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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 9. The Ghost In The Avenue
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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 9. The Ghost In The Avenue Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2512

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The Honorable Miss: A Story Of An Old-fashioned Town - Chapter 9. The Ghost In The Avenue

CHAPTER IX. THE GHOST IN THE AVENUE

Rosendale Manor had heaps of rooms. It was an old house, added to at many times; added to by builders, who had little or no knowledge of their craft, who were prodigal of space, and illiberal in all matters of convenience.

The Manor was the sort of house which might best be described as inadequate for the wants of ordinary people. For instance, its drawing-rooms were large out of all proportion, whereas its dining-room, morning-room and library were ridiculously small. It had a spacious hall and wide landings, but its stairs were steep and narrow, and there was not even one decent-sized bedroom in the house. All the rooms had low ceilings and were small. Their only virtue was that there were such a number of them.

Catherine and Mabel liked the bedrooms at the Manor, because being rather distinct in their tastes, and decidedly given to quarrel over the arrangements of their separate properties, it was impossible for them to sleep together. Each girl had a room of her own, and these rooms did not even touch, for Mabel slept near her mother, and Catherine away in a wing by herself. This wing could only be reached by a spiral staircase, and was pronounced by the timid Mabel to be odiously lonely.

Catherine, however, knew no fears, and enjoyed the privacy of her quaint little bedroom with its sloping roof and lattice window.

She bade her brother and sister good-night, and went up to it, now.

"You'll go to bed at once, won't you, Kitty?" said Mabel, whose eyes were half-shut. "Perhaps it _was only a rabbit I heard. Only why did it flash white, and why did it sigh? Well, I won't think of it any more. Good-night, Kitty, how wide awake you look."

Catherine kissed her sister and sought her distant chamber. She waited until all was silent in the house, then slowly and cautiously she unbarred her door and went downstairs.

In the large square entrance hall she took a white shawl from a stand. She hung it across her arm, and still walking very softly reached the hall door, drew back its bolts, removed its chain, opened it, and went out into the porch.

Her mother had stood in that porch two nights fgo. Catherine thought of her now. The remembrance of her mother's face caused her to sigh and shiver as if she had been struck with sudden cold. Leaving the hall door ajar she wrapped the white shawl about her shoulders, and then walked a little way across the wide gravel sweep in front of the house.

Her footsteps crunched the gravel, but her brother and sister slept in distant bedrooms and could hear nothing. The moon was riding full and high in the heavens, and its reflection caused intense light and dark shadows. Catherine's own shadow stalked heavy and immense by her side.

She walked a little way down the avenue, listening intently. Even the crunching of the gravel disturbed her, so she stepped on the grass, and walked noiselessly on its velvet path.

Suddenly she stopped, threw up her head, flung her shawl off, and with a movement quick as lightning, put out her hand and caught something.

She was holding a girl's slender and round arm. She drew her forward, pushed back her somewhat tawdry hat, and looked into her face.

"What are you doing here? What is your name? Speak at once. Tell me the truth."

The girl had queer, half-wild eyes. She looked down and began to mutter something indistinct. The next instant she went on her knees, caught Catherine's white dress and pressed it to her lips.

"Don't," said Miss Bertram, with a movement both of decision and repulsion. "You aren't even clean. Don't touch my dress. What are you doing here?"

"I have travelled a long way. I am only dirty because I am travel-sore. I have come to see the lady, your mother. I have come from far to see her. I have a message for her. Is she at home?"

"Would she see you, if she were at home, at this hour? Tell me your name first, and then go away. You cannot see my mother."

"You are Miss Bertram, are you not?"

"Yes--and Rosendale Manor is my home. It is not yours. Go away. Never come back here again. You are not to see my mother."

The girl rose to her feet. Her dress was dirty, her face was begrimed with the dirt of travel, but Catherine noticed that the dress was whole, not patched anywhere, also that her accent was pure, and almost refined.

"Miss Bertram," she said, "I must see the lady, your mother. I have an important message for her; I am not a spy, and I don't come in any unkindness, but I must see the lady who lives here, and who is your mother. I have waited for hours in the avenue, hours and hours. I will wait until morning. The nights are not cold, and I shall do very well. Let me see your mother then."

"You cannot. She is from home. It was you then, who bribed Tester to keep the lodge gate open?"

"I gave the man a shilling. Yes, I confess it. I am doing no harm here. Put yourself in my place."

"How dare you? How can you?" said Catherine, stepping away from the travel-stained figure.

"Ah, you are very proud, but there's a verse of Scripture that fits you. 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.' I know your age--you are just seventeen, I'm only nineteen, just two years older than you. You have no feeling for me. Suppose I had none for you?"

The refinement of the girl's voice became more and more apparent to Catherine. There was a thrill and a quality in it which both repelled and fascinated. This queer waif and stray, this vagabond of the woodside, was at least as fearless as herself.

"I don't know what you mean," she said, in a less imperious tone than she had hitherto used.

