The Abbot's Ghost; or, Maurice Treherne's Temptation
Louisa May Alcott
"How goes it, Frank? Down first, as usual."
"The early bird gets the worm, Major."
"Deuced ungallant speech, considering that the lovely Octavia is the worm,"
and with a significant laugh the major assumed an Englishman's favorite
attitude before the fire.
His companion shot a quick glance at him, and an expression of anxiety
passed over his face as he replied, with a well-feigned air of indifference,
"You are altogether too sharp, Major. I must be on my guard while you are
in the house. Any new arrivals? I thought I heard a carriage drive up not
"It was General Snowdon and his charming wife. Maurice Treherne came
while we were out, and I've not seen him yet, poor fellow!"
"Aye, you may well say that; his is a hard case, if what I heard is true. I'm
not booked up in the matter, and I should be, lest I make some blunder
here, so tell me how things stand, Major. We've a good half hour before
dinner. Sir Jasper is never punctual."
"Yes, you've a right to know, if you are going to try your fortune with
The major marched through the three drawing rooms to see that no
inquisitive servant was eavesdropping, and, finding all deserted, he resumed
his place, while young Annon lounged on a couch as he listened with
intense interest to the major's story.
"You know it was supposed that old Sir Jasper, being a bachelor, would
leave his fortune to his two nephews. But he was an oddity, and as the title
must go to young Jasper by right, the old man said Maurice should have the
money. He was poor, young Jasper rich, and it seemed but just, though
Madame Mère was very angry when she learned how the will was made."
"But Maurice didn't get the fortune. How was that?"
"There was some mystery there which I shall discover in time. All went
smoothly till that unlucky yachting trip, when the cousins were wrecked.
Maurice saved Jasper's life, and almost lost his own in so doing. I fancy he
wishes he had, rather than remain the poor cripple he is. Exposure,
exertion, and neglect afterward brought on paralysis of the lower limbs, and
there he is--a fine, talented, spirited fellow tied to that cursed chair like a
decrepit old man."
"How does he bear it?" asked Annon, as the major shook his gray head, with
a traitorous huskiness in his last words.
"Like a philosopher or a hero. He is too proud to show his despair at such a
sudden end to all his hopes, too generous to complain, for Jasper is
desperately cut up about it, and too brave to be daunted by a misfortune
which would drive many a man mad."
"Is it true that Sir Jasper, knowing all this, made a new will and left every
cent to his namesake?"
"Yes, and there lies the mystery. Not only did he leave it away from poor
Maurice, but so tied it up that Jasper cannot transfer it, and at his death it
goes to Octavia."
"The old man must have been demented. What in heaven's name did he
mean by leaving Maurice helpless and penniless after all his devotion to
Jasper? Had he done anything to offend the old party?"
"No one knows; Maurice hasn't the least idea of the cause of this sudden
whim, and the old man would give no reason for it. He died soon after, and
the instant Jasper came to the title and estate he brought his cousin home,
and treats him like a brother. Jasper is a noble fellow, with all his faults,
and this act of justice increases my respect for him," said the major heartily.
"What will Maurice do, now that he can't enter the army as he intended?"
asked Annon, who now sat erect, so full of interest was he.
"Marry Octavia, and come to his own, I hope."
"An excellent little arrangement, but Miss Treherne may object," said Annon,
rising with sudden kindling of the eye.
"I think not, if no one interferes. Pity, with women, is akin to love, and she
pities her cousin in the tenderest fashion. No sister could be more devoted,
and as Maurice is a handsome, talented fellow, one can easily foresee the
end, if, as I said before, no one interferes to disappoint the poor lad again."
"You espouse his cause, I see, and tell me this that I may stand aside.
Thanks for the warning, Major; but as Maurice Treherne is a man of
unusual power in many ways, I think we are equally matched, in spite of his
misfortune. Nay, if anything, he has the advantage of me, for Miss Treherne
pities him, and that is a strong ally for my rival. I'll be as generous as I can,
but I'll not stand aside and relinquish the woman I love without a trial first."
With an air of determination Annon faced the major, whose keen eyes had
read the truth which he had but newly confessed to himself. Major Royston
smiled as he listened, and said briefly, as steps approached, "Do your best.
Maurice will win."
"We shall see," returned Annon between his teeth.
Here their host entered, and the subject of course was dropped. But the
major's words rankled in the young man's mind, and would have been
doubly bitter had he known that their confidential conversation had been
overheard. On either side of the great fireplace was a door leading to a suite
of rooms which had been old Sir Jasper's. These apartments had been given
to Maurice Treherne, and he had just returned from London, whither he had
been to consult a certain famous physician. Entering quietly, he had taken
possession of his rooms, and having rested and dressed for dinner, rolled
himself into the library, to which led the curtained door on the right. Sitting
idly in his light, wheeled chair, ready to enter when his cousin appeared, he
had heard the chat of Annon and the major. As he listened, over his usually
impassive face passed varying expressions of anger, pain, bitterness, and
defiance, and when the young man uttered his almost fierce "We shall see,"
Treherne smiled a scornful smile and clenched his pale hand with a gesture
which proved that a year of suffering had not conquered the man's spirit,
though it had crippled his strong body.
A singular face was Maurice Treherne's; well-cut and somewhat haughty
features; a fine brow under the dark locks that carelessly streaked it; and
remarkably piercing eyes. Slight in figure and wasted by pain, he still
retained the grace as native to him as the stern fortitude which enabled him
to hide the deep despair of an ambitious nature from every eye, and bear his
affliction with a cheerful philosophy more pathetic than the most entire
abandonment to grief. Carefully dressed, and with no hint at invalidism but
the chair, he bore himself as easily and calmly as if the doom of lifelong
helplessness did not hang over him. A single motion of the hand sent him
rolling noiselessly to the curtained door, but as he did so, a voice exclaimed
behind him, "Wait for me, cousin." And as he turned, a young girl
approached, smiling a glad welcome as she took his hand, adding in a tone
of soft reproach, "Home again, and not let me know it, till I heard the good
news by accident."
"Was it good news, Octavia?" and Maurice looked up at the frank face with a
new expression in those penetrating eyes of his. His cousin's open glance
never changed as she stroked the hair off his forehead with the caress one
often gives a child, and answered eagerly, "The best to me; the house is dull
when you are away, for Jasper always becomes absorbed in horses and
hounds, and leaves Mamma and me to mope by ourselves. But tell me,
Maurice, what they said to you, since you would not write."
"A little hope, with time and patience. Help me to wait, dear, help me to
His tone was infinitely sad, and as he spoke, he leaned his cheek against the
kind hand he held, as if to find support and comfort there. The girl's face
brightened beautifully, though her eyes filled, for to her alone did he betray
his pain, and in her alone did he seek consolation.
"I will, I will with heart and hand! Thank heaven for the hope, and trust me
it shall be fulfilled. You look very tired, Maurice. Why go in to dinner with all
those people? Let me make you cozy here," she added anxiously.
"Thanks, I'd rather go in, it does me good; and if I stay away, Jasper feels
that he must stay with me. I dressed in haste, am I right, little nurse?"
She gave him a comprehensive glance, daintily settled his cravat, brushed
back a truant lock, and, with a maternal air that was charming, said, "My
boy is always elegant, and I'm proud of him. Now we'll go in." But with her
hand on the curtain she paused, saying quickly, as a voice reached her,
"Who is that?"
"Frank Annon. Didn't you know he was coming?" Maurice eyed her keenly.
"No, Jasper never told me. Why did he ask him?"
"To please you."
"Me! When he knows I detest the man. No matter, I've got on the color he
hates, so he won't annoy me, and Mrs. Snowdon can amuse herself with
him. The general has come, you know?"
Treherne smiled, well pleased, for no sign of maiden shame or pleasure did
the girl's face betray, and as he watched her while she peeped, he thought
with satisfaction, Annon is right, I have the advantage, and I'll keep it at all
"Here is Mamma. We must go in," said Octavia, as a stately old lady made
her appearance in the drawing room.
The cousins entered together and Annon watched them covertly, while
seemingly intent on paying his respects to Madame Mère, as his hostess was
called by her family.
"Handsomer than ever," he muttered, as his eye rested on the blooming girl,
looking more like a rose than ever in the peach-colored silk which he had
once condemned because a rival admired it. She turned to reply to the
major, and Annon glanced at Treherne with an irrepressible frown, for
sickness had not marred the charm of that peculiar face, so colorless and
thin that it seemed cut in marble; but the keen eyes shone with a wonderful
brilliancy, and the whole countenance was alive with a power of intellect and
will which made the observer involuntarily exclaim, "That man must suffer a
daily martyrdom, so crippled and confined; if it last long he will go mad or
"General and Mrs. Snowden," announced the servant, and a sudden pause
ensued as everyone looked up to greet the newcomers.
A feeble, white-haired old man entered, leaning on the arm of an
indescribably beautiful woman. Not thirty yet, tall and nobly molded, with
straight black brows over magnificent eyes; rippling dark hair gathered up in
a great knot, and ornamented with a single band of gold. A sweeping dress
of wine-colored velvet, set off with a dazzling neck and arms decorated like
her stately head with ornaments of Roman gold. At the first glance she
seemed a cold, haughty creature, born to dazzle but not to win. A deeper
scrutiny detected lines of suffering in that lovely face, and behind the veil of
reserve, which pride forced her to wear, appeared the anguish of a strong-
willed woman burdened by a heavy cross. No one would dare express pity or
offer sympathy, for her whole air repelled it, and in her gloomy eyes sat
scorn of herself mingled with defiance of the scorn of others. A strange,
almost tragical-looking woman, in spite of beauty, grace, and the cold
sweetness of her manner. A faint smile parted her lips as she greeted those
about her, and as her husband seated himself beside Lady Treherne, she
lifted her head with a long breath, and a singular expression of relief, as if a
burden was removed, and for the time being she was free. Sir Jasper was at
her side, and as she listened, her eye glanced from face to face.
"Who is with you now?" she asked, in a low, mellow voice that was full of
"My sister and my cousin are yonder. You may remember Tavia as a child,
she is little more now. Maurice is an invalid, but the finest fellow breathing."
"I understand," and Mrs. Snowdon's eyes softened with a sudden glance of
pity for one cousin and admiration for the other, for she knew the facts.
"Major Royston, my father's friend, and Frank Annon, my own. Do you know
him?" asked Sir Jasper.
"Then allow me to make him happy by presenting him, may I?"
"Not now. I'd rather see your cousin."
"Thanks, you are very kind. I'll bring him over."
"Stay, let me go to him," began the lady, with more feeling in face and voice
than one would believe her capable of showing.
"Pardon, it will offend him, he will not be pitied, or relinquish any of the
duties or privileges of a gentleman which he can possibly perform. He is
proud, we can understand the feeling, so let us humor the poor fellow."
Mrs. Snowdon bowed silently, and Sir Jasper called out in his hearty, blunt
way, as if nothing was amiss with his cousin, "Maurice, I've an honor for
you. Come and receive it."
Divining what it was, Treherne noiselessly crossed the room, and with no
sign of self-consciousness or embarrassment, was presented to the
handsome woman. Thinking his presence might be a restraint, Sir Jasper
went away. The instant his back was turned, a change came over both: an
almost grim expression replaced the suavity of Treherne's face, and Mrs.
Snowdon's smile faded suddenly, while a deep flush rose to her brow, as her
eyes questioned his beseechingly.
"How dared you come?" he asked below his breath.
"The general insisted."
"And you could not change his purpose; poor woman!"
"You will not be pitied, neither will I," and her eyes flashed; then the fire was
quenched in tears, and her voice lost all its pride in a pleading tone.
"Forgive me, I longed to see you since your illness, and so I 'dared' to come."
"You shall be gratified; look, quite helpless, crippled for life, perhaps."
The chair was turned from the groups about the fire, and as he spoke, with
a bitter laugh Treherne threw back the skin which covered his knees, and
showed her the useless limbs once so strong and fleet. She shrank and
paled, put out her hand to arrest him, and cried in an indignant whisper,
"No, no, not that! You know I never meant such cruel curiosity, such useless
pain to both--"
"Be still, someone is coming," he returned inaudibly; adding aloud, as he
adjusted the skin and smoothed the rich fur as if speaking of it, "Yes, it is a
very fine one, Jasper gave it to me. He spoils me, like a dear, generous-
hearted fellow as he is. Ah, Octavia, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing, thank you. I want to recall myself to Mrs. Snowdon's memory, if
she will let me."
"No need of that; I never forget happy faces and pretty pictures. Two years
ago I saw you at your first ball, and longed to be a girl again."
As she spoke, Mrs. Snowdon pressed the hand shyly offered, and smiled at
the spirited face before her, though the shadow in her own eyes deepened as
she met the bright glance of the girl.
"How kind you were that night! I remember you let me chatter away about
my family, my cousin, and my foolish little affairs with the sweetest
patience, and made me very happy by your interest. I was homesick, and
Aunt could never bear to hear of those things. It was before your marriage,
and all the kinder, for you were the queen of the night, yet had a word for
poor little me."
Mrs. Snowdon was pale to the lips, and Maurice impatiently tapped the arm
of his chair, while the girl innocently chatted on.
"I am sorry the general is such an invalid; yet I dare say you find great
happiness in taking care of him. It is so pleasant to be of use to those we
love." And as she spoke, Octavia leaned over her cousin to hand him the
glove he had dropped.
The affectionate smile that accompanied the act made the color deepen
again in Mrs. Snowdon's cheek, and lit a spark in her softened eyes. Her lips
curled and her voice was sweetly sarcastic as she answered, "Yes, it is
charming to devote one's life to these dear invalids, and find one's reward in
their gratitude. Youth, beauty, health, and happiness are small sacrifices if
one wins a little comfort for the poor sufferers."
The girl felt the sarcasm under the soft words and drew back with a troubled
Maurice smiled, and glanced from one to the other, saying significantly,
"Well for me that my little nurse loves her labor, and finds no sacrifice in it. I
am fortunate in my choice."
"I trust it may prove so--" Mrs. Snowdon got no further, for at that moment
dinner was announced, and Sir Jasper took her away. Annon approached
with him and offered his arm to Miss Treherne, but with an air of surprise,
and a little gesture of refusal, she said coldly:
"My cousin always takes me in to dinner. Be good enough to escort the
major." And with her hand on the arm of the chair, she walked away with a
mischievous glitter in her eyes.
Annon frowned and fell back, saying sharply, "Come, Major, what are you
A right splendid old dowager was Lady Treherne, in her black velvet and
point lace, as she sat erect and stately on a couch by the drawing-room fire,
a couch which no one dare occupy in her absence, or share uninvited. The
gentlemen were still over their wine, and the three ladies were alone. My
lady never dozed in public, Mrs. Snowdon never gossiped, and Octavia never
troubled herself to entertain any guests but those of her own age, so long
pauses fell, and conversation languished, till Mrs. Snowdon roamed away
into the library. As she disappeared, Lady Treherne beckoned to her
daughter, who was idly making chords at the grand piano. Seating herself
on the ottoman at her mother's feet, the girl took the still handsome hand in
her own and amused herself with examining the old-fashioned jewels that
covered it, a pretext for occupying her telltale eyes, as she suspected what
"My dear, I'm not pleased with you, and I tell you so at once, that you may
amend your fault," began Madame Mère in a tender tone, for though a
haughty, imperious woman, she idolized her children.
