The Forsaken Inn, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter 15

The Catastrophe.

“I have but little more to tell,” Mark Felt continued, “but that little is everything to me.

“When we became positively assured that Miss Leighton had disappeared from the house and would not be on hand to take the stage to Schenectady, the excitement, which had been increasing on all sides since the ceremony, culminated, and the whole town was set agog to find her, if only to solve the mystery of a nature whose actions had now become inexplicable.

“I was the first to start the pursuit. Haunted by her last look, and thrilled to every extremity by the terror of the shriek she had uttered, I did not wait for the alarm to become public, but rushed immediately up stairs at the first intimation of her disappearance.

“Though I had never pierced those regions before, my good or evil fate took me at once to a room which I saw at one glance to be hers. The boxes waiting to be carried down, the tags and ends of ribbons that I recognized, the nameless something which speaks of one particular personality and no other, all were there to assure me that I stood in the chamber which for six months or more had palpitated with the breath of the one being I loved.

“But of that I dared not think; it was no time for dreams; and only stopping to see that her bonnet had been taken, but her gloves left, I hurried down again and out of the house.

“An impulse which I cannot understand took me to Edwin Urquhart’s house, or, rather, to that portion of a house which he had hired for his use since he had been looking forward to his marriage with Miss Dudleigh. Why I should go there I cannot say, unless jealousy whispered that only in this place could she hope for one final word with him, as he and his bride stopped at the door for his portion of the baggage. Be this as it may, I turned neither to right nor left till I came to his house, and when I had reached it I found that, with all my haste, I was too late, for not a soul was in its empty rooms, while far down the street which leads to the bridge I saw a carriage disappearing, which, from the wagon following it so closely, I knew to be the one containing Urquhart and his bride.

“‘She has not been here,’ thought I, ‘or I should have met her, unless —’ and my eye stole with a certain shrinking terror toward the river which skirted along the garden at the back —‘unless’— But even my thoughts stopped here. I would not, could not, think of what, if it were true, would end all things for me.

“Leaving this place, I wandered aimlessly through the streets, studying each face that I met for intimations which should guide me in my search. If not a madman, I was near enough to one to make the memory of that hour hideous to me; and when at last, worn out as much by my emotions as by the countless steps I had taken, I returned to my house for a bite and sup, something in the sight of its desolation overpowered me, and yielding to a despair which assured me that I should never again see her in this world, I sank on the floor inert and powerless, and continued thus till morning, without movement and almost without consciousness.

“Fatal repose! And yet I do not know if I should call it so. It only robbed me of a few hours less of conscious misery. For when I roused, when I became again myself, and looked about my house, there on the floor, underneath a curtain window which had been left unlatched, I saw a letter containing these words:

‘HONORED AND MUCH ABUSED FRIEND:— When you read this, Marah will be no more. After all that has passed — after our broken marriage and the departure of my cousin — life has become insupportable; and, believing that you would rather know me dead than miserable, I ventured to write you these words, and ask you to forgive me, now that I am gone.

‘I loved him: let that explain everything.

‘Despairingly yours,
‘MARAH LEIGHTON.’

“With shrieks I tore from the house. Marah dying! Marah dead! I would see about that. Racing down to the gate, I paused. Some one was leaning on it. It was Cæsar, and at the first glimpse I had of his face I knew I was too late — that all was over, and that the whole town knew it.

“‘Oh, massa, I wanted to go in, but I was frightened. I’s been waiting here an hour, sah; when dey told me dat dey had found her bonnet floating on de ribber, I know’d how you’d feel, sah, and so I come here and —’

“I found words to ask him a question. ‘When was this found, and where?’

“‘This morning, sah, at daybreak. It was caught by one of the strings to that old log, sah, that lies out in the ribber back of —’ he hesitated —‘Massa Urquhart’s house, sah.’

“I knew; and I had glanced that way just as her bright head was perhaps sinking under the water. I threw up my arms in anguish and stumbled back into the house.

“‘Then every one knows —’ I managed to say on the threshold.

“‘Dat she cared for him? Yes, sah; I fear so. How could dey help it, sah? Mor’n one person saw her run down de street and go into massa’s old house just before de carriage stopped thar, and as she didn’t come out again, I ‘specs it was from dat big log at the foot of the garden she jumped into de ribber. All de folks pities you very much, sah —’

“I choked him off with a look.

“‘Who has been sent after Mr. and Mrs. Urquhart to inform them of what has happened?’

“‘No one yet, sah. But Massa Hatton —’

“‘Mr. Hatton is an old man. We must have a young one for this business. Go saddle me the quickest horse in your stables. I will ride after them, and overtake them, too, before they can reach Poughkeepsie. He shall know —’

“A glance from the negro’s eye warned me to be careful. I smothered my impatience and let only my earnestness appear.

