Part 3 out of 6
Clement alive by any means till--"
She did not wait to say what; but Violet understood and felt her
heart grow heavy. Could it be that her employer considered this
the gay and easy task she had asked for?
The next minute she was putting her first question:
"Hetty, what did you see in Mrs. Quintard's action last night, to
make you infer that she left the missing document in this room?"
The woman's eyes, which had been respectfully studying her face,
brightened with a relief which made her communicative. With the
self-possession of a perfectly candid nature, she inquiringly
"My mistress has spoken of her infirmity?"
"Yes, and very frankly."
"She walks in her sleep."
"So she said."
"And sometimes when others are asleep, and she is not."
"She did not tell me that."
"She is a very nervous woman and cannot always keep still when
she rouses up at night. When I hear her rise, I get up too; but,
never being quite sure whether she is sleeping or not, I am
careful to follow her at a certain distance. Last night I was so
far behind her that she had been to her brother's room and left
it before I saw her face."
"Where is his room and where is hers?"
"Hers is in front on this same floor. Mr. Brooks's is in the
rear, and can be reached either by the hall or by passing through
this room into a small one beyond, which we called his den.."
"Describe your encounter. Where were you standing when you saw
"In the den I have just mentioned. There was a bright light in
the hall behind me and I could see her figure quite plainly. She
was holding a folded paper clenched against her breast, and her
movement was so mechanical that I was sure she was asleep. She
was coming this way, and in another moment she entered this room.
The door, which had been open, remained so, and in my anxiety I
crept to it and looked in after her. There was no light burning
here at that hour, but the moon was shining in in long rays of
variously coloured light. If I had followed her--but I did not. I
just stood and watched her long enough to see her pass through a
blue ray, then through a green one, and then into, if not
through, a red one. Expecting her to walk straight on, and having
some fears of the staircase once she got into the hall, I hurried
around to the door behind you there to head her off. But she had
not yet left this room. I waited and waited and still she did not
come. Fearing some accident, I finally ventured to approach the
door and try it. It was locked. This alarmed me. She had never
locked herself in anywhere before and I did not know what to make
of it. Some persons would have shouted her name, but I had been
warned against doing that, so I simply stood where I was, and
eventually I heard the key turn in the lock and saw her come out.
She was still walking stiffly, but her hands were empty and
hanging at her side."
"She went straight to her room and I after her. I was sure she
was dead asleep by this time."
"And she was?"
"Yes, Miss; but still full of what was on her mind. I know this
because she stopped when she reached the bedside and began
fumbling with the waist of her wrapper. It was for the key she
was searching, and when her fingers encountered it hanging on the
outside, she opened her wrapper and thrust it in on her bare
"You saw her do all that?"
"As plainly as I see you now. The light in her room was burning
"And after that?"
"She got into bed. It was I who turned off the light."
"Has that wrapper of hers a pocket?"
"Nor her gown?"
"So she could not have brought the paper into her room concealed
about her person?"
"No, Miss; she left it here. It never passed beyond this
"But might she not have carried it back to some place of
concealment in the rooms she had left?"
The woman's face changed and a slight flush showed through the
natural brown of her cheeks.
"No," she disclaimed; "she could not have done that. I was
careful to lock the library door behind her before I ran out into
"Then," concluded Violet, with all the emphasis of conviction,
"it is here, and nowhere else we must look for that document
till we find it."
Thus assured of the first step in the task she had before her,
Miss Strange settled down to business.
The room, which towered to the height of two stories, was in the
shape of a huge oval. This oval, separated into narrow divisions
for the purpose of accommodating the shelves with which it was
lined, narrowed as it rose above the great Gothic chimney-piece
and the five gorgeous windows looking towards the south, till it
met and was lost in the tracery of the ceiling, which was of that
exquisite and soul-satisfying order which we see in the Henry VII
chapel in Westminster Abbey. What break otherwise occurred in the
circling round of books reaching thus thirty feet or more above
the head was made by the two doors already spoken of and a narrow
strip of wall at either end of the space occupied by the windows.
No furniture was to be seen there except a couple of stalls taken
from some old cathedral, which stood in the two bare places just
But within, on the extensive floor-space, several articles were
grouped, and Violet, recognizing the possibilities which any one
of them afforded for the concealment of so small an object as a
folded document, decided to use method in her search, and to that
end, mentally divided the space before her into four segments.
The first took in the door, communicating with the suite ending
in Mr. Brooks's bedroom. A diagram of this segment will show that
the only article of furniture in it was a cabinet.
It was at this cabinet Miss Strange made her first stop.
"You have looked this well through?" she asked as she bent over
the glass case on top to examine the row of mediaeval missals
displayed within in a manner to show their wonderful
"Not the case," explained Hetty. "It is locked you see and no one
has as yet succeeded in finding the key. But we searched the
drawers underneath with the greatest care. Had we sifted the
whole contents through our fingers, I could not be more certain
that the paper is not there."
Violet stepped into the next segment.
This was the one dominated by the huge fire-place. A rug lay
before the hearth. To this Violet pointed.
Quickly the woman answered: "We not only lifted it, but turned it
"And that box at the right?"
"Is full of wood and wood only."
"Did you take out this wood?"
"And those ashes in the fire-place? Something has been burned
"Yes; but not lately. Besides, those ashes are all wood ashes. If
the least bit of charred paper had been mixed with them, we
should have considered the matter settled. But you can see for
yourself that no such particle can be found." While saying this,
she had put the poker into Violet's hand. "Rake them about, Miss,
and make sure."
Violet did so, with the result that the poker was soon put back
into place, and she herself down on her knees looking up the
"Had she thrust it up there," Hetty made haste to remark, "there
would have been some signs of soot on her sleeves. They are white
and very long and are always getting in her way when she tries to
Violet left the fire-place after a glance at the mantel-shelf on
which nothing stood but a casket of open fretwork, and two
coloured photographs mounted on small easels. The casket was too
open to conceal anything and the photographs lifted too high
above the shelf for even the smallest paper, let alone a document
of any size, to hide behind them.
The chairs, of which there were several in this part of the room,
she passed with just an inquiring look. They were all of solid
oak, without any attempt at upholstery, and although carved to
match the stalls on the other side of the room, offered no place
Her delay in the third segment was brief. Here there was
absolutely nothing but the door by which she had entered, and the
books. As she flitted on, following the oval of the wall, a small
frown appeared on her usually smooth forehead. She felt the
oppression of the books--the countless books. If indeed, she
should find herself obliged to go through them. What a hopeless
But she had still a segment to consider, and after that the
immense table occupying the centre of the room, a table which in
its double capacity (for it was as much desk as table) gave more
promise of holding the solution of the mystery than anything to
which she had hitherto given her attention.
The quarter in which she now stood was the most beautiful, and,
possibly, the most precious of them all. In it blazed the five
great windows which were the glory of the room; but there are no
hiding-places in windows, and much as she revelled in colour, she
dared not waste a moment on them. There was more hope for her in
the towering stalls, with their possible drawers for books.
But Hetty was before her in the attempt she made to lift the lids
of the two great seats.
"Nothing in either," said she; and Violet, with a sigh, turned
towards the table.
This was an immense affair, made to accommodate itself to the
shape of the room, but with a hollowed-out space on the window-
side large enough to hold a chair for the sitter who would use
its top as a desk. On it were various articles suitable to its
double use. Without being crowded, it displayed a pile of
magazines and pamphlets, boxes for stationery, a writing pad with
its accompaniments, a lamp, and some few ornaments, among which
was a large box, richly inlaid with pearl and ivory, the lid of
which stood wide open.
"Don't touch," admonished Violet, as Hetty stretched out her hand
to move some little object aside. "You have already worked here
busily in the search you made this morning."
"We handled everything."
"Did you go through these pamphlets?
"We shook open each one. We were especially particular here,
since it was at this table I saw Mrs. Quintard stop."
"With head level or drooped?"
"Like one looking down, rather than up, or around?"
"Yes. A ray of red light shone on her sleeve. It seemed to me the
sleeve moved as though she were reaching out."
"Will you try to stand as she did and as nearly in the same place
Hetty glanced down at the table edge, marked where the gules
dominated the blue and green, and moved to that spot, and paused
with her head sinking slowly towards her breast.
"Very good," exclaimed Violet. "But the moon was probably in a
very different position from what the sun is now."
"You are right; it was higher up; I chanced to notice it."
"Let me come," said Violet.
Hetty moved, and Violet took her place but in a spot a step or
two farther front. This brought her very near to the centre of
the table. Hanging her head, just as Hetty had done, she reached
out her right hand.
"Have you looked under this blotter?" she asked, pointing towards
the pad she touched. "I mean, between the blotter and the frame
which holds it?"
"I certainly did," answered Hetty, with some pride.
Violet remained staring down. "Then you took off everything that
was lying on it?"
Violet continued to stare down at the blotter. Then impetuously:
"Put them back in their accustomed places."
Violet continued to look at them, then slowly stretched out her
hand, but soon let it fall again with an air of discouragement.
Certainly the missing document was not in the ink-pot or the
mucilage bottle. Yet something made her stoop again over the pad
and subject it to the closest scrutiny.
