The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
The excitement in the little town of S----, when Jacob returned from Boston, and told his singular story, may well be imagined. The whole community was in a buzz.
It was found that Mrs. Allen had so arranged matters, as to get all the servants away from the house, on one pretence or another, for that night, except an old negro woman, famous for her good sleeping qualities; and she was in the land of forgetfulness long before the hour appointed for flight.
Many conjectures were made, and one or two rather philanthropic individuals proposed, as a common duty, an attempt to arrest the fugitives and bring them back. But there were none to second this, the general sentiment being, that Captain Allen was fully competent to look after his own affairs. And that he wood look after them, and promptly too, on his return, none doubted for an instant. As for Jacob Perkins, no one professed a willingness to stand in his shoes. The fire-eating Captain would most probably blow that gentleman's brains out in the heat of his first excitement. Poor Jacob, not a very courageous man, was almost beside himself with fear, when his view of the case was confidently asserted. One advised this course of conduct on the part of Jacob, and another advised that, while all agreed that it would on no account be safe for him to fall in the Captain's way immediately on his return. More than a dozen people, friends of Jacob, were on the alert, to give him the earliest intelligence of Captain Allen's arrival in S----, that he might hide himself until the first fearful outbreak of passion was over.
Well, in about two weeks the Captain returned with his little son. Expectation was on tip-toe. People's hearts beat in their mouths. There were some who would not have been surprised at any startling occurrence; an apparition of the scarred sea-dog, rushing along the streets, slashing his sword about like a madman, would have seemed to them nothing extraordinary, under the circumstances.
But expectation stood so long on tip-toe that it grew tired, and came down a few inches. Nothing occurred to arouse the quiet inhabitants. Captain Allen was seen to enter his dwelling about two o'clock in the afternoon, and although not less than twenty sharp pairs of eyes were turned in that direction, and never abated their vigilance until night drew down her curtains, no one got even a glimpse of his person.
Jacob Perkins left the town, and took refuge with a neighbor living two miles away, on the first intimation of the Captain's return.
The next day passed, but no one saw the Captain. On the third day a member of the inquisitorial committee, who had his house under constant observation, saw him drive out with his son, and take the road that went direct to the neighborhood where Jacob Perkins lay concealed in the house of a friend.
Poor Jacob! None doubted but the hour of retribution for him was at hand. That he might have timely warning, if possible, a lad was sent out on a fleet horse, who managed to go by Captain Allen's chaise on the road. Pale with affright, the unhappy fugitive hid himself under a hay rick, and remained there for an hour. But the Captain passed through without pause or inquiry, and in due course of time returned to his home, having committed no act in the least degree notable.
And so, as if nothing unusual had happened, he was seen, day after day, going about as of old, with not a sign of change in his deportment that any one could read. In a week, Jacob Perkins returned to his home, fully assured that no harm was likely to visit him.
No event touching Captain Allen or his family, worthy of record, transpired for several years. The only servants in the house were negro slaves, brought from a distance, and kept as much as possible away from others of their class in town. Among these, the boy, John, grew up. When he was ten years old, Jacob Perkins, though in some fear, performed the sacred duty promised to his mother on that memorable morning, when he looked upon her pale, statuesque countenance for the last time. A flush covered the boy's face, as he received the locket, and understood from whence it came. He stood for some minutes, wholly abstracted, as if under the spell of some vivid memory.
Tears at length filled his eyes, and glistened on the long fringed lashes. Then there was a single, half-repressed sob--and then, grasping the locket tightly in his hand, he turned from Jacob, and, without a word, walked hastily away.
When the boy was sixteen, Captain Allen took him to sea. From that period for n any years, both of them were absent for at least two-thirds of the time. At twenty-five, John took command of a large merchant-man, trading to the South American coast, and his father, now worn down by hard service, as well as by years, retired to his home in S----, to close up there, in such repose of mind as he could gain, the last days of his eventful life. He died soon after by apoplexy.
Prior to this event, his son, the younger Captain Allen, had brought home from Cuba a Spanish woman, who took the name of his wife. Of her family, or antecedents, no one in our town knew anything; and it was questioned by many whether any rite of marriage had ever been celebrated between them. Of this, however, nothing certain was known. None of the best people, so called, in S----paid her the hospitable compliment of a visit; and she showed no disposition to intrude herself upon them. And so they stood towards each other as strangers; and the Allen house remained, as from the beginning, to most people a terra incognita.
