The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
The appearance, manner, and bearing of the two strangers impressed me strongly. The elder had evidently moved in refined and cultivated society all her life. There was about her the air of "a lady, born and bred"--dignified, calm, easy, and courteous. The daughter was a lovely blossom on this stately stem--delicate, beautiful, sweet with the odors of innocence. I see her now as I saw her on that first night of our meeting--to my eyes a new born vision of loveliness.
I found Constance awaiting, with curious interest, my return. I was going right into the heart of this new wonder, and could not fail to bring back some revelation that would satisfy, in a measure, the excitement of mind produced by so singular an intrusion of strangers upon our quiet town. I answered her first look of inquiry by the words:--
"It is over. Another book of life is sealed up here to be opened in eternity."
"Dead! Not dead?"
"Yes, Constance, Mrs. Allen is dead. Her spirit had passed away before my arrival."
"How did she die?--from what cause?"
"From what I can learn she died in a fit of passion." I then related all that I had seen and heard.
"But who can they be?" This query came as a natural sequence. "What right have they in the Allen House?"
"Whoever they may be," I replied, "they act, or, at least, the elder of the two ladies acts as if her right there was not even open to a question. And, perhaps, it is not."
"But what can they be to the Allens?"
"I will give you," said I, "the benefit of my guessing on the subject. You recollect the story told about Captain Allen's mother; how she went off a great many years ago with a stranger--an Englishman."
Constance remembered all about this family history, for it was the romance of our town.
"My conclusion is that this lady is the sister of Captain Allen--the child that his mother took with her when she fled from her husband's house. I am strengthened in this belief from the first impression of her voice, as if the tones had in them something familiar."
We talked this matter over, looking at it in every way, until we satisfied ourselves that my conjectures must be true. The quiet manner in which they had intruded themselves, and taken possession of the house--unheralded as far as we knew--could not but present itself to our minds as a matter of special wonder. The more we conned it over the more we were puzzled. Before coming home I had called at an undertaker's, and notified him that his services were wanted at the Allen House. Early on the next day I took the liberty of calling there myself. I sent up my name, and awaited, with some interest, my reception. The visit might be regarded as an intrusion, and I was prepared to receive a message from the lady asking to be excused. Not so, however. I had been seated only a few moments, when I heard the rustle of her garments on the stairs. My first glance at her face assured me that I was no unwelcome visitor.
"Thank you, Doctor," she said, as she extended her hand, "for this early call. Our meeting last night for the first time can hardly be called a pleasant one--or the associations connected with it such as either of us might wish to recall."
"Our control over events is so slight," I made answer as I resumed my seat, "that we should separate unpleasant feelings as far as possible from any memories connected with them."
A faint, sad smile just lightened up her placid face as she said, in reply to the remark.
"Ah, Doctor, that may not be. Lives are too intimately blended here for any one to suffer or do wrong without leaving a burden of sadness on other memories."
"True; but the burden will be light or heavy according to our strength."
She looked at me without replying, for the remark was so palpable, that it seemed to involve nothing beyond a literal fact.
"Or rather," I said, "the burden will be heavy or light according to our state or quality."
There was a sign of awakening interest in her countenance as if my remark had touched some hidden spring of thought.
"If we are right with ourselves," I went on, "the disturbance produced by others' misconduct will not reach very far down. The pressure of sadness may lie upon us for a season; but cannot long remain; for the pure heart will lift itself into serene atmospheres."
"But, who is right with himself?" she said. "Whose heart is pure enough to dwell in these serene atmospheres? Not mine, alas!"
I looked into the suddenly illuminated face as she put these questions, in surprise at the quick change which had passed over it. But the tone in which she uttered the closing sentence was touched with tender sadness.
"Rather let me say," I made answer, "in the degree that we are right with ourselves. None attain unto perfection here."
"Yet," said the lady, with a sweet calmness of manner that made her look beautiful, "is it not pleasant to imagine a state of perfection--or rather a state in which evil is quiescent, and the heart active with all good and loving impulses? How full of inspiration is such an ideal of life! But the way by which we must go, if we would rise into this state, is one of difficulty and perpetual warfare. The enemies of our peace are numbered by myriads; and they. seek with deadly hatred to do us harm."
"And yet are powerless," said I, "if we keep the outworks of our lives in order."
"Yes," she answered, "it is the very ultimate or last things of our lives where the power of repulsion resides. We can, in temptation, be it ever so strong, refuse to act in the wrong direction--refuse to do an evil thing, because it is sinful. And this is our bulwark; this is our tower of safety; for it is only in wrong doing that our enemies gain the victory over us. They may assault us never so fiercely--may dazzle our eyes with the glitter of this world's most alluring things--may stir the latent envy, malice, pride, or dishonesty, that lurks in every heart; but if we stand still, hold back our hands and stay our feet--if we give our resolute 'No' to all enticements, and keep our actions free from evil, all hell cannot prevail against us. God will take care of the interior of our lives, and make them pure and heavenly, if we resist evil in the exterior. But, pardon me; I did not mean to read you a homily."
