Enigmas (1876)

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Enigmas  (1876) 
by Louisa May Alcott

Originally published in two parts in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1864; republished in 1876 in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly.

ENIGMAS.

By Miss L. M. Alcott, Author of "Little Women," "The Eight Cousins," Etc, Etc.

I bought my roll that day of the quiet woman who kept the bake-shop near my poor lodging. I liked her ways; she always folded my purchase in a tidy paper, received my three cents with a little bow and a softly spoken "Thank you," which dignified the paltry transaction and cost my pride no pang. At the corner I paused to decide where I should dine. A simple process, one would fancy, for the bread composed my meal. But, not being a Franklin, I objected to consuming the roll in public, and had two free dining-rooms to choose from—the Park in fine weather, a certain reading-room in stormy. A drop of rain decided me, and I strolled leisurely away to the latter refuge, for hunger had not yet reached its unendurable stage.

The room was deserted by all occupants but the librarian and one old gentleman, consulting a file of foreign newspapers. I slipped into an alcove. devoured my dinner behind a book, and then fell to brooding moodily over the desperate state of my finances and prospects: the first consisting of a single dollar, the last a slow starvation or manual labor, if I could bring myself to it. An abrupt exclamation from the old gentleman roused me, for it had a hopeful sound.

"Page, who copied this? I’d like to secure such a penman."

"Don’t know, I'm sure, sir," responded Page. "Among so many clerks it's impossible to tell. I'll inquire if you like."

"No; couldn’t have him, if you did. But if you happen to hear of any good copyist who, for a moderate sum, would do a job for me, let me know, Page."

"I will, sir."

The old gentleman put down the list of newly-arrived books which he had been examining, and drew on his gloves. As he approached my alcove a sudden impulse prompted me to step out and address him.

"Pardon me, sir, but necessarily overbearing your request, I venture to offer myself for trial."

"Have you any references or recommendations to offer, eh?" asked the old gentleman, pausing.

I had an excellent one which I had vainly offered to many persons for the last month. He read the very flattering letter from a well-known scholar whom I had served as secretary for a year, and seemed inclined to try me."

"Hum—quite correct—very satisfactory. Give me a sample of you writing; here's pen and paper."

I obeyed, and laying a sheet of paper upon the open book I had been reading, dashed off my signature in several different styles.

"Very good; the plainest suits me best. What's this? So you understand Italian, do you?"

"Yes, sir; perfectly, I believe."

The old gentleman meditated, and while doing so scanned my face with a pair of keen eyes, in which I could discover nothing but curiosity. I gratified it by saying, briefly:

"Mine is the old story, sir. I am a gentleman's son, poor, proud and friendless now, in want of employment, and ready to do anything for my daily bread."

"Anything, young man?" asked the old gentleman, almost startling me with the energy of his emphasis on his first word.

"Anything but crime, sir. I am in a strait where one does not hesitate long between almost any humiliation and absolute want."

I spoke as forcibly as he had done; it seemed to please him, for the stony immobility of his face relaxed, and a curious expression of satisfaction crept over it.

"Come to me to-morrow at ten. There is my address."

And, thrusting a card into my hand, the old gentleman walked away.

Precisely at ten o’clock on the morrow I presented myself at Mr. North's door, and was speedily set at work in his very comfortable office. The whole affair was rather peculiar, but I liked it the better for that, and the more eccentric the old lawyer appeared, the more I desired to remain with him, though copying deeds was not exciting. He seemed to take a fancy to me, engaged me for a week, kept me busy till Saturday evening, and then astonished me by informing me for what secret service I was next intended.

As the clock struck five, Mr. North wiped his pen, wheeled about in his chair, and sat waiting till I finished my last page.

"Mr. Clyde, I have a proposition to make," he began, as I looked up. "It will surprise you, but I have no explanation to give, and you can easily refuse. I have not intended keeping you from the first, but desired to test your capabilities before offering you a better situation. A certain person wishes an amanuensis; I think you eminently fitted for the post. You wish independence, agreeable duties, and the surroundings of a gentleman. This place will give you all of these, for the salary is liberal, the labor light, the society excellent. One condition, however, is annexed to your acceptance. If you will pledge me your word to keep that condition a secret, whether you accept it or not, I will mention it."

"I do, sir"

"For reasons, the justice and importance of which you would acknowledge if I were at liberty to divulge them, I desire a reliable report of what passes in this person's house. I think you are fitted for that post also. A week ago you told me you were ready to do anything for your bread which was not a crime; this is none. Do you accept the place and the condition?"

"I am to play the spy, am I, sir?"

"Exactly, to any extent that your interest, ingenuity, and courage prompt you, It is necessary that I should have a daily witness of the events that occur in that family for the next month at least, perhaps longer. I know the task I offer you is both a mysterious and somewhat difficult one, but if you will rely upon the word of an old man who has little more to expect of life, I assure you that no wrong is meditated, and that you will never have cause to regret your compliance. Let me add that at the end of your service, be it short or long, you will receive five hundred dollars, and be subjected to no questions, no detention, no danger or suspicion of any kind."

"But, sir, am I to work utterly in the dark?"

"Utterly."

"Am I never to know what mysterious purpose I am forwarding?"

"Never."

"Can I, ought I to pledge myself to such blind obedience?"

"I believe yon can and ought; it is for you to decide whether you will."

Not a feature of the old man's face had varied from its usual colorless immobility; his keen eye searched me while he spoke, and when he paused he sat motionless, with no sign of impatience, as I rapidly considered the strange compact offered me. I rebelled a little at the dishonorable part of it, yet I was conscious of a secret interest and delight in the mysterious mission. The place seemed a tempting one, the bribe a fortune, the security reliable, for Mr. North was as much in my power as I in his. As if cognizant of the doubt and desire between which I was wavering, he said, abruptly:

"You are well-born, well-bred, comely, discreet, and acute. Too proud to bear poverty, too poor to be over nice. A man exactly fitted to the place, though others may be found as competent, less scrupulous, and more eager for both the enterprise and the reward."

"Hardly, sir. I accept."

The only sign of satisfaction which he gave was a closer pressure of the long thin hands loosely folded on his knees.

"Good! now listen, and bear these instructions carefully in mind. This place is ten miles out of the city; here is the address. On Monday evening go there, ask for Mr. Bernard Noel, and present your letter of recommendation. On no account mention my name or ever betray that you have any knowledge of me. Another thing remember: use your Italian as far as the comprehending of it when spoken by others, but deny that you possess that accomplishment if asked."

"Am I sure of being accepted, sir?"

"Yes, I think so. You have only to say that you saw and and have answered an advertisement in last week's Times. Such a one appeared—stay, put it in your letter. Now look at this and give me your attention."

He turned to his table, produced a small locked portfolio, and explained its purpose as I stood beside him. Several quires of peculiarly thin smooth paper lay within, a package of envelopes directed in a strange hand to A. Z. Clyde, a seal with a skull for its device, and a stick of iron-gray sealing-wax completed the contents of the portfolio.

"You will record upon this paper the principal events, impressions or discoveries of each day, beginning with your first interview on Monday. Every Saturday you will send me your weekly report in one of the envelopes directed to an imaginary relative of your own. Secure each carefully with this wax and seal, and post them as privately as possible, without attracting attention by too much precaution."

"I shall remember, sir."

"You are to ask no questions, show no especial interest in what passes about you, and on no account betray that you keep this private record. You have wit, courage, great command of countenance, and will soon discover how to use these helps. Let nothing surprise, alarm, or baffle you, and keep faith with me unless you desire ruin instead of reward. Now go, and let me hear from you on Saturday."

He rose, offered me a check, the portfolio, and his hand. I accepted all three, and with our usual brief but courteous adieux we parted: the old man to brood doubtless over his strange secret, the young one to hope that in the unknown family he should find some solution of this first enigma.

*******

June 1st.—Having received no directions as to the form into which I am to put my record, I choose the simple one of the diary as the easiest to myself, perhaps the most interesting to the eyes for which these pages are written.

According to agreement I came hither to-night at nine o'clock, being delayed by an accident on the way. A grave, soldierly servant ushered me into a charming room, airy, softly lighted, and exquisitely furnished, yet somewhat foreign in its elegant simplicity, It was empty, and wandering about it while waiting, I discovered a lady in an adjoining mom. As she seemed unconscious of my presence I began my surveillance by taking a careful survey. Leaning in a deep chair, I only caught the outline of her figure for over her silvery gray dress she wore a large white cashmere, as if an invalid, and forced to guard herself even from the mild night air. Gray hair waved away on either side her pale cheeks, under a delicate lace cap, which fell in a point upon her forehead. A deep green shade concealed her eyes, leaving visible only the contour of a rounded chin and feminine mouth. She was knitting, and I observed that her little hands were covered nearly to the finger-tips with quaint black silk mits, such as ancient ladies wore. There was something melancholy yet attractive about this figure, so delicate, so womanly, so sadly afflicted, for I felt that she was blind.

