Part 2 out of 4
"Let me! let me!" he cried, his old form trembling almost to the
point of incapacity.
"We will lift her together," I rejoined; and though his eyes
sparkled irefully, he accepted my help and together we carried her
into her own room and laid her on a lounge. I have had some
training as a nurse and, perceiving that Mrs. Packard had simply
fainted, I was not at all alarmed, but simply made an effort to
restore her with a calmness that for some reason greatly irritated
the old man.
"Shall I call Ellen? Shall I call Letty?" he kept crying, shifting
from one foot to another in a frightened and fussy way that
exasperated me almost beyond endurance. "She doesn't breathe; she
is white, white! Oh, what will the mayor say? I will call
But I managed to keep him under control and finally succeeded in
restoring Mrs. Packard--a double task demanding not a little self-
control and discretion. When the flutter of her eyelids showed
that she would soon be conscious, I pointed out these signs of life
to my uneasy companion and hinted very broadly that the fewer
people Mrs. Packard found about her on coming to herself, the
better she would be pleased. His aspect grew quite ferocious at
this, and for a moment I almost feared him; but as I continued to
urge the necessity of avoiding any fresh cause of agitation in one
so weak, he gradually shrank back from my side where he had kept a
jealous watch until now, and reluctantly withdrew into the hall.
Another moment and Mrs. Packard had started to rise; but, on seeing
me and me only standing before her, she fell wearily back, crying
in a subdued way, which nevertheless was very intense:
"Don't, don't let him come in--see me--or know. I must be by
myself; I must be! Don't you see that I am frightened?"
The words came out with such force I was startled. Leaning over
her, with the natural sympathy her condition called for, I asked
quietly but firmly:
"Whom do you mean by him? There is only one person in the hall,
and that is your butler."
"Hasn't Mr. Packard returned?"
"But I thought I saw him looking at me."
Her eyes were wild, her body shaking with irrepressible agitation.
"You were mistaken. Mayor Packard has not yet come home."
At this double assurance, she sank back satisfied, but still
trembling and very white.
"It is Mr. Packard I meant," she whispered presently. "Stay with
me and, when he comes in, tell him what will keep him from looking
in or speaking to me. Promise!" She was growing wild again.
"Promise, if you would be of any use to me."
"I do promise." At which I felt her hand grasp mine with grateful
pressure. "Don't you wish some assistance from me? Your dress I
tried to loosen it, but failed to find the end of the cord. Shall
I try again?"
"No, no; that is, I will do it myself."
I did not see how she could, for her waist was laced up the back,
but I saw that she was too eager to have me go to remember this,
and recognizing the undesirability of irritating her afresh, I
simply asked if she wished me to remain within call.
But even this was more than she wanted.
"No. I am better now. I shall be better yet when quite alone."
Then suddenly: "Who knows of this this folly of mine?"
"Only Nixon and myself. The girls have gone to bed."
"Nixon I can trust not to speak of it. Tell him to go. You, I
know, will remember only long enough to do for me what I have just
"Mrs. Packard, you may trust me." The earnest, confiding look,
which for a moment disturbed the melancholy of her large eyes,
touched me closely as I shut the door between us.
"Now what is the meaning of this mystery?" I asked myself after I
had seen Nixon go downstairs, shaking his head and casting every
now and then a suspicious glance behind him. "It is not as trivial
as it appears. That laugh was tragedy to her, not comedy." And
when I paused to recollect its tone I did not wonder at its effect
upon her mind, strained as it undoubtedly was by some secret sorrow
And from whose lips had that laugh sprung? Not from ghostly ones.
Such an explanation I could not accept, and how could Mrs. Packard?
From whose, then? If I could settle this fact I might perhaps
determine to what extent its effect was dependent upon its source.
The butler denied having even heard it. Was this to be believed?
Did not this very denial prove that it was he and no other who
had thus shocked the proprieties of this orderly household? It
certainly seemed so; yet where all was strange, this strange and
incomprehensible denial of a self-evident fact by the vindictive
Nixon might have its source in some motive unsuggested by the
circumstances. Certainly, Nixon's mistress appeared to have a
great deal of confidence in him.
I wished that more had been told me about the handsome secretary.
I wished that fate would give me another opportunity for seeing
that gentleman and putting the same direct question to him I had
put to Nixon.
Scarcely had this thought crossed my mind before a loud ring at the
telephone disturbed the quiet below and I heard the secretary's
voice in reply. A minute after he appeared at the foot of the
stairs. His aspect was one of embarrassment, and he peered aloft
in a hesitating way, as if he hardly knew how to proceed.
Taking advantage of this hesitation, I ran softly down to meet him.
"Any message for Mrs. Packard?" I asked.
He looked relieved
"Yes, from his Honor. The mayor is unavoidably detained and may
not be home till morning."
"I will tell her." Then, as he reached for his, overcoat, I risked
all on one venture, and enlarging a little on the facts, said:
"Excuse me, but was it you we heard laughing down-stairs a few
minutes ago? Mrs. Packard feared it might be some follower of the
Pausing in the act of putting on his coat, he met my look with an
air of some surprise.
"I am not given to laughing," he remarked; "certainly not when
"But you heard this laugh?"
He shook his head. His manner was perfectly courteous, almost
"If I did, it made no impression on my mind. I am extremely busy
just now, working up the mayor's next speech." And with a smile
and bow in every way suited to his fine appearance, he took his hat
from the rack and left the house.
I drew back more mystified than ever. Which of these two men had
told me a lie? One, both, or neither? Impossible to determine.
As I try never to waste gray matter, I resolved to spend no further
energy on this question, but simply to await the next development.
It came unexpectedly and was of an entirely different nature from
any I had anticipated.
I had not retired, not knowing at what moment the mayor might
return or what I might be called upon to do when he did. It will
be remembered that one of my windows looked out upon the next
house. I approached it to see if my ever watchful neighbors had
retired. Their window was dark, but I observed what was of much
more vital interest to me at that moment. It was that I was not
the only one awake and stirring in our house. The light from a
room diagonally below me poured in a stream on the opposite wall,
and it took but a moment's consideration for me to decide that the
shadow I saw crossing and recrossing this brilliant square was cast
by Mrs. Packard.
My first impulse was to draw back--(that was the lady's impulse not
quite crushed out of me by the occupation circumstances had
compelled me to take up)--my next, to put out my own light and seat
myself at the post of observation thus afforded me. The excuse I
gave myself for this was plausible enough. Mrs. Packard had been
placed in my charge and, if all was not right with her, it was my
business to know it.
Accordingly I sat and watched each movement of my mysterious charge
as it was outlined on the telltale wall before me, and saw enough
in one half-hour to convince me that something very vigorous and
purposeful was going on in the room so determinedly closed against
every one, even her own husband.
The moving silhouette of her figure, which was all that I could see,
was not perfect enough in detail for me to determine. She was busy at
some occupation which took her from one end of the room to the other;
but after watching her shadow for an hour I was no surer than at
first as to what that occupation was. It was a serious one, I saw,
and now and then the movements I watched gave evidence of frantic
haste, but their character stood unrevealed till suddenly the thought
"She is rummaging bureau-drawers and emptying boxes,--in other
words, packing a bag or trunk."
Should I be witness to a flight? I thought it very likely,
especially when I heard the faint sound of a door opening below,
followed by the swish of silken skirts. I recalled Mayor Packard's
fears and began to suspect that they were not groundless.
This called for action, and I was about to open my door and rush
out when I was deterred by the surprising discovery that the steps
I heard were coming up rather than going down, and that in another
moment she would be in the hall outside, possibly on her way to the
nursery, possibly with the intention of coming to my own room.
Greatly taken aback, I stood with my ear to the door, listening
intently. Yes, she has reached the top of the stairs and is
stopping no, she passes the nursery door, she is coming my way.
What shall I say to her,--how account for my comfortable wrapper
and the fact that I have not yet been abed? Had I but locked my
door! Could I but lock it now, unseen and unheard before the
nearing step should pause! But the very attempt were folly; no, I
must stand my ground and--Ah! the step has paused, but not at my
door. There is a third one on this hall, communicating, as I knew,
with a covered staircase leading to the attic. It was at this she
stopped and it was up this staircase she went as warily and softly
as its creaking boards would allow; and while I marveled as to what
had taken her aloft so late, I heard her steps over my head and
knew that she had entered the room directly above mine.
Striking a match, I consulted my watch. It was just ten minutes to
three. Hardly knowing what my duty was in the circumstances, I
blew oat the match and stood listening while the woman who was such
a mystery to all her friends moved about overhead in much the same
quick and purposeful way as had put life into her shadow while she
was in her own room.
