|Chapter Title||PIERRE LAMONT LIES AWAKE.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||The House of White Shadows|
TIIE IIOUSE OF WHITE SHADOWS.
CHAPTER XXV. riEn&E LA MONT LIES AWAKE.
lit B. L. FAEJEON, Author of "Blade-o'-Grua" "Joshua Marvel, " Bread and Cheese and KUsct," " Grlf," " London's Heart," 4 c.
Upon do person had the supposed appearance of a phantom in the grounds of the Houac of White Shadows produced bo profound an impression aa apon Arthur Balcombe. This was but natural Even aappeeing bim not to havo been a man of susceptibility, the young lady's terror as she gazed at the shadow which her imagination may have conjured up, could not have failed to make an impression upon him. This was the first night of his return, after on absence of many years, to the house in which he had been born ana had passed his unhappy childhood's life; and the orizin of the belief in these white shadows which were said to haunt his estate were so closely woven into mind to a rigid test of belief or disbelief w the signs; one of the principal aims of his life had been not only to avoid the villa, but to shut out all thought of the tragic events which hod led to the death of hia parents. He loved them both with an equal love. When he thought of hia mother tie saw a exquisitely sweet, whose every word audact towards her chila was fraught with .tenderness. When he thought of his father he saw a man high principled and iust, inflexible in matters of right ana conscience, patient also in a uttering, and bearing id silence, as his mother did, a grief which had poisoned his life and hers. Neither had B)>oken a word against the other. The nystery which kept thiB tender, loving woman, and this just, high-principled man apart, was never disclosed to their child. On this subject they entrenched themselves behind a barrier of Bilence, which the child's love and winning ways coold not penetrate. Only when his mother's eyes were closed and her lips sealed by death was he privileged to witness how deeply his father liad lovca her. Much of what nad been disclosed to the Advocate's wife by Mother Denise was absolutely unknown to him. Doubtless he could havo learned every particular of the circumetanccs whioh had led to the private divorce of his parents had hia wish lain in that direction, but a delicate instinct whispered to him not to lift the veil, and he would permit no person to approach the subject in his presence. The bright appearance of his sitting-room cheered and refreshed him when he entered it. after bidding the Advocate good night. Tne care that nod been taken to make it pleasant to him was evident, and he was instinctively grateful for it. Hut this Measurable sense was not unalloyed. Iieart and his conscience were disturbed, and His as he took up a handfull of roses which had been thrown loose into a bowl and inhaled their fragrance, a guilty thrill shot through his veins. With the roses in his haud he stood before the picture of Adelaide, which she had hung above his desk. How bright and beautiful was the face, how lovely the smile with which she greeted him ! It almost seemed as if she wcro speaking to him, tolling him that she loved bim, .and asking him to assure her onoe more that her love was returned. With what a tender pressure had she clasped his hand when she parted from bim, a few minutes since! In her eyes he read what she dared not say in the presence of others, "I am yours—only yours!" He tried to think out the consequences of this fatal in* fatuotion—how it commenced (though that it was not in his power to fix): it was a creation, not a growth, a star-dash which suddenly revealed to him that his heart, his «jul, were the slaves of her beauty—how it progressed, how he liad at lirst yielded to it m ecstasy, then fled from it in horror—and how it would end. The attempt was vain ; lie could not think; he coula not reason. The passion which burned in. his heart was a consuming fire, in the tierce light of which the power of reosonfnz was lost. For a moment the fancy came upon him that Adelaide and lie were like two stars, wandering through a dark and dangerous path, and that before them lay death, and worse tuan death —dishonour and irretrievable ruin, and that she, the brighter star, holding him tightly by ihe haud, was whispering, "I will guide you safely; only love mo, love mo, love mc!" Had lie gone too far to recede? Well, but he had striven to free himself, had wrestled with the fever without success, for all his cudeavours had ended in his finding himself occc more entangled in love's net. There was one means of escape—death. A covvii j's refuge, which might not evcu afl'ord him a release from uiahonour, for Adelaide in lior despair might let their secret escape her. Why, then, should ho torture himself unnecessarily? It was uot iu I lie power to avert the inevitable. He hail not deliberately chosen his course. F.ito hal driven him into it. Was it not best, aftjr all, to do as he liad said to the Advocate th.it night, to submit without a struggle? Men were not niastrrs, but ulavus. " Li I drift, I drift," he thoucht. "The path is Btrewn
