Chapter 4 – Vanished

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月04日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

He’s a handsome lad, and one any woman might be proud to call her son,"
said Hester to Bedford, the stately butler, as they lingered at the hall
door one autumn morning to watch their young lady’s departure on her
daily ride.

"You are right, Mrs. Hester, he’s a fine lad, and yet he seems above his
place, though he does look the very picture of a lady’s groom," replied
Bedford approvingly.

So he did, as he stood holding the white pony of his little mistress,
for the boy gave an air to whatever he wore and looked like a gentleman
even in his livery. The dark-blue coat with silver buttons, the silver
band about his hat, his white-topped boots and bright spurs, spotless
gloves, and tightly drawn belt were all in perfect order, all becoming,
and his handsome, dark face caused many a susceptible maid to blush and
simper as they passed him. "Gentleman Paul," as the servants called him,
was rather lofty and reserved among his mates, but they liked him
nonetheless, for Hester had dropped hints of his story and quite a
little romance had sprung up about him. He stood leaning against the
docile creature, sunk in thought, and quite unconscious of the watchers
and whisperers close by. But as Lillian appeared he woke up, attended to
his duties like a well-trained groom, and lingered over his task as if
he liked it. Down the avenue he rode behind her, but as they turned into
a shady lane Lillian beckoned, saying, in the imperious tone habitual to
her, "Ride near me. I wish to talk."

Paul obeyed, and amused her with the chat she liked till they reached a
hazel copse; here he drew rein, and, leaping down, gathered a handful of
ripe nuts for her.

"How nice. Let us rest a minute here, and while I eat a few, please pull
some of those flowers for Mamma. She likes a wild nosegay better than
any I can bring her from the garden."

Lillian ate her nuts till Paul came to her with a hatful of late flowers
and, standing by her, held the impromptu basket while she made up a
bouquet to suit her taste.

"You shall have a posy, too; I like you to wear one in your buttonhole
as the ladies’ grooms do in the Park," said the child, settling a
scarlet poppy in the blue coat.

"Thanks, Miss Lillian, I’ll wear your colors with all my heart,
especially today, for it is my birthday." And Paul looked up at the
blooming little face with unusual softness in his keen blue eyes.

"Is it? Why, then, you’re seventeen; almost a man, aren’t you?"

"Yes, thank heaven," muttered the boy, half to himself.

"I wish I was as old. I shan’t be in my teens till autumn. I must give
you something, Paul, because I like you very much, and you are always
doing kind things for me. What shall it be?" And the child held out her
hand with a cordial look and gesture that touched the boy.

With one of the foreign fashions which sometimes appeared when he forgot
himself, he kissed the small hand, saying impulsively, "My dear little
mistress, I want nothing but your goodwill – and your forgiveness," he
added, under his breath.

"You have that already, Paul, and I shall find something to add to it.
But what is that?" And she laid hold of a little locket which had
slipped into sight as Paul bent forward in his salute.

He thrust it back, coloring so deeply that the child observed it, and
exclaimed, with a mischievous laugh, "It is your sweetheart, Paul. I
heard Bessy, my maid, tell Hester she was sure you had one because you
took no notice of them. Let me see it. Is she pretty?"

"Very pretty," answered the boy, without showing the picture.

"Do you like her very much?" questioned Lillian, getting interested in
the little romance.

"Very much," and Paul’s black eyelashes fell.

"Would you die for her, as they say in the old songs?" asked the girl,

"Yes, Miss Lillian, or live for her, which is harder."

"Dear me, how very nice it must be to have anyone care for one so much,"
said the child innocently. "I wonder if anybody ever will for me?"

"_Love comes to all soon or late,

And maketh gay or sad;

For every bird will find its mate,

And every lass a lad,_"

sang Paul, quoting one of Hester’s songs, and looking relieved that
Lillian’s thoughts had strayed from him. But he was mistaken.

"Shall you marry this sweetheart of yours someday?" asked Lillian,
turning to him with a curious yet wistful look.


"You look as if there was no ‘perhaps’ about it," said the child, quick
to read the kindling of the eye and the change in the voice that
accompanied the boy’s reply.

"She is very young and I must wait, and while I wait many things may
happen to part us."

"Is she a lady?"

"Yes, a wellborn, lovely little lady, and I’ll marry her if I live."
Paul spoke with a look of decision, and a proud lift of the head that
contrasted curiously with the badge of servitude he wore.

Lillian felt this, and asked, with a sudden shyness coming over her,
"But you are a gentleman, and so no one will mind even if you are not

"How do you know what I am?" he asked quickly.

"I heard Hester tell the housekeeper that you were not what you seemed,
and one day she hoped you’d get your right place again. I asked Mamma
about it, and she said she would not let me be with you so much if you
were not a fit companion for me. I was not to speak of it, but she means
to be your friend and help you by-and-by."

"Does she?"