Absorbed in watching her, I was rather startled by a rustling among the shrubs that grew about the open French window behind me, and turned to see a young man entering from the garden. Somewhat embarrassed at being discovered peeping, I hastily inferred that the new-comer was a son of Mr. Bernard Noel, and introduced myself rather awkwardly.

"I came in answer to an advertisement in the Times, sir. I sent my name to Mr. Noel; but it is late—your father, perhaps, is not disengaged?"

What a singular look flashed upon me out of the dark eyes that were scrutinizing my face, and what a singular smile accompanied the words:

"I am Bernard Noel."

I murmured an apology, presented my letter, and while he read it sat examining my future patron, wondering the while that such a lad should need an amanuensis. I say lad, for at the first glance he looked eighteen; a second caused me to suspect that he was some years older. Every inch a gentleman, for high-breeding makes itself manifest at a glance. Of middle height, slender and boyish in figure, yet with no boyish awkwardness to mar the easy grace of his address or attitude. The light shone full upon his face, and in that momentary pause I studied it. Dark curling hair framed a broad, harmoniously rounded forehead; black brows lay straight above those Southern eyes of his, now vailed by sweeping lashes; the nose was spirited and haughty; the mouth grave and strong, perhaps rendered more so by a slight moustache that shaded it. Even his dress interested me, as if I were a woman, though nothing could have been simpler or more becoming. A black velvet paletôt, dark trousers, collar turned over a ribbon; an aristocratically small foot, perfectly shod, and a single ring on a handsome hand that held the letter. An almost instantaneous impression took possession of me that this youth was both older than he looked and wiser than his years. Whether some deep experience had matured him, or the presence of genius thus manifested itself, I could not so soon decide, but felt instinctively attracted and interested in the unconscious person whom I had been set to watch.

see caption
THE AUTHOR AND HIS AMANUENSIS.

Presently he looked up, saying in a peculiarly clear and penetrating voice:

"This is entirely satisfactory, Mr. Clyde; let me hope that the situation may prove so to yourself, for Mr. Lord has conferred honor in allowing me to secure the services of a 'fine scholar and an accomplished gentleman.'"

He bowed with a glance that turned the quotation to a compliment, then continued with a gracious gravity that was very charming, from the contrast of youth with the native dignity which sat so gracefully upon this boyish master of a household:

"It is too late for the return train; you will remain tonight, and perhaps send for your luggage to-morrow. I am impatient to see my work begun, for time presses."

"I am entirely at your service, Mr. Noel."

"Thanks. You will find us a quiet family; We see no society just now, for my cousin is an invalid, and my present pursuits require solitude. I hoped to have finished my task myself, but my health will not permit of such close confinement, therefore I shall leave the pen to you, and take a holiday."

Anxious to discover what my duties were to be, I put the question in the form of a surmise.

"I shall be doubly glad to take it up if, as I infer, it is to be used for the transcribing of some maiden work, perhaps."

A slight flush rose to the young man's cheek, colorless before; his eyes fell like a shy girl's, and his lips broke into a sudden smile, seemingly against his will, for he checked it with a frown, and answered, with a curious blending of pleasure, pride, and reserve:

"Yes, it is my maiden work, but, as we shall both be heartily tired of the thing before we are done with it, let us drop that subject for the present, if you please."

"Sensitive and shy, like most young authors," thought I, apologizing, with an air of contrition. Setting the topic aside with a little wave of the hand, Mr. Noel said, more cordially:

"Your rooms are in the east wing, and I hope will be agreeable to you. Madame Estavan's health and my own wayward habits prevent much regularity in our daily life, but this need not disturb you. We breakfast in our own rooms, lunch when we please, and dine at five. You will oblige me by ordering the two first meals at whatever hours suits your appetite and convenience, and by joining us at dinner; for in so small a family ceremony is unnecessary, and social intercourse better for us all."

"What hours do you prefer to have devoted to my duties, sir?" I asked, finding no difficulty in uttering the respectful monosyllable, for my six-and-twenty years seemed to give me no superiority over this stripling, not yet out of his teens, perhaps.

"I am in my study early these Summer mornings, finding an hour or two then more profitable than later in the day. Let us say from eight to four, or half after, with a recess at noon for rest and refreshment. The garden and west wing are sacred to madame, but the rest of the house and grounds are open to you, and the evenings at your disposal, unless you prefer to write. When not otherwise engaged, we are usually in the drawing-room after dinner, if you care to join us."

Another singular expression passed over his face just then, reluctance and regret, audacity and pain, all seemed to meet and mingle in it, but it was gone before I could define the predominant emotion, and his countenance was like a cold, pale mask again.

I expressed my satisfaction at these arrangements, and while I spoke he watched me intently, so intently that I felt my color rising—a most unwonted manifestation, and doubly annoying just then; for, conscious of my secret mission, a sense of guilt haunted me which was anything but tranquilizing, with those searching eyes full upon me. I think the blush did me good service, however, for, as if some doubt had disturbed his mind, my apparent bashfulness seemed to reassure him. He said nothing, but a slight fold in his forehead smoothed itself away, and an aspect of relief overspread his features so visibly that I made a mental note of the fact, and resolved to support the character of a simple-minded, diffident scholar, rather than a man of the world, as by so doing I should doubtless secure many opportunities which might otherwise be denied me.

Here madame called "Bernard!" and he went in to her. Without leaving my seat I saw him bend over her more like a son than a cousin, heard her ask several questions in a lowered voice, the answers to which she received with a silvery little laugh as blithe as any girl's. Then she rose, saying aloud in a slow, mild voice, with a pleasant accent in it:

"Take me in, cherie, and present monsieur, then ring for Pierre, that we have coffee."

Drawing her arm through hers, Mr. Noel led her to the larger room, established her in an armchair, and presented me, with the anxious look again apparent. Madame was very French, pensively courteous, and so gracefully helpless that I soon found myself waiting upon her almost as zealously as her cousin, who watched my compassionate attentions with that inscrutable smile of his. The soldierly servant handed coffee, and the slight constraint which unavoidably exists at the beginning of an acquaintance was fast wearing off when an incident occurred which effectually broke up our interview.

I was approaching madame with her ball, which had rolled from her lap, when Mr. Noel, who stood beside her, suddenly bent forward, as if attracted by something that alarmed him; for, dropping his cup, he whispered a single word and threw her shawl across her face. It sounded like "paint" or "faint," was probably the latter, for with a slight cry, more expressive of alarm than pain, madame fell into his arms, and without a word he carried her away, leaving me transfixed with astonishment.

He was back again directly, looking quite composed, and with the brief explanation that madame was accustomed to such turns, he presently asked if I would like to write the order for my luggage, that it might be dispatched early in the morning. Accepting the hint, I bade him good-night, and was soon installed by the old servant in two charming rooms on the ground floor of the west wing, where I now sit, concluding first report.

June 2d.—Breakfasted in my room, and punctually at eight o'clock tapped at the door which Pierre had pointed out the night before as belonging to "master's study." Mr. Noel bade me enter, and obeying, found him busied in a deep recess, divided from the room by damask curtains. These being partially undrawn, discovered a wide window, looking on the garden, a writing-chair and table, a tall cabinet and couch, and a literary strew of books, MSS., ponderous dictionaries, and portfolios. The room itself was plainly furnished, quiet, cool and shady, while the same atmosphere of refinement and repose pervaded it that had impressed me elsewhere, and which seemed rather some peculiar charm of its possessor than the result of taste or time. Mr. Noel bade me good-morning with a chilling courtesy, which would have instantly recalled the relations between us had I been inclined to forget them. Pointing to a second writing-table, whereon all necessary appliances were laid ready, he handed me a pile of MS., saying, as he half-reluctantly loosed his hold upon it:

"Many freaks and whims are permitted to young authors, you know, Mr. Clyde. One of mine is to leave my book unchristened till it is ready to be dressed in type. I will not impose the first chapters upon you, but you may begin where my patience gave out. Copy a few pages as a sample. I will come and look at them presently."

He returned to his nook, and employed himself so noiselessly that I soon forgot his presence. The instant his back was turned my eye ran down the page before me, and what I read confirmed my fancy that Mr. Noel was a genius. That one sheet amazed me, for it gave evidence of a power, insight, and culture hardly credible in one so young. The book was no romance, poem, satire, or essay, but a most remarkable work upon Italian history and politics. A strange subject for a boy to choose, and still more marvelous was his treatment of it. I was fairly staggered as I read on at the learning, research, and eloquence each fine paragraph displayed. No wonder his cheeks are colorless, his eyes full of fire, his air both lofty and languid, when that young brain of his has wrought such sentences. No wonder he is proud, knowing himself endowed with such a gift, and the power to use it. This explains the fascination of his presence, the charm of his manner, the indefinable something which attracts one's eye, arrests one’s interest, yet restrains one's curiosity by an involuntary respect for that attribute which is "divine when young."

see caption
COPYING THE WORK ON ITALIAN HISTORY AND POLITICS.

