Read CHAPTER VI of Capitola's Peril A Sequel to 'The Hidden Hand' , free online book, by Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, on ReadCentral.com.

The inmate of the Hidden house

There is a light around her brow,
A holiness in those dark eyes,
That show, though wandering earthward now,
Her spirit’s home is in the skies.

Moore.

Pushing open the door, Dorcas Knight exclaimed:

“Here is a young lady, Miss Black, from Hurricane Hall, come to see you, Miss Day.”

And having made this announcement, the woman retired and shut the door behind her.

And Capitola found herself in a large, dark, gloomy, wainscoted room, whose tall, narrow windows afforded but little light, and whose immense fireplace and blackened furniture seemed to belong to a past century.

The only occupant of this somber apartment was a young girl, seated in pensive thought beside the central table. She was clothed in deep mourning, which only served to throw into fairer relief the beauty of her pearly skin, golden hair and violet eyes.

The vision of her mourning robes and melancholy beauty so deeply impressed Capitola that, almost for the first time in her life, she hesitated from a feeling of diffidence, and said gently:

“Indeed, I fear that this is an unwarranted intrusion on my part, Miss Day.”

“You are very welcome,” replied the sweetest voice Capitola had ever heard, as the young girl arose and advanced to meet her. “But you have been exposed to the storm. Please come into my room and change your clothes,” continued the young hostess, as she took Cap’s hand and led her into an adjoining room.

The storm was still raging, but these apartments being in the central portion of the strong old house, were but little exposed to the sight or sound of its fury.

There was a lamp burning upon the mantelpiece, by the light of which the young girl furnished her visitor with dry clothing and assisted her to change, saying as she did so:

“I think we are about the same size, and that my clothes will fit you; but I will not offer you mourning habiliments you shall have this lilac silk.”

“I am very sorry to see you in mourning,” said Capitola, earnestly.

“It is for my father,” replied Clara, very softly.

As they spoke the eyes of the two young girls met. They were both good physiognomists and intuitive judges of character. Consequently in the full meeting of their eyes they read, understood and appreciated each other.

The pure, grave, and gentle expression of Clara’s countenance touched the heart of Capitola.

The bright, frank, honest face of Cap recommended her to Clara.

The very opposite traits of their equally truthful characters attracted them to each other.

Clara conducted her guest back into the wainscoted parlor, where a cheerful fire had been kindled to correct the dampness of the air. And here they sat down unmindful of the storm that came much subdued through the thickness of the walls. And, as young creatures, however tried and sorrowful, will do, they entered into a friendly chat. And before an hour had passed Capitola thought herself well repaid for her sufferings from the storm and the rebuff, in having formed the acquaintance of Clara Day.

She resolved, let Old Hurricane rage as he might, henceforth she would be a frequent visitor to the Hidden House.

And Clara, for her part, felt that in Capitola she had found a frank, spirited, faithful neighbor who might become an estimable friend.

While they were thus growing into each other’s favor, the door opened and admitted a gentleman of tall and thin figure and white and emaciated face, shaded by a luxuriant growth of glossy black hair and beard. He could not have been more than twenty-six, but, prematurely broken by vice, he seemed forty years of age. He advanced bowing toward the young women.

As Capitola’s eyes fell upon this newcomer it required all her presence of mind and powers of self-control to prevent her from staring or otherwise betraying herself for in this stranger she recognized the very man who had stopped her upon her night ride. She did, however, succeed in banishing from her face every expression of consciousness. And when Miss Day courteously presented him to her guest, saying merely, “My cousin, Mr. Craven Le Noir, Miss Black,” Capitola arose and curtsied as composedly as if she had never set eyes upon his face before.

He on his part evidently remembered her, and sent one stealthy, keen and scrutinizing glance into her face; but, finding that imperturbable, he bowed with stately politeness and seemed satisfied that she had not identified him as her assailant.

Craven Le Noir drew his chair to the fire, seated himself and entered into an easy conversation with Clara and her guest. Whenever he addressed Clara there was a deference and tenderness in his tone and glance that seemed very displeasing to the fair girl, who received all these delicate attentions with coldness and reserve. These things did not escape the notice of Capitola, who mentally concluded that Craven Le Noir was a lover of Clara Day, but a most unacceptable lover.

When supper was announced it was evidently hailed by Clara as a great relief. And after the meal was over she arose and excused herself to her cousin by saying that her guest, Miss Black, had been exposed to the storm and was doubtless very much fatigued and that she would show her to her chamber.

Then, taking a night lamp, she invited Capitola to come and conducted her to an old-fashioned upper chamber, where a cheerful fire was burning on the hearth. Here the young girls sat down before the fire and improved their acquaintance by an hour’s conversation. After which Clara arose, and saying, “I sleep immediately below your room, Miss Black; if you should want anything rap on the floor and I shall hear you and get up,” she wished her guest a good night’s rest and retired from the room.

Cap was disinclined to sleep; a strange superstitious feeling which she could neither understand nor throw off had fallen upon her spirits.

She took the night lamp in her hand and got up to examine her chamber. It was a large, dark, oak-paneled room, with a dark carpet on the floor and dark-green curtains on the windows and the bedstead. Over the mantelpiece hung the portrait of a most beautiful black-haired and black-eyed girl of about fourteen years of age, but upon whose infantile brow fell the shadow of some fearful woe. There was something awful in the despair “on that face so young” that bound the gazer in an irresistible and most painful spell. And Capitola remained standing before it transfixed, until the striking of the hall clock aroused her from her enchantment. Wondering who the young creature could have been, what had been her history and, above all, what had been the nature of that fearful woe that darkened like a curse her angel brow, Capitola turned almost sorrowfully away and began to prepare for bed.

