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Title: The House in the Forest
Author: Katharine Tynan
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000261h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2010
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The House in the Forest

by

Katharine Tynan


Published in The Queenslander
8 May, 1920


From the high, barred window of a house in the Forest of Arles, a pair of brown eyes looked down pitifully into Pat Tyrrell's very blue eyes. He was quite sure the eyes were brown, though the girl stood at a considerable height above him. The window was in the gable end of a house, which else was hidden from the grassy forest road by high walls. The place looked like a convent or a prison.

Pat Tyrrell, who was a romantic young man, felt as though drawn upward by the spell of those brown eyes. He stood staring up, his straw hat in his hands, his curly fair hair shining in the sun. The girl in the window had a curious idea that he looked as though he wore a halo. At Harrow they had given Pat Tyrrell the nickname of the Seraph. He had certainly a shining look; such a clear bright look that he always stood out in any assemblage of young men.

He was a soldier though he was in mufti. His height and bearing, and the flame of his hair reminded the girl in the window of a St. Michael of Giorgione which she and her father had seen--was it last year, or the year before, or a hundred years ago?--in a dim Roman Church?

While Pat Tyrrell looked up at the brown eyes the girl's head was suddenly turned away from him. Her attitude was one of quick alarm. Plainly she listened. Then the window space was empty of her and Pat Tyrrell was left standing alone, looking up at the blank space from which she had flown.

He had promised himself to reach Noyeau that evening and to sleep in a big, rambling Lion d'Or where he would find a comfortable bed, good cookery, and a warm welcome. Suddenly he knew that he was not going to the Lion d'Or at Noyeau. He was going to see the end of the adventure.

He drew back within the shade of the trees that overhung the grassy road. Not a moment too soon. Someone came to the window from which Brown Eyes had vanished. Pat Tyrrell stood very still. He could see through the branches that moved in the summer wind, dappling his brown homespuns with light and shade.

"What a villainous face!" he said to himself.

The woman's face looking out was indeed sinister. It was a dark and heavy face, with a moustache. The eyes roved over his hiding place as though they would pierce the secret.

He retired a little way into the woods, and waited. As he had expected, the green gate in the high wall opened, and the woman came out and stood looking up and down the road. She was a grenadier, quite 6ft in height, and burly. He hated her from afar off. She was so swarthy so hard, and vindictive-looking.

He went back to the little inn he had passed earlier in the afternoon, "Aux Trois Poilus." and over an omelette and slices of pink ham, washed down with white wine, and fruit, and a cup of coffee to follow, Madame told him what she knew of the prison-house.

"It is but a madhouse," she said. "Not so understood--what you call a rest cure. It is no one's business."

She shrugged her comfortable shoulders. "Now and again there comes a doctor from Amiens. The owner (Mlle. Dubois) she puts an advertisement in the journals for patients. To my mind, she would frighten any one to madness. But there is nothing against her or her establishment. I let my tongue run too fast."

She went off, and there came into the veranda of the inn, blinking from the hot sun, an honest-looking middle-aged woman, obviously English. She sat down at one of the little tables and asked for a cup of tea, a request which Pat Tyrrell translated for Madame. The woman looked at him eagerly, a light of hope breaking over her face.

"You are English, sir?" she said.

"Yes." He was Irish, but he did not trouble to make the distinction. "Can I be of any service to you."

"I've had a long and weary journey," she said. "I was never out of England before; but the Lord sent people to help me on my way. I don't tell my business to everybody, but one and another helped me along. Could you tell me, sir, whether in this forest there's likely to be a place where they'd keep a young lady against her will?"

Her eyes searched his face with a painful eagerness.

"Tell me about the young lady," he said quietly. "There, don't hurry. Finish your tea. I can see you want it. You'd better have something more substantial. Some ham, an omelette; they are excellent. You can have a lodging for the night here."

"I haven't slept in a bed since I left England," she said, wearily. "And I've had an anxious time. You are very kind, sir. Maybe you would help me to find my young lady?"

"I shall try," he said, quite oblivious of the party of five good comrades who were to join him at the Lion d'Or for the walk into Italy.

Before she spoke he knew that she was in search of Brown Eyes.

"Poor lamb," she said. "I should never have left her, not if I was to be carried out screeching so I'd bring the police. That basilisk Mrs. Warburton, her stepmother, has put her away, giving out that she's lost her senses. Small wonder if she had, her dear papa dying suddenly, being found dead in his bed. Poisoned, I should think. And Mrs. Warburton all for her son by the first, Mr. Anthony Brooke. I don't know how she prevailed on the poor master to marry her. Hard as nails she was, and I knew it the first day I laid eyes on her. But she took in the poor master; and now she's sent his darling child to the madhouse."