I should have gone on reading in a maze of admiration and incredulity, had not the recollection of his request set me writing with my utmost celerity and elegance. Soon I became absorbed and forgot everything but the smoothly flowing words, that seemed to glide from my pen as if to music, for the theme was liberty, and the writer was a poet as well as patriot and philosopher. Pausing to take a long breath, I became aware that Mr. Noel was at my side. He saw my excited face, my evident desire to break into a rapture. It seemed to touch and please him, for he came nearer, asking, wistfully yet shyly:

"Do you like it?"

"I have no words to express how much. It is well that you laid an embargo on my tongue, for otherwise I should never be done praising."

His face glowed, his eye shone, and he offered me his hand with that enchanting smile of his.

"I thank you, I shall remember this." Then, as if to check me and himself, he examined my copy of his own hastily written MS.

"This is beautifully done. I hardly know my pages when freed from the blots and blemishes grown so familiar to me. Do you find it very tiresome?"

"On the contrary, most delightful yet most tantalizing, for I long to read when I should be writing. Mr. Noel, I am utterly amazed that such a book should be produced by so young a man."

"I might say I did not write it, for my father bequeathed me his spirit; and if these pages possess truth, eloquence, or beauty, the praise belongs to him—not me."

Softly, almost solemnly, he spoke, without confusion or conceit; pride unmarred by any tinge of vanity he probably showed, but seemed as if he had entirely forgotten himself in his work, and would accept no commendation but through that. He appeared to fall into a little reverie, and I sat silent, my eyes fixed on the shapely hand resting against the table as he stood. I was not thinking of it, but it annoyed him; for, with an almost petulant gesture, he flung down the pages he had held, thrust both hands deep into the pockets of his paletôt, turned sharply on his heel and went into his alcove, I heard him stirring there for several minutes, as if putting his papers under lock and key; then reappearing, he said, gravely"

"You will find lunch in the dining-room whenever you like it. I must take madame for her drive now; we shall meet at dinner."

He went, and soon after I saw a pony carriage roll down the avenue. I wrote till noon, when feeling hungry I set off on an exploring expedition, as Mr. Noel had forgotten to mention where the dining-room was, and I did not care to ring up a servant. A wide hall ran the whole length of the house, opening upon the garden in the rear. Four doors appeared: the two opposite were open and belonged to the drawing-rooms; I was standing on the threshold of the third, and the fourth evidently led to the dining-room. I chose to ignore that fact and satisfy my curiosity by prowling elsewhere. I might never have so good an opportunity again: the master and mistress were away, no one would suspect a stranger, and if I met the servants, ignorance would be a fair excuse. Having assumed the part of a spy, I wished to play it well, and being forbidden to question persons, must gain information from inanimate things, if possible. Two cross passages led from the main hall: one to my rooms, the other to the west wing. This, of course, I took, softly opening the first door that appeared—madame's apartment, for the gray silk dress and white shawl lay across a chair. A rapid survey satisfied me, and I passed to the next—Mr. Noel's, though I should scarcely have guessed it but for the hat upon the lounge, the pistols beside the bed, and the gentleman's dressing-case on the toilette. The windows were heavily curtained, the furniture luxurious, and an air of almost feminine elegance pervaded it. Two things struck me: the first was a dainty work-basket in a lounging chair, so near me that I could see the exquisitely fine stitching on the wristbands that lay in it. Madame was blind, no other woman appeared—who did it? The second discovery was more important. Opposite the door where I stood appeared another half open, showing a flight of thickly carpeted stairs winding upward. A blaze of June sunshine streamed down them, the odor of flowers came to me with a balmy gust, and in the act of stealing forward to see what was above, I was arrested by a soft voice, exclaiming in Italian:

"Ah, I am so tired of this; devise some new amusement, or I shall die of weariness."

"My darling, so am I,: replied a deeper voice; "but remembering our reward, I can have patience. Come to me and let us talk of our next letter; it is due to-day."

No; it makes me sad to think of that unless I must, and

Heaven knows I need all the cheerfulness and courage I possess."

"Poor little heart, you do. Sing to me while I work, and so forget imprisonment and trouble."

"That is my only pleasure now. But I am thirsty, I want a draught of wine, and Pierre has forgotten me," murmured the female voice.

"No love, he never will do that. I was obliged to send him to the St. Michaels, that they might be told of this man's arrival, and conduct matters with double discretion," answered the man.

"Poor Pierre! he has to serve us now as butler, gardener, errand-boy, and sentinel. His life must be almost as wearisome as mine," sighed the other.

"Now you are growing sorrowful again. Kiss me, Clarice, and let me find a happier face when I return; I am going for the wine."

There was a rustle, a murmur, and a pause, but I heard no more; for gliding like a shadow down the hall, I bolted into the dining-room and began to devour the first viand that came to hand. Here was a discovery! the deeper voice I heard was Mr. Noel's, and the softer one not madame's. Hers was sweet and slow; this youthful and vivacious, plaintive and petulant by turns. Noel's was unmistakable, though now it varied from passionate melancholy to an infinite tenderness, a caressing tone that would have soothed and won any woman by its magic. I had barely time to compose myself before he entered, started at seeing me, then laughed, and explained:

"Pardon! I have lived so much alone that I had forgotten the addition to my household for the moment. Let me fill your glass."

I had opened my lips to reply when a strain of music floated past the window, and involuntarily I paused to listen.

"Ah! Casta Diva, and exquisitively given."

As I spoke I saw Mr. Noel's hand tighten round the decanter he held, and again that peculiar glance flashed upon me as he said:

"You understand Italian, then?"

"Yes," was on my lips, but the recollection of my promise checked it, and I answered with an accent of regret, "I wish I did."

Mr. Noel raised his glass to his lips, as if to conceal the smile that parted them, a smile which doubtless signified, "So do not I," but he said aloud"

"You recognised the air rather than the words, I fancy."

"Yes; madame possesses a wonderful voice."

"Madame is an accomplished woman."

With which unsatisfactory reply he strolled to the window, plate in hand, and stood there listening. I ate in silence, but watched him covertly, recalling what I had lately heard, and finding in his appearance further confirmation of the suspicion which had come to me. His eyes had met mine but once; on his cheek burned a color not born of the Summer heat; his grave mouth was soft and smiling, as if the kiss he asked for still remained upon his lips, and the music of that sweeter language seemed to linger in his voice. He looked a lover, and I felt that he was one, for genius rapidly matures both head and heart, unhampered by restraints of customs, age, or race. How else explain the presence of the unknown singer, upon whom I had heard him lavish such tender names with more than brotherly affection? I confess the fancy charms me, for my own loveless life has been so bare of romance, I am ready to find interest and pleasure in another man's experience, while the mystery which surrounds the strange youth and my relations with him make it doubly alluring. As I rose to return to my work the act seemed to rouse him; approaching the table he carefully selected a cake and fruit, filled a glass with iced claret, and arranging them on a silver salver, added a handful of flowers from a vase near by, and carried it away, saying, with a half-sad, half-mirthful look:

"Madame likes me to wait on her, and is as fond of delicate attentions as a girl."

Till nearly five I wrote, then dressed for dinner, and when summoned found my host and hostess waiting for me. A well-appointed table, a well-served meal, and one occurrence at its close are all that is necessary to record of this episode. Noel sat beside his cousin, waiting on her with a quiet devotion beautiful to see. Pierre hovered about both with a respectfully protective air, which became the venerable servant who seemed to eye me rather jealously, as if he feared a rival in his young master's confidence. It was a silent meal, for Noel was not loquacious, and madame seemed sad. I did my best, but the rôle I had taken was not one to allow of much conversation, and long pauses followed short dialogues.

We were just rising when Pierre entered, bringing a basket of hothouse flowers, which he delivered to his master, with the message:

"For madame, with Mrs. St. Michael's compliments."

Madame uttered no thanks, made no gesture of pleasure, but every particle of color faded from her face as she seemed to listen for Noel's answer. He too was paler, and the hand extended for the basket trembled visibly, yet he answered with unwonted animation:

"She is very kind; cousin, I will take them to your room for you. Mr. Clyde, I have an engagement for this evening; but drawing-room, library, and lawn are at your service."

"The last shall be first, thank you, and I will enjoy the sunset out-of-doors."

With that I took myself away; Pierre closed the door behind me, and as I turned into the passage to my rooms I fancied I heard the click of a key turning in the lock. I got my hat, passed out at one of the long windows of my little parlor, and strolled toward the lawn along the terrace which lay close before the house. My steps were noiseless on the turf, and as I passed the windows of the dining-room I snatched a hasty look, which showed me the basket overturned upon the floor, madame with her shade at her feet and her face hidden in her hands, Mr. Noel reading a letter aloud, and Pierre listening intently, with a napkin still over his arm.

They did not see me, all being absorbed, and with my curiosity still further piqued, I wearied myself with conjecture as I surveyed the exterior of the house, the occupants of which already inspired me with such interest.