"Packing! Nothing less and nothing more," was my now definite
decision. "That is a trunk she is dragging forward. What a hurry
she is in, and how little she cares whether anybody hears her!"
So little did she care that during the next few minutes of acute
attention I distinguished the flinging down of article after
article on to the floor, as well as many other movements betraying
haste or irritation.
Suddenly I heard her give a bound, then the sound of a heavy lid
falling and then, after a minute or two of complete silence, the
soft pat-pat of her slippered feet descending the stair.
Waiting till she was well down the second flight, I pushed my door
ajar and, flying down the hall, peered over the balustrade in time
to see her entering her room. She held a lighted candle in her
hand and by its small flame I caught a full glimpse of her figure.
To my astonishment and even to my dismay she was still in the gown
she had refused to have me unlace,--a rich yellow satin in which
she must have shone resplendent a few hours before. She had not
even removed the jewels from her neck. Whatever had occupied her,
whatever had taken her hither and thither through the house, moving
furniture out of her way, lifting heavy boxes, opening dust-covered
trunks, had been of such moment to her as to make her entirely
oblivious of the rich and delicate apparel she thus wantonly
sacrificed. But it was not this alone which attracted my
attention. In her hand she held a paper, and the sight of that
paper and the way she clutched it rather disturbed my late
conclusions. Had her errand been one of search rather than of
arrangement? and was this crumpled letter the sole result of a
half-hour's ransacking in an attic room at the dead of night? I
was fain to think so, for in the course of another half-hour her
light went out. Relieved that she had not left the house, I was
still anxious as to the cause of her strange conduct.
Mayor Packard did not come in till daybreak. He found me waiting
for him in the lower hall.
"Well?" he eagerly inquired.
"Mrs. Packard is asleep, I hope. A shrill laugh, ringing through
the house shortly after her return, gave her a nervous shock and
she begged that she might be left undisturbed till morning."
He turned from hanging up his overcoat, and gave me a short stare.
"A laugh!" he repeated. "Who could have laughed like that? We are
not a very jolly crowd here."
"I don't know, sir." I thought it must have been either Mr. Steele
or Nixon, the butler, but each denied it. There was no one else in
this part of the house."
"Mre. Packard is very sensitive just now," he remarked. Then as he
turned away toward the library door: "I will throw myself on a
lounge. I have but an hour or two before me, as I have my
preparations to make for leaving town on the early morning train.
I shall have some final instructions to give you."
I was up betimes. Would Mrs. Packard appear at breakfast? I
hardly thought so. Yet who knows? Such women have great
recuperative powers, and from one so mysteriously affected anything
might be expected. Ready at eight, I hastened down to the second
floor to find the lady, concerning whom I had had these doubts,
awaiting me on the threshold of her room. She was carefully
dressed and looked pale enough to have been up for hours. An
envelope was in her hand, and the smile which hailed my approach
was cold and constrained.
"Good morning," said she. "Let us go down. Let us go down
together. I slept wretchedly and do not feel very strong. When
did Mr. Packard come in?"
"Late. He went directly to the library. He said that he had
but a short time in which to rest, and would take what sleep he
could get on the lounge, when I told him of your very natural
She sighed--a sigh which came from no inconsiderable depths--then
with a proud and resolute gesture preceded me down-stairs.
Her husband was already in the breakfast-room. I could hear his
voice as we turned at the foot of the stairs. Mrs. Packard,
hearing it, too, drew herself up still more firmly and was passing
bravely forward, when Nixon's gray head protruded from the doorway
and I heard him say:
"There's company for breakfast, ma'am. His Honor could not spare
Mr. Steele and asked me to set a place for him."
I noted a momentary hesitation on Mrs. Packard's part, then she
silently acquiesced and we both passed on. In another instant we
were receiving the greetings and apologies of the gentlemen. If
Mr. Steele had expected that his employer's wife would offer him
her hand, he was disappointed.
"I am happy to welcome one who has proved so useful to my husband,"
she remarked with cool though careful courtesy as we all sat down
at the table; and, without waiting for an answer, she proceeded to
pour the coffee with a proud grace which gave no hint of the
extreme feeling by which I had seen her moved the night before.
Had I known her better I might have found something extremely
unnatural in her manner and the very evident restraint she put upon
herself through the whole meal; but not having any acquaintance
with her ordinary bearing under conditions purely social, I was
thrown out of my calculations by the cold ease with which she
presided at her end of the table, and the set smile with which she
greeted all remarks, whether volunteered by her husband or by his
respectful but affable secretary. I noticed, however, that she ate
Nixon, whom I dared not watch, did not serve with his usual
precision,--this I perceived from the surprised look cast at him by
Mayor Packard on at least two occasions. Though to the ordinary
eye a commonplace meal, it had elements of tragedy in it which made
the least movement on the part of those engaged in it of real
moment to me. I was about to leave the table unenlightened,
however, when Mrs. Packard rose and, drawing a letter from under
the tray before which she sat, let her glances pass from one
gentleman to the other with a look of decided inquiry. I drew in
my breath and by dropping my handkerchief sought an excuse for
lingering in the room an instant longer.
"Will--may I ask one of you," she stammered with her first show of
embarrassment during the meal, "to--to post this letter for me?"
Both gentlemen were standing and both gentlemen reached for it; but
it was into the secretary's hand she put it, though her husband's
was much the nearer. As Mr. Steele received it he gave it the
casual glance natural under the circumstances,--a glance which
instantly, however, took on an air of surprise that ended in a
"Have you not made some mistake?" he asked.
"This does not look like a letter." And he handed her back the
paper she had given him. With an involuntary ingathering of her
breath, she seemed to wake out of some dream and, looking down at
the envelope she held, she crushed it in her hand with a little
laugh in which I heard the note of real gaiety for the first time.
"Pardon me," she exclaimed; and, meeting his amused gaze with one
equally expressive, she carelessly added: "I certainly brought a
letter down with me."
Bowing pleasantly, but with that indefinable air of respect which
bespeaks the stranger, he waited while she hastened back to the
tray and drew from under it a second paper.
"Pardon my carelessness," she said. "I must have caught up a
scrawl of the baby's in taking this from my desk."
She brought forward a letter and ended the whole remarkable episode
by handing it now to her husband, who, with an apologetic glance at
the other, put it in his pocket.
I say remarkable; for in the folded slip which had passed back and
forth between her and the secretary, I saw, or thought I saw, a
likeness to the paper she had brought the night before out of the
If Mayor Packard saw anything unusual in his wife's action he made
no mention of it when I went into his study at nine o'clock. And
it was so much of an enigma to me that I was not ready to venture
a question regarding it.
Her increased spirits and more natural conduct were the theme of
the few sentences he addressed me, and while he urged precaution
and a continued watch upon his wife, he expressed the fondest hope
that he should find her fully restored on his return at the end of
I encouraged his hopes, and possibly shared them; but I changed my
mind, as he probably did his, when a few minutes later we met her
in the hall hurrying toward us with a newspaper in her hand and a
ghastly look on her face. "See! see! what they have dared to
print!" she cried, with a look, full of anguish, into his
He took the sheet, read, and flushed, then suddenly grew white.
"Outrageous!" he exclaimed. Then tenderly, "My poor darling! that
they should dare to drag your name into this abominable campaign!"
"And for no reason," she faltered; "there is nothing wrong with me.
You believe that; you are sure of that," she cried. I saw the
article later. It ran something like this:
"Rumor has it that not even our genial mayor's closet is free from
the proverbial skeleton. Mrs. Packard's health is not what it
was,--and some say that the causes are not purely physical."
He tried to dissimulate. Putting his arm about her, he kissed her
fondly and protested with mingled energy and feeling:
"I believe you to be all you should be--a true woman and true
Her face lighted and she clung for a moment in passionate delight
to his breast; then she caught his look, which was tender but not
altogether open, and the shadows fell again as she murmured:
"You are not satisfied. Oh, what do you see what do others see,
that I should be the subject of doubt? Tell me! I can never right
myself till I know."
"I see a troubled face when I should see a happy one," he answered
lightly; then, as she still clung in very evident question to his
arm, he observed gravely: "Two weeks ago you were the life of this
house, and of every other house into which your duties carried you.
Why shouldn't you be the same to-day? Answer me that, dear, and
all my doubts will vanish, I assure you."
"Henry,"--drooping her head and lacing her fingers in and out with
nervous hesitation,--"you will think me very foolish,--I know that
it will sound foolish, childish even, and utterly ridiculous; but
I can explain myself no other way. I have had a frightful
experience--here--in my own house--on the spot where. I have been
so happy, so unthinkingly happy. Henry--do not laugh--it is real,
very real, to me. The specter which is said to haunt these walls
has revealed itself to me. I have seen the ghost."