"What have I done, Mamma?" asked the girl.
"Say rather, what have you left undone. You have been very rude to Mr.
Annon. It must not occur again; not only because he is a guest, but because
he is your--brother's friend."
My lady hesitated over the word "lover," and changed it, for to her Octavia
still seemed a child, and though anxious for the alliance, she forbore to
speak openly, lest the girl should turn willful, as she inherited her mother's
"I'm sorry, Mamma. But how can I help it, when he teases me so that I
detest him?" said Octavia, petulantly.
"How tease, my love?"
"Why, he follows me about like a dog, puts on a sentimental look when I
appear; blushes, and beams, and bows at everything I say, if I am polite;
frowns and sighs if I'm not; and glowers tragically at every man I speak to,
even poor Maurice. Oh, Mamma, what foolish creatures men are!" And the
girl laughed blithely, as she looked up for the first time into her mother's
My lady smiled, as she stroked the bright head at her knee, but asked
quickly, "Why say 'even poor Maurice,' as if it were impossible for anyone to
be jealous of him?"
"But isn't it, Mamma? I thought strong, well men regarded him as one set
apart and done with, since his sad misfortune."
"Not entirely; while women pity and pet the poor fellow, his comrades will be
jealous, absurd as it is."
"No one pets him but me, and I have a right to do it, for he is my cousin,"
said the girl, feeling a touch of jealousy herself.
"Rose and Blanche Talbot outdo you, my dear, and there is no cousinship to
"Then let Frank Annon be jealous of them, and leave me in peace. They
promised to come today; I'm afraid something has happened to prevent
them." And Octavia gladly seized upon the new subject. But my lady was not
to be eluded.
"They said they could not come till after dinner. They will soon arrive. Before
they do so, I must say a few words, Tavia, and I beg you to give heed to
them. I desire you to be courteous and amiable to Mr. Annon, and before
strangers to be less attentive and affectionate to Maurice. You mean it
kindly, but it looks ill, and causes disagreeable remarks."
"Who blames me for being devoted to my cousin? Can I ever do enough to
repay him for his devotion? Mamma, you forget he saved your son's life."
Indignant tears filled the girl's eyes, and she spoke passionately, forgetting
that Mrs. Snowdon was within earshot of her raised voice. With a frown my
lady laid her hand on her daughter's lips, saying coldly, "I do not forget, and
I religiously discharge my every obligation by every care and comfort it is in
my power to bestow. You are young, romantic, and tender-hearted. You
think you must give your time and health, must sacrifice your future
happiness to this duty. You are wrong, and unless you learn wisdom in
season, you will find that you have done harm, not good."
"God forbid! How can I do that? Tell me, and I will be wise in time."
Turning the earnest face up to her own, Lady Treherne whispered anxiously,
"Has Maurice ever looked or hinted anything of love during this year he has
been with us, and you his constant companion?"
"Never, Mamma; he is too honorable and too unhappy to speak or think of
that. I am his little nurse, sister, and friend, no more, nor ever shall be. Do
not suspect us, or put such fears into my mind, else all our comfort will be
Flushed and eager was the girl, but her clear eyes betrayed no tender
confusion as she spoke, and all her thought seemed to be to clear her
cousin from the charge of loving her too well. Lady Treherne looked relieved,
paused a moment, then said, seriously but gently, "This is well, but, child, I
charge you tell me at once, if ever he forgets himself, for this thing cannot
be. Once I hoped it might, now it is impossible; remember that he continue a
friend and cousin, nothing more. I warn you in time, but if you neglect the
warning, Maurice must go. No more of this; recollect my wish regarding Mr.
Annon, and let your cousin amuse himself without you in public."
"Mamma, do you wish me to like Frank Annon?"
The abrupt question rather disturbed my lady, but knowing her daughter's
frank, impetuous nature, she felt somewhat relieved by this candor, and
answered decidedly, "I do. He is your equal in all respects; he loves you,
Jasper desires it, I approve, and you, being heart-whole, can have no just
objection to the alliance."
"Has he spoken to you?"
"No, to your brother."
"You wish this much, Mamma?"
"Very much, my child."
"I will try to please you, then." And stifling a sigh, the girl kissed her mother
with unwonted meekness in tone and manner.
"Now I am well pleased. Be happy, my love. No one will urge or distress you.
Let matters take their course, and if this hope of ours can be fulfilled, I shall
be relieved of the chief care of my life."
A sound of girlish voices here broke on their ears, and springing up, Octavia
hurried to meet her friends, exclaiming joyfully, "They have come! they have
Two smiling, blooming girls met her at the door, and, being at an
enthusiastic age, they gushed in girlish fashion for several minutes, making
a pretty group as they stood in each other's arms, all talking at once, with
frequent kisses and little bursts of laughter, as vents for their emotion.
Madame Mère welcomed them and then went to join Mrs. Snowdon, leaving
the trio to gossip unrestrained.
"My dearest creature, I thought we never should get here, for Papa had a
tiresome dinner party, and we were obliged to stay, you know," cried Rose,
the lively sister, shaking out the pretty dress and glancing at herself in the
mirror as she fluttered about the room like a butterfly.
"We were dying to come, and so charmed when you asked us, for we haven't
seen you this age, darling," added Blanche, the pensive one, smoothing her
blond curls after a fresh embrace.
"I'm sorry the Ulsters couldn't come to keep Christmas with us, for we have
no gentlemen but Jasper, Frank Annon, and the major. Sad, isn't it?" said
Octavia, with a look of despair, which caused a fresh peal of laughter.
"One apiece, my dear, it might be worse." And Rose privately decided to
appropriate Sir Jasper.
"Where is your cousin?" asked Blanche, with a sigh of sentimental interest.
"He is here, of course. I forget him, but he is not on the flirting list, you
know. We must amuse him, and not expect him to amuse us, though really,
all the capital suggestions and plans for merrymaking always come from
"He is better, I hope?" asked both sisters with real sympathy, making their
young faces womanly and sweet.
"Yes, and has hopes of entire recovery. At least, they tell him so, though Dr.
Ashley said there was no chance of it."
"Dear, dear, how sad! Shall we see him, Tavia?"
"Certainly; he is able to be with us now in the evening, and enjoys society as
much as ever. But please take no notice of his infirmity, and make no
inquiries beyond the usual 'How do you do.' He is sensitive, and hates to be
considered an invalid more than ever."
"How charming it must be to take care of him, he is so accomplished and
delightful. I quite envy you," said Blanche pensively.
"Sir Jasper told us that the General and Mrs. Snowdon were coming. I hope
they will, for I've a most intense curiosity to see her--" began Rose.
"Hush, she is here with Mamma! Why curious? What is the mystery? For
you look as if there was one," questioned Octavia under her breath.
The three charming heads bent toward one another as Rose replied in a
whisper, "If I knew, I shouldn't be inquisitive. There was a rumor that she
married the old general in a fit of pique, and now repents. I asked Mamma
once, but she said such matters were not for young girls to hear, and not a
word more would she say. N'importe, I have wits of my own, and I can
satisfy myself. The gentlemen are coming! Am I all right, dear?" And the
three glanced at one another with a swift scrutiny that nothing could
escape, then grouped themselves prettily, and waited, with a little flutter of
expectation in each young heart.
In came the gentlemen, and instantly a new atmosphere seemed to pervade
the drawing room, for with the first words uttered, several romances began.
Sir Jasper was taken possession of by Rose, Blanche intended to devote
herself to Maurice Treherne, but Annon intercepted her, and Octavia was
spared any effort at politeness by this unexpected move on the part of her
"He is angry, and wishes to pique me by devoting himself to Blanche. I wish
he would, with all my heart, and leave me in peace. Poor Maurice, he
expects me, and I long to go to him, but must obey Mamma." And Octavia
went to join the group formed by my lady, Mrs. Snowdon, the general, and
The two young couples flirted in different parts of the room, and Treherne
sat alone, watching them all with eyes that pierced below the surface,
reading the hidden wishes, hopes, and fears that ruled them. A singular
expression sat on his face as he turned from Octavia's clear countenance to
Mrs. Snowdon's gloomy one. He leaned his head upon his hand and fell into
deep thought, for he was passing through one of those fateful moments
which come to us all, and which may make or mar a life. Such moments
come when least looked for: an unexpected meeting, a peculiar mood, some
trivial circumstance, or careless word produces it, and often it is gone before
we realize its presence, leaving aftereffects to show us what we have gained
or lost. Treherne was conscious that the present hour, and the acts that
filled it, possessed unusual interest, and would exert an unusual influence
on his life. Before him was the good and evil genius of his nature in the
guise of those two women. Edith Snowdon had already tried her power, and
accident only had saved him. Octavia, all unconscious as she was, never
failed to rouse and stimulate the noblest attributes of mind and heart. A
year spent in her society had done much for him, and he loved her with a
strange mingling of passion, reverence, and gratitude. He knew why Edith
Snowdon came, he felt that the old fascination had not lost its charm, and
though fear was unknown to him, he was ill pleased at the sight of the
beautiful, dangerous woman. On the other hand, he saw that Lady Treherne
desired her daughter to shun him and smile on Annon; he acknowledged
that he had no right to win the young creature, crippled and poor as he was,
and a pang of jealous pain wrung his heart as he watched her.
Then a sense of power came to him, for helpless, poor, and seemingly an
object of pity, he yet felt that he held the honor, peace, and happiness of
nearly every person present in his hands. It was a strong temptation to this
man, so full of repressed passion and power, so set apart and shut out from
the more stirring duties and pleasures of life. A few words from his lips, and
the pity all felt for him would be turned to fear, respect, and admiration.
Why not utter them, and enjoy all that was possible? He owed the Trehernes
nothing; why suffer injustice, dependence, and the compassion that wounds
a proud man deepest? Wealth, love, pleasure might be his with a breath.
Why not secure them now?
His pale face flushed, his eye kindled, and his thin hand lay clenched like a
vise as these thoughts passed rapidly through his mind. A look, a word at
that moment would sway him; he felt it, and leaned forward, waiting in
secret suspense for the glance, the speech which should decide him for good
or ill. Who shall say what subtle instinct caused Octavia to turn and smile
at him with a wistful, friendly look that warmed his heart? He met it with an
answering glance, which thrilled her strangely, for love, gratitude, and some
mysterious intelligence met and mingled in the brilliant yet soft expression
which swiftly shone and faded in her face. What it was she could not tell;
she only felt that it filled her with an indescribable emotion never
experienced before. In an instant it all passed, Lady Treherne spoke to her,
and Blanche Talbot addressed Maurice, wondering, as she did so, if the
enchanting smile he wore was meant for her.
"Mr. Annon having mercifully set me free, I came to try to cheer your
solitude; but you look as if solitude made you happier than society does the
rest of us," she said without her usual affectation, for his manner impressed
"You are very kind and very welcome. I do find pleasures to beguile my
loneliness, which gayer people would not enjoy, and it is well that I can, else
I should turn morose and tyrannical, and doom some unfortunate to
entertain me all day long." He answered with a gentle courtesy which was
his chief attraction to womankind.
"Pray tell me some of your devices, I'm often alone in spirit, if not so in the
flesh, for Rose, though a dear girl, is not congenial, and I find no kindred
A humorous glimmer came to Treherne's eyes, as the sentimental damsel
beamed a soft sigh and drooped her long lashes effectively. Ignoring the
topic of "kindred souls," he answered coldly, "My favorite amusement is
studying the people around me. It may be rude, but tied to my corner, I
cannot help watching the figures around me, and discovering their little
plots and plans. I'm getting very expert, and really surprise myself
sometimes by the depth of my researches."
"I can believe it; your eyes look as if they possessed that gift. Pray don't
study me." And the girl shrank away with an air of genuine alarm.
Treherne smiled involuntarily, for he had read the secret of that shallow
heart long ago, and was too generous to use the knowledge, however
flattering it might be to him. In a reassuring tone he said, turning away the
keen eyes she feared, "I give you my word I never will, charming as it might
be to study the white pages of a maidenly heart. I find plenty of others to
read, so rest tranquil, Miss Blanche."
"Who interests you most just now?" asked the girl, coloring with pleasure at
his words. "Mrs. Snowdon looks like one who has a romance to be read, if
you have the skill."
"I have read it. My lady is my study just now. I thought I knew her well, but
of late she puzzles me. Human minds are more full of mysteries than any
written book and more changeable than the cloud shapes in the air."
"A fine old lady, but I fear her so intensely I should never dare to try to read
her, as you say." Blanche looked toward the object of discussion as she
spoke, and added, "Poor Tavia, how forlorn she seems. Let me ask her to
join us, may I?"
"With all my heart" was the quick reply.
Blanche glided away but did not return, for my lady kept her as well as her
"That test satisfies me; well, I submit for a time, but I think I can conquer
my aunt yet." And with a patient sigh Treherne turned to observe Mrs.
She now stood by the fire talking with Sir Jasper, a handsome, reckless,
generous-hearted young gentleman, who very plainly showed his great
admiration for the lady. When he came, she suddenly woke up from her
listless mood and became as brilliantly gay as she had been unmistakably
melancholy before. As she chatted, she absently pushed to and fro a small
antique urn of bronze on the chimneypiece, and in doing so she more than
once gave Treherne a quick, significant glance, which he answered at last by
a somewhat haughty nod. Then, as if satisfied, she ceased toying with the
ornament and became absorbed in Sir Jasper's gallant badinage.
The instant her son approached Mrs. Snowdon, Madame Mère grew anxious,
and leaving Octavia to her friends and lover, she watched Jasper. But her
surveillance availed little, for she could neither see nor hear anything amiss,
yet could not rid herself of the feeling that some mutual understanding
existed between them. When the party broke up for the night, she lingered
till all were gone but her son and nephew.
"Well, Madame Ma Mère, what troubles you?" asked Sir Jasper, as she
looked anxiously into his face before bestowing her good-night kiss.
"I cannot tell, yet I feel ill at ease. Remember, my son, that you are the pride
of my heart, and any sin or shame of yours would kill me. Good night,
Maurice." And with a stately bow she swept away.
Lounging with both elbows on the low chimneypiece, Sir Jasper smiled at
his mother's fears, and said to his cousin, the instant they were alone, "She
is worried about E.S. Odd, isn't it, what instinctive antipathies women take
to one another?"
"Why did you ask E.S. here?" demanded Treherne.
"My dear fellow, how could I help it? My mother wanted the general, my
father's friend, and of course his wife must be asked also. I couldn't tell my
mother that the lady had been a most arrant coquette, to put it mildly, and
had married the old man in a pet, because my cousin and I declined to be
ruined by her."
"You could have told her what mischief she makes wherever she goes, and
for Octavia's sake have deferred the general's visit for a time. I warn you,
Jasper, harm will come of it."
"To whom, you or me?"
