I never thought I should do so foolish a thing as begin a diary. When in my boarding-school days (which I am very glad to be rid of) I used to see Meeley Butterworth sit down every night of her life over a little book which she called the repository of her daily actions, I thought that if ever I reached that point of imbecility I would deserve to have fewer lovers and more sense, just as she so frequently advised me to. And yet here I am, pencil in hand, jotting down the nothings of the moment, and with every prospect of continuing to do so for two weeks at least. For (why was I born such a chatterbox!) I have seen my fate, and must talk to some one about him, if only to myself, nature never having meant me to keep silence on any living topic that interests me.
Yes, with lovers in Boston, lovers in New York, and a most determined suitor on the other side of our own home-walls in Peekskill, I have fallen victim to the grave face and methodical ways of a person I need not name, since he is the only gentleman in this whole town, except — But I won’t except anybody. Charles Knollys has no peer here or anywhere, and this I am ready to declare, after only one sight of his face and one look from his eye, though to no one but you, my secret, non-committal confidant — for to acknowledge to any human being that my admiration could be caught, or my heart touched, by a person who had not sued two years at my feet, would be to abdicate an ascendency I am so accustomed to I could not see it vanish without pain. Besides, who knows how I shall feel to-morrow? Meeley Butterworth never shows any hesitation in uttering her opinion either of men or things, but then her opinion never changes, whilst mine is a very thistle-down, blowing hither and thither till I cannot follow its wanderings myself. It is one of my charms, certain fools say, but that is nonsense. If my cheeks lacked color and my eyes were without sparkle, or even if I were two inches taller instead of being the tiniest bit of mortal flesh to be found amongst all the young ladies of my age in our so-called society, I doubt if the lightness of my mind would meet with the approbation of even the warmest woman-lovers of this time. As it is, it just passes, and sometimes, as to-night, for instance, when I can hardly see to inscribe these lines on this page for the vision of two grave, if not quietly reproving eyes which float between it and me, I almost wish I had some of Meeley’s responsible characteristics, instead of being the airiest, merriest, and most volatile being that ever tried to laugh down the grandeur of this dreary old house with its century of memories.
Ah! that allusion has given me something to say. This house. What is there about it except its size to make a stranger like me look back continually over her shoulder in going down the long halls, or even when nestling comfortably by the great wood-fire in the immense drawing-room? I am not one of your fanciful ones; but I can no more help doing this, than I can help wishing Judge Knollys lived in a less roomy mansion with fewer echoing corners in its innumerable passages. I like brightness and cheer, at least in my surroundings. If I must have gloom, or a seriousness which some would call gloom, let me have it in individuals where there is some prospect of a blithe, careless-hearted little midget effecting a change, and not in great towering walls and endless floors which no amount of sunshine or laughter could ever render homelike, or even comfortable.
But there! If one has the man, one must have the home, so I had better say no more against the home till I am quite sure I do not want the man. For — Well, well, I am not a fool, but I did hear something just then, a something which makes me tremble yet, though I have spent five good minutes trilling the gayest songs I know.
I think it is very inconsiderate of the witches to bother thus a harmless mite like myself, who only asks for love, light, and money enough to buy a ribbon or a jewel when the fancy takes her, which is not as often as my enemies declare. And now a question! Why are my enemies always to be found among the girls, and among the plainest of them too? I never heard a man say anything against me, though I have sometimes surprised a look on their faces (I saw it to-day) which might signify reproof if it were not accompanied by a smile showing anything but displeasure.
But this is a digression, as Meeley would say. What I want to do, but which I seem to find it very difficult to do, is to tell how I came to be here, and what I have seen since I came. First, then, to be very short about the matter, I am here because the old folks — that is, my father and Mr. Knollys, have decided Charles and I should know each other. In thought, I courtesy to the decision; I think we ought to too. For while many other men are handsomer or better known, or have more money, alas! than he, he alone has a way of drawing up to one’s side with an air that captivates the eye and sets the heart trembling, a heart, moreover, that never knew before it could tremble, except in the presence of great worldly prosperity and beautiful, beautiful things. So, as this experience is new, I am dutifully obliged for the excitement it gives me, and am glad to be here, awesome as the place is, and destitute of any such pleasures as I have been accustomed to in the gay cities where I have hitherto spent most of my time.