We did not laugh; we did not even question her sanity; at least I
did not; there was too much meaning in her manner.
"A specter," her husband repeated with a suggestive glance at the
brilliant sunshine in which we all stood.
"Yes." The tone was one of utter conviction. "I had never
believed in such things--never thought about them, but--it was a
week ago--in the library--I have not seen a happy moment since--"
"Yes, yes, I know; but imagine! I was sitting reading. I had just
come from the nursery, and the memory of Laura's good-night kiss
was more in my mind than the story I was finishing when--oh, I can
not think of it without a shudder!--the page before me seemed to
recede and the words fade away in a blue mist; glancing up I beheld
the outlines of a form between me and the lamp. which a moment
before had been burning brightly. Outlines, Henry,--I was
conscious of no substance, and the eyes which met mine from that
shadowy, blood-curdling Something were those of the grave and meant
a grave for you or for me. Oh, I know what I say! There was no
mistaking their look. As it burned into and through me, everything
which had given reality to my life faded and seemed as far away and
as unsubstantial as a dream. Nor has its power over me gone yet.
I go about amongst you, I eat, I sleep, or try to; I greet men,
talk with women, but it is all unreal, all phantasmagoric, even
yourself and your love and, O God, my baby! What is real and
distinctive, an absolute part of me and my life, is that shape from
the dead, with its threatening eyes which pierce--pierce--"
She was losing her self-control. Her husband, with a soothing
touch on her arm, brought her back to the present.
"You speak of a form," he said, "a shadowy, outline. The form of
what? A man or a woman?"
"A man! a man!" With the exclamation she seemed to shrink into
herself and her eyes, just now deprecating and appealing, took on
a hollow stare, as if the vision she described had risen again
In spite of himself and the sympathy he undoubtedly felt for her,
an ejaculation of impatience left her husband's lips. Obligations
very far removed from the fantasies of a disturbed mind made these
unsubstantial fears of hers seem puerile enough to this virile,
outspoken man. No doubt she heard it, and to stop the matter-of-
fact protest on his lips added quickly:
"Not the form, face and eyes of a man, as they usually appear. Hell
was in his gaze and the message he gave, if it was a message, was one
of disaster, if not death. Do you wonder that my happiness vanished
before it? That I can not be myself since that dreadful day?"
The mayor was a practical man; he kept close to the subject.
"You saw this form between you and the lighted lamp. How long did
it stay there and what became of it?"
"I can not tell you. One moment it was there and the next it was
gone, and I found myself staring into vacancy. I seem to be
staring there still, waiting for the blow destined to shatter this
"Nonsense! give me a kiss and fix your thoughts on something more
substantial. What we have to fear and all we have to fear is that
I may lose my election. And that won't kill me, whatever effect it
may have on the party."
"Henry,"--her voice had changed to one more natural, also her
manner. The confidence expressed in this outburst, the vitality,
the masculine attitude he took were producing their effect. "You
don't believe in what I saw or in my fears. Perhaps you are right.
I am ready to acknowledge this; I will try to look upon it all as
a freak of my imagination if you will promise to forget these
dreadful days, and if people, other people, will leave me alone and
not print such things about me."
"I am ready to do my part," was his glad reply, "and as for the
other people you mention, we shall soon bring them to book."
Raising his voice, he called out his secretary's name. As it rang
loud and cheery down the hall, the joy and renewed life which had
been visible in her manner lost some of their brightness.
"What are you going to do?" she gasped, with the quickness of doubt
and strong if reasonless apprehension. "Give an order," he
explained; then, as the secretary appeared at our end of the hall,
he held out the journal which he had taken from his wife and
indicating the offensive paragraph, said:
"Find out who did that."
Mr. Steele with a surprised look ran his eyes over the paragraph,
knitting his brows as he did.
"It is calumny," fell from Mrs. Packard's lips as she watched him.
"Most certainly," he assented, with an energy, which brought a
flush of pleasure to the humiliated woman's cheek. "It will detain
me two days or more to follow up this matter," he remarked, with a
look of inquiry directed at Mayor Packard.
"Never mind. Two days or a week, it is all one. I would rather
lose votes than pass over such an insult. Pin me down the man who
has dared attack me through my wife, and you will do me the
greatest favor one man can show another."
Mr. Steele bowed. "I can not forego the flnal consultation we had
planned to hold on the train. May I ride down with you to the
"Certainly; most happy."
Mr. Steele withdrew, after casting a glance of entirely respectful
sympathy at the woman who up to this hour had faced the world
without a shadow between her and it; and, marking the lingering
nature of the look with which the mayor now turned on his wife, I
followed the secretary's example and left them to enjoy their few
last words alone.
Verily the pendulum of events swung wide and fast in this house.
This conclusion was brought back to me with fresh insistence a few
minutes later, when, on hearing the front door shut, I stepped to
the balustrade and looked over to see if Mrs. Packard was coming
up. She was not, for I saw her go into the library; but plainly on
the marble pavement below, just where we had all been standing, in
fact, I perceived the piece of paper she had brought with her from
the dining-room and had doubtless dropped in the course of the
Running down in great haste, I picked it up. This scrap of I knew
not what, but which had been the occasion of the enigmatic scene I
had witnessed at the breakfast-table, necessarily interested me
very much and I could not help giving it a look. I saw that it was
inscribed with Hebraic-looking characters as unlike as possible to
the scrawl of a little child.
With no means of knowing whether they were legible or not, these
characters made a surprising impression upon me, one, indeed, that
was almost photographic.
I also noted that these shapes or characters, of which there were
just seven, were written on the face of an empty envelope. This
decided any doubts I may have had as to its identity with the paper
she had brought down from the attic. That had been a square sheet,
which even if folded would fail to enter this long and narrow
envelope. The interest which I had felt when I thought the two
identical was a false interest. Yet I could not but believe that
this scrap had a value of its own equal to the one with which,
under this misapprehension, I had invested it.
Carrying it back to Mrs. Packard, I handed it over with the remark
that I had found it lying in the hall. She cast a quick look at
it, gave me another look and tossed the paper into the grate. As
it caught fire and flared up, the characters started vividly into
This second glimpse of them, added to the one already given me,
fixed the whole indelibly in my mind. This is the way they looked.
; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
While I watched these cabalistic marks pass from red to black and
finally vanish in a wild leap up the chimney, Mrs. Packard
"I wish I could destroy the memory of all my mistakes as completely
as I can that old envelope."
I did not answer; I was watching the weary droop of her hand over
the arm of her chair.
"You are tired, Mrs. Packard," was my sympathetic observation.
"Will you not take a nap? I will gladly sit by you and read you to
"No, no," she cried, at once alert and active; "no sleep. Look at
that pile of correspondence, half of it on charitable matters. Now
that I feel better, now that I have relieved my mind, I must look
over my letters and try to take up the old threads again."
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"Possibly. If you will go to my room up-stairs, I will join you
after I have sorted and read my mail."
I was glad to obey this order. I had a curiosity about her room.
It had been the scene of much I did not understand the night
before. Should I find any traces there of that search which had
finally ended over my head in the attic?
I was met at the door by Ellen. She wore a look of dismay which I
felt fully accounted for when I looked inside. Disorder reigned
from one end of the room to the other, transcending any picture I
may have formed in my own mind concerning its probable condition.
Mrs. Packard must have forgotten all this disarray, or at least had
supposed it to have yielded to the efforts of the maid, when she
proposed my awaiting her there. There were bureau-drawers with
their contents half on the floor, boxes with their covers off,
cupboard-doors ajar and even the closet shelves showing every mark
of a frenzied search among them. Her rich gown, soiled to the
width of half a foot around the bottom, lay with cut laces and its
trimmings in rags under a chair which had been knocked over and
left where it fell. Even her jewels had not been put away, but lay
scattered on the dresser. Ellen looked ashamed and, when I retired
to the one bare place I saw in the bay of the window, muttered as
she plunged to lift one of the great boxes:
"It's as bad as the attic room up-stairs. All the trunks have been
emptied on to the floor and one held her best summer dresses. What
shall I do? I have a whole morning's work before me."
"Let me help you," I proposed, rising with sudden alacrity. My
eyes had just fallen on a small desk at my right, also on the floor
beneath and around it. Here, there and everywhere above and below
lay scraps of torn-up paper; and on many, if not on all of them,
could be seen the broken squares and inverted angles which had
marked so curiously the surface of the envelope she had handed to
Mr. Steele, and which I had afterward seen her burn.
"A, baby can make a deal of mess," I remarked, hurriedly collecting
these scraps and making a motion of throwing them into the waste-
paper basket, but hiding them in my blouse instead.
"The baby! Oh, the baby never did that. She's too young."
