The Forsaken Inn, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter 14

A Cassandra at the Gate.

“Miss Dudleigh, moved, perhaps, by the unpleasant eclat which had followed the broken-off marriage of her cousin, chose to celebrate her own wedding in her own house, and with as little ceremony as possible. Only her most intimate friends, therefore, were invited, but these were numerous enough to fill the halls and most of the lower rooms.

“When I entered there was a sudden cessation of conversation; but this I had expected. If anything could add to the interest of the occasion, certainly it was my presence; and, feeling this, I made them all a profound obeisance, and, neither shirking their glances nor inviting them, I took my place in the spot I had chosen for myself, and waited, with a face as impassive as a mask, but with a heart burning with fury and love, not for the coming of the bride, but of her who in this hour ought to have been standing at my side as my wife.

“But I miscalculated if I thought she would enter with them. Even her bold and arrogant spirit shrank from a position so conspicuous, and it was not till they had presented themselves and taken their places in front of the latticed window so associated with my past, that I felt that peculiar sensation which always followed the entrance of Marah into the same room with myself, and, yielding to the force that constrained me, I searched the throng with eager looks, and there, where the crowd was thickest, and the shadow deepest, I saw her. She was gazing straight at me, and there was in her great eyes a look which I did not then understand, and about which I have since tortured myself by asking again and again if it were remorse, entreaty, farewell, or despair that spoke through it. Sometimes I have thought it was fear. Sometimes — But why conjecture? It was an unreadable expression to me then, and even in remembrance it is no clearer. Whatever it betokened, my pride bent before it, and a flood of the old feeling rushed over my heart, making me quite weak for a moment.

“But I conquered myself, as far as all betrayal of my feelings was concerned, and turning from the spot that so enthralled me, I fixed my gaze upon the bride.

“She was looking beautiful; more beautiful than any one had seen her look for weeks. A bright color suffused her delicate cheeks, and in her eyes burned a strange excitement, which did the work of happiness in lighting up her face. But it was a transient glow which faded imperceptibly but surely, as the ceremony proceeded, and passed completely away as the last inexorable words were uttered which made her the wife of the false being at her side.

“He, on the contrary, was pale up to that same critical moment — very pale, when one remembers his naturally florid complexion; but as her color went, his rose, and when the minister withdrew, and friends began to crowd around them, he grew so jovial and so noisy that more than one person glanced at him with suspicion, and cast pitying looks at the now quiet and immobile young wife.

“Meantime I sought with eager anxiety to catch one more glimpse of Marah. But she had shrunk from sight, and was not to be found. And the gayety ran high and the wine was poured freely, and the bridegroom drank with ever-increasing excitement, toasting his bride, but never looking at her, though her eyes turned more than once upon him with an appeal that affected painfully more than one person in the crowd. At last she rose, and, at this signal, he put down his glass, and, with a low bow to the company, prepared to follow her from the room. They passed close to the place where I stood, and I caught one glance from his eyes. It was a laughing one, but there was uneasiness in it. There might have been something more, but I had not time to search for it, for at that moment I felt her dress brush against my sleeve, and turned to give her the smile which I knew her friendly heart demanded.

“‘You will wait till we go?’ fell in a whisper from her lips; and I nodded with another smile, and they went on and I stood where they had left me, in one of those moods which made me, as far as all human intercourse is concerned, as much of an isolated being as I am in these mountains. I did not wake again from this abstraction till that same premonitory feeling, of which I have so often spoken, told me that something in which I was deeply interested was about to happen. Looking up, I found myself in the room alone. During the hour of my abstraction the guests had gone out, and I had neither noticed their departure nor the gradual cessation of the noise which at one time had filled my ears with hubbub. But the bride had not gone. She was at that moment coming down the stairs, and it was this fact which had pierced to my inner consciousness, and aroused once more in me a vivid sense of my surroundings. He was with her, and behind them, gliding like a wraith from landing to landing, came Marah, clad like the bride in a traveling dress, but without the bonnet which betokened an instant departure.