"To both, perhaps, certainly to you. She was disappointed once when she
lost us both by wavering between your title and my supposed fortune. She is
miserable with the old man, and her only hope is in his death, for he is very
feeble. You are free, and doubly attractive now, so beware, or she will
entangle you before you know it."
"Thanks, Mentor. I've no fear, and shall merely amuse myself for a week--
they stay no longer." And with a careless laugh, Sir Jasper strolled away.
"Much mischief may be done in a week, and this is the beginning of it,"
muttered Treherne, as he raised himself to look under the bronze vase for
the note. It was gone!
WHO WAS IT?
Who had taken it? This question tormented Treherne all that sleepless
night. He suspected three persons, for only these had approached the fire
after the note was hidden. He had kept his eye on it, he thought, till the stir
of breaking up. In that moment it must have been removed by the major,
Frank Annon, or my lady; Sir Jasper was out of the question, for he never
touched an ornament in the drawing room since he had awkwardly
demolished a whole étagère of costly trifles, to his mother's and sister's great
grief. The major evidently suspected something, Annon was jealous, and my
lady would be glad of a pretext to remove her daughter from his reach.
Trusting to his skill in reading faces, he waited impatiently for morning,
resolving to say nothing to anyone but Mrs. Snowdon, and from her merely
to inquire what the note contained.
Treherne usually was invisible till lunch, often till dinner; therefore, fearing
to excite suspicion by unwonted activity, he did not appear till noon. The
mailbag had just been opened, and everyone was busy over their letters, but
all looked up to exchange a word with the newcomer, and Octavia
impulsively turned to meet him, then checked herself and hid her suddenly
crimsoned face behind a newspaper. Treherne's eye took in everything, and
saw at once in the unusually late arrival of the mail a pretext for discovering
the pilferer of the note.
"All have letters but me, yet I expected one last night. Major, have you got it
among yours?" And as he spoke, Treherne fixed his penetrating eyes full on
the person he addressed.
With no sign of consciousness, no trace of confusion, the major carefully
turned over his pile, and replied in the most natural manner, "Not a trace of
it; I wish there was, for nothing annoys me more than any delay or mistake
about my letters."
He knows nothing of it, thought Treherne, and turned to Annon, who was
deep in a long epistle from some intimate friend, with a talent for imparting
news, to judge from the reader's interest.
"Annon, I appeal to you, for I must discover who has robbed me of my
"I have but one, read it, if you will, and satisfy yourself" was the brief reply.
"No, thank you. I merely asked in joke; it is doubtless among my lady's.
Jasper's letters and mine often get mixed, and my lady takes care of his for
him. I think you must have it, Aunt."
Lady Treherne looked up impatiently. "My dear Maurice, what a coil about a
letter! We none of us have it, so do not punish us for the sins of your
correspondent or the carelessness of the post."
She was not the thief, for she is always intensely polite when she intends to
thwart me, thought Treherne, and, apologizing for his rudeness in
disturbing them, he rolled himself to his nook in a sunny window and
became apparently absorbed in a new magazine.
Mrs. Snowdon was opening the general's letters for him, and, having
finished her little task, she roamed away into the library, as if in search of a
book. Presently returning with one, she approached Treherne, and, putting
it into his hand, said, in her musically distinct voice, "Be so kind as to find
for me the passage you spoke of last night. I am curious to see it."
Instantly comprehending her stratagem, he opened it with apparent
carelessness, secured the tiny note laid among the leaves, and, selecting a
passage at hazard, returned her book and resumed his own. Behind the
cover of it he unfolded and read these words:
I understand, but do not be anxious; the line I left was merely this--"I must
see you alone, tell me when and where." No one can make much of it, and I
will discover the thief before dinner. Do nothing, but watch to whom I speak
first on entering, when we meet in the evening, and beware of that person.
Quietly transferring the note to the fire with the wrapper of the magazine, he
dismissed the matter from his mind and left Mrs. Snowdon to play detective
as she pleased, while he busied himself about his own affairs.
It was a clear, bright December day, and when the young people separated
to prepare for a ride, while the general and the major sunned themselves on
the terrace, Lady Treherne said to her nephew, "I am going for an airing in
the pony carriage. Will you be my escort, Maurice?"
"With pleasure," replied the young man, well knowing what was in store for
My lady was unusually taciturn and grave, yet seemed anxious to say
something which she found difficult to utter. Treherne saw this, and ended
an awkward pause by dashing boldly into the subject which occupied both.
"I think you want to say something to me about Tavie, Aunt. Am I right?"
"Then let me spare you the pain of beginning, and prove my sincerity by
openly stating the truth, as far as I am concerned. I love her very dearly, but
I am not mad enough to dream of telling her so. I know that it is impossible,
and I relinquish my hopes. Trust me. I will keep silent and see her marry
Annon without a word of complaint, if you will it. I see by her altered
manner that you have spoken to her, and that my little friend and nurse is
to be mine no longer. Perhaps you are wise, but if you do this on my
account, it is in vain--the mischief is done, and while I live I shall love my
cousin. If you do it to spare her, I am dumb, and will go away rather than
cause her a care or pain."
"Do you really mean this, Maurice?" And Lady Treherne looked at him with a
changed and softened face.
Turning upon her, Treherne showed her a countenance full of suffering and
sincerity, of resignation and resolve, as he said earnestly, "I do mean it;
prove me in any way you please. I am not a bad fellow, Aunt, and I desire to
be better. Since my misfortune I've had time to test many things, myself
among others, and in spite of many faults, I do cherish the wish to keep my
soul honest and true, even though my body be a wreck. It is easy to say
these things, but in spite of temptation, I think I can stand firm, if you trust
"My dear boy, I do trust you, and thank you gratefully for this frankness. I
never forget that I owe Jasper's life to you, and never expect to repay that
debt. Remember this when I seem cold or unkind, and remember also that I
say now, had you been spared this affliction, I would gladly have given you
my girl. But--"
"But, Aunt, hear one thing," broke in Treherne. "They tell me that any
sudden and violent shock of surprise, joy, or sorrow may do for me what
they hope time will achieve. I said nothing of this, for it is but a chance; yet,
while there is any hope, need I utterly renounce Octavia?"
"It is hard to refuse, and yet I cannot think it wise to build upon a chance so
slight. Once let her have you, and both are made unhappy, if the hope fail.
No, Maurice, it is better to be generous, and leave her free to make her own
happiness elsewhere. Annon loves her, she is heart-whole, and will soon
learn to love him, if you are silent. My poor boy, it seems cruel, but I must
"Shall I go away, Aunt?" was all his answer, very firmly uttered, though his
lips were white.
"Not yet, only leave them to themselves, and hide your trouble if you can.
Yet, if you prefer, you shall go to town, and Benson shall see that you are
comfortable. Your health will be a reason, and I will come, or write often, if
you are homesick. It shall depend on you, for I want to be just and kind in
this hard case. You shall decide."
"Then I will stay. I can hide my love; and to see them together will soon
cease to wound me, if Octavia is happy."
"So let it rest then, for a time. You shall miss your companion as little as
possible, for I will try to fill her place. Forgive me, Maurice, and pity a
mother's solicitude, for these two are the last of many children, and I am a
Lady Treherne's voice faltered, and if any selfish hope or plan lingered in her
nephew's mind, that appeal banished it and touched his better nature.
Pressing her hand he said gently, "Dear Aunt, do not lament over me. I am
one set apart for afflictions, yet I will not be conquered by them. Let us
forget my youth and be friendly counselors together for the good of the two
whom we both love. I must say a word about Jasper, and you will not press
me to explain more than I can without breaking my promise."
"Thank you, thank you! It is regarding that woman, I know. Tell me all you
can; I will not be importunate, but I disliked her the instant I saw her,
beautiful and charming as she seems."
"When my cousin and I were in Paris, just before my illness, we met her. She
was with her father then, a gay old man who led a life of pleasure, and was
no fit guardian for a lovely daughter. She knew our story and, having
fascinated both, paused to decide which she would accept: Jasper, for his
title, or me, for my fortune. This was before my uncle changed his will, and I
believed myself his heir; but, before she made her choice, something (don't
ask me what, if you please) occurred to send us from Paris. On our return
voyage we were wrecked, and then came my illness, disinheritance, and
helplessness. Edith Dubarry heard the story, but rumor reported it falsely,
and she believed both of us had lost the fortune. Her father died penniless,
and in a moment of despair she married the general, whose wealth
surrounds her with the luxury she loves, and whose failing health will soon
restore her liberty--"
"And then, Maurice?" interrupted my lady.
"She hopes to win Jasper, I think."
"Never! We must prevent that at all costs. I had rather see him dead before
me, than the husband of such a woman. Why is she permitted to visit
homes like mine? I should have been told this sooner," exclaimed my lady
"I should have told you had I known it, and I reproved Jasper for his neglect.
Do not be needlessly troubled, Aunt. There is no blemish on Mrs. Snowdon's
name, and, as the wife of a brave and honorable man, she is received
without question; for beauty, grace, or tact like hers can make their way
anywhere. She stays but a week, and I will devote myself to her; this will
save Jasper, and, if necessary, convince Tavie of my indifference--" Then he
paused to stifle a sigh.
"But yourself, have you no fears for your own peace, Maurice? You must not
sacrifice happiness or honor, for me or mine."
"I am safe; I love my cousin, and that is my shield. Whatever happens
remember that I tried to serve you, and sincerely endeavored to forget
"God bless you, my son! Let me call you so, and feel that, though I deny you
my daughter, I give you heartily a mother's care and affection."
Lady Treherne was as generous as she was proud, and her nephew had
conquered her by confidence and submission. He acted no part, yet, even in
relinquishing all, he cherished a hope that he might yet win the heart he
coveted. Silently they parted, but from that hour a new and closer bond
existed between the two, and exerted an unsuspected influence over the
* * * * * * *
Maurice waited with some impatience for Mrs. Snowdon's entrance, not only
because of his curiosity to see if she had discovered the thief, but because of
the part he had taken upon himself to play. He was equal to it, and felt a
certain pleasure in it for a threefold reason. It would serve his aunt and
cousin, would divert his mind from its own cares, and, perhaps by making
Octavia jealous, waken love; for, though he had chosen the right, he was but
a man, and moreover a lover.
Mrs. Snowdon was late. She always was, for her toilet was elaborate, and
she liked to enjoy its effects upon others. The moment she entered
Treherne's eye was on her, and to his intense surprise and annoyance she
addressed Octavia, saying blandly, "My dear Miss Treherne, I've been
admiring your peacocks. Pray let me see you feed them tomorrow. Miss
Talbot says it is a charming sight."
"If you are on the terrace just after lunch, you will find them there, and may
feed them yourself, if you like" was the cool, civil reply.
"She looks like a peacock herself in that splendid green and gold dress,
doesn't she?" whispered Rose to Sir Jasper, with a wicked laugh.
"Faith, so she does. I wish Tavie's birds had voices like Mrs. Snowdon's;
their squalling annoys me intensely."
"I rather like it, for it is honest, and no malice or mischief is hidden behind
it. I always distrust those smooth, sweet voices; they are insincere. I like a
full, clear tone; sharp, if you please, but decided and true."
"Well said, Octavia. I agree with you, and your own is a perfect sample of the
kind you describe." And Treherne smiled as he rolled by to join Mrs.
Snowdon, who evidently waited for him, while Octavia turned to her brother
to defend her pets.
"Are you sure? How did you discover?" said Maurice, affecting to admire the
lady's bouquet, as he paused beside her.
"I suspected it the moment I saw her this morning. She is no actress; and
dislike, distrust, and contempt were visible in her face when we met. Till you
so cleverly told me my note was lost, I fancied she was disturbed about her
A sudden pause and a keen glance followed the last softly uttered word, but
Treherne met it with an inscrutable smile and a quiet "Well, what next?"
"The moment I learned that you did not get the note I was sure she had it,
and, knowing that she must have seen me put it there, in spite of her
apparent innocence, I quietly asked her for it. This surprised her, this
robbed the affair of any mystery, and I finished her perplexity by sending it
to the major the moment she returned it to me, as if it had been intended for
him. She begged pardon, said her brother was thoughtless, and she watched
over him lest he should get into mischief; professed to think I meant the line
for him, and behaved like a charming simpleton, as she is."
"Quite a tumult about nothing. Poor little Tavie! You doubtlessly frightened
her so that we may safely correspond hereafter."
"You may give me an answer, now and here."
"Very well, meet me on the terrace tomorrow morning; the peacocks will
make the meeting natural enough. I usually loiter away an hour or two
there, in the sunny part of the day."
"But the girl?"
"I'll send her away."
"You speak as if it would be an easy thing to do."
"It will, both easy and pleasant."
"Now you are mysterious or uncomplimentary. You either care nothing for a
tête-à-tête with her, or you will gladly send her out of my way. Which is it?"
"You shall decide. Can I have this?"
She looked at him as he touched a rose with a warning glance, for the flower
was both an emblem of love and of silence. Did he mean to hint that he
recalled the past, or to warn her that someone was near? She leaned from
the shadow of the curtain where she sat, and caught a glimpse of a shadow
"Who was it?" she asked, below her breath.
"A Rose," he answered, laughing. Then, as if the danger was over, he said,
"How will you account to the major for the message you sent him?"
"Easily, by fabricating some interesting perplexity in which I want sage
counsel. He will be flattered, and by seeming to take him into my
confidence, I can hoodwink the excellent man to my heart's content, for he
annoys me by his odd way of mounting guard over me at all times. Now take
me in to dinner, and be your former delightful self."
"That is impossible," he said, yet proved that it was not.
FEEDING THE PEACOCKS
It was indeed a charming sight, the twelve stately birds perched on the
broad stone balustrade, or prancing slowly along the terrace, with the sun
gleaming on their green and golden necks and the glories of their gorgeous
plumes, widespread, or sweeping like rich trains behind them. In pretty
contrast to the splendid creatures was their young mistress, in her simple
morning dress and fur-trimmed hood and mantle, as she stood feeding the
tame pets from her hand, calling their fanciful names, laughing at their
pranks, and heartily enjoying the winter sunshine, the fresh wind, and the
girlish pastime. As Treherne slowly approached, he watched her with lover's
eyes, and found her very sweet and blithe, and dearer in his sight than ever.
She had shunned him carefully all the day before, had parted at night with a
hasty handshake, and had not come as usual to bid him good-morning in
the library. He had taken no notice of the change as yet, but now,
remembering his promise to his aunt, he resolved to let the girl know that he
fully understood the relation which henceforth was to exist between them.
"Good-morning, cousin. Shall I drive you away, if I take a turn or two here?"
he said, in a cheerful tone, but with a half-reproachful glance.
She looked at him an instant, then went to him with extended hand and
cheeks rosier than before, while her frank eyes filled, and her voice had a
traitorous tremor in it, as she said, impetuously: "I will be myself for a
moment, in spite of everything. Maurice, don't think me unkind, don't
reproach me, or ask my leave to come where I am. There is a reason for the
change you see in me; it's not caprice, it is obedience."
