The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
And now, reader, after this long digression, you can understand my surprise at seeing broad gleams of light reaching out into the darkness from the windows of that north-west chamber, as I breasted the storm on my way to visit the sick child of Mary Jones. No wonder that I stood still and looked up at those windows, though the rain beat into my face, half blinding me. The shutters were thrown open, and the curtains drawn partly aside. I plainly saw shadows on the ceiling and walls as of persons moving about the room. Did my eyes deceive me? Was not that the figure of a young girl that stood for a moment at the window trying to pierce with her eyes the thick veil of night? I was still in doubt when the figure turned away, and only gave me a shadow on the wall.
I lingered in front of the old house for some minutes, but gaining no intelligence of what was passing within, I kept on my way to the humbler dwelling of Mary Jones. I found her child quite ill, and needing attention. After doing what, in my judgment, the case required, I turned my steps towards the house of Mrs. Wallingford to look into the case of her son Henry, who, acording to her account, was in a very unhappy condition.
I went a little out of my way so as to go past the Allen House again. As I approached, my eyes were directed to the chamber windows at the north-west corner, and while yet some distance away, as the old elms tossed their great limbs about in struggling with the storm, I saw glancing out between them the same cheery light that met my astonished gaze a little while before. As then, I saw shadows moving on the walls, and once the same slender, graceful figure--evidently that of a young girl--came to the window and tried to look out into the deep darkness.
As there was nothing to be gained by standing there in the drenching storm, I moved onward, taking the way to Mrs. Wallingford's dwelling. I had scarcely touched the knocker when the door was opened, and by Mrs. Wallingford herself.
"Oh, Doctor, I'm so glad you've come!" she said in a low, troubled voice.
I stepped in out of the rain, gave her my dripping umbrella, and laid off my overcoat.
"How is Henry now?" I asked.
She put her finger to her lip, and said, in a whisper,
"Just the same, Doctor--just the same. Listen! Don't you hear him walking the floor overhead? I've tried to get him to take a cup of tea, but he won't touch any thing. All I can get out of him is--'Mother--dear mother--leave me to myself. I shall come right again. Only leave me to myself now.' But, how can I let him go on in this way? Oh, Doctor, I am almost beside myself! What can it all mean? Something dreadful has happened."
I sat listening and reflecting for something like ten minutes. Steadily, from one side the room overhead to the other, went the noise of feet; now slowly, now with a quicker motion: and now with a sudden tramp, that sent the listener's blood with a start along its courses.
"Won't you see him, doctor?"
I did not answer at once, for I was in the dark as to what was best to be done. If I had known the origin of his trouble, I could have acted understandingly. As it was, any intrusion upon the young man might do harm rather than good.
"He has asked to be let alone," I replied, "and it may be best to let him alone. He says that he will come out right. Give him a little more time. Wait, at least, until to-morrow. Then, if there is no change, I will see him."
Still the mother urged. At last I said--
"Go to your son. Suggest to him a visit from me, and mark the effect."
I listened as she went up stairs. On entering his room, I noticed that he ceased walking. Soon came to my ears the murmur of voices, which rose to a sudden loudness on his part, and I distinctly heard the words:
"Mother! you will drive me mad! If you talk of that, I will go from the house. I must be left alone!"
Then all was silent. Soon Mrs. Wallingford came down. She looked even more distressed than when she left the room.
"I'm afraid it might do harm," she said doubtingly.
"So am I. It will, I am sure, be best to let him have his way for the present. Something has disturbed him fearfully; but he is struggling hard for the mastery over himself, and you may be sure, madam, that he will gain it. Your son is a young man of no light stamp of character; and he will come out of this ordeal, as gold from the crucible."
"You think so, Doctor?"
She looked at me with a hopeful light in her troubled countenance.
"I do, verily. So let your heart dwell in peace."
I was anxious to get back to my good Constance, and so, after a few more encouraging words for Mrs. Wallingford, I tried the storm again, and went through its shivering gusts, to my own home. There had been no calls in my absence, and so the prospect looked fair for a quiet evening--just what I wanted; for the strange condition of Henry Wallingford, and the singular circumstance connected with the old Allen House, were things to be conned over with that second self, towards whom all thought turned and all interest converged as to a centre.
