT TO THE HIDDEN HOUSE.
And such a night "she" took the road in As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in. The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last The rattling showers rose on the blast; The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed; Loud, deep and long the thunder bellowed; That night a child might understand The de'il had business on his hand.
A week passed before Capitola carried her resolution of calling upon the inmate of the Hidden House into effect. It was in fact a hot, dry, oppressive season, the last few days of August, when all people, even the restless Capitola, preferred the coolness and repose of indoors. But that she should stay at home more than a week was a moral and physical impossibility. So on Thursday afternoon, when Major Warfield set out on horseback to visit his mill, Capitola ordered her horse saddled and brought up that she might take an afternoon's ride.
"Now please, my dear child, don't go far," said Mrs. Condiment, "for besides that your uncle does not approve of your riding alone, you must hurry back to avoid the storm."
"Storm, Mrs. Condiment, why bless your dear old heart, there has not been a storm these four weeks!" said Capitola, almost indignant that such an absurd objection to a long ride should be raised.
"The more reason, my child, that we should have a very severe one when it does come, and I think it will be upon us before sunset; so I advise you to hurry home."
"Why, Mrs. Condiment, there's not a cloud in the sky."
"So much the worse, my dear! The blackest cloud that ever gathered is not so ominous of mischief as this dull, coppery sky and still atmosphere! And if forty years' observation of weather signs goes for anything, I tell you that we are going to have the awfulest storm that ever gathered in the heavens! Why, look out of that window—the very birds and beasts know it, and instinctively seek shelter—look at that flock of crows flying home! See how the dumb beasts come trooping toward their sheds! Capitola, you had better give up going altogether, my dear!"
"There! I thought all this talk tended to keeping me within doors, but I can't stay, Mrs. Condiment! Good Mrs. Condiment, I can't!"
"But, my dear, if you should be caught out in the storm!"
"Why, I don't know but I should like it! What harm could it do? I'm not soluble in water—rain won't melt me away! I think upon the whole I rather prefer being caught in the storm," said Cap, perversely.
"Well, well, there is no need of that! You may ride as far as the river's bank and back again in time to escape, if you choose!" said Mrs. Condiment, who saw that her troublesome charge was bent upon the frolic.
And Cap, seeing her horse approach, led by one of the grooms, ran up-stairs, donned her riding habit, hat and gloves, ran down again, sprang into her saddle and was off, galloping away toward the river before Mrs. Condiment could add another word of warning.
She had been gone about an hour, when the sky suddenly darkened, the wind rose and the thunder rolled in prelude to the storm.
Major Warfield came skurrying home from the mill, grasping his bridle with one hand and holding his hat on with the other.
Meeting poor old Ezy in the shrubbery, he stormed out upon him with:
"What are you lounging there for, you old idiot! You old sky-gazing lunatic! Don't you see that we are going to have an awful blow! Begone with you and see that the cattle are all under shelter! Off, I say, or," he rode toward Bill Ezy, but the old man, exclaiming:
"Yes, sir—yes, sir! In coorse, sir!" ducked his head and ran off in good time.
Major Warfield quickened his horse's steps and rode to the house, dismounted and threw the reins to the stable boy, exclaiming:
"My beast is dripping with perspiration—rub him down well, you knave, or I'll impale you!"
Striding into the hall, he threw down his riding whip, pulled off his gloves and called:
"Wool! Wool, you scoundrel, close every door and window in the house! Call all the servants together in the dining-room; we're going to have one of the worst tempests that ever raised!"
Wool flew to do his bidding.
"Mrs. Condiment, mum," said the old man, striding into the sitting-room, "Mrs. Condiment, mum, tell Miss Black to come down from her room until the storm is over; the upper chambers of this old house are not safe in a tempest. Well, mum, why don't you go, or send Pitapat?"
"Major Warfield, sir, I'm very sorry, but Miss Black has not come in yet," said Mrs. Condiment, who for the last half hour had suffered extreme anxiety upon account of Capitola.
"Not come in yet! Demmy, mum! Do you tell me she has gone out?" cried Old Hurricane, in a voice of thunder, gathering his brows into a dark frown, and striking his cane angrily upon the floor.
"Yes, sir, I am sorry to say she rode out about an hour ago and has not returned," said Mrs. Condiment, summoning all her firmness to meet Old Hurricane's 'roused wrath."
"Ma'am! You venture to stand there before my face and tell me composedly that you permitted Miss Black to go off alone in the face of such a storm as this?" roared Old Hurricane.
"Sir, I could not help it!" said the old lady.
"Demmy, mum! You should have helped it! A woman of your age to stand there and tell me that she could not prevent a young creature like Capitola from going out alone in the storm!"
"Major Warfield, could you have done it?"
"Me? Demmy, I should think so; but that is not the question! You——"
He was interrupted by a blinding flash of lightning, followed immediately by an awful peal of thunder and a sudden fall of rain.
Old Hurricane sprang up as though he had been shot off his chair and trotted up and down the floor exclaiming:
"And she—she out in all this storm! Mrs. Condiment, mum, you deserve to be ducked! Yes, mum, you do! Wool! Wool! you diabolical villain!"