A rambling English cottage in a nest of verdure. A lawn slopes to the road in front, a garden lies behind, a lane runs parallel with the garden-wall on the right, and a grove of pines rises soberly against the sky upon the left.

Curious to locate the room of the unknown, I struck into the lane, scrutinizing the left wing as I walked. To my surprise, no upper windows appeared. An ancient grape-vine covered the western wall, trained away from the lower casements, but completely masking the space above and wandering over half the roof. Looking closer, I soon discovered a large aperture in the roof, half-hidden by the leaves; the sash evidently lowered from within, and this explains the flood of sunshine and the odorous gust that floated down the stairway which I now long to mount. Having looked till my eyes ached, I roamed away into the fields which lie between the solitary cottage and the town.

As I came up the avenue on my return Mr, Noel passed me, driving rapidly; he did not see me, for his hat was pulled down low upon his forehead, but his mouth looked grim, his whole figure erect and resolute. I watched him out of sight, went in and read for an hour, then to my room and secret diary. It is past midnight now, but Mr. Noel has not yet returned.

June 3d.—Found the young gentleman in his alcove, and my work laid ready when I went to the study this morning. He looked up and answered my salutation as I entered, then seated himself behind his curtain, and I saw no more of him for an hour. At the end of that time the perfect silence that reigned in the recess arrested my attention, and caused me to suspect that he had slipped away through the window. I was just meditating a peep, when accident supplied me with a genuine excuse. A little gust of air blew in from the garden, rustling the papers on his table; one was wafted beyond the curtain, and almost to my feet. I waited a moment for him to reclaim it, but nothing stirred, and quite sure that he was gone, I examined it. A closely covered sheet, written in Italian, it proved to be, and a moment's inspection showed me that it was a part of the work I was copying, though in a different and bolder hand. Stepping to the recess to restore it, I was startled by discovering Mr. Noel asleep in his chair. Very worn and tired he looked, though younger than ever in his sleep; on the page upon his desk lay drops that looked like tears. Seeing that his slumber was deep, I ventured to look well about me. The half-written sheet on which his pen still lay, as it dropped from his drowsy hand, was a translation of the very page I held. Others lay on the table, and in the cabinet which now stood open I spied three piles of MS. A hasty glance showed me the missing chapters copied in his graceful hand, a heap of blurred and hasty translation, and a worn, stained MS. in the same bold writing, the same language as the truant leaf. Farther I dared not look, but crept back to my seat, and fell to wondering why the boy wrote in Italian, and suffered no one to translate it but himself. Were he other than he is, I should suspect him of a literary theft, or some double dealing with another's work. But Bernard Noel seems incapable of deceit, and his look, his manner when speaking of it, assure me that it is rightfully his own, whatever his reasons may be for so laborious a process. My reflections were suddenly interrupted by hearing him rouse, and seeing him pull aside the curtain to ascertain if I was there. He looked half-bewildered by sleep, but began to collect the papers, carefully arranged them in the cabinet, locked it, and stepped out into the garden, where I saw him pacing thoughtfully to and fro for half an hour. That was the last of him for to-day, for he and madame dined at the St. Michaels, as Pierre informed me when five o'clock found me the sole partaker of an excellent dinner. They returned at nine, and the invisible musician has been singing for an hour.

June 6th.—For four days nothing has occurred worth recording, as I have been almost entirely alone. Mr. Noel hands me a chapter or two each morning, receives my copy at night, and only the necessary directions are asked and given. Madame has not been visible, ill I am told, yet her cousin looks tranquil, and no nurse or physician has been summoned to my knowledge. Very brief and silent are our interviews at dinner, and not once have I found the drawing-room occupied of an evening. No one calls, but Mr. Noel drives out often and returns late. My days have been spent at the writing-table, my evenings in my own room, or solitary walks about the country. Returning from one of these, I saw the window under the vines brilliantly lighted, and resolved to satisfy my curiosity the first moonless night. This ends my first week's record; I trust it is satisfactory, and that out of my own darkness I have given light.

June 7th.—To-day, being Sunday, I asked Mr. Noel, when I met him at lunch, in which of the three truth churches, over the hill, I should find his pew.

"In none; I go nowhere just now. My cousin cannot, and I join her in a little service here at home," he said, slowly; adding instantly, as if afraid I should expect to be included in that domestic service: "My friend, Mrs. St. Michael, will be happy to do the honors of her husband's chapel. I have spoken to her, and she expects you." I thanked him, went to church, found the pastor a dull preacher, though apparently an excellent and pious gentleman; his wife a grave, motherly lady, who received me with courtesy, examined me with interest, and, as we came out together, asked me how I liked her neighbors.

"Mr. Noel seems an eccentric but most charming young man, and madame a wonderfully cheerful sufferer," I replied.

"Genius has many privileges, and eccentricity is one, you know," replied the lady, adding, rather guardedly: "Madame Estavan is younger than she seems, and manifold afflictions cannot wholly darken her bright spirit. May I trouble you to give my regards to her, and tell Mr. Noel I will see him to-morrow?"

At dinner I delivered the messages; Mr. Noel turned graver than before on receiving his, and madame turned gay. I was glad to see her so, and did my best to interest her, observing that her cousin often took the word from her lips, and that Pierre's usually expressionless face wore an aspect of uneasiness. In drawing out her handkerchief madame dropped an ebony rosary. No one heard it fall, for it slipped noiselessly through the folds of her dress, and no one saw it but myself. Pierre was busy at the side-board, and, stooping, I lifted and returned it to her. She received it with the exclamation:

"Ciel! How careless I am grown! I thought I put it by after mass."

"Madame is a Catholic, one sees."

The words slipped from me involuntarily, her answer seemed to do the same.

"Oh, yes; in truth I am, and so is———"

A heavy silver fork clanged down into Mr. Noel's plate, and madame started at the clatter, leaving her sentence unfinished.

"Pardon, cousin; if you are forgetful, I am awkward. You were about to say, 'and so is Pierre.'" Noel spoke quite naturally, but I suspect madame caught some warning for the color mounted to her forehead as she eagerly assented.

"Surely, yes. Whom else could I mean? Not you, my too-Protestant and English Bernard."

Poor lady, she overdid the matter sadly, and that anxious emphasis upon the words "Protestant" and "English" convinced me that Noel was neither, though but for this I never should have suspected it. As if anxious to banish it from my mind, he led the way to the drawing-room, and, as all madame's spirits had departed, exerted himself to entertain us both. In conversation I found him witty, earnest, and frank, but in the midst of an animated description of foreign life he checked himself, and going to the grand piano, gave us fragments from the sacred music of the great masters, with an ease and brilliancy that captivated me. I was heartily enjoying this treat when, as if doomed to make scenes, madame suddenly gave a loud cry, and darted out upon the lawn, exclaiming:

"He has come! Mon pére! Mon pere!"

For an instant Noel stared aghast, then sprang after her, looking as wild as she. I followed to the terrace, and standing there, heard, through the stillness of the twilight, madame sobbing and her cousin chiding. He spoke Italian, but low and rapid as were his words, I caught them brokenly.

"I cannot trust you—you have no control of face, voice, mind or manner. You knew it was impossible—he cannot come for weeks yet—I will have no more of this."

"Forgive me. It is this life which destroys my nerves; it is unnatural. I cannot bear it. Let it end for me," sobbed madame.

"It shall," almost sternly answered he. "Rest content, I will ask no more of you; it is selfish, unwise. I can bear and do alone; you have suffered enough."

"It is not that; it is the suspense, the deceit, the danger that dismays me. I can act no part. Send me away for a little; you will be freer, happier, safer, without me, as you know."

"I shall, and so will you. To-morrow St. Michael will receive you and a few weeks will end all. Now compose yourself, go to your room, and leave me to explain your flight to Clyde."

"I slipped round to the hall door and met him there with, I flatter myself, well-acted concern. Madame passed me with a murmured:

"Monsieur, I have known loss, it haunts me; forgive the malady of a broken heart."

Noel gave her into the charge of a grave, elderly woman, whom I now saw for the first time, and who came hurrying up with Pierre. As she departed the old servant hastily explained that it was he who had peeped and startled madame.

"Then madame is not wholly blind?" I asked, quickly, for there he paused and looked confused. Noel answered, tranquilly:

"It is only a partial loss. You may go, Pierre; you are forgiven. But let us have no more of this, for madame's sake."

The old man gladly withdrew, and his master added, as I bade him good-night:

"My cousin needs change. I shall take her to town tomorrow. We have friends there, and her state demands better care than I can give her. We shall leave early, but I will prepare matters for you, as I shall not return till late."

A long sigh of relief broke from him as he turned away, and, on my soul, I pitied; for it is my belief that madame is not only a little mad, but some refugee whom he is befriending, and who, in spite of gratitude, finds it hard to lead a life of concealment under the same roof with some fair, frail lover of this fascinating boy.

