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       The Forsaken Inn: A Novel, p.1

The Forsaken Inn: A Novel

  Produced by Suzanne Shell, Emmy and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at





  Author of

  "The Leavenworth Case," "A Matter of Millions," "Behind Closed Doors,"etc.

  GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers New York














  IX. MARAH 116


  XI. HONORA 136





















  I was riding between Albany and Poughkeepsie. It was raining furiously,and my horse, already weary with long travel, gave unmistakable signs ofdiscouragement. I was, therefore, greatly relieved when, in the mostdesolate part of the road, I espied rising before me the dim outlines ofa house, and was correspondingly disappointed when, upon riding forward,I perceived that it was but a deserted ruin I was approaching, whosefallen chimneys and broken windows betrayed a dilapidation so greatthat I could scarcely hope to find so much as a temporary sheltertherein.

  Nevertheless, I was so tired of the biting storm that I involuntarilystopped before the decayed and forbidding structure, and was, in truth,withdrawing my foot from the stirrup, when I heard an unexpectedexclamation behind me, and turning, saw a chaise, from the open front ofwhich leaned a gentleman of most attractive appearance.

  "What are you going to do?" he asked.

  "Hide my head from the storm," was my hurried rejoinder. "I am tired,and so is my horse, and the town, according to all appearances, must beat least two miles distant."

  "No matter if it is three miles! You must not take shelter in thatcharnel-house," he muttered; and moved along in his seat as if to showme there was room beside him.

  "Why," I exclaimed, struck with sudden curiosity, "is this one of thehaunted houses we hear of? If so, I shall certainly enter, and be muchobliged to the storm for driving me into so interesting a spot." Ithought he looked embarrassed. At all events, I am sure he hesitated fora moment whether or not to ride on and leave me to my fate. But hisbetter impulses seemed to prevail, for he suddenly cried: "Get in withme, and leave mysteries alone. If you want to come back here after youhave learned the history of that house, you can do so; but first ride onto town and have a good meal. Your horse will follow easily enough afterhe is rid of your weight."

  It was too tempting an offer to be refused; so thankfully accepting hiskindness, I alighted from my horse, and after tying him to the back ofthe chaise, got in with this genial stranger. As I did so I caughtanother view of the ruin I had been so near entering.

  "Good gracious!" I exclaimed, pointing to the structure that, with itsprojecting upper story and ghastly apertures, presented a mostsuggestive appearance, "if it does not look like a skull!"

  My companion shrugged his shoulders, but did not reply. The comparisonwas evidently not a new one to him.

  That evening, in a comfortable inn parlor, I read the followingmanuscript. It was placed in my hands by this kindly stranger, who in sodoing explained that it had been written by the last occupant of theold inn I was so nearly on the point of investigating. She had been itsformer landlady, and had clung to the ancient house long after decay hadsettled upon its doorstep and desolation breathed from its gapingwindows. She died in its north room, and from under her pillow thediscolored leaves were taken, the words of which I now place before you.

  JANUARY 28, 1775.

  I do not understand myself. I do not understand my doubts nor can Ianalyze my fears. When I saw the carriage drive off, followed by thewagon with its inexplicable big box, I thought I should certainly regainmy former serenity. But I am more uneasy than ever. I cannot rest, andkeep going over and over in my mind the few words that passed between usin their short stay under my roof. It is her face that haunts me. Itmust be that, for it had a strange look of trouble in it as well assickness; but neither can I forget his, so fair, so merry, and yet sounpleasant, especially when he glanced at her and--as I could not helpbut think before they went away--when he glanced at me. I do not likehim, and the chills creep over me whenever I remember his laugh, whichwas much too frequent to be decent, considering how poorly his youngwife looked.

  They are gone, and their belongings with them; but I am as much afraidas if they were still here. Why? That is what I cannot tell. I sit inthe room where they slept, and feel as strange and terrified as if I hadencountered a ghost there. I dread to stay and dread to move and write,because I must relieve myself in some way--that is, if I am to have anysleep to-night. Am I ill, or was there something unexplained andmysterious in their actions? Let me go over the past and see.