"If only nothing had been touched!" she inwardly sighed. But she
let no sign of her discontent escape her lips, simply exclaiming
as she glanced up at the towering spaces overhead: "The books!
the books! Nothing remains but for you to call up all the
servants, or get men from the outside and, beginning at one end--
I should say the upper one--take down every book standing within
reach of a woman of Mrs. Quintard's height."
"Hear first what Mrs. Quintard has to say about that,"
interrupted the woman as that lady entered in a flutter of
emotion springing from more than one cause.
"The young lady thinks that we should remove the books," Hetty
observed, as her mistress's eye wandered to hers from Violet's
"Useless. If we were to undertake to do that, Carlos would be
here before half the job was finished. Besides, Hetty must have
told you my extreme aversion to nicely bound books. I will not
say that when awake I never place my hand on one, but once in a
state of somnambulism, when every natural whim has full control,
I am sure that I never would. There is a reason for my prejudice.
I was not always rich. I once was very poor. It was when I was
first married and long before Clement had begun to make his
fortune. I was so poor then that frequently I went hungry, and
what was worse saw my little daughter cry for food. And why?
Because my husband was a bibliomaniac. He would spend on fine
editions what would have kept the family comfortable. It is hard
to believe, isn't it? I have seen him bring home a Grolier when
the larder was as empty as that box; and it made me hate books
so, especially those of extra fine binding, that I have to tear
the covers off before I can find courage to read them."
0 life! life! how fast Violet was learning it!
"I can understand your idea, Mrs. Quintard, but as everything
else has failed, I should make a mistake not to examine these
shelves. It is just possible that we may be able to shorten the
task very materially; that we may not have to call in help, even.
To what extent have they been approached, or the books handled,
since you discovered the loss of the paper we are looking for?
"Not at all. Neither of us went near them." This from Hetty.
"Nor any one else?"
"No one else has been admitted to the room. We locked both doors
the moment we felt satisfied that the will had been left here."
"That's a relief. Now I may be able to do something. Hetty, you
look like a very strong woman, and I, as you see, am very little.
Would you mind lifting me up to these shelves? I want to look at
them. Not at the books, but at the shelves themselves."
The wondering woman stooped and raised her to the level of the
shelf she had pointed out. Violet peered closely at it and then
at the ones just beneath.
"Am I heavy?" she asked; "if not, let me see those on the other
side of the door.
Hetty carried her over.
Violet inspected each shelf as high as a woman of Mrs.
Quintard's stature could reach, and when on her feet again,
knelt to inspect the ones below.
"No one has touched or drawn anything from these shelves in
twenty-four hours," she declared. "The small accumulation of dust
along their edges has not been disturbed at any point. It was
very different with the table-top. That shows very plainly where
you had moved things and where you had not."
"Was that what you were looking for? Well, I never!"
Violet paid no heed; she was thinking and thinking very deeply.
Hetty turned towards her mistress, then quickly back to Violet,
whom she seized by the arm.
"What's the matter with Mrs. Quintard?" she hurriedly asked. "If
it were night, I should think that she was in one of her spells."
Violet started and glanced where Hetty pointed. Mrs. Quintard was
within a few feet of them, but as oblivious of their
presence as though she stood alone in the room. Possibly, she
thought she did. With fixed eyes and mechanical step she began
to move straight towards the table, her whole appearance of a
nature to make Hetty's blood run cold, but to cause that of
Violet's to bound through her veins with renewed hope.
"The one thing I could have wished!" she murmured under her
breath. "She has fallen into a trance. She is again under the
dominion of her idea. If we watch and do not disturb her she may
repeat her action of last night, and herself show where she has
put this precious document."
Meanwhile Mrs. Quintard continued to advance. A moment more, and
her smooth white locks caught the ruddy glow centred upon the
chair standing in the hollow of the table. Words were leaving her
lips, and her hand, reaching out over the blotter, groped among
the articles scattered there till it settled on a large pair of
"Listen," muttered Violet to the woman pressing close to her
side. "You are acquainted with her voice; catch what she says if
Hetty could not; an undistinguishable murmur was all that came to
Violet took a step nearer. Mrs. Quintard's hand had left the
shears and was hovering uncertainly in the air. Her distress was
evident. Her head, no longer steady on her shoulders, was turning
this way and that, and her tones becoming inarticulate.
"Paper! I want paper" burst from her lips in a shrill unnatural
But when they listened for more and watched to see the uncertain
hand settle somewhere, she suddenly came to herself and turned
upon them a startled glance, which speedily changed into one of
the utmost perplexity.
"What am I doing here?" she asked. "I have a feeling as if I had
almost seen--almost touched--oh, it's gone! and all is blank
again. Why couldn't I keep it till I knew--" Then she came wholly
to herself and, forgetting even the doubts of a moment since,
remarked to Violet in her old tremulous fashion:
"You asked us to pull down the books? But you've evidently
thought better of it."
"Yes, I have thought better of it." Then, with a last desperate
hope of re-arousing the visions lying somewhere back in Mrs.
Quintard's troubled brain, Violet ventured to observe: "This is
likely to resolve itself into a psychological problem, Mrs.
Quintard. Do you suppose that if you fell again into the
condition of last night, you would repeat your action and so lead
us yourself to where the will lies hidden?"
"Possibly; but it may be weeks before I walk again in my sleep,
and meanwhile Carlos will have arrived, and Clement, possibly,
died. My nephew is so low that the doctor is coming back at
midnight. Miss Strange, Clement is a man in a thousand. He says
he wants to see you. Would you be willing to accompany me to his
room for a moment? He will not make many more requests and I will
take care that the interview is not prolonged."
"I will go willingly. But would it not be better to wait--"
"Then you may never see him at all."
"Very well; but I wish I had some better news to give."
"That will come later. This house was never meant for Carlos.
Hetty, you will stay here. Miss Strange, let us go now."
"You need not speak; just let him see you."
Violet nodded and followed Mrs. Quintard into the sick-room.
The sight which met her eyes tried her young emotions deeply.
Staring at her from the bed, she saw two piercing eyes over whose
brilliance death as yet had gained no control. Clements's soul
was in that gaze; Clement halting at the brink of dissolution to
sound the depths behind him for the hope which would make
departure easy. Would he see in her, a mere slip of a girl
dressed in fashionable clothes and bearing about her all the
marks of social distinction, the sort of person needed for the
task upon the success of which depended his darlings' future? She
could hardly expect it. Yet as she continued to meet his gaze
with all the seriousness the moment demanded, she beheld those
burning orbs lose some of their demand and the fingers, which had
lain inert upon the bedspread, flutter gently and move as if to
draw attention to his wife and the three beautiful children
clustered at the foot-board.
He had not spoken nor could she speak, but the solemnity with
which she raised her right hand as to a listening Heaven called
forth upon his lips what was possibly his last smile, and with
the memory of this faint expression of confidence on his part,
she left the room, to make her final attempt to solve the mystery
of the missing document.
Facing the elderly lady in the hall, she addressed her with the
force and soberness of one leading a forlorn hope:
"I want you to concentrate your mind upon what I have to say to
you. Do you think you can do this?"
"I will try," replied the poor woman with a backward glance at
the door which had just been closed upon her.
"What we want," said she, "is, as I stated before, an insight
into the workings of your brain at the time you took the will
from the safe. Try and follow what I have to say, Mrs. Quintard.
Dreams are no longer regarded by scientists as prophecies of the
future or even as spontaneous and irrelevant conditions of
thought, but as reflections of a near past, which can almost
without exception be traced back to the occurrences which caused
them. Your action with the will had its birth in some previous
line of thought afterwards forgotten. Let us try and find that
thought. Recall, if you can, just what you did or read yesterday."
Mrs. Quintard looked frightened.
"But, I have no memory," she objected. "I forget quickly, so
quickly that in order to fulfill my engagements I have to keep a
memorandum of every day's events. Yesterday? yesterday? What did
I do yesterday? I went downtown for one thing, but I hardly know
"Perhaps your memorandum of yesterday's doings will help you."
"I will get it. But it won't give you the least help. I keep it
only for my own eye, and--"
"Never mind; let me see it."
And she waited impatiently for it to be put in her hands.
But when she came to read the record of the last two days, this
was all she found:
Saturday: Mauretania nearly due. I must let Mr. Delahunt know
today that he's wanted here to-morrow. Hetty will try on my
dresses. Says she has to alter them. Mrs. Peabody came to lunch,
and we in such trouble! Had to go down street. Errand for
Clement. The will, the will! I think of nothing else. Is it safe
where it is? No peace of mind till to-morrow. Clement better this
afternoon. Says he must live till Carlos gets back; not to
triumph over him, but to do what he can to lessen his
disappointment. My good Clement!
So nervous, I went to pasting photographs, and was forgetting all
my troubles when Hetty brought in another dress to try on.
Quiet in the great house, during which the clock on the staircase
sent forth seven musical peals. To Violet waiting alone in the
library, they acted as a summons. She was just leaving the room,
when the sound of hubbub in the hall below held her motionless in
the doorway. An automobile had stopped in front, and several
persons were entering the house, in a gay and unseemly fashion.
As she stood listening, uncertain of her duty, she perceived the
frenzied figure of Mrs. Quintard approaching. As she passed by,
she dropped one word: "Carlos!" Then she went staggering on, to
disappear a moment later down the stairway.
