Part 1 out of 4
THE MAYOR'S WIFE
by Anna Katherine Green
I A SPY'S DUTY
III IN THE GABLE WINDOW
V THE STRANGE NEIGHBORS NEXT DOOR
VI AT THE STAIR-HEAD
VII A MOVING SHADOW
VIII THE PARAGRAPH
X A GLIMMER OF THE TRUTH
XIII A DISCOVERY
XIV I SEEK HELP
XV HARDLY A COINCIDENCE
XVI IN THE LIBRARY
XVII THE TWO WEIRD SISTERS
XVIII THE MORNING NEWS
XIX THE CRY FROM THE STAIRS
XXI THE CIPHER
XXIII THE WIFE'S TALE
XXIV THE SINS OF THE FATHERS
XXV THE FINGER ON THE WALL
XXVI "BITTER AS THE GRAVE"
XXVII A CHILD'S PLAYTHINGS
A SPY'S DUTY
I am not without self-control, yet when Miss Davies entered the
room with that air of importance she invariably assumes when she
has an unusually fine position to offer, I could not hide all
traces of my anxiety.
I needed a position, needed it badly, while the others--
But her eyes are on our faces, she is scanning us all with that
close and calculating gaze which lets nothing escape. She has
passed me by--my heart goes down, down--when suddenly her look
returns and she singles me out.
"Miss Saunders." Then, "I have a word to say to you"
There is a rustle about me; five disappointed girls sink back
into their seats as I quickly rise and follow Miss Davies out.
In the hall she faced me with these words:
"You are discreet, and you evidently desire a position. You will
find a gentleman in my sitting-room. If you come to terms with
him, well and good. If not, I shall expect you to forget all
about him and his errand the moment you leave his presence. You
"I think so," I replied, meeting her steady look with one equally
composed. Part of my strength--and I think I have some strength
--lies in the fact that I am quietest when most deeply roused. "I
am not to talk whatever the outcome."
"Not even to me," she emphasized.
Stirred still further and therefore outwardly even more calm than
before, I stopped her as she was moving on and ventured a single
"This position--involving secrecy--is it one you would advise me
to take, even if I did not stand in need of it so badly?"
"Yes. The difficulties will not be great to a discreet person.
It is a first-class opportunity for a young woman as experienced
"Thank you," was my abrupt but grateful rejoinder; and, obeying
her silent gesture, I opened the door of the sitting-room and
passed in. A gentleman standing at one of the windows turned
quickly at the sound of my step and came forward. Instantly
whatever doubt I may have felt concerning the nature of the work
about to be proposed to me yielded to the certainty that, however
much it might involve of the strange and difficult, the man whose
mission it was to seek my aid was one to inspire confidence and
He was also a handsome man, or no, I will not go so far as that;
he was only one in whom the lines of form and visage were fine
enough not to interfere with the impression made by his strong
nature and intense vitality. A man to sway women and also quite
capable of moving men (this was evident at a glance); but a man
under a cloud just at present,--a very heavy cloud which both
irked and perplexed him.
Pausing in the middle of the room, he surveyed me closely for an
instant before speaking. Did I impress him as favorably as he
did me? I soon had reason to think so, for the nervous trembling
of his hands ceased after the first moment or two of silent
scrutiny, and I was sure I caught the note of hope in his voice
as he courteously remarked:
"You are seeking a place, young lady. Do you think you can fill
the one I have to offer? It has its difficulties, but it is not
an onerous one. It is that of companion to my wife."
I bowed; possibly I smiled. I do smile sometimes when a ray of
real sunshine darts across my pathway.
"I should be very glad to try such a situation," I replied.
A look of relief, so vivid that it startled me, altered at once
the whole character of his countenance; and perceiving how
intense was the power and fascination underlying his quiet
exterior, I asked myself who and what this man was; no ordinary
personage, I was sure, but who? Had Miss Davies purposely
withheld his name? I began to think so.
"I have had some experience," I was proceeding--
But he waved this consideration aside, with a change back to his
former gloomy aspect, and a careful glance at the door which did
not escape me.
"It is not experience which is so much needed as discretion."
Again that word.
"The case is not a common one, or, rather,"--he caught himself up
quickly, "the circumstances are not. My wife is well, but--she
is not happy. She is very unhappy, deeply, unaccountably so, and
I do not know why."
Anxious to watch the effect of these words, he paused a moment,
then added fervently:
"Would to God I did! It would make a new man of me."
The meaning, the deep meaning in his tone, if not in the
adjuration itself, was undeniable; but my old habit of
self-control stood me in good stead and I remained silent
and watchful, weighing every look and word.
"A week ago she was the lightest hearted woman in town,--the
happiest wife, the merriest mother. To-day she is a mere wreck
of her former self, pallid, drawn, almost speechless, yet she is
not ill. She will not acknowledge to an ache or a pain; will not
even admit that any change has taken place in her. But you have
only to see her. And I am as ignorant of the cause of it all--as
you are!" he burst out.
Still I remained silent, waiting, watchful.
"I have talked with her physician. He says there is something
serious the matter with her, but he can not help her, as it is
not in any respect physical, and advises me to find out what is
on her mind. As if that had not been my first care! I have also
consulted her most intimate friends all who know her well, but
they can give me no clue to her distress. They see the
difference in her, but can not tell the cause. And I am obliged
to go away and leave her in this state. For two weeks, three
weeks now, my movements will be very uncertain. I am at the beck
and call of the State Committee. At any other time I would try
change of scene, but she will neither consent to leave home
without me nor to interrupt my plans in order that I may
"Miss Davies has not told me your name," I made bold to
He stared, shook himself together, and quietly, remarked:
"I am Henry Packard."
The city's mayor! and not only that, the running candidate for
governor. I knew him well by name, even if I did not know, or
rather had not recognized his face.
"I beg pardon," I somewhat tremulously began, but he waved the
coming apology aside as easily, as he had my first attempt at
ingratiation. In fact, he appeared to be impatient of every
unnecessary word. This I could, in a dim sort of way,
understand. He was at the crisis of his fate, and so was his
party. For several years a struggle had gone on between the two
nearly matched elements in this western city, which, so far, had
resulted in securing him two terms of office--possibly because
his character appealed to men of all grades and varying
convictions. But the opposite party was strong in the state, and
the question whether he could carry his ticket against such odds,
and thus give hope to his party in the coming presidential
election, was one yet to be tested. Forceful as a speaker, he
was expected to reap hundreds of votes from the mixed elements
that invariably thronged to hear him, and, ignorant as I
necessarily was of the exigencies of such a campaign, I knew that
not only his own ambition, but the hopes of his party, depended
on the speeches he had been booked to make in all parts of the
state. And now, three weeks before election, while every
opposing force was coming to the surface, this trouble had come
upon him. A mystery in his home and threatened death in his
heart! For he loved his wife--that was apparent to me from the
first; loved her to idolatry, as such men sometimes do love,--
often to their own undoing.
All this, the thought of an instant. Meanwhile he had been
studying me well.
"You understand my position," he commented. "Wednesday night I
speak in C---, Thursday, in R---, while she--" With an effort he
pulled himself together. "Miss--"
"Saunders," I put in.
"Miss Saunders, I can not leave her alone in the house. Some one
must be there to guard and watch--"
"Has she no mother?" I suggested in the pause he made.
"She has no living relatives, and mine are uncongenial to her."
This to save another question. I understood him perfectly.
"I can not ask any of them to stay with her," he pursued
decisively. "She would not consent to it. Nor can I ask any of
her friends. That she does not wish, either. But I can hire a
companion. To that she has already consented. That she will
regard as a kindness, if the lady chosen should prove to be one
of those rare beings who carry comfort in their looks without
obtruding their services or displaying the extent of their
interest. You know there are some situations in which the
presence of a stranger may be more grateful than that of a
friend. Apparently, my wife feels herself so placed now."
Here his eyes again read my face, an ordeal out of which I came
triumphant; the satisfaction he evinced rightly indicated his
"Will you accept the position?" he asked. "We have one little
child. You will have no charge of her save as you may wish to
make use of her in reaching the mother."
The hint conveyed in the last phrase gave me courage to say:
"You wish me to reach her?"
"With comfort," said he.
"And if in doing so I learn her trouble?"
"You will win my eternal gratitude by telling it to one who would
give ten years of his life to assuage it."
My head rose. I began to feel that my next step must strike
"In other words to be quite honest--you wish me to learn her
trouble if I can"
"I believe you can be trusted to do so."
"And then to reveal it to you?"
"If your sense of duty permits,--which I think it will."
I might have uttered in reply, "A spy's duty?" but the high-
mindedness of his look forbade. Whatever humiliation his wishes
put upon me, there could be no question of the uprightness of his
motives regarding his wife.
I ventured one more question.
"How far shall I feel myself at liberty to go in this attempt?"
"As far as your judgment approves and circumstances seem to
warrant. I know that you will come upon nothing dishonorable to
her, or detrimental to our relations as husband and wife, in this
secret which is destroying our happiness. Her affection for me
is undoubted, but something--God knows what--has laid waste her
life. To find and annihilate that something is my first and
foremost duty. It does not fit well with those other duties
pressing upon me from the political field, does it? That is why
I have called in help. That is why I have called you in."
The emphasis was delicately but sincerely given. It struck my
heart and entered it. Perhaps he had calculated upon this. If
so, it was because he knew that a woman like myself works better
when her feelings are roused.