June 8th.—Found the house silent as a tomb, and fancy the sound of carriage wheels which half-woke me at dawn was the only farewell I shall receive from poor madame. A long, quiet day. Noel returned at dusk, and went straight to his room. I seized my hat, concealed myself in the lane, and watched the leafy window. Presently it blazed with light, and but for the appearance of Pierre in the garden I should have been tempted to execute my resolve at once. Hearing the rattle of the chain that holds the gate, I sprang into the footpath which turns into the lane from the fields. Pierre showed small surprise at meeting me, as these meadows are my favorite walk, and my assumption of simplicity has quite blindfolded this old watchdog. Anxious to see how he would explain it, I asked, as if just discovering the window:

What is that light among the leaves? Does the roof

burn?"

"Oh no, monsieur, it is my master’s studio. He paints as he does everything else—divinely. For that room he took the cottage; an artist built it, and though he does little now, he often lounges there at night."

The answer came so readily, and seemed so natural an explanation I could not but believe it, and, saying I should go in and read, I left him. From my window I watched him far along the avenue, he and the maids chatting in the grove, knew that madame's nurse had gone with her from a word Pierre dropped at dinner, and felt that my time had come. It was a moonless evening, fast deepening into night; a light wind was blowing that filled the air with rustling sounds, and the house was quite deserted for the time. I had no fear—excitement is my element, daring my delight, and I desired to earn my liberal reward for this dishonorable but alluring service.

Leaving my hat behind me, I crept to the western wing, with every sense alert. Not by the vines did I ascend, but by a slender Norway pine, whose stem, being branchless for many feet above the ground, seemed to forbid approach by that means. Practice made me agile, and I was soon upon the first bough which touched the roof. With catlike steps I picked my way, crouching low and making no sound louder than the whispers of the wind. The window was closed, and all I heard was a murmur of voices, but parting the leaves at one shaded corner I lay flat and looked down.

A long, lofty room was below, full of light, soft colors, lovely shapes, but how furnished I cannot tell, for its occupants absorbed me instantly. Stretched his full length on a couch lay Noel, looking like a luxuriously indolent young sultan, in crimson dressing-gown and Turkish slippers. He was laughing, and till then I had never seen the real beauty of his face; some cloud of reserve, distrust, or melancholy had vailed it from me, but at last I saw the boy's true self, and felt that nothing was impossible to such as he. His white throat was bare, his black curls tumbled, his hands clasped above his head, and as he laughed he hummed a sprightly air, in which a softer voice joined fitfully.

At first he alone was visible, but soon down the long room came a woman dancing like an elf. Great heavens! how beautiful she was! She wore some foreign dress, brilliant and piquante, a lovely neck and arms shone white against the gold and scarlet of her bodice, and bare rosy feet scarcely seemed to touch the carpet. Dark eyes glittered through a stream of rippling gold hair, a sweet, red mouth was smiling, and as she danced the bloom no art can give deepened beautifully on her cheek.

With a deep obeisance and a ringing laugh she ended her pretty part of Bayadere, and dropping on a cushion beside the couch, talked vivaciously while gathering up her hair. Noel caressed the bright head which presently leaned against his pillow, sobering slowly as the thoughtful look stole back into his face. Clarice—for this was doubtless she—seemed to chide him, to try and win the gay mood back again, but vainly; for rising on his elbow he began to speak earnestly, so earnestly that his companion soon grew as intent as he. I would have given worlds to have caught a word, but not one reached me, and but for the emphatic gestures of the pair should have gathered nothing of their meaning. He evidently urged something from which she shrank, yet in the end acceded to with tears and eloquently sorrowful eyes. Noel seemed satisfied, and with the fondest gestures dried the tears, consoled the grief, and endeavored to make light of it. A deep lounging-chair stood before an easel, on which shone the image of this sweet-voiced girl. A dainty little supper was spread beside the chair, and drawing his model—for such I now suspect Clarice to be—into the velvet nest beside him, Noel made merry over it like one content, and yet not heartily at ease.

It was a prettier picture than any he will ever paint; both so young, so blithe and beautiful, so loving and beloved, so free and rich in all that makes life pleasant. I felt like one shut out from some sweet Paradise as I lay looking from the dimness of the night upon this happy pair, while they nestled there together, drinking from the same glass, eating from the same plate, serving one another with such charming zeal, and forgetting all things but themselves.

Utterly oblivious of the outer world, Pierre's voice nearly caused me to betray myself, so suddenly did it break the hush.

"Catherine, has Monsieur Clyde come in?"

"Yes, long ago; his light is out."

The speakers were in the garden, and waiting till the door closed upon them I crept to the pine, half-slid, half-fell in my haste, and safely regained my room.

June 9th.—Mrs. St. Michael came, had a brief interview with Mr. Noel on the lawn, which was prudent but unsatisfactory to me, for I learned nothing from it. Saw no more of him till dinner, when he told me he should pass the evening out. At eight he drove away, and, curious to know when he returned, I amused myself with a book till nearly midnight; then, wearying of it, put out my light, and sat musing in the dark. The night was cloudy, close and warm, and, finding all still, I presently went out into the lane, wondering if Clarice, too, watched and waited for his return. The window was dark, but just as I turned from it, I was alarmed by the sound of wheels close by. I recognized the light roll of the pony carriage, though it was deadened by the turf, for to my dismay it was evidently coming not up the avenue, but along the lane. Fearing to be seen if I attempted to gut in, I sprang behind the hedge, and, holding my breath, saw the carriage pause before the door in the garden-wall. A man leaped out, seemed to listen, then admitted himself both to the garden and the house, as the sound of a cautiously lifted window suggested. Quite breathless with interest I waited, and sooner than I expected the man reappeared, not alone now, for a slender female figure clung to him, I could just see the outline of their figures, the white gleam of their faces, but I knew them at once by the few words rapidly exchanged in Italian.

"How still it is! Have you no fear?"

"I have done with fear, Clarice."

"And I with captivity, thank God!"

"I shall miss you sadly, dear."

"Not for long, your wife will comfort you."

A little laugh accompanied the words, and, like spectres of the shadowy hour, house, carriage, man, and woman vanished in the gloom.

Here is a clue at last: Noel will marry, and for this purpose clears his house of all encumbrances; poor madame and the lovely model must give place to some woman whom he unwillingly marries—if his face and manner are to be relied on. Why he does so is a mystery like himself, but I will yet fathom both.

June 10th.—It is well that I was prepared beforehand, else the announcement made to me this evening would have filled me with uncontrolable surprise. Mr. Noel wrote steadily all day, was unusually taciturn at dinner, and amused himself at the piano till twilight fell. I had been pacing up and down the hall enjoying his music, when it ceased abruptly, and coming out he joined me in my promenade. The hall was not lighted, except by the softened gleam of shaded lamps in the drawing-room. I instantly observed the anxious look I have learned to know, and by the alight embarrassment of his usually easy manner I inferred that he both wished and feared to speak. Presently fixing his eyes full upon me, he said slowly, as if weighing every word and marking its effect:

"Mr. Clyde, as an inmate of my house, I feel that it is but right for me to tell you of an approaching event, which, however, will not materially change my mode of life nor your own—I am about to marry."

He so evidently expected me to be surprised that I instantly feigned what I should yesterday have really felt.

Stopping in my walk, I exclaimed:

"Married! you are very young for that experience;" there I checked myself and began the proper congratulations. He cut them short by asking:

"How old do you believe me to be?:

"You look eighteen; your book says forty," I answered, laughing.

"I am of age, however, and though young to marry, have neither parents nor guardians to forbid it if they would."

"It will be soon I infer, as you do me the honor of announcing it to me?"

"On Saturday."

"You mentioned that this event would make no change in my present mode of life—I am then to continue my copying as usual during your absence?"

"I shall be absent but a day. It will be a very private affair, and my—Mrs. Noel will return with me at once."

A little pause fell between us. I was contrasting his cool, quiet manner now with the loverlike expression he had worn when with Clarice, and felt more than ever convinced that for some weighty reason he was doing violence to his own heart. He seemed conscious that, having said so much, he should say more, and presently added, still in the same measured tone:

"Madame's departure leaves me lonely. My attachment is no sudden one, for I have loved Hortense from her babyhood. She, too, is an orphan, and both being solitary, we see no wisdom in delaying to secure our happiness. Mrs. St. Michael is a mutual friend, and at her house we shall be married in the quietest manner, for the few relatives we possess are far distant, and Hortense dreads strangers."

Here Pierre came in, bringing a dainty little note, which he delivered with a smile. Noel took it eagerly, wished me good-night, and hurried away to the west wing. I wish that I, too, were a lover.

June 12th.—Since our conversation in the hall I have scarcely seen Mr. Noel, and therefore I have little to record. For an hour or two he has sat in his alcove, then dressed and driven away to the St. Michaels, where I suspect the bride-elect has already arrived. To-day the wedding-day, and I waited with intense impatience for the coming of the young pair. Not that I expected to be invited to join them so soon, if ever, but because I was burning with curiosity to see the woman for whom he had discarded poor Clarice, and had no scruples about gratifying myself in any way that offered.