This vision lost, another came. This time it was that of
Clements's wife leaning from the marble balustrade above, the
shadow of approaching grief battling with the present terror in
her perfect features. Then she too withdrew from view and Violet,
left for the moment alone in the great hall, stepped back into
the library and began to put on her hat.
The lights had been turned up in the grand salon and it was in
this scene of gorgeous colour that Mrs. Quintard came face to
face with Carlos Pelacios. Those who were witness to her entrance
say that she presented a noble appearance, as with the resolution
of extreme desperation she stood waiting for his first angry
He, a short, thick-set, dark man, showing both in features and
expression the Spanish blood of his paternal ancestors, started
to address her in tones of violence, but changed his note, as he
met her eye, to one simply sardonic.
"You here!" he began. "I assure you, madame, that it is a
pleasure which is not without its inconveniences. Did you not
receive my cable-gram requesting this house to be made ready for
"Then why do I find guests here? They do not usually precede the
arrival of their host."
"Clement is very ill--"
"So much the greater reason that he should have been removed--"
"You were not expected for two days yet. You cabled that you were
coming on the Mauretania."
"Yes, I cabled that. Elisabetta,"--this to his wife standing
silently in the background--"we will go to the Plaza for tonight.
At three o'clock tomorrow we shall expect to find this house in
readiness for our return. Later, if Mrs. Quintard desires to
visit us we shall be pleased to receive her. But"--this to Mrs.
Quintard herself--"you must come without Clement and the kids."
Mrs. Quintard's rigid hand stole up to her throat.
"Clement is dying. He is failing hourly," she murmured. "He may
not live till morning."
Even Carlos was taken aback by this. "Oh, well!" said he, "we
will give you two days."
Mrs. Quintard gasped, then she walked straight up to him. "You
will give us all the time his condition requires and more, much
more. He is the real owner of this house, not you. My brother
left a will bequeathing it to him. You are my nephew's guests,
and not he yours. As his representative I entreat you and your
wife to remain here until you can find a home to your mind."
The silence seethed. Carlos had a temper of fire and so had his
wife. But neither spoke, till he had gained sufficient control
over himself to remark without undue rancour:
"I did not think you had the wit to influence your brother to
this extent; otherwise, I should have cut my travels short." Then
harshly: "Where is this will?"
"It will be produced." But the words faltered.
Carlos glanced at the man standing behind his wife; then back at
"Wills are not scribbled off on deathbeds; or if they are, it
needs something more than a signature to legalize them. I don't
believe in this trick of a later will. Mr. Cavanagh"--here he
indicated the gentleman accompanying them--"has done my father's
business for years, and he assured me that the paper he holds in
his pocket is the first, last, and only expression of your
brother's wishes. If you are in a position to deny this, show us
the document you mention; show us it at once, or inform us where
and in whose hands it can be found."
"That, for--for reasons I cannot give, I must refuse to do at
present. But I am ready to swear--"
A mocking laugh cut her short. Did it issue from his lips or from
those of his highstrung and unfeeling wife? It might have come
from either; there was cause enough.
"Oh!" she faltered, "may God have mercy!" and was sinking before
their eyes, when she heard her name, called from the threshold,
and, looking that way, saw Hetty beaming upon her, backed by a
little figure with a face so radiant that instinctively her hand
went out to grasp the folded sheet of paper Hetty was seeking to
thrust upon her.
"Ah!" she cried, in a great voice, "you will not have to wait,
nor Clement either. Here is the will! The children have come into
their own." And she fell at their feet in a dead faint.
"Where did you find it? Oh! where did you find it? I have waited
a week to know. When, after Carlos's sudden departure, I stood
beside Clement's death-bed and saw from the look he gave me that
he could still feel and understand, I told him that you had
succeeded in your task and that all was well with us. But I was
not able to tell him how you had succeeded or in what place the
will had been found; and he died, unknowing. But we may know, may
we not, now that he is laid away and there is no more talk of our
leaving this house?"
Violet smiled, but very tenderly, and in a way not to offend the
mourner. They were sitting in the library--the great library
which was to remain in Clement's family after all--and it amused
her to follow the dreaming lady's glances as they ran in
irrepressible curiosity over the walls. Had Violet wished, she
could have kept her secret forever. These eyes would never have
But she was of a sympathetic temperament, our Violet, so after a
moment's delay, during which she satisfied herself that little,
if anything, had been touched in the room since her departure
from it a week before, she quietly observed:
"You were right in persisting that you hid it in this room. It
was here I found it. Do you notice that photograph on the mantel
which does not stand exactly straight on its easel?"
"Supposing you take it down. You can reach it, can you not?"
"Oh, yes. But what--"
"Lift it down, dear Mrs. Quintard; and then turn it round and
look at its back."
Agitated and questioning, the lady did as she was bid, and at the
first glance gave a cry of surprise, if not of understanding. The
square of brown paper, acting as a backing to the picture, was
slit across, disclosing a similar one behind it which was still
"Oh! was it hidden in here?" she asked.
"Very completely," assented Violet. "Pasted in out of sight by a
lady who amuses herself with mounting and framing photographs.
Usually, she is conscious of her work, but this time she
performed her task in a dream."
Mrs. Quintard was all amazement.
"I don't remember touching these pictures," she declared. "I
never should have remembered. You are a wonderful person, Miss
Strange. How came you to think these photographs might have two
backings? There was nothing to show that this was so."
"I will tell you, Mrs. Quintard. You helped me."
"I helped you?"
"Yes. You remember the memorandum you gave me? In it you
mentioned pasting photographs. But this was not enough in itself
to lead me to examine those on the mantel, if you had not given
me another suggestion a little while before. We did not tell you
this, Mrs. Quintard, at the time, but during the search we were
making here that day, you had a lapse into that peculiar state
which induces you to walk in your sleep. It was a short one,
lasting but a moment, but in a moment one can speak, and, this
"Spoke? I spoke?"
"Yes, you uttered the word 'paper!' not the paper, but 'paper!'
and reached out towards the shears. Though I had not much time to
think of it then, afterwards upon reading your memorandum I
recalled your words, and asked myself if it was not paper to cut,
rather than to hide, you wanted. If it was to cut, and you were
but repeating the experience of the night before, then the room
should contain some remnants of cut paper. Had we seen any? Yes,
in the basket, under the desk we had taken out and thrown back
again a strip or so of wrapping paper, which, if my memory did
not fail me, showed a clean-cut edge. To pull this strip out
again and spread it flat upon the desk was the work of a minute,
and what I saw led me to look all over the room, not now for the
folded document, but for a square of brown paper, such as had
been taken out of this larger sheet. Was I successful? Not for a
long while, but when I came to the photographs on the mantel and
saw how nearly they corresponded in shape and size to what I was
looking for, I recalled again your fancy for mounting photographs
and felt that the mystery was solved.
"A glance at the back of one of them brought disappointment, but
when I turned about its mate-- You know what I found underneath
the outer paper. You had laid the will against the original
backing and simply pasted another one over it.
"That the discovery came in time to cut short a very painful
interview has made me joyful for a week.
"And now may I see the children?"
END OF PROBLEM V
THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS
Miss Strange was not in a responsive mood. This her employer had
observed on first entering; yet he showed no hesitation in laying
on the table behind which she had ensconced herself in the
attitude of one besieged, an envelope thick with enclosed papers.
"There," said he. "Telephone me when you have read them."
"I shall not read them."
"No?" he smiled; and, repossessing himself of the envelope, he
tore off one end, extracted the sheets with which it was filled,
and laid them down still unfolded, in their former place on the
The suggestiveness of the action caused the corners of Miss
Srange's delicate lips to twitch wistfully, before settling into
an ironic smile.
Calmly the other watched her.
"I am on a vacation," she loftily explained, as she finally met
his studiously non-quizzical glance. "Oh, I know that I am in my
own home!" she petulantly acknowledged, as his gaze took in the
room; "and that the automobile is at the door; and that I'm
dressed for shopping. But for all that I'm on a vacation--a
mental one," she emphasized; "and business must wait. I haven't
got over the last affair," she protested, as he maintained a
discreet silence, "and the season is so gay just now--so many
balls, so many--But that isn't the worst. Father is beginning to
wake up--and if he ever suspects--" A significant gesture ended
The personage knew her father--everyone did--and the wonder had
always been that she dared run the risk of displeasing one so
implacable. Though she was his favourite child, Peter Strange was
known to be quite capable of cutting her off with a shilling,
once his close, prejudiced mind conceived it to be his duty. And
that he would so interpret the situation, if he ever came to
learn the secret of his daughter's fits of abstraction and the
sly bank account she was slowly accumulating, the personage
holding out this dangerous lure had no doubt at all. Yet he only
smiled at her words and remarked in casual suggestion:
"It's out of town this time--'way out. Your health certainly
demands a change of air."
"My health is good. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as one may
choose to look at it, it furnishes me with no excuse for an
outing," she steadily retorted, turning her back on the table.
"Ah, excuse me!" the insidious voice apologized, "your paleness
misled me. Surely a night or two's change might be beneficial."
She gave him a quick side look, and began to adjust her boa.
To this hint he paid no attention.