"My dear girl, I know it. I meant to speak of it, and show you that I
understand. Annon is a good fellow, as worthy of you as any man can be,
and I wish you all the happiness you deserve."
"Do you?" And her eyes searched his face keenly.
"Yes; do you doubt it?" And so well did he conceal his love, that neither face,
voice, nor manner betrayed a hint of it.
Her eyes fell, a cloud passed over her clear countenance, and she withdrew
her hand, as if to caress the hungry bird that gently pecked at the basket
she held. As if to change the conversation, she said playfully, "Poor Argus,
you have lost your fine feathers, and so all desert you, except kind little
Juno, who never forgets her friends. There, take it all, and share between
Treherne smiled, and said quickly, "I am a human Argus, and you have been
a kind little Juno to me since I lost my plumes. Continue to be so, and you
will find me a very faithful friend."
"I will." And as she answered, her old smile came back and her eyes met his
"Thanks! Now we shall get on happily. I don't ask or expect the old life--that
is impossible. I knew that when lovers came, the friend would fall into the
background; and I am content to be second, where I have so long been first.
Do not think you neglect me; be happy with your lover, dear, and when you
have no pleasanter amusement, come and see old Maurice."
She turned her head away, that he might not see the angry color in her
cheeks, the trouble in her eyes, and when she spoke, it was to say
petulantly, "I wish Jasper and Mamma would leave me in peace. I hate
lovers and want none. If Frank teases, I'll go into a convent and so be rid of
Maurice laughed, and turned her face toward himself, saying, in his
persuasive voice, "Give him a trial first, to please your mother. It can do no
harm and may amuse you. Frank is already lost, and, as you are heart-
whole, why not see what you can do for him? I shall have a new study, then,
and not miss you so much."
"You are very kind; I'll do my best. I wish Mrs. Snowdon would come, if she
is coming; I've an engagement at two, and Frank will look tragical if I'm not
ready. He is teaching me billiards, and I really like the game, though I never
thought I should."
"That looks well. I hope you'll learn a double lesson, and Annon find a docile
pupil in both."
"You are very pale this morning; are you in pain, Maurice?" suddenly asked
Octavia, dropping the tone of assumed ease and gaiety under which she had
tried to hide her trouble.
"Yes, but it will soon pass. Mrs. Snowdon is coming. I saw her at the hall
door a moment ago. I will show her the peacocks, if you want to go. She
won't mind the change, I dare say, as you don't like her, and I do."
"No, I am sure of that. It was an arrangement, perhaps? I understand. I will
not play Mademoiselle De Trop."
Sudden fire shone in the girl's eyes, sudden contempt curled her lip, and a
glance full of meaning went from her cousin to the door, where Mrs.
Snowdon appeared, waiting for her maid to bring her some additional
"You allude to the note you stole. How came you to play that prank, Tavie?"
asked Treherne tranquilly.
"I saw her put it under the urn. I thought it was for Jasper, and I took it,"
she said boldly.
"Why for Jasper?"
"I remembered his speaking of meeting her long ago, and describing her
beauty enthusiastically--and so did you."
"You have a good memory."
"I have for everything concerning those I love. I observed her manner of
meeting my brother, his devotion to her, and, when they stood laughing
together before the fire, I felt sure that she wished to charm him again."
"Again? Then she did charm him once?" asked Treherne, anxious to know
how much Jasper had told his sister.
"He always denied it, and declared that you were the favorite."
"Then why not think the note for me?" he asked.
"I do now" was the sharp answer.
"But she told you it was for the major, and sent it."
"She deceived me; I am not surprised. I am glad Jasper is safe, and I wish
you a pleasant tête-à-tête."
Bowing with unwonted dignity, Octavia set down her basket, and walked
away in one direction as Mrs. Snowdon approached in another.
"I have done it now," sighed Treherne, turning from the girlish figure to
watch the stately creature who came sweeping toward him with noiseless
Brilliancy and splendor became Mrs. Snowdon; she enjoyed luxury, and her
beauty made many things becoming which in a plainer woman would have
been out of taste, and absurd. She had wrapped herself in a genuine
Eastern burnous of scarlet, blue, and gold; the hood drawn over her head
framed her fine face in rich hues, and the great gilt tassels shone against
her rippling black hair. She wore it with grace, and the barbaric splendor of
the garment became her well. The fresh air touched her cheeks with a
delicate color; her usually gloomy eyes were brilliant now, and the smile that
parted her lips was full of happiness.
"Welcome, Cleopatra!" cried Treherne, with difficulty repressing a laugh, as
the peacocks screamed and fled before the rustling amplitude of her
"I might reply by calling you Thaddeus of Warsaw, for you look very
romantic and Polish with your pale, pensive face, and your splendid furs,"
she answered, as she paused beside him with admiration very visibly
expressed in her eyes.
Treherne disliked the look, and rather abruptly said, as he offered her the
basket of bread, "I have disposed of my cousin, and offered to do the honors
of the peacocks. Here they are--will you feed them?"
"No, thank you--I care nothing for the fowls, as you know; I came to speak to
you," she said impatiently.
"I am at your service."
"I wish to ask you a question or two--is it permitted?"
"What man ever refused Mrs. Snowdon a request?"
"Nay, no compliments; from you they are only satirical evasions. I was
deceived when abroad, and rashly married that old man. Tell me truly how
"Jasper has all. I have nothing."
"I am glad of it."
"Many thanks for the hearty speech. You at least speak sincerely," he said
"I do, Maurice--I do; let me prove it."
Treherne's chair was close beside the balustrade. Mrs. Snowdon leaned on
the carved railing, with her back to the house and her face screened by a tall
urn. Looking steadily at him, she said rapidly and low, "You thought I
wavered between you and Jasper, when we parted two years ago. I did; but
it was not between title and fortune that I hesitated. It was between duty
and love. My father, a fond, foolish old man, had set his heart on seeing me
a lady. I was his all; my beauty was his delight, and no untitled man was
deemed worthy of me. I loved him tenderly. You may doubt this, knowing
how selfish, reckless, and vain I am, but I have a heart, and with better
training had been a better woman. No matter, it is too late now. Next my
father, I loved you. Nay, hear me--I will clear myself in your eyes. I mean no
wrong to the general. He is kind, indulgent, generous; I respect him--I am
grateful, and while he lives, I shall be true to him."
"Then be silent now. Do not recall the past, Edith; let it sleep, for both our
sakes," began Treherne; but she checked him imperiously.
"It shall, when I am done. I loved you, Maurice; for, of all the gay, idle,
pleasure-seeking men I saw about me, you were the only one who seemed to
have a thought beyond the folly of the hour. Under the seeming frivolity of
your life lay something noble, heroic, and true. I felt that you had a purpose,
that your present mood was but transitory--a young man's holiday, before
the real work of his life began. This attracted, this won me; for even in the
brief regard you then gave me, there was an earnestness no other man had
shown. I wanted your respect; I longed to earn your love, to share your life,
and prove that even in my neglected nature slept the power of canceling a
frivolous past by a noble future. Oh, Maurice, had you lingered one week
more, I never should have been the miserable thing I am!"
There her voice faltered and failed, for all the bitterness of lost love, peace,
and happiness sounded in the pathetic passion of that exclamation. She did
not weep, for tears seldom dimmed those tragical eyes of hers; but she
wrung her hands in mute despair, and looked down into the frost-blighted
gardens below, as if she saw there a true symbol of her own ruined life.
Treherne uttered not a word, but set his teeth with an almost fierce glance
toward the distant figure of Sir Jasper, who was riding gaily away, like one
unburdened by a memory or a care.
Hurriedly Mrs. Snowdon went on, "My father begged and commanded me to
choose your cousin. I could not break his heart, and asked for time, hoping
to soften him. While I waited, that mysterious affair hurried you from Paris,
and then came the wreck, the illness, and the rumor that old Sir Jasper had
disinherited both nephews. They told me you were dying, and I became a
passive instrument in my father's hands. I promised to recall and accept
your cousin, but the old man died before it was done, and then I cared not
what became of me.
"General Snowdon was my father's friend; he pitied me; he saw my desolate,
destitute state, my despair and helplessness. He comforted, sustained, and
saved me. I was grateful; and when he offered me his heart and home, I
accepted them. He knew I had no love to give; but as a friend, a daughter, I
would gladly serve him, and make his declining years as happy as I could. It
was all over, when I heard that you were alive, afflicted, and poor. I longed to
come and live for you. My new bonds became heavy fetters then, my wealth
oppressed me, and I was doubly wretched--for I dared not tell my trouble,
and it nearly drove me mad. I have seen you now; I know that you are
happy; I read your cousin's love and see a peaceful life in store for you. This
must content me, and I must learn to bear it as I can."
She paused, breathless and pale, and walked rapidly along the terrace, as if
to hide or control the agitation that possessed her.
Treherne still sat silent, but his heart leaped within him, as he thought,
"She sees that Octavia loves me! A woman's eye is quick to detect love in
another, and she asserts what I begin to hope. My cousin's manner just
now, her dislike of Annon, her new shyness with me; it may be true, and if it
is--Heaven help me--what am I saying! I must not hope, nor wish, nor
dream; I must renounce and forget."
He leaned his head upon his hand, and sat so still Mrs. Snowdon rejoined
him, pale, but calm and self-possessed. As she drew near, she marked his
attitude, the bitter sadness of his face, and hope sprang up within her.
Perhaps she was mistaken; perhaps he did not love his cousin; perhaps he
still remembered the past, and still regretted the loss of the heart she had
just laid bare before him. Her husband was failing, and might die any day.
And then, free, rich, beautiful, and young, what might she not become to
Treherne, helpless, poor, and ambitious? With all her faults, she was
generous, and this picture charmed her fancy, warmed her heart, and
comforted her pain.
"Maurice," she said softly, pausing again beside him, "if I mistake you and
your hopes, it is because I dare ask nothing for myself; but if ever a time
shall come when I have liberty to give or help, ask of me anything, and it is
He understood her, pitied her, and, seeing that she found consolation in a
distant hope, he let her enjoy it while she might. Gravely, yet gratefully, he
spoke, and pressed the hand extended to him with an impulsive gesture.
"Generous as ever, Edith, and impetuously frank. Thank you for your
sincerity, your kindness, and the affection you once gave me. I say 'once,' for
now duty, truth, and honor bar us from each other. My life must be solitary,
yet I shall find work to do, and learn to be content. You owe all devotion to
the good old man who loves you, and will not fail him, I am sure. Leave the
future and the past, but let us make the present what it may be--a time to
forgive and forget, to take heart and begin anew. Christmas is a fitting time
for such resolves, and the birth of friendship such as ours may be."
Something in his tone and manner struck her, and, eyeing him with soft
wonder, she exclaimed, "How changed you are!"
"Need you tell me that?" And he glanced at his helpless limbs with a bitter
yet pathetic look of patience.
"No, no--not so! I mean in mind, not body. Once you were gay and careless,
eager and fiery, like Jasper; now you are grave and quiet, or cheerful, and so
very kind. Yet, in spite of illness and loss, you seem twice the man you were,
and something wins respect, as well as admiration--and love."
Her dark eyes filled as the last word left her lips, and the beauty of a
touched heart shone in her face. Maurice looked up quickly, asking with
sudden earnestness, "Do you see it? Then it is true. Yes, I am changed,
thank God! And she has done it."
"Who?" demanded his companion jealously.
"Octavia. Unconsciously, yet surely, she has done much for me, and this
year of seeming loss and misery has been the happiest, most profitable of
my life. I have often heard that afflictions were the best teachers, and I
believe it now."
Mrs. Snowdon shook her head sadly.
"Not always; they are tormentors to some. But don't preach, Maurice. I am
still a sinner, though you incline to sainthood, and I have one question more
to ask. What was it that took you and Jasper so suddenly away from Paris?"
"That I can never tell you."
"I shall discover it for myself, then."
"It is impossible."
"Nothing is impossible to a determined woman."
"You can neither wring, surprise, nor bribe this secret from the two persons
who hold it. I beg of you to let it rest," said Treherne earnestly.
"I have a clue, and I shall follow it; for I am convinced that something is
wrong, and you are--"
"Dear Mrs. Snowdon, are you so charmed with the birds that you forget your
fellow-beings, or so charmed with one fellow-being that you forget the
As the sudden question startled both, Rose Talbot came along the terrace,
with hands full of holly and a face full of merry mischief, adding as she
vanished, "I shall tell Tavie that feeding the peacocks is such congenial
amusement for lovers, she and Mr. Annon had better try it."
"Saucy gypsy!" muttered Treherne.
But Mrs. Snowdon said, with a smile of double meaning, "Many a true word
is spoken in jest."
UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Unusually gay and charming the three young friends looked, dressed alike
in fleecy white with holly wreaths in their hair, as they slowly descended the
wide oaken stairway arm in arm. A footman was lighting the hall lamps, for
the winter dusk gathered early, and the girls were merrily chatting about the
evening's festivity when suddenly a loud, long shriek echoed through the
hall. A heavy glass shade fell from the man's hand with a crash, and the
young ladies clung to one another aghast, for mortal terror was in the cry,
and a dead silence followed it.
"What was it, John?" demanded Octavia, very pale, but steady in a moment.
"I'll go and see, miss." And the man hurried away.
"Where did the dreadful scream come from?" asked Rose, collecting her wits
as rapidly as possible.
"Above us somewhere. Oh, let us go down among people; I am frightened to
death," whispered Blanche, trembling and faint.
Hurrying into the parlor, they found only Annon and the major, both looking
startled, and both staring out of the windows.
"Did you hear it? What could it be? Don't go and leave us!" cried the girls in
a breath, as they rushed in.
The gentlemen had heard, couldn't explain the cry, and were quite ready to
protect the pretty creatures who clustered about them like frightened fawns.
John speedily appeared, looking rather wild, and as eager to tell his tale as
they to listen.
"It's Patty, one of the maids, miss, in a fit. She went up to the north gallery
to see that the fires was right, for it takes a power of wood to warm the
gallery even enough for dancing, as you know, miss. Well, it was dark, for
the fires was low and her candle went out as she whisked open the door,
being flurried, as the maids always is when they go in there. Halfway down
the gallery she says she heard a rustling, and stopped. She's the pluckiest of
'em all, and she called out, 'I see you!' thinking it was some of us trying to
fright her. Nothing answered, and she went on a bit, when suddenly the fire
flared up one flash, and there right before her was the ghost."
"Don't be foolish, John. Tell us what it was," said Octavia sharply, though
her face whitened and her heart sank as the last word passed the man's
"It was a tall, black figger, miss, with a dead-white face and a black hood.
She see it plain, and turned to go away, but she hadn't gone a dozen steps
when there it was again before her, the same tall, dark thing with the dead-
white face looking out from the black hood. It lifted its arm as if to hold her,
but she gave a spring and dreadful screech, and ran to Mrs. Benson's room,
where she dropped in a fit."
"How absurd to be frightened by the shadows of the figures in armor that
stand along the gallery!" said Rose, boldly enough, though she would have
declined entering the gallery without a light.
"Nay, I don't wonder, it's a ghostly place at night. How is the poor thing?"
asked Blanche, still hanging on the major's arm in her best attitude.