Answering with a smile, I waited patiently while he talked terms
and other equally necessary details, then dropping all these
considerations, somewhat in his own grand manner, I made this
"If your wife likes me, which very possibly she may fail to do, I
shall have a few questions to ask you before I settle down to my
duties. Will you see that an opportunity is given me for doing
His assent was as frank as all the rest, and the next moment he
left the room.
As he passed out I heard him remark to Miss Davies:
"I expect Miss Saunders at my house before nightfall. I shall
reserve some minutes between half-past five and six in which to
introduce her to Mrs. Packard."
I knew all the current gossip about Mrs. Packard before I had
parted with Miss Davies. Her story was a simple one. Bred in
the West, she had come, immediately after her mother's death, to
live with that mother's brother in Detroit. In doing this she
had walked into a fortune. Her uncle was a rich man and when he
died, which was about a year after her marriage with Mr. Packard
and removal to C--, she found herself the recipient of an
enormous legacy. She was therefore a woman of independent means,
an advantage which, added to personal attractions of a high
order, and manners at once dignified and winning, caused her to
be universally regarded as a woman greatly to be envied by all
who appreciated a well-founded popularity.
So much for public opinion. It differs materially from that just
given me by her husband.
The mayor lived on Franklin Street in a quarter I had seldom
visited. As I entered this once aristocratic thoroughfare from
Carlton Avenue, I was struck as I had been before by its
heterogeneous appearance. Houses of strictly modern type
neighbored those of a former period, and it was not uncommon to
see mansion and hovel confronting each other from the opposite
side of the street. Should I find the number I sought attached
to one of the crude, unmeaning dwellings I was constantly
passing, or to one of mellower aspect and possibly historic
I own that I felt a decided curiosity on this point, and
congratulated myself greatly when I had left behind me a
peculiarly obnoxious monstrosity in stone, whose imposing
proportions might reasonably commend themselves to the
necessities, if not to the taste of the city's mayor.
A little shop, one story in height and old enough for its simple
wooden walls to cry aloud for paint, stood out from the middle of
a row of cheap brick houses. Directly opposite it were two
conspicuous dwellings, neither of them new and one of them
ancient as the street itself. They stood fairly close together,
with an alley running between. From the number I had now reached
it was evident that the mayor lived in one of these. Happily it
was in the fresher and more inviting one. As I noted this, I
paused in admiration of its spacious front and imposing doorway.
The latter was in the best style of Colonial architecture, and
though raised but one step from the walk, was so distinguished by
the fan-tailed light overhead and the flanking casements glazed
with antique glass, that I felt myself carried back to the days
when such domiciles were few and denoted wealth the most solid,
and hospitality the most generous.
A light wall, painted to match the house, extended without break
to the adjoining building, a structure equal to the other in age
and dimensions, but differing in all other respects as much as
neglect and misuse could make it. Gray and forbidding, it
towered in its place, a perfect foil to the attractive dwelling
whose single step I now amounted with cheerful composure.
What should I have thought if at that moment I had been told that
appearances were deceitful, and that there were many persons then
living who, if left to their choice, would prefer life in the
dismal walls from which I had instinctively turned, to a single
night spent in the promising house I was so eager to enter.
An old serving-man, with a countenance which struck me pleasantly
enough at the time, opened the door in response to my ring, only
to make instant way for Mayor Packard, who advanced from some
near-by room to greet me. By this thoughtful attention I was
spared the embarrassment from which I might otherwise have
His few words of greeting set me entirely at my ease, and I was
quite ready to follow him when a moment later he invited me to
meet Mrs. Packard.
"I can not promise you just the reception you naturally look
for," said he, as he led me around the stairs toward an opening
at their rear, "but she's a kind woman and can not but be struck
with your own kind spirit and quiet manner."
Happily, I was not called upon to answer, for at that moment the
door swung open and he ushered me into a room flooded brilliantly
with the last rays of the setting sun. The woman who sat in its
glow made an instant and permanent impression upon me. No one
could look intently upon her without feeling that here was a
woman of individuality and power, overshadowed at present by the
deepest melancholy. As she rose and faced us I decided instantly
that her husband had not exaggerated her state of mind. Emotion
of no ordinary nature disturbed the lines of her countenance and
robbed her naturally fine figure of a goodly portion of its
dignity and grace; and though she immediately controlled herself
and assumed the imposing aspect of a highly trained woman, ready,
if not eager, to welcome an intruding guest, I could not easily
forget the drawn look about mouth and eyes which, in the first
instant of our meeting, had distorted features naturally
harmonious and beautifully serene.
I am sure her husband had observed it also, for his voice
trembled slightly as he addressed her.
"I have brought you a companion, Olympia, one whose business and
pleasure it will be to remain with you while I am making speeches
a hundred miles away. Do you not see reason for thanking me?"
This last question he pointed with a glance in my direction,
which drew her attention and caused her to give me a kindly look.
I met her eyes fairly. They were large and gray and meant for
smiling; eyes that, with a happy heart behind them, would
illumine her own beauty and create joy in those upon whom they
fell. But to-day, nothing but question lived in their dark and
uneasy depths, and it was for me to face that question and give
no sign of what the moment was to me.
"I think--I am sure, that my thanks are due you," she courteously
replied, with a quick turn toward her husband, expressive of
confidence, and, as I thought, of love. "I dreaded being left
He drew a deep breath of relief; we both did; then we talked a
little, after which Mayor Packard found some excuse for taking me
from the room.
"Now for the few words you requested," said he; and, preceding me
down the hall, he led me into what he called his study.
I noted one thing, and only one thing, on entering this place.
That was the presence of a young man who sat at a distant table
reading and making notes. But as Mayor Packard took no notice of
him, knowing and expecting him to be there, no doubt, I, with a
pardonable confusion, withdrew my eyes from the handsomest face I
had ever seen, and, noting that my employer had stopped before a
type-writer's table, I took my place at his side, without knowing
very well what this move meant or what he expected me to do
I was not long left in doubt. With a gesture toward the
type-writer, he asked me if I was accustomed to its use; and when
I acknowledged some sort of acquaintance with it, he drew an
unanswered letter from a pile on the table and requested me to
copy it as a sample.
I immediately sat down before the type-writer. I was in
something of a maze, but felt that I must follow his lead. As I
proceeded to insert the paper and lay out the copy to hand, he
crossed over to the young man at the other end of the room and
began a short conversation which ended in some trivial demand
that sent the young man from the room. As the door closed behind
him Mayor Packard returned to my side.
"Keep on with your work and never mind mistakes," said he. "What
I want is to hear the questions you told me to expect from you if
Seemingly Mayor Packard did not wish this young man to know my
position in the house. Was it possible he did not wholly trust
him? My hands trembled from the machine and I was about to turn
and give my full thought to what I had to say. But pride checked
the impulse. "No," I muttered in quick dissuasion, to myself.
"He must see that I can do two things at once and do both well."
And so I went on with the letter.
"When," I asked, "did you first see the change in Mrs. Packard?"
"On Tuesday afternoon at about this time."
"What had happened on that day? Had she been out?"
"Yes, I think she told me later that she had been out."
"Do you know where?"
"To some concert, I believe. I did not press her with questions,
Miss Saunders; I am a poor inquisitor."
Click, click; the machine was working admirably.
"Have you reason to think," I now demanded, "that she brought her
unhappiness in with her, when she returned from that concert?"
"No; for when I returned home myself, as I slid earlier than
usual that night, I heard her laughing with the child in the
nursery. It was afterward, some few minutes afterward, that I
came upon her sitting in such a daze of misery, that she did not
recognize me when I spoke to her. I thought it was a passing
mood at the time; she is a sensitive woman and she had been
reading--I saw the book lying on the floor at her side; but when,
having recovered from her dejection--a dejection, mind you, which
she would' neither acknowledge nor explain--she accompanied me
out to dinner, she showed even more feeling on our return,
shrinking unaccountably, from leaving the carriage and showing,
not only in this way but in others, a very evident distaste to
reenter her own house. Now, whatever hold I still retain upon
her is of so slight a nature that I am afraid every day she will
"Leave you !"
My fingers paused; my astonishment had got the better of me.
"Yes; it is as bad as that. I don't know what day you will send
me a telegram of three words, 'She has gone.' Yet she loves me,
really and truly loves me. That is the mystery of it. More than
this, her very heart-strings are knit up with those of our
"Mayor Packard,"--I had resumed work,--"was any letter delivered
to her that day?"
"That I can not say."
Fact one for me to establish.
"The wives of men like you--men much before the world, men in the
thick of strife, social and political--often receive letters of a
very threatening character."
"She would have shown me any such, if only to put me on my guard.
She is physically a very, brave woman and not at all nervous."
"Those letters sometimes assume the shape of calumny. Your
character may have been attacked."
"She believes in my character and would have given me an
opportunity to vindicate myself. I have every confidence in my
wife's sense of justice."
I experienced a thrill of admiration for the appreciation he
evinced in those words. Yet I pursued the subject resolutely.
"Have you an enemy, Mayor Packard? Any real and downright enemy
capable of a deep and serious attempt at destroying your
"None that I know of, Miss Saunders. I have political enemies,
of course men, who, influenced by party feeling, are not above
attacking methods and possibly my official reputation; but
personal ones--wretches willing to stab me in my home-life and
affections, that I can not believe. My life has been as an open
book. I have harmed no man knowingly and, as far as I know, no
man has ever cherished a wish to injure me."
