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Actions and Reactions by Rudyard Kipling

Part 5 out of 5

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"Your guarantee with the house. Don't you remember it?"

"Yes, yes. That no death had taken place in the house since it
was built: I remember perfectly."

He did not gulp as untrained men do when they lie, but his jaws
moved stickily, and his eyes, turning towards the deed boxes on
the wall, dulled. I counted seconds, one, two, three--one, two,
three up to ten. A man, I knew, can live through ages of mental
depression in that time.

"I remember perfectly." His mouth opened a little as though it
had tasted old bitterness.

"Of course that sort of thing doesn't appeal to me." I went on.
"I don't expect to buy a house free from death."

"Certainly not. No one does. But it was Mr. M'Leod's fancy--his
wife's rather, I believe; and since we could meet it--it was my
duty to my clients at whatever cost to my own feelings--to make
him pay."

"That's really why I came to you. I understood from him you knew
the place well."

"Oh, yes. Always did. It originally belonged to some connections
of mine."

"The Misses Moultrie, I suppose. How interesting! They must have
loved the place before the country round about was built up."

"They were very fond of it indeed."

"I don't wonder. So restful and sunny. I don't see how they could
have brought themselves to part with it."

Now it is one of the most constant peculiarities of the English
that in polite conversation--and I had striven to be polite--no
one ever does or sells anything for mere money's sake.

"Miss Agnes--the youngest--fell ill" (he spaced his words a
little), "and, as they were very much attached to each other,
that broke up the home."

"Naturally. I fancied it must have been something of that kind.
One doesn't associate the Staffordshire Moultries" (my Demon of
Irresponsibility at that instant created 'em), "with--with being
hard up."

"I don't know whether we're related to them," he answered
importantly. "We may be, for our branch of the family comes from
the Midlands."

I give this talk at length, because I am so proud of my first
attempt at detective work. When I left him, twenty minutes later,
with instructions to move against the owner of Holmescroft, with
a view to purchase, I was more bewildered than any Doctor Watson
at the opening of a story.

Why should a middle-aged solicitor turn plovers' egg colour and
drop his jaw when reminded of so innocent and festal a matter as
that no death had ever occurred in a house that he had sold? If I
knew my English vocabulary at all, the tone in which he said the
youngest sister "fell ill" meant that she had gone out of her
mind. That might explain his change of countenance, and it was
just possible that her demented influence still hung about
Holmescroft; but the rest was beyond me.

I was relieved when I reached M'Leod's City office, and could
tell him what I had done--not what I thought.

M'Leod was quite willing to enter into the game of the pretended
purchase, but did not see how it would help if I knew Baxter.

"He's the only living soul I can get at who was connected with
Holmescroft," I said.

"Ah! Living soul is good," said M'Leod. "At any rate our little
girl will be pleased that you are still interested in us. Won't
you come down some day this week?"

"How is it there now?" I asked.

He screwed up his face. "Simply frightful!" he said. "Thea is at
Droitwich."

"I should like it immensely, but I must cultivate Baxter for the
present. You'll be sure and keep him busy your end, won't you?"

He looked at me with quiet contempt. "Do not be afraid. I shall
be a good Jew. I shall be my own solicitor."

Before a fortnight was over, Baxter admitted ruefully that M'Leod
was better than most firms in the business: We buyers were coy,
argumentative, shocked at the price of Holmescroft, inquisitive,
and cold by turns, but Mr. M'Leod the seller easily met and
surpassed us; and Mr. Baxter entered every letter, telegram, and
consultation at the proper rates in a cinematograph-film of a
bill. At the end of a month he said it looked as though M'Leod,
thanks to him, were really going to listen to reason. I was many
pounds out of pocket, but I had learned something of Mr. Baxter
on the human side. I deserved it. Never in my life have I worked
to conciliate, amuse, and flatter a human being as I worked over
my solicitor.