"Yes, marse, yes, sir, here I is!" exclaimed that officer, in trepidation, as he appeared in the doorway. "De windows and doors, sir, is all fastened close and de maids are all in the dining-room as you ordered, and——"
"Hang the maids and the doors and windows, too! Who the demon cares about them? How dared you, you knave, permit your young mistress to ride, unattended, in the face of such a storm, too! Why didn't you go with her, sir?"
"Don't ''deed marse' me you atrocious villain! Saddle a horse quickly, inquire which road your mistress took and follow and attend her home safely—after which I intend to break every bone in your skin, sirrah! So——"
Again he was interrupted by a dazzling flash of lightning, accompanied by a deafening roll of thunder, and followed by a flood of rain.
Wool stood appalled at the prospect of turning out in such a storm upon such a fruitless errand.
"Oh, you may stare and roll up your eyes, but I mean it, you varlet! So be off with you! Go! I don't care if you should be drowned in the rain, or blown off the horse, or struck by lightning. I hope you may be, you knave, and I shall be rid of one villain! Off, you varlet, or——" Old Hurricane lifted a bronze statuette to hurl at Wool's delinquent head, but that functionary dodged and ran out in time to escape a blow that might have put a period to his mortal career.
But let no one suppose that honest Wool took the road that night! He simply ran down-stairs and hid himself comfortably in the lowest regions of the house, there to tarry until the storms, social and atmospheric, should be over.
Meanwhile the night deepened, the storm raged without and Old Hurricane raged within!
The lightning flashed, blaze upon blaze, with blinding glare! The thunder broke, crash upon crash, with deafening roar! The wind gathering all its force cannonaded the old walls as though it would batter down the house! The rain fell in floods! In the midst of all the Demon's Run, swollen to a torrent, was heard like the voice of a "roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour!"
Old Hurricane strode up and down the floor, groaning, swearing, threatening, and at every fresh blast of the storm without, breaking forth into fury!
Mrs. Condiment sat crouched in a corner, praying fervently every time the lightning blazed into the room, longing to go and join the men and maids in the next apartment, yet fearful to stir from her seat lest she should attract Old Hurricane's attention, and draw down upon herself the more terrible thunder and lightning of his wrath. But to escape Old Hurricane's violence was not in the power of mortal man or woman. Soon her very stillness exasperated him and he broke forth upon her with:
"Mrs. Condiment, mum, I don't know how you can bear to sit there so quietly and listen to this storm, knowing that the poor child is exposed to it?"
"Major Warfield, would it do any good for me to jump up and trot up and down the floor and go on as you do, even supposing I had the strength?" inquired the meek old lady, thoroughly provoked at his injustice!
"I'd like to see you show a little more feeling! You are a perfect barbarian! Oh, Cap! my darling, where are you now? Heavens! what a blast was that! Enough to shake the house about our ears! I wish it would! blamed if I don't!"
"Oh, Major! Major! don't say such awful things, nor make such awful wishes!" said the appalled old lady—"you don't know what you might bring down upon us!"
"No, nor care! If the old house should tumble in, it would bury under its ruins a precious lot of good-for-nothing people, unfit to live! Heavens! what a flash of lightning! Oh, Cap, Cap, my darling, where are you in this storm? Mrs. Condiment, mum! if any harm comes to Capitola this night, I'll have you indicted for manslaughter!"
"Major Warfield, if it is all on Miss Black's account that you are raving and raging so, I think it is quite vain of you! for any young woman caught out in a storm would know enough to get into shelter; especially would Miss Black, who is a young lady of great courage and presence of mind, as we know. She has surely gone into some house, to remain until the storm is over," said Mrs. Condiment, soothingly.
This speech, so well intended, exasperated Old Hurricane more than all the rest; stopping and striking his cane upon the floor, he roared forth:
"Hang it, mum! hold your foolish old tongue! You know nothing about it! Capitola is exposed to more serious dangers than the elements! Perils of all sorts surround her! She should never, rain or shine, go out alone! Oh, the little villain! the little wretch! the little demon! if ever I get her safe in this house again, won't I lock her up and keep her on bread and water until she learns to behave herself!"
Here again a blinding flash of lightning, a deafening peal of thunder, a terrific blast of wind and flood of rain suddenly arrested his speech.
"Oh, my Cap! my dear Cap! I needn't threaten you! I shall never have the chance to be cruel to you again—never! You'll perish in this terrible storm and then—and then my tough old heart will break! It will—it will, Cap! But demmy, before it does, I'll break the necks of every man and woman, in this house, old and young! Hear it, heaven and earth, for I'll do it!"
All things must have an end. So, as the hours passed on, the storm having spent all its fury, gradually grumbled itself into silence.
Old Hurricane also raged himself into a state of exhaustion so complete that when the midnight hour struck he could only drop into a chair and murmur:
"Twelve o'clock and no news of her yet!"