"Who constitute your household? How many servants do you keep
and how long have they been with you?"
"Now you exact details with which only Mrs. Packard is
conversant. I don't know anything about the servants. I do not
interest myself much in matters purely domestic, and Mrs. Packard
spares me. You will have to observe the servants yourself."
I made another note in my mind while inquiring:
"Who is the young man who was here just now? He has an uncommon
"A handsome one, do you mean?"
"Yes, and--well, what I should call distinctly clever."
"He is clever. My secretary, Miss Saunders. He helps me in my
increased duties; has, in a way, charge of my campaign; reads,
sorts and sometimes answers my letters. Just now he is arranging
my speeches--fitting them to the local requirements of the
several audiences I shall be called upon to address. He knows
mankind like a book. I shall never give the wrong speech to the
wrong people while he is with me."
"Do you like him?--the man, I mean, not his work."
"Well-yes. He is very good company, or would have been if, in
the week he has been in the house, I had been in better mood to
enjoy him. He's a capital story-teller."
"He has been here a week?"
"Yes, or almost."
"Came on last Tuesday, didn't he?"
"Yes, I believe that was the day."
"No; he came early; soon after breakfast, in fact."
"Does your wife like him?"
His Honor gave a start, flushed (I can sometimes see a great deal
even while very busily occupied) and answered without anger, but
with a good deal of pride:
"I doubt if Mrs. Packard more than knows of his presence. She
does not come to this room."
"And he does not sit at your table?"
"No; I must have some few minutes in the day free from the
suggestion of politics. Mr. Steele can safely be left out of our
discussion. He does not even sleep in the house."
The note I made at this was very emphatic. "You should know,"
said I; then quickly "Tuesday was the day Mrs. Packard first
showed the change you observed in her."
"Yes, I think so; but that is a coincidence only. She takes no
interest in this young man; scarcely noticed him when I
introduced him; just bowed to him over her shoulder; she was
fastening on our little one's cap. Usually she is extremely,
courteous to strangers, but she was abstracted, positively
abstracted at that moment. I wondered at it, for he usually
makes a stir wherever he goes. But my wife cares little for
beauty in a man; I doubt if she noticed his looks at all. She
did not catch his name, I remember."
"Pardon me what is that you say?"
"She did not catch his name, for later she asked me what it was."
"Tell me about that, Mr. Packard."
"It is immaterial; but I am ready to answer all your questions.
It was while we were out dining. Chance threw us together, and
to fill up the moment she asked the name of the young man I had
brought into the library that morning. I told her and explained
his position and the long training he had had in local politics.
She listened, but not as closely as she did to the music. Oh,
she takes no interest in him. I wish she did; his stories might
I did not pursue the subject. Taking out the letter I had been
writing, I held it out for his inspection, with the remark:
"More copy, please, Mayor Packard."
IN THE GABLE WINDOW
A few minutes later I was tripping up-stairs in the wake of a
smart young maid whom Mayor Packard had addressed as Ellen. I
liked this girl at first sight and, as I followed her up first
one flight, then another, to the room which had been chosen for
me, the hurried glimpses I had of her bright and candid face
suggested that in this especial member of the household I might
hope to find a friend and helper in case friendship and help were
needed in the blind task to which I stood committed. But I soon
saw cause--or thought I did--to change this opinion. When she
turned on me at the door of my room, a small one at the extreme
end of the third floor, I had an opportunity of meeting her eyes.
The interest in her look was not the simple one to be expected.
In another person in other circumstances I should have
characterized her glance as one of inquiry and wonder. But
neither inquiry nor wonder described the present situation, and I
put myself upon my guard.
Seeing me look her way, she flushed, and, throwing wide the door,
remarked in the pleasantest of tones:
"This is your room. Mrs. Packard says that if it is not large
enough or does not seem pleasant to you, she will find you
another one to-morrow."
"It's very pleasant and quite large enough," I confidently
replied, after a hasty look about me. "I could not be more
She smiled, a trifle broadly for the occasion, I thought, and
patted a pillow here and twitched a curtain there, as she
remarked with a certain emphasis:
"I'm sure you will be comfortable. There's nobody else on this
floor but Letty and the baby, but you don't look as if you would
be easily frightened." Astonished, not so much by her words as
by the furtive look she gave me, I laughed as I repeated
"Frightened? What should frighten me?"
"Oh, nothing." Her back was to me now, but I felt that I knew her
very look. "Nothing, of course. If you're not timid you won't
mind sleeping so far away from every one. Then, we are always
within call. The attic door is just a few steps off. We'll
leave it unlocked and you can come up if--if you feel like it at
any time. We'll understand."
Understand! I eyed her as she again looked my way, with some of
her own curiosity if not wonder.
"Mrs. Packard must have had some very timorous guests," I
observed. "Or, perhaps, you have had experiences here which have
tended to alarm you. The house is so large and imposing for the
quarter it is in I can readily imagine it to attract burglars."
"Burglars! It would be a brave burglar who would try to get in
here. I guess you never heard about this house."
"No," I admitted, unpleasantly divided between a wish to draw her
out and the fear of betraying Mayor Packard's trust in me by
showing the extent of my interest.
"Well, it's only gossip," she laughingly assured me. "You
needn't think of it, Miss. I'm sure you'll be all right. We
girls have been, so far, and Mrs. Packard--"
Here she doubtless heard a voice outside or some summons from
below, for she made a quick start toward the door, remarking in a
different and very pleasant tone of voice:
"Dinner at seven, Miss. There'll be no extra company to-night.
I'm coming." This to some one in the hall as she hastily passed
through the door.
Dropping the bag I had lifted to unpack, I stared at the door
which had softly closed under her hand, then, with an odd
impulse, turned to look at my own face in the glass before which
I chanced to be standing. Did I expect to find there some
evidence of the excitement which this strange conversation might
naturally produce in one already keyed up to an expectation of
the mysterious and unusual? If so, I was not disappointed. My
features certainly betrayed the effect of this unexpected attack
upon my professional equanimity. What did the girl mean? What
was she hinting at? What underlay--what could underlie her
surprising remark, "I guess you never heard about this house"
Something worth my knowing; something which might explain Mayor
Packard's fears and Mrs. Packard's--
There I stopped. It was where the girl had stopped. She and not
I must round out this uncompleted sentence.
Meanwhile I occupied myself in unpacking my two bags and making
acquaintance with the room which, I felt, was destined to be the
scene of many, anxious thoughts. Its first effect had been a
cheerful one, owing to its two large windows, one looking out on
a stretch of clear sky above a mass of low, huddled buildings,
and the other on the wall of the adjacent house which, though
near enough to obstruct the view, was not near enough to exclude
all light. Another and closer scrutiny of the room did not alter
the first impression. To the advantages of light were added
those of dainty furnishing and an exceptionally pleasing color
scheme. There was no richness anywhere, but an attractive
harmony which gave one an instantaneous feeling of home. From
the little brass bedstead curtained with cretonne, to the tiny
desk filled with everything needful for immediate use, I saw
evidences of the most careful housekeeping, and was vainly asking
myself what could have come into Mrs. Packard's life to disturb
so wholesome a nature, when my attention was arrested by a
picture hanging at the right of the window overlooking the next
It gave promise of being a most interesting sketch, and I crossed
over to examine it; but instead of doing so, found my eyes drawn
toward something more vital than any picture and twice as
It was a face, the face of an old woman staring down at me from a
semicircular opening in the gable of the adjoining house. An
ordinary circumstance in itself, but made extraordinary by the
fixity of her gaze, which was leveled straight on mine, and the
uncommon expression of breathless eagerness which gave force to
her otherwise commonplace features. So remarkable was this
expression and so apparently was it directed against myself, that
I felt like throwing up my window and asking the poor old
creature what I could do for her. But her extreme immobility
deterred me. For all the intentness of her look there was no
invitation in it warranting such an advance on my part. She
simply stared down at me in unbroken anxiety, nor, though I
watched her for some minutes with an intensity equal to her own,
did I detect any, change either in her attitude or expression.
"Odd," thought I, and tested her with a friendly bow. The
demonstration failed to produce the least impression. "A most
uncanny neighbor," was my mental comment on finally turning away.
Truly I was surrounded by mysteries, but fortunately this was one
with which I had no immediate concern. It did not take me long to
put away my few belongings and prepare for dinner. When quite
ready, I sat down to write a letter. This completed, I turned to
go downstairs. But before leaving the room I cast another look
up at my neighbor's attic window. The old woman was still there.
As our glances met I experienced a thrill which was hardly one of
sympathy, yet was not exactly one of fear. My impulse was to
pull down the shade between us, but I had not the heart. She was
so old, so feeble and so, evidently the prey of some strange and
fixed idea. What idea? It was not for me to say, but I found it
impossible to make any move which would seem to shut her out; so
I left the shade up; but her image followed me and I forgot it
only when confronted once again with Mrs. Packard.
That lady was awaiting me at the dining-room door. She had
succeeded in throwing off her secret depression and smiled quite
naturally as I approached. Her easy, courteous manners became
her wonderfully. I immediately recognized how much there was to
admire in our mayor's wife, and quite understood his relief when,
a few minutes later, we sat at table and conversation began.