"If Mamma knows nothing of it, tell Mrs. Benson to keep it from her, please.
She is not well, and such things annoy her very much," said Octavia, adding
as the man turned away, "Did anyone look in the gallery after Patty told her
"No, miss. I'll go and do it myself; I'm not afraid of man, ghost, or devil,
saving your presence, ladies," replied John.
"Where is Sir Jasper?" suddenly asked the major.
"Here I am. What a deuce of a noise someone has been making. It disturbed
a capital dream. Why, Tavie, what is it?" And Sir Jasper came out of the
library with a sleepy face and tumbled hair.
They told him the story, whereat he laughed heartily, and said the maids
were a foolish set to be scared by a shadow. While he still laughed and
joked, Mrs. Snowdon entered, looking alarmed, and anxious to know the
cause of the confusion.
"How interesting! I never knew you kept a ghost. Tell me all about it, Sir
Jasper, and soothe our nerves by satisfying our curiosity," she said in her
half-persuasive, half-commanding way, as she seated herself on Lady
Treherne's sacred sofa.
"There's not much to tell, except that this place used to be an abbey, in fact
as well as in name. An ancestor founded it, and for years the monks led a
jolly life here, as one may see, for the cellar is twice as large as the chapel,
and much better preserved. But another ancestor, a gay and gallant baron,
took a fancy to the site for his castle, and, in spite of prayers, anathemas,
and excommunication, he turned the poor fellows out, pulled down the
abbey, and built this fine old place. Abbot Boniface, as he left his abbey,
uttered a heavy curse on all who should live here, and vowed to haunt us till
the last Treherne vanished from the face of the earth. With this amiable
threat the old party left Baron Roland to his doom, and died as soon as he
could in order to begin his cheerful mission."
"Did he haunt the place?" asked Blanche eagerly.
"Yes, most faithfully from that time to this. Some say many of the monks
still glide about the older parts of the abbey, for Roland spared the chapel
and the north gallery which joined it to the modern building. Poor fellows,
they are welcome, and once a year they shall have a chance to warm their
ghostly selves by the great fires always kindled at Christmas in the gallery."
"Mrs. Benson once told me that when the ghost walked, it was a sure sign of
a coming death in the family. Is that true?" asked Rose, whose curiosity was
excited by the expression of Octavia's face, and a certain uneasiness in Sir
Jasper's manner in spite of his merry mood.
"There is a stupid superstition of that sort in the family, but no one except
the servants believes it, of course. In times of illness some silly maid or
croaking old woman can easily fancy they see a phantom, and, if death
comes, they are sure of the ghostly warning. Benson saw it before my father
died, and old Roger, the night my uncle was seized with apoplexy. Patty will
never be made to believe that this warning does not forebode the death of
Maurice or myself, for the gallant spirit leaves the ladies of our house to
depart in peace. How does it strike you, Cousin?"
Turning as he spoke, Sir Jasper glanced at Treherne, who had entered while
"I am quite skeptical and indifferent to the whole affair, but I agree with
Octavia that it is best to say nothing to my aunt if she is ignorant of the
matter. Her rooms are a long way off, and perhaps she did not hear the
"You seem to hear everything; you were not with us when I said that." And
Octavia looked up with an air of surprise.
Smiling significantly, Treherne answered, "I hear, see, and understand many
things that escape others. Jasper, allow me to advise you to smooth the hair
which your sleep has disarranged. Mrs. Snowdon, permit me. This rich
velvet catches the least speck." And with his handkerchief he delicately
brushed away several streaks of white dust which clung to the lady's skirt.
Sir Jasper turned hastily on his heel and went to remake his toilet; Mrs.
Snowdon bit her lip, but thanked Treherne sweetly and begged him to fasten
her glove. As he did so, she said softly, "Be more careful next time. Octavia
has keen eyes, and the major may prove inconvenient."
"I have no fear that you will," he whispered back, with a malicious glance.
Here the entrance of my lady put an end to the ghostly episode, for it was
evident that she knew nothing of it. Octavia slipped away to question John,
and learn that no sign of a phantom was to be seen. Treherne devoted
himself to Mrs. Snowdon, and the major entertained my lady, while Sir
Jasper and the girls chatted apart.
It was Christmas Eve, and a dance in the great gallery was the yearly festival
at the abbey. All had been eager for it, but the maid's story seemed to have
lessened their enthusiasm, though no one would own it. This annoyed Sir
Jasper, and he exerted himself to clear the atmosphere by affecting gaiety he
did not feel. The moment the gentlemen came in after dinner he whispered
to his mother, who rose, asked the general for his arm, and led the way to
the north gallery, whence the sound of music now proceeded. The rest
followed in a merry procession, even Treherne, for two footmen carried him
up the great stairway, chair and all.
Nothing could look less ghostly now than the haunted gallery. Fires roared
up a wide chimney at either end, long rows of figures clad in armor stood on
each side, one mailed hand grasping a lance, the other bearing a lighted
candle, a device of Sir Jasper's. Narrow windows pierced in the thick walls
let in gleams of wintry moonlight; ivy, holly, and evergreen glistened in the
ruddy glow of mingled firelight and candle shine. From the arched stone roof
hung tattered banners, and in the midst depended a great bunch of
mistletoe. Red-cushioned seats stood in recessed window nooks, and from
behind a high-covered screen of oak sounded the blithe air of Sir Roger de
With the utmost gravity and stateliness my lady and the general led off the
dance, for, according to the good old fashion, the men and maids in their
best array joined the gentlefolk and danced with their betters in a high state
of pride and bashfulness. Sir Jasper twirled the old housekeeper till her
head spun around and around and her decorous skirts rustled stormily;
Mrs. Snowdon captivated the gray-haired butler by her condescension; and
John was made a proud man by the hand of his young mistress. The major
came out strong among the pretty maids, and Rose danced the footmen out
of breath long before the music paused.
The merriment increased from that moment, and when the general
surprised my lady by gallantly saluting her as she unconsciously stood
under the mistletoe, the applause was immense. Everyone followed the old
gentleman's example as fast as opportunities occurred, and the young ladies
soon had as fine a color as the housemaids. More dancing, games, songs,
and all manner of festival devices filled the evening, yet under cover of the
gaiety more than one little scene was enacted that night, and in an hour of
seeming frivolity the current of several lives was changed.
By a skillful maneuver Annon led Octavia to an isolated recess, as if to rest
after a brisk game, and, taking advantage of the auspicious hour, pleaded
his suit. She heard him patiently and, when he paused, said slowly, yet
decidedly, and with no sign of maiden hesitation, "Thanks for the honor you
do me, but I cannot accept it, for I do not love you. I think I never can."
"Have you tried?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, indeed I have. I like you as a friend, but no more. I know Mamma
desires it, that Jasper hopes for it, and I try to please them, but love will not
be forced, so what can I do?" And she smiled in spite of herself at her own
"No, but it can be cherished, strengthened, and in time won, with patience
and devotion. Let me try, Octavia; it is but fair, unless you have already
learned from another the lesson I hope to teach. Is it so?"
"No, I think not. I do not understand myself as yet, I am so young, and this
so sudden. Give me time, Frank."
She blushed and fluttered now, looked half angry, half beseeching, and
"How much time shall I give? It cannot take long to read a heart like yours,
dear." And fancying her emotion a propitious omen, he assumed the lover in
"Give me time till the New Year. I will answer then, and, meantime, leave me
free to study both myself and you. We have known each other long, I own,
but, still, this changes everything, and makes you seem another person. Be
patient, Frank, and I will try to make my duty a pleasure."
"I will. God bless you for the kind hope, Octavia. It has been mine for years,
and if I lose it, it will go hardly with me."
Later in the evening General Snowdon stood examining the antique screen.
In many places carved oak was pierced quite through, so that voices were
audible from behind it. The musicians had gone down to supper, the young
folk were quietly busy at the other end of the hall, and as the old gentleman
admired the quaint carving, the sound of his own name caught his ear. The
housekeeper and butler still remained, though the other servants had gone,
and sitting cosily behind the screen chatted in low tones believing
"It was Mrs. Snowdon, Adam, as I'm a living woman, though I wouldn't say it
to anyone but you. She and Sir Jasper were here wrapped in cloaks, and up
to mischief, I'll be bound. She is a beauty, but I don't envy her, and there'll
be trouble in the house if she stays long."
"But how do you know, Mrs. Benson, she was here? Where's your proof,
mum?" asked the pompous butler.
"Look at this, and then look at the outlandish trimming of the lady's dress.
You men are so dull about such matters you'd never observe these little
points. Well, I was here first after Patty, and my light shone on this jet
ornament lying near where she saw the spirit. No one has any such tasty
trifles but Mrs. Snowdon, and these are all over her gown. If that ain't proof,
"Well, admitting it, I then say what on earth should she and Master be up
here for, at such a time?" asked the slow-witted butler.
"Adam, we are old servants of the family, and to you I'll say what tortures
shouldn't draw from to another. Master has been wild, as you know, and it's
my belief that he loved this lady abroad. There was a talk of some mystery,
or misdeed, or misfortune, more than a year ago, and she was in it. I'm loath
to say it, but I think Master loves her still, and she him. The general is an
old man, she is but young, and so spirited and winsome she can't in reason
care for him as for a fine, gallant gentleman like Sir Jasper. There's trouble
brewing, Adam, mark my words. There's trouble brewing for the Trehernes."
So low had the voices fallen that the listener could not have caught the
words had not his ear been strained to the utmost. He did hear all, and his
wasted face flashed with the wrath of a young man, then grew pale and
stern as he turned to watch his wife. She stood apart from the others talking
to Sir Jasper, who looked unusually handsome and debonair as he fanned
her with a devoted air.
Perhaps it is true, thought the old man bitterly. They are well matched, were
lovers once, no doubt, and long to be so again. Poor Edith, I was very blind.
And with his gray head bowed upon his breast the general stole away,
carrying an arrow in his brave old heart.
* * * * * * *
"Blanche, come here and rest, you will be ill tomorrow; and I promised
Mamma to take care of you." With which elder-sisterly command Rose led
the girl to an immense old chair, which held them both. "Now listen to me
and follow my advice, for I am wise in my generation, though not yet gray.
They are all busy, so leave them alone and let me show you what is to be
Rose spoke softly, but with great resolution, and nodded her pretty head so
energetically that the holly berries came rolling over her white shoulders.
"We are not as rich as we might be, and must establish ourselves as soon
and as well as possible. I intend to be Lady Treherne. You can be the
Honorable Mrs. Annon, if you give your mind to it."
"My dear child, are you mad?" whispered Blanche.
"Far from it, but you will be if you waste your time on Maurice. He is poor,
and a cripple, though very charming, I admit. He loves Tavie, and she will
marry him, I am sure. She can't endure Frank, but tries to because my lady
commands it. Nothing will come of it, so try your fascinations and comfort
the poor man; sympathy now will foster love hereafter."
"Don't talk so here, Rose, someone will hear us," began her sister, but the
other broke in briskly.
"No fear, a crowd is the best place for secrets. Now remember what I say,
and make your game while the ball is rolling. Other people are careful not to
put their plans into words, but I'm no hypocrite, and say plainly what I
mean. Bear my sage counsel in mind and act wisely. Now come and begin."
Treherne was sitting alone by one of the great fires, regarding the gay scene
with serious air. For him there was neither dancing nor games; he could
only roam about catching glimpses of forbidden pleasures, impossible
delights, and youthful hopes forever lost to him. Sad but not morose was his
face, and to Octavia it was a mute reproach which she could not long resist.
Coming up as if to warm herself, she spoke to him in her usually frank and
friendly way, and felt her heart beat fast when she saw how swift a change
her cordial manner wrought in him.
"How pretty your holly is! Do you remember how we used to go and gather it
for festivals like this, when we were happy children?" he asked, looking up
at her with eyes full of tender admiration.
"Yes, I remember. Everyone wears it tonight as a badge, but you have none.
Let me get you a bit, I like to have you one of us in all things."
She leaned forward to break a green sprig from the branch over the
chimneypiece; the strong draft drew in her fleecy skirt, and in an instant she
was enveloped in flames.
"Maurice, save me, help me!" cried a voice of fear and agony, and before
anyone could reach her, before he himself knew how the deed was done,
Treherne had thrown himself from his chair, wrapped the tiger skin tightly
about her, and knelt there clasping her in his arms heedless of fire, pain, or
the incoherent expressions of love that broke from his lips.
Great was the confusion and alarm which reigned for many minutes, but
when the panic subsided two miracles appeared. Octavia was entirely
uninjured, and Treherne was standing on his feet, a thing which for months
he had not done without crutches. In the excitement of the moment, no one
observed the wonder; all were crowding about the girl, who, pale and
breathless but now self-possessed, was the first to exclaim, pointing to her
cousin, who had drawn himself up, with the help of his chair, and leaned
there smiling, with a face full of intense delight.
"Look at Maurice! Oh, Jasper, help him or he'll fall!"
Sir Jasper sprung to his side and put a strong arm about him, while a
chorus of wonder, sympathy, and congratulations rose about them.
"Why, lad, what does it mean? Have you been deceiving us all this time?"
cried Jasper, as Treherne leaned on him, looking exhausted but truly happy.
"It means that I am not to be a cripple all my life; that they did not deceive
me when they said a sudden shock might electrify me with a more potent
magnetism than any they could apply. It has, and if I am cured I owe it all to
He stretched his hands to her with a gesture of such passionate gratitude
that the girl covered her face to hide its traitorous tenderness, and my lady
went to him, saying brokenly, as she embraced him with maternal warmth,
"God bless you for this act, Maurice, and reward you with a perfect cure. To
you I owe the lives of both my children; how can I thank you as I ought?"
"I dare not tell you yet," he whispered eagerly, then added, "I am growing
faint, Aunt. Get me away before I make a scene."
This hint recalled my lady to her usual state of dignified self-possession.
Bidding Jasper and the major help Treherne to his room without delay, she
begged Rose to comfort her sister, who was sobbing hysterically, and as they
all obeyed her, she led her daughter away to her own apartment, for the
festivities of the evening were at an end.
At the same time Mrs. Snowdon and Annon bade my lady good-night, as if
they also were about to retire, but as they reached the door of the gallery
Mrs. Snowdon paused and beckoned Annon back. They were alone now,
and, standing before the fire which had so nearly made that Christmas Eve
a tragical one, she turned to him with a face full of interest and sympathy as
she said, nodding toward the blackened shreds of Octavia's dress, and the
scorched tiger skin which still lay at their feet, "That was both a fortunate
and an unfortunate little affair, but I fear Maurice's gain will be your loss.
Pardon my frankness for Octavia's sake; she is a fine creature, and I long to
see her given to one worthy of her. I am a woman to read faces quickly; I
know that your suit does not prosper as you would have it, and I desire to
help you. May I?"
"Indeed you may, and command any service of me in return. But to what do
I owe this unexpected friendliness?" cried Annon, both grateful and
"To my regard for the young lady, my wish to save her from an unworthy
"Do you mean Treherne?" asked Annon, more and more amazed.