It appeared that he golfed. Therefore, I was an enthusiastic
beginner, anxious to learn. Twice I invaded his office with a bag
(M'Leod lent it) full of the spelicans needed in this detestable
game, and a vocabulary to match. The third time the ice broke,
and Mr. Baxter took me to his links, quite ten miles off, where
in a maze of tramway lines, railroads, and nursery-maids, we
skelped our divotted way round nine holes like barges plunging
through head seas. He played vilely and had never expected to
meet any one worse; but as he realised my form, I think he began
to like me, for he took me in hand by the two hours together.
After a fortnight he could give me no more than a stroke a hole,
and when, with this allowance, I once managed to beat him by one,
he was honestly glad, and assured me that I should be a golfer if
I stuck to it. I was sticking to it for my own ends, but now and
again my conscience pricked me; for the man was a nice man.
Between games he supplied me with odd pieces of evidence, such as
that he had known the Moultries all his life, being their cousin,
and that Miss Mary, the eldest, was an unforgiving woman who
would never let bygones be. I naturally wondered what she might
have against him; and somehow connected him unfavourably with mad
Agnes.

"People ought to forgive and forget," he volunteered one day
between rounds. "Specially where, in the nature of things, they
can't be sure of their deductions. Don't you think so?"

"It all depends on the nature of the evidence on which one forms
one's judgment," I answered.

"Nonsense!" he cried. "I'm lawyer enough to know that there's
nothing in the world so misleading as circumstantial evidence.
Never was."

"Why? Have you ever seen men hanged on it?"

"Hanged? People have been supposed to be eternally lost on it,"
his face turned grey again. "I don't know how it is with you, but
my consolation is that God must know. He must! Things that seem
on the face of 'em like murder, or say suicide, may appear
different to God. Heh?"

"That's what the murderer and the suicide can always hope--I
suppose."

"I have expressed myself clumsily as usual. The facts as God
knows 'em--may be different--even after the most clinching
evidence. I've always said that--both as a lawyer and a man, but
some people won't--I don't want to judge 'em--we'll say they
can't--believe it; whereas I say there's always a working
chance--a certainty--that the worst hasn't happened." He stopped
and cleared his throat. "Now, let's come on! This time next week
I shall be taking my holiday."

"What links?" I asked carelessly, while twins in a perambulator
got out of our line of fire.

"A potty little nine-hole affair at a hydro in the Midlands. My
cousins stay there. Always will. Not but what the fourth and the
seventh holes take some doing. You could manage it, though," he
said encouragingly. "You're doing much better. It's only your
approach shots that are weak."

"You're right. I can't approach for nuts! I shall go to pieces
while you're away--with no one to coach me," I said mournfully.

"I haven't taught you anything," he said, delighted with the
compliment.

"I owe all I've learned to you, anyhow. When will you come back?"

"Look here," he began. "I don't know, your engagements, but I've
no one to play with at Burry Mills. Never have. Why couldn't you
take a few days off and join me there? I warn you it will be
rather dull. It's a throat and gout place-baths, massage,
electricity, and so forth. But the fourth and the seventh holes
really take some doing."

"I'm for the game," I answered valiantly; Heaven well knowing
that I hated every stroke and word of it.

"That's the proper spirit. As their lawyer I must ask you not to
say anything to my cousins about Holmescroft. It upsets 'em.
Always did. But speaking as man to man, it would be very pleasant
for me if you could see your way to--"

I saw it as soon as decency permitted, and thanked him sincerely.
According to my now well-developed theory he had certainly
misappropriated his aged cousins' monies under power of attorney,
and had probably driven poor Agnes Moultrie out of her wits, but
I wished that he was not so gentle, and good-tempered, and
innocent eyed.

Before I joined him at Burry Mills Hydro, I spent a night at
Holmescroft. Miss M'Leod had returned from her Hydro, and first
we made very merry on the open lawn in the sunshine over the
manners and customs of the English resorting to such places. She
knew dozens of hydros, and warned me how to behave in them, while
Mr. and Mrs. M'Leod stood aside and adored her.