And then unwillingly he went to bed, attended by Mrs. Condiment and Pitapat instead of Wool, who was supposed to be out in search of Capitola, but who was, in fact, fast asleep on the floor of a dry cellar.
Meanwhile, where did this midnight hour find Capitola?
THE HIDDEN HOLLOW.
On every side the aspect was the same, All ruined, desolate, forlorn and savage, No hand or foot within the precinct came To rectify or ravage! Here Echo never mocked the human tongue; Some weighty crime that Heaven could not pardon. A secret curse on that old Building hung And its deserted garden!
—Hood's Haunted House.
Cap was a bit of a Don Quixote! The stirring incidents of the last few months had spoiled her; the monotony of the last few weeks had bored her; and now she had just rode out in quest of adventures.
The Old Hidden House, with its mysterious traditions, its gloomy surroundings and its haunted reputation, had always possessed a powerful attraction for one of Cap's adventurous spirit. To seek and gaze upon the somber house, of which, and of whose inmates, such terrible stories had been told or hinted, had always been a secret desire and purpose of Capitola.
And now the presence there of a beautiful girl near her own age was the one last item that tipped the balance, making the temptation to ride thither outweigh every other consideration of duty, prudence and safety. And having once started on the adventure, Cap felt the attraction drawing her toward the frightful hollow of the Hidden House growing stronger with every step taken thitherward.
She reached the banks of the "Demon's Run," and took the left-hand road down the stream until she reached the left point of the Horse-Shoe Mountain, and then going up around the point, she kept close under the back of the range until she had got immediately in the rear of the round bend of the "Horse Shoe," behind Hurricane Hall.
"Well," said Cap, as she drew rein here, and looked up at the lofty ascent of gray rocks that concealed Hurricane Hall, "to have had to come such a circuit around the outside of the 'Horse Shoe,' to find myself just at the back of our old house, and no farther from home than this! There's as many doubles and twists in these mountains as there are in a lawyer's discourse! There, Gyp, you needn't turn back again and pull at the bridle, to tell me that there is a storm coming up and that you want to go home! I have no more respect for your opinion than I have for Mrs. Condiment's. Besides, you carry a damsel-errant in quest of adventures, Gyp, and so you must on, Gyp—you must on!" said Capitola, forcibly pulling her horse's head around, and then taking a survey of the downward path.
It was a scene fascinating from its very excess of gloom and terror!
It was a valley so deep and dark as to merit the name of the hollow, or hole, but for its great extent and its thick growth of forest, through which spectral-looking rocks gleamed, and moaning waters could be heard but not seen.
"Now, somewhere in that thick forest in the bottom of that vale, stands the house—well called the Hidden House, since not a chimney of it can be seen even from this commanding height! But I suppose this path that leads down into the valley may conduct me to the building! Come along, Gyp! You needn't turn up your head and pull at the bit! You've got to go! I am bound this night to see the outside of the Hidden House, and the window of the haunted chamber at the very least!" said Cap, throwing her eyes up defiantly toward the darkening sky, and putting whip to her unwilling horse.
As the path wound down into the valley the woods were found deeper, thicker and darker. It occupied all Cap's faculties to push her way through the overhanging and interlacing branches of the trees.
"Good gracious," she said, as she used her left arm rather vigorously to push aside the obstructions to her path, "one would think this were the enchanted forest containing the castle of the sleeping beauty, and I was the knight destined to deliver her! I'm sure it wouldn't have been more difficult."
Still deeper fell the path, thicker grew the forest and darker the way.
"Gyp, I'm under the impression that we shall have to turn back yet!" said Cap, dolefully stopping in the midst of a thicket so dense that it completely blockaded her farther progress in the same direction. Just as she came to this very disagreeable conclusion she spied an opening on her left, from which a bridle-path struck out. With an exclamation of joy she immediately turned her horse's head and struck into it. This path was very rocky, but in some degree clearer than the other, and she went on quickly, singing to herself, until gradually her voice began to be lost in the sound of many rushing waters.
"It must be the Devil's Punch Bowl! I am approaching!" she said to herself, as she went on.
She was right. The roaring of the waters grew deafening and the path became so rugged with jagged and irregularly piled rocks, that Cap could scarcely keep her horse upon his feet in climbing over them. And suddenly, when she least looked for it, the great natural curiosity—the Devil's Punch Bowl—burst upon her view!
It was an awful abyss, scooped out as it were from the very bowels of the earth, with its steep sides rent open in dreadful chasms, and far down in its fearful depths a boiling whirlpool of black waters.
Urging her reluctant steed through a thicket of stunted thorns and over a chaos of shattered rocks, Capitola approached as near as she safely could to the brink of this awful pit. So absorbed was she in gazing upon this terrible phenomenon of natural scenery that she had not noticed, in the thicket on her right, a low hut that, with its brown-green moldering colors, fell so naturally in with the hue of the surrounding scenery as easily to escape observation. She did not even observe that the sky was entirely overcast, and the thunder was muttering in the distance. She was aroused from her profound reverie by a voice near her asking:
"Who are you, that dares to come without a guide to the Devil's Punch Bowl?"