"Oh, I didn't know. I haven't seen much of the child though I
heard her cry once in the nursery. How old is she?"
"Twenty months and such a darling! You never saw such curls or
such eyes. Why, look at this!"
"What?" I demanded, hurrying to the closet, where Ellen stood
bending over something invisible to me. "Oh, nothing," she
answered, coming quickly, out. But in another moment, her tongue
getting the better of her discretion, she blurted out: "Do you
suppose Mrs. Packard had any idea of going with the mayor? Her bag
is in there almost packed. I was wondering where all her toilet
articles were. That accounts--" Stopping, she cast a glance
around the room, ending with a shake of the head and a shrug.
"She needn't have pulled out all her things," she sharply
complained. "Certain, she is a mysterious lady;--as queer as she
A GLIMMER OF THE TRUTH
This was a sentiment I could thoroughly indorse. Mrs. Packard was
certainly an enigma to me. Leaving Ellen to finish her work, I
went upstairs to my own room, and, taking out the scraps of paper
I had so carefully collected, spread them out before me on the lid
of the desk.
They were absolutely unintelligible to me--marks and nothing more.
Useless to waste time over such unmeaning scrawls when I had other
and more tangible subjects to consider. But I should not destroy
them. There might come a time when I should be glad to give them
the attention which my present excitement forbade. Putting them
back in my desk, I settled myself into a serious contemplation of
the one fact which seemed to give a partial if not wholly
satisfactory explanation of Mrs. Packard's peculiar conduct during
the last two weeks--her belief that she had been visited by a
specter of an unholy, threatening aspect.
That it was a belief and nothing more seemed sufficiently clear to
me in the cold-blooded analysis to which I now subjected the whole
Phantoms have no place in the economy of nature. That Mrs. Packard
thought herself the victim of one was simply a proof of how deeply,
though perhaps unconsciously, she had been affected by the
traditions of the house. Such sensitiveness in a mind naturally
firm and uncommonly well poised, called for attention. Yet a
physician had asserted that he could do nothing for her. Granting
that he was mistaken, would an interference of so direct and
unmistakable a character be wise in the present highly strung
condition of her nerves? I doubted it. It would show too plainly
the light in which we regarded her. I dared not undertake the
responsibility of such a course in Mayor Packard's absence. Some
other way must be found to quiet her apprehensions and bring her
into harmony again with her surroundings. I knew of only one
course. If the influence of the house had brought on this
hallucination, then the influence of the house must be destroyed.
She must be made to see that, despite its unfortunate reputation,
no specter had ever visited it; that some purely natural cause was
at the bottom of the various manifestations which had successively
driven away all previous tenants.
Could I hope to effect this? It was an undertaking of no small
moment. Had I the necessary judgment? I doubted it, but my
ambition was roused. While Mr. Steele was devoting himself to the
discovery of Mayor and Mrs. Packard's political enemy, I would
essay the more difficult task of penetrating the mystery
threatening their domestic peace. I could but fail; a few
inquiries would assure me of the folly or the wisdom of my course.
Having reached this point and satisfied myself as to my real duty,
I rose to leave my room for another word or two with Ellen. As I
did so my eyes fell on the shade still drawn between me and the
next house. The impulse to raise it was irresistible. I must see
if either of the two old faces still occupied that gable window.
It was not likely. It was not in ordinary human nature to keep up
so unremitting a watch. Yet as the shade flew up at my touch I
realized that my astonishment would have been great and my
expectations altogether disappointed if I had not encountered the
fixed countenance and the set stare with which I had come to
connect this solitary window. Miss Charity was there, and, though
I now knew what underlay her senile, if not utterly mad watch, the
impression made upon me by her hopeless countenance was as keen as
it had ever been, and lent point and impetus to the task I had just
set for myself.
It was apparent that Mrs. Packard had forgotten or changed her mind
about joining me in her own room, but nevertheless I went out, to
discover what possible duties she might have laid out for me.
Ascertaining from Ellen that Mrs. Packand had engagements which
would take her out at noon, I waited for that hour to pass, then
excused myself and went out also.
The owner of the house whose shaded history I was now determined to
learn was John Searles, a real estate agent. To his office in Main
Street I at once proceeded, not without doubts and much inward
trepidation, but buoyed up by the assurance of Mayor Packard's
approval of any attempt, however far-fetched or unpromising, which
held out the least possibility of relieving Mrs. Packard from her
superstitious fears and restoring the peace and happiness of the
household. If only Mr. Searles should prove to be an approachable
I had never seen him or heard him spoken of, or I should not have
encouraged myself with this hope. At my first glimpse of his tall,
gaunt figure, hard features, and brisk impatient movements, I knew
that my wit and equanimity would be put to their full test in the
He was engaged, at my entrance, in some harsh dispute with a couple
of other men, but came forward quickly enough when he saw me.
Recognizing at once that any attempt at ingratiation would fail
with this man, I entered at once upon my errand by asking a
question direct enough to command his attention, if it did not
insure the desired reply.
"Mr. Searles, when you purchased the house on Franklin Street, did
you know enough about it to have an answer ready for any one who
might declare it haunted?"
The abruptness of the attack produced its effect. Annoyance swept
every hint of patience from face and manner, and he exclaimed in a
tone which conveyed, only too openly, how disagreeable the subject
was to him.
I smiled. It would not do to show how much I felt the total lack
of sympathy in his manner.
"You will have trouble," said I, "until it is proved that the
occurrences which have provoked this report have a very natural and
quite human source."
He stopped in his nervous fidgeting and gave me a quick hard look.
"Who are you?" he asked, "and why has Mrs. Packard made you her
messenger instead of coming herself?"
"I am her companion, engaged by Mayor Packard to stay with her
during his contemplated absence. I am here instead of Mrs. Packard
because it is she herself who is the present sufferer from the
disagreeable experiences which attend life in the Franklin Street
"Mrs. Packard?" His tone betrayed a complete incredulity. "Mrs.
Packard? a woman of such strong good sense! I think you must have
been misled by some foolish attempt at humor on her part. Does she
know that you have come to me with this complaint?"
"She does not. She is not in a condition to be consulted on the
subject. I am Mayor Packard's emissary. He is very anxious about
his wife." Then as Mr. Searles continued unmoved, I added in a
straightforward manner, and with all the earnestness I felt: "Mrs.
Packard believes herself to have come face to face with an
undoubted specter in the library of the house they have rented from
you. She related the circumstances to her husband and to myself
this very morning. It occurred, according to her story, several
days ago; meantime her manner and appearance have shown a great
change. Mayor Packard is not the only one who has noticed it. The
whole household has been struck by her condition, though no one
knew its cause until to-day. Of course, we do not believe in the
specter; that was pure hallucination on her part. This we no more
doubt than you do."
"Then what do you want here?" he asked, after a moment of harsh
"Proof which will convince her that it was an hallucination and
without the least basis in any, spiritual fact," I returned. "If
you will give me a few minutes of your time, I will explain just
what I mean and also make known to you my wishes. I can wait till
you have finished your business with the gentlemen I see over
He honored me with a look, which for the first time showed any
appreciation of my feelings, and pushing open a door near by,
called out to some one within:
"Here, Robinson, talk with this lady. Her business is not in my
line." Then, turning to me with a quick, "Step in, Madam," he left
me with the greatest abruptness and hurried back to the gentlemen
awaiting him on the other side of the room.
I was considerably taken aback by this move, but knew no other
course than to enter the room he had pointed out and pursue my
conversation with whomever I should find there.
Alas! the gentleman who rose at my entrance was also one of the
tall, thin and nervous type. But he was not without heart, like
the other, as was soon made apparent to me. Very few human faces
are plainer than the one I now searched for the encouragement of
which I stood in such sore need, but also very few faces, handsome
or otherwise, have the attraction of so pleasant a smile. Its
affable greeting was followed by the hasty pushing forward of a
chair and a kind inquiry as to what he could do for me.
My answer woke an immediate interest. "My name is Saunders," I
said. "I am at present an inmate of Mayor Packard's house--a house
belonging to Mr. Searles, and one which has its drawbacks."
The meaning look with which I uttered the last sentence called
forth an answering one. A flash of excitement broke over his
features and he cast a quick glance at the door which fortunately
had swung to at my entrance.
"Has--have they--has anything of a disagreeable nature happened to
any one in this house?" he asked with ill-concealed perturbation.
"I did not expect it during their tenantry, but if such has
occurred, I am obliged to Mrs. Packard for letting me know. She
promised to, you see, and--"
"She promised!" I cried.