And the boy laughed an odd, short laugh that jarred on Lillian’s ear and
made her say reprovingly, "You are proud, I know, but you’ll let us help
you because we like to do it, and I have no brother to share my money

"Would you like one, or a sister?" asked Paul, looking straight into her
face with his piercing eyes.

"Yes, indeed! I long for someone to be with me and love me, as Mamma

"Would you be willing to share everything with another person – perhaps
have to give them a great many things you like and now have all to

"I think I should. I’m selfish, I know, because everyone pets and spoils
me, but if I loved a person dearly I’d give up anything to them. Indeed
I would, Paul, pray believe me."

She spoke earnestly, and leaned on his shoulder as if to enforce her
words. The boy’s arm stole around the little figure in the saddle, and a
beautiful bright smile broke over his face as he answered warmly, "I do
believe it, dear, and it makes me happy to hear you say so. Don’t be
afraid, I’m your equal, but I’ll not forget that you are my little
mistress till I can change from groom to gentleman."

He added the last sentence as he withdrew his arm, for Lillian had
shrunk a little and blushed with surprise, not anger, at this first
breach of respect on the part of her companion. Both were silent for a
moment, Paul looking down and Lillian busy with her nosegay. She spoke
first, assuming an air of satisfaction as she surveyed her work.

"That will please Mamma, I’m sure, and make her quite forget my naughty
prank of yesterday. Do you know I offended her dreadfully by peeping
into the gold case she wears on her neck? She was asleep and I was
sitting by her. In her sleep she pulled it out and said something about
a letter and Papa. I wanted to see Papa’s face, for I never did, because
the big picture of him is gone from the gallery where the others are, so
I peeped into the case when she let it drop and was so disappointed to
find nothing but a key."

"A key! What sort of a key?" cried Paul in an eager tone.

"Oh, a little silver one like the key of my piano, or the black cabinet.
She woke and was very angry to find me meddling."

"What did it belong to?" asked Paul.

"Her treasure box, she said, but I don’t know where or what that is, and
I dare not ask any more, for she forbade my speaking to her about it.
Poor Mamma! I’m always troubling her in some way or other."

With a penitent sigh, Lillian tied up her flowers and handed them to
Paul to carry. As she did so, the change in his face struck her.

"How grim and old you look," she exclaimed. "Have I said anything that
troubles you?"

"No, Miss Lillian. I’m only thinking."

"Then I wish you wouldn’t think, for you get a great wrinkle in your
forehead, your eyes grow almost black, and your mouth looks fierce. You
are a very odd person, Paul; one minute as gay as any boy, and the next
as grave and stern as a man with a deal of work to do."

"I have got a deal of work to do, so no wonder I look old and grim."

"What work, Paul?"

"To make my fortune and win my lady."

When Paul spoke in that tone and wore that look, Lillian felt as if they
had changed places, and he was the master and she the servant. She
wondered over this in her childish mind, but proud and willful as she
was, she liked it, and obeyed him with unusual meekness when he
suggested that it was time to return. As he rode silently beside her,
she stole covert glances at him from under her wide hat brim, and
studied his unconscious face as she had never done before. His lips
moved now and then but uttered no audible sound, his black brows were
knit, and once his hand went to his breast as if he thought of the
little sweetheart whose picture lay there.

He’s got a trouble. I wish he’d tell me and let me help him if I can.
I’ll make him show me that miniature someday, for I’m interested in that
girl, thought Lillian with a pensive sigh.

As he held his hand for her little foot in dismounting her at the hall
door, Paul seemed to have shaken off his grave mood, for he looked up
and smiled at her with his blithest expression. But Lillian appeared to
be the thoughtful one now and with an air of dignity, very pretty and
becoming, thanked her young squire in a stately manner and swept into
the house, looking tall and womanly in her flowing skirts.

Paul laughed as he glanced after her and, flinging himself onto his
horse, rode away to the stables at a reckless pace, as if to work off
some emotion for which he could find no other vent.

"Here’s a letter for you, lad, all the way from some place in Italy. Who
do you know there?" said Bedford, as the boy came back.

With a hasty "Thank you," Paul caught the letter and darted away to his
own room, there to tear it open and, after reading a single line, to
drop into a chair as if he had received a sudden blow. Growing paler and
paler he read on, and when the letter fell from his hands he exclaimed,
in a tone of despair, "How could he die at such a time!"

For an hour the boy sat thinking intently, with locked door, curtained
window, and several papers strewn before him. Letters, memoranda, plans,
drawings, and bits of parchment, all of which he took from a small
locked portfolio always worn about him. Over these he pored with a face
in which hope, despondency, resolve, and regret alternated rapidly.
Taking the locket out he examined a ring which lay in one side, and the
childish face which smiled on him from the other. His eyes filled as he
locked and put it by, saying tenderly, "Dear little heart! I’ll not
forget or desert her whatever happens. Time must help me, and to time I
must leave my work. One more attempt and then I’m off."