"I could explain what I mean, but I won't. I have too kind a heart to crush you. I could crush you. I could take that dainty white hand of yours, and feel it tremble in mine--and if you knew all that I could say you wouldn't leave me out here in the avenue, but you'd take me in, and give me the best to eat, and the softest bed to lie upon. Don't you think it's very kind of me when I could use such power over you that I don't use it? Don't you think it's noble of me? Oh, you are a dainty girl, and a proud, but I could bring you and yours to the very dust."

"You must be mad," said Catherine. "Absolutely mad. How can you possibly expect me to listen to this wild nonsense? You had better go away now. I'll walk with you as far as the gate, and then I'll wake up Tester to lock it after you. You needn't suppose that I'm afraid."

"Don't taunt me," said the girl. "If you do I'll use my power. Oh, I am hungry, and thirsty, and footsore. Why shouldn't I go into that house and sleep there, and eat there, and be rested?"

Her words were defiant, but just at the last they wavered, and Catherine saw by the moonlight that her face grew ghastly under its grimness, and she saw the slender young figure sway as if it would fall.

"You are hungry?" said Catherine, all her feelings merged in sudden pity. "Even though you have no right to be here, you sha'n't go hungry away. Sit down. Rest against that tree, and I will fetch you something."

She ran into the house, returning presently with a jug of milk, and some thick bread and butter.

"Eat that," she said, "and drink this milk, then you will be better. I slipped a cup into my pocket. It is not broken. I will pour you out a cup of milk."

The girl seized the bread and butter, and began devouring it. She was so famished that she almost tore it as she ate. Catherine, who had quite forgotten her dignified _role in compassion for the first real hunger she had ever witnessed, knelt on the grass by her side, and once, twice, thrice, filled the cup full of milk, and held it to her lips.

"Now you are better," she said, when the meal had come to an end.

"Yes, thank you, Miss Bertram, much better. The horrible sinking is gone, and the ground doesn't seem to reel away when I look at it. Thank you, Miss Catherine Bertram, I shall do nicely now. I do not at all mind sleeping here on the cool grass till the morning."

"But you are not to stay. Why are you obstinate when I am good to you? And why do you call me Miss Catherine Bertram? How can you possibly know my name?"

The girl laughed. Her laugh was almost cheerful, it was also young and silvery.

"You ask me a lot of questions," she said. "I'll answer them one by one, and the least important first. How I know your name is my own secret; I can't tell that without telling also what would crush you. But I may as well say that I know all about you. I know your appearance, and your age, and even a little bit about your character; and I know you have a younger sister called Mabel, and that she is not so pretty as you, and has not half the character, and in short that you are worth two of her.

"Then you have a brother. His name is Loftus. He is like you, only he is not so fearless. He is in the army. He is rather extravagant, and your mother is afraid of him. Ah, yes, I know all about you and yours; and I know so much in especial about that proud lady, your mother, that if there were daylight, and I had pencil and paper, I could draw a portrait of her for you. There, have I not answered your first question? Now you want to know why I don't go away. If you had no money in your purse, and if you had walked between twenty and thirty miles to effect an object of the greatest possible importance to yourself, would you give it up at the bidding of a young girl? Would you now?"

"You are very queer," said Catherine; "I fail to understand you. I don't know how you have got your extraordinary knowledge about us. You talk like a lady, but ladies don't starve with hunger, nor walk until they are travel-sore and spent. Ladies don't hide at midnight in shrubberies, in private grounds that don't belong to them. Then you say you have no money, and yet you gave Tester a shilling."

"I gave him my last shilling. Here is my empty purse. Look at it."

"Well, you are very, very queer. You have not even told me your name."

"Josephine. I am called Josephine."

"But you have another name. I am called Catherine, but I am also Bertram. What are you besides Josephine?"

"Ah, that's trenching into the darkness where you wouldn't like to find yourself. That's light for me, but dark ruin for you. Don't ask me what my other name is."

"Listen," said Catherine, suddenly, "you want to see my mother?"

"Yes, I certainly want to see her."

"Listen again. I am absolutely determined that you shall not see her."

"But I have a message for her."

"You shall not see her. My mother is not well. I stand between my mother and trouble. I know you are going to bring her trouble; and you shall not see her."

"How can you prevent me?"

"In this way. My mother is away from home. I will take care that she does not return until you have left this place. I am determined."

"Is that true?" asked the girl. "Is she really away from home?"

"Am I likely to tell you a lie? My mother is from home."

The strange girl had been sitting on the grass. Now she rose, pushed back her thick hair, and fixed her eyes on Catherine. Catherine again noticed the singular brightness, the half-wild light in her eyes. Suddenly it was quenched by great tears. They splashed down on her cheeks, and made clean channels where the dust had lain.

"I am deadly tired," she said, with a half moan.

"Listen, Josephine," said Catherine. "You shall not spend your night here. You shall not stay to see my mother. I will take you down to the lodge and wake up Tester, and his wife shall get a bed ready for you, and you shall sleep there, and in the morning you are to go away. You can have breakfast before you start, but afterwards you are to go away. Do you promise me? Do you agree to this?"

The girl muttered something, and Catherine took her hand and led her down to the lodge.

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