"Ah! That's the way she always comes back to us," he said. "Pity
it wears off so soon, ain't it? You ought to hear her sing 'With
mirth thou pretty bird.'"

We had the house to face through the evening, and there we
neither laughed nor sung. The gloom fell on us as we entered, and
did not shift till ten o'clock, when we crawled out, as it were,
from beneath it.

"It has been bad this summer," said Mrs. M'Leod in a whisper
after we realised that we were freed. "Sometimes I think the
house will get up and cry out--it is so bad."

"How?"

"Have you forgotten what comes after the depression ?"

So then we waited about the small fire, and the dead air in the
room presently filled and pressed down upon us with the sensation
(but words are useless here) as though some dumb and bound power
were striving against gag and bond to deliver its soul of an
articulate word. It passed in a few minutes, and I fell to
thinking about Mr. Baxter's conscience and Agnes Moultrie, gone
mad in the well-lit bedroom that waited me. These reflections
secured me a night during which I rediscovered how, from purely
mental causes, a man can be physically sick; but the sickness was
bliss compared to my dreams when the birds waked. On my
departure, M'Leod gave me a beautiful narwhal's horn, much as a
nurse gives a child sweets for being brave at a dentist's.

"There's no duplicate of it in the world," he said, "else it
would have come to old Max M'Leod;" and he tucked it into the
motor. Miss M'Leod on the far side of the car whispered, "Have
you found out anything, Mr. Perseus?"

I shook my head.

"Then I shall be chained to my rock all my life," she went on.
"Only don't tell papa."

I supposed she was thinking of the young gentleman who
specialised in South American rails, for I noticed a ring on the
third finger of her left hand.

I went straight from that house to Burry Mills Hydro, keen for
the first time in my life on playing golf, which is guaranteed to
occupy the mind. Baxter had taken me a room communicating with
his own, and after lunch introduced me to a tall, horse-headed
elderly lady of decided manners, whom a white-haired maid pushed
along in a bath-chair through the park-like grounds of the Hydro.
She was Miss Mary Moultrie, and she coughed and cleared her
throat just like Baxter. She suffered--she told me it was a
Moultrie castemark--from some obscure form of chronic bronchitis,
complicated with spasm of the glottis; and, in a dead, flat
voice, with a sunken eye that looked and saw not, told me what
washes, gargles, pastilles, and inhalations she had proved most
beneficial. From her I was passed on to her younger sister, Miss
Elizabeth, a small and withered thing with twitching lips,
victim, she told me, to very much the same sort of throat, but
secretly devoted to another set of medicines. When she went away
with Baxter and the bath-chair, I fell across a major of the
Indian army with gout in his glassy eyes, and a stomach which he
had taken all round the Continent. He laid everything before me;
and him I escaped only to be confided in by a matron with a
tendency to follicular tonsilitis and eczema. Baxter waited hand
and foot on his cousins till five o'clock, trying, as I saw, to
atone for his treatment of the dead sister. Miss Mary ordered him
about like a dog.

"I warned you it would be dull," he said when we met in the
smoking-room.

"It's tremendously interesting," I said. "But how about a look
round the links?"

"Unluckily damp always affects my eldest cousin. I've got to buy
her a new bronchitis-kettle. Arthurs broke her old one
yesterday."

We slipped out to the chemist's shop in the town, and he bought a
large glittering tin thing whose workings he explained.

"I'm used to this sort of work. I come up here pretty often," he
said. "I've the family throat too."

"You're a good man," I said. "A very good man."

He turned towards me in the evening light among the beeches, and
his face was changed to what it might have been a generation
before.

"You see," he said huskily, "there was the youngest--Agnes.
Before she fell ill, you know. But she didn't like leaving her
sisters. Never would." He hurried on with his odd-shaped load and
left me among the ruins of my black theories. The man with that
face had done Agnes Moultrie no wrong.