Neither Captain Allen nor his Spanish consort, to whom no children were born, as they advanced in years, "grew old gracefully." Both had repulsive features, which were strongly marked by passion and sensuality. During the last two years of his life I was frequently called to see him, and prescribe for his enemy, the gout, by which he was sorely afflicted. Mrs. Allen also required treatment. Her nervous system was disordered; and, on closer observation, I detected signs of a vagrant imagination, leading her away into states verging upon insanity. She was fretful and ill-tempered; and rarely spoke to the Captain except complainingly, or in anger. The visits I made to the Allen house, during the lifetime of Captain Allen, were among the most unsatisfactory of all my professional calls. I think, from signs which met my eyes, that something more than bitter words passed occasionally between the ill-matched couple.
Late in the day, nearly five years anterior to the time of which I am now writing, I was summoned in haste to visit Captain Allen. I found him lying on a bed in the north-west chamber, where he usually slept, in a state of insensibility. Mrs. Allen received me at the door of the chamber with a frightened countenance. On inquiry as to the cause of his condition, she informed me that he had gone to his own room about an hour before, a little the worse for a bottle of wine; and that she had heard nothing more from him, until she was startled by a loud, jarring noise in his chamber. On running up stairs, she found him lying upon the floor, insensible.
I looked at her steadily, as she gave me this relation, but could not hold her eyes in mine. She seemed more uneasy than troubled. There was a contused wound just below the right temple, which covered, with its livid stain, a portion of the cheek. A cursory examination satisfied me that, whatever might be the cause of his fall, congestion of the brain had occurred, and that but few chances for life remained. So I informed Mrs. Allen. At the words, I could see a shudder run through her frame, and an expression of something like terror sweep over her face.
"His father died of apoplexy," said she in a hoarse whisper, looking at me with a side-long, almost stealthy glance, not full and open-eyed.
"This is something more than apoplexy," I remarked; still observing her closely.
"The fall may have injured him," she suggested.
"The blow on his temple has done the fearful work," said I.
There was a perceptible start, and another look of fear-almost terror.
"For heaven's sake, doctor," she said, rousing herself, and speaking half imperatively, "do something! Don't stand speculating about the cause; but do something if you have any skill."
Thus prompted, I set myself to work, in good earnest, with my patient. The result was in no way flattering to my skill, for he passed to his account in less than an hour, dying without a sign.
I shall never forget the wild screams which rang awfully through the old mansion, when it was announced to Mrs. Allen that the Captain was dead. She flung herself upon his body, tore her hair, and committed other extravagances. All the slumbering passions of her undisciplined nature seemed quickened into sudden life, overmastering her in their strong excitement. So it would have seemed to a less suspicious observer; but I thought that I could detect the overacting of pretence. I may have done her wrong; but the impression still remains. At the funeral, this extravagant role of grief was re-enacted, and the impression was left on many minds that she was half mad with grief.
Occasionally, after this event, I was summoned to the Allen House to see its unhappy mistress. I say unhappy, for no human being ever had a face written all over with the characters you might read in hers, that was not miserable. I used to study it, sometimes, to see if I could get anything like a true revelation of her inner life. The sudden lighting up of her countenance at times, as you observed its rapidly varying expression, made you almost shudder, for the gleam which shot across it looked like a reflection from hell. I know no other word to express what I mean. Remorse, at times, I could plainly read.
One thing I soon noticed; the room in which Captain Allen died--the north-west chamber before mentioned--remained shut up; and an old servant told me, years afterwards, that Mrs. Allen had never been inside of it since the fatal day on which I attended him in his last moments.
At the time when this story opens the old lady was verging on to sixty. The five years which had passed since she was left alone had bent her form considerably, and the diseased state of mind which I noticed when first called in to visit the family as a physician, was now but a little way removed from insanity. She was haunted by many strange hallucinations; and the old servant above alluded to, informed me, that she was required to sleep in the room with her mistress, as she never would be alone after dark. Often, through the night, she would start up in terror, her diseased imagination building up terrible phantoms in the land of dreams, alarming the house with her cries.
I rarely visited her that I did not see new evidences of waning reason. In the beginning I was fearful that she might do some violence to herself or her servants, but her insanity began to assume a less excitable form; and at last she sank into a condition of torpor, both of mind and body, from which I saw little prospect of her ever rising.
"It is well," I said to myself. "Life had better wane slowly away than to go out in lurid gleams like the flashes of a dying volcano."