"The affair is quite out of the ordinary," he pursued in the tone
of one rehearsing a part. But there he stopped. For some reason,
not altogether apparent to the masculine mind, the pin of
flashing stones (real stones) which held her hat in place had to
be taken out and thrust back again, not once, but twice. It was
to watch this performance he had paused. When he was ready to
proceed, he took the musing tone of one marshalling facts for
"A woman of unknown instincts--"
"Pshaw!" The end of the pin would strike against the comb holding
Violet's chestnut-coloured locks.
"Living in a house as mysterious as the secret it contains. But--
" here he allowed his patience apparently to forsake him, "I will
bore you no longer. Go to your teas and balls; I will struggle
with my dark affairs alone."
His hand went to the packet of papers she affected so
ostentatiously to despise. He could be as nonchalant as she. But
he did not lift them; he let them lie. Yet the young heiress had
not made a movement or even turned the slightest glance his way.
"A woman difficult to understand! A mysterious house--possibly a
Thus Violet kept repeating in silent self-communion, as flushed
with dancing she sat that evening in a highly-scented
conservatory, dividing her attention between the compliments of
her partner and the splash of a fountain bubbling in the heart of
this mass of tropical foliage; and when some hours later she sat
down in her chintz-furnished bedroom for a few minutes' thought
before retiring, it was to draw from a little oak box at her
elbow the half-dozen or so folded sheets of closely written paper
which had been left for her perusal by her persistent employer.
Glancing first at the signature and finding it to be one already
favourably known at the bar, she read with avidity the statement
of events thus vouched for, finding them curious enough in all
conscience to keep her awake for another full hour.
We here subscribe it:
I am a lawyer with an office in the Times Square Building. My
business is mainly local, but sometimes I am called out of town,
as witness the following summons received by me on the fifth of
I wish to make my will. I am an invalid and cannot leave my room.
Will you come to me? The enclosed reference will answer for my
respectability. If it satisfies you and you decide to accommodate
me, please hasten your visit; I have not many days to live. A
carriage will meet you at Highland Station at any hour you
designate. Telegraph reply.
A. Postlethwaite, Gloom Cottage, -- N. J.
The reference given was a Mr. Weed of Eighty-sixth Street--a well-
known man of unimpeachable reputation.
Calling him up at his business office, I asked him what he could
tell me about Mr. Postlethwaite
Problem 6 for Violet Strange 189
of Gloom Cottage, --, N. J. The answer astonished me:
"There is no Mr. Postlethwaite to be found at that address. He
died years ago. There is a Mrs. Postlethwaite--a confirmed
paralytic. Do you mean her?"
I glanced at the letter still lying open at the side of the
"The signature reads A. Postlethwaite."
"Then it's she. Her name is Arabella. She hates the name, being a
woman of no sentiment. Uses her initials even on her cheques.
What does she want of you?"
"To draw her will."
"Oblige her. It'll be experience for you." And he slammed home
I decided to follow the suggestion so forcibly emphasized; and
the next day saw me at Highland Station. A superannuated horse
and a still more superannuated carriage awaited me--both too old
to serve a busy man in these days of swift conveyance. Could this
be a sample of the establishment I was about to enter? Then I
remembered that the woman who had sent for me was a helpless
invalid, and probably had no use for any sort of turnout.
The driver was in keeping with the vehicle, and as noncommittal
as the plodding beast he drove. If I ventured upon a remark, he
gave me a long and curious look; if I went so far as to attack
him with a direct question, he responded with a hitch of the
shoulder or a dubious smile which conveyed nothing. Was he deaf
or just unpleasant? I soon learned that he was not deaf; for
suddenly, after a jog-trot of a mile or so through a wooded road
which we had entered from the main highway, he drew in his horse,
and, without glancing my way, spoke his first word:
"This is where you get out. The house is back there in the
As no house was visible and the bushes rose in an unbroken
barrier along the road, I stared at him in some doubt of his
"But--" I began; a protest into which he at once broke, with the
"Take the path. It'll lead you straight to the front door."
"I don't see any path."
For this he had no answer; and confident from his expression that
it would be useless to expect anything further from him, I
dropped a coin into his hand, and jumped to the ground. He was
off before I could turn myself about.
"'Something is rotten in the State of Denmark,'" I quoted in
startled comment to myself; and not knowing what else to do,
stared down at the turf at my feet.
A bit of flagging met my eye, protruding from a layer of thick
moss. Farther on I espied another--the second, probably, of many.
This, no doubt, was the path I had been bidden to follow, and
without further thought on the subject, I plunged into the bushes
which with difficulty I made give way before me.
For a moment all further advance looked hopeless. A more tangled,
uninviting approach to a so-called home, I had never seen outside
of the tropics; and the complete neglect thus displayed should
have prepared me for the appearance of the house I unexpectedly
came upon, just as, the way seemed on the point of closing up
But nothing could well prepare one for a first view of Gloom
Cottage. Its location in a hollow which had gradually filled
itself up with trees and some kind of prickly brush, its deeply
stained walls, once picturesque enough in their grouping but too
deeply hidden now amid rotting boughs to produce any other effect
than that of shrouded desolation, the sough of these same boughs
as they rapped a devil's tattoo against each other, and the
absence of even the rising column of smoke which bespeaks
domestic life wherever seen--all gave to one who remembered the
cognomen Cottage and forgot the pre-cognomen of Gloom, a sense of
buried life as sepulchral as that which emanates from the mouth
of some freshly opened tomb.
But these impressions, natural enough to my youth, were
necessarily transient, and soon gave way to others more business-
like. Perceiving the curve of an arch rising above the
undergrowth still blocking my approach, I pushed my way
resolutely through, and presently found myself stumbling upon the
steps of an unexpectedly spacious domicile, built not of wood, as
its name of Cottage had led me to expect, but of carefully cut
stone which, while showing every mark of time, proclaimed itself
one of those early, carefully erected Colonial residences which
it takes more than a century to destroy, or even to wear to the
point of dilapidation.
Somewhat encouraged, though failing to detect any signs of active
life in the heavily shuttered windows frowning upon me from
either side, I ran up the steps and rang the bell which pulled as
hard as if no hand had touched it in years.
Then I waited.
But not to ring again; for just as my hand was approaching the
bell a second time, the door fell back and I beheld in the black
gap before me the oldest man I had ever come upon in my whole
life. He was so old I was astonished when his drawn lips opened
and he asked if I was the lawyer from New York. I would as soon
have expected a mummy to wag its tongue and utter English, he
looked so thin and dried and removed from this life and all
But when I had answered his question and he had turned to marshal
me down the hall towards a door I could dimly see standing open
in the twilight of an absolutely sunless interior, I noticed that
his step was not without some vigour, despite the feeble bend of
his withered body and the incessant swaying of his head, which
seemed to be continually saying No!
"I will prepare madam," he admonished me, after drawing a
ponderous curtain two inches or less aside from one of the
windows. "She is very ill, but she will see you."
The tone was senile, but it was the senility of an educated man,
and as the cultivated accents wavered forth, my mind changed in,
regard to the position he held in the house. Interested anew, I
sought to give him another look, but he had already vanished
through the doorway, and so noiselessly, it was more like a
shadow's flitting than a man's withdrawal.
The darkness in which I sat was absolute; but gradually, as I
continued to look about me, the spaces lightened and certain
details came out, which to my astonishment were of a character to
show that the plain if substantial exterior of this house with
its choked-up approaches and weedy gardens was no sample of what
was to be found inside. Though the walls surrounding me were
dismal because unlighted, they betrayed a splendour unusual in
any country house. The frescoes and paintings were of an ancient
order, dating from days when life and not death reigned in this
isolated dwelling; but in them high art reigned supreme, an art
so high and so finished that only great wealth, combined with the
most cultivated taste, could have produced such effects. I was
still absorbed in the wonder of it all, when the quiet voice of
the old gentleman who had let me in reached me again from the
doorway, and I heard:
"Madam is ready for you. May I trouble you to accompany me to her
I rose with alacrity. I was anxious to see madam, if only to
satisfy myself that she was as interesting as the house in which
she was self-immured.
I found her a great deal more so. But before I enter upon our
interview, let me mention a fact which had attracted my attention
in my passage to her room. During his absence my guide evidently
had pulled aside other curtains than those of the room in which
he had left me. The hall, no longer a tunnel of darkness, gave me
a glimpse as we went by, of various secluded comers, and it
seemed as if everywhere I looked I saw--a clock. I counted four
before I reached the staircase, all standing on the floor and all
of ancient make, though differing much in appearance and value. A
fifth one rose grim and tall at the stair foot, and under an
impulse I have never understood I stopped, when I reached it, to
note the time. But it had paused in its task, and faced me with
motionless hands and silent works--a fact which somehow startled
me; perhaps, because just then I encountered the old man's eye
watching me with an expression as challenging as it was
I had expected to see a woman in bed. I saw instead, a woman
sitting up. You felt her influence the moment you entered her
presence. She was not young; she was not beautiful;--never had
been I should judge,--she had not even the usual marks about her
of an ultra strong personality; but that her will was law, had
always been, and would continue to be law so long as she lived,
was patent to any eye at the first glance. She exacted obedience
consciously and unconsciously, and she exacted it with charm.
Some few people in the world possess this power. They frown, and
the opposing will weakens; they smile, and all hearts succumb. I
was hers from the moment I crossed the threshold till--But I will
relate the happenings of that instant when it comes.
