Author of John Dough and the Cherub, The Treasure of Karnak, and The Visitors from Oz. etc.
Originally published October 12, 1896. Newspaper of first publication unidentified.
The Inn at Loudre was very disagreeable. The odor of garlic and cabbage and the dampness and dirt were unsupportable, and so I decided to push on to Danvers. The only vehicle I could procure was a rattling two seated gig drawn by a bony white horse of doubtful ability, but as my destination was only three hours away and I was not liable to meet any one on the lonely road I started off cheerfully enough, resolved to enjoy my solitary drive to the utmost.
The moonlight as it glinted on the soft green of the hedges and streaked the gray of the dusty road was very beautiful, and before half a league had been passed over I heartily congratulated myself upon good fortune in escaping the horrible inn at Loudre.
After an hour's dreamy and delightful ride I came to a crossroads where with difficulty I deciphered the battered signpost and learned I must turn to the left to reach Danvers. So, clucking up my deliberate steed, who proceeded in a half dignified, half protesting fashion, I turned into a grassy lane between two tall hedges and drove through a lonely district until the dreamy influence of the night overcame me and I drifted into a somnolent state midway between sleep and waking.
I was aroused by the sudden halting of my horse, who gave a frightened snort and planted both feet firmly before him.
A subdued sobbing, as of a woman in distress, fell upon my ears, and leaning forward, I peered into the moonlight to discover whence it came.
A high brick wall ran close to the roadway, covered with ivy and lichens, and leaning against an angle of this, a few steps before me, was a slight, girlish form draped in a black mantle.
I sprang to the ground and softly approached her. Her face was buried in her hands, and she sobbed bitterly.
"Mademoiselle," I said, speaking in French, "You are in trouble. Can I assist you in any way?"
She lifted her head, and the moonlight fell upon the most beautiful face I had ever seen. Absolutely faultless in texture, it was surmounted by a crown of yellow hair that shone like gold in the glare of the moonbeams, while a pair of deep violet eyes that even tears could not dim looked earnestly into mine.
"Who are you?" I asked gently, "and why are you here?"
"I am Amelie de Boursons, monsieur, and I reside at the chateau just within these gates."
The soft, musical notes of her voice added to the powerful impression her exquisite beauty had already produced upon my heart.
"But it is late," I continued. "Surely some great misfortune must have befallen you to bring you here at this hour."
"It is true, monsieur," she replied, struggling with a new paroxysm of grief. "Tomorrow is my wedding day."
|Illustration originally published in the Stevens Point [Wisconsin] Journal, October 14, 1896.|
"But is that so terrible an event?" I asked.
"If you but knew, monsieur," she said, "how vile and brutal is the man they are forcing me to marry, you would willingly save me from my horrible fate."
She accompanied these words with an appealing look into my face, then she dropped her head and sobbed anew.
I did not stop to reason upon the strangeness of all this. I was a young, generous hearted man in those days and could not resist this appeal from beauty in distress.
"But tell me," I said, "how can I save you from this distasteful marriage? Do you wish to fly? I have a conveyance close by and will gladly escort you to a place of safety."
"To fly would avail me nothing," she answered, with a sweet sadness. "They would follow us and force me to return."
"But how else can I save you?" I asked helplessly.
"I do not know," she replied, with a sudden calmness that suggested despair, "but unless you can find some way to succor me I shall take my own life."
There was no doubt from the expression of her low, earnest voice that she meant this, and, filled with consternation at the thought, I racked my brains for some way to preserve both her life and happiness.
At last an idea came to me, but I trembled at my own presumption as I suggested it.
"Mademoiselle," I said haltingly, "I see but one alternative. You must marry me."
The violet eyes opened wide in surprise. "Marry you, monsieur?"
"Then pursuit would be useless. Being my wife, you would escape this villain who insists upon wedding you. I am free and able to give you all that would add to your happiness, and I shall learn to love you very dearly. It is true that I am a stranger to you, but I assure you that I am in all ways worthy to seek both your heart and your hand."
She gazed with earnest intentness into my face for a moment and then replied slowly:
"I think I shall trust you, monsieur. Indeed, I cannot help myself. I will be your wife."
There was no coyness in her answer; no blush tinted the pale, beautiful face, but she drew herself up, with an air of simple dignity that commanded my respect and admiration.
"Then come," I said eagerly. "We must lose no time. It will be midnight before we can hope to reach Danvers."
"Not Danvers," she replied, shrinking back as I sought to take her hand. "Let us go to Tregonne. There is a notary who will marry us, and we are far safer from pursuit."
"Very well," I answered. "Let us be off."
Refusing my proffered assistance, Mlle. de Boursons walked to the carriage and sprang lightly to the back seat. Rather awkwardly I took my place in front, gathered up the reins and drove off as swiftly as I could induce the ancient steed to move.
Mademoiselle drew her mantle closely over her head and shoulders, and only once during the long drive did she speak. Then it was to direct me to the Tregonne road.
With ample time for reflection my adventure now began to seem rather queer and uncanny, and by the time we discovered the lights of Tregonne twinkling before us I had come to doubt the perfect wisdom of my present course.
But it was too late to draw back now, and the girl was very beautiful.
"This is the notary's," said my companion in her low, sweet voice, indicating by a gesture a rambling structure from whose windows gleamed a single light.
I leaped out, found the door at the end of a long pathway and knocked upon it loudly.
A tall thin man beyond the middle age, holding a tallow candle high above his head, answered my call.
"You are the notary? " I asked briefly.
He nodded in assent.
"I wish to be married."
