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- Capitola The Madcap - 10/61 -
"Great heavens!" she thought, "can these things really be! Have the ghostly traditions of this world truth in them at last? When I heard this story of the haunted window I thought some one had surely imagined or invented it! Now I have seen for myself; but if I were to tell what I have seen not one in a hundred would believe me!"
While these startling thoughts disturbed her usual well-balanced mind, a vivid flash of lightning, accompanied by a tremendous peal of thunder and a heavy fall of rain, roused her into renewed activity.
"Gyp, my boy, the storm is upon us sure enough! We shall catch it all around, get well drowned, beaten and buffeted here and well abused when we get home! Meantime, Gyp, which is the worst, the full fury of the tempest or the mysterious terrors of the Haunted House!"
Another blinding flash of lightning, a stunning crash of thunder, a flood of rain and tornado of wind decided her.
"We'll take the Haunted House, Gyp, my friend! That spectral lady of the lighted window looked rather in sorrow than in anger, and who knows but the ghosts may be hospitable? So gee up, Dobbin!" said Capitola, and, urging her horse with one hand and holding on her cap with the other, she went on against wind and rain until she reached the front of the old house.
Not a creature was to be seen; every door and window was closely shut. Dismounting, Capitola led her horse under the shelter of a thickly leaved oak tree, secured him, and then holding up her saturated skirt with one hand and holding on her cap with the other, she went up some moldering stone steps to an old stone portico and, seizing the heavy iron knocker of a great black oak double door, she knocked loudly enough to awaken all the mountain echoes.
She waited a few minutes for an answer, but receiving none, she knocked again, more loudly than before. Still there was no reply. And growing impatient, she seized the knocker with both hands and exerting all her strength, made the welkin ring again!
This brought a response. The door was unlocked and angrily jerked open by a short, squarely formed, beetle-browed, stern-looking woman, clothed in a black stuff gown and having a stiff muslin cap upon her head.
"Who are you? What do you want here?" harshly demanded this woman, whom Capitola instinctively recognized as Dorky Knight, the morose housekeeper of the Hidden House.
"Who am I? What do I want? Old Nick fly away with you! It's plain enough to be seen who I am and what I want. I am a young woman caught out in the storm and I want shelter!" said Cap, indignantly. And her words were endorsed by a terrific burst of the tempest in lightning, thunder, wind and rain!
"Come in then and when you ask favors learn to keep a civil tongue in your head!" said the woman sternly, taking the guest by the hand and pulling her in and shutting and locking the door.
"Favors! Plague on you for a bearess! I asked no favor! Every storm- beaten traveler has a right to shelter under the first roof that offers, and none but a curmudgeon would think of calling it a favor! And as for keeping a civil tongue in my head, I'll do it when you set me the example!" said Cap.
"Who are you?" again demanded the woman.
"Oh, I see you are no Arabian in your notions of hospitality! Those pagans entertain a guest without asking him a single question; and though he were their bitterest foe, they consider him while he rests beneath their tent sacred from intrusion."
"That's because they were pagans!" said Dorky. "But as I am a Christian, I'd thank you to let me know who it is that I have received under this roof."
"My name," said our heroine, impatiently, "is Capitola Black! I live with my uncle, Major Warfield, at Hurricane Hall! And now, I should thank your ladyship to send some one to put away my horse, while you yourself accommodate me with dry clothes."
While our saucy little heroine spoke the whole aspect of the dark- browed woman changed.
"Capitola-Capitola," she muttered, gazing earnestly upon the face of the unwelcome guest.
"Yes, Capitola! That is my name! You never heard anything against it, did you?"
For all answer the woman seized her hand, and while the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, and the wind and rain beat down, she drew her the whole length of the hall before a back window that overlooked the neglected garden, and, regardless of the electric fluid that incessantly blazed upon them, she held her there and scrutinized her features.
"Well, I like this! Upon my word, I do!" said Cap, composedly.
Without replying, the strange woman seized her right hand, forcibly opened it, gazed upon the palm and then, flinging it back with a shudder, exclaimed:
"Capitola, what brought you under this roof? Away! Begone! Mount your horse and fly while there is yet time!"
"What! expose myself again to the storm? I won't, and that's flat!" said Cap.
"Girl! girl! there are worse dangers in the world than any to be feared from thunder, lightning, rain or wind!"
"Very well, then, when I meet them it will be time enough to deal with them! Meanwhile the stormy night and my soaked clothing are very palpable evils, and as I see no good end to be gained by my longer enduring them, I will just beg you to stop soothsaying--(as I have had enough of that from another old witch)--and be as good as to permit me to change my clothes!"
"It is madness! You shall not stay here!" cried the woman, in a harsh voice.
"And I tell you I will! You are not the head of the family, and I do not intend to be turned out by you!"
While she spoke a servant crossed the hall and the woman, whisking Capitola around until her back was turned and her face concealed, went to speak to the newcomer.
"When will your master be here?" Capitola heard her inquire.
"Not to-night; he saw the storm rising and did not wish to expose himself. He sent me on to say that he would not be here until morning. I was caught, as you see! I am dripping wet," replied the man.
"Go, change your clothes at once then, Davy,"
"Who is that stranger?" asked the man, pointing to Capitola.
"Some young woman of the neighborhood, who has been caught out in the tempest. But you had better go and change your clothes than to stand here gossiping," said the woman, harshly.
"I say," said the man, "the young woman is a God-send to Miss Clara; nobody has been to see her yet; nobody ever visits this house unless they are driven to it. I don't wonder the colonel and our young master pass as much as ten months in the year away from home, spending all the summer at the watering places, and all the winter in New York or Washington!"
"Hold your tongue! What right have you to complain? You always attend them in their travels!"
"True, but you see for this last season they have both been staying here, old master to watch the heiress, young master to court her, and as I have no interest in that game, I find the time hangs heavy on my hands," complained the man.
"It will hang heavier if you take a long fit of illness by standing in wet clothes," muttered the woman.
"Why, so 'twill, missus! So here goes," assented the man, hurrying across the hall and passing out through the door opposite that by which he entered.
Dorcas returned to her guest.
Eying her closely for a while, she at length inquired:
"Capitola, how long have you lived at Hurricane Hall?"
"So long," replied Cap, "that you must have heard of me! I, at least, have often heard of Mother Dorkey Knight."
"And heard no good of her!"
"Well, no--to be candid with you, I never did," said Cap.
"And much harm of her?" continued the woman, keeping her stern black eyes fixed upon those of her guest.
"Well, yes--since you ask me, I have heard pretty considerable harm!" answered Cap, nothing daunted.
"Where did you live before you came to Hurricane Hall?" asked Dorcas.
"Where I learned to fear God, to speak the truth and to shame the devil!" replied Cap.
--"And to force yourself into people's houses against their will!"
"There you are again! I tell you that when I learn from the head of this household that I am unwelcome, then I will retreat, and not until then! And now I demand to be presented to the master."
"To Colonel Le Noir?"
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