But there! I am rambling again. I have come to X., as you now see, for good and sufficient reasons, and while this house is one of consequence and has been the resort of many notable people, it is a little lonesome, our only neighbor being a young man who has a fine enough appearance, but who has already shown his admiration of me so plainly — of course he was in the road when I drove up to the house — that I lost all interest in him at once, such a nonsensical liking at first sight being, as I take it, a tribute only to my audacious little travelling bonnet and the curl or two which will fall out on my cheek when I move my head about too quickly, as I certainly could not be blamed for doing, in driving into a place where I was expected to make myself happy for two weeks.
He, then, is out of these chronicles. When I say his name is Obadiah Trohm, you will probably be duly thankful. But he is not as stiff and biblical as his name would lead you to expect. On the contrary, he is lithe, graceful, and suave to a point which makes Charles Knollys’ judicial face a positive relief to the eye and such little understanding as has been accorded me.
I cannot write another word. It is twelve o’clock, and though I have the cosiest room in the house, all chintz and decorated china, I find myself listening and peering just as I did down-stairs in their great barn of a drawing-room. I wonder if any very dreadful things ever happened in this house? I will ask old Mr. Knollys to-morrow, or — or Mr. Charles.
I am sorry I was so inquisitive; for the stories Charles told me — I thought I had better not trouble the old gentleman — have only served to people the shadows of this rambling old house with figures of whose acquaintance I am likely to be more or less shy. One tale in particular gave me the shivers. It was about a mother and daughter who both loved the same man (it seems incredible, girls so seldom seeing with the eyes of their mothers), and it was the daughter who married him, while the mother, broken-hearted, fled from the wedding and was driven up to the great door, here, in a coach, dead. They say that the coach still travels the road just before some calamity to the family — a phantom coach which floats along in shadow, turning the air about it to mist that chills the marrow in the bones of the unfortunate who sees it. I am going to see it myself some day, the real coach, I mean, in which this tragic event took place. It is still in the stable, Charles tells me. I wonder if I will have the courage to sit where that poor devoted mother breathed out her miserable existence. I shall endeavor to do so if only to defy the fate which seems to be closing in upon me.
Charles is an able lawyer, but his argument in favor of close bonnets versus bewitching little pokes with a rose or two in front, was very weak, I thought, to-day. He seemed to think so himself, after a while; for when, as the only means of convincing him of the weakness of the cause he was advocating, I ran up-stairs and put on a poke similar to the aforesaid, he retracted at once and let the case go by default. For which I, and the poke, made suitable acknowledgments, to the great amusement of papa Knollys, who was on my side from the first.
Not much going on to-day. Yet I have never felt merrier. Oh, ye hideous, bare old walls! Won’t I make you ring if ——
I won’t have it! I won’t have that smooth, persistent hypocrite pushing his way into my presence, when my whole heart and attention belong to a man who would love me if he only could get his own leave to do so. Obadiah Trohm has been here to-day, on one pretext or another, three times. Once he came to bring some very choice apples — as if I cared for apples! The second time he had a question of great importance, no doubt, to put to Charles, and as Charles was in my company, the whole interview lasted, let us say, a good half-hour at least. The third time he came, it was to see me, which, as it was now evening, meant talk, talk, talk in the great drawing-room, with just a song interpolated now and then, instead of a cosy chat in the window-seat of the pretty Flower Parlor, with only one pair of ears to please and one pair of eyes to watch. Master Trohm was intrusive, and, if no one felt it but myself, it is because Charles Knollys has set himself up an ideal of womanhood to which I am a contradiction. But that will not affect the end. A woman may be such a contradiction and yet win, if her heart is in the struggle and she has, besides, a certain individuality of her own which appeals to the eye and heart if not to the understanding. I do not despair of seeing Charles Knollys’ forehead taking a very deep frown at sight of his handsome and most attentive neighbor. Heigho! why don’t I answer Meeley Butterworth’s last letter? Am I ashamed to tell her that I have to limit my effusion to just four pages because I have commenced a diary?