We never played our game. I was waked between two and three in
the morning from my hygienic bed by Baxter in an ulster over
orange and white pyjamas, which I should never have suspected
from his character.

"My cousin has had some sort of a seizure," he said. "Will you
come? I don't want to wake the doctor. Don't want to make a
scandal. Quick!"

So I came quickly, and led by the white-haired Arthurs in a
jacket and petticoat, entered a double-bedded room reeking with
steam and Friar's Balsam. The electrics were all on. Miss Mary--I
knew her by her height--was at the open window, wrestling with
Miss Elizabeth, who gripped her round the knees.

Miss Mary's hand was at her own throat, which was streaked with
blood.

"She's done it. She's done it too!" Miss Elizabeth panted. "Hold
her! Help me!"

"Oh, I say! Women don't cut their throats," Baxter whispered.

"My God! Has she cut her throat?" the maid cried out, and with no
warning rolled over in a faint. Baxter pushed her under the
wash-basins, and leaped to hold the gaunt woman who crowed and
whistled as she struggled toward the window. He took her by the
shoulder, and she struck out wildly:

"All right! She's only cut her hand," he said. "Wet towel quick!"

While I got that he pushed her backward. Her strength seemed
almost as great as his. I swabbed at her throat when I could, and
found no mark; then helped him to control her a little. Miss
Elizabeth leaped back to bed, wailing like a child.

"Tie up her hand somehow," said Baxter. "Don't let it drip about
the place. She"--he stepped on broken glass in his slippers, "she
must have smashed a pane."

Miss Mary lurched towards the open window again, dropped on her
knees, her head on the sill, and lay quiet, surrendering the cut
hand to me.

"What did she do?" Baxter turned towards Miss Elizabeth in the
far bed.

"She was going to throw herself out of the window," was the
answer. "I stopped her, and sent Arthurs for you. Oh, we can
never hold up our heads again!"

Miss Mary writhed and fought for breath. Baxter found a shawl
which he threw over her shoulders.

"Nonsense!" said he. "That isn't like Mary;" but his face worked
when he said it.

"You wouldn't believe about Aggie, John. Perhaps you will now!"
said Miss Elizabeth. "I saw her do it, and she's cut her throat
too!"

"She hasn't," I said. "It's only her hand."

Miss Mary suddenly broke from us with an indescribable grunt,
flew, rather than ran, to her sister's bed, and there shook her
as one furious schoolgirl would shake another.

"No such thing," she croaked. "How dare you think so, you wicked
little fool?"

"Get into bed, Mary," said Baxter. "You'll catch a chill."

She obeyed, but sat up with the grey shawl round her lean
shoulders, glaring at her sister. "I'm better now," she panted. "
Arthurs let me sit out too long. Where's Arthurs? The kettle."

"Never mind Arthurs," said Baxter. "You get the kettle." I
hastened to bring it from the side table. "Now, Mary, as God sees
you, tell me what you've done."

His lips were dry, and he could not moisten. them with his
tongue.

Miss Mary applied herself to the mouth of the kettle, and between
indraws of steam said: "The spasm came on just now, while I was
asleep. I was nearly choking to death. So I went to the window
I've done it often before, without, waking any one. Bessie's such
an old maid about draughts. I tell you I was choking to death. I
couldn't manage the catch, and I nearly fell out. That window
opens too low. I cut my hand trying to save myself. Who has tied
it up in this filthy handkerchief? I wish you had had my throat,
Bessie. I never was nearer dying!" She scowled on us all
impartially, while her sister sobbed.

From the bottom of the bed we heard a quivering voice: "Is she
dead? Have they took her away? Oh, I never could bear the sight
o' blood!"

"Arthurs," said Miss Mary, "you are an hireling. Go away!"