"I do. Octavia must not marry a gambler!"
"My dear lady, you labor under some mistake; Treherne is by no means a
gambler. I owe him no goodwill, but I cannot hear him slandered."
"You are generous, but I am not mistaken. Can you, on your honor, assure
me that Maurice never played?"
Mrs. Snowdon's keen eyes were on him, and he looked embarrassed for a
moment, but answered with some hesitation, "Why, no, I cannot say that,
but I can assure you that he is not an habitual gambler. All young men of
his rank play more or less, especially abroad. It is merely an amusement
with most, and among men is not considered dishonorable or dangerous.
Ladies think differently, I believe, at least in England."
At the word "abroad," Mrs. Snowdon's face brightened, and she suddenly
dropped her eyes, as if afraid of betraying some secret purpose.
"Indeed we do, and well we may, many of us having suffered from this
pernicious habit. I have had special cause to dread and condemn it, and the
fear that Octavia should in time suffer what I have suffered as a girl urges
me to interfere where otherwise I should be dumb. Mr. Annon, there was a
rumor that Maurice was forced to quit Paris, owing to some dishonorable
practices at the gaming table. Is this true?"
"Nay, don't ask me; upon my soul I cannot tell you. I only know that
something was amiss, but what I never learned. Various tales were
whispered at the clubs, and Sir Jasper indignantly denied them all. The
bravery with which Maurice saved his cousin, and the sad affliction which
fell upon him, silenced the gossip, and it was soon forgotten."
Mrs. Snowdon remained silent for a moment, with brows knit in deep
thought, while Annon uneasily watched her. Suddenly she glanced over her
shoulder, drew nearer, and whispered cautiously, "Did the rumors of which
you speak charge him with--" and the last word was breathed into Annon's
ear almost inaudibily.
He started, as if some new light broke on him, and stared at the speaker
with a troubled face for an instant, saying hastily, "No, but now you remind
me that when an affair of that sort was discussed the other day Treherne
looked very odd, and rolled himself away, as if it didn't interest him. I can't
believe it, and yet it may be something of the kind. That would account for
old Sir Jasper's whim, and Treherne's steady denial of any knowledge of the
cause. How in heaven's name did you learn this?"
"My woman's wit suggested it, and my woman's will shall confirm or destroy
the suspicion. My lady and Octavia evidently know nothing, but they shall if
there is any danger of the girl's being won by him."
"You would not tell her!" exclaimed Annon.
"I will, unless you do it" was the firm answer.
"Never! To betray a friend, even to gain the woman I love, is a thing I cannot
do; my honor forbids it."
Mrs. Snowdon smiled scornfully.
"Men's code of honor is a strong one, and we poor women suffer from it.
Leave this to me; do your best, and if all other means fail, you may be glad
to try my device to prevent Maurice from marrying his cousin. Gratitude and
pity are strong allies, and if he recovers, his strong will will move heaven
and earth to gain her. Good night." And leaving her last words to rankle in
Annon's mind, Mrs. Snowdon departed to endure sleepless hours full of
tormenting memories, newborn hopes, and alternations of determination
Treherne's prospect of recovery filled the whole house with delight, for his
patient courage and unfailing cheerfulness had endeared him to all. It was
no transient amendment, for day by day he steadily gained strength and
power, passing rapidly from chair to crutches, from crutches to a cane and a
friend's arm, which was always ready for him. Pain returned with returning
vitality, but he bore it with a fortitude that touched all who witnessed it. At
times motion was torture, yet motion was necessary lest the torpidity should
return, and Treherne took his daily exercise with unfailing perseverance,
saying with a smile, though great drops stood upon his forehead, "I have
something dearer even than health to win. Hold me up, Jasper, and let me
stagger on, in spite of everything, till my twelve turns are made."
He remembered Lady Treherne's words, "If you were well, I'd gladly give my
girl to you." This inspired him with strength, endurance, and a happiness
which could not be concealed. It overflowed in looks, words, and acts; it
infected everyone, and made these holidays the blithest the old abbey had
seen for many a day.
Annon devoted himself to Octavia, and in spite of her command to be left in
peace till the New Year, she was very kind--so kind that hope flamed up in
his heart, though he saw that something like compassion often shone on
him from her frank eyes, and her compliance had no touch of the tender
docility which lovers long to see. She still avoided Treherne, but so skillfully
that few observed the change but Annon and himself. In public Sir Jasper
appeared to worship at the sprightly Rose's shrine, and she fancied her
game was prospering well.
But had any one peeped behind the scenes it would have been discovered
that during the half hour before dinner, when everyone was in their dressing
rooms and the general taking his nap, a pair of ghostly black figures flitted
about the haunted gallery, where no servant ventured without orders. The
major fancied himself the only one who had made this discovery, for Mrs.
Snowdon affected Treherne's society in public, and was assiduous in serving
and amusing the "dear convalescent," as she called him. But the general did
not sleep; he too watched and waited, longing yet dreading to speak, and
hoping that this was but a harmless freak of Edith's, for her caprices were
many, and till now he had indulged them freely. This hesitation disgusted
the major, who, being a bachelor, knew little of women's ways, and less of
their powers of persuasion. The day before New Year he took a sudden
resolution, and demanded a private interview with the general.
"I have come on an unpleasant errand, sir," he abruptly began, as the old
man received him with an expression which rather daunted the major. "My
friendship for Lady Treherne, and my guardianship of her children, makes
me jealous of the honor of the family. I fear it is in danger, sir; pardon me for
saying it, but your wife is the cause."
"May I trouble you to explain, Major Royston" was all the general's reply, as
his old face grew stern and haughty.
"I will, sir, briefly. I happen to know from Jasper that there were love
passages between Miss Dubarry and himself a year or more ago in Paris. A
whim parted them, and she married. So far no reproach rests upon either,
but since she came here it has been evident to others as well as myself that
Jasper's affection has revived, and that Mrs. Snowdon does not reject and
reprove it as she should. They often meet, and from Jasper's manner I am
convinced that mischief is afloat. He is ardent, headstrong, and utterly
regardless of the world's opinion in some cases. I have watched them, and
what I tell you is true."
"I will. They meet in the north gallery, wrapped in dark cloaks, and play
ghost if anyone comes. I concealed myself behind the screen last evening at
dusk, and satisfied myself that my suspicions were correct. I heard little of
their conversation, but that little was enough."
"Repeat it, if you please."
"Sir Jasper seemed pleading for some promise which she reluctantly gave,
saying, 'While you live I will be true to my word with everyone but him. He
will suspect, and it will be useless to keep it from him.'
"'He will shoot me for this if he knows I am the traitor,' expostulated Jasper.
"'He shall not know that; I can hoodwink him easily, and serve my purpose
"'You are mysterious, but I leave all to you and wait for my reward. When
shall I have it, Edith?' She laughed, and answered so low I could not hear,
for they left the gallery as they spoke. Forgive me, General, for the pain I
inflict. You are the only person to whom I have spoken, and you are the only
person who can properly and promptly prevent this affair from bringing
open shame and scandal on an honorable house. To you I leave it, and will
do my part with this infatuated young man if you will withdraw the
temptation which will ruin him."
"I will. Thank you, Major. Trust to me, and by tomorrow I will prove that I
can act as becomes me."
The grief and misery in the general's face touched the major; he silently
wrung his hand and went away, thanking heaven more fervently than ever
that no cursed coquette of a woman had it in her power to break his heart.
While this scene was going on above, another was taking place in the
library. Treherne sat there alone, thinking happy thoughts evidently, for his
eyes shone and his lips smiled as he mused, while watching the splendors of
a winter sunset. A soft rustle and the faint scent of violets warned him of
Mrs. Snowdon's approach, and a sudden foreboding told him that danger
was near. The instant he saw her face his fear was confirmed, for exultation,
resolve, and love met and mingled in the expression it wore. Leaning in the
window recess, where the red light shone full on her lovely face and queenly
figure, she said, softly yet with a ruthless accent below the softness,
"Dreaming dreams, Maurice, which will never come to pass, unless I will it. I
know your secret, and I shall use it to prevent the fulfillment of the foolish
hope you cherish."
"Who told you?" he demanded, with an almost fierce flash of the eye and an
"I discovered it, as I warned you I should. My memory is good, I recall the
gossip of long ago, I observe the faces, words, and acts of those whom I
suspect, and unconscious hints from them give me the truth."
"I doubt it," and Treherne smiled securely.
She stooped and whispered one short sentence into his ear. Whatever it was
it caused him to start up with a pale, panic-stricken face, and eye her as if
she had pronounced his doom.
"Do you doubt it now?" she asked coldly.
"He told you! Even your skill and craft could not discover it alone," he
"Nay, I told you nothing was impossible to a determined woman. I needed no
help, for I knew more than you think."
He sank down again in a despairing attitude and hid his face, saying
mournfully, "I might have known you would hunt me down and dash my
hopes when they were surest. How will you use this unhappy secret?"
"I will tell Octavia, and make her duty less hard. It will be kind to both of
you, for even with her this memory would mar your happiness; and it saves
her from the shame and grief of discovering, when too late, that she has
given herself to a--"
"Stop!" he cried, in a tone that made her start and pale, as he rose out of his
chair white with a stern indignation which awed her for a moment. "You
shall not utter that word--you know but half the truth, and if you wrong me
or trouble the girl I will turn traitor also, and tell the general the game you
are playing with my cousin. You feign to love me as you feigned before, but
his title is the bait now as then, and you fancy that by threatening to mar
my hopes you will secure my silence, and gain your end."
"Wrong, quite wrong. Jasper is nothing to me; I use him as a tool, not you. If
I threaten, it is to keep you from Octavia, who cannot forgive the past and
love you for yourself, as I have done all these miserable months. You say I
know but half the truth. Tell me the whole and I will spare you."
If ever a man was tempted to betray a trust it was Treherne then. A word,
and Octavia might be his; silence, and she might be lost; for this woman
was in earnest, and possessed the power to ruin his good name forever. The
truth leaped to his lips and would have passed them, had not his eye fallen
on the portrait of Jasper's father. This man had loved and sheltered the
orphan all his life, had made of him a son, and, dying, urged him to guard
and serve and save the rebellious youth he left, when most needing a
"I promised, and I will keep my promise at all costs," sighed Treherne, and
with a gesture full of pathetic patience he waved the fair tempter from him,
saying steadily, "I will never tell you, though you rob me of that which is
dearer than my life. Go and work your will, but remember that when you
might have won the deepest gratitude of the man you profess to love, you
chose instead to earn his hatred and contempt."
Waiting for no word of hers, he took refuge in his room, and Edith Snowdon
sank down upon the couch, struggling with contending emotions of love and
jealousy, remorse and despair. How long she sat there she could not tell; an
approaching step recalled her to herself, and looking up she saw Octavia. As
the girl approached down the long vista of the drawing rooms, her youth and
beauty, innocence and candor touched that fairer and more gifted woman
with an envy she had never known before. Something in the girl's face
struck her instantly: a look of peace and purity, a sweet serenity more
winning than loveliness, more impressive than dignity or grace. With a smile
on her lips, yet a half-sad, half-tender light in her eyes, and a cluster of pale
winter roses in her hand, she came on till she stood before her rival and,
offering the flowers, said, in words as simple as sincere, "Dear Mrs.
Snowdon, I cannot let the last sun of the old year set on any misdeeds of
mine for which I may atone. I have disliked, distrusted, and misjudged you,
and now I come to you in all humility to say forgive me."
With the girlish abandon of her impulsive nature Octavia knelt down before
the woman who was plotting to destroy her happiness, laid the roses like a
little peace offering on her lap, and with eloquently pleading eyes waited for
pardon. For a moment Mrs. Snowdon watched her, fancying it a well-acted
ruse to disarm a dangerous rival; but in that sweet face there was no art;
one glance showed her that. The words smote her to the heart and won her
in spite of pride or passion, as she suddenly took the girl into her arms,
weeping repentant tears. Neither spoke, but in the silence each felt the
barrier which had stood between them vanishing, and each learned to know
the other better in that moment than in a year of common life. Octavia
rejoiced that the instinct which had prompted her to make this appeal had
not misled her, but assured her that behind the veil of coldness, pride, and
levity which this woman wore there was a heart aching for sympathy and
help and love. Mrs. Snowdon felt her worser self slip from her, leaving all
that was true and noble to make her worthy of the test applied. Art she
could meet with equal art, but nature conquered her. For spite of her
misspent life and faulty character, the germ of virtue, which lives in the
worst, was there, only waiting for the fostering sun and dew of love to
strengthen it, even though the harvest be a late one.
"Forgive you!" she cried, brokenly. "It is I who should ask forgiveness of you-
-I who should atone, confess, and repent. Pardon me, pity me, love me, for I
am more wretched than you know."
"Dear, I do with heart and soul. Believe it, and let me be your friend" was the
"God knows I need one!" sighed the poor woman, still holding fast the only
creature who had wholly won her. "Child, I am not good, but not so bad that
I dare not look in your innocent face and call you friend. I never had one of
my own sex. I never knew my mother; and no one ever saw in me the
possibility of goodness, truth, and justice but you. Trust and love and help
me, Octavia, and I will reward you with a better life, if I can do no more."
"I will, and the new year shall be happier than the old."
"God bless you for that prophecy; may I be worthy of it."
Then as a bell warned them away, the rivals kissed each other tenderly, and
parted friends. As Mrs. Snowdon entered her room, she saw her husband
sitting with his gray head in his hands, and heard him murmur despairingly
to himself, "My life makes her miserable. But for the sin of it I'd die to free
"No, live for me, and teach me to be happy in your love." The clear voice
startled him, but not so much as the beautiful changed face of the wife who
laid the gray head on her bosom, saying tenderly, "My kind and patient
husband, you have been deceived. From me you shall know all the truth,
and when you have forgiven my faulty past, you shall see how happy I will
try to make your future."
A GHOSTLY REVEL
"Bless me, how dull we are tonight!" exclaimed Rose, as the younger portion
of the party wandered listlessly about the drawing rooms that evening, while
my lady and the major played an absorbing game of piquet, and the general
dozed peacefully at last.
"It is because Maurice is not here; he always keeps us going, for he is a
fellow of infinite resources," replied Sir Jasper, suppressing a yawn.
"Have him out then," said Annon.
"He won't come. The poor lad is blue tonight, in spite of his improvement.
Something is amiss, and there is no getting a word from him."
"Sad memories afflict him, perhaps," sighed Blanche.
"Don't be absurd, dear, sad memories are all nonsense; melancholy is
always indigestion, and nothing is so sure a cure as fun," said Rose briskly.
"I'm going to send in a polite invitation begging him to come and amuse us.
He'll accept, I haven't a doubt."
The message was sent, but to Rose's chagrin a polite refusal was returned.
"He shall come. Sir Jasper, do you and Mr. Annon go as a deputation from
us, and return without him at your peril" was her command.
They went, and while waiting their reappearance the sisters spoke of what
all had observed.
"How lovely Mrs. Snowdon looks tonight. I always thought she owed half her
charms to her skill in dress, but she never looked so beautiful as in that
plain black silk, with those roses in her hair," said Rose.