She was alone, or so I thought, when I made my first bow to her
stern but not unpleasing presence. Seated in a great chair, with
a silver tray before her containing such little matters as she
stood in hourly need of, she confronted me with a piercing gaze
startling to behold in eyes so colourless. Then she smiled, and
in obedience to that smile I seated myself in a chair placed very
near her own. Was she too paralysed to express herself clearly? I
waited in some anxiety till she spoke, when this fear vanished.
Her voice betrayed the character her features failed to express.
It was firm, resonant, and instinct with command. Not loud, but
penetrating, and of a quality which made one listen with his
heart as well as with his ears. What she said is immaterial. I
was there for a certain purpose and we entered immediately upon
the business of that purpose. She talked and I listened, mostly
without comment. Only once did I interrupt her with a suggestion;
and as this led to definite results, I will proceed to relate the
occurrence in full.
In the few hours remaining to me before leaving New York, I had
learned (no matter how) some additional particulars concerning
herself and family; and when after some minor bequests, she
proceeded to name the parties to whom she desired to leave the
bulk of her fortune, I ventured, with some astonishment at my own
temerity, to remark:
"But you have a young relative! Is she not to be included in this
partition of your property?"
A hush. Then a smile came to life on her stiff lips, such as is
seldom seen, thank God, on the face of any woman, and I heard:
"The young relative of whom you speak, is in the room. She has
known for some time that I have no intention of leaving anything
to her. There is, in fact, small chance of her ever needing it."
The latter sentence was a muttered one, but that it was loud
enough to be heard in all parts of the room I was soon assured.
For a quick sigh, which was almost a gasp, followed from a corner
I had hitherto ignored, and upon glancing that way, I perceived,
peering upon us from the shadows, the white face of a young girl
in whose drawn features and wide, staring eyes I beheld such
evidences of terror, that in an instant, whatever predilection I
had hitherto felt for my client, vanished in distrust, if not
I was still under the sway of this new impression, when Mrs.
Postlethwaite's voice rose again, this time addressing the young
"You may go," she said, with such force in the command for all
its honeyed modulation, that I expected to see its object fly the
room in frightened obedience.
But though the startled girl had lost none of the terror which
had made her face like a mask, no power of movement remained to
her. A picture of hopeless misery, she stood for one breathless
moment, with her eyes fixed in unmistakable appeal on mine; then
she began to sway so helplessly that I leaped with bounding heart
to catch her. As she fell into my arms I heard her sigh as
before. No common anguish spoke in that sigh. I had stumbled
unwittingly upon a tragedy, to the meaning of which I held but a
"She seems very ill," I observed with some emphasis, as I turned
to lay my helpless burden on a near-by sofa.
The words were spoken with gloom and with an attempt at
commiseration which no longer rang true in my ears.
"She is as sick a woman as I am myself"; continued Mrs.
Postlethwaite. "That is why I made the remark I did, never
imagining she would hear me at that distance. Do not put her
down. My nurse will be here in a moment to relieve you of your
A tinkle accompanied these words. The resolute woman had
stretched out a finger, of whose use she was not quite deprived,
and touched a little bell standing on the tray before her, an
inch or two from her hand.
Pleased to obey her command, I paused at the sofa's edge, and
taking advantage of the momentary delay, studied the youthful
countenance pressed unconsciously to my breast.
It was one whose appeal lay less in its beauty, though that was
of a touching quality, than in the story it told,--a story, which
for some unaccountable reason--I did not pause to determine what
one--I felt it to be my immediate duty to know. But I asked no
questions then; I did not even venture a comment; and yielded her
up with seeming readiness when a strong but none too intelligent
woman came running in with arms outstretched to carry her off.
When the door had closed upon these two, the silence of my client
drew my attention back to herself.
"I am waiting," was her quiet observation, and without any
further reference to what had just taken place under our eyes,
she went on with the business previously occupying us.
I was able to do my part without any too great display of my own
disturbance. The clearness of my remarkable client's
instructions, the definiteness with which her mind was made up as
to the disposal of every dollar of her vast property, made it
easy for me to master each detail and make careful note of every
wish. But this did not prevent the ebb and flow within me of an
undercurrent of thought full of question and uneasiness. What had
been the real purport of the scene to which I had just been made
a surprised witness? The few, but certainly unusual, facts which
had been given me in regard to the extraordinary relations
existing between these two closely connected women will explain
the intensity of my interest. Those facts shall be yours.
Arabella Merwin, when young, was gifted with a peculiar
fascination which, as we have seen, had not altogether vanished
with age. Consequently she had many lovers, among them two
brothers, Frank and Andrew Postlethwaite. The latter was the
older, the handsomer, and the most prosperous (his name is
remembered yet in connection with South American schemes of large
importance), but it was Frank she married.
That real love, ardent if unreasonable, lay at the bottom of her
choice, is evident enough to those who followed the career of the
young couple. But it was a jealous love which brooked no rival,
and as Frank Postlethwaite was of an impulsive and erratic
nature, scenes soon occurred between them which, while revealing
the extraordinary force of the young wife's character, led to no
serious break till after her son was born, and this,
notwithstanding the fact that Frank had long given up making a
living, and that they were openly dependent on their wealthy
brother, now fast approaching the millionaire status.
This brother--the Peruvian King, as some called him--must have
been an extraordinary man. Though cherishing his affection for
the spirited Arabella to the point of remaining a bachelor for
her sake, he betrayed none of the usual signs of disappointed
love; but on the contrary made every effort to advance her
happiness, not only by assuring to herself and husband an
adequate income, but by doing all he could in other and less open
ways to lessen any sense she might entertain of her mistake in
preferring for her lifemate his self-centred and unstable
brother. She should have adored him; but though she evinced
gratitude enough, there is nothing to prove that she ever gave
Frank Postlethwaite the least cause to cherish any other
sentiment towards his brother than that of honest love and
unqualified respect. Perhaps he never did cherish any other.
Perhaps the change which everyone saw in the young couple
immediately after the birth of their only child was due to
another cause. Gossip is silent on this point. All that it
insists upon is that from this time evidences of a growing
estrangement between them became so obvious that even the
indulgent Andrew could not blind himself to it; showing his sense
of trouble, not by lessening their income, for that he doubled,
but by spending more time in Peru and less in New York where the
two were living.
However,--and here we enter upon those details which I have
ventured to characterize as uncommon, he was in this country and
in the actual company of his brother when the accident occurred
which terminated both their lives. It was the old story of a
skidding motor, and Mrs. Postlethwaite, having been sent for in
great haste to the small inn into which the two injured men had
been carried, arrived only in time to witness their last moments.
Frank died first and Andrew some few minutes later--an important
fact, as was afterwards shown when the latter's will came to be
This will was a peculiar one. By its provisions the bulk of the
King's great property was left to his brother Frank, but with
this especial stipulation that in case his brother failed to
survive him, the full legacy as bequeathed to him should be given
unconditionally to his widow. Frank's demise, as I have already
stated, preceded his brother's by several minutes and
consequently Arabella became the chief legatee; and that is how
she obtained her millions. But--and here a startling feature
comes in--when the will came to be administered, the secret
underlying the break between Frank and his wife was brought to
light by a revelation of the fact that he had practised a great
deception upon her at the time of his marriage. Instead of being
a bachelor as was currently believed, he was in reality a
widower, and the father of a child. This fact, so long held
secret, had become hers when her own child was born; and
constituted as she was, she not only never forgave the father,
but conceived such a hatred for the innocent object of their
quarrel that she refused to admit its claims or even to
acknowledge its existence.
But later--after his death, in fact--she showed some sense of
obligation towards one who under ordinary conditions would have
shared her wealth. When the whole story became herd, and she
discovered that this secret had been kept from his brother as
well as from herself, and that consequently no provision had been
made in any way for the child thus thrown directly upon her
mercy, she did the generous thing and took the forsaken girl into
her own home. But she never betrayed the least love for her, her
whole heart being bound up in her boy, who was, as all agree, a
prodigy of talent.
But this boy, for all his promise and seeming strength of
constitution, died when barely seven years old, and the desolate
mother was left with nothing to fill her heart but the
uncongenial daughter of her husband's first wife. The fact that
this child, slighted as it had hitherto been, would, in the event
of her uncle having passed away before her father, have been the
undisputed heiress of a large portion of the wealth now at the
disposal of her arrogant step-mother, led many to expect, now
that the boy was no more, that Mrs. Postlethwaite would proceed
to acknowledge the little Helena as her heir, and give her that
place in the household to which her natural claims entitled her.
But no such result followed. The passion of grief into which the
mother was thrown by the shipwreck of all her hopes left her hard
and implacable, and when, as very soon happened, she fell a
victim to the disease which tied her to her chair and made the
wealth which had come to her by such a peculiar ordering of
circumstances little else than a mockery even in her own eyes, it
was upon this child she expended the full fund of her secret
And the child? What of her? How did she bear her unhappy fate
when she grew old enough to realize it? With a resignation which
was the wonder of all who knew her. No murmurs escaped her lips,
nor was the devotion she invariably displayed to the exacting
invalid who ruled her as well as all the rest of her household
with a rod of iron ever disturbed by the least sign of reproach.