It is my belief that Arthurs crawled out on all fours, but I was
busy picking up broken glass from the carpet.

Then Baxter, seated by the side of the bed, began to
cross-examine in a voice I scarcely recognised. No one could for
an instant have doubted the genuine rage of Miss Mary against her
sister, her cousin, or her maid; and that a doctor should have
been called in for she did me the honour of calling me
doctor--was the last drop. She was choking with her throat; had
rushed to the window for air; had near pitched out, and in
catching at the window bars had cut her hand. Over and over she
made this clear to the intent Baxter. Then she turned on her
sister and tongue-lashed her savagely.

"You mustn't blame me," Miss Bessie faltered at last. "You know
what we think of night and day.".

"I'm coming to that," said Baxter. "Listen to me. What you did,
Mary, misled four people into thinking you--you meant to do away
with yourself."

"Isn't one suicide in the family enough? Oh God, help and pity
us! You couldn't have believed that!" she cried.

"The evidence was complete. Now, don't you think," Baxter's
finger wagged under her nose--"can't you think that poor Aggie
did the same thing at Holmescroft when she fell out of the
window?"

"She had the same throat," said Miss Elizabeth. "Exactly the same
symptoms. Don't you remember, Mary?"

"Which was her bedroom?" I asked of Baxter in an undertone.

"Over the south verandah, looking on to the tennis lawn."

"I nearly fell out of that very window when I was at
Holmescroft--opening it to get some air. The sill doesn't come
much above your knees," I said.

"You hear that, Mary? Mary, do you hear What this gentleman says?
Won't you believe that what nearly happened to you must have
happened to poor Aggie that night? For God's sake--for her
sake--Mary, won't you believe?"

There was a long silence while the steam kettle puffed.

"If I could have proof--if I could have proof," said she, and
broke into most horrible tears.

Baxter motioned to me, and I crept away to my room, and lay awake
till morning, thinking more specially of the dumb Thing at
Holmescroft which wished to explain itself. I hated Miss Mary as
perfectly as though I had known her for twenty years, but I felt
that, alive or dead, I should not like her to condemn me.

Yet at mid-day, when I saw Miss Mary in her bathchair, Arthurs
behind and Baxter and Miss Elizabeth on either side, in the
park-like grounds of the Hydro, I found it difficult to arrange
my words.

"Now that you know all about it," said Baxter aside, after the
first strangeness of our meeting was over, "it's only fair to
tell you that my poor cousin did not die in Holmescroft at all.
She was dead when they found her under the window in the morning.
Just dead."

"Under that laburnum outside the window?" I asked, for I suddenly
remembered the crooked evil thing.

"Exactly. She broke the tree in falling. But no death has ever
taken place in the house, so far as we were concerned. You can
make yourself quite easy on that point. Mr. M'Leod's extra
thousand for what you called the 'clean bill of health' was
something toward my cousins' estate when we sold. It was my duty
as their lawyer to get it for them--at any cost to my own
feelings."

I know better than to argue when the English talk about their
duty. So I agreed with my solicitor.

"Their sister's death must have been a great blow to your
cousins," I went on. The bath-chair was behind me.

"Unspeakable," Baxter whispered. "They brooded on it day and
night. No wonder. If their theory of poor Aggie making away with
herself was correct, she was eternally lost!"

"Do you believe that she made away with herself?"

"No, thank God! Never have! And after what happened to Mary last
night, I see perfectly what happened to poor Aggie. She had the
family throat too. By the way, Mary thinks you are a doctor.
Otherwise she wouldn't like your having been in her room."

"Very good. Is she convinced now about her sister's death?"

"She'd give anything to be able to believe it, but she's a hard
woman, and brooding along certain lines makes one groovy. I have
sometimes been afraid of her reason--on the religious side, don't
you know. Elizabeth doesn't matter. Brain of a hen. Always had."