Mrs. Packard, when free and light-hearted, was a delightful
companion and the meal passed off cheerily. When we rose and the
mayor left us for some necessary business it was with a look of
satisfaction in my direction which was the best possible
preparation for my approaching tete-a-tete with his moody and
But I was not destined to undergo the contemplated ordeal this
evening. Guests were announced whom Mrs. Packard kindly invited
me to meet, but I begged to be allowed to enjoy the library. I
had too much to consider just now, to find any pleasure in
society. Three questions filled my mind.
What was Mrs. Packard's secret trouble?
Why were people afraid to remain in this houses?
Why did the old woman next door show such interest in the new
member of her neighbor's household?
Would a single answer cover all? Was there but one cause for
each and every one of these peculiarities? Probably, and it was
my duty to ferret out this cause. But how should I begin? I
remembered what I had read about detectives and their methods,
but the help I thus received was small. Subtler methods were
demanded here and subtler methods I must find. Meantime, I would
hope for another talk with Mayor Packard. He might clear up some
of this fog. At least, I should like to give him the
opportunity. But I saw no way of reaching him at present. Even
Mrs. Packard did not feel at liberty to disturb him in his study.
I must wait for his reappearance, and in the meantime divert
myself as best I could. I caught up a magazine, but speedily
dropped it to cast a quick glance around the room. Had I heard
anything? No. The house was perfectly still, save for the sound
of conversation in the drawing-room. Yet I found it hard to keep
my eyes upon the page. Quite without my, volition they flew,
first to one corner, then to another. The room was light, there
were no shadowy nooks in it, yet I felt an irresistible desire to
peer into every place not directly under my eye. I knew it to be
folly, and, after succumbing to the temptation of taking a sly
look behind a certain tall screen, I resolutely set myself to
curb my restlessness and to peruse in good earnest the article I
had begun. To make sure of myself, I articulated each word
aloud, and to my exceeding satisfaction had reached the second
column when I found my voice trailing off into silence, and every
sense alarmingly alert. Yet there was nothing, absolutely
nothing in this well-lighted, cozy family-room to awaken fear. I
was sure of this the next minute, and felt correspondingly
irritated with myself and deeply humiliated. That my nerves
should play me such a trick at the very outset of my business in
this house! That I could not be left alone, with life in every
part of the house, and the sound of the piano and cheerful
talking just across the hall, without the sense of the morbid and
unearthly entering my matter-of-fact brain!
Uttering an ejaculation of contempt, I reseated myself. The
impulse came again to look behind me, but I mastered it this time
without too great an effort. I already knew every feature of the
room: its old-fashioned mantel, large round center-table, its
couches and chairs, and why should I waste my attention again
"Is there anything you wish, Miss?" asked a voice directly over my
I wheeled about with a start. I had heard no one approach; it
was not sound which had disturbed me.
"The library bell rang," continued the voice. "Is it ice-water
Then I saw that it was Nixon, the butler, and shook my head in
mingled anger and perplexity; for not only had he advanced quite
noiselessly, but he was looking at me with that curious
concentrated gaze which I had met twice before since coming into
"I need nothing," said I, with all the mildness I could summon
into my voice; and did not know whether to like or not like the
quiet manner in which he sidled out of the room.
"Why do they all look at me so closely?" I queried, in genuine
confusion. "The man had no business here. I did not ring, and I
don't believe he thought I did. He merely wanted to see what I
was doing and whether I was enjoying myself. Why this curiosity?
I have never roused it anywhere else. It is not myself they are
interested in, but the cause and purpose of my presence under
this roof." I paused to wonder over the fact that the one member
of the family who might be supposed to resent my intrusion most
was the one who took it most kindly and with least token of
"She accepts me easily enough," thought I. "To her I am a
welcome companion. What am I to these?"
The answer, or rather a possible answer, came speedily. At nine
o'clock Mayor Packard entered the room from his study across the
hall, and, seeing me alone, came forward briskly. "Mrs. Packard
has company and I am on my way to the drawing-room, but I am
happy to have the opportunity of assuring you that already she
looks better, and that I begin to hope that your encouraging
presence may stimulate her to throw aside her gloom and needless
apprehensions. I shall be eternally grateful to you if it will.
It is the first time in a week that she has consented to receive
visitors." I failed to feel the same elation over this possibly
temporary improvement in his wife's condition, but I carefully
refrained from betraying my doubts. On the contrary, I took
advantage of the moment to clear my mind of one of the many
perplexities disturbing it.
"And I am glad of this opportunity to ask you what may seem a
foolish, if not impertinent question. The maid, Ellen, in
showing me my room, was very careful to assure me that she slept
near me and would let me into her room in case I experienced any
alarm in the night; and when I showed surprise at her expecting
me to feel alarm of any kind in a house full of people, made the
remark, 'I guess you do not know about this house.' Will you
pardon me if I ask if there is anything I don't know, and should
know, about the home your suffering wife inhabits? A problem
such as you have given me to solve demands a thorough
understanding of every cause capable of creating disturbance in a
The mayor's short laugh failed to hide his annoyance. "You will
find nothing in this direction," said he, "to account for the
condition I have mentioned to you. Mrs. Packard is utterly
devoid of superstition. That I made sure of before signing the
lease of this old house. But I forgot; you are doubtless
ignorant of its reputation. It has, or rather has had, the name
of being haunted. Ridiculous, of course, but a fact with which
Mrs. Packard has had to contend in"--he gave me a quick glance
--"in hiring servants."
It was now my turn to smile, but somehow I did not. A vision had
risen in my mind of that blank and staring face in the attic
window next door, and I felt--well, I don't know how I felt, but
I did not smile.
Another short laugh escaped him.
"We have not been favored by any manifestations from the
spiritual world. This has proved a very matter-of-fact sort of
home for us. I had almost forgotten that it was burdened with
such an uncanny reputation, and I'm sure that Mrs. Packard would
have shared my indifference if it had not been for the domestic
difficulty I have mentioned. It took us two weeks to secure help
of any kind."
"Indeed! and how long have you been in the house? I judge that
you rent it?"
"Yes, we rent it and we have been here two months. It was the
only house I could get in a locality convenient for me; besides,
the old place suits me. It would take more than an obsolete
ghost or so to scare me away from what I like."
"But Mrs. Packard? She may not be a superstitious woman, yet--"
"Don't be fanciful, Miss Saunders. You will have to look deeper
than that for the spell which has been cast over my wife.
Olympia afraid of creaks and groans? Olympia seeing sights?
She's much too practical by nature, Miss Saunders, to say nothing
of the fact that she would certainly have confided her trouble to
me, had her imagination been stirred in this way. Little things
have invariably been discussed between us. I repeat that this
possibility should not give you a moment's thought."
A burst of sweet singing came from the drawing-room.
"That's her voice," he cried. "Whatever her trouble may be she
has forgotten it for the moment. Excuse me if I join her. It is
such pleasure to have her at all like herself again."
I longed to detain him, longed to put some of the numberless
questions my awakened curiosity, demanded, but his impatience was
too marked and I let him depart without another word.
But I was not satisfied. Inwardly I determined to see him again
as soon as possible and gain a more definite insight into the
mysteries of his home.
I am by nature a thoroughly practical woman. If I had not been,
the many misfortunes of my life would have made me so. Yet, when
the library door closed behind the mayor and I found myself again
alone in a spot where I had not felt comfortable from the first,
I experienced an odd sensation not unlike fear. It left me
almost immediately and my full reasoning powers reasserted
themselves; but the experience had been mine and I could not
smile it away.
The result was a conviction, which even reason could not dispel,
that whatever secret tragedy or wrong had signalized this house,
its perpetration had taken place in this very room. It was a
fancy, but it held, and under its compelling if irrational
influence, I made a second and still more minute survey of the
room to which this conviction had imparted so definite an
I found it just as ordinary and unsuggestive as before; an
old-fashioned, square apartment renovated and redecorated to suit
modern tastes. Its furnishings I have already described; they
were such as may be seen in any comfortable abode. I did not
linger over them a moment; besides, they were the property of the
present tenant, and wholly disconnected with the past I was
insensibly considering. Only the four walls and what they held,
doors, windows and mantel-piece, remained to speak of those old
days. Of the doors there were two, one opening into the main
hall under the stairs, the other into a cross corridor separating
the library from the dining-room. It was through the dining-room
door Nixon had come when he so startled me by speaking
unexpectedly over my shoulder! The two windows faced the main
door, as did the ancient, heavily carved mantel. I could easily
imagine the old-fashioned shutters hidden behind the modern
curtains, and, being anxious to test the truth of my imaginings,
rose and pulled aside one of these curtains only to see, just as
I expected, the blank surface of a series of unslatted shutters,
tightly fitting one to another with old-time exactitude. A flat
hook and staple fastened them. Gently raising the window, and
lifting one, I pulled the shutter open and looked out. The
prospect was just what I had been led to expect from the location
of the room--the long, bare wall of the neighboring house. I was
curious about that house, more curious at this moment than ever
before; for though it stood a good ten feet away from the one I
was now in, great pains had been taken by its occupants to close
every opening which might invite the glances of a prying eye. A
door which had once opened on the alley running between the two
houses had been removed and its place boarded up. So with a
window higher up; the half-circle window near the roof, I could
not see from my present point of view.
Drawing back, I reclosed the shutter, lowered the window and
started for my own room. As I passed the first stair-head, I
heard a baby's laugh, followed by a merry shout, which, ringing
through the house, seemed to dispel all its shadows.
I had touched reality again. Remembering Mayor Packard's
suggestion that I might through the child find a means of reaching
the mother, I paid a short visit to the nursery where I found a
baby whose sweetness must certainly have won its mother's deepest
love. Letty, the nurse, was of a useful but commonplace type, a
conscientious nurse, that was all.