Though the riches, which in those early days poured into the home
in a measure far beyond the needs of its mistress, were expended
in making the house beautiful rather than in making the one young
life within it happy, she never was heard to utter so much as a
wish to leave the walls within which fate had immured her.
Content, or seemingly content, with the only home she knew, she
never asked for change or demanded friends or amusements.
Visitors ceased coming; desolation followed neglect. The garden,
once a glory, succumbed to a riot of weeds and undesirable brush,
till a towering wall seemed to be drawn about the house cutting
it off from the activities of the world as it cut it off from the
approach of sunshine by day, and the comfort of a star-lit heaven
by night. And yet the young girl continued to smile, though with
a pitifulness of late, which some thought betokened secret terror
and others the wasting of a body too sensitive for such
These were the facts, known if not consciously specialized, which
gave to the latter part of my interview with Mrs. Postlethwaite a
poignancy of interest which had never attended any of my former
experiences. The peculiar attitude of Miss Postlethwaite towards
her indurate tormentor awakened in my agitated mind something
much deeper than curiosity, but when I strove to speak her name
with the intent of inquiring more particularly into her
condition, such a look confronted me from the steady eye
immovably fixed upon my own, that my courage--or was it my
natural precaution--bade me subdue the impulse and risk no
attempt which might betray the depth of my interest in one so
completely outside the scope of the present moment's business.
Perhaps Mrs. Postlethwaite appreciated my struggle; perhaps she
was wholly blind to it. There was no reading the mind of this
woman of sentimental name but inflexible nature, and realizing
the fact more fully with every word she uttered I left her at
last with no further betrayal of my feelings than might be
evinced by the earnestness with which I promised to return for
her signature at the earliest possible moment.
This she had herself requested, saying as I rose:
"I can still write my name if the paper is pushed carefully along
under my hand. See to it that you come while the power remains to
I had hoped that in my passage downstairs I might run upon
someone who would give me news of Miss Postlethwaite, but the
woman who approached to conduct me downstairs was not of an
appearance to invite confidence, and I felt forced to leave the
house with my doubts unsatisfied.
Two memories, equally distinct, followed me. One was a picture of
Mrs. Postlethwaite's fingers groping among her belongings on the
little tray perched upon her lap, and another of the intent and
strangely bent figure of the old man who had acted as my usher,
listening to the ticking of one of the great clocks. So absorbed
was he in this occupation that he not only failed to notice me
when I went by, but he did not even lift his head at my cheery
greeting. Such mysteries were too much for me, and led me to
postpone my departure from town till I had sought out Mrs.
Postlethwaite's doctor and propounded to him one or two leading
questions. First, would Mrs. Postlethwaite's present condition be
likely to hold good till Monday; and secondly, was the young lady
living with her as ill as her step-mother said.
He was a mild old man of the easy-going type, and the answers I
got from him were far from satisfactory. Yet he showed some
surprise when I mentioned the extent of Mrs. Postlethwaite's
anxiety about her step-daughter, and paused, in the dubious
shaking of his head, to give me a short stare in which I read as
much determination as perplexity.
"I will look into Miss Postlethwaite's case more particularly,"
were his parting words. And with this one gleam of comfort I had
to be content.
Monday's interview was a brief one and contained nothing worth
repeating. Mrs. Postlethwaite listened with stoical satisfaction
to the reading of the will I had drawn up, and upon its
completion rang her bell for the two witnesses awaiting her
summons, in an adjoining room. They were not of her household,
but to all appearance honest villagers with but one noticeable
characteristic, an overweening idea of Mrs. Postlethwaite's
importance. Perhaps the spell she had so liberally woven for
others in other and happier days was felt by them at this hour.
It would not be strange; I had almost fallen under it myself, so
great was the fascination of her manner even in this wreck of her
bodily powers, when triumph assured, she faced us all in a state
of complete satisfaction.
But before I was again quit of the place, all my doubts returned
and in fuller force than ever. I had lingered in my going as much
as decency would permit, hoping to hear a step on the stair or
see a face in some doorway which would contradict Mrs.
Postlethwaite's cold assurance that Miss Postlethwaite was no
better. But no such step did I hear, and no face did I see save
the old, old one of the ancient friend or relative, whose bent
frame seemed continually to haunt the halls. As before, he stood
listening to the monotonous ticking of one of the clocks,
muttering to himself and quite oblivious of my presence.
However, this time I decided not to pass him without a more
persistent attempt to gain his notice. Pausing at his side, I
asked him in the friendly tone I thought best calculated to
attract his attention, how Miss Postlethwaite was to-day. He was
so intent upon his task, whatever that was, that while he turned
my way, it was with a glance as blank as that of a stone image.
"Listen!" he admonished me. "It still says No! No! I don't think
it will ever say anything else."
I stared at him in some consternation, then at the clock itself
which was the tall one I had found run down at my first visit.
There was nothing unusual in its quiet tick, so far as I could
hear, and with a compassionate glance at the old man who had
turned breathlessly again to listen, proceeded on my way without
The old fellow was daft. A century old, and daft.
I had worked my way out through the vines which still encumbered
the porch, and was taking my first steps down the walk, when some
impulse made me turn and glance up at one of the windows.
Did I bless the impulse? I thought I had every reason for doing
so, when through a network of interlacing branches I beheld the
young girl with whom my mind was wholly occupied, standing with
her head thrust forward, watching the descent of something small
and white which she had just released from her hand.
A note! A note written by her and meant for me! With a grateful
look in her direction (which was probably lost upon her as she
had already drawn back out of sight), I sprang for it only to
meet with disappointment. For it was no billet-doux I received
from amid the clustering brush where it had fallen; but a small
square of white cloth showing a line of fantastic embroidery.
Annoyed beyond measure, I was about to fling it down again, when
the thought that it had come from her hand deterred me, and I
thrust it into my vest pocket. When I took it out again--which
was soon after I had taken my seat in the car--I discovered what
a mistake I should have made if I had followed my first impulse.
For, upon examining the stitches more carefully, I perceived that
what I had considered a mere decorative pattern was in fact a
string of letters, and that these letters made words, and that
these words were:
Or, in plain writing:
"I do not want to die, but I surely will if--"
Finish the sentence for me. That is the problem I offer you. It
is not a case for the police but one well worth your attention,
if you succeed in reaching the heart of this mystery and saving
this young girl.
Only, let no delay occur. The doom, if doom it is, is immanent.
Remember that the will is signed.
"She is too small; I did not ask you to send me a midget."
Thus spoke Mrs. Postlethwaite to her doctor, as he introduced
into her presence a little figure in nurse's cap and apron. "You
said I needed care,--more care than I was receiving. I answered
that my old nurse could give it, and you objected that she or
someone else must look after Miss Postlethwaite. I did not see
the necessity, but I never contradict a doctor. So I yielded to
your wishes, but not without the proviso (you remember that I
made a proviso) that whatever sort of young woman you chose to
introduce into this room, she should not be fresh from the
training schools, and that she should be strong, silent, and
capable. And you bring me this mite of a woman--is she a woman?
she looks more like a child, of pleasing countenance enough, but
who can no more lift me--"
"Pardon me!" Little Miss Strange had advanced. "I think, if you
will allow me the privilege, madam, that I can shift you into a
much more comfortable position." And with a deftness and ease
certainly not to be expected from one of her slight physique,
Violet raised the helpless invalid a trifle more upon her pillow.
The act, its manner, and the smile accompanying it, could not
fail to please, and undoubtedly did, though no word rewarded her
from lips not much given to speech save when the occasion was
imperative. But Mrs. Postlethwaite made no further objection to
her presence, and, seeing this, the doctor's countenance relaxed
and he left the room with a much lighter step than that with
which he had entered it.
And thus it was that Violet Strange--an adept in more ways than
one--became installed at the bedside of this mysterious woman,
whose days, if numbered, still held possibilities of action which
those interested in young Helena Postlethwaite's fate would do
well to recognize.
Miss Strange had been at her post for two days, and had gathered
up the following:
That Mrs. Postlethwaite must be obeyed.
That her step-daughter (who did not wish to die) would die if she
knew it to be the wish of this domineering but apparently
That the old man of the clocks, while senile in some regards, was
very alert and quite youthful in others. If a century old--which
she began greatly to doubt--he had the language and manner of one
in his prime, when unaffected by the neighbourhood of the clocks,
which seemed in some non-understandable way to exercise an occult
influence over him. At table he was an entertaining host; but
neither there nor elsewhere would he discuss the family, or
dilate in any way upon the peculiarities of a household of which
he manifestly regarded himself as the least important member. Yet
no one knew them better, and when Violet became quite assured of
this, as well as of the futility of looking for explanation of
any kind from either of her two patients, she resolved upon an
effort to surprise one from him.