After exchanging wet outer garments and boots, for dressing gown and slippers; and darkness and storm for a pleasant fireside; my thoughts turned to the north-west chamber of the Allen House, and I said--
"I have seen something to-night that puzzled me."
"What is that?" inquired my wife, turning her mild eyes upon me.
"You know the room in which old Captain Allen died?"
"The chamber on the north-west corner, which, as far as we know, has been shut up ever since?"
"Yes, I remember your suspicion as to foul play on the part of Mrs. Alien, who, it is believed, has never visited the apartment since the Captain's death."
"Well, you will be surprised to hear that the shutters are unclosed, and lights burning in that chamber."
"Yes--or at least half an hour ago."
"That is remarkable."
My wife looked puzzled.
"And more remarkable still--I saw shadows moving on the walls, as of two or three persons in the room."
"Something unusual has happened," said my wife.
"Perhaps Mrs. Allen is dead."
This thought had not occurred to me. I turned it over for a few moments, and then remarked,
"Hardly probable--for, in that case, I would have been summoned. No; it strikes me that some strangers are in the house; for I am certain that I saw a young girl come to the window and press her face close up to one of the panes, as if trying to penetrate the darkness.
"Singular!" said my wife, as if speaking to herself. "Now, that explains, in part, something that I couldn't just make out yesterday. I was late in getting home from Aunt Elder's you know. Well, as I came in view of that old house, I thought I saw a girl standing by the gate. An appearance so unusual, caused me to strain my eyes to make out the figure, but the twilight had fallen too deeply. While I still looked, the form disappeared; but, through an opening in the shrubbery, I caught another glimpse of it, as it vanished in the portico. I was going to speak of the incident, but other matters pushed it, till now, from my thoughts when you were at home."
"Then my eyes did not deceive me," said I; "your story corroborates mine. There is a young lady in the Allen House. But who is she? That is the question."
As we could not get beyond this question, we left the riddle for time to solve, and turned next to the singular state of mind into which young Henry Wallingford had fallen.
"Well," said my wife, speaking with some emphasis, after I had told her of the case, "I never imagined that he cared so much for the girl!"
"What girl?" I inquired.
"Why, Delia Floyd--the silly fool! if I must speak so strongly."
"Then he is really in love with Squire Floyd's daughter?"
"It looks like it, if he's taking on as his mother says," answered my wife, with considerable feeling. "And Delia will rue the day she turned from as true a man as Henry Wallingford."
"Bless me, Constance! you've got deeper into this matter, than either his mother or me. Who has been initiating you into the love secrets of S----?"
"This affair," returned my wife, "has not passed into town talk, and will, I trust, be kept sacred by those who know the facts. I learned them from Mrs. Dean, the sister of Mrs. Floyd. The case stands thus: Henry is peculiar, shy, reserved, and rather silent. He goes but little into company, and has not the taking way with girls that renders some young men so popular. But his qualities are all of the sterling kind--such as wear well, and grow brighter with usage. For more than a year past, he has shown a decided preference for Delia Floyd, and she has encouraged his attentions. Indeed, so far as I can learn from Mrs. Dean, the heart of her niece was deeply interested. But a lover of higher pretensions came, dazzling her mind with a more brilliant future."
"Who?" I inquired.
"That dashing young fellow from New York, Judge Bigelow's nephew."
"Not Ralph Dewey?"
"Foolish girl, to throw away a man for such an effigy! It will be a dark day that sees her wedded to him. But I will not believe in the possibility of such an event."
"Well, to go on with my story," resumed Constance. "Last evening, seeing, I suppose, that a dangerous rival was intruding, Henry made suit for the hand of Delia, and was rejected."
"I understand the case better now," said I, speaking from a professional point of view.
"Poor young man! I did not suppose it was in him to love any woman after that fashion," remarked Constance.
"Your men of reserved exterior have often great depths of feeling," I remarked. "Usually women are not drawn towards them; because they are attracted most readily by what meets the eye. If they would look deeper, they would commit fewer mistakes, like that which Delia Floyd has just committed."