I declare I begin to regard it a misfortune to have dimples. I never have regarded it so before when I have seen man after man succumb to them, but now they have become my bane, for they attract two admirers, just at the time they should attract but one, and it is upon the wrong man they flash the oftenest; why, I leave it to all true lovers to explain. As a consequence, Master Trohm is beginning to assume an air of superiority, and Charles, who may not believe in dimples, but who on that very account, perhaps, seems to be always on the lookout for them, shrinks more or less into the background, as is not becoming in a man with so many claims to respect, if not to love. I want to feel that each one of these precious fourteen days contains all that it can of delight and satisfaction, and how can I when Obadiah — oh, the charming and romantic name! — holds my crewels, instead of Charles, and whispers words which, coming from other lips, would do more than waken my dimples!
But if I must have a suitor, just when a suitor is not wanted, let me at least make him useful. Charles shall read his own heart in this man’s passion.
I don’t know why, but I have taken a dislike to the Flower Parlor. It now vies with the great drawing-room in my disregard. Yesterday, in crossing it, I felt a chill, so sudden and so penetrating, that I irresistibly thought of the old saying, “Some one is walking over my grave.” My grave! where lies it, and why should I feel the shudder of it now? Am I destined to an early death? The bounding life in my veins says no. But I never again shall like that room. It has made me think.
I have not only sat in the old coach, but I had (let me drop the words slowly, they are so precious) I— I have had — a kiss— given me there. Charles gave me this kiss; he could not help it. I was sitting on the seat in front, in a sort of mock mirth he was endeavoring to frown upon, when suddenly I glanced up and our eyes met, and — He says it was the sauciness of my dimples (oh, those old dimples! they seem to have stood me in good stead after all); but I say it was my sincere affection which drew him, for he stooped like a man forgetful of everything in the whole wide world but the little trembling, panting being before him, and gave me one of those caresses which seals a woman’s fate forever, and made me, the feather-brained and thoughtless coquette, a slave to this large-minded and true-hearted man for all my life hereafter.
Why I should be so happy over this event is beyond my understanding. That he should be in the seventh heaven of delight is only to be expected, but that I should find myself tripping through this gloomy old house like one treading on air is a mystery, to the elucidation of which I can only give my dimples. My reason can make nothing out of it. I, who thought of nothing short of a grand establishment in Boston, money, servants, and a husband who would love me blindly whatever my faults, have given my troth — you will say my lips, but the one means the other — to a man who will never be known outside of his own county, never be rich, never be blind even, for he frowns upon me as often as he smiles, and, worst of all, who lives in a house so vast and so full of tragic suggestion that it might well awaken doleful anticipations in much more serious-minded persons than myself.
And yet I am happy, so happy that I have even attempted to make the acquaintance of the grim old portraits and weak pastels which line the walls of many of these bedrooms. Old Mr. Knollys caught me courtesying just now before one of these ancestral beauties, whose face seemed to hold a faint prophecy of my own, and perceiving by my blushes that this was something more than a mere childish freak on my part, he chucked me under the chin and laughingly asked, how long it was likely to be before he might have the honor of adding my pretty face to the collection. Which should have made me indignant, only I am not in an indignant mood just now.
Why have I been so foolish? Why did I not let my over-fond neighbor know from the beginning that I detested him, instead of — But what have I done anyway? A smile, a nod, a laughing word mean nothing. When one has eyes which persist in dancing in spite of one’s every effort to keep them demure, men who become fools are apt to call one a coquette, when a little good sense would teach them that the woman who smiles always has some other way of showing her regard to the man she really favors. I could not help being on merry terms with Mr. Trohm, if only to hide the effect another’s presence has on me. But he thinks otherwise, and to-day I had ample reason for seeing why his good looks and easy manners have invariably awakened distrust in me rather than admiration. Master Trohm is vindictive, and I should be afraid of him, if I had not observed in him the presence of another passion which will soon engross all his attention and make him forget me as soon as ever I become Charles’ wife. Money is his idol, and as fortune seems to favor him, he will soon be happy in the mere pleasure of accumulation. But this is not relating what happened to-day.