Capitola looked around and came nearer screaming than she ever had been in her life, upon seeing the apparition that stood before her. Was it man, woman, beast or demon? She could not tell! It was a very tall, spare form, with a black cloth petticoat tied around the waist, a blue coat buttoned over the breast, and a black felt hat tied down with a red handkerchief, shading the darkest old face she had ever seen in her life.
"Who are you, I say, who comes to the Devil's Punch Bowl without leave or license?" repeated the frightful creature, shifting her cane from one hand to the other.
"I? I am Capitola Black, from Hurricane Hall; but who, in the name of all the fates and furies, are you?" inquired Capitola, who, in getting over the shock, had recovered her courage.
"I am Harriet the Seeress of Hidden Hollow!" replied the apparition, in a melodramatic manner that would not have discredited the queen of tragedy herself. "You have heard of me?"
"Yes, but I always heard you called Old Hat, the Witch," said Cap.
"The world is profane—give me your hand!" said the beldame, reaching out her own to take that of Capitola.
"Stop! Is your hand clean? It looks very black!"
"Cleaner than yours will be when it is stained with blood, young maiden!"
"Tut! If you insist on telling my fortune, tell me a pleasant one, and I will pay you double," laughed Capitola.
"The fates are not to be mocked. Your destiny will be that which the stars decree. To prove to you that I know this, I tell you that you are not what you have been!"
"You've hit it this time, old lady, for I was a baby once and now I am a young girl!" said Cap, laughing.
"You will not continue to be that which you are now!" pursued the hag, still attentively reading the lines of her subject's hand.
"Right again; for if I live long enough I shall be an old woman."
"You bear a name that you will not bear long!"
"I think that quite a safe prophecy, as I haven't the most distant idea of being an old maid!"
"This little hand of yours—this dainty woman's hand—will be—red with blood!"
"Now, do you know, I don't doubt that either? I believe it altogether probable that I shall have to cook my husband's dinner and kill the chickens for his soup!"
"Girl, beware! You deride the holy stars—and already they are adverse to you!" said the hag, with a threatening glare.
"Ha, ha, ha! I love the beautiful stars but did not fear them! I fear only Him who made the stars!"
"Poor butterfly, listen and beware! You are destined to imbrue that little hand in the life current of one who loves you the most of all on earth! You are destined to rise by the destruction of one who would shed his heart's best blood for you!" said the beldame, in an awful voice.
Capitola's eyes flashed! She advanced her horse a step or two nearer the witch and raised her riding whip, saying:
"I protest! If you were only a man I should lay this lash over your wicked shoulders until my arms ached! How dare you? Faith, I don't wonder that in the honest old times such pests as you were cooled in the ducking pond! Good gracious, that must have made a hissing and spluttering in the water, though!"
"Blasphemer, pay me and begone!"
"Pay you? I tell you I would if you were only a man; but it would be sinful to pay a wretched old witch in the only way you deserve to be paid!" said Cap, flourishing her riding whip before a creature tall enough and strong enough to have doubled up her slight form together and hurled it into the abyss.
"Gold! gold!" said the hag curtly, holding out black and talon-like fingers, which she worked convulsively.
"Gold! gold, indeed! for such a wicked fortune! Not a penny!" said Cap.
"Ho! you're stingy; you do not like to part with the yellow demon that has bought the souls of all your house!"
"Don't I? You shall see! There! If you want gold, go fish it from the depth of the whirlpool," said Cap, taking her purse and casting it over the precipice.
This exasperated the crone to frenzy.
"Away! Begone!" she cried, shaking her long arm at the girl. "Away! Begone! The fate pursues you! The badge of blood is stamped upon your palm!"
"'Fee—faw—fum'" said Cap.
"Scorner! Beware! The curse of the crimson hand is upon you!"
—"'I smell the blood of an Englishman'"—continued Cap.
"Derider of the fates, you are foredoomed to crime!"
—"'Be he alive or be he dead, I'll have his brains to butter my bread!'" concluded Cap.
"Be silent!" shrieked the beldame.
"I won't!" said Cap. "Because you see, if we are in for the horrible, I can beat you hollow at that!
"'Avaunt! and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless! Thy blood is cold! Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with?'"
"Begone! You're doomed! doomed! doomed!" shrieked the witch, retreating into her hut.
Cap laughed and stroked the neck of her horse, saying:
"Gyp, my son, that was old Nick's wife, who was with us just this instant, and now, indeed, Gyp, if we are to see the Hidden House this afternoon, we must get on!"
And so saying she followed the path that wound half-way around the Punch Bowl and then along the side of a little mountain torrent called the Spout, which, rising in an opposite mountain, leaped from rock to rock, with many a sinuous turn, as it wound through the thicket that immediately surrounded the Hidden House until it finally jetted through a subterranean channel into the Devil's Punch Bowl.
Capitola was now, unconsciously, upon the very spot, where, seventeen years before, the old nurse had been forcibly stopped and compelled to attend the unknown lady.