"What has she done to herself?" replied Blanche. "I see a change, but can't
account for it. She and Tavie have made some beautifying discovery, for
both look altogether uplifted and angelic all of a sudden."
"Here come the gentlemen, and, as I'm a Talbot, they haven't got him!" cried
Rose as the deputation appeared, looking very crestfallen. "Don't come near
me," she added, irefully, "you are disloyal cowards, and I doom you to exile
till I want you. I am infinite in resources as well as this recreant man, and
come he shall. Mrs. Snowdon, would you mind asking Mr. Treherne to
suggest something to wile away the rest of this evening? We are in despair,
and can think of nothing, and you are all-powerful with him."
"I must decline, since he refuses you" was the decided answer, as Mrs.
Snowdon moved away.
"Tavie, dear, do go; we must have him; he always obeys you, and you would
be such a public benefactor, you know."
Without a word Octavia wrote a line and sent it by a servant. Several
minutes passed, and the gentlemen began to lay wagers on the success of
her trial. "He will not come for me, you may be sure," said Octavia. As the
words passed her lips he appeared.
A general laugh greeted him, but, taking no notice of the jests at his
expense, he turned to Octavia, saying quietly, "What can I do for you,
His colorless face and weary eyes reproached her for disturbing him, but it
was too late for regret, and she answered hastily, "We are in want of some
new and amusing occupation to wile away the evening. Can you suggest
"Why not sit round the hall fire and tell stories, while we wait to see the old
year out, as we used to do long ago?" he asked, after a moment's thought.
"I told you so! There it is, just what we want." And Sir Jasper looked
"It's capital--let us begin at once. It is after ten now, so we shall not have
long to wait," cried Rose, and, taking Sir Jasper's arm, she led the way to
A great fire always burned there, and in wintertime thick carpets and
curtains covered the stone floor and draped the tall windows. Plants
blossomed in the warm atmosphere, and chairs and lounges stood about
invitingly. The party was soon seated, and Treherne was desired to begin.
"We must have ghost stories, and in order to be properly thrilling and
effective, the lights must be put out," said Rose, who sat next him, and
spoke first, as usual.
This was soon done, and only a ruddy circle of firelight was left to oppose
the rapt gloom that filled the hall, where shadows now seemed to lurk in
"Don't be very dreadful, or I shall faint away," pleaded Blanche, drawing
nearer to Annon, for she had taken her sister's advice, and laid close siege to
that gentleman's heart.
"I think your nerves will bear my little tale," replied Treherne. "When I was in
India, four years ago, I had a very dear friend in my regiment--a Scotchman;
I'm half Scotch myself, you know, and clannish, of course. Gordon was sent
up the country on a scouting expedition, and never returned. His men
reported that he left them one evening to take a survey, and his horse came
home bloody and riderless. We searched, but could not find a trace of him,
and I was desperate to discover and avenge his murder. About a month after
his disappearance, as I sat in my tent one fearfully hot day, suddenly the
canvas door flap was raised and there stood Gordon. I saw him as plainly as
I see you, Jasper, and should have sprung to meet him, but something held
me back. He was deathly pale, dripping with water, and in his bonny blue
eyes was a wild, woeful look that made my blood run cold. I stared dumbly,
for it was awful to see my friend so changed and so unearthly. Stretching his
arm to me he took my hand, saying solemnly, 'Come!' The touch was like
ice; an ominous thrill ran through me; I started up to obey, and he was
"A horrid dream, of course. Is that all?" asked Rose.
With his eyes on the fire and his left hand half extended, Treherne went on
as if he had not heard her.
"I thought it was a fancy, and soon recovered myself, for no one had seen or
heard anything of Gordon, and my native servant lay just outside my tent. A
strange sensation remained in the hand the phantom touched. It was cold,
damp, and white. I found it vain to try to forget this apparition; it took
strong hold of me; I told Yermid, my man, and he bade me consider it a sign
that I was to seek my friend. That night I dreamed I was riding up the
country in hot haste; what led me I know not, but I pressed on and on,
longing to reach the end. A half-dried river crossed my path, and, riding
down the steep bank to ford it, I saw Gordon's body lying in the shallow
water looking exactly as the vision looked. I woke in a strange mood, told the
story to my commanding officer, and, as nothing was doing just then, easily
got leave of absence for a week. Taking Yermid, I set out on my sad quest. I
thought it folly, but I could not resist the impulse that drew me on. For
seven days I searched, and the strangest part of the story is that all that
time I went on exactly as in the dream, seeing what I saw then, and led by
the touch of a cold hand on mine. On the seventh day I reached the river,
and found my friend's body."
"How horrible! Is it really true?" cried Mrs. Snowdon.
"As true as I am a living man. Nor is that all: this left hand of mine never
has been warm since that time. See and feel for yourselves."
He opened both hands, and all satisfied themselves that the left was
smaller, paler, and colder than the right.
"Pray someone tell another story to put this out of my mind; it makes me
nervous," said Blanche.
"I'll tell one, and you may laugh to quiet your nerves. I want to have mine
done with, so that I can enjoy the rest with a free mind." With these words
Rose began her tale in the good old fashion.
"Once upon a time, when we were paying a visit to my blessed
grandmamma, I saw a ghost in this wise: The dear old lady was ill with a
cold and kept her room, leaving us to mope, for it was very dull in the great
lonely house. Blanche and I were both homesick, but didn't like to leave till
she was better, so we ransacked the library and solaced ourselves with all
manner of queer books. One day I found Grandmamma very low and
nervous, and evidently with something on her mind. She would say nothing,
but the next day was worse, and I insisted on knowing the cause, for the
trouble was evidently mental. Charging me to keep it from Blanche, who
was, and is, a sad coward, she told me that a spirit had appeared to her two
successive nights. 'If it comes a third time, I shall prepare to die,' said the
foolish old lady.
"'No, you won't, for I'll come and stay with you and lay your ghost,' I said.
With some difficulty I made her yield, and after Blanche was asleep I slipped
away to Grandmamma, with a book and candle for a long watch, as the
spirit didn't appear till after midnight. She usually slept with her door
unlocked, in case of fire or fright, and her maid was close by. That night I
locked the door, telling her that spirits could come through the oak if they
chose, and I preferred to have a fair trial. Well, I read and chatted and dozed
till dawn and nothing appeared, so I laughed at the whole affair, and the old
lady pretended to be convinced that it was all a fancy.
"Next night I slept in my own room, and in the morning was told that not
only Grandmamma but Janet had seen the spirit. All in white, with
streaming hair, a pale face, and a red streak at the throat. It came and
parted the bed-curtains, looking in a moment, and then vanished. Janet had
slept with Grandmamma and kept a lamp burning on the chimney, so both
"I was puzzled, but not frightened; I never am, and I insisted on trying again.
The door was left unlocked, as on the previous night, and I lay with
Grandmamma, a light burning as before. About two she clutched me as I
was dropping off. I looked, and there, peeping in between the dark curtains,
was a pale face with long hair all about it, and a red streak at the throat. It
was very dim, the light being low, but I saw it, and after one breathless
minute sprang up, caught my foot, fell down with a crash, and by the time I
was around the bed, not a vestige of the thing appeared. I was angry, and
vowed I'd succeed at all hazards, though I'll confess I was just a bit daunted.
"Next time Janet and I sat up in easy chairs, with bright lights burning, and
both wide awake with the strongest coffee we could make. As the hour drew
near we got nervous, and when the white shape came gliding in Janet hid
her face. I didn't, and after one look was on the point of laughing, for the
spirit was Blanche walking in her sleep. She wore a coral necklace in those
days, and never took it off, and her long hair half hid her face, which had
the unnatural, uncanny look somnambulists always wear. I had the sense to
keep still and tell Janet what to do, so the poor child went back unwaked,
and Grandmamma's spirit never walked again for I took care of that."
"Why did you haunt the old lady?" asked Annon, as the laughter ceased.
"I don't know, unless it was that I wanted to ask leave to go home, and was
afraid to do it awake, so tried when asleep. I shall not tell any story, as I was
the heroine of this, but will give my turn to you, Mr. Annon," said Blanche,
with a soft glance, which was quite thrown away, for the gentleman's eyes
were fixed on Octavia, who sat on a low ottoman at Mrs. Snowdon's feet in
the full glow of the firelight.
"I've had very small experience in ghosts, and can only recall a little fright I
once had when a boy at college. I'd been out to a party, got home tired,
couldn't find my matches, and retired in the dark. Toward morning I woke,
and glancing up to see if the dim light was dawn or moonshine I was
horrified to see a coffin standing at the bed's foot. I rubbed my eyes to be
sure I was awake, and looked with all my might. There it was, a long black
coffin, and I saw the white plate in the dusk, for the moon was setting and
my curtain was not drawn. 'It's some trick of the fellows,' I thought; 'I'll not
betray myself, but keep cool.' Easy to say but hard to do, for it suddenly
flashed into my mind that I might be in the wrong room. I glanced about,
but there were the familiar objects as usual, as far as the indistinct light
allowed me to see, and I made sure by feeling on the wall at the bed's head
for my watchcase. It was there, and mine beyond a doubt, being peculiar in
shape and fabric. Had I been to a college wine party I could have accounted
for the vision, but a quiet evening in a grave professor's well-conducted
family could produce no ill effects. 'It's an optical illusion, or a prank of my
mates; I'll sleep and forget it,' I said, and for a time endeavored to do so, but
curiosity overcame my resolve, and soon I peeped again. Judge of my horror
when I saw the sharp white outline of a dead face, which seemed to be
peeping up from the coffin. It gave me a terrible shock for I was but a lad
and had been ill. I hid my face and quaked like a nervous girl, still thinking
it some joke and too proud to betray fear lest I should be laughed at. How
long I lay there I don't know, but when I looked again the face was farther
out and the whole figure seemed rising slowly. The moon was nearly down, I
had no lamp, and to be left in the dark with that awesome thing was more
than I could bear. Joke or earnest, I must end the panic, and bolting out of
my room I roused my neighbor. He told me I was mad or drunk, but lit a
lamp and returned with me, to find my horror only a heap of clothes thrown
on the table in such a way that, as the moon's pale light shot it, it struck
upon my black student's gown, with a white card lying on it, and produced
the effect of a coffin and plate. The face was a crumpled handkerchief, and
what seemed hair a brown muffler. As the moon sank, these outlines
changed and, incredible as it may seem, grew like a face. My friend not
having had the fright enjoyed the joke, and 'Coffins' was my sobriquet for a
"You get worse and worse. Sir Jasper, do vary the horrors by a touch of fun,
or I shall run away," said Blanche, glancing over her shoulder nervously.
"I'll do my best, and tell a story my uncle used to relate of his young days. I
forget the name of the place, but it was some little country town famous
among anglers. My uncle often went to fish, and always regretted that a
deserted house near the trout stream was not occupied, for the inn was
inconveniently distant. Speaking of this one evening as he lounged in the
landlady's parlor, he asked why no one took it and let the rooms to
strangers in the fishing season. 'For fear of the ghostissess, your honor,'
replied the woman, and proceeded to tell, him that three distinct spirits
haunted the house. In the garret was heard the hum of a wheel and the tap
of high-heeled shoes, as the ghostly spinner went to and fro. In a chamber
sounded the sharpening of a knife, followed by groans and the drip of blood.
The cellar was made awful by a skeleton sitting on a half-buried box and
chuckling fiendishly. It seems a miser lived there once, and was believed to
have starved his daughter in the garret, keeping her at work till she died.
The second spirit was that of the girl's rejected lover, who cut his throat in
the chamber, and the third of the miser who was found dead on the money
chest he was too feeble to conceal. My uncle laughed at all this, and offered
to lay the ghosts if anyone would take the house.
"This offer got abroad, and a crusty old fellow accepted it, hoping to turn a
penny. He had a pretty girl, whose love had been thwarted by the old man,
and whose lover was going to sea in despair. My uncle knew this and pitied
the young people. He had made acquaintance with a wandering artist, and
the two agreed to conquer the prejudices against the house by taking rooms
there. They did so, and after satisfying themselves regarding the noises,
consulted a wise old woman as to the best means of laying the ghosts. She
told them if any young girl would pass a night in each haunted room,
praying piously the while, that all would be well. Peggy was asked if she
would do it, and being a stouthearted lass she consented, for a round sum,
to try it. The first night was in the garret, and Peggy, in spite of the
prophecies of the village gossips, came out alive, though listeners at the door
heard the weird humming and tapping all night long. The next night all went
well, and from that time no more sharpening, groaning, or dripping was
heard. The third time she bade her friends good-bye and, wrapped in her red
cloak, with a lamp and prayer book, went down into the cellar. Alas for
pretty Peggy! When day came she was gone, and with her the miser's empty
box, though his bones remained to prove how well she had done her work.
"The town was in an uproar, and the old man furious. Some said the devil
had flown away with her, others that the bones were hers, and all agreed
that henceforth another ghost would haunt the house. My uncle and the
artist did their best to comfort the father, who sorely reproached himself for
thwarting the girl's love, and declared that if Jack would find her he should
have her. But Jack had sailed, and the old man 'was left lamenting.' The
house was freed from its unearthly visitors, however, for no ghost appeared;
and when my uncle left, old Martin found money and letter informing him
that Peggy had spent her first two nights preparing for flight, and on the
third had gone away to marry and sail with Jack. The noises had been
produced by the artist, who was a ventriloquist, the skeleton had been
smuggled from the surgeons, and the whole thing was a conspiracy to help
Peggy and accommodate the fishermen."
"It is evident that roguery is hereditary," laughed Rose as the narrator
"I strongly suspect that Sir Jasper the second was the true hero of that
story," added Mrs. Snowdon.
"Think what you like, I've done my part, and leave the stage for you,
"I will come last. It is your turn, dear." As Mrs. Snowdon softly uttered the
last word, and Octavia leaned upon her knee with an affectionate glance,
Treherne leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the two changed faces, and
looked as if bewildered when both smiled at him, as they sat hand in hand
while the girl told her story.
"Long ago a famous actress suddenly dropped dead at the close of a
splendidly played tragedy. She was carried home, and preparations were
made to bury her. The play had been gotten up with great care and expense,
and a fine actor was the hero. The public demanded a repetition, and an
inferior person was engaged to take the dead lady's part. A day's delay had
been necessary, but when the night came the house was crowded. They
waited both before and behind the curtain for the debut of the new actress,
with much curiosity. She stood waiting for her cue, but as it was given, to
the amazement of all, the great tragedienne glided upon the stage. Pale as
marble, and with a strange fire in her eyes, strange pathos in her voice,
strange power in her acting, she went through her part, and at the close
vanished as mysteriously as she came. Great was the excitement that night,
and intense the astonishment and horror next day when it was whispered
abroad that the dead woman never had revived, but had lain in her coffin
before the eyes of watchers all the evening, when hundreds fancied they
were applauding her at the theater. The mystery never was cleared up, and
Paris was divided by two opinions: one that some person marvelously like
Madame Z. had personated her for the sake of a sensation; the other that
the ghost of the dead actress, unable to free itself from the old duties so full
of fascination to an ambitious and successful woman, had played for the
last time the part which had made her famous."