We were walking in the shrubbery (by we I naturally mean Charles and myself), and he was saying things which made me at the same time happy and a bit serious, when I suddenly felt myself under the spell of some baleful influence that filled me with a dismay I could neither understand nor escape from.
As this could not proceed from Charles, I turned to look about me, when I encountered the eyes of Obadiah Trohm, who was leaning on the fence separating his grounds from those of Mr. Knollys, looking directly at us. If I flinched at this surveillance, it was but the natural expression of my indignation. His face wore a look calculated to frighten any one, and though he did not respond to the gesture I made him, I felt that my only chance of escaping a scene was to induce Charles to leave me before he should see what I saw in the lowering countenance of his intrusive neighbor. As the situation demanded self-possession and the exercise of a ready wit, and as these are qualities in which I am not altogether deficient, I succeeded in carrying out my intention sooner even than I expected. Charles hurried from my presence at the first word, and proceeded towards the house without seeing Trohm, and I, quivering with dread, turned towards the man whom I felt, rather than saw, approaching me.
He met me with a look I shall never forget. I have had lovers — too many of them — and this is not the first man I have been compelled to meet with rebuff and disdain, but never in the whole course of my none too extended existence have I been confronted by such passion or overwhelmed with such bitter recrimination. He seemed like a man beside himself, yet he was quiet, too quiet, and while his voice did not rise above a whisper, and he approached no nearer than the demands of courtesy required, he produced so terrifying an effect upon me that I longed to cry for help, and would have done so, but that my throat closed with fright, and I could only gurgle forth a remonstrance, too faint even for him to hear.
“You have played with a man’s best feelings,” he said. “You have led me to believe that I had only to speak to have you for my own. Are you simply foolish, or are you wicked? Did you care for me at all, or was it only your wish to increase the number of men in your train? This one” (here his hand pointed quiveringly towards the house) “has enjoyed a happiness denied me. His hand has touched yours, his lips —” Here his words became almost unintelligible till his purpose gave him strength, and he cried: “But notwithstanding this, notwithstanding any vows you may have exchanged, I have claims upon you that I will not yield. I who have loved no woman before you, will have such a hand in your fate that you will never be able to separate yourself from the influence I shall exert over you. I will not intrude between you and your lover; I will not affect dislike or disturb your outer life with any vain display of my hatred or my passion, but I will work upon your secret thoughts, and create a slowly increasing dread in the inner sanctuary of your heart till you wish you had called up the deadliest of serpents in your pathway rather than the latent fury of Obadiah Trohm. You are a girl now; when you are married and become a mother, you will understand me. For the present I leave you. The shadow of this old house which has never seen much happiness within it will soon rest upon your thoughtless head. What that will not do, your own inherent weakness will. The woman who trifles with a strong man’s heart has a flaw in her nature which will work out her own destruction in time. I can afford to let you enjoy your prospective honeymoon in peace. Afterwards —” He cast a threatening look towards the decaying structure behind me, and was silent. But that silence did not unloose my tongue. I was absolutely speechless.
“Ten brides have crossed yonder threshold,” he presently went on in a low musing tone freighted with horrible fatality. “One — and she was the girl whose mother was driven up to these doors dead — lived to take her grandchildren on her knees. The rest died early, and most of them unhappily. Oh, I have studied the traditions of your future home! You will live, but of all the brides who have triumphed in the honorable name of Knollys, you will lead the saddest life and meet the gloomiest end notwithstanding you stand before me now, with loose locks flying in the wind, and a heart so gay that even my despair can barely pale the roses on your cheek.”
This was the raving of a madman. I recognized it as such, and took a little heart. How could he see into my future? How could he prophesy evil to one over whom he will have no control? to one watched over and beloved by a man like Charles? He is a dreamer, a fanatic. His talk about the flaw in my nature is nonsense, and as for the fate lowering over my head, in the shadows falling from the toppling old house in which I am likely to take up my abode — that is only frenzy, and I would be unworthy of happiness to heed it. As I realized this, my indignation grew, and, uttering a few contemptuous words, I was hurrying away when he stopped me with a final warning.