  They came last evening about twilight. I was in the front of the house,and seeing such a good-looking couple in the carriage, and such a pileof baggage with them that they had to have an extra wagon to carry it, Iran out in all haste to welcome them. She had a veil drawn over herface, and it was so thick that I could not see her features, but herfigure was slight and graceful, and I took a fancy to her at once,perhaps because she held her arms out when she saw me, as if she thoughtshe beheld in me a friend. He did not please me so well, though thereis no gainsaying that he is handsome enough, and speaks, when he wishesto, with a great deal of courtesy. But I thought he ought to give hisattention to his young and ailing wife, instead of being so concernedabout his baggage. Had that big box of his contained gold, he could nothave looked at it more lovingly or been more anxious about its handling.He said it held books; but, pshaw! what is there in books, that a manshould love them better than his wife, and watch over their welfare withthe utmost concern, while allowing a stranger to help her out of thecarriage and up the inn steps?

  But I will not dwell any longer upon this. Men are strange beings, andmust not be judged by rules that apply to women. Let me see if I canremember when it was that I first saw her face. Ah, yes; it was in theparlor. She had taken a seat there while her husband looked through thehouse and decided which room to take. There were four empty, and two ofthem were the choicest and airiest in the inn, but he passed by theseand insisted upon taking one that was stuffy with disuse, because it wason the ground floor, and so convenient for us to bring his great boxinto.

  His great box! I was so provoked at this everlasting concern about hisgreat box, that I ran to the parlor, intending to ask the lady herselfto interfere. But when I got to the threshold I paused, and did notspeak, for the lady--or Mrs. Urquhart, as I presently found she calledherself--had risen from her seat and was looking in the glass with anexpression so sad and searching that I forgot my errand and only thoughtof comforting her. But the moment she heard my step she drew down theveil which she had tossed back, and coming quickly toward me, asked ifher husband had chosen a room.

  I answered in the affirmative, and began to complain that it was not avery cheerful one. But she paid small attention to my words, andpresently I found myself following her to the apartment designated. Sheentered, making a picture, as she crossed the threshold, which I shallnot readily forget. For in her short, quick walk down the hall she hadtorn the bonnet from her head, and though she was not a strictlybeautiful woman, she was sufficiently interesting to make her everymovement attractive. But that is not all. For some reason the momentpossessed an importance for her which I could not measure. I saw it inher posture, in the pallor of her cheeks and the uprightness of hercarriage. The sudden halt she made at the threshold, the half-startledexclamation she gave as her eyes fell on the interior, all showed thatshe was laboring under some secret agitation. But what was the cause ofthat agitation I have not been able to determine. She went in, but asshe did so, I heard her murmur:

  "Oak walls! Ah, my soul! it has come soon!"

  Not a very intelligible exclamation, you will allow, but as intelligibleas her whole conduct. For in another moment every sign of emotion hadleft her, and she stood quite calm and cold in the center of the room.But her pallor remained, and I cannot make sure now whether thisbetokened weary resignation or some secret and but half recognized fear.

  Had I looked at him instead of at her, I might have understood thesituation better. But, though I dimly perceived his form drawn up in theempty space at the left of the door, it was not until she had passed himand flung herself into a chair, that I thought to look in his direction.Then it was too late, for he had turned his face aside and was gazingwith rather an obtrusive curiosity at the old-fashioned room, murmuring,as he did so, some such commonplaces to his wife as:

  "I hope you are not fatigued, my dear. Fine old house, this. QuiteEnglish in style, eh?"

  To all of which she answered with
a nod or word, till suddenly, withoutlook or warning, she slipped from her chair and lay perfectly insensibleupon the dark boards of the worm-eaten floor.

  I uttered an exclamation, and so did he; but it was my arms that liftedher and laid her on the bed. He stood as if frozen to his place for amoment, then he mechanically lifted his foot and set it with an air ofproprietorship on the box before which he had been standing.