At five I went to my dinner, found Pierre polishing the plate, but no appearance of food.

"Master will dine at seven to-day, and hopes monsieur will not be incommoded by the change," he said.

"Am I to join them as usual, then?" I asked, surprised.

"Oh yes; the arrival of young madame will alter nothing but Monsieur Noel's spirits, I believe."

At half-past six o'clock a carriage rolled up the avenue, and from behind a group of larches on the lawn I watched the arrival. Pierre came smiling to the door as Noel led a lady up the steps. A slender, dainty little lady she seemed, but her face was hidden by the white vail which covered her blonde bonnet, and all I could discover of her figure, under a flowing white burnous, was that it was slight and graceful. She was evidently very young; for as she entered the house she clapped her hands and danced down the long hall, as if overjoyed to be at home. Noel stood an instant talking with his old servant, and I caught a glimpse of his face, and very little like the countenance of a bridegroom did it look.

As both went in I returned to my room, and half an hour afterward was summoned to dinner.

Twilight had come on and lamps were lit. The table shone with damask, glass and silver, flowers glowed everywhere, and the lustres filled the room with a festal breadth of light. But none of these things caught my eye on entering, for standing in the deep window were Noel and his bride. His arm was about her, and leaning there, as if content, he looked down at her as she held out an almost childishly lovely hand, and seemed laughing blithely at the wedding-ring upon it. Both turned as I came in, and, with the color mounting to his very forehead, Noel said:

"Mr. Clyde, allow me to present you to—to my wife."

Well for me that a bow was all-sufficient, and that my command of countenance was great, or I should have betrayed myself beyond repair, for Mrs. Noel was Clarice! There could be no doubt of it. The face was peculiar even in its beauty, and not easily forgotten. There was the rippling, golden hair, dark eyes, sweet red mouth, and blooming cheek—even the smile was the same, brilliant and brief, the voice unchanged, vivacious, yet musically soft. The dress was simple white, yet above the flowers in the bosom shone the fair shoulders I had seen, and the round arm that lay on Noel's wore the very bracelet that had flashed upon Clarice's but a little while ago. Noel eyed me narrowly, but I believe my face was impenetrable, as I uttered my congratulations after the surprise of that first glimpse had passed.

Half-shyly, half-daringly, Mrs. Noel glanced at me, and as I paused she drew her husband toward the table like an impatient child.

"Come, Bernard, Pierre is waiting, and I am so hungry! That is a sadly unromantic admission for a bride to make, but it is true. Besides, I want to play mistress, and begin to realize that I am free from all restraints but yours, mon ami."

We sat down, and a most charming mistress did she prove herself. So gay, so graceful, so frankly fond of her husband, so courteous to me, and now and then, as if the novelty of her position overcame her, so sweetly shy and blushing, that before the meal was over I found myself forgetting all the past and full of admiration for this most captivating little creature. Noel seemed to own the charm as well. The cloud lifted, and again I saw the beautiful blithe nature which he seems to hide and hold in check. He laughed as gaily as his young wife, drank her health more than once, and was more cordial to me than I believed it possible for him to be. Both seemed to forget who and what I was, to make me one of them, and freely to shed the light of their new happiness upon the lonely stranger.

My heart reproached me for my treachery, yet I did not repent, nor shall I till my mission ends. Strange as all has been here, I am fast learning to respect and love this gifted boy, to look leniently upon his peculiarities, and even commend this last act, whatever its causes and consequences may be. It is evident that he loves his wife passionately, and she loves him with a confiding tenderness which will not be concealed. I felt like one in fairy-land, and when they went into the drawing-room longed to follow, yet dared not, till Mrs. Noel, looking backward, beckoned me with an imperious little gesture that was irresistible.

"There is no need of you deserting your old haunts because I have come, Mr. Clyde," she said, looking up at me with eyes that seemed to read the desire I felt. "Bernard and I have known each other for so many years, have been together so much, and loved each other from our childhood, that the putting on of this ring seems to make no change in us. We care nothing for the world's ways, and rule this little kingdom as we will. You are a gentleman, you like my———"she paused, laughed delightsomely, and added, "my husband's book, and help him as he would be helped; therefore you are our friend, as such you must live with us, and let two children profit by your age and wisdom."

This friendly speech, so warmly, gracefully delivered, quite touched and won my heart, and I at once accepted both the offer and the hand outstretched to me. Hardly waiting till my thanks were spoken, little madame danced away to the piano, and broke into a song. If anything were needed to convince me of her identity with Clarice, this would have done it, for the marvellous voice could not be feigned. With a malicious fancy to see how Noel would bear an allusion to the falsehood he once told me, I said, carelessly:

"Although I heard but indistinctly at the time, Mrs. Noel's voice reminds me strongly of Madame Estavan's when she sang 'Casta Diva.'"

Smiling the smile that makes his face so young, he answered, with a mirthful look at the golden-haired, white-robed figure at the instrument:

"Well it may, for madame is a near relation of my little wife's, whose voice was trained by her. Hortense, come out upon the lawn, I want to show you your nest by moonlight."

She came to him with the airy motion that seems habitual to her, and, hanging on his arm, went out, along the terrace, looking a fit inmate of this enchanting and enchanted place.

June 14th.—I take the liberty of noting only such events as seem important or mysterious, and therefore when my days are solitary leave them blank. Yesterday the young couple fully proved themselves "a pair of children," for they danced and sang all through the house, haunted garden, grove and lawn, drove, walked, and rested, always together and always happy. Mrs. Noel seemed like a bird let loose, her husband enjoyed her joy, and gave himself a holiday, for mind as well as heart; for he never came into the study, but leaned in at the window, giving his directions while his wife stuck roses in his buttonhole. Perhaps my eyes looked wistful; I suspect they did, for suddenly she stepped in and came to me, saying, as she put a flower on my desk and then tripped away again:

"You, too, shall have one, because you are the wise and busy man. See, I give you this fully opened rose; it suits you best, Bernard must have the little white ones, because they are like me."

As I waited their coming in the dining-room, a few hours later, from the window I saw Mrs. St. Michael's servant come up the avenue and hand a packet to Noel, who was loitering there while madame dressed. The man went back. Noel read a brief note, hastily unfolded the newspaper which composed the packet, and seemed to dart at once upon some particular passage. I saw him stand motionless and intent a moment, then drop the paper, turn as if to enter, and fall, face downward, on the grass.

Darting out, I raised his head to my knee, loosened his collar, and, while wondering at the smile still lingering on his pale face, I snatched a glance at the note, for the paper was still crushed in his hand. Only three lines:

"I go at once to London. Be prepared at all times. Another week and your long task is over, my brave child."

It was Mrs. St. Michael's hand. I had seen it on sundry notes of invitation, but whatever clue I might have found by searching the paper was lost, for Noel opened his eyes the instant I touched his clenched hand. To my utter amazement his face grew almost fierce as he staggered to his feet and thrust me off.

"Have you read it? What have I done? How came you here?"

He spoke as if hardly conscious of what he said; yet, through all the agitation of his manner and the incoherency of his speech, some strange happiness was plainly visible.

"My dear sir, I have read nothing. See, the note lies under your feet and the paper is in your hand. I saw you fall and ran to help you. Should I have left you here to startle Mrs. Noel.?"

The composure of my manner reassured him, but, as if wonders would never cease, he clasped his hands before his face, and great tears fell between his slender fingers as he wept like a woman for a moment. I involuntarily put my arm about him, for he trembled, and, as if the act were comforting, he leaned against me till the paroxysm passed. Presently he was himself again, and looked up half-grateful, half-ashamed. His eyes fell before mine; he saw the note at his feet, and, as if self were forgotten in some returning thought, he caught it up, saying, slowly, and with still downcast eyes:

"Forgive my folly and my harshness; I am not strong, and sudden tidings overcome me. Let me explain, for I hate mystery."

So, eager to learn, I did not refuse; and he added, after reading the note aloud, much to my surprise:

"This is from my kind neighbor; she goes to London about my book. I am to be prepared to deliver it at any moment, and that is the long task that will be ended in another week."

Nothing could be simpler, and yet I did not believe the explanation. Why? Because I have learned to know this young man's face so well that its expressions are familiar now, and not once did his eyes meet mine while speaking, nor did he once allude to the paper still crumpled in the hand behind him. I could not accept it, however, and as Mrs. Noel was seen coming out to us, her husband started, thrust both note and newspaper into his pocket, hastily smoothed his disordered locks upon his forehead, and said, fixing on me a look that was almost stern:

"Oblige me by saying nothing of this to my wife at present. I will tell her later. Give me your arm, please, and be so kind as to attract her attention from me for a little."

I obeyed in all things, but Mrs. Noel was not deceived; her first glance at her husband caused her to turn as pale as he, but some look or gesture unperceived by me restrained her, and she endeavored to appear unconscious of anything amiss, Pierre also looked expectant, was unusually awkward in his duties, and evidently eager to get me away. The instant dinner was over all three vanished, yet not together, and with every appearance of anxiety to be unobserved.