But I was to have a further taste of the unusual that night and
to experience another thrill before I slept. My room was dark
when I entered it, and, recognizing a condition favorable to
the gratification of my growing curiosity in regard to the
neighboring house, I approached the window and stole a quick look
at the gable-end where, earlier in the evening I had seen peering
out at me an old woman's face. Conceive my astonishment at
finding the spot still lighted and a face looking out, but not
the same face, a countenance as old, one as intent, but of
different conformation and of a much more intellectual type. I
considered myself the victim of an illusion; I tried to persuade
myself that it was the same woman, only in another garb and under
a different state of feeling; but the features were much too
dissimilar for such an hypothesis to hold. The eagerness, the
unswerving attitude were the same, but the first woman had had a
weak round face with pinched features, while this one showed a
virile head and long heavy cheeks and chin, which once must have
been full of character, though they now showed only heaviness of
heart and the dull apathy of a fixed idea.
Two women, total strangers to me, united in an unceasing watch
upon me in my room! I own that the sense of mystery which this
discovery brought struck me at the moment as being fully as
uncanny and as unsettling to contemplate as the idea of a spirit
haunting walls in which I was destined for a while to live,
breathe and sleep. However, as soon as I had drawn the shade and
lighted the gas, I forgot the whole thing, and not till I was
quite ready for bed, and my light again turned low, did I feel
the least desire to take another peep at that mysterious window.
The face was still there, peering at me through a flood of
moonlight. The effect was ghastly, and for hours I could not
sleep, imagining that face still staring down upon me,
illuminated with the unnatural light and worn with a profitless
and unmeaning vigil.
That there was something to fear in this house was evident from
the halting step with which the servants, one and all, passed my
door on their way up to their own beds. I now knew, or thought I
knew, what was in their minds; but the comfort brought by this
understanding was scarcely sufficient to act as antidote to the
keen strain to which my faculties had been brought. Yet nothing
happened, and when a clock somewhere in the house had assured me
by its own clear stroke that the dreaded midnight hour had passed
I rose and stole again to the window. This time both moonlight
and face were gone. Contentment came with the discovery. I
crept back to bed with lightened heart and soon was asleep.
Next morning, however, the first face was again at the window, as
I at once saw on raising the blind. I breakfasted alone. Mrs.
Packard was not yet down and the mayor had already left to fulfil
an early appointment down-town. Old Nixon waited on me. As he,
like every other member of the family, with the possible
exception of the mayor, was still an unknown quantity in the
problem given me to solve, I allowed a few stray, glances to
follow him as he moved decorously about the board anticipating my
wants and showing himself an adept in his appointed task. Once I
caught his eye and I half expected him to speak, but he was too
well-trained for that, and the meal proceeded in the same silence
in which it had begun. But this short interchange of looks had
given me an idea. He showed an eager interest in me quite apart
from his duty to me as waiter. He was nearer sixty, than fifty,
but it was not his age which made his hand tremble as he laid
down a plate before me or served me with coffee and bread.
Whether this interest was malevolent or kindly I found it
impossible to judge. He had a stoic's face with but one eloquent
feature--his eyes; and these he kept studiously lowered after
that one quick glance. Would it help matters for me to address
him? Possibly, but I decided not to risk it. Whatever my
immediate loss I must on no account rouse the least distrust in
this evidently watchful household. If knowledge came naturally,
well and good; I must not seem to seek it.
The result proved my discretion. As I was rising from the table
Nixon himself made this remark:
"Mrs. Packard will be glad to see you in her room up-stairs any
time after ten o'clock. Ellen will show you where." Then, as I
was framing a reply, he added in a less formal tone: "I hope you
were not disturbed last night. I told the girls not to be so
Now they had been very quiet, so I perceived that he simply
wanted to open conversation.
"I slept beautifully," I assured him. "Indeed, I'm not easily
kept awake. I don't believe I could keep awake if I knew that a
ghost would stalk through my room at midnight."
His eyes opened, and he did just what I had intended him to do,
--met my glance directly.
"Ghosts!" he repeated, edging uneasily forward, perhaps with the
intention of making audible his whisper: "Do you believe in
I laughed easily and with a ringing merriment, like the
light-hearted girl I should be and am not.
"No," said I, "why should I? But I should like to. I really
should enjoy the experience of coming face to face with a wholly
He stared and now his eyes told nothing. Mechanically I moved to
go, mechanically he stepped aside to give me place. But his
curiosity or his interest would not allow him to see me pass out
without making another attempt to understand me. Stammering in
his effort to seem indifferent, he dropped this quiet observation
just as I reached the door.
"Some people say, or at least I have heard it whispered in the
neighborhood, that this house is haunted. I've never seen
I forced myself to give a tragic start (I was half ashamed of my
arts), and, coming back, turned a purposely excited countenance
"This house!" I cried. "Oh, how lovely! I never thought I
should have the good fortune of passing the night in a house that
is really haunted. What are folks supposed to see? I don't know
much about ghosts out of books."
This nonplussed him. He was entirely out of his element. He
glanced nervously at the door and tried to seem at his ease;
perhaps tried to copy my own manner as he mumbled these words:
"I've not given much attention to the matter, Miss. It's not
long since we came here and Mrs. Packard don't approve of our
gossiping with the neighbors. But I think the people have
mostly, been driven away by strange noises and by lights which no
one could explain, flickering up over the ceilings from the halls
below. I don't want to scare you, Miss--"
"Oh, you won't scare me."
"Mrs. Packard wouldn't like me to do that. She never listens to
a word from us about these things, and we don't believe the half
of it ourselves; but the house does have a bad name, and it's the
wonder of everybody that the mayor will live in it."
"Sounds?" I repeated. "Lights?"--and laughed again. "I don't
think I shall bother myself about them!" I went gaily out.
It did seem very puerile to me, save as it might possibly account
in some remote way for Mrs. Packard's peculiar mental condition.
Up-stairs I found Ellen. She was in a talkative mood, and this
time I humored her till she had told me all she knew about the
house and its ghostly traditions. This all had come from a
servant, a nurse who had lived in the house before. Ellen herself,
like the butler, Nixon, had had no personal experiences to relate,
though the amount of extra wages she received had quite prepared
her for them. Her story, or rather the nurse's story, was to the
The house had been built and afterward inhabited for a term of
years by one of the city fathers, a well-known and still widely
remembered merchant. No unusual manifestations had marked it
during his occupancy. Not till it had run to seed and been the
home of decaying gentility, and later of actual poverty, did it
acquire a name which made it difficult to rent, though the
neighborhood was a growing one and the house itself well-enough
built to make it a desirable residence. Those who had been
induced to try living within its spacious walls invariably left
at the end of the month. Why, they hesitated to say; yet if
pressed would acknowledge that the rooms were full of terrible
sights and sounds which they could not account for; that a
presence other than their own was felt in the house; and that
once (every tenant seemed to be able to cite one instance) a hand
had touched them or a breath had brushed their cheek which had no
visible human source, and could be traced to no mortal presence.
Not much in all this, but it served after a while to keep the
house empty, while its reputation for mystery did not lie idle.
Sounds were heard to issue from it. At times lights were seen
glimmering through this or that chink or rift in the window
curtain, but by the time the door was unlocked and people were
able to rush in, the interior was still and dark and seemingly
untouched. Finally the police took a hand in the matter. They
were on the scent just then of a party of counterfeiters and were
suspicious of the sounds and lights in this apparently unoccupied
dwelling. But they watched and waited in vain. One of them got
a scare and that was all. The mystery went unsolved and the sign
"To Let" remained indefinitely on the house-front.
At last a family from the West decided to risk the terrors of
this domicile. The nurse, whose story I was listening to, came
with them and entered upon her duties without prejudice or any
sort of belief in ghosts, general or particular. She held this
belief just two weeks. Then her incredulity began to waver. In
fact, she saw the light; almost saw the ghost, certainly saw the
ghost's penumbra. It was one night, or rather very early, one
morning. She had been sitting up with the baby, who had been
suffering from a severe attack of croup. Hot water was wanted,
and she started for the kitchen for the purpose of making a fire
and putting on the kettle. The gas had not been lit in the hall
--they had all been too busy, and she was feeling her way down the
front stairs with a box of matches in her hand, when suddenly she
heard from somewhere below a sound which she could never
describe, and at the same moment saw a light which spread itself
through all the lower hall so that every object stood out
She did not think of the ghost at first, her thoughts were so
full of the child; but when a board creaked in the hall floor, a
board that always creaked when stepped on, she remembered the
reputation and what had been told her about a creaking board and
a light that came and went without human agency. Frightened for
a minute, she stood stock-still, then she rushed down. Whatever
it was, natural or supernatural, she went to see it; but the
light vanished before she passed the lower stair, and only a
long-drawn sigh not far from her ear warned her that the space
between her and the real hall was not the solitude she was
anxious to consider it. A sigh! That meant a person. Striking
a match, she looked eagerly down the hall. Something was moving
between the two walls. But when she tried to determine its
character, it was swallowed up in darkness,--the match had gone
out. Anxious for the child and determined to go her way to the
kitchen, she now felt about for the gas-fixture and succeeded in
lighting up. The whole hall again burst into view but the thing
was no longer there; the space was absolutely empty. And so were
the other rooms, for she went into every one, lighting the gas as
she went; and so was the cellar when she reached it. For she had
to go to its extreme length for wood and wait about the kitchen
till the water boiled, during which time she searched every nook
and cranny. Oh, she was a brave woman, but she did have this
thought as she went upstairs: If the child died she would know
that she had seen a spirit; if the child got well, that she had
been the victim of her own excitement.