Pat Tyrrell listened eagerly. The rays of the afternoon sun were in his hair as he leant back in the long chair, smoking a cigarette, waiting for the woman to finish her meal.

He heard all the story bit by bit. The attached nurse, who had gone on to be her young lady's maid, had been dismissed after the death of George Warburton, the father of Brown Eyes, otherwise Nancy Warburton.

Pat nodded when he heard the name. He could have sworn the girl's name was Nancy. The nurse, Mrs. Bates, had retired, handsomely provided for, leaving her darling, most unwillingly, to be served by a smart French maid, whom she distrusted at sight. She had been uneasy at her sister's little cottage-farm in Norfolk, and she had come back to find Miss Nancy absent. The stepmother had explained to her that Miss Nancy was travelling with friends and had dismissed her. But as she left the room the French maid, who had evidently been listening at the keyhole, had beckoned her down a corridor to a little room where she sat sewing.

"That one there," she said, jerking her finger in the direction of the drawing-room Margaret Bates had just left, "I should like to--" she ground her teeth furiously--"wipe her out. She has me overworked; she insults me. That canaille there, asking if I have seen her ring. I go back to my own country, but first I tell you what I know. Your Mees Nancy, she is shut up, immured in a Maison de Sante in the Forest of Arles. I have discovered her secret. It is because Mees Nancy will not marry M. Antoin, that bete humaine, and give him her fortune. Madame has gone once, twice, to that house of terror. She has said: 'Will you marry my son?' and Mees Nancy has answered no. She will say yes, or she will go mad and die, and the money will be Madame's. So it was in the will of the unfortunate M. Warburton."

Finally she wrote down on a piece of paper the route which must be followed to come to the Forest of Arles. She had accompanied Nancy and her stepmother on that journey, which under the pretext of travel had ended in the prison-house of the Forest of Arles.

"I return to my own country to marry." she said, with a virtuous air. "I bring a dot to my man, but he would not like it if he knew about your Mees Nancy. So I have eased myself."

"Come with me!" said Pat Tyrrell to the nurse. They reached the ugly house in the midst of the beautiful forest as the sun was sinking behind the trees, turning all the forest to gold. Again there was the face at the window. It was turned away, with an air of flight as they first caught sight of it. Then the brown eyes looked down and suddenly the expression of the face changed. The girl did not yet see her faithful nurse; she was too busy looking into Pat Tyrrell's eyes. Suddenly she snatched a rose from a bush that had somehow climbed the wall to peep in at the barbed window, and threw it down. It struck him in the face softly, like a caress. When he looked she was gone.

Margaret Bates was in tears. Her Miss Nancy had changed sadly for the worse. They were killing her child.

Pat Tyrrell comforted her as they walked back to the inn. They were going to rescue her young lady--but how?

Perhaps it would have been wisest to call in the law, but the law moves slowly. It was represented in the Forest of Arles by a solitary gendarme. It was a clumsy machinery to set in motion, and Pat Tyrrell was all aflame to rescue the imprisoned lady--the Barbara in her tower, as he called Nancy Warburton in his own mind.

There was left--to abduct her. It appealed much more to the romantic in Pat Tyrrell's nature than any staider method of procedure.

While they waited he had struck up a friendship with the wood-ranger in the employment of M. le Duc, who owned the Forest. The man was a Gascon, with a love for adventure equal to Pat's own. He had some evil tales to tell of the establishment of Mdme. Dubois--le Donjon, as he called it. Shrieks, groans, the rattling of chains, the sound of whips. Pat guessed that the Gascon invented a good deal. Impossible to say how much, but all the same his blood froze in his veins lest some of the tales should be true.

Gaston Galant, the wood-ranger, had a huge dog, very gentle with his master, but not safe with strangers. Pat thought Aristide might be useful to prevent pursuit. They had had communication with Nancy Warburton, and she was ready for anything. On the first moonless night she was to escape by the window, which was a staircase window. Gaston Galant had seen to it that the bars should move out of their places easily. They were, as a matter of fact, rusted through.

There was to be a motor in waiting, which would swiftly carry the rescued damsel, her rescuer, and the faithful nurse over the frontier, and speed them away to Paris and London.

The night came. All was ready; but when Pat Tyrrell ran the ladder to the window he found it heavily shuttered. Their plan must have been discovered.