June 17th.—But one thing has absorbed the household for the last three days, and that has been the book. Such genuine interest and haste cannot be feigned, and I must believe that Noel spoke the truth. The study is no longer deserted, for not only has he written steadily himself, but merry little madame labors also, staining her pretty fingers with ink, flushing her sweet face with energetic struggles to keep up with our swifter pens, and making the once quiet room a bright and busy place.

"It must be done before the week is out, if we give our nights as well as our days to it. Help me through this task, Clyde, and ask any recompense when it is done."

Never had Noel spoken to me with such energy, such familiarity; his eagerness seemed to put new strength into my hands, his confidence to warm my heart with an almost brotherly affection for him. We did work, silently for the most part, but how rapidly you may understand when I say that to-night the book is done. I have just left the study very weary, yet heartily sorry that my share of the work is over, for Mr. Noel tells me he may not need me but a little longer. This unexpected note of Mrs. St. Michael's seems to have precipitated matters, and my task ends before the month is out.

June 25th.—The clue is found, and the mystery solved. Last night, being weary, I slept unusually sound, but woke suddenly, sure that some one called me. The moon had set, a alight shower pattered on the leaves, and a fresh wind blew in. While drowsily thinking that I must rise and close my window, there came a light tap on the glass of the one nearest me, which was already shut. I sat up and listened; cautious footsteps brushed across the turf, and, as if my movements had assured some one of my presence, a voice breathed softly:

"Pierre! Clarice! Bernard!"

"Who's there?" I cried, but nothing answered, and again the stealthy footsteps caught my ear. I sprang to the window, strained my eye and ear, waited and wondered for nearly an hour, but no sound reached me, and I reluctantly compelled myself to think it all a delusion, for these names had been sounding through my dreams.

This morning I stepped out upon the terrace early, as I often do, but took only a single step, for there in the black mold under my closed windows were footprints not my own. Peculiar footprints were they; one large, but shapely, the other smaller, and evidently made by a foot deformed in some way. Long I looked at them, but could find no solution of the matter, so strolled on looking for more. None appeared, and I was just turning back to ring for breakfast, when Mrs. Noel came flying down the hall, her hair loose upon her shoulders, her muslin wrapper half on, and terror in her face, Seeing me, she cried:

"Where is he? Bernard? Have you seen him? He is gone!"

"Gone! How? When? What has happened, Mrs. Noel?"

"I want Pierre," she cried, beating her hands distractedly together. "He too is gone, the maids tell me. What shall I do? Help me, Mr. Clyde! Look for them—oh, look for them!"

"Where shall I look?" Tell me more; I cannot help you till I understand."

"It was so warm last night that I left Bernard and went to madame's room. I heard nothing, knew nothing till I awoke and found him gone; I looked and called, I sent for Pierre, but he too had daunted me, and now I have no hope but in you."

Her white face dropped upon my arm as the last words left her lips, and she clung to me, sobbing like a frightened child.

"Let us go to his room, he may have left some paper, some trace that will serve us. Be of good heart, dear Mrs. Noel; I will help you with all my wit, strength, and soul."

"You are so kind! Come, then—stay, I must go first—the room is in sad disorder."

Hurrying before me, she ran into the west wing; I followed when she called me, and looked vainly for some trace to explain Noel's absence.

"He never walks so early, never till now has gone even to the grove without telling me. Why did I leave him? Oh, my darling, what has happened to take you from———"

There she paused abruptly, for I beckoned. The long window was opened, and glancing out, I had seen upon the newly graveled walk footprints like those I had seen before. Others were beside them now, slender and small. Mrs. Noel looked, rushed out regardless of her disarray, dropped on her knees and scrutinized the prints, then rose, and carefully compared the smaller one with her own pretty foot thrust stockinglessly into an embroidered slipper. It seemed to satisfy her; a long sigh of relief followed, yet she began to tremble as her eye wandered far beyond the garden walls. I said nothing of my nocturnal visitor, and waited for her to speak, In a moment she recovered her self-possession, brushed away the larger footprints with a rapid gesture, and gathering her wrapper closer about her, she turned to me with a gentle dignity I had never seen in her till now.

"I have no longer any fear for him," she said. "These tracks show that Pierre is with him. They plan some surprise for me. Thank you, Mr. Clyde, and let me apologize for my foolish fright."

More mystified than ever, I was turning away, when Noel sprang in at the window, rosy, radiant, and wonderfully altered. Wherein the change lay I could not tell, but I felt it so strongly that I stood staring dumbly, while his wife explained my somewhat embarrassing situation, and chid him for his flight.

"My dearest, I only went to the St. Michaels. The good gentleman had one of his sudden attacks near morning, and sent for me; Pierre would not let me go alone; I feared to distress you, so we slipped away, hoping to be back before you awoke."

This statement, like several others, sounded probable, yet I doubted, and observed that while he spoke he looked steadily at his wife, who looked as steadily at him. Of course, I retired after that, and nothing more was said, even when we met as usual.

All day I wrote, copying several fine poems, which I suspect have been lately written, as they are of love. Something was expected as I left them. I heard Noel say to his wife:

"Wait a few hours more, darling. It will not be safe for him to come till twelve."

That was enough for me; out went my light, and, having carefully tumbled my bed that it might appear to have been occupied, I sat down by my window, waiting till the house was quiet. At half-past eleven I crept out, and looked to see what windows were still lighted. None but the studio showed a ray. There, then, this joyful meeting was probably to take place. Up I crept, but before I could set foot upon the roof the wind brought me the sound of steps coming to the gate. Motionless I sat, hidden in the sombre verdure of the pine, as two tall figures entered, crept to the window of Noel's room, and disappeared. One was Pierre I knew, by a suppressed "Hem!" the other was almost gigantic, seen through the pale mist that rolled up from the river. An unequal motion in the gait suggested a limp, and, as they vanished, I caught the faint echo of a voice very like Noel's, but far deeper and manlier than his.

Fearing that Pierre might stand guard, I remained where I was for some time, then crept to my former loophole, and looked down.

A magnificent old man was sitting in the easy-chair with Clarice upon his knee, both her arms were about his neck, and tears of joy were streaming, for she smiled as they fell, and seemed to have no words to express her happiness.

Another woman knelt beside the chair, her face uplifted, tearless, but how nobly beautiful! As I looked my heart stood still, then leaped with an excitement almost uncontrolable, for with a shock of recognition I knew that this was Noel, and that Noel was a woman, The black locks were parted on the forehead now, the dark moustache was gone, the loose paletôt was replaced by some flowing dress, from whose deep purple sleeves came arms whose white grace would have convinced me had the face been hidden.

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ENIGMAS.—THE EAVESDROPPER WATCHING THE TWO SISTERS.

Dizzy with bewilderment and a strange satisfaction I could not analyze, I stared down upon the three, seeing, hearing, yet scarcely comprehending for a time. This stately man was their father; it needed no words to tell me that, for Clarice’s eyes were dark and lustrous as his; Noel's—I can call her by no other name—Noel's grave, sweet mouth was a perfect miniature of his, and the features of both have a strong though softened resemblance to those finer ones whose reposeful strength was beautifully touched by tenderness. An Italian evidently, for though his figure far exceeded the lithe slenderness which usually characterizes this race, there was the olive hue, the Southern eye, the fire, the grace which colder climates seldom produce. Gray-haired, worn and old, he looked; yet suffering, thought, and age seemed to have aged him more than years, for his voice had a youthful ring, his gestures the vigor of a man still in his prime. The right foot was smaller than the left,and slightly deformed, as if by some accident, and one of the daughters had laid a cushion for this weak and weary foot, the sight of which confirmed my suspicions that I saw the midnight visitor whose tracks I had found beneath my window.

The first words that reached me after a pause were Noel's, and I held my breath to hear, for the flutelike tenor I had learned to love was softened with a womanly tone, and now I knew why the seeming boy had been so silent when I was by. As if continuing some subject dropped for a momentary overflow of emotion:

"Padre mio, I will tell you how it has fared with us since they drove us from your prison doors. Good old Annunciata took us home, but remembering my promise to you to fly at once to your old comrade Pierre, in Paris, we went. He was all you believed he would be—father, friend, counsellor, and guard. He feared to keep us there, begged us to come to England, and in some safe disguise wait here till you could join us, if your captivity did not end in death.

"As we planned what would be the easiest, safest disguise for each to assume, I bethought me that if we were searched, for when it was discovered that the proscribed book had disappeared with us we should be described as two Italian girls; if we separated each might be found, and apart, our apprehension for each other would be unbearable. Now, if we could lose our identity altogether, and appear in a new land exactly opposite to what we had been in the old, we should be doubly safe, and could help you without fear. I recalled our wandering life before you knew Clarice's mother, when you and I roamed over Italy and France as a peasant and his little son. I made so excellent a boy, and liked the part so well, you know, I cried when forced to give it up; but in my strait I remembered it, and resolved to be, not a little lad, but a half-grown youth, and train myself to dare all things for your sake. Clarice could not if she would, having neither courage, stature, nor voice, poor timid darling as she is! therefore she should personate Aunt Clotilde, whom she used to mock, and her French accent would serve her well. Show papa how perfectly you looked it, naughty girl."