She smiled with a grave sort of smile, and then sat silent.
"I like your way of talking," said I. There was something about the lady that put me at ease with her, and I said this without reserve, as if I were speaking to a friend. "It looks to higher things in life than people usually regard as worthy of our chief consideration. To most of us, the outer world offers the highest attractions; only the few turn inwardly to the more beautiful world of mind."
"Outward things fade--change--die; only spiritual things dwell in unfading beauty. We are in a world of mere effects as to our bodies; but the soul lives in the world of causes. Do we not spend a vain and unprofitable life, then, if we go on building, day after day, our tabernacle on the ever-shifting sands of time, instead of upon the immoveable Rock of Ages? But who is guiltless of this folly? Not I! not I!"
Again that calm, earnest voice fell to a lower key, and was veiled by a tender sadness.
"It is something gained," she added, with returning firmness of tone, "if, even after the sharp lessons of many years, we get glimpses of Truth, and are willing to follow, though it be at a far distance, the light she holds aloft. Yes, it is something gained--something gained!"
She spoke the last words as if merely thinking aloud, and not addressing an auditor.
"Can I aid you in anything, madam?" said I, breaking in upon a state of reverie into which her mind seemed to be falling. "The circumstances under which you find yourself are peculiar--I refer to the death of Mrs. Allen, following so quickly on your arrival among strangers--and you may stand in need of friendly service from one who knows the people and their ways. If so, do not hesitate to command me."
"I thank you sincerely," she answered, unbending still more from her almost stately manner. "Friendly consideration I shall need, of course--as who does not in this world? And I repeat my thanks, that you have so kindly and so promptly anticipated my needs So far as the remains of my unhappy kinswoman are concerned, I have referred all to the undertaker. He will carry out my wishes. To-morrow the interment will take place. On the day following, if it it is altogether agreeable to yourself, I would esteem a call as a particular favor."
I arose, as she concluded the last sentence, saying as I did so,
"I will be sure to call, madam; and render any service in my power. You may regard me as a friend."
"Already you have extorted my confidence," she answered, faintly smiling.
I bowed low, and was retiring when she said--
"A moment, Doctor!"
I turned toward her again.
"Doctor, it may be well for you to see my daughter."
"Is she indisposed?" I asked.
"Not exactly that. But the excitement and alarm of the last two or three days have been, I fear, rather too much for her nerves. I say alarm, for the poor girl was really frightened at Mrs. Allen's wild conduct--and no wonder. Death following in so sad a way, shocked her painfully. She did not sleep well last night; and this morning she looks pale and drooping. In all probability, quiet of mind and body will soon adjust the balance of health; still, it may be safest for you to see her."
"A mere temporary disturbance, no doubt, which, as you suggest, quiet of mind and body will, in all probability, overcome. Yet it will do no harm for me to see her; and may save trouble."
"Excuse me a moment," she said, and left the room. In a little while she returned, and asked me to accompany her up stairs,
I found the daughter in a black and gray silk wrapper, seated on a lounge. She arose as I entered, a slight flush coming into her face, which subsided in a few moments, leaving it quite pale, and weary looking. After we were all seated, I took her hand, which was hot in the palm, but cold at the extremities. Her pulse was feeble, disturbed, and quick.
"How is your head?" I asked.
"It feels a little strangely," she replied, moving it two or three times, as if to get some well defined sensation.
"Yes; a dull kind of pain over my left eye, that seems to go deep into my head."
"What general bodily sensation have you? Any that you can speak of definitely?"
"None, except a sense of oppression and heaviness. When I raise my arm, it seems to fall like lead; if I move about, I am weary, and wish to be at rest."
"Rest is, by all means, the most desirable condition for you now," said I. Then addressing her mother, I added--"I think your daughter had better lie down. Let her room be shaded and kept quiet. She needs rest and sleep. Sleep is one of nature's great restorers."
"Will you make no prescription, Doctor?" the mother asked.
I reflected on the symptoms exhibited, for a few moments, and then said,
"Nothing beyond repose, now. I trust that nature, as the pressure is removed, will work all right again."
"You will call in again to-day."
"Yes; towards evening I will see your daughter, when I hope to find her improved in every way."
I spoke with a cheerfulness of manner that did not altogether express my feelings in the case; for, there were some indications, not yet clear enough for a diagnosis, that awakened slight concern. As I did not wish to go wrong in my first prescription, I deemed it better to wait a few hours, and see how nature would succeed in her efforts to repel the enemy. So I went away, with a promise to call again early in the afternoon.