And did the child die?
"No, it got well, but the family moved out as soon as it was safe
to leave the house. Her employees did not feel as easy about the
matter as she did"
THE STRANGE NEIGHBORS NEXT DOOR
When I joined Mrs. Packard I found her cheerful and in all respects
quite unlike the brooding woman she had seemed when I first met
her. From the toys scattered about her feet I judged that the
child had been with her, and certainly the light in her eyes had
the beaming quality we associate with the happy mother. She was
beautiful thus and my hopes of her restoration to happiness rose.
"I have had a good night," were her first words as she welcomed me
to a seat in her own little nook. "I'm feeling very well this
morning. That is why I have brought out this big piece of work."
She held up a baby's coat she was embroidering. "I can not do it
when I am nervous. Are you ever nervous?"
Delighted to enter into conversation with her, I answered in a way
to lead her to talk about herself, then, seeing she was in a
favorable mood for gossip, was on the point of venturing all in a
leading question, when she suddenly forestalled me by putting one
"Were you ever the prey of an idea?" she asked; "one which you
could not shake off by any ordinary means, one which clung to you
night and day till nothing else seemed real or would rouse the
slightest interest? I mean a religious idea," she stammered with
anxious attempt of to hide her real thought. "One of those doubts
which come to you in the full swing of life to--to frighten and
"Yes," I answered, as naturally and quietly as I knew how; "I have
had such ideas--such doubts."
"And were you able to throw them off?--by your will, I mean."
She was leaning forward, her eyes fixed eagerly on mine. How
unexpected the privilege! I felt that in another moment her secret
would be mine.
"In time, yes," I smiled back. "Everything yields to time and
persistent conscientious work."
"But if you can not wait for time, if you must be relieved at once,
can the will be made to suffice, when the day is dark and one is
alone and not too busy?"
"The will can do much," I insisted. "Dark thoughts can be kept
down by sheer determination. But it is better to fill the mind so
full with what is pleasant that no room is left for gloom. There
is so much to enjoy it must take a real sorrow to disturb a heart
resolved to be happy."
"Yes, resolved to be happy. I am resolved to be happy." And she
laughed merrily for a moment. "Nothing else pays. I will not
dwell on anything but the pleasures which surround me." Here she
took up her work again. "I will forget--I will--" She stopped and
her eyes left her work to flash a rapid and involuntary glance over
her shoulder. Had she heard a step? I had not. Or had she felt
a draft of which I in my bounding health was unconscious?
"Are you cold?" I asked, as her glance stole back to mine. "You
"Oh, no," she answered coldly, almost proudly. "I'm perfectly
warm. I don't feel slight changes. I thought some one was behind
me. I felt'--Is Ellen in the adjoining room?"
I jumped up and moved toward the door she indicated. It was
slightly ajar, but Ellen was not behind it.
"There's no one here," said I.
She did not answer. She was bending again over, her work, and gave
no indication of speaking again on that or the more serious topic
we had previously been discussing.
Naturally I felt disappointed. I had hoped much from the
conversation, and now these hopes bade fair to fail me. How could
I restore matters to their former basis? Idly I glanced out of the
side window I was passing, and the view of the adjoining house I
thus gained acted like an inspiration. I would test her on a new
topic, in the hope of reintroducing the old. The glimpse I had
gained into Mrs. Packard's mind must not be lost quite as soon as
"You asked me a moment ago if I were ever nervous," I began, as I
regained my seat at her side. "I replied, 'Sometimes'; but I might
have said if I had not feared being too abrupt, 'Never till I came
into this house.'"
Her surprise partook more of curiosity than I expected.
"You are nervous here," she repeated. "What is the reason of that,
pray? Has Ellen been chattering to you? I thought she knew enough
not to do that. There's nothing to fear here, Miss Saunders;
absolutely nothing for you to fear. I should not have allowed you
to remain here a night if there had been. No ghost will visit
"No, I hear they never wander above the second story," I laughed.
"If they did I should hardly anticipate the honor of a visit. It
is not ghosts I fear; it is something quite different which affects
me,--living eyes, living passions, the old ladies next door," I
finished falteringly, for Mrs. Packard was looking at me with a
show of startling alarm. "They stare into my room night and day.
I never look out but I encounter the uncanny glance of one or the
other of them. Are they live women or embodied memories of the
past? They don't seem to belong to the present. I own that they
I had exaggerated my feelings in order to mark their effect upon
her. The result disappointed me; she was not afraid of these two
poor old women. Far from it.
"Draw your curtains," she laughed. "The poor things are crazy and
not really accountable. Their odd ways and manners troubled me at
first, but I soon got over it. I have even been in to see them.
That was to keep them from coming here. I think if you were to
call upon them they would leave you alone after that. They are
very fond of being called on. They are persons of the highest
gentility, you know. They owned this house a few years ago, as
well as the one they are now living in, but misfortunes overtook
them and this one was sold for debt. I am very sorry for them
myself. Sometimes I think they have not enough to eat."
"Tell me about them," I urged. Lightly as she treated the topic I
felt convinced that these strange neighbors of hers were more or
less involved in the mystery of her own peculiar moods and
"It's a great secret," she announced naively. "That is, their
personal history. I have never told it to any one. I have never
told it to my husband. They confided it to me in a sort of
desperation, perhaps because my husband's name inspired them with
confidence. Immediately after, I could see that they regretted the
impulse, and so I have remained silent. But I feel like telling
you; feel as if it would divert me to do so--keep me from thinking
of other things. You won't want to talk about it and the story
will cure your nervousness."
"Do you want me to promise not to talk about it?" I inquired in
"No. You have a good, true face; a face which immediately inspires
confidence. I shall exact no promises. I can rely on your
I thanked her. I was glad not to be obliged to promise secrecy.
It might become my imperative duty to disregard such a promise.
"You have seen both of their faces?" she asked.
"Then you must have observed the difference between them. There is
the same difference in their minds, though both are clouded. One
is weak almost to the point of idiocy, though strong enough where
her one settled idea is concerned. The other was once a notable
character, but her fine traits have almost vanished under the spell
which has been laid upon them by the immense disappointment which
has wrecked both their lives. I heard it all from Miss Thankful
the day after we entered this house. Miss Thankful is the older
and more intellectual one. I had known very little about them
before; no more, in fact, than I have already told you. I was
consequently, much astonished when they called, for I had supposed
them to be veritable recluses, but I was still wore astonished when
I noted their manner and the agitated and strangely penetrating
looks they cast about them as I ushered them into the library,
which was the only room I had had time to arrange. A few minutes'
further observation of them showed me that neither of them was
quite right. Instead of entering into conversation with me they
continued to cast restless glances at the walls, ceilings, and even
at the floor of the room in which we sat, and when, in the hope of
attracting their attention to myself, I addressed them on some
topic which I thought would be interesting to them, they not only
failed to listen, but turned upon each other with slowly wagging
heads, which not only revealed their condition but awakened me to
its probable cause. They were between walls rendered dear by old
associations. Till their first agitation was over I could not hope
for their attention.
"But their agitation gave no signs of diminishing and I soon saw
that their visit was far from being a ceremonial one; that it was
one of definite purpose. Preparing myself for I knew not what, I
regarded them with such open interest that before I knew it, and
quite before I was ready for any such exhibition, they were both on
their knees before me, holding up their meager arms with beseeching
and babbling words which I did not understand till later.
"I was shocked, as you may believe, and quickly raised them, at
which Miss Thankful told me their story, which I will now tell you.
"There were four of them originally, three sisters and one brother.
The brother early went West and disappeared out of their lives, and
the third sister married. This was years and years ago, when they
were all young. From this marriage sprang all their misfortune.
The nephew which this marriage introduced to their family became
their bane as well as their delight. From being a careless
spendthrift boy he became a reckless, scheming man, adding
extravagance to extravagance, till, to support him and meet his
debts, these poor aunts gave up first their luxuries, then their
home and finally their very livelihood. Not that they acknowledged
this. The feeling they both cherished for him was more akin to
infatuation than to ordinary family love. They did not miss their
luxuries, they did not mourn their home, they, did not even mourn
their privations; but they, were broken-hearted and had been so for
a long time, because they could no longer do for him as of old.
Shabby themselves, and evidently ill-nourished, they grieved not
over their own changed lot, but over his. They could not be
reconciled to his lack of luxuries, much less to the difficulties
in which he frequently found himself, who was made to ruffle it
with the best and be the pride of their lives as he was the darling
of their hearts. All this the poor old things made apparent to me,
but their story did not become really interesting till they began
to speak of this house we are in, and of certain events which
followed their removal to the ramshackle dwelling next door. The
sale of this portion of the property had relieved them from their
debts, but they were otherwise penniless, and were just planning
the renting of their rooms at prices which would barely serve to
provide them with a scanty living, when there came a letter from
their graceless nephew, asking for a large amount of money to save
him from complete disgrace. They had no money, and were in the
midst of their sorrow and perplexity, when a carriage drove up to
the door of this house and from it issued an old and very sick man
their long absent and almost forgotten brother. He had come home
to die, and when told his sisters' circumstances, and how soon the
house next door would be filled with lodgers, insisted upon having
this place of his birth, which was empty at the time, opened for
his use. The owner, after long continued entreaties from the poor
old sisters, finally, consented to the arrangement. A bed was made
up in the library, and the old man laid on it."