"Married!" he echoed in surprise. "But when, monsieur?"
"Now; at once."
"But the bride, monsieur?"
"I will fetch the bride. She is waiting without."
I thought he intended to protest, so I left him abruptly and returned for the lady. She was already coming toward the house, and as I met her she motioned me to go before, while she followed silently up the pathway.
The notary admitted us without ceremony, and we entered a small, dimly lighted room that appeared to be a study.
My companion at once seated herself in an armchair, but without removing the mufflings from her face.
The notary snuffed the candle, arranged his books and, turning to me with a penetrating look, said;
"I must know your name, monsieur."
"I am an American."
He wrote the answers in his book. Then, glancing toward the armchair, he continued:
"The lady's name?"
I waited for her to reply, but as she remained silent I answered:
"Amelie de Boursons."
"Who?" cried the notary in a loud voice, springing to his feet, while a look of fear and consternation spread over his wrinkled face.
"Amelie de Boursons," I repeated slowly, infected by the man's agitation in spite of myself.
The notary stared wildly at the muffled form of the lady. Then, he drew out is handkerchief and wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead.
"What does this mean, monsieur?" I demanded angrily.
The man heeded me not the slightest; but, clutching the edge of the table to steady himself and extending his long, bony finger toward the girl, he exclaimed:
"Are you Amelie de Boursons?"
Slowly, with admirable grace and dignity, the lady threw back her mantle, and her marvelous beauty was again revealed.
The notary with distended eyes fixed upon the visage sank back in his chair with a low moan.
"This must be explained, monsieur." I cried, striding up to his side and grasping his shoulder. "Is there any reason I should not marry Mlle. de Boursons?"
"Mlle. de Boursons," returned the notary, still regarding her with horror, "has been dead these forty years!"
"Dead!" I echoed, staring first at the notary and then at the girl, while a sense of bewilderment overcame me.
Mlle. de Boursons arose with a gleaming smile and came to my side.
"See, monsieur," she exclaimed mockingly and giving me her hand. "Do you also think me dead?"
The hand was as cold as ice, but its touch sent a strange thrill through my body.
"Come, monsieur," I said to the notary, who watched the scene in amazement. "Read the ceremony at once. We are in haste."
Slowly and with trembling voice the notary obeyed, the girl at my side returning the answers in a sweet, collected voice that disarmed my fears and calmed to some extent the notary himself.
I drew a seal ring from my finger and placed it upon her icy hand, and in its place she slipped a large ruby from her own hand upon mine.
The ceremony concluded, I paid the notary, thanking him briefly for his services, and, followed by my bride, walked down the path to my carriage. The notary stood in the doorway lighting us with the candle.
At the carriage I turned to hand my wife to her seat, but she had disappeared. I ran back to the doorway.
"Where is my wife?" I asked.
"She followed you down the path," said the man.
"But she is not there."
Without a word the notary accompanied me back to the carriage. No trace of the girl was to be seen.
Right and left among the shrubbery I searched. I called aloud her name, entreating her to come to me, but no sight of the beautiful face rewarded my efforts.
I returned to the notary's study filled with grave misgivings.
"Where can she be?" I asked dismally.
"In her grave," was the hoarse answer.
"I told you before that she was dead. It is true. You have wedded a ghost."
The next morning, in company with the notary, I drove down the road 'til we came to the brick wall where I had first seen Amelie de Boursons.
We entered the gates and walked to the chateau that stood in the neglected grounds. An old woman admitted us, the caretaker, and at the notary's request allowed us to visit the gallery.
The notary threw back the shutters, and the sun came in and flooded the portrait of a beautiful girl whose violet eyes regarded me with the same sweet expression I had noted of my bride on the previous evening.
"It is Amelie de Boursons," said the notary in a gentle voice. "I have seen this picture often and heard the girl's pitiful story, and that is why I knew her last night to be a mere phantom. Her father was a stern, hard man, who insisted upon her marrying a person utterly distasteful to the young girl. She tried to escape, but was captured and brought home to confront her fate. On the wedding morning they found her dead in her bed. She had taken her own life. That was forty years ago, monsieur."
As we left the room I glanced curiously at the ruby that sparkled on my finger.
I wear it to this day.
It is the only evidence I have ever possessed of my phantom bride.
THE FORGETFUL POET
A Puzzling Bouquet
Before he tenders you his spring riddle bouquet, the Forgetful Poet wishes to say that the words left out of the verses last week were: 1 - Daisy, rose, violet. 2 - Tigerlily. 3 - Snowdrop. 4 - Sweet pea. 5 - Bowwow. 6 - Feather. 7 - pain.
Everybody is thinking of flowers and gardens, he says. So let's see how much you really know about them.
What two letters of the alphabet will give a well-known vine?
A nickname for father will give a lovely flower?
A figure and a feature will give another?
A cooking vessel and a letter will give another?
A bird and something one uses when riding horseback will give a flower.
King Midas's daughter is a well-known flower.
An animal and something to wear will give another.
A word used in designating a lot of sheep is a flower.
One-seventh of a week and a letter will give still another.
Something used by boatmen and a nickname for children will give a very rare flower - and I think that is enough of a bouquet, do not you? It would not seem quite cozy unless the dear fellow ended with a verse, and here it is, as foolish as ever:
You're as welcome as the dinner bell
Or shelter when it showers!
Why can't folks say this instead
Of "welcome as the flowers."
To a man of sense these are more welcome
Than a bunch of flowers -
It's time to add some truth to these
Comparisons of ours.
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2010 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.