Here Arthurs summoned me to the bath-chair, and the ravaged face,
beneath its knitted Shetland wool hood, of Miss Mary Moultrie.

"I need not remind you, I hope, of the seal of secrecy--absolute
secrecy--in your profession," she began. "Thanks to my cousin's
and my sister's stupidity, you have found out " she blew her
nose.

"Please don't excite her, sir," said Arthurs at the back.

"But, my dear Miss Moultrie, I only know what I've seen, of
course, but it seems to me that what you thought was a tragedy in
your sister's case, turns out, on your own evidence, so to speak,
to have been an accident--a dreadfully sad one--but absolutely an
accident."

"Do you believe that too?" she cried. "Or are you only saying it
to comfort me?"

"I believe it from the bottom of my heart. Come down to
Holmescroft for an hour--for half an hour and satisfy yourself."

"Of what? You don't understand. I see the house every day-every
night. I am always there in spirit--waking or sleeping. I
couldn't face it in reality."

"But you must," I said. "If you go there in the spirit the
greater need for you to go there in the flesh. Go to your
sister's room once more, and see the window--I nearly fell out of
it myself. It's--it's awfully low and dangerous. That would
convince you," I pleaded.

"Yet Aggie had slept in that room for years," she interrupted.

"You've slept in your room here for a long time, haven't you? But
you nearly fell out of the window when you were choking."

"That is true. That is one thing true," she nodded. "And I might
have been killed as--perhaps Aggie was killed."

"In that case your own sister and cousin and maid would have said
you had committed suicide, Miss Moultrie. Come down to
Holmescroft, and go over the place just once."

"You are lying," she said quite quietly. "You don't want me to
come down to see a window. It is something else. I warn you we
are Evangelicals. We don't believe in prayers for the dead. 'As
the tree falls--'"

"Yes. I daresay. But you persist in thinking that your sister
committed suicide "

"No! No! I have always prayed that I might have misjudged her."

Arthurs at the bath-chair spoke up: "Oh, Miss Mary! you would
'ave it from the first that poor Miss Aggie 'ad made away with
herself; an', of course, Miss Bessie took the notion from you:
Only Master--Mister John stood out, -and--and I'd 'ave taken my
Bible oath you was making away with yourself last night."

Miss Mary leaned towards me, one finger on my sleeve.

"If going to Holmescroft kills me," she said, "you will have the
murder of a fellow-creature on your conscience for all eternity."

"I'll risk it," I answered. Remembering what torment the mere
reflection of her torments had cast on Holmescroft, and
remembering, above all, the dumb Thing that filled the house with
its desire to speak, I felt that there might be worse things.

Baxter was amazed at the proposed visit, but at a nod from that
terrible woman went off to make arrangements. Then I sent a
telegram to M'Leod bidding him and his vacate Holmescroft for
that afternoon. Miss Mary should be alone with her dead, as I had
been alone.

I expected untold trouble in transporting her, but to do her
justice, the promise given for the journey, she underwent it
without murmur, spasm, or unnecessary word. Miss Bessie, pressed
in a corner by the window, wept behind her veil, and from time to
time tried to take hold of her sister's hand. Baxter wrapped
himself in his newly found happiness as selfishly as a
bridegroom, for he sat still and smiled.

"So long as I know that Aggie didn't make away with herself," he
explained, "I tell you frankly I don't care what happened. She's
as hard as a rock--Mary. Always was. She won't die."

We led her out on to the platform like a blind woman, and so got
her into the fly. The half-hour crawl to Holmescroft was the most
racking experience of the day. M'Leod had obeyed my instructions.
There was no one visible in the house or the gardens; and the
front door stood open.

Miss Mary rose from beside her sister, stepped forth first, and
entered the hall.

"Come, Bessie," she cried.

"I daren't. Oh, I daren't."

"Come!" Her voice had altered. I felt Baxter start. "There's
nothing to be afraid of."