She went about it in this way. Noting his custom of making a
complete round of the clocks each night after dinner, she took
advantage of Mrs. Postlethwaite's inclination to sleep at this
hour, to follow him from clock to clock in the hope of
overhearing some portion of the monologue with which he bent his
head to the swinging pendulum, or put his ear to the hidden
works. Soft-footed and discreet, she tripped along at his back,
and at each pause he made, paused herself and turned her ear his
way. The extreme darkness of the halls, which were more sombre by
night than by day, favoured this attempt, and she was able, after
a failure or two, to catch the No! no! no! no! which fell from
his lips in seeming repetition of what he heard the most of them
The satisfaction in his tone proved that the denial to which he
listened, chimed in with his hopes and gave ease to his mind. But
he looked his oldest when, after pausing at another of the many
time-pieces, he echoed in answer to its special refrain, Yes!
yes! yes! yes! and fled the spot with shaking body and a
The same fear and the same shrinking were observable in him as he
returned from listening to the least conspicuous one, standing in
a short corridor, where Violet could not follow him. But when,
after a hesitation which enabled her to slip behind the curtain
hiding the drawing-room door, he approached and laid his ear
against the great one standing, as if on guard, at the foot of
the stairs, she saw by the renewed vigour he displayed that there
was comfort for him in its message, even before she caught the
whisper with which he left it and proceeded to mount the stairs:
"It says No! It always says No! I will heed it as the voice of
But one conclusion could be the result of such an experiment to a
mind like Violet's. This partly touched old man not only held the
key to the secret of this house, but was in a mood to divulge it
if once he could be induced to hear command instead of disuasion
in the tick of this one large clock. But how could he be induced?
Violet returned to Mrs. Postlethwaite's bedside in a mood of
Another day passed, and she had not yet seen Miss Postlethwaite.
She was hoping each hour to be sent on some errand to that young
lady's room, but no such opportunity was granted her. Once she
ventured to ask the doctor, whose visits were now very frequent,
what he thought of the young lady's condition. But as this
question was necessarily put in Mrs. Postlethwaite's presence,
the answer was naturally guarded, and possibly not altogether
"Our young lady is weaker," he acknowledged. "Much weaker," he
added with marked emphasis and his most professional air, "or she
would be here instead of in her own room. It grieves her not to
be able to wait upon her generous benefactress."
The word fell heavily. Had it been used as a test? Violet gave
him a look, though she had much rather have turned her
discriminating eye upon the face staring up at them from the
pillow. Had the alarm expressed by others communicated itself at
last to the physician? Was the charm which had held him
subservient to the mother, dissolving under the pitiable state of
the child, and was he trying to aid the little detective- nurse
in her effort to sound the mystery of her condition?
His look expressed benevolence, but he took care not to meet the
gaze of the woman he had just lauded, possibly because that gaze
was fixed upon him in a way to tax his moral courage. The silence
which ensued was broken by Mrs. Postlethwaite:
"She will live--this poor Helena--how long?" she asked, with no
break in her voice's wonted music.
The doctor hesitated, then with a candour hardly to be expected
from him, answered:
"I do not understand Miss Postlethwaite's case. I should like,
with your permission, to consult some New York physician."
A single word, but as it left this woman's thin lips Violet
recoiled, and, perhaps, the doctor did. Rage can speak in one
word as well as in a dozen, and the rage which spoke in this one
was of no common order, though it was quickly suppressed, as was
all other show of feeling when she added, with a touch of her old
"Of course you will do what you think best, as you know I never
interfere with a doctor's decisions. But" and here her natural
ascendancy of tone and manner returned in all its potency, "it
would kill me to know that a stranger was approaching Helena's
bedside. It would kill her. She's too sensitive to survive such a
Violet recalled the words worked with so much care by this young
girl on a minute piece of linen, I do not want to die, and
watched the doctor's face for some sign of resolution. But
embarrassment was all she saw there, and all she heard him say
was the conventional reply:
"I am doing all I can for her. We will wait another day and note
the effect of my latest prescription."
The deathly calm which overspread Mrs. Postlethwaite's features
as this word left the physician's lips warned Violet not to let
another day go by without some action. But she made no remark,
and, indeed, betrayed but little interest in anything beyond her
own patient's condition. That seemed to occupy her wholly. With
consummate art she gave the appearance of being under Mrs.
Postlethwaite's complete thrall, and watched with fascinated eyes
every movement of the one unstricken finger which could do so
This little detective of ours could be an excellent actor when
To make the old man speak! To force this conscience-stricken but
rebellious soul to reveal what the clock forbade! How could it be
This continued to be Violet's great problem. She pondered it so
deeply during all the remainder of the day that a little pucker
settled on her brow, which someone (I will not mention who) would
have been pained to see. Mrs. Postlethwaite, if she noticed it at
all, probably ascribed it to her anxieties as nurse, for never
had Violet been more assiduous in her attentions. But Mrs.
Postlethwaite was no longer the woman she had been, and possibly
never noted it at all.
At five o'clock Violet suddenly left the room. Slipping down into
the lower hall, she went the round of the clocks herself,
listening to every one. There was no perceptible difference in
their tick. Satisfied of this and that it was simply the old
man's imagination which had supplied them each with separate
speech, she paused before the huge one at the foot of the stairs,-
-the one whose dictate he had promised himself to follow,--and
with an eye upon its broad, staring dial, muttered wistfully:
"Oh! for an idea! For an idea!"
Did this cumbrous relic of old-time precision turn traitor at
this ingenuous plea? The dial continued to stare, the works to
sing, but Violet's face suddenly lost its perplexity. With a wary
look about her and a listening ear turned towards the stair top,
she stretched out her hand and pulled open the door guarding the
pendulum, and peered in at the works, smiling slyly to herself as
she pushed it back into place and retreated upstairs to the sick
When the doctor came that night she had a quiet word with him
outside Mrs. Postlethwaite's door. Was that why he was on hand
when old Mr. Dunbar stole from his room to make his nightly
circuit of the halls below? Something quite beyond the ordinary
was in the good physician's mind, for the look he cast at the old
man was quite unlike any he had ever bestowed upon him before,
and when he spoke it was to say with marked urgency:
"Our beautiful young lady will not live a week unless I get at
the seat of her malady. Pray that I may be enabled to do so, Mr.
A blow to the aged man's heart which called forth a feeble "Yes,
yes," followed by a wild stare which imprinted itself upon the
doctor's memory as the look of one hopelessly old, who hears for
the first time a distinct call from the grave which has long been
A solitary lamp stood in the lower hall. As the old man picked
his slow way down, its small, hesitating flame flared up as in a
sudden gust, then sank down flickering and faint as if it, too,
had heard a call which summoned it to extinction.
No other sign of life was visible anywhere. Sunk in twilight
shadows, the corridors branched away on either side to no place
in particular and serving, to all appearance (as many must have
thought in days gone by), as a mere hiding-place for clocks.
To listen to their united hum, the old man paused, looking at
first a little distraught, but settling at last into his usual
self as he started forward upon his course. Did some whisper,
hitherto unheard, warn him that it was the last time he would
tread that weary round? Who can tell? He was trembling very much
when with his task nearly completed, he stepped out again into
the main hall and crept rather than walked back to the one great
clock to whose dictum he made it a practice to listen last.
Chattering the accustomed words, "They say Yes! They are all
saying Yes! now; but this one will say No!" he bent his stiff old
back and laid his ear to the unresponsive wood. But the time for
no had passed. It was Yes! yes! yes! yes! now, and as his
straining ears took in the word, he appeared to shrink where he
stood and after a moment of anguished silence, broke forth into a
low wail, amid whose lamentations one could hear:
"The time has come! Even the clock she loves best bids me speak.
Oh! Arabella, Arabella!"
In his despair he had not noticed that the pendulum hung
motionless, or that the hands stood at rest on the dial. If he
had, he might have waited long enough to have seen the careful
opening of the great clock's tall door and the stepping forth of
the little lady who had played so deftly upon his superstition.
He was wandering the corridors like a helpless child, when a
gentle hand fell on his arm and a soft voice whispered in his
"You have a story to tell. Will you tell it to me? It may save
Miss Postlethwaite's life."
Did he understand? Would he respond if he did; or would the shock
of her appeal restore him to a sense of the danger attending
disloyalty? For a moment she doubted the wisdom of this startling
measure, then she saw that he had passed the point of surprise
and that, stranger as she was, she had but to lead the way for
him to follow, tell his story, and die.
There was no light in the drawing-room when they entered. But old
Mr. Dunbar did not seem to mind that. Indeed, he seemed to have
lost all consciousness of present surroundings; he was even
oblivious of her. This became quite evident when the lamp, in
flaring up again in the hall, gave a momentary glimpse, of his
crouching, half-kneeling figure. In the pleading gesture of his
trembling, outreaching arms, Violet beheld an appeal, not to
herself, but to some phantom of his imagination; and when he
spoke, as he presently did, it was with the freedom of one to
whom speech is life's last boon, and the ear of the listener
quite forgotten in the passion of confession long suppressed.
"She has never loved me," he began, "but I have always loved her.
For me no other woman has ever existed, though I was sixty-five
years of age when I first saw her, and had long given up the idea
that there lived a woman who could sway me from my even life and
fixed lines of duty. Sixty-five! and she a youthful bride! Was
there ever such folly! Happily I realized it from the first, and
piled ashes on my hidden flame. Perhaps that is why I adore her
to this day and only give her over to reprobation because Fate is
stronger than my age--stronger even than my love.
"She is not a good woman, but I might have been a good man if I
had never known the sin which drew a line of isolation about her,
and within which I, and only I, have stood with her in silent
companionship. What was this sin, and in what did it have its
beginning? I think its beginning was in the passion she had for
her husband. It was not the every-day passion of her sex in this
land of equable affections, but one of foreign fierceness,
jealousy, and insatiable demand. Yet he was a very ordinary man.