As Capitola pursued the path that wound lower and lower into the dark valley the gloom of the thicket deepened. Her thoughts ran on all the horrible traditions connected with the Hidden House and Hollow—the murder and robbery of the poor peddler—the mysterious assassination of Eugene Le Noir; the sudden disappearance of his youthful widow; the strange sights and sounds reported to be heard and seen about the mansion; the spectral light at the upper gable window; the white form seen flitting through the chamber; the pale lady that in the dead of night drew the curtains of a guest that once had slept there; and above all Capitola thought of the beautiful, strange girl, who was now an inmate of that sinful and accursed house! And while these thoughts absorbed her mind, suddenly, in a turning of the path, she came full upon the gloomy building.
THE HIDDEN HOUSE.
The very stains and fractures on the wall Assuming features solemn and terrific, Hinted some tragedy of that old hall Locked up in hieroglyphic! Prophetic hints that filled the soul with dread; But to one gloomy window pointing mostly, The while some secret inspiration said, That chamber is the ghostly!
The Hidden House was a large, irregular edifice of dark red sandstone with its walls covered closely with the clinging ivy, that had been clipped away only from a few of the doors and windows, and its roof over-shadowed by the top branches of gigantic oaks and elms that clustered around and nearly concealed the building.
It might have been a long-forsaken house, for any sign of human habitation that was to be seen about it. All was silent, solitary and gloomy.
As Capitola drew up her horse to gaze upon its somber walls she wondered which was the window at which the spectral light and ghostly face had been seen. She soon believed that she had found it.
At the highest point of the building, immediately under the sharp angle of the roof, in the gable and nearest to view, was a solitary window. The ivy that clung tightly to the stone, covering every portion of the wall at this end, was clipped away from that high placed, dark and lonely window by which Capitola's eyes were strangely fascinated.
While thus she gazed in wonder, interest and curiosity, though without the least degree of superstitious dread, a vision flashed upon her sight that sent the blood from her ruddy cheek to her brave heart, and shook the foundations of her unbelief!
For while she gazed, suddenly that dark window was illumed by a strange, unearthly light that streamed forth into the gloomy evening air, and touched with blue flame the quivering leaves of every tree in its brilliant line! In the midst of this lighted window appeared a white female face wild with woe! And then the face suddenly vanished and the light was swallowed up in darkness!
Capitola remained transfixed!
"Great heaven!" she thought, "can these things really be! Have the ghostly traditions of this world truth in them at last? When I heard this story of the haunted window I thought some one had surely imagined or invented it! Now I have seen for myself; but if I were to tell what I have seen not one in a hundred would believe me!"
While these startling thoughts disturbed her usual well-balanced mind, a vivid flash of lightning, accompanied by a tremendous peal of thunder and a heavy fall of rain, roused her into renewed activity.
"Gyp, my boy, the storm is upon us sure enough! We shall catch it all around, get well drowned, beaten and buffeted here and well abused when we get home! Meantime, Gyp, which is the worst, the full fury of the tempest or the mysterious terrors of the Haunted House!"
Another blinding flash of lightning, a stunning crash of thunder, a flood of rain and tornado of wind decided her.
"We'll take the Haunted House, Gyp, my friend! That spectral lady of the lighted window looked rather in sorrow than in anger, and who knows but the ghosts may be hospitable? So gee up, Dobbin!" said Capitola, and, urging her horse with one hand and holding on her cap with the other, she went on against wind and rain until she reached the front of the old house.
Not a creature was to be seen; every door and window was closely shut. Dismounting, Capitola led her horse under the shelter of a thickly leaved oak tree, secured him, and then holding up her saturated skirt with one hand and holding on her cap with the other, she went up some moldering stone steps to an old stone portico and, seizing the heavy iron knocker of a great black oak double door, she knocked loudly enough to awaken all the mountain echoes.
She waited a few minutes for an answer, but receiving none, she knocked again, more loudly than before. Still there was no reply. And growing impatient, she seized the knocker with both hands and exerting all her strength, made the welkin ring again!
This brought a response. The door was unlocked and angrily jerked open by a short, squarely formed, beetle-browed, stern-looking woman, clothed in a black stuff gown and having a stiff muslin cap upon her head.
"Who are you? What do you want here?" harshly demanded this woman, whom Capitola instinctively recognized as Dorkey Knight, the morose housekeeper of the Hidden House.
"Who am I? What do I want? Old Nick fly away with you! It's plain enough to be seen who I am and what I want. I am a young woman caught out in the storm and I want shelter!" said Cap, indignantly. And her words were endorsed by a terrific burst of the tempest in lightning, thunder, wind and rain!
"Come in then and when you ask favors learn to keep a civil tongue in your head!" said the woman sternly, taking the guest by the hand and pulling her in and shutting and locking the door.
"Favors! Plague on you for a bearess! I asked no favor! Every storm-beaten traveler has a right to shelter under the first roof that offers, and none but a curmudgeon would think of calling it a favor! And as for keeping a civil tongue in my head, I'll do it when you set me the example!" said Cap.
"Who are you?" again demanded the woman.