"Good heavens!" said Baxter. "She's running up the stairs. We'd
better follow."

"Let's wait below. She's going to the room."

We heard the door of the bedroom I knew open and shut, and we
waited in the lemon-coloured hall, heavy with the scent of
flowers.

"I've never been into it since it was sold," Baxter sighed. "What
a lovely, restful plate it is! Poor Aggie used to arrange the
flowers."

"Restful?" I began, but stopped of a sudden, for I felt all over
my bruised soul that Baxter was speaking truth. It was a light,
spacious, airy house, full of the sense of well-being and
peace--above all things, of peace. I ventured into the
dining-room where the thoughtful M'Leod's had left a small fire.
There was no terror there, present or lurking; and in the
drawing-room, which for good reasons we had never cared to enter,
the sun and the peace and the scent of the flowers worked
together as is fit in an inhabited house. When I returned to the
hall, Baxter was sweetly asleep on a couch, looking most unlike a
middle-aged solicitor who had spent a broken night with an
exacting cousin.

There was ample time for me to review it all--to felicitate
myself upon my magnificent acumen (barring some errors about
Baxter as a thief and possibly a murderer), before the door above
opened, and Baxter, evidently a light sleeper, sprang awake.

"I've had a heavenly little nap," he said, rubbing his eyes with
the backs of his hands like a child. "Good Lord! That's not their
step!"

But it was. I had never before been privileged to see the Shadow
turned backward on the dial--the years ripped bodily off poor
human shoulders--old sunken eyes filled and alight--harsh lips
moistened and human.

"John," Miss Mary called, " I know now. Aggie didn't do it!" and
"She didn't do it!" echoed Miss

"I did not think it wrong to say a prayer," Miss Mary continued.
"Not for her soul, but for our peace. Then I was convinced."

"Then we got conviction," the younger sister piped.

"We've misjudged poor Aggie, John. But I feel she knows now.
Wherever she is, she knows that we know she is guiltless."

"Yes, she knows. I felt it too," said Miss Elizabeth.,

"I never doubted," said John' Baxter, whose face was beautiful at
that hour. "Not from the first. Never have!"

"You never offered me proof, John. Now, thank God, it will not be
the same any more. I can think henceforward of Aggie without
sorrow." She tripped, absolutely tripped, across the hall. "What
ideas these Jews have of arranging furniture!" She spied me
behind a big Cloisonnee vase. "I've seen the window," she said
remotely. "You took a great risk in advising me to undertake such
a journey. However, as it turns out ... I forgive you, and I pray
you may never know what mental anguish means! Bessie! Look at
this peculiar piano! Do you suppose, Doctor, these people would
offer one tea? I miss mine."

"I will go and see," I said, and explored M'Leod's new-built
servants' wing. It was in the servants' hall that I unearthed the
M'Leod family, bursting with anxiety.

"Tea for three, quick," I said. "If you ask me any questions now,
I shall have a fit!" So Mrs. M'Leod got it, and I was butler,
amid murmured apologies from Baxter, still smiling and
self-absorbed, and the cold disapproval of Miss Mary, who thought
the pattern of the china vulgar. However, she ate well, and even
asked me whether I would not like a cup of tea for myself.

They went away in the twilight--the twilight that I had once
feared. They were going to an hotel in London to rest after the
fatigues of the day, and as their fly turned down the drive, I
capered on the door step, with the all-darkened house behind me.

Then I heard the uncertain feet of the M'Leods and bade them not
to turn on the lights, but to feel--to feel what I had done; for
the Shadow was gone, with the dumb desire in the air. They drew
short, but afterwards deeper, breaths, like bathers entering
chill water, separated one from the other, moved about the hall,
tiptoed upstairs, raced down, and then Miss M'Leod, and I believe
her mother, though she denies this, embraced me. I know M'Leod
did.