Mrs. Packard's voice fell, and I cast her a humorous look.
"Were there ghosts in those days?" I lightly asked.
Her answer was calm enough. "Not yet, but the place must have been
desolate enough for one. I have sometimes tried to imagine the
scene surrounding that broken-down old man. There was no furniture
in the room, save what was indispensable to his bare comfort. Miss
Thankful expressly said there was no carpet,--you will presently
see why. Even the windows had no other protection than the bare
shutters. But he was in his old home, and seemed content till Miss
Charity fell sick, and they had to call in a nurse to assist Miss
Thankful, who by this time had a dozen lodgers to look after. Then
he grew very restless. Miss Thankful said he seemed to be afraid
of this nurse, and always had a fever after having been left alone
with her; but he gave no reason for his fears, and she herself was
too straitened in means and in too much trouble otherwise to be
affected by such mere whims, and went on doing her best, sitting
with him whenever the opportunity offered, and making every effort
to conceal the anxiety she felt for her poor nephew from her
equally poor brother. The disease under which the brother labored
was a fatal one, and he had not many days to live. She was
startled when one day her brother greeted her appearance, with an
earnest entreaty for the nurse to be sent out for a little while,
as this was his last day, and he had something of great importance
to communicate to her before he died.
"She had not dreamed of his being so low as this, but when she came
to look at him, she saw, that he had not misstated his case, and
that he was really very near death. She was in a flurry and wanted
to call in the neighbors and rout her sister up from her own sick
bed to care for him. But he wanted nothing and nobody, only to be
left alone with her.
"So she sent the nurse out and sat down on the side of the bed to
hear what he had to say to her, for he looked very eager and was
smiling in a way to make her heart ache.
"You must remember," continued Mrs. Packard, "that at the time Miss
Thankful was telling this story we were in the very room where it
had all happened. As she reached this part of her narration, she
pointed to the wall partitioning off the corridor, and explained
that this was where the bed stood,--an old wooden one brought down
from her own attic.
"'It creaked when I sat down on it,' said she, 'and I remember that
I felt ashamed of its shabby, mattress and the poor sheets. But we
had no better,' she moaned, 'and he did not seem to mind.' I tell
you this that you may understand what must have taken place in her
heart when, a few minutes later, he seized her hand in his and said
that he had a great secret to communicate to her. Though he had
seemed the indifferent brother for years, his heart had always been
with his home and his people, and he was going to prove it to her
now; he had made money, and this money was to be hers and
Charity's. He had saved it for them, brought it to them from the
far West; a pile of money all honestly earned, which he hoped would
buy back their old house and make them happy again in the old way.
He said nothing of his nephew. They had not mentioned him, and
possibly he did not even know of his existence. All was to be for
them and the old house, this old house. This was perhaps why he
was content to lie in the midst of its desolation. He foresaw
better days for those he loved, and warmed his heart at his
"But his sister sat aghast. Money! and so little done for his
comfort! That was her first thought. The next, oh, the wonder and
the hope of it! Now the boy could be saved; now he could have his
luxuries. If only it might be enough! Five thousand, ten
thousand. But no, it could not be so much. Her brother was daft
to think she could restore the old home on what he had been able to
save. She said something to show her doubt, at which he laughed;
and, peering slowly and painfully about him, drew her hands toward
his left side. 'Feel,' said he, 'I have it all here. I would
trust nobody. Fifty, thousand dollars.'
"Fifty thousand dollars! Miss Thankful sprang to her feet, then
sat again, overcome by, her delight. Placing her hand on the
wallet he held tied about his body, she whispered, 'Here?'
"He nodded and bade her look. She told me she did so; that she
opened the wallet under his eye and took out five bonds each for
ten thousand dollars. She remembers them well; there was no
mistake in the figures. She held fifty thousand dollars in her
hands for the space of half a minute; then he bade her put them
back, with an injunction to watch over him well and not to let that
woman nurse come near him till she had taken away the wallet
immediately after his death. He could not bear to part with it
"She promised. She was in a delirium of joy. In one minute her
life of poverty had changed to one of ecstatic hope. She caressed
her brother. He smiled contentedly, and sank into coma or heavy
sleep. She remained a few minutes watching him. Picture after
picture of future contentment passed before her eyes;
phantasmagoria of joy which held her enthralled till chance drew
her eyes towards the window, and she found herself looking out upon
what for the moment seemed the continuation of her dream. This was
the figure of her nephew, standing in the doorway of the adjoining
house. This entrance into the alley is closed up now, but in those
days it was a constant source of communication between the two
houses, and, being directly opposite the left-hand library window,
would naturally fall under her eye as she looked up from her
brother's bedside. Her nephew! the one person of whom she was
dreaming, for whom she was planning, older by many years than when
she saw him last, but recognizable at once, as the best, the
handsomest--but I will spare you her ravings. She was certainly in
her dotage as concerned this man.
"He was not alone. At his side stood her sister, eagerly pointing
across the alley to herself. It was the appearance of the sister
which presently convinced her that what she saw was reality and no
dream. Charity had risen from her bed to greet the newcomer, and
her hasty toilet was not one which could have been easily imagine
even by her sister. The long-absent one had returned. He was
there, and he did not know what these last five minutes had done
for them all. The joy of what she had to tell him was too much for
her discretion. Noting how profoundly her brother slept, she
slipped out of the room to the side door and ran across the alley
to her own house. Her nephew was no longer in the doorway where
she had seen him, but he had left the door ajar and she rushed in
to find him. He was in the parlor with Miss Charity, and no sooner
did her eyes fall on them both than her full heart overflowed, and
she blurted out their good fortune. Their wonder was immense and
in the conversation which ensued unnoted minutes passed. Not till
the clock struck did she realize that she had left her brother
alone for a good half-hour: This was not right and she went
hurrying back, the happiest woman in town. But it was a short-
lived happiness. As she reentered the sick-room she realized that
something was amiss. Her brother had moved from where she had left
him, and now lay stretched across the foot of the bed, where he had
evidently fallen from a standing position. He was still breathing,
but in great gasps which shook the bed. When she bent over him in
anxious questioning, he answered her with a ghastly stare, and that
was all. Otherwise, everything looked the same.
"'What has happened? What have you done?' she persisted, trying to
draw him up on the pillow. He made a motion. It was in the
direction of the front door. 'Don't let her in,' he muttered. 'I
don't trust her, I don't trust her. Let me die in peace.' Then,
as Miss Thankful became conscious of a stir at the front door, and
caught the sound of a key turning in the lock, which could only
betoken the return of the nurse, he raised himself a little and she
saw the wallet hanging out of his dressing gown. 'I have hidden
it,' he whispered, with a nervous look toward the door: 'I was
afraid she might come and take it from me, so I put it in--' He
never said where. His eyes, open and staring straight before him,
took on a look of horror, then slowly glazed under the terrified
glance of Miss Thankful. Death had cut short that vital sentence,
and simultaneously with the entrance of the nurse, whose return he
had so much feared, he uttered his last gasp and sank back lifeless
on his pillow. "With a cry Miss Thankful pounced on the wallet.
It opened out flat in her hand, as empty as her life seemed at that
minute. But she was a brave woman and in another instant her
courage had revived. The money could not be far away; she would
find it at the first search. Turning on the nurse, she looked her
full in the face. The woman was gazing at the empty wallet. 'You
know what was in that?' queried Miss Thankful. A fierce look
answered her. 'A thousand dollars!' announced Miss Thankful. The
nurse's lip curled. 'Oh, you knew that it was five,' was Miss
Thankful's next outburst. Still no answer, but a look which seemed
to devour the empty wallet. This look had its effect. Miss
Thankful dropped her accusatory tone, and attempted cajolery. 'It
was his legacy to us,' she explained. 'He gave it to me just
before he died. You shall be paid out of it. Now will you call my
sister? She's up and with my nephew, who came an hour ago. Call
them both; I am not afraid to remain here for a few moments with my
brother's body.' This appeal, or perhaps the promise, had its
effect. The nurse disappeared, after another careful look at her
patient, and Miss Thankful bounded to her feet and began a hurried
search for the missing bonds. They could not be far away. They
must be in the room, and the room was so nearly empty that it would
take but a moment to penetrate every hiding-place. But alas! the
matter was not so simple as she thought. She looked here, she
looked there; in the bed, in the washstand drawer, under the
cushions of the only chair, even in the grate and up the chimney;
but she found nothing--nothing! She was standing stark and open-
mouthed in the middle of the floor, when the others entered, but
recovered herself at sight of their surprise, and, explaining what
had happened, set them all to search, sister, nephew, even the
nurse, though she was careful to keep close by the latter with a
watchfulness that let no movement escape her. But it was all
fruitless. The bonds were not to be found, either in that room or
in any place near. They ransacked, they rummaged; they went
upstairs, they, went down; they searched every likely and every,
unlikely place of concealment, but without avail. They failed to
come upon the place where he had hidden them; nor did Miss Thankful
or her sister ever see them again from that day to this."
"Oh!" I exclaimed; "and the nephew? the nurse ?"
"Both went away disappointed; he to face his disgrace about which
his aunts were very reticent, and she to seek work which was all
the more necessary, to her, since she had lost her pay, with the
disappearance of these bonds, whose value I have no doubt she knew
and calculated on."