She undressed, put on the delicate nightclothes Clara had provided for her use, said her evening prayers, looked under the bed a precaution taken ever since the night upon which she had discovered the burglars and, finding all right, she blew out her candle and lay down. She could not sleep many persons of nervous or mercurial temperaments cannot do so the first night in a strange bed. Cap was very mercurial, and the bed and room in which she lay were very strange; for the first time since she had had a home to call her own she was unexpectedly staying all night away from her friends, and without their having any knowledge of her whereabouts. She was conjecturing, half in fear and half in fun, how Old Hurricane was taking her escapade and what he would say to her in the morning. She was wondering to find herself in such an unforeseen position as that of a night guest in the mysterious Hidden House wondering whether this was the guest chamber in which the ghost appeared to the officer and these were the very curtains that the pale lady drew at night. While her thoughts were thus running over the whole range of circumstances around her singular position, sleep overtook Capitola and speculation was lost in brighter visions.

How long she had slept and dreamed she did not know, when something gently awakened her. She opened her eyes calmly to meet a vision that brave as she was, nearly froze the blood in her warm veins.

Her chamber was illumined with an intense blue flame that lighted up every portion of the apartment with a radiance bright as day, and in the midst of this effulgence moved a figure clothed in white a beautiful, pale, spectral woman, whose large, motionless black eyes, deeply set in her death-like face, and whose long unbound black hair, fallen upon her white raiment, were the only marks of color about her marble form.

Paralyzed with wonder, Capitola watched this figure as it glided about the chamber. The apparition approached the dressing-table, seemed to take something thence, and then gliding toward the bed, to Capitola’s inexpressible horror, drew back the curtains and bent down and gazed upon her! Capitola had no power to scream, to move or to avert her gaze from those awful eyes that met her own, until at length, as the spectral head bent lower, she felt the pressure of a pair of icy lips upon her brow and closed her eyes!

When she opened them again the vision had departed and the room was dark and quiet.

There was no more sleep for Capitola. She heard the clock strike four, and was pleased to find that it was so near day. Still the time seemed very long to her, who lay there wondering, conjecturing and speculating on the strange adventure of the night.

When the sun arose she left her restless bed, bathed her excited head and proceeded to dress herself. When she had finished her toilet, with the exception of putting on her trinkets, she suddenly missed a ring that she prized more than she did all her possessions put together it was a plain gold band, bearing the inscription Capitola-Eugene, and which she had been enjoined by her old nurse never to part from but with life. She had, in her days of destitution suffered the extremes of cold and hunger; had been upon the very brink of death from starvation or freezing, but without ever dreaming of sacrificing her ring. And now for the first time it was missing. While she was still looking anxiously for the lost jewel the door opened and Dorcas Knight entered the room, bearing on her arm Capitola’s riding dress, which had been well dried and ironed.

“Miss Capitola, here is your habit; you had better put it on at once, as I have ordered breakfast an hour sooner than usual, so that you may have an early start.”

“Upon my word, you are very anxious to get rid of me, but not more so than I am to depart,” said Capitola, still pursuing her search.

“Your friends, who do not know where you are, must be very uneasy about you. But what are you looking for?”

“A ring, a plain gold circle, with my name and that of another inscribed on it, and which I would not lose for the world. I hung it on a pin in this pin-cushion last night before I went to bed. I would swear I did, and now it is missing,” answered Cap, still pursuing her search.

“If you lost it in this room it will certainly be found,” said Dorcas Knight putting down the habit and helping in the search.

“I am not so sure of that. There was some one in my room last night.”

“Some one in your room!” exclaimed Dorcas in dismay.

“Yes; a dark-haired woman, all dressed in white!”

Dorcas Knight gave two or three angry grunts and then harshly exclaimed:

“Nonsense! woman, indeed! there is no such woman about the house! There are no females here except Miss Day, myself and you not even a waiting-maid or cook.”

“Well,” said Cap, “if it was not a woman it was a ghost; for I was wide awake, and I saw it with my own eyes!”

“Fudge! you’ve heard that foolish story of the haunted room, and you have dreamed the whole thing!”

“I tell you I didn’t! I saw it! Don’t I know?”

“I say you dreamed it! There is no such living woman here; and as for a ghost, that is all folly. And I must beg, Miss Black, that you will not distress Miss Day by telling her this strange dream of yours. She has never heard the ridiculous story of the haunted room, and, as she lives here in solitude, I would not like her to hear of it.”

“Oh, I will say nothing to disquiet Miss Day; but it was no dream. It was real, if there is any reality in this world.”

There was no more said. They continued to look for the ring, but in vain. Dorcas Knight, however, assured her guest that it should be found and returned, and that breakfast waited. Whereupon Capitola went down to the parlor, where she found Clara awaiting her presence to give her a kindly greeting.

“Mr. Le Noir never gets up until very late, and so we do not wait for him,” said Dorcas Knight, as she took her seat at the head of the table and signed to the young girls to gather around it.

After breakfast Capitola, promising to come again soon, and inviting Clara to return her visit, took leave of her entertainers and set out for home.

“Thank heaven! I have got her off in time and safety!” muttered Dorcas Knight, in triumph.