Clarice ran below, and in moment, to my surprise, Madame Estavan appeared. Let me finish speedily. The three happy souls within laughed gaily as the mock invalid repeated her graceful helplessness, and deplored her sufferings with the pensive airs with which madame had won my sympathy. Soon Noel, or Monica, as I should now call her—ah, the sweet Italian name!—continued her narration, leaning on the high back of her father's chair, caressing his gray head with a fond reverence that was beautiful to see.

"Pierre was unknown, circumspect, and the dear soul insisted upon coming with us. He knew the St. Michaels, and had done them a service when they were in Paris years ago; he wrote to them, for they were true as gold; they prepared all things for us, and in this quiet nook we have lived through these weary months."

"But this young man, to whom I nearly betrayed myself what of him? how came he here? You would only hear my story then, now finish yours, my man-hearted girl."

How her face glowed at that, half with pride at the praise, half with shame at the part she had played, as if with her woman's garb she had assumed her woman's nature!

"Papa, see what we have done while waiting for you. Here, translated, fairly copied, and ready for your last touches, is the dear book, written with such enthusiasm, lived for, suffered for, and now to be enjoyed in this free land when all danger has gone by, and honor, fame, and love are to be reaped at last."

What passed below for a few minutes I shall never know, for my own eyes grew too dim for seeing, as the daughter who had dared and done so much laid her gift in her father's hands, and her head upon her father's knee. When next I looked the precious gift was at his feet, the beloved giver in his arms, and, with the two fair faces looking up into his own, the happy man was listening to that chapter of the romance in which I played a part. Clarice spoke now:

"This dear Monica nearly killed herself with working at it all last Winter, and, when the Spring arrived, Mrs. St. Michael and myself began to pray and urge and work upon her to consent that we should either put the copying out, or have some person here. At length we prevailed; she would not part with her charge even then for a time, but having grown bold through many successful trials, she consented to have a clerk at home. We were dying for society; we dared not go out much, because I could not play my part well, and made sad blunders by forgetting that I was blind and ill. She might have gone anywhere in this dull place, for none would guess her, but she would not do that for fear of mishaps. Both longed for some change, and, when we advertised, were wild to see who would come. This Clyde appeared; Monica liked him; he seemed well-bred, simple, unsuspecting, and sincere. In time we found him accomplished, assiduous, and a most agreeable inmate."

Infinitely mischievous and merry looked Mrs. Noel, as she glanced up at her blushing sister, who half-averted her face, and answered, with a traitorous softness in her tone:

"Yes, too agreeable for our peace of mind, perhaps. Now let me finish, for I have ill things to tell of you and of myself. Papa, Clarice forgot her part continually; she never would be careful, but kept me in a fever of fear. The first night he came a lock of her bright hair nearly betrayed her, another time she dropped her rosary, and calmly owned that we were Catholics. I took refuge behind her, for in a Frenchwoman it was nothing strange, but in me who desired to pass for an English youth it was not to be allowed. Mrs. St. Michael often tried us by her over-anxiety, and sent your letters in all manner of strange ways, till I bid her do it simply, for Clarice was always in a tremor when anything arrived from them, lest a letter should appear when least expected. I, too, was more than once on the point of telling all, for Clyde was very faithful, very kind, and oh! papa, I longed so for a wiser, stronger friend than either my good Pierre or the St. Michaels. When the paper came which announced the release of those who suffered for Italy, and your name was among them, I could not bear it. Clyde helped me, and was so patient, so unsuspicious, and so tender that it broke my heart to tell another of those falsehoods. But till I knew how free, how safe you were, I would not breathe a whisper of the truth."

"Poveretta! it was too hard a task, too heavy a burden for your loving heart. You shall be rewarded, my daughter, in this world if your old father can do it, and in the next where your mother waits to receive you into paradise." A little pause, then the proud father asked with a smile so like his daughter's I seemed to see an elder Noel, "Tell me why this mock marriage was performed?"

"It never would have been had we known how soon you would arrive. But Clarice endangered all things; I could not send Clyde away when that part of my venture failed, for the book was not done; she would not leave me, yet pined here in confinement after madame's shadow had departed. Nor could she appear as my sister, for I had said to various persons when I came that I had no family. Neither could she stay openly with me as a friend, because I would not have a breath of scandal or the faintest blemish on her maiden fame. We were in despair, when it occurred to me, that, as I assumed the role of a wayward genius—that I was forced to do, owing to the book and the secluded life I led—I might marry and play a little game of love and matrimony. It was foolish, perhaps hazardous, but I won them all to it, and brought my wife home, as happy as a bird when the cage is open and the sky cloudless."

"Lean nearer, my daughter, and answer truly. Did this shadow of love arise from any longing in your own heart for the substance? Have not these quiet Summer days, passed in the society of this young man, been hazardous to something more valuable than my safety? Will you not find the same longing to lean upon, to confide in, the new friend lingering under the woman's robe as warmly, as strongly, as when this gentle bosom hid itself behind a man's vest? Tell me, Monica, do you love this Clyde?"

There was no answer, but her face was hidden, and before the mute confession could be accepted she sprang up, as if pride struggled with maiden love and shame, and came me. Then I saw her face, and knew that the sentiment of affection, reverence, and admiration I had felt for her when I believed her to be a singularly and noble boy was unsuspected love; that the blushes, the anxiety which I fancied arose from other causes, in truth, proceeded from a like suddenly upspringing, swiftly growing passion, whose chief charm lay in its blindness. These thoughts whirled through my brain as I listened, and when I saw that familiar yet sweetly altered countenance unconsciously betraying to me what it struggled to conceal from those nearer, yet not dearer. I could scarcely contain myself, and some half-audible exclamation broke from me. She caught it, looked up, seemed to see my face as vanished. No sound betrayed that she had recognized me, and so brief was the glimpse that I flattered myself she could scarcely think she saw a human visage through the thickest growing leaves. Like a guilty yet most happy ghost, I swiftly, silently regained my room, and dashed into bed. Not a moment too soon, for barely had I got my breath when a light step drew near and paused at the door. My heart beat as if it would betray me, when the door opened, and the invisible being evidently paused upon the threshold listening. I bore the suspense till I could bear it no longer, and stirred noisily in my bed. Then quietly as it had opened the door closed, and the steps withdrew.

Mr. North, I am your spy no longer, and the record which I now dispatch is the last you will ever receive from me, for I break the compact and relinquish the reward you offer.




Those last words were written in the hush of dawn on that morning after the discovery, for I was eager to be done with my now insupportable task, and as Monica had said that her father was past all danger, I feared no harm would follow the delivery of that final record. I had waited impatiently for the first ray of light that I might make it, and when it was written paused for the page to dry. That pause was fatal, for worn out with a sleepless night and the excitement of the hours, my eyes closed, my head fell on my arms, and I lost all consciousness in a deep slumber, which must have lasted for an hour, and when I awoke the sun shone in upon me. Intent on posting my letter unobserved as usual, I looked for it, and seeing it wished that I had never wakened. There it lay with its infamous purpose clearly confessed in its closing lines, and on it a bank-note, a slip of paper, all three stabbed through by the tiny dagger that pinned them to their place. I knew the dagger, had seen it on Monica’s study-table, and admired its dainty workmanship; I knew the sharp Italian writing on the paper, for I had seen it day after day; I knew whose eyes had read my words, whose hand had stabbed the treacherous sheet, whose contempt had spared me for a remorse sharper than any pang of death. The slip held these words:

"We are gone for ever, leaving despair for the lover, wages for the tool, a friend for the traitor."

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ENIGMAS.—THE SPY'S REVENGE.

How long I sat there I cannot tell. The sun came up, the world woke, and life went on about me, but mine seemed to have ended.

A dull hope woke at last within me, and I went wandering through the house, looking for that which I shall never find. Every room was deserted, but that of the grim maid, Catherine; and from her I got no help, but a curt request to breakfast and go, as she had orders to close the house, and return to her former mistress, Mrs. St. Michael. "Were they there?" I asked. No, they were miles away now, and she would have no preceding questions put to her. My one refuge was Mr. North, and to him I hurried. His office was closed. I knew his house, and ran to it. Crape shrouded the knocker, and when I was admitted it was to find him dead. The day before a strange gentleman had called, had a long interview, and when he went Mr. North was found speechless in his chair. He never had revived, and died at dawn. His secret had died with him, and through all these wary years I have never gleaned a hint of it; never seen Monica; never regained my peace of mind, nor found rest from pondering miserably over these unsolved Enigmas.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.