"And the aunts, the two poor old creatures who stare all day out of
their upper window at these walls, still believe that money to be
here," I cried.
"Yes, that is their mania. Several tenants have occupied these
premises--tenants who have not stayed long, but who certainly
filled all the rooms, and must have penetrated every secret spot
the house contains, but it has made no difference to them. They
believe the bonds to be still lying in some out-of-the-way place in
these old walls, and are jealous of any one who comes in here.
This you can understand better when I tell you that one feature of
their mania is this: they have lost all sense of time. It is two
years since their brother died, yet to them it is an affair of
yesterday. They showed this when they talked to me. What they
wanted was for me to give up these bonds to them as soon as I found
them. They seemed to think that I might run across them in
settling, and made me promise to wake them day or night if I came
across them unexpectedly."
"How pathetic!" I exclaimed. "Do you suppose they have appealed in
the same way to every, one who has come in here?"
"No, or some whisper of this lost money would have become current
in the neighborhood. And it never has. The traditions associated
with the house," here her manner changed a little, "are of quite
another nature. I suppose the old gentleman has walked--looking,
possibly, for his lost bonds."
"That would be only natural," I smiled, for her mood was far from
serious. "But," I quietly pursued, "how much of this old woman's
story do you believe? Can not she have been deceived as to what
she saw? You say she is more or less demented. Perhaps there
never was any old wallet, and possibly never any money."
"I have seen the wallet. They brought it in to show me. Not that
that proves anything; but somehow I do believe in the money, and,
what is more, that it is still in this house. You will think me as
demented as they."
"No, no," I smiled, "for I am inclined to think the same; it lends
such an interest to the place. I wouldn't disbelieve it now for
"Nor I," she cried, taking up her work. "But we shall never find
it. The house was all redecorated when we came in. Not one of the
workmen has become suddenly wealthy."
"I shall no longer begrudge these poor old souls their silent watch
over these walls that holds their treasure," I now remarked.
"Then you have lost your nervousness?"
"So have I," laughed Mrs. Packard, showing me for the first time a
face of complete complacency and contentment.
AT THE STAIR-HEAD
I spent the evening alone. Mrs. Packard went to the theater with
friends and Mayor Packard attended a conference of politicians. I
felt my loneliness, but busied myself trying to sift the
impressions made upon me by the different members of the household.
It consisted, as far as my present observation went, of seven
persons, the three principals and four servants. Of the servants
I had seen three, the old butler, the nurse, and the housemaid,
Ellen. I now liked Ellen; she appeared equally alive and
trustworthy; of the butler I could not say as much. He struck me
as secretive. Also, he had begun to manifest a certain antagonism
to myself. Whence sprang this antagonism? Did it have its source
in my temperament, or in his? A question possibly not worth
answering and yet it very well might be. Who could know?
Pondering this and other subjects, I remained in my cozy little
room up-stairs, till the clock verging on to twelve told me that it
was nearly time for Mrs. Packard's return.
Hardly knowing my duties as yet, or what she might expect of me, I
kept my door open, meaning to speak to her when she came in. The
thought had crossed my mind that she might not return at all, but
remain away with her friends. Some fear of this kind had been in
Mr. Packard's mind and naturally found lodgment in mine. I was
therefore much relieved when, sharp on the stroke of midnight, I
heard the front door-bell ring, followed by the sound of her voice
speaking to the old butler. I thought its tone more cheer ful than
before she went out. At all events, her face had a natural look
when, after a few minutes' delay, she came upstairs and stepped
into the nursery-a room on the same floor as mine, but nearer the
From what impulse did I put out my light? I think now, on looking
back, that I hoped to catch a better glimpse of her face when she
came out again, and so be in a position to judge whether her
anxiety or secret distress was in any special way connected with
her child. But I forgot the child and any motive of this kind
which I may have had; for when Mrs. Packard did reappear in the
hall, there rang up from some place below a laugh, so loud and
derisive and of so raucous and threatening a tone that Mrs. Packard
reeled with the shock and I myself was surprised in spite of my
pride and usual impassibility. This, had it been all, would not be
worth the comment. But it was not all. Mrs. Packard did not
recover from the shock as I expected her to. Her fine figure
straightened itself, it is true, but only to sink again lower and
lower, till she clung crouching to the stair-rail at which she had
caught for support, while her eyes, turning slowly in her head,
moved till they met mine with that unseeing and glassy stare which
speaks of a soul-piercing terror--not fear in any ordinary sense,
but terror which lays bare the soul and allows one to see into
But here my compassion drove me to action. Advancing quietly, I
caught at her wrap which was falling from her shoulders. She
grasped my hand as I did so.
"Did you hear that laugh?" she panted. "Whose was it? Who is
I thought, "Is this one of the unaccountable occurrences which have
given the house its blighted reputation?" but I said: "Nixon let
you in. I don't know whether any one else is below. Mayor Packard
has not yet come home."
"I know; Nixon told me. Would you-would you mind,"--how hard she
strove to show only the indignant curiosity natural to the
situation--"do you object, I mean, to going down and seeing?"
"Not at all," I cheerfully answered, glad enough of this chance to
settle my own doubts. And with a last glance at her face, which
was far too white and drawn to please me, I hastened below.
The lights had not yet been put out in the halls, though I saw none
in the drawing-room or library. Indeed, I ran upon Nixon coming
from the library, where he had evidently been attending to his
final duties of fastening windows and extinguishing lights. Alive
to the advantage of this opportune meeting, I addressed him with as
little aggressiveness as possible.
"Mrs. Packard has sent me down to see who laughed just now so
loudly. Was it you?"
Strong and unmistakable dislike showed in his eyes, but his voice
was restrained and apparently respectful as he replied: "No, Miss.
I didn't laugh. There was nothing to laugh at."
"You heard the laugh? It seemed to come from somewhere here. I
was on the third floor and I heard it plainly."
His face twitched--a habit of his when under excitement, as I have
since learned--as with a shrug of his old shoulders he curtly
"You were listening; I was not. If any one laughed down here I
didn't hear 'em."
Confident that he was lying, I turned quietly away and proceeded
down the hall toward Mayor Packard's study.
"I wish to speak to the mayor," I explained.
"He's not there." The man had eagerly followed me. "He's not come
home yet, Miss."
"But the gas is burning brightly inside and the door ajar. Some
one is there."
"It is Mr. Steele. He came in an hour ago. He often works here
till after midnight."
I had heard what I wanted to know, but, being, by this time at the
very threshold, I could not forbear giving the door a slight push,
so as to catch at least a momentary glimpse of the man he spoke of.
He was sitting at his post, and as he neither looked up nor stirred
at my intrusion, I had an excellent opportunity for observing again
the clear-cut profile which had roused my admiration the day
Certainly, seen as I saw it now, in the concentrated glow of a lamp
shaded from every other corner of the room, it was a face well
worth looking at. Seldom, perhaps never, had I beheld one cast in
a more faultless mold. Smooth-shaven, with every harmonious line
open to view, it struck the eye with the force and beauty of a
cameo; masculine strength and feminine grace equally expressed in
the expansive forehead and the perfectly modeled features. Its
effect upon the observer was instantaneous, but the heart was not
warmed nor the imagination awakened by it. In spite of the
perfection of the features, or possibly because of this perfection,
the whole countenance had a cold look, as cold as the sculpture it
suggested; and, though incomparable in pure physical attraction, it
lacked the indefinable something which gives life and meaning to
such faces as Mayor Packard's, for instance. Yet it was not devoid
of expression, nor did it fail to possess a meaning of its own.
Indeed, it was the meaning in it which held my attention.
Abstracted as the man appeared to be, even to the point of not
perceiving my intruding figure in the open doorway, the thoughts
which held him were not common thoughts, nor were they such as
could be easily read, even by an accustomed eye. Having noted
this, I softly withdrew, not finding any excuse for breaking in
upon a man so occupied.
The butler stood awaiting me not three feet from the door. But
taking a lesson from the gentleman I had just left, I ignored his
presence completely, and, tripping lightly up-stairs, found Mrs.
Packard awaiting me at the head of the first flight instead of the
Her fears, or whatever it was which moved her, had not diminished
in my absence. She stood erect, but it was by the help of her
grasp on the balustrade; and though her diamonds shone and her
whole appearance in her sweeping dinner-dress was almost regal,
there was mortal apprehension in her eye and a passion of inquiry
in her whole attitude which I was glad her husband was not there to
I made haste to answer that inquiry by immediately observing:
"I saw Nixon. He was just coming out of the library. He says that
he heard no laugh. The only other person I came upon down-stairs
was Mr. Steele. He was busy over some papers and I did not like to
interrupt him; but he did not look as if a laugh of any sort had
come from him."
The words were hoarsely uttered and the tone unnatural, though she
tried to carry it off with an indifferent gesture and a quick
movement toward her room. I admired her self-control, for it was
self-control, and was contrasting the stateliness of her present
bearing with the cringing attitude of a few minutes before--when,
without warning or any premonitory sound, all that beauty and pride
and splendor collapsed before my eyes, and she fell at my feet,
A MOVING SHADOW
I bent to lift the prostrate form of the unhappy woman who had been
placed in my care. As I did so I heard something like a snarl over
my shoulder, and, turning, saw Nixon stretching eager arms toward
his mistress, whose fall he had doubtless heard.