"Where did you find that, Tavie? It's very French, and not bad if you
invented it," said Sir Jasper.
"I read it in an old book, where it was much better told. Now, Edith, there is
just time for your tale."
As the word "Edith" passed her lips, again Treherne started and eyed them
both, and again they smiled, as Mrs. Snowdon caressed the smooth cheek
leaning on her knee, and looking full at him began the last recital.
"You have been recounting the pranks of imaginary ghosts; let me show you
the workings of some real spirits, evil and good, that haunt every heart and
home, making its misery or joy. At Christmastime, in a country house, a
party of friends met to keep the holidays, and very happily they might have
done so had not one person marred the peace of several. Love, jealousy,
deceit, and nobleness were the spirits that played their freaks with these
people. The person of whom I speak was more haunted than the rest, and
much tormented, being willful, proud, and jealous. Heaven help her, she
had had no one to exorcise these ghosts for her, and they goaded her to do
much harm. Among these friends there were more than one pair of lovers,
and much tangling of plots and plans, for hearts are wayward and
mysterious things, and cannot love as duty bids or prudence counsels. This
woman held the key to all the secrets of the house, and, having a purpose to
gain, she used her power selfishly, for a time. To satisfy a doubt, she feigned
a fancy for a gentleman who once did her the honor of admiring her, and, to
the great scandal of certain sage persons, permitted him to show his regard
for her, knowing that it was but a transient amusement on his part as well
as upon hers. In the hands of this woman lay a secret which could make or
mar the happiness of the best and dearest of the party. The evil spirits
which haunted her urged her to mar their peace and gratify a sinful hope.
On the other side, honor, justice, and generosity prompted her to make
them happy, and while she wavered there came to her a sweet enchantress
who, with a word, banished the tormenting ghosts forever, and gave the
haunted woman a talisman to keep her free henceforth."
There the earnest voice faltered, and with a sudden impulse Mrs. Snowdon
bent her head and kissed the fair forehead which had bent lower and lower
as she went on. Each listener understood the truth, lightly veiled in that
hasty fable, and each found in it a different meaning. Sir Jasper frowned
and bit his lips, Annon glanced anxiously from face to face, Octavia hid
hers, and Treherne's flashed with sudden intelligence, while Rose laughed
low to herself, enjoying the scene. Blanche, who was getting sleepy, said,
with a stifled gape, "That is a very nice, moral little story, but I wish there
had been some real ghosts in it."
"There was. Will you come and see them?"
As she put the question, Mrs. Snowdon rose abruptly, wishing to end the
séance, and beckoning them to follow glided up the great stairway. All
obeyed, wondering what whim possessed her, and quite ready for any jest in
store for them.
She led them to the north gallery and, pausing at the door, said merrily,
"The ghost--or ghosts rather, for there were two--which frightened Patty
were Sir Jasper and myself, meeting to discuss certain important matters
which concerned Mr. Treherne. If you want to see spirits we will play
phantom for you, and convince you of our power."
"Good, let us go and have a ghostly dance, as a proper finale of our revel,"
answered Rose as they flocked into the long hall.
At that moment the great clock struck twelve, and all paused to bid the old
year adieu. Sir Jasper was the first to speak, for, angry with Mrs. Snowdon,
yet thankful to her for making a jest to others of what had been earnest to
him, he desired to hide his chagrin under a gay manner; and taking Rose
around the waist was about to waltz away as she proposed, saying cheerily,
"'Come one and all, and dance the new year in,'" when a cry from Octavia
arrested him, and turning he saw her stand, pale and trembling, pointing to
the far end of the hall.
Eight narrow Gothic windows pierced either wall of the north gallery. A full
moon sent her silvery light strongly in upon the eastern side, making broad
bars of brightness across the floor. No fires burned there now, and wherever
the moonlight did not fall deep shadows lay. As Octavia cried out, all looked,
and all distinctly saw a tall, dark figure moving noiselessly across the
second bar of light far down the hall.
"Is it some jest of yours?" asked Sir Jasper of Mrs. Snowdon, as the form
vanished in the shadow.
"No, upon my honor, I know nothing of it! I only meant to relieve Octavia's
superstitious fears by showing her our pranks" was the whispered reply as
Mrs. Snowdon's cheek paled, and she drew nearer to Jasper.
"Who is there?" called Treherne in a commanding tone.
No answer, but a faint, cold breath of air seemed to sigh along the arched
roof and die away as the dark figure crossed the third streak of moonlight. A
strange awe fell upon them all, and no one spoke, but stood watching for the
appearance of the shape. Nearer and nearer it came, with soundless steps,
and as it reached the sixth window its outlines were distinctly visible. A tall,
wasted figure, all in black, with a rosary hanging from the girdle, and a dark
beard half concealing the face.
"The Abbot's ghost, and very well got up," said Annon, trying to laugh but
failing decidedly, for again the cold breath swept over them, causing a
"Hush!" whispered Treherne, drawing Octavia to his side with a protecting
Once more the phantom appeared and disappeared, and as they waited for
it to cross the last bar of light that lay between it and them, Mrs. Snowdon
stepped forward to the edge of the shadow in which they stood, as if to
confront the apparition alone. Out of the darkness it came, and in the full
radiance of the light it paused. Mrs. Snowdon, being nearest, saw the face
first, and uttering a faint cry dropped down upon the stone floor, covering
up her eyes. Nothing human ever wore a look like that of the ghastly,
hollow-eyed, pale-lipped countenance below the hood. All saw it and held
their breath as it slowly raised a shadowy arm and pointed a shriveled finger
at Sir Jasper.
"Speak, whatever you are, or I'll quickly prove whether you are man or
spirit!" cried Jasper fiercely, stepping forward as if to grasp the extended
arm that seemed to menace him alone.
An icy gust swept through the hall, and the phantom slowly receded into the
shadow. Jasper sprang after it, but nothing crossed the second stream of
light, and nothing remained in the shade. Like one possessed by a sudden
fancy he rushed down the gallery to find all fast and empty, and to return
looking very strangely. Blanche had fainted away and Annon was bearing
her out of the hall. Rose was clinging to Mrs. Snowdon, and Octavia leaned
against her cousin, saying in a fervent whisper, "Thank God it did not point
"Am I then dearer than your brother?" he whispered back.
There was no audible reply, but one little hand involuntarily pressed his,
though the other was outstretched toward Jasper, who came up white and
startled but firm and quiet. Affecting to make light of it, he said, forcing a
smile as he raised Mrs. Snowdon, "It is some stupid joke of the servants. Let
us think no more of it. Come, Edith, this is not like your usual self."
"It was nothing human, Jasper; you know it as well as I. Oh, why did I bring
you here to meet the warning phantom that haunts your house!"
"Nay, if my time is near the spirit would have found me out wherever I might
be. I have no faith in that absurd superstition--I laugh at and defy it. Come
down and drink my health in wine from the Abbot's own cellar."
But no one had heart for further gaiety, and, finding Lady Treherne already
alarmed by Annon, they were forced to tell her all, and find their own
bewilderment deepened by her unalterable belief in the evil omen.
At her command the house was searched, the servants cross-questioned,
and every effort made to discover the identity of the apparition. All in vain;
the house was as usual, and not a man or maid but turned pale at the idea
of entering the gallery at midnight. At my lady's request, all promised to say
no more upon the mystery, and separated at last to such sleep as they could
Very grave were the faces gathered about the breakfast table next morning,
and very anxious the glances cast on Sir Jasper as he came in, late as
usual, looking uncommonly blithe and well. Nothing serious ever made a
deep impression on his mercurial nature. Treherne had more the air of a
doomed man, being very pale and worn, in spite of an occasional gleam of
happiness as he looked at Octavia. He haunted Jasper like a shadow all the
morning, much to that young gentleman's annoyance, for both his mother
and sister hung about him with faces of ill-dissembled anxiety. By afternoon
his patience gave out, and he openly rebelled against the tender guard kept
over him. Ringing for his horse he said decidedly, "I'm bored to death with
the solemnity which pervades the house today, so I'm off for a brisk gallop,
before I lose my temper and spirits altogether."
"Come with me in the pony carriage, Jasper. I've not had a drive with you for
a long while, and should enjoy it so much," said my lady, detaining him.
"Mrs. Snowdon looks as if she needed air to revive her roses, and the pony
carriage is just the thing for her, so I will cheerfully resign my seat to her,"
he answered laughing, as he forced himself from his mother's hand.
"Take the girls in the clarence. We all want a breath of air, and you are the
best whip we know. Be gallant and say yes, dear."
"No, thank you, Tavie, that won't do. Rose and Blanche are both asleep, and
you are dying to go and do likewise, after your vigils last night. As a man
and a brother I beg you'll do so, and let me ride as I like."
"Suppose you ask Annon to join you--" began Treherne with well-assumed
indifference; but Sir Jasper frowned and turned sharply on him, saying,
"Upon my life I should think I was a boy or a baby, by the manner in which
you mount guard over me today. If you think I'm going to live in daily fear of
some mishap, you are all much mistaken. Ghost or no ghost, I shall make
merry while I can; a short life and a jolly one has always been my motto, you
know, so fare you well till dinnertime."
They watched him gallop down the avenue, and then went their different
ways, still burdened with a nameless foreboding. Octavia strolled into the
conservatory, thinking to refresh herself with the balmy silence which
pervaded the place, but Annon soon joined her, full of a lover's hopes and
"Miss Treherne, I have ventured to come for my answer. Is my New Year to
be a blissful or a sad one?" he asked eagerly.
"Forgive me if I give you an unwelcome reply, but I must be true, and so
regretfully refuse the honor you do me," she said sorrowfully.
"May I ask why?"
"Because I do not love you."
"And you do love your cousin," he cried angrily, pausing to watch her half-
She turned it fully toward him and answered, with her native sincerity, "Yes,
I do, with all my heart, and now my mother will not thwart me, for Maurice
has saved my life, and I am free to devote it all to him."
"Happy man, I wish I had been a cripple!" sighed Annon. Then with a manful
effort to be just and generous, he added heartily, "Say no more, he deserves
you; I want no sacrifice to duty; I yield, and go away, praying heaven to
bless you now and always."
He kissed her hand and left her to seek my lady and make his adieus, for no
persuasion could keep him. Leaving a note for Sir Jasper, he hurried away,
to the great relief of Treherne and the deep regret of Blanche, who, however,
lived in hopes of another trial later in the season.
"Here comes Jasper, Mamma, safe and well," cried Octavia an hour or two
later, as she joined her mother on the terrace, where my lady had been
pacing restlessly to and fro nearly ever since her son rode away.
With a smile of intense relief she waved her handkerchief as he came
clattering up the drive, and seeing her he answered with hat and hand. He
usually dismounted at the great hall door, but a sudden whim made him
ride along the wall that lay below the terrace, for he was a fine horseman,
and Mrs. Snowdon was looking from her window. As he approached, the
peacocks fled screaming, and one flew up just before the horse's eyes as his
master was in the act of dismounting. The spirited creature was startled,
sprang partway up the low, broad steps of the terrace, and, being sharply
checked, slipped, fell, and man and horse rolled down together.
Never did those who heard it forget the cry that left Lady Treherne's lips as
she saw the fall. It brought out both guests and servants, to find Octavia
recklessly struggling with the frightened horse, and my lady down upon the
stones with her son's bleeding head in her arms.
They bore in the senseless, shattered body, and for hours tried everything
that skill and sciences could devise to save the young man's life. But every
effort was in vain, and as the sun set Sir Jasper lay dying. Conscious at last,
and able to speak, he looked about him with a troubled glance, and seemed
struggling with some desire that overmastered pain and held death at bay.
"I want Maurice," he feebly said, at length.
"Dear lad, I'm here," answered his cousin's voice from a seat in the shadow
of the half-drawn curtains.
"Always near when I need you. Many a scrape have you helped me out of,
but this is beyond your power," and a faint smile passed over Jasper's lips
as the past flitted before his mind. But the smile died, and a groan of pain
escaped him as he cried suddenly, "Quick! Let me tell it before it is too late!
Maurice never will, but bear the shame all his life that my dead name may
be untarnished. Bring Edith; she must hear the truth."
She was soon there, and, lying in his mother's arms, one hand in his
cousin's, and one on his sister's bent head, Jasper rapidly told the secret
which had burdened him for a year.
"I did it; I forged my uncle's name when I had lost so heavily at play that I
dared not tell my mother, or squander more of my own fortune. I deceived
Maurice, and let him think the check a genuine one; I made him present it
and get the money, and when all went well I fancied I was safe. But my
uncle discovered it secretly, said nothing, and, believing Maurice the forger,
disinherited him. I never knew this till the old man died, and then it was too
late. I confessed to Maurice, and he forgave me. He said, 'I am helpless now,
shut out from the world, with nothing to lose or gain, and soon to be
forgotten by those who once knew me, so let the suspicion of shame, if any
such there be, still cling to me, and do you go your way, rich, happy,
honorable, and untouched by any shadow on your fame.' Mother, I let him
do it, unconscious as he was that many knew the secret sin and fancied him
the doer of it."
"Hush, Jasper, let it pass. I can bear it; I promised your dear father to be
your staunch friend through life, and I have only kept my word."
"God knows you have, but now my life ends, and I cannot die till you are
cleared. Edith, I told you half the truth, and you would have used it against
him had not some angel sent this girl to touch your heart. You have done
your part to atone for the past, now let me do mine. Mother, Tavie loves him,
he has risked life and honor for me. Repay him generously and give him
With feeble touch Sir Jasper tried to lay his sister's hand in Treherne's as he
spoke; Mrs. Snowdon helped him, and as my lady bowed her head in silent
acquiescence, a joyful smile shone on the dying man's face.
"One more confession, and then I am ready," he said, looking up into the
face of the woman whom he had loved with all the power of a shallow
nature. "It was a jest to you, Edith, but it was bitter earnest to me, for I
loved you, sinful as it was. Ask your husband to forgive me, and tell him it
was better I should die than live to mar a good man's peace. Kiss me once,
and make him happy for my sake."
She touched his cold lips with remorseful tenderness, and in the same
breath registered a vow to obey that dying prayer.
"Tavie dear, Maurice, my brother, God bless you both. Good-bye, Mother. He
will be a better son than I have been to you." Then, the reckless spirit of the
man surviving to the last, Sir Jasper laughed faintly, as he seemed to
beckon some invisible shape, and died saying gaily, "Now, Father Abbot,
lead on, I'll follow you."
* * * * * * *
A year later three weddings were celebrated on the same day and in the
same church. Maurice Treherne, a well man, led up his cousin. Frank
Annon rewarded Blanche's patient siege by an unconditional surrender,
and, to the infinite amusement of Mrs. Grundy, Major Royston publicly
confessed himself outgeneraled by merry Rose. The triple wedding feast was
celebrated at Treherne Abbey, and no uncanny visitor marred its festivities,
for never again was the north gallery haunted by the ghostly Abbot.