"Yes; in joke no doubt, being at the time in a very incredulous
state of mind. She vowed that she would let me know the very day
she saw the lights or encountered anything in the house, which
could be construed into a spiritual visitation. Has such a
manifestation occurred?" he eagerly inquired. "Has it? has it? Am
I to add her name to the list of those who have found the house
"That I am not ready to say," was my cautious response. "Mrs.
Packard, during the period of her husband's candidacy, would
scarcely wish to draw public attention to herself or these
supernatural happenings by any such move. I hope that what I say
to you on this subject will go no further."
"You may rest assured that it will never become public property,"
he assured me. "One person I am bound to tell; but that is all.
That person is too much interested in the house's good name to
spread so damaging a story. An experience, more or less
disagreeable, must have occurred to some member of the family,"
continued Mr. Robinson. "Your presence here assures me of that.
What kind of experience? The--manifestations have not always been
of the same nature."
"No; and that is what so engages my attention. These experiences
differ so much in their character. Do you happen to know the exact
nature of each? I have a theory which I long to substantiate. May
I trust you with it?"
"You certainly may, Miss. No one has thought over this matter more
earnestly than I have. Not because of any superstitious tendency
on my part; rather from the lack of it. I don't believe in
spirits. I don't believe in supernatural agencies of any kind; yet
strange things do happen in that house, things which we find it
hard to explain."
"Mrs. Packard's experience was this. She believes herself to have
encountered in the library the specter of a man; a specter with a
gaze so terrifying that it impressed itself upon her as an omen of
death, or some other dire disaster. What have your other tenants
"Shadows mostly; but not always. Sometimes the outline of an arm
projecting out of darkness; sometimes, the trace of steps on the
hall floors, or the discovery in the morning of an open door which
had been carefully closed at bedtime. Once it was the trailing of
ghostly fingers across the sleeper's face, and once a succession of
groans rising from the lower halls and drawing the whole family
from their beds, to find no one but themselves within the whole
four walls. A clearly outlined phantom has been scarce. But Mrs.
Packard has seen one, you say."
"Thinks she has seen one," I corrected. "Mayor Packard and myself
both look upon the occurrence as a wholly imaginary one, caused by
her secret brooding over the very manifestations you mention. If
she could be convinced that these manifestations had a physical
origin, she would immediately question the reality of the specter
she now believes herself to have seen. To bring her to this point
I am ready to exert myself to the utmost. Are you willing to do
the same? If so, I can assure you of Mayor Packard's
"How? What? You believe the whole thing a fraud? That all these
tenants coming from various quarters manufactured all these stories
and submitted to endless inconvenience to perpetuate a senseless
"No, I don't think that. The tenants were honest enough, but Who
owned the house before Mr. Searles?" I was resolved to give no hint
of the information imparted to me by Mrs. Packard.
"The Misses Quinlan, the two maiden ladies who live next door to
"I don't know them," said I truthfully.
"Very worthy women," Mr. Robinson assured me. "They are as much
disturbed and as completely puzzled as the rest of us over the
mysterious visitations which have lessened the value of their
former property. They have asked me more than once for an
explanation of its marked unpopularity. I felt foolish to say
ghosts, but finally I found myself forced to do so, much to my
"How? Why?" I asked, with all the force of a very rapidly
"Because its effect upon them has been so disastrous. They were
women of intelligence previous to this, one of them quite markedly
so, but from that day they have given evidence of mental weakness
which can only be attributed to their continual brooding over this
mysterious topic. The house, whose peculiarities we are now
discussing, was once their family homestead, and they shrink from
the reproach of its unfortunate reputation. What! you don't think
so?" he impetuously asked, moved, perhaps, by my suggestive
silence. "You are suspicious of these two poor old women? What
reason have you for that, Miss Saunders? What motive could they
have for depreciating the value of what was once their own
So he knew nothing of the lost bonds! Mrs. Packard had made no
mistake when she assured me of the secrecy with which they had
endured their misfortune. It gave me great relief; I could work
more safely with this secret unshared. But the situation called
for dissimulation. It was with anything but real openness that I
"You can not calculate the impulses of an affected mind. Jealousy
of the past may influence these unfortunate women. They possibly
hate to see strangers in the rooms made sacred by old
"That is possible, but how could they, shut up in a house,
separated from yours by a distance of several feet, be held
accountable for the phenomena observed in 393? There are no means
of communication between the two buildings; even the doors, which
once faced each other across the dividing alley, have been closed
up. Interference from them is impossible."
"No more impossible than from any other outside source. Is it a
fact that the doors and windows of this strangely haunted house
were always found securely locked after each occurrence of the
phenomena you have mentioned?"
"So I have been told by every tenant I have questioned, and I was
careful to question them, I assure you."
"That settles the matter in my, mind," I asserted. "These women
know of some means of entrance that has escaped general discovery.
Cunning is a common attribute of the unsettled brain."
"And they are very cunning. Miss Saunders, you have put a totally
new idea into my head. I do not place much stress upon the motive
you have attributed to them, nor do I see how the appearances noted
could have been produced by these two antiquated women; but the
interest they, have displayed in the effect these have had upon
others has been of the most decided nature. They, have called here
after the departure of every fresh tenant, and it was all that I
could do to answer their persistent inquiries. It is to them and
not to Mr. Searles I feel bound to report the apparition seen by
"To them!" I ejaculated in amazement. "Why to them? They no
longer have a proprietary interest in the house."
"Very true, but they long ago exacted a promise from me to keep a
strict account of such complaints as were raised against the house.
They, in short, paid me to do so. From time to time they have come
here to read this account. It annoys Mr. Searles, but I have had
considerable patience with them for reasons which your kind heart
will instantly suggest."
I thought of the real pathos of the situation, and how much I might
increase his interest by giving him the full details of their
pitiful history, and the maddening hopes it engendered of a
possible discovery of the treasure they still believed to be hidden
in the house. What I said, however, was this:
"You have kept an account, you say, of the varied phenomena seen in
this house? You have that account now?"
"Yes, Miss Saunders."
"Let us look it over together. Let us see if it does not give us
some clue to the mystery puzzling us."
He eyed me doubtfully, or as much so as his great nature would
allow. Meantime, I gauged my man. Was he to be thoroughly and
unequivocally trusted? His very hesitation in face of his
undoubted sympathy with me seemed to insure that he was. At all
events, the occasion warranted some risk on my part. At least I
persuaded myself that it did; so without waiting for his reply, I
"The matter is more serious than you suppose. If the mayor were
not unavoidably called away by his political obligations, he would
add his entreaties to mine for a complete sifting of this whole
affair. The Misses Quinlan may very well be innocent of inciting
these manifestations; if so, we can do them no harm by a little
confidential consideration of the affair from the standpoint I have
given you. If they are not, then Mr. Searles and Mayor Packard
should know it."
It appeared to convince him. His homely face shone with the fire
of sudden interest and resolve, and, reaching for a small drawer at
the right of his desk, he opened it and drew forth a folded paper
which he proceeded to open before me with the remark:
"Here is a report that I have kept for my own satisfaction. I do
not feel that in showing it to you I am violating any trust reposed
in me by the Misses Quinlan. I never promised secrecy in the
I glanced at the paper, all eagerness. He smiled and pushed it
toward me. This is what I read:
First tenant, Mr. Hugh Dennison and family.
Night 1: Heard and saw nothing.
Night 2: The entire household wakened by a scream seemingly
coming from below. This was twice repeated before Mr Dennison
could reach the hall; the last time in far distant and smothered
tones. Investigation revealed nothing. No person and no trace
of any persons, save themselves, could be found anywhere in the
house. Uncomfortable feelings, but no alarm as yet.
Night 3: No screams, but a sound of groaning in the library.
The tall clock standing near the drawing-room door stopped at
twelve, and a door was found open which Mr. Dennison is sure he
shut tight on retiring. A second unavailing search. One servant
left the next morning.
Night 4: Footfalls on the stairs. The library door, locked by Mr.
Dennison's own hand, is heard to unclose. The timepiece on the
library mantel-shelf strikes twelve; but it is slightly fast, and
Mr. and Mrs. Dennison, who have crept from their room to the
stair-head, listen breathlessly for the deep boom of the great
hall clock--the one which had stopped the night before. No light
is burning anywhere, and the hall below is a pit of darkness, when
suddenly Mrs. Dennison seizes her husband's arm and, gasping out,
"The clock, the clock!" falls fainting to the floor. He bends to
look and faintly, in the heart of the shadows, he catches in dim
outline the face of the clock, and reaching up to it a spectral
hand. Nothing else--and in another moment that, too, disappears;
but the silence is something awful--the great clock has stopped.
With a shout he stumbles downward, lights up the hall, lights up
the rooms, but finds nothing, and no one. Next morning the second
servant leaves, but her place is soon supplied by an applicant we
will call Bess.