"Oh, I see you are no Arabian in your notions of hospitality! Those pagans entertain a guest without asking him a single question; and though he were their bitterest foe, they consider him while he rests beneath their tent sacred from intrusion."
"That's because they were pagans!" said Dorkey. "But as I am a Christian, I'd thank you to let me know who it is that I have received under this roof."
"My name," said our heroine, impatiently, "is Capitola Black! I live with my uncle, Major Warfield, at Hurricane Hall! And now, I should thank your ladyship to send some one to put away my horse, while you yourself accommodate me with dry clothes."
While our saucy little heroine spoke the whole aspect of the dark-browed woman changed.
"Capitola—Capitola," she muttered, gazing earnestly upon the face of the unwelcome guest.
"Yes, Capitola! That is my name! You never heard anything against it, did you?"
For all answer the woman seized her hand, and while the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, and the wind and rain beat down, she drew her the whole length of the hall before a back window that overlooked the neglected garden, and, regardless of the electric fluid that incessantly blazed upon them, she held her there and scrutinized her features.
"Well, I like this! Upon my word, I do!" said Cap, composedly.
Without replying, the strange woman seized her right hand, forcibly opened it, gazed upon the palm and then, flinging it back with a shudder, exclaimed:
"Capitola, what brought you under this roof? Away! Begone! Mount your horse and fly while there is yet time!"
"What! expose myself again to the storm? I won't, and that's flat!" said Cap.
"Girl! girl! there are worse dangers in the world than any to be feared from thunder, lightning, rain or wind!"
"Very well, then, when I meet them it will be time enough to deal with them! Meanwhile the stormy night and my soaked clothing are very palpable evils, and as I see no good end to be gained by my longer enduring them, I will just beg you to stop soothsaying—(as I have had enough of that from another old witch)—and be as good as to permit me to change my clothes!"
"It is madness! You shall not stay here!" cried the woman, in a harsh voice.
"And I tell you I will! You are not the head of the family, and I do not intend to be turned out by you!"
While she spoke a servant crossed the hall and the woman, whisking Capitola around until her back was turned and her face concealed, went to speak to the newcomer.
"When will your master be here?" Capitola heard her inquire.
"Not to-night; he saw the storm rising and did not wish to expose himself. He sent me on to say that he would not be here until morning. I was caught, as you see! I am dripping wet," replied the man.
"Go, change your clothes at once then, Davy."
"Who is that stranger?" asked the man, pointing to Capitola.
"Some young woman of the neighborhood, who has been caught out in the tempest. But you had better go and change your clothes than to stand here gossiping," said the woman, harshly.
"I say," said the man, "the young woman is a God-send to Miss Clara; nobody has been to see her yet; nobody ever visits this house unless they are driven to it. I don't wonder the colonel and our young master pass as much as ten months in the year away from home, spending all the summer at the watering places, and all the winter in New York or Washington!"
"Hold your tongue! What right have you to complain? You always attend them in their travels!"
"True, but you see for this last season they have both been staying here, old master to watch the heiress, young master to court her, and as I have no interest in that game, I find the time hangs heavy on my hands," complained the man.
"It will hang heavier if you take a long fit of illness by standing in wet clothes," muttered the woman.
"Why, so 'twill, missus! So here goes," assented the man, hurrying across the hall and passing out through the door opposite that by which he entered.
Dorcas returned to her guest.
Eying her closely for a while, she at length inquired:
"Capitola, how long have you lived at Hurricane Hall?"
"So long," replied Cap, "that you must have heard of me! I, at least, have often heard of Mother Dorkey Knight."
"And heard no good of her!"
"Well, no—to be candid with you, I never did," said Cap.
"And much harm of her?" continued the woman, keeping her stern black eyes fixed upon those of her guest.
"Well, yes—since you ask me, I have heard pretty considerable harm!" answered Cap, nothing daunted.
"Where did you live before you came to Hurricane Hall?" asked Dorcas.
"Where I learned to fear God, to speak the truth and to shame the devil!" replied Cap.
—"And to force yourself into people's houses against their will!"
"There you are again! I tell you that when I learn from the head of this household that I am unwelcome, then I will retreat, and not until then! And now I demand to be presented to the master."
"To Colonel Le Noir?"
"I cannot curse you with 'the curse of a granted prayer!' Colonel Le Noir is away."
"Why do you talk so strangely?" inquired Capitola.
"It is my whim. Perhaps my head is light."
"I should think it was, excessively so! Well—as the master of the house is away, be good enough to present me to the mistress?"
"What mistress? There is no mistress here!" replied Dorcas, looking around in strange trepidation.
"I mean the young lady, Colonel Le Noir's ward. In lieu of any other lady, she, I suppose, may be considered the mistress of the house!"
"Humph! Well, young girl, as you are fully resolved to stand your ground. I suppose there is nothing to do but to put up with you!" said Dorcas.
"And put up my horse," added Cap.
"He shall be taken care of! But mind, you must depart early in the morning!" said Dorcas, sternly.
"Once more, and for the last, Mother Cerberus, I assure you I do not acknowledge your authority to dismiss me!" retorted Capitola. "So show me to the presence of your mistress!"