  "Strange and inexplicable conduct," thought I, and looked theindignation I could not but feel. Instantly he left his position andhastened to my side, offering his assistance and advice with thatheartless officiousness which is so unbearable when life and death areat stake.

  I accepted as little of his help as was possible, and when, afterpersistent effort on my part, I saw her lids fluttering and her breastheaving, I turned to him with as inoffensive an air as my mingleddislike and distrust would admit, and asked how long they had beenmarried. He flushed violently, and with a sudden rage that at oncerobbed him of that gentlemanly appearance which, in him, was but theveneer to a coarse and brutal nature, he exclaimed:

  "---- you! and by what right do you ask that?"

  But before I could reply he recovered himself and was all false polishagain, bowing with exaggerated politeness, as he exclaimed:

  "Excuse me; I have had much to disturb me lately. My wife's health hasbeen very feeble for months, and I am worn out with anxiety andwatching. We are now on our way to a warmer climate, where I hope shewill be quite restored."

  And he smiled a very strange and peculiar smile, that went out like asuddenly extinguished candle, as he perceived her eyes suddenly open,and her gaze pass reluctantly around the room, as if forced to acuriosity against which she secretly rebelled.

  "I think Mrs. Urquhart will do very well now," was his hurried remark atthis sight. He evidently wished to be rid of me, and though I hatedto leave her, I really found nothing to say in contradiction to hisstatement, for she certainly looked completely restored. I thereforeturned away with a heavy heart toward the door, when the young wife,suddenly throwing out her arms, exclaimed:

  "Do not leave me in this horrible room alone! I am afraid ofit--actually afraid! Couldn't you have found some spot in the house lessgloomy, Edwin?"

  I came back.

  "There are plenty of rooms--" I began.

  But he interrupted me without any ceremony.

  "I chose this room, Honora, for its convenience. There is nothinghorrible about it, and when the lamps are lit you will find it quitepleasant. Do not be foolish. We sleep here or nowhere, for I cannotconsent to go upstairs."

  She answered nothing, but I saw her eyes go traveling once again aroundthe walls, followed in a furtive way by his. Whereupon I looked aboutme, too, and tried to get a stranger's impression of the place. I wasastonished at its effect upon my imagination. Though I had been in andout of the room fifty times before I had never noticed till now theextreme dismalness and desolation of its appearance.

  Once used as an auxiliary parlor, it had that air of uninhabitablenesswhich clings to such rooms, together with a certain something else,equally unpleasant, to which at that moment I could give no name, andfor which I could neither find then nor now any sufficient reason. Itwas paneled with oak far above our heads, and as the walls above hadbecome gray with smoke, there was absolutely no color in the room, noteven in the hangings of the gaunt four-poster that loomed dreary andrepelling from one end of the room. For here, as elsewhere, time hadbeen at work, and tints that were once bright enough had gradually beensubdued by dust and smoke into one uniform dimness. The floor was black,the fireplace empty, the walls without a picture, and yet it was neitherfrom this grayness nor from this barrenness that one recoiled. It wasfrom something else--something that went deeper than the lack of charmor color--something that clung to the walls like a contagion and caughtat the heart-strings where they are weakest, smothering hope andawakening horror, till in each faded chair a ghost seemed sitting,gazing at you with immovable eyes that could tell tales, but would not.

  There was but one window in the room, and that looked toward the west.But the light that should have entered there was frightened, also, andhalted on the ledge without, balked by the thick curtains that heavilyenshrouded it. A haunted chamber! or so it appeared at that moment to mysomewhat excited fancy, and for the first time in my life, here, I felta dread of my own house, and experienced the uncanny sensation of someone walking over my grave.

  But I soon recovered myself. Nothing of a disagreeable nature had everhappened in this room, nor had we had any special reason for shutting itup, except that it was in an out-of-the-way place, and not usuallyconsidered convenient, notwithstanding Mr. Urquhart's opinion to thecontrary.

  "Never mind," said I, with a last effort to soothe the agitated woman."We will let in a little light, and dissipate some of these shadows."And I attempted to throw back the curtains of the window, but they fellagain immediately and I experienced a sensation as of something ghostlypassing between us and the light.