Night 5: Mrs. Dennison sleeps at a hotel with the children. Mr.
Dennison, revolver in hand, keeps watch on the haunted stairway.
He has fastened up every door and shutter with his own hand, and
with equal care extinguished all lights. As the hour of twelve
approaches, he listens breathlessly. There is certainly a stir
somewhere, but he can not locate it, not quite satisfy himself
whether it is a footfall or a rustle that he hears. The clock
in the library strikes twelve, then the one in the hall gives one
great boom, and stops. Instantly he raises his revolver and
shoots directly at its face. No sound from human lips answers
the discharge of the weapon. In the flash which for a moment has
lighted up the whole place, he catches one glimpse of the broken
dial with its two hands pointing directly at twelve, but nothing
more. Then all is dark again, and he goes slowly back to his own
The next day he threw up his lease.
Second tenant: Mrs. Crispin.
Stayed but one night. Would never tell us what she saw.
Third tenant: Mrs. Southwick. Hires Bess for maid-of-all-work, the
only girl she could get.
Night 1: Unearthly lights shining up through the house, waking
the family. Disappeared as one and all came creeping out into the
Night 2: The same, followed by deep groans. Children waked and
Night 3: Nothing.
Night 4: Lights, groans and strange shadows on the walls and
ceilings of the various hallways. Family give notice the next day,
but do not leave for a week, owing to sickness. No manifestations
while doctor and nurses are in the house.
House stands vacant for three months. Bess offers to remain in it
as caretaker, but her offer is refused.
An amusing farce.
One of them saw something and could not be laughed out of it by his
fellows. But the general report was unsatisfactory. The mistake
was the employment of Irishmen in a task involving superstition.
Fourth tenant: Mr. Weston and family.
Remain three weeks. Leaves suddenly because the nurse encountered
something moving about in the lower hall one night when she went
down to the kitchen to procure hot water for a sick child. Bess
again offered her services, but the family would not stay under any
Another long period without tenant.
Mr. Searles tries a night in the empty house. Sits and dozes in
library till two. Wakes suddenly. Door he has tightly shut is
standing open. He feels the draft. Turns on light from dark
lantern. Something is there--a shape--he can not otherwise
describe it. As he stares at it, it vanishes through doorway. He
rushes for it; finds nothing. The hall is empty; so is the whole
This finished the report.
"So Mr. Searles has had his own experiences of these Mysteries!" I
"As you see. Perhaps that is why he is so touchy on the subject."
"Did he ever give you any fuller account of his experience than is
"No; he won't talk about it."
"He tried to let the house, however."
"Yes, but he did not succeed for a long time. Finally the mayor
Refolding the paper, I handed it back to Mr. Robinson. I had its
contents well in mind.
"There is one fact to which I should like to call your attention,"
said I. "The manifestations, as here recorded, have all taken
place in the lower part of the house. I should have had more faith
in them, if they had occurred above stairs. There are no outlets
through the roof."
"Nor any visible ones below. At least no visible one was ever
"What about the woman, Bess?" I asked. "How do you account for her
persistency in clinging to a place her employers invariably fled
from? She seems to have been always on hand with an offer of her
"Bess is not a young woman, but she is a worker of uncommon
ability, very rigid and very stoical. She herself accounts for her
willingness to work in this house by her utter disbelief in
spirits, and the fact that it is the one place in the world which
connects her with her wandering and worthless husband. Their final
parting occurred during Mr. Dennison's tenancy, and as she had
given the wanderer the Franklin Street address, you could not
reason her out of the belief that on his return he would expect to
find here there. That is what she explained to Mr. Searles."
"You interest me, Mr. Robinson. Is she a plain woman? Such a one
as a man would not be likely, to return to?"
"No, she is a very good-looking woman, refined and full of
character, but odd, very odd,--in fact, baffling."
"I never knew her to look any one directly in the eye. Her manner
is abstracted and inspires distrust. There is also a marked
incongruity between her employment and her general appearance. She
looks out of place in her working apron, yet she is not what you
would call a lady."
"Did her husband come back?"
"No, not to my knowledge."
"And where is she now?"
"Very near you, Miss Saunders, when you are at your home in
Franklin Street. Not being able to obtain a situation in the house
itself, she has rented the little shop opposite, where you can find
her any day selling needles and thread."
"I have noticed that shop," I admitted, not knowing whether to give
more or less weight to my suspicions in thus finding the mayor's
house under the continued gaze of another watchful eye.
"You will find two women there," the amiable Mr. Robinson hastened
to explain. "The one with a dark red spot just under her hair is
Bess. But perhaps she doesn't interest you. She always has me.
If it had not been for one fact, I should have suspected her of
having been in some way connected with the strange doings we have
just been considering. She was not a member of the household
during the occupancy of Mrs. Crispin and the Westons, yet these
unusual manifestations went on just the same."
"Yes, I noted that."
"So her connivance is eliminated."
"Undoubtedly. I am still disposed to credit the Misses Quinlan
with the whole ridiculous business. They could not bear to see
strangers in the house they had once called their own, and took the
only means suggested to their crazy old minds to rid the place of
Mr. Robinson shook his head, evidently unconvinced. The temptation
was great to strengthen my side of the argument by a revelation of
their real motive. Once acquainted with the story of the missing
bonds he could not fail to see the extreme probability that the two
sisters, afflicted as they were with dementia, should wish to
protect the wealth which was once so near their grasp, from the
possibility of discovery by a stranger. But I dared not take him
quite yet into my full confidence. Indeed, the situation did not
demand it. I had learned from him what I was most anxious to know,
and was now in a position to forward my own projects without
further aid from him. Almost as if he had read my thoughts, Mr.
Robinson now hastened to remark:
"I find it difficult to credit these poor old souls with any such
elaborate plan to empty the house, even had they possessed the most
direct means of doing so, for no better reason than this one you
state. Had money been somehow involved, or had they even thought
so, it would be different. They are a little touched in the head
on the subject of money; which isn't very strange considering their
present straits. They even show an interest in other people's
money. They have asked me more than once if any of their former
neighbors have seemed to grow more prosperous since leaving
"I see; touched, touched!" I laughed, rising in my anxiety to hide
any show of feeling at the directness of this purely accidental
attack. But the item struck me as an important one. Mr. Robinson
gave me a keen look as I uttered the usual commonplaces and
prepared to take my leave.
"May I ask your intentions in this matter?" said he.
"I wish I knew them myself," was my perfectly candid answer. "It
strikes me now that my first step should be to ascertain whether
there exists any secret connection between the two houses which
would enable the Misses Quinlan or their emissaries to gain access
to their old home, without ready detection. I know of none, and--"
"There is none," broke in its now emphatic agent. "A half-dozen
tenants, to say nothing of Mr. Searles himself, have looked it
carefully over. All the walls are intact; there is absolutely no
opening anywhere for surreptitious access."
"Possibly not. You certainly discourage me very much. I had hoped
much from my theory. But we are not done with the matter. Mrs.
Packard's mind must be cleared of its fancies, if it is in my power
to do it. You will hear from me again, Mr. Robinson. Meanwhile,
I may be sure of your good will?"
"Certainly, certainly, and of my cooperation also, if you want it."
"Thank you," said I, and left the office.
His last look was one of interest not untinged by compassion.
On my way back I took the opposite side of the street from that I
usually approached. When I reached the little shop I paused.
First glancing at the various petty articles exposed in the window,
I quietly stepped in. A contracted and very low room met my eyes,
faintly lighted by a row of panes in the upper half of the door and
not at all by the window, which was hung on the inside with a heavy
curtain. Against two sides of this room were arranged shelves
filled with boxes labeled in the usual way to indicate their
contents. These did not strike me as being very varied or of a
very high order. There was no counter in front, only some tables
on which lay strewn fancy boxes of thread and other useless knick-
knacks to which certain shopkeepers appear to cling though they can
seldom find customers for them. A woman stood at one of these
tables untangling a skein of red yarn. Behind her I saw another
leaning in an abstracted way over a counter which ran from wall to
wall across the extreme end of the shop. This I took to be Bess.
She had made no move at my entrance and she made no move now. The
woman with the skein appeared, on the contrary, as eager to see as
the other seemed indifferent. I had to buy something and I did so
in as matter-of-fact a way as possible, considering that my
attention was more given to the woman in the rear than to the
articles I was purchasing.
"You have a very convenient place here," I casually remarked, as I
handed out my money. With this I turned squarely about and looked
directly, at her whom I believed to be Bess.
A voluble answer from the woman at my side, but not the wink of an
eye from the one whose attention I had endeavored to attract.
"I live in the house opposite," I carelessly went on, taking in,
every detail of the strange being I was secretly addressing.