It was a disgraceful evening. To say we rioted through the house
is to put it mildly. We played a sort of Blind Man's Buff along
the darkest passages, in the unlighted drawing-room, and little
dining-room, calling cheerily to each other after each
exploration that here, and here, and here, the trouble-had
removed itself. We came up to the bedroom--mine for the night
again--and sat, the women on the bed, and we men on chairs,
drinking in blessed draughts of peace and comfort and cleanliness
of soul, while I told them my tale in full, and received fresh
praise, thanks, and blessings.

When the servants, returned from their day's outing, gave us a
supper of cold fried fish, M'Leod had sense enough to open no
wine. We had been practically drunk since nightfall, and grew
incoherent on water and milk.

"I like that Baxter," said M'Leod. "He's a sharp man. The death
wasn't in the house, but he ran it pretty close, ain't it?"

"And the joke of it is that he supposes I want to buy the place
from you," I said. "Are you selling?"

"Not for twice what I paid for it--now," said M'Leod. "I'll keep
you in furs all your life, but not our Holmescroft."

"No--never our Holmescroft," said Miss M'Leod. "We'll ask him
here on Tuesday, mamma." They squeezed each other's hands.

"Now tell me," said Mrs. M'Leod--"that tall one, I saw out of the
scullery window--did she tell you she was always here in the
spirit? I hate her. She made all this trouble. It was not her
house after she had sold it. What do you think?"

"I suppose," I answered, "she brooded over what she believed was
her sister's suicide night and day--she confessed she did--and
her thoughts being concentrated on this place, they felt like
a--like a burning glass."

"Burning glass is good," said M'Leod.

"I said it was like a light of blackness turned on us," cried the
girl, twiddling her ring. "That must have been when the tall one
thought worst about her sister and the house."

"Ah, the poor Aggie!" said Mrs. M'Leod. "The poor Aggie, trying
to tell every one it was not so! No wonder we felt Something
wished to say Something. Thea, Max, do you remember that night "

"We need not remember any more," M'Leod interrupted. "It is not
our trouble. They have told each other now."

"Do you think, then," said Miss M'Leod, "that those two, the
living ones, were actually told something--upstairs--in your in
the room?"

"I can't say. At any rate they were made happy, and they ate a
big tea afterwards. As your father says, it is not our trouble
any longer--thank God!"

"Amen!" said M'Leod. "Now, Thea, let us have some music after all
these months. 'With mirth, thou pretty bird,' ain't it? You ought
to hear that."

And in the half-lighted hall, Thea sang an old English song that
I had never heard before.

With mirth, thou pretty bird, rejoice
Thy Maker's praise enhanced;
Lift up thy shrill and pleasant voice,
Thy God is high advanced!
Thy food before He did provide,
And gives it in a fitting side,
Wherewith be thou sufficed!
Why shouldst thou now unpleasant be,
Thy wrath against God venting,
That He a little bird made thee,
Thy silly head tormenting,
Because He made thee not a man?
Oh, Peace! He hath well thought thereon,
Therewith be thou sufficed!

THE RABBI'S SONG

IF THOUGHT can reach to Heaven,
On Heaven let it dwell,
For fear that Thought be given
Like power to reach to Hell.
For fear the desolation
And darkness of thy mind,
Perplex an habitation
Which thou hast left behind.

Let nothing linger after--
No whispering ghost remain,
In wall, or beam, or rafter,
Of any hate or pain:
Cleanse and call home thy spirit,
Deny her leave to cast,
On aught thy heirs inherit,
The shadow of her past.

For think, in all thy sadness,
What road our griefs may take;
Whose brain reflect our madness,
Or whom our terrors shake.
For think, lest any languish
By cause of thy distress
The arrows of our anguish
Fly farther than we guess.

Our lives, our tears, as water,
Are spilled upon the ground;
God giveth no man quarter,
Yet God a means hath found;
Though faith and hope have vanished,
And even love grows dim;
A means whereby His banished
Be not expelled from Him!

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