  Provoked at my own weakness, I tore the curtains down and flung theminto a corner. A straggling beam of sunset color came in, but it lookedout of place and forlorn upon that black floor, like a stranger whomeets with no welcome. The poor young wife seemed to hail it, however,for she moved instantly to where it lay and stood as if she longed forits warmth and comfort. I immediately glanced at the fireplace.

  "I will soon have a rousing fire for you," I declared. "These oldfireplaces hold a large pile of wood."

  I thought, but I must be mistaken, that he made a gesture as if about toprotest, but, if so, reason must have soon come to his aid, for he saidnothing, though he looked uneasy, as I moved the andirons forward andmade some other trivial arrangements for the fire which I had promisedthem.

  "He thinks I am never going," I muttered to myself, and took pleasure inlingering; for, anxious as I was to have the room heated up for hercomfort, I knew that every moment I stayed there would be one less forher to spend with her surly husband alone.

  At last I had no further excuse for remaining, and so with the finalremark that if the fire failed to give them cheer we had a sitting roominto which they could come, I went out. But I knew, even while sayingit, that he would not grant her the opportunity of enjoying the sittingroom's coziness; that he would not let her out of his sight, if he didout of the room, and that for her to remain in his presence was to be indarkness, solitude and gloom, no matter what walls surrounded her or inwhat light she stood.

  My impressions were not far wrong. Mr. and Mrs. Urquhart came to supper,but that was all. Before the others had finished their roast they hadeaten their pudding and gone; and though he had talked, and laughed, andshown his white teeth, the impression left behind them was a depressingone which even Hetty felt, and she has anything but a sensitive nature.

  I went to the room once again in the evening. I found them both seated,but in opposite parts of the room; he by his great box, and she in aneasy chair which I had caused to be brought down from my own room forher especial use. I did not look at him, but I did at her, and wasastonished to see, first, how dignified she was; and next how pretty.Had she been happy and at her ease, I should probably have been afraidof her, for the firelight, which now shone on her wan young cheek,brought out evidences of character and culture in her expression whichproved her to be, by birth and training, of a position superior to whatone would be led to expect from her husband's aspect and manner. But shewas not happy nor at her ease, and wore, instead of the quiet andcommanding look of the great lady, such an expression of secret dreadthat I almost forgot my position of landlady, and should certainly, ifhe had not been there, fallen at her side and taken her poor, forsakenhead upon my breast. But that silent, immovable form, sittingstatue-like beside his big box, smiling, for aught I knew, but if so,breathing out a chill that forbade all exhibition of natural feeling,held me in check, as it held her, so that I merely inquired whetherthere was anything I could do for her; and when she shook her head,starting a tear down her cheek as she did so, I dared do nothing morethan give her one look of sympathetic understanding, and start for thedoor.

  A command from him stopped me.

  "My wife will need a slight supper before she goes to bed," said he."Will you be good enough to see that one is brought?"

  She roused herself up with quite a startled look of wonder.

  "Why, Edwin," she began, "I never have been in the habit--"

  But he hushed her at once.

  "I know what is best for you," said he. "A small plate of luncheon, Mrs.Truax; and let it be nice and inviting."

  I courtesied, gave her another glance, and went out. Her countenance hadnot lost its look of wonder. Was he going to be considerate, after all?

  The lunch was prepared and taken to her.

  Not long after this the inn quieted down, and such guests as were in thehouse prepared for rest. Midnight came; all was dark in room and hall. Iwas sure of this, for I went through the whole building myself, contraryto my usual habit, which was to leave this task to my man-of-all-work,Burritt. All was dark, all was quiet, and I was just dropping off tosleep, when there shot up suddenly from below a shriek, which wasquickly smothered, but not so quickly that I did not recognize in itthat tone which is only given by hideous distress or mortal fear.

  "It is Mrs. Urquhart!" I cried in terror, to myself; and plunging intomy clothes, I hurried down stairs.

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