The Forsaken Inn, by Anna Katharine Green

Part iii.

Retribution.

Chapter 17

Strange Guests.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1791.

Two excitements to-day. First, the appearance at my doors of the person of whose coming I was advised by Mr. Tamworth. He came in his own carriage, and is a meager, hatchet-faced man, whose eye makes me restless, but has not succeeded in making me lose my self-possession. He stayed three hours, all of which he made me spend with him in the oak parlor, and when he had finished with me and got my signature to a long and complicated affidavit, I felt that I would rather sell my house and flee the place than go through such another experience. Happily it is likely to be a long time before I shall be called upon to do so. A voyage to France and back is no light matter; and what with complications and delays, a year or more is likely to elapse before the subject need be opened again in my hearing. I thank God for this. For not only shall I thus have the opportunity of regaining my equanimity, which has been sorely shaken by these late events, but I shall have the chance of adding a few more dollars to my store, against the time when scandal will be busy with this spot, and public reprobation ruin its excellent character and custom.

The oak parlor I have shut and locked. It will not be soon entered again by me.

The other excitement to which I referred was the coming of two new guests from New York, elegant ladies, whose appearance and manners quite overpowered me in the few minutes of conversation I held with them when they first entered my house.

. . . . .

Good God! what is that? I thought I felt something brush my sleeve. Yet there is no one near me, and nothing astir in the room! And why should such a sudden vision of the old oak parlor rise before my eyes? And why, if I must see it, should it be the room as it looked to me on that night when the two Urquharts sat within it, and not the room as I saw it to-day!

Positively I must throw away the key of that room; its very presence in my desk makes me the victim of visions.

OCTOBER 5, 1791.

Why is it that we promise ourselves certain things, even swear that we will perform such and such acts, and yet never keep our promises or hold to our oaths? Sixteen years ago I expressed a determination to refit the oak parlor and make it look more attractive to the eye; I never did it. A year since I declared in language as strong as I knew how to employ, not that I would refit the oak parlor, but that I would tear it from the house, even at the cost of demolishing the whole structure.

And now, only a week since, I promised myself, as my diary will testify, that I would throw away the key of this place, if only to rid myself of unpleasant reminders. But the key is still with me, and the room intact. I have neither the power nor the inclination to touch it. The ghost of the woman who perished there restrains me. Why? Because we are not done with that room. The end of its story is not yet. This I feel; and I feel something further; I feel that it will be entered soon, and that the person who is to enter it is already in my house.

I have spoken of two ladies — God knows with but little realization of the fatal interest they would soon possess for me. They came without servants some four days ago, and saying they wished to remain for a short time in this beautiful spot, at once accepted the cheerful south room which I reserve for such guests as these. As they are very handsome and distinguished-looking, I felt highly gratified at their patronage, and was settling down to a state of complacency over the prospects of a profitable week, when something, I cannot tell what, roused in me a spirit of suspicion, and I began to notice that the elder lady was of a very uneasy disposition, exhibiting a proneness to wander about the house and glide through its passages, especially those on the ground floor, which at first made me question her sanity, and then led me to wonder if through some means unknown to me she had not received a hint as to our secret chamber. I watch, but cannot yet make out. Meanwhile a description of these women may not come amiss.

They are both beautiful, the younger especially. When I first saw them seated in my humble parlor, I thought them the wife and daughter of one of our great generals, they looked so handsome and carried themselves so proudly. But I was presently undeceived, for the name they gave was a foreign one, which my English tongue finds it very hard even yet to pronounce. It is written Letellier, with a simple Madame before it for the mother, and Mademoiselle for the daughter, but how to speak it — well, that is a small matter. I do speak it and they never smile, though the daughter’s eye lights up at times with a spark of what I should call mirth, if her lips were not so grave and her brow so troubled.

Yes; troubled is the word, though she is so young. I find it difficult to regard her in any other light than that of a child. Though she endeavors to appear indifferent and has a way of carrying herself that is almost noble, there is certainly grief in her eye and care on her brow. I see it when she is alone, or rather before she becomes aware of another’s presence; I see it when she is with her mother; but when strangers come in or she assembles with the rest of the household in the parlor or at the table, then it vanishes, and a sweet charm comes that reminds me —

But this is folly, sheer folly. How could she look like Mrs. Urquhart? Imagination carries me too far. Equal innocence and a like gentle temper have produced a like result in sweetening the expression. That is all, and yet I remember the one woman when I look at the other, and shudder; for the woman who calls this child daughter has her eye on the oak parlor, and may meditate evil — must, if she knows its secret and yet wishes to enter it. But my imagination is carrying me too far again. This woman, whatever her faults, loves her daughter, and where love is there cannot be danger. Yet I shudder.

Madame Letellier merits the description of an abler pen than mine. I like her, and I hate her. I admire her, and I fear her. I obey her, and yet hold myself in readiness for rebellion, if only to prove to myself that I will be strong when the time comes; that no influence, however exerted, or however hidden under winning smiles or quietly controlling glances, shall have power to move me from what I may consider my duty, or from the exercise of such vigilance as my secret fears seem to demand. I hate her; let me remember that. And I distrust her. She is here for evil, and her eye is on the oak parlor. Though it is locked and the key hidden on my person, she will find means to possess herself of that key and open that door. How? We will see. Meantime all this is not a description of Madame Letellier.

She is finely formed; she is graceful; she is youthful. She dresses with a taste that must always make her conspicuous wherever she may be. You could not enter a room in which she was without seeing her, for her glance has a strange power that irresistibly draws your glance to it, though her eyes are lambent rather than brilliant, and if large, rarely opened to their full extent. Her complexion is dark; that is, in comparison with her daughter’s, which is of a marble-like purity. But it has strange flushes in it, and at times seems almost to sparkle. Her hair is brown, and worn high, with a great comb in it, setting off the contour of her face, which is almost perfect. But it is in the expression of her mouth that her fascination lies. Without sweetness, except when it smiles upon her daughter, without mirth, without any expression speaking of good-will or tenderness, there is yet a turn to the lips that moves the gazer peculiarly, making it dangerous to watch her long unless you are hardened by doubts, as I am. Her hands are exquisite, and her form beauty itself.

The daughter is statuesque; not in the sense of coldness or immobility, but in the regularity of her features and the absence of any coloring in her cheeks. She is lovely, and there breathes through every trait a gentle soul that robs my admiration of all awe and makes my old and empty heart long to serve her. Her eyes are gray and her hair a reddish brown, with kinks and curls in it like — But, pshaw! there comes that dream again! Was Honora Urquhart’s hair so very unique that a head of wavy brown hair should bring her up so startlingly to my mind?

They are stopping here on their way to Albany — so the elder lady says. They came from New York. So they did, but if my intuitions are not greatly at fault, the place they started from was France. The fact that the marks and labels have all been effaced from their baggage is suspicious in itself. Can they be friends of the two miserable wretches who dishonored my house with a ghastly crime? Is it from them that madame’s knowledge comes, if she has any knowledge? The thought awakens my profoundest distrust. Would that Mr. Tamworth were within reach! I think I will write him. But what could I write that would not look foolish on paper? I had better wait a while till I see something or hear something more definite.

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