"Oh!" she exclaimed in startled tones, roused into speech at last.
"You live opposite; in Mayor Packard's house?"
I approached her, smiling. She had dropped her hands from her chin
and seemed very eager now, more eager than the other woman, to
interest me in what she had about her and so hold me to the shop.
"Look at this," she cried, holding up an article of such cheap
workmanship that I wondered so sensible an appearing woman would
cumber her shelves with it. "I am glad you live over there," for
I had nodded to her question. "I'm greatly interested in that
house. I've worked there as cook and waitress several times."
I met her look; it was sharp and very intelligent.
"Then you know its reputation," I laughingly suggested.
She made a contemptuous gesture. The woman was really very
good-looking, but baffling in her manner, as Mr. Robinson had said,
and very hard to classify. "That isn't what interests me," she
protested. "I've other reasons. You're not a relative of the
family, are you?" she asked impetuously, leaning over the table to
get a nearer view of my face.
"No, nor even a friend. I am in their employ just now as a
companion to Mrs. Packard. Her health is not very good, and the
mayor is away a great deal."
"I thought you didn't belong there. I know all who belong there.
I've little else to do but stare across the street," she added
apologetically and with a deep flush. "Business is very poor in
I was standing directly in front of her. Turning quickly about, I
looked through the narrow panes of the door, and found that my eyes
naturally rested on the stoop of the opposite house. Indeed, this
stoop was about all that could be seen from the spot where this
"Another eve bent in constant watchfulness upon us," I inwardly
commented. "We are quite surrounded. The house should certainly
hold treasure to warrant all this interest. But what could this
one-time domestic know of the missing bonds?"
"An old-fashioned doorway," I remarked. "It is the only one of the
kind on the whole street. It makes the house conspicuous, but in
a way I like. I don't wonder you enjoy looking at it. To me such
a house and such a doorway suggest mystery and a romantic past.
If the place is not haunted--and only a fool believes in ghosts
--something strange must have happened there or I should never have
the nervous feeling I have in going about the halls and up and down
the stairways. Did you never have that feeling?"
"Never. I'm not given to feelings. I live one day after another
and just wait."
Not given to feelings! With such eyes in such a face! You should
have looked down when you said that, Bess; I might have believed
"Wait?" I softly repeated. "Wait for what? For fortune to enter
your little shop-door?"
"No, for my husband to come back," was her unexpected answer,
uttered grimly enough to have frightened that husband away again,
had he been fortunate or unfortunate enough to hear her. "I'm a
married woman, Miss, and shouldn't be working like this. And I
won't be always; my man'll come back and make a lady of me again.
It's that I'm waiting for."
Here a customer came in. Naturally I drew back, For our faces were
"Don't go," she pleaded, catching me by the sleeve and turning
astonishingly pale for one ordinarily so ruddy. "I want to ask a
favor of you. Come into my little room behind. You won't regret
it." This last in an emphatic whisper.
Amazed at the turn which the conversation had taken and
congratulating myself greatly upon my success in insuring her
immediate confidence, I slipped through the opening she made for me
between the tables serving for a counter and followed her into a
room at the rear, which from its appearance answered the triple
purpose of sleeping-room, parlor and kitchen.
"Pardon my impertinence," said she, as she carefully closed the
door behind us. "It's not my habit to make friends with strangers,
but I've taken a fancy to you and think you can be trusted. Will--"
she hesitated, then burst out, "will you do something for me?"
"If I can," I smiled.
"How long do you expect to stay over there?"
"Oh, that I can't say."
"A month? a week?"
"Probably a week."
"Then you can do what I want. Miss--"
"Saunders," I put in.
"There is something in that house which belongs to me."
I started; this was hardly what I expected her to say.
"Something of great importance to me; something which I must have
and have very soon. I don't want to go there for it myself. I hid
it in a very safe place one day when my future looked doubtful, and
I didn't know where I might be going or what might happen to me.
Mrs. Packard would think it strange if she saw where, and might
make it very uncomfortable for me. But you can get what I want
without trouble if you are not afraid of going about the house at
night. It's a little box with my name on it; and it is hidden--"
"Behind a brick I loosened in the cellar wall. I can describe the
very place. Oh, you think I am asking too much of you--a stranger
and a lady."
"No, I'm willing to do what I can for you. But I think you ought
to tell me what's in the box, so that I shall know exactly what I
"I can't tell; I do not dare to tell till I have it again in my own
hand. Then we will look it over together. Do you hesitate? You
needn't; no inconvenience will follow to any one, if you are
careful to rely on yourself and not let any other person see or
handle this box."
"How large is it?" I asked, quite as breathless as herself, as I
realized the possibilities underlying this remarkable request.
"It is so small that you can conceal it under an apron or in the
pocket of your coat. In exchange for it, I will give you all I can
"No more than that?" I asked, testing her.
"No more at first. Afterward--if it brings me what it ought to, I
will give you whatever you think it is worth. Does that satisfy,
you? Are you willing to risk an encounter with the ghost, for just
ten dollars and a promise?"
The smile with which she said this was indescribable. I think it
gave me a more thrilling consciousness of human terror in face of
the supernatural than anything which I had yet heard in this
connection. Surely her motive for remaining in the haunted house
had been extraordinarily strong.
"You are afraid," she declared. "You will shrink, when the time
comes, from going into that cellar at night."
I shook my head; I had already regained both my will-power and the
resolution to carry out this adventure to the end.
"I will go," said I.
"And get me my box?"
"And bring it to me here as early the next day as you can leave
"Oh, you don't know what this means to me."
I had a suspicion, but held my peace and let her rhapsodize.
"No one in all my life has ever shown me so much kindness! Are you
sure you won't be tempted to tell any one what you mean to do?"
"And will go down into the cellar and get this box for me, all by
"Yes, if you demand it."
"I do; you will see why some day."
"Very well, you can trust me. Now tell me where I am to find the
brick you designate."
"It's in the cellar wall, about half-way down on the right-hand
side. You will see nothing but stone for a foot or two above the
floor, but after, that comes the brick wall. On one of these
bricks you will detect a cross scratched. That's the one. It will
look as well cemented as the rest, but if you throw water against
it, you will find that in a little while you will be able to pry it
out. Take something to do this with, a knife or a pair of
scissors. When the brick falls out, feel behind with your hand and
you will find the box."
"A questionable task. What if I should be seen at it?"
"The ghost will protect you!"
Again that smile of mingled sarcasm and innuendo. It was no common
servant girl's smile, any more than her language was that of the
"I believe the ghost fails to walk since the present tenants came
into the house," I remarked.
"But its reputation remains; you'll not be disturbed."
"Possibly not; a good reason why you might safely undertake the
business yourself. I can find some way of letting you in."
"No, no. I shall never again cross that threshold!" Her whole
attitude showed revolt and bitter determination.
"Yet you have never been frightened by anything there?"
"I know; but I have suffered; that is, for one who has no feelings.
The box will have to remain in its place undisturbed if you won't
get it for me."
"Yes, Miss; nothing would induce me even to cross the street. But
I want the box."
"You shall have it," said I.
I seemed bound to be the prey of a divided duty. As I crossed the
street, I asked myself which of the two experiments I had in mind
should occupy my attention first. Should I proceed at once with
that close study and detailed examination of the house, which I
contemplated in my eagerness to establish my theory of a secret
passage between it and the one now inhabited by the Misses Quinlan,
or should I wait to do this until I had recovered the box, which
might hold still greater secrets?
I could not decide, so I resolved to be guided by circumstances.
If Mrs. Packard were still out, I did not think I could sit down
till I had a complete plan of the house as a start in the inquiry
which interested me most.
Mrs. Packard was still out,--so much Nixon deigned to tell me in
answer to my question. Whether the fact displeased him or not I
could not say, but he was looking very sour and seemed to resent
the trouble he had been to in opening the door for me. Should I
notice this, even by an attempt to conciliate him? I decided not.
A natural manner was best; he was too keen not to notice and give
his own interpretation to uncalled for smiles or words which
contrasted too strongly with his own marked reticence. I therefore
said nothing as he pottered slowly back into his own quarters in
the rear, but lingered about down-stairs till I was quite sure he
was out of sight and hearing. Then I came back and took up my
point of view on the spot where the big hall clock had stood in the
days of Mr. Dennison. Later, I made a drawing of this floor as it
must have looked at that time. You will find it on the opposite
[transcriber's note: The plan shows the house to have two rows of
rooms with a hall between. In the front each room ends in a bow
window. On the right the drawing-room has two doors opening into
the hall, equally spaced near the front and rear of the room.