He came back to earth raging, and then cold with sudden fear. Supposing they had taken away his Barbara out of his reach. The gaoler had looked capable of any villainy. She must have been well paid.

Margaret Bates wept quietly and wrung her hands. The dog, who had taken a fancy to her, pressed up against her, and there was the useless ladder standing by the wall, and, shining through the trees the two great eyes of the automobile that was to have carried them to safety and joy.

"But, m'sieu!" said Gaston. "The young lady is there. I have kept a watch on the house. It is but to scale the wall, demand admittance, and, if not given, smoke them out. Many a one may obtain deliverance besides Mademoiselle. It will be a scandal. In the light of the scandal the place cannot live. It will come to the ears of Monseigneur. Already the people are grumbling. We are so slow in the Forest of Arles."

Pat Tyrrel bade the nurse go to the motor and wait. They set the ladder against the wall. He and Gaston went up and drew the ladder after them, when Aristide had followed clumsily. They were in a dark garden full of gloomy trees.

Pat Tyrrel and Gaston stumbled towards the house. Turning the lantern they carried on to it, they saw stone areas running along the house, into which they might have fallen, and there would have been an end of them. In the middle a little flight of steps led to a nail-studded door, very strong, with a heavy knocker.

They knocked, and the sound echoed through the Forest. There was no answer. They knocked again, and again. There was no time to be lost. It was possible that while they wasted time here the girl might leave the house by the front entrance.

The terror of it made Pat Tyrrell agree to the 'smoking' out. A few armsful of twigs and leaves and dry grass against the heavy door, and in the areas made a prodigious crackling and smoke.

The fire had not gone far--Gaston was whispering that he could beat out the fire in two or three seconds--when the bolts of the door fell heavily, and Madame Dubois came out, looking more evil than ever in the smoke and flare.

She had not time to speak before Gaston Galant seized her, and placed her at the foot of the steps.

"Guard her, Aristide," he said, "Do not let her stir till I give thee leave."

He kicked away the thin fire from the door, and the wind blew it out. They rushed up through the house, opening doors as they went. Many a piteous voice called out to them for deliverance.

There was no time to wait. They answered that the doors were open. Any one who wished to go was free. At last Pat Tyrrell found his Barbara in a small room at the very top of the house, her delicate hands chained together, chains on her feet. She was fully dressed. He lifted her and carried her down the stairs. Heavens how light she was!

When he reached the central hall of the house he found that the front door was open. Gaston was standing by it, holding a lantern.

"The birds are free," he said. "There is not one mad among them. They will never come back again."

Pat Tyrrell set down the poor prisoner, and looked about for something with which to break the fetters. They were light enough he found on examination, to be broken by a strong hand, although they had held the girl so securely.

A little later and the automobile was speeding away northwards. Nancy Warburton and her nurse inside, Pat Tyrrell outside with the chauffeur. At Paris they waited an hour or two for food, and the purchase of some outdoor garments for Nancy, and then sped on again.

The girl lay hidden in a country village, of which Pat's great friend, Stephen Conyers was vicar, until one beautiful September morning they were married. Pat was not going to take any risks. As Nancy's husband he would be in the best position to defend her against all the world.

So it was as man and wife that the radiant young couple carried their amazing story to Mr. Butley, of Butley, Franks, and Solomans, Lincoln's Inn Fields, the distinguished firm of solicitors, who condescended to manage Pat Tyrrell's not very important affairs.

Mr. Butley, who had loved Pat's father, and was very fond of his son, lifted his hands in amazement over Pat's story. But, after all, Mrs. Tyrrell was charming, and he would be delighted to see them through.

The 'seeing them through' was exceedingly unpleasant for the second Mrs. Warburton and her son, and resulted in Mr. and Mrs. Pat Tyrrell being placed in possession of a beautiful house and a very comfortable fortune, while Mrs. Warburton thought well of taking what was hers, and going to live in another country. Mr. Butley's young friend had done extremely well for himself from a worldly point of view, but the impractical young man was rather annoyed than otherwise to find he had married a fortune.

Some time later the married lovers revisited the Forest of Arles, where they had the warmest of welcomes from Gaston Galant, and from Madame of "Aux Trois Poilus." The house in the Forest stood empty. Dubois had disappeared after her flown birds.

"Look you, now, M'sieu," said Gaston Galant. "None of them will come back. They were no more mad than you or I. Some sheltered here in our cottage till their friends came and took them away, real friends, not such as had condemned them to a living death. There were some meetings! Ah! M'sieu, thou and I and Aristide, we did a good night's work when we broke that cage, and set the prisoners free."


THE END

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