“‘Mrs. Urquhart ought to know that her cousin is dead,’ I declared.

“‘I’ll tell Massa Hatton,’ said the black.

“But my caution was now too much aroused for me to make Mr. Hatton the medium of my request — he was Mrs. Urquhart’s old guardian and future agent; and subduing the extreme fury of my feelings, I obtained his permission to act as his messenger. Had he known of the letter which had been thrown into my window, he might not have given his consent so freely; but I had told no man of that, and he and others saw me ride away without a seeming suspicion of the murderous thoughts that struggled with my grief, and almost overwhelmed it.

“For to me her death — if she were dead — was the result of a compact entered into with the despicable Urquhart, who, if he could not have her for himself, was willing she should go where no other man could have her. Though the idea seemed quixotic, though it be an anomaly in human experience, for a woman thus to sacrifice herself, I could not ascribe any other motive to her deed; for the memory of that interview she had held with her cousin’s future husband in the garden was still fresh in my mind. Do you remember the words as told me by the negro who overheard them? First, the question from his lips: ‘Will you undertake it? Can you go through with it without shrinking and without fear?’ And the reply from hers: ‘I will undertake it, and I can go through with it,’ followed by that assurance which struck me as being so inexplicable at the time, and which, with all the light that this late horrible event has thrown upon it, still preserves its mystery for me. ‘I shall give you nothing till I am dead, and then I will give you everything.’ If the conclusions I drew seemed wild, were they not warranted by these words? Did she not speak of death, and did he not encourage her?

“If she were not dead — and sometimes this thought would cross my burning brain — then she was with him, forced into the company of his unwilling wife in that last interview which they must have held in his cottage. In either case he was a villain and a coward, deserving of death; and death he should have, and from the hand of him whom he had doubly outraged.

[Illustration]

“But as I rode out of town and came in sight of the river, I found myself seized by terrifying thoughts. Should I have to ride by the place where I could see them stooping with boat hooks and bending with peering eyes over some snag they had brought up from the river bottom? Could I endure to face this picture, then to pass it, then to ride on, feeling it ever at my back, blackening the morning, destroying the noontide, making more horrible the night? Could I go from this place till I knew whether or not the sullen waters would yield up their beautiful prey, and would my body proceed while my heart was on this river bank, and my jealousy divided between the wretch who had urged her on to death and these other men who might yet touch her unconscious form and gaze upon her disfigured beauty? And the answer which welled up from within me was, yes, I could go; I could pass that picture; I could feel it glooming ever and ever upon me from behind my back, and never turn my head; — such an impetus of hate was upon me, driving me forward after the wretch fleeing in self-complacency and triumph into a future of wealth and social consideration.

“But when I had done all this, when my too fleet horse had carried me beyond sight of the city, and nature, with its irresistible beauty, had begun to influence my understanding, other thoughts came trooping in upon me, and a vision of Honora Dudleigh’s face as she took the dagger from my hands and an implied promise from my lips, rose before me till I could see nothing else. Honora, Honora, Honora who trusted me! who had suffered everything but the sight of blood! who was a bride, and whom it would be base ingratitude for me to plunge into the depths of dishonor and despair! And the struggle was so fierce, and the torture of it so keen, that ere long my brain succumbed to the strain, and from the height of anguished feeling I sank into apathy, and from apathy into unconsciousness, till I no longer knew where I was or possessed power to guide my horse. In this condition I was found wandering in a field and thence carried to a farm house, where I remained a prey to fever. When I returned to consciousness, three weeks had elapsed.

“As soon as I could be moved, I went back to Albany. I found the community there settled in the belief that I had joined in death the woman I so much loved, and was shown a letter which had been sent me, and which had been opened by the authorities after all hope had been given up of my return. It was from Mrs. Urquhart, and related how they had changed their plans upon reaching New York. Having found a ship on the point of sailing for France, they had determined to go there instead of to the Bermudas, and, consequently, requested me to inform Mr. Hatton of the fact, and also assure him that he would hear from them personally as soon as a letter could reach him from the other side. As she was in haste — in truth, was writing this in the post office on the way to the ship — she would only add that her health had been improved by her long journey down the river, and that when I heard from her again, she was sure she would be able to write that all her fondest hopes had been fully realized.

“And so Marah was in the river, and Urquhart on the seas. I had been robbed of everything, even vengeance, and life had nothing for me, and I was determined to leave it, not in the vulgar way of suicide, but by cloistering myself in the great forests. As no one said me nay, I at once carried out this scheme; and to show you how dead I had become to the world, I will tell you that as I turned the lock of my door and took my first step forward on the road which led to this spot, a great shout broke out in the market place:

“‘The farmers of Lexington have fired upon the king’s troops!’

“And I did not even turn my head!”

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