"Perverse, like all the rest! Follow me!" said the housekeeper, leading the way from the hall toward a back parlor.
THE INMATE OF THE HIDDEN HOUSE.
There is a light around her brow, A holiness in those dark eyes, That show, though wandering earthward now, Her spirit's home is in the skies.
Pushing open the door, Dorcas Knight exclaimed:
"Here is a young lady, Miss Black, from Hurricane Hall, come to see you, Miss Day."
And having made this announcement, the woman retired and shut the door behind her.
And Capitola found herself in a large, dark, gloomy, wainscoted room, whose tall, narrow windows afforded but little light, and whose immense fireplace and blackened furniture seemed to belong to a past century.
The only occupant of this somber apartment was a young girl, seated in pensive thought beside the central table. She was clothed in deep mourning, which only served to throw into fairer relief the beauty of her pearly skin, golden hair and violet eyes.
The vision of her mourning robes and melancholy beauty so deeply impressed Capitola that, almost for the first time in her life, she hesitated from a feeling of diffidence, and said gently:
"Indeed, I fear that this is an unwarranted intrusion on my part, Miss Day."
"You are very welcome," replied the sweetest voice Capitola had ever heard, as the young girl arose and advanced to meet her. "But you have been exposed to the storm. Please come into my room and change your clothes," continued the young hostess, as she took Cap's hand and led her into an adjoining room.
The storm was still raging, but these apartments being in the central portion of the strong old house, were but little exposed to the sight or sound of its fury.
There was a lamp burning upon the mantelpiece, by the light of which the young girl furnished her visitor with dry clothing and assisted her to change, saying as she did so:
"I think we are about the same size, and that my clothes will fit you; but I will not offer you mourning habiliments—you shall have this lilac silk."
"I am very sorry to see you in mourning," said Capitola, earnestly.
"It is for my father," replied Clara, very softly.
As they spoke the eyes of the two young girls met. They were both good physiognomists and intuitive judges of character. Consequently in the full meeting of their eyes they read, understood and appreciated each other.
The pure, grave, and gentle expression of Clara's countenance touched the heart of Capitola.
The bright, frank, honest face of Cap recommended her to Clara.
The very opposite traits of their equally truthful characters attracted them to each other.
Clara conducted her guest back into the wainscoted parlor, where a cheerful fire had been kindled to correct the dampness of the air. And here they sat down unmindful of the storm that came much subdued through the thickness of the walls. And, as young creatures, however tried and sorrowful, will do, they entered into a friendly chat. And before an hour had passed Capitola thought herself well repaid for her sufferings from the storm and the rebuff, in having formed the acquaintance of Clara Day.
She resolved, let Old Hurricane rage as he might, henceforth she would be a frequent visitor to the Hidden House.
And Clara, for her part, felt that in Capitola she had found a frank, spirited, faithful neighbor who might become an estimable friend.
While they were thus growing into each other's favor, the door opened and admitted a gentleman of tall and thin figure and white and emaciated face, shaded by a luxuriant growth of glossy black hair and beard. He could not have been more than twenty-six, but, prematurely broken by vice, he seemed forty years of age. He advanced bowing toward the young women.
As Capitola's eyes fell upon this newcomer it required all her presence of mind and powers of self-control to prevent her from staring or otherwise betraying herself—for in this stranger she recognized the very man who had stopped her upon her night ride. She did, however, succeed in banishing from her face every expression of consciousness. And when Miss Day courteously presented him to her guest, saying merely, "My cousin, Mr. Craven Le Noir, Miss Black," Capitola arose and curtsied as composedly as if she had never set eyes upon his face before.
He on his part evidently remembered her, and sent one stealthy, keen and scrutinizing glance into her face; but, finding that imperturbable, he bowed with stately politeness and seemed satisfied that she had not identified him as her assailant.
Craven Le Noir drew his chair to the fire, seated himself and entered into an easy conversation with Clara and her guest. Whenever he addressed Clara there was a deference and tenderness in his tone and glance that seemed very displeasing to the fair girl, who received all these delicate attentions with coldness and reserve. These things did not escape the notice of Capitola, who mentally concluded that Craven Le Noir was a lover of Clara Day, but a most unacceptable lover.
When supper was announced it was evidently hailed by Clara as a great relief. And after the meal was over she arose and excused herself to her cousin by saying that her guest, Miss Black, had been exposed to the storm and was doubtless very much fatigued and that she would show her to her chamber.
Then, taking a night lamp, she invited Capitola to come and conducted her to an old-fashioned upper chamber, where a cheerful fire was burning on the hearth. Here the young girls sat down before the fire and improved their acquaintance by an hour's conversation. After which Clara arose, and saying, "I sleep immediately below your room, Miss Black; if you should want anything rap on the floor and I shall hear you and get up," she wished her guest a good night's rest and retired from the room.
Cap was disinclined to sleep; a strange superstitious feeling which she could neither understand nor throw off had fallen upon her spirits.