“Wait!” he said, “women like you cannot keep either their joys or their miseries to themselves. But I advise you not to take Charles Knollys into your confidence. If you do, a duel will follow, and if I have not the legal acumen of your intended, I have an eye and a hand before which he must fall, if our passions come to an issue. So beware! never while you live betray what has passed between us at this interview, unless the weariness of a misplaced affection should come to you, and with it the desire to be rid of your husband.”
A frightful threat which, unfortunately perhaps, has sealed my lips. Oh, why should such monsters live!
I have been all through the house to-day with old Mr. Knollys. Every room was opened for my inspection, and I was bidden to choose which should be refurnished for my benefit. It was a gruesome trip, from which I have returned to my own little nook of chintz as to a refuge. Great rooms which for years have been the abode of spiders, are not much to my liking, but I chose out two which at least have fireplaces in them, and these are to be made as cheerful as circumstances will permit. I hope when I again see them, it will not be by the light of a waning November afternoon, when the few leaves still left to flutter from the trees blow, soggy and wet, against the panes of the solitary windows, or lie in sodden masses at the foot of the bare trunks, which cluster so thickly on the lawn as to hide all view of the highroad. I was meant for laughter and joy, flashing lights, and the splendors of ballrooms. Why have I chosen, then, to give up the great world and settle down in this grimmest of grim old houses in a none too lively village? I think it is because I love Charles Knollys, and so, no matter how my heart sinks in the dim shadows that haunt every spot I stray into, I will be merry, will think of Charles instead of myself, and so live down the unhappy prophecies uttered by the wretch who, with his venomous words, has robbed the future of whatever charm my love was likely to cast upon it. The fact that this man left the town to-day for a lengthy trip abroad should raise my spirits more than it has. If we were going now, Charles and I— But why dream of a Paradise whose doors remain closed to you? It is here our honeymoon is destined to be passed; within these walls and in sight of the bare boughs rattling at this moment against the panes.
I made a misstatement when I said that I had gone into all the rooms of the house this afternoon. I did not enter the Flower Parlor.
I had been married a month and had, as I thought, no further use for this foolish diary. So one evening when Charles was away, I attempted to burn it.
But when I had flung myself down before the blazing logs of my bedroom fire (I was then young enough to love to crouch for hours on the rug in my lonely room, seeking for all I delighted in and longed for in the glowing embers), some instinct, or was it a premonition? made me withhold from destruction a record which coming events might make worthy of preservation. That was five years ago, and to-day I have reopened the secret drawer in which this simple book has so long lain undisturbed, and am once more penning lines destined perhaps to pass into oblivion together with the others. Why? I do not know. There is no change in my married life. I have no trouble, no anxiety, no reason for dread; yet — Well, well, some women are made for the simple round of domestic duties, and others are as out of place in the nursery and kitchen as butterflies in a granary. I want just the things Charles cannot give me. I have home, love, children, all that some women most crave, and while I idolize my husband and know of nothing sweeter than my babies, I yet have spells of such wretched weariness, that it would be a relief to me to be a little less comfortable if only I might enjoy a more brilliant existence. But Charles is not rich; sometimes I think he is poor, and however much I may desire change, I cannot have it. Heigho! and, what is worse, I haven’t had a new dress in a year; I who so love dress, and become it so well! Why, if it is my lot to go shabby, and tie up my dancing ringlets with faded ribbons, was I made with the figure of a fairy and given a temperament which, without any effort on my part, makes me, diminutive as I am, the centre of every group I enter? If I were plain, or shy, or even self-contained, I might be happy here, but now — There! there! I will go kiss little William, and lay Loreen’s baby arm about my neck and see if the wicked demons will fly away. Charles is too busy for me to intrude upon him in that horrid Flower Parlor.
I was never superstitious till I entered this house; but now I believe in every sort of thing a sane woman should not. Yesterday, after a neglect of five years, I brought out my diary. To-day I have to record in it that there was a reason for my doing so. Obadiah Trohm has returned home. I saw him this morning leaning over his fence in the same place and in very much the same attitude as on that day when he frightened me so, a month before my wedding.