I was once his tutor and I know. She came to know it too, when--
but I am rushing on too fast, I have much to tell before I reach
"From the first, I was in their confidence. Not that either he or
she put me there, but that I lived with them and was always
around, and could not help seeing and hearing what went on
between them. Why he continued to want me in the house and at his
table, when I could no longer be of service to him, I have never
known. Possibly habit explains all. He was accustomed to my
presence and so was she; so accustomed they hardly noticed it, as
happened one night, when after a little attempt at conversation,
he threw down the book he had caught up and, addressing her by
name, said without a glance my way, and quite as if he were alone
"'Arabella, there is something I ought to tell you. I have tried
to find the courage to do so many times before now but have
always failed. Tonight I must.' And then he made his great
disclosure,--how, unknown to, his friends and the world, he was a
widower when he married her, and the father of a living child.
"With some women this might have passed with a measure of regret,
and some possible contempt for his silence, but not so with her.
She rose to her feet--I can see her yet--and for a moment stood
facing him in the still, overpowering manner of one who feels the
icy pang of hate enter where love has been. Never was moment more
charged. I could not breathe while it lasted; and when at last
she spoke, it was with an impetuosity of concentrated passion,
hardly less dreadful than her silence had been.
"'You a father! A father already!' she cried, all her sweetness
swallowed up in ungovernable wrath. 'You whom I expected to make
so happy with a child? I curse you and your brat. I--'
"He strove to placate her, to explain. But rage has no ears, and
before I realized my own position, the scene became openly
tempestuous. That her child should be second to another woman's
seemed to awaken demon instincts within her. When he ventured to
hint that his little girl needed a mother's care, her irony bit
like corroding acid. He became speechless before it and had not a
protest to raise when she declared that the secret he had kept so
long and so successfully he must continue to keep to his dying
day. That the child he had failed to own in his first wife's
lifetime should remain disowned in hers, and if possible be
forgotten. She should never give the girl a thought nor
acknowledge her in any way.
"She was Fury embodied; but the fury was of that grand order
which allures rather than repels. As I felt myself succumbing to
its fascination and beheld how he was weakening under it even
more perceptibly than myself, I started from my chair, and sought
to glide away before I should hear him utter a fatal
"But the movement I made unfortunately drew their attention to
me, and after an instant of silent contemplation of my distracted
countenance, Frank said, as though he were the elder by the forty
years which separated us:
"'You have listened to Mrs. Postlethwaite's wishes. You will
respect them of course.'"
That was all. He knew and she knew that I was to be trusted; but
neither of them has ever known why.
A month later her child came, and was welcomed as though it were
the first to bear his name. It was a boy, and their satisfaction
was so great that I looked to see their old affection revive. But
it had been cleft at the root, and nothing could restore it to
life. They loved the child; I have never seen evidence of greater
parental passion than they both displayed, but there their
feelings stopped. Towards each other they were cold. They did not
even unite in worship of their treasure. They gloated over him
and planned for him, but always apart. He was a child in a
thousand, and as he developed, the mother especially, nursed all
her energies for the purpose of ensuring for him a future
commensurate with his talents. Never a very conscientious woman,
and alive to the advantages of wealth as demonstrated by the
power wielded by her rich brother-in-law, she associated all the
boy's prospects with money, great money, such money as Andrew had
accumulated, and now had at his disposal for his natural heirs.
"Hence came her great temptation,--a temptation to which she
yielded, to the lasting trouble of us all. Of this I must now
make confession though it kills me to do so, and will soon kill
her. The deeds of the past do not remain buried, however deep we
dig their graves, but rise in an awful resurrection when we are
Silence. Then a tremulous renewal of his painful speech.
Violet held her breath to listen. Possibly the doctor, hidden in
the darkest corner of the room, did so also.
"I never knew how she became acquainted with the terms of her
brother-in-law's will. He certainly never confided them to her,
and as certainly the lawyer who drew up the document never did.
But that she was well aware of its tenor is as positive a fact as
that I am the most wretched man alive tonight. Otherwise, why the
darksome deed into which she was betrayed when both the brothers
lay dying among strangers, of a dreadful accident?"
"I was witness to that deed. I had accompanied her on her hurried
ride and was at her side when she entered the inn where the two
Postlethwaites lay. I was always at her side in great joy or in
great trouble, though she professed no affection for me and gave
me but scanty thanks."
"During our ride she had been silent and I had not disturbed that
silence. I had much to think of. Should we find him living, or
should we find him dead? If dead, would it sever the relations
between us two? Would I ever ride with her again?"
"When I was not dwelling on this theme, I was thinking of the
parting look she gave her boy; a look which had some strange
promise in it. What had that look meant and why did my flesh
creep and my mind hover between dread and a fearsome curiosity
when I recalled it? Alas! There was reason for all these
sensations as I was soon to learn.
We found the inn seething with terror and the facts worse than
had been represented in the telegram. Her husband was dying. She
had come just in time to witness the end. This they told her
before she had taken off her veil. If they had waited--if I had
been given a full glimpse of her face--But it was hidden, and I
could only judge of the nature of her emotions by the stern way
in which she held herself.
"'Take me to him,' was the quiet command, with which she met this
disclosure. Then, before any of them could move:
"'And his brother, Mr. Andrew Postlethwaite? Is he fatally
"The reply was unequivocal. The doctors were uncertain which of
the two would pass away first.
"You must remember that at this time I was ignorant of the rich
man's will, and consequently of how the fate of a poor child of
whom I had heard only one mention, hung in the balance at that
awful moment. But in the breathlessness which seized Mrs.
Postlethwaite at this sentence of double death, I realized from
my knowledge of her that something more than grief was at prey
upon her impenetrable heart, and shuddered to the core of my
being when she repeated in that voice which was so terrible
because so expressionless:
"'Take me to them.'"
They were lying in one room, her husband nearest the door, the
other in a small alcove some ten feet away. Both were
unconscious; both were surrounded by groups of frightened
attendants who fell back as she approached. A doctor stood at the
bed-head of her husband, but as her eye met his he stepped aside
with a shake of the head and left the place empty for her.
"The action was significant. I saw that she understood what it
meant, and with constricted heart watched her as she bent over
the dying man and gazed into his wide-open eyes, already
sightless and staring. Calculation was in her look and
calculation only; and calculation, or something equally
unintelligible, sent her next glance in the direction of his
brother. What was in her mind? I could understand her
indifference to Frank even at the crisis of his fate, but not the
interest she showed in Andrew. It was an absorbing one, altering
her whole expression. I no longer knew her for my dear young
madam, and the jealousy I had never felt towards Frank rose to
frantic resentment in my breast as I beheld what very likely
might be a tardy recognition of the other's well-known passion,
forced into disclosure by the exigencies of the moment.
"Alarmed by the strength of my feelings, and fearing an equal
disclosure on my own part, I sought for a refuge from all eyes
and found it in a little balcony opening out at my right. On to
this balcony I stepped and found myself face to face with a star-
lit heaven. Had I only been content with my isolation and the
splendour of the spectacle spread out before me! But no, I must
look back upon that bed and the solitary woman standing beside
it! I must watch the settling of her body into rigidity as a
voice rose from beside the other Postlethwaite saying, 'It is a
matter of minutes now,' and then--and then--the slow creeping of
her hand to her husband's mouth, the outspreading of her palm
across the livid lips--its steady clinging there, smothering the
feeble gasps of one already moribund, till the quivering form
grew still, and Frank Postlethwaite lay dead before my eyes!
"I saw, and made no outcry, but she did, bringing the doctor back
to her side with the startled exclamation:
"'Dead? I thought he had an hour's life left in him, and he has
passed before his brother.'
"I thought it hate--the murderous impulse of a woman who sees her
enemy at her mercy and can no longer restrain the passion of her
long-cherished antagonism; and while something within me rebelled
at the act, I could not betray her, though silence made a
murderer of me too. I could not. Her spell was upon me as in
another instant it was upon everyone else in the room. No
suspicion of one so self-repressed in her sadness disturbed the
universal sympathy; and encouraged by this blindness of the
crowd, I vowed within myself never to reveal her secret. The man
was dead, or as good as dead, when she touched him; and now that
her hate was expended she would grow gentle and good.
"But I knew the worthlessness of this hope as well as my
misconception of her motive, when Frank's child by another wife
returned to my memory, and Bella's sin stood exposed."
"But only to myself. I alone knew that the fortune now wholly
hers, and in consequence her boy's, had been won by a crime. That
if her hand had fallen in comfort on her husband's forehead
instead of in pressure on his mouth, he would have outlived his
brother long enough to have become owner of his millions; in
which case a rightful portion would have been insured to his
daughter, now left a penniless waif. The thought made my hair
rise, as the proceedings over, I faced her and made my first and
last effort to rid my conscience of its new and intolerable
But the woman I had known and loved was no longer before me. The
crown had touched her brows, and her charm which had been mainly
sexual up to this hour had merged into an intellectual force,
with which few men's mentality could cope. Mine yielded at once
to it. From the first instant, I knew that a slavery of spirit,
as well as of heart, was henceforth to be mine."
She did not wait for me to speak; she had assumed the dictator's
attitude at once.
"'I know of what you are thinking,"' said she, 'and it is a
subject you may dismiss at once from your mind. Mr.