"I’ll go to bed now, Hester; but while you get my things ready I’ll take
a turn in the corridor. The air will refresh me."

As she spoke, Lady Trevlyn drew her wrapper about her and paced softly
down the long hall lighted only by fitful gleams of moonlight and the
ruddy glow of the fire. At the far end was the state chamber, never used
now, and never visited except by Hester, who occasionally went in to
dust and air it, and my lady, who always passed the anniversary of Sir
Richard’s death alone there. The gallery was very dark, and she seldom
went farther than the last window in her restless walks, but as she now
approached she was startled to see a streak of yellow light under the
door. She kept the key herself and neither she nor Hester had been there
that day. A cold shiver passed over her for, as she looked, the shadow
of a foot darkened the light for a moment and vanished as if someone had
noiselessly passed. Obeying a sudden impulse, my lady sprang forward and
tried to open the door. It was locked, but as her hand turned the silver
knob a sound as if a drawer softly closed met her ear. She stooped to
the keyhole but it was dark, a key evidently being in the lock. She drew
back and flew to her room, snatched the key from her dressing table,
and, bidding Hester follow, returned to the hall.

"What is it, my lady?" cried the woman, alarmed at the agitation of her

"A light, a sound, a shadow in the state chamber. Come quick!" cried
Lady Trevlyn, adding, as she pointed to the door, "There, there, the
light shines underneath. Do you see it?"

"No, my lady, it’s dark," returned Hester.

It was, but never pausing my lady thrust in the key, and to her surprise
it turned, the door flew open, and the dim, still room was before them.
Hester boldly entered, and while her mistress slowly followed, she
searched the room, looking behind the tall screen by the hearth, up the
wide chimney, in the great wardrobe, and under the ebony cabinet, where
all the relics of Sir Richard were kept. Nothing appeared, not even a
mouse, and Hester turned to my lady with an air of relief. But her
mistress pointed to the bed shrouded in dark velvet hangings, and
whispered breathlessly, "You forgot to look there."

Hester had not forgotten, but in spite of her courage and good sense she
shrank a little from looking at the spot where she had last seen her
master’s dead face. She believed the light and sound to be phantoms of
my lady’s distempered fancy, and searched merely to satisfy her. The
mystery of Sir Richard’s death still haunted the minds of all who
remembered it, and even Hester felt a superstitious dread of that room.
With a nervous laugh she looked under the bed and, drawing back the
heavy curtains, said soothingly, "You see, my lady, there’s nothing

But the words died on her lips, for, as the pale glimmer of the candle
pierced the gloom of that funeral couch, both saw a face upon the
pillow: a pale face framed in dark hair and beard, with closed eyes and
the stony look the dead wear. A loud, long shriek that roused the house
broke from Lady Trevlyn as she fell senseless at the bedside, and
dropping both curtain and candle Hester caught up her mistress and fled
from the haunted room, locking the door behind her.

In a moment a dozen servants were about them, and into their astonished
ears Hester poured her story while vainly trying to restore her lady.
Great was the dismay and intense the unwillingness of anyone to obey
when Hester ordered the men to search the room again, for she was the
first to regain her self-possession.

"Where’s Paul? He’s the heart of a man, boy though he is," she said
angrily as the men hung back.

"He’s not here. Lord! Maybe it was him a-playing tricks, though it ain’t
like him," cried Bessy, Lillian’s little maid.

"No, it can’t be him, for I locked him in myself. He walks in his sleep
sometimes, and I was afraid he’d startle my lady. Let him sleep; this
would only excite him and set him to marching again. Follow me, Bedford
and James, I’m not afraid of ghosts or rogues."

With a face that belied her words Hester led the way to the awful room,
and flinging back the curtain resolutely looked in. The bed was empty,
but on the pillow was plainly visible the mark of a head and a single
scarlet stain, as of blood. At that sight Hester turned pale and caught
the butler’s arm, whispering with a shudder, "Do you remember the night
we put him in his coffin, the drop of blood that fell from his white
lips? Sir Richard has been here."

"Good Lord, ma’am, don’t say that! We can never rest in our beds if such
things are to happen," gasped Bedford, backing to the door.

"It’s no use to look, we’ve found all we shall find so go your ways and
tell no one of this," said the woman in a gloomy tone, and, having
assured herself that the windows were fast, Hester locked the room and
ordered everyone but Bedford and the housekeeper to bed. "Do you sit
outside my lady’s door till morning," she said to the butler, "and you,
Mrs. Price, help me to tend my poor lady, for if I’m not mistaken this
night’s work will bring on the old trouble."

Morning came, and with it a new alarm; for, though his door was fast
locked and no foothold for even a sparrow outside the window, Paul’s
room was empty, and the boy nowhere to be found.


Leave a Review