But he did not frighten me to-day. He merely looked at me very sharply and with a less offensive admiration than in the early days of our first acquaintance. At which I made him my best courtesy. I was not going to remind him of the past in our new relations, and he, thankful perhaps for this, took off his hat with a smile I am trying even yet to explain to myself. Then we began to talk. He had travelled everywhere and I had been nowhere; he wore the dress and displayed the manners of the great world, while I had only a hungry desire to do the same. As for fashion, I needed all my beauty and the fading sparkle of my old animation to enable me to hold up my head before him.
But as for liking him, I did not. I could admire his appearance, but he himself attracted me no more than when he had words of angry fury on his tongue. He is a gentleman, and one who has seen the world, but in other ways he is no more to be compared with my Charles than his pert new house, built in his absence, with the grand old structure with whose fatality he once threatened me.
I do not think he wants to threaten me with disaster now. Time closes such wounds as his very effectually. I wish we had some of his money.
I have always heard that the wives of the Knollys, whatever their misfortune, have always loved their husbands. I do not think I am any exception to the rule. When Charles has leisure to give me an hour from his musty old books, the place here seems lively enough, and the children’s voices do not sound so shrill. But these hours are so infrequent. If it were not for Mr. Trohm’s journal (Did I mention that he had lent me a journal of his travels?) I should often eat my heart out with loneliness. I am beginning to like the man better as I follow him from city to city of the old world. If he had ever mentioned me in its pages, I would not read another line in it, but he seems to have expended both his love and spite when he bade me farewell in the garden underlying these bleak old walls.
I am becoming as well acquainted with Mr. Trohm’s handwriting as with my own. I read and read and read in his journal, and only stop when the dreaded midnight hour comes with its ghostly suggestions and the unaccountable noises which make this old dwelling so uncanny. Charles often finds me curled up over this book, and when he does he sighs. Why?
I have been teaching Loreen to dance. Oh, how merry it has made me! I think I will be happier now. We have the large upper hall to take steps in, and when she makes a misstep we laugh, and that is a good sound to hear in this old place. If I could only have a little money to buy her a fresh frock and some ribbons, I would feel perfectly satisfied; but I do believe Charles is getting poorer and poorer every day; the place costs so much to keep up, he says, and when his father died there were debts to be paid which leaves us, his innocent inheritors, very straitened. Master Trohm has no such difficulties. He has money enough. But I don’t like the man for all that, polite as he is to us all. He seems to quite adore Loreen, and as to William, he pets him till I feel almost uncomfortable at times.
What shall I do? I am invited to New York, I, and Charles says I may go, too — only I have nothing to wear. Oh, for some money! a little money! it is my right to have some money; but Charles tells me he can only spare enough to pay my expenses, that my Sunday frock looks very well, and that, even if it did not, I am pretty enough to do without fine clothes, and other nonsense like that — sweet enough, but totally without point, in fact. If I am pretty, all the more I need a little finery to set me off, and, besides, to go to New York without money — why, I should be perfectly miserable. Charles himself ought to realize this, and be willing to sell his old books before he would let me go into this whirl of temptation without a dollar to spend. As he don’t, I must devise some plan of my own for obtaining a little money, for I won’t give up my trip — the first offered me since I was married — and neither will I go away and come back without a gift for my two girls, who have grown to womanhood without a jewel to adorn them or a silk dress to make them look like gentlemen’s children. But how get money without Charles knowing it? Mr. Trohm is such a good friend, he might lend me a little, but I don’t know how to ask him without recalling to his mind certain words long since forgotten by him perhaps, but never to be forgotten by me, feather-brained as many people think me. Is there any one else?
I wonder if some things are as wicked as people say they are. I——
Here the diary breaks off abruptly. But we know what followed. The forgery, the discovery of it by her suave but secret enemy, his unnatural revenge, and the never-dying enmity which led to the tragic events it has been my unhappy fortune to relate at such length. Poor Althea! with thy name I write finis to these pages. May the dust lie lightly on thy breast under the shadow of the Flower Parlor, through which thy footsteps passed with such dread in the old days of thy youthful beauty and innocence!
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55