She took the night lamp in her hand and got up to examine her chamber. It was a large, dark, oak-paneled room, with a dark carpet on the floor and dark-green curtains on the windows and the bedstead. Over the mantelpiece hung the portrait of a most beautiful black-haired and black-eyed girl of about fourteen years of age, but upon whose infantile brow fell the shadow of some fearful woe. There was something awful in the despair "on that face so young" that bound the gazer in an irresistible and most painful spell. And Capitola remained standing before it transfixed, until the striking of the hall clock aroused her from her enchantment. Wondering who the young creature could have been, what had been her history and, above all, what had been the nature of that fearful woe that darkened like a curse her angel brow, Capitola turned almost sorrowfully away and began to prepare for bed.
She undressed, put on the delicate nightclothes Clara had provided for her use, said her evening prayers, looked under the bed—a precaution taken ever since the night upon which she had discovered the burglars—and, finding all right, she blew out her candle and lay down. She could not sleep—many persons of nervous or mercurial temperaments cannot do so the first night in a strange bed. Cap was very mercurial, and the bed and room in which she lay were very strange; for the first time since she had had a home to call her own she was unexpectedly staying all night away from her friends, and without their having any knowledge of her whereabouts. She was conjecturing, half in fear and half in fun, how Old Hurricane was taking her escapade and what he would say to her in the morning. She was wondering to find herself in such an unforeseen position as that of a night guest in the mysterious Hidden House—wondering whether this was the guest chamber in which the ghost appeared to the officer and these were the very curtains that the pale lady drew at night. While her thoughts were thus running over the whole range of circumstances around her singular position, sleep overtook Capitola and speculation was lost in brighter visions.
How long she had slept and dreamed she did not know, when something gently awakened her. She opened her eyes calmly—to meet a vision that brave as she was, nearly froze the blood in her warm veins.
Her chamber was illumined with an intense blue flame that lighted up every portion of the apartment with a radiance bright as day, and in the midst of this effulgence moved a figure clothed in white—a beautiful, pale, spectral woman, whose large, motionless black eyes, deeply set in her death-like face, and whose long unbound black hair, fallen upon her white raiment, were the only marks of color about her marble form.
Paralyzed with wonder, Capitola watched this figure as it glided about the chamber. The apparition approached the dressing-table, seemed to take something thence, and then gliding toward the bed, to Capitola's inexpressible horror, drew back the curtains and bent down and gazed upon her! Capitola had no power to scream, to move or to avert her gaze from those awful eyes that met her own, until at length, as the spectral head bent lower, she felt the pressure of a pair of icy lips upon her brow and closed her eyes!
When she opened them again the vision had departed and the room was dark and quiet.
There was no more sleep for Capitola. She heard the clock strike four, and was pleased to find that it was so near day. Still the time seemed very long to her, who lay there wondering, conjecturing and speculating on the strange adventure of the night.
When the sun arose she left her restless bed, bathed her excited head and proceeded to dress herself. When she had finished her toilet, with the exception of putting on her trinkets, she suddenly missed a ring that she prized more than she did all her possessions put together—it was a plain gold band, bearing the inscription Capitola-Eugene, and which she had been enjoined by her old nurse never to part from but with life. She had, in her days of destitution suffered the extremes of cold and hunger; had been upon the very brink of death from starvation or freezing, but without ever dreaming of sacrificing her ring. And now for the first time it was missing. While she was still looking anxiously for the lost jewel the door opened and Dorcas Knight entered the room, bearing on her arm Capitola's riding dress, which had been well dried and ironed.
"Miss Capitola, here is your habit; you had better put it on at once, as I have ordered breakfast an hour sooner than usual, so that you may have an early start."
"Upon my word, you are very anxious to get rid of me, but not more so than I am to depart," said Capitola, still pursuing her search.
"Your friends, who do not know where you are, must be very uneasy about you. But what are you looking for?"
"A ring, a plain gold circle, with my name and that of another inscribed on it, and which I would not lose for the world. I hung it on a pin in this pin-cushion last night before I went to bed. I would swear I did, and now it is missing," answered Cap, still pursuing her search.
"If you lost it in this room it will certainly be found," said Dorcas Knight putting down the habit and helping in the search.
"I am not so sure of that. There was some one in my room last night."
"Some one in your room!" exclaimed Dorcas in dismay.
"Yes; a dark-haired woman, all dressed in white!"
Dorcas Knight gave two or three angry grunts and then harshly exclaimed:
"Nonsense! woman, indeed! there is no such woman about the house! There are no females here except Miss Day, myself and you—not even a waiting-maid or cook."
"Well," said Cap, "if it was not a woman it was a ghost; for I was wide awake, and I saw it with my own eyes!"
"Fudge! you've heard that foolish story of the haunted room, and you have dreamed the whole thing!"
"I tell you I didn't! I saw it! Don't I know?"
"I say you dreamed it! There is no such living woman here; and as for a ghost, that is all folly. And I must beg, Miss Black, that you will not distress Miss Day by telling her this strange dream of yours. She has never heard the ridiculous story of the haunted room, and, as she lives here in solitude, I would not like her to hear of it."