with flowers. How many men would envy me, and sacrifice everything to stand in my place!" When the image of the Advocate, of his friend, presented itself to him, ho thrust it sadly from him. But it came agaiu uud apain. iil:e the ghost of Ban<|Uo; ouu of used to l>e whipped to sleep. Crumbling the roses in ma huud, ano strewing the floor with the leaves, he turned, ami saw. gazing wistfully at him, the eyes of his mother. The artist who liad ]>auited hor picture had not chosen to depict her in her most joyous mood. In nia heart, also, as she eat before him, love's fever was burning, and he knew, while his brush was tixing her beauty on tho canvas, that his love was returned. though treachery had parted them, lit haci striven, uot unsuccessfully, to portray in her features the expression of ono who loved, and to whom lovo was denied, The look in her eyes was wistful rather than hopeless, and conveyed, to those who knew her hiatory, the idea of one who hoped to find in another world the happiness she had lost in this. Sweet and tender reminiscences of the years he had lived with hie mother in these very rooms stole into Arthur Balcombc's mind, and for the first time in his life he allowed his thoughts to dwell upon the question, Why had she been unhappy. She was youoz, Jjteautiful, amiable, ricn ; her husband was a man houourod and esteemed, with ft oharactcr above rcproach. What sebret would be revealed if the heart of this mystery were laid bare to his sight? If it were in his i>ower to ascertain the truth, would the revelation cause him additional sorrow ? Better, then, to let the matter rest. What good ]iur)K>se could be served by raking up the ashes of a melancholy past. His parents were dead. Ajid here occurred a sudden pevulsiou. His mother was dead—and but a few short mlnutcB since her spirit was supposed to have appeared in ths grounds of the villa. Almost upou the thought, he hurriedly U'ft the room, and made his way iuto the gardens. 1 My neighbour, and master of this house." said Pierre Lamont, who was lying wide awake iu the adjoining room, does not s<vm incliucd to icst. Something disturbs Jiini." l'ierre Lamont was alone : Fritz the Fool bad left him for the night, and the old lawyer, himself in no mood for sleep, was reading and listening to the movements around him. There was little to hear, only an occasional inuiHcd sound, which the listener intei preted as best ho could ; but Arthur Ualcombs, when he left his room, had to pass Pierre Lamont's door in his passage to the grounds, and it was the clearer sounds of his footsteps which led Pierre Lamont to his correct conclusion. " He is going out of the house," continued Pierre Lamftut, "lor what? Tff ! ook for his mother's ghost, perhaps." The old lawyer associated this reflection with a smile of derision. " Ghosts \ and fools still live who believe in them 1 Well, well—but for the world's delusions there would be little wcrk for busy minds to accomplish. As a fantastic piece of imagery 1 might conjure up an army of men sweeping the world with brooms made of brains, of knavery, folly, trickery, and delusion. A comprehensive word this last, with a range to vast that a man might lose himself in the Ubryntba. What's that? A footstep! Human? No. Too light for any but the feet of a cat 1" But here Pierre Lamont was sadly at fault. It was Dionetta who passed his door iu the passage withrut, conveying to Arthur Bal combe's room the note written by the Advocrtc'a wife. Before the arrival of hei new mistress, Diooetta had always worn thick boots, and the sound of her footsteps was plain to hear; but Adelaide's nerves could not endure the creaking and clattering, and she had supplied her maid with shoes. Besides, Dionetta bad naturally alight step. Arthur Balcombe met with nothing in the grounds to disturb him. No airy shadow apl^ared to warn him of the danger which threatened him through his lovo for Adelaide. Wert it jiossible for tne spirits of the dead to make themselves seen and heard, assuredly the spirit of his mother would have a >peired and implored him to fly from the bouse without delay. Happy for him would it havo I >con were he one of the credulous fools Pieire Lament held in desiiisal-happy for him could he have formed, out of tho shadows which moved around him, a spirit in whioh he would ha' o l>elieve«l, and could ho have beird, in the sighing of the breeze, a voice
which would liave impressed bim with a trae sense of the peril in which he stood. But he heard »nd saw nothing for which he oould not naturally account, and within a few minutes of midnight he re-entered his room. " My neighbour has returned," said Pierre Lamont, "after his nocturnal ramble. Or was it an assignation ? He has been absent long enough for one. He has been living the gay life of cities, and has learnt muoh, no doubt. Hark ! That sound again ! as of some living thing stepping cautiously on the boards. If I were not a cripple I would satisfy myself whether this villa is tormented by restless cats as well as haunted by unholy spirits. When will science supply mankind with the means of seeing and hearing what is transpiring on the other aide of atone and wooden walls ? Ah, that door of bis is oreaking. It opens—shuts. I hear a murmur of voices, but cannot catch a word. Balcombe's voice, of course—and the Advocate's? Notice other voice and the soft footsteps are in partnership. Not the Advocate's, nor any man's. Men don't tread like cats. It was a woman who passed my door, and who has been admitted into that room. If a woman, what woman? Ah, if Fool Fritz were here, we would fcrrit it out between as before we were a quarter of an hoar older. Still talking —talking—like the soft murmur of peaceful waves. Ah ! a laugh I By all that's natural, a woman's laugh I It w a woman ! And I should know that silvery sound. There is a special music in a laugh which cannot be mistaken. It is distinctive—characteristic. Ah, my lady, my lady ! fair face, false heart —but woman, woman all over !" And Pierre lamont rubbed his hands, and also laughed; but his laugh was like his speech—silent, voiceless.