“Not anticipating her presence so near, I felt my courage fail, and pushing forward, joined the group of servants at the door. They, seeing in this departure of their mistress a possibly endless separation, were weeping and uttering exclamations that not only showed their devotion, but their fears. Shocked lest these words should reach her ears, I quieted them; and then seeing that the carriage which stood outside had a stranger for a driver, and that there was no accompanying wagon filled with their body servants and baggage, I asked the friendly Cæsar, who had pressed close to my side, if Mrs. Urquhart was not going to take a maid with her.

“The negro at once growled out an injured ‘No!’ and when I expressed my astonishment, he explained that ‘There was no one here good enough to please Massa Urquhart. That he was going to pick up with some one in New York. That, though missus was sick, he would not even let her have her own gal go wid her as far as the city; said he would do everything for her hisself — as if any man could do for missus like her own Sally, who had been wid her ever since ‘fore she was born!’

“‘And the baggage?’ I asked, troubled more than I can say by what certainly augured anything but favorably for her future.

“‘Oh, massa send dat round to his house. He got books, an’ a lot o’ things to add to it. Dere’s enough o’ dat; an’ den more went down de ribber on a sloop a week an’ more ago.’

“‘So! so! And they are going to ride?’

“‘Yes, sah. You see, dey want to catch de ship w’at set sail for Bermudas, an’ got to hurry; so massa says.’

“By this time Urquhart and his bride had reached the door. He was still gay and she was still quiet. But in her eye glistened a tear, while in his there gleamed nothing softer than that vague spark of triumph which one might expect to see in a man who had just married the richest heiress in Albany.

“‘Good-by! good-by! good-by!’ came in soft tones from her lips; and she was just stepping over the threshold, when there suddenly appeared at the foot of the steps an old crone, so seamed and bowed with age, so weird and threatening of aspect, that we all started back appalled, and were about to draw Mrs. Urquhart out of her path, when the unknown creature raised her voice, and pointing with one skinny hand straight into the bride’s face, shrieked:

“‘Beware of oak walls! Beware of oak walls! They are more dangerous to you than fire and water! Beware of oak walls!’

“A shriek interrupted her. It came, not from the bride, but from the interior of the well-nigh forsaken hall behind us.

“Instantly the old crone drew herself up into an attitude more threatening and more terrible than before.

[Illustration]

“‘And you,’ she cried, pointing now beyond us toward a figure which I could feel shrinking in inexplicable terror against the wall. ‘And you cannot trust them either! There is death within oak walls. Beware! beware!’

“A curse, a rush, and Edwin Urquhart had flung himself at the old witch’s throat. But he fell to the pavement without touching her. With the utterance of her last word, she had slipped from before our eyes and melted into the crowd which curiosity and interest had drawn within the gates, to watch this young couple’s departure.

“‘Who was that creature? Let me have her! Give her up, I say!’ leaped from the infuriated bridegroom’s lips, as he rushed up and down before the crowd with threatening arms and flashing eyes.

“But there was no response from the surging throng; while from his frightened wife such an appealing cry rung out that he returned from the vain pursuit, and regaining his place at Honora’s side, put her into the carriage. But as he did so he could not refrain from casting a stealthy look behind him, which betrayed to me, if to no one else, that his anger was more on account of the words uttered to Marah than to the tender being clinging to his arm. And a jealous fury took hold of me also, and I should not have been sorry if I had seen him fall then and there, the victim of a thunderbolt more certain, if not more terrible, than that which had just overwhelmed the two women nearest to our hearts.

“‘Good-by! good-by! good-by!’ came again from the bride’s pale lips; and this time I felt that the words were for me, and I waved my hand in response, but could not speak. And so they rode away, followed by the lamentations of the servants, from whom the old crone’s ominous outburst had torn the last semblance of self-control.

“‘Another carriage for Miss Leighton!’ I now heard uttered somewhere like a command. And startled at the pang it caused me, I darted back into the house, determined to have one parting word with my lost love.

“She was not there, nor could she be found by any searching.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37