Across the hall are two rooms of apparently equal size; a reception
room in front and the library behind it, both rooms having windows
facing on the alley. There is a stairway in the hall just behind
the door to the reception room. The study is behind the drawing-
room. Opposite this is a side hall and the dining-room. The
library and dining-room both open off this hall with the dining
room also having doors to the main hall and kitchen. The side hall
ends with a stoop in the alley. A small room labeled kitchen, etc.
lies behind the dining-room and the hall extends beyond the study
beside the kitchen with the cellar stairs on the kitchen side.
There is a small rectangle in the hall about two-thirds of the way
down the side of the drawing-room which is labeled A.]
Near the place where I stood (marked A on the plan), had occurred
most of the phenomena, which could be located at all. Here the
spectral hand had been seen stopping the clock. Here the shape
had passed encountered by Mr. Weston's cook, and just a few steps
beyond where the library door opened under the stairs Mr. Searles
had seen the flitting figure which had shut his mouth on the
subject of his tenants' universal folly. From the front then
toward the back these manifestations had invariably peeped to
disappear--where? That was what I was to determine; what I am
sure Mayor Packard would wish me to determine if he knew the whole
situation as I knew it from his wife's story and the record I had
just read at the agent's office.
Alas! there were many points of exit from this portion of the hall.
The drawing-room opened near; so did Mayor Packard's study; then
there was the kitchen with its various offices, ending as I knew in
the cellar stairs. Nearer I could see the door leading into the
dining-room and, opening closer yet, the short side hall running
down to what had once been the shallow vestibule of a small side
entrance, but which, as I had noted many times in passing to and
from the dining-room, was now used as a recess or alcove to hold a
cabinet of Indian curios. In which of these directions should I
carry my inquiry? All looked equally unpromising, unless it was
Mayor Packard's study, and that no one with the exception of Mr.
Steele ever entered save by his invitation, not even his wife. I
could not hope to cross that threshold, nor did I greatly desire to
invade the kitchen, especially while Nixon was there. Should I
have to wait till the mayor's return for the cooperation my task
certainly demanded? It looked that way. But before yielding to
the discouragement following this thought, I glanced about me again
and suddenly remembered, first the creaking board, which had once
answered to the so-called spirit's flight, and secondly the fact
which common sense should have suggested before, that if my theory
were true and the secret presence, whose coming and going I had
been considering, had fled by some secret passage leading to the
neighboring house, then by all laws of convenience and natural
propriety that passage should open from the side facing the Quinlan
domicile, and not from that holding Mayor Packard's study and the
This considerably narrowed my field of inquiry, and made me
immediately anxious to find that creaking board which promised to
narrow it further yet.
Where should I seek it? In these rear halls, of course, but I
hated to be caught pacing them at this hour. Nixon's step had not
roused it or I should have noticed it, for I was, in a way,
listening for this very sound. It was not in the direct path then
from the front door to the kitchen. Was it on one side or in the
space about the dining-room door or where the transverse corridor
met the main hall? All these floors were covered in the old-
fashioned way with carpet, which would seem to show that no new
boards had been laid and that the creaking one should still be
I ventured to go as far as the transverse hall,--I was at full
liberty, to enter the library. But no result followed this
experiment; my footsteps had never fallen more noiselessly. Where
could the board be? In aimless uncertainty I stepped into the
corridor and instantly a creak woke under my foot. I had located
the direction in which one of the so-called phantoms had fled. It
was down this transverse hall.
Flushed with apparent success, I looked up at the walls on either
side of me. They were gray with paint and presented one unbroken
surface from base-board to ceiling, save where the two doorways
opened, one into the library, the other into the dining-room. Had
the flying presence escaped by either of these two rooms? I knew
the dining-room well. I had had several opportunities for studying
its details. I thought I knew the library; besides, Mr. Searles
had been in the library when the shape advanced upon him from the
hall,--a fact eliminating that room as a possible source of
approach! What then was left? The recess which had once served as
an old-time entrance. Ah, that gave promise of something. It
projected directly toward where the adjacent walls had once held
two doors, between which any sort of mischief might take place.
Say that the Misses Quinlan had retained certain keys. What easier
than for one of them to enter the outer door, strike a light, open
the inner one and flash this light up through the house till steps
or voices warned her of an aroused family, when she had only to
reclose the inside door, put out the light and escape by the outer
But alas! at this point I remembered that this, as well as all
other outside doors, had invariably been protected by bolt, and
that these bolts had never been found disturbed. Veritably I was
busying myself for nothing over this old vestibule. Yet before I
left it I gave it another glance; satisfied myself that its walls
were solid; in fact, built of brick like the house. This on two
sides; the door occupied the third and showed the same unbroken
coat of thick, old paint, its surface barely hidden by the cabinet
placed at right angles to it. Enough of it, however, remained
exposed to view to give me an opportunity of admiring its sturdy
panels and its old-fashioned lock. The door was further secured by
heavy pivoted bars extending from jamb to jamb. An egg-and-dart
molding extended all around the casing, where the inner door had
once hung. All solid, all very old-fashioned, but totally
unsuggestive of any reasonable solution of the mystery I had
vaguely hoped it to explain. Was I mistaken in my theory, and must
I look elsewhere for what I still honestly expected to find?
Undoubtedly; and with this decision I turned to leave the recess,
when a sensation, of too peculiar a nature for me readily to
understand it, caused me to stop short, and look down at my feet in
an inquiring way and afterward to lift the rug on which I had been
standing and take a look at the floor underneath. It was covered
with carpet, like the rest of the hall, but this did not disguise
the fact that it sloped a trifle toward the outside wall. Had not
the idea been preposterous, I should have said that the weight of
the cabinet had been too much for it, causing it to sag quite
perceptibly at the base-board. But this seemed too improbable to
consider. Old as the house was, it was not old enough for its
beams to have rolled. Yet the floor was certainly uneven, and,
what was stranger yet, had, in sagging, failed to carry the base-
board with it. This I could see by peering around the side of the
cabinet. Was it an important enough fact to call for explanation?
Possibly not; yet when I had taken a short leap up and come down on
what was certainly an unstable floor, I decided that I should never
be satisfied till I had seen that cabinet removed and the floor
under it rigidly examined.
Yet when I came to take a look at this projection from the library
window and saw that this floor, like that of the many entrances,
was only the height of one step from the ground, I felt the folly
into which my inquiring spirit had led me, and would have dismissed
the whole subject from my mind if my eyes had not detected at that
moment on one of the tables an unusually thin paper-knife. This
gave me an idea. Carrying it back with me into the recess, I got
down on my knees, and first taking the precaution to toss a little
stick-pin of mine under the cabinet to be reached after in case I
was detected there by Nixon, I insinuated the cutter between the
base-board and the floor and found that I could not only push it in
an inch or more before striking the brick, but run it quite freely
around from one corner of the recess to the other. This was surely
surprising. The exterior of this vestibule must be considerably
larger than the interior would denote. What occupied the space
between? I went upstairs full of thought. Sometime, and that
before long, I would have that cabinet removed.
Mrs. Packard came in very soon after this. She was accompanied by
two friends and I could hear them talking and laughing in her room
upstairs all the afternoon. It gave me leisure, but leisure was
not what I stood in need of, just now. I desired much more an
opportunity to pursue my inquiries, for I knew why she had brought
these friends home with her and lent herself to a merriment that
was not natural to her. She wished to forestall thought; to keep
down dread; to fill the house so full of cheer that no whisper
should reach her from that spirit-world she had come to fear. She
had seen--or believed that she had seen--a specter, and she had
certainly heard a laugh that had come from no explicable human
The brightness of the sunshiny day aided her unconsciously in this
endeavor. But I foresaw the moment when this brightness would
disappear and her friends say good-by. Then the shadows must fall
again more heavily than ever, because of their transient lifting.
I almost wished she had indeed gone with her husband, and found
myself wondering why he had not asked her to do so when he found
what it was that depressed her. Perhaps he had, and it was she who
had held back. She may have made up her mind to conquer this
weakness, and to conquer it where it had originated and necessarily
held the strongest sway. At all events, he was gone and she was
here, and I had done nothing as yet to relieve that insidious dread
with which she must anticipate a night in this house without his
I wondered if it would be any relief to her to have Mr. Steele
remain upon the premises. I had heard him come in about three
o'clock and go into the study, and when the time came for her
friends to take their leave, and their voices in merry chatter came
up to my ear from the open boudoir door, I stole down to ask her if
I could suggest it to him. But I was too late. Just as I reached
the head of the stairs on the second floor he came out of the study
below and passed, hat in hand, toward the front door.
"What a handsome man!" came in an audible whisper from one of the
ladies, who now stood in the lower hall.
"Who is he?" asked the other.
I thought he held the door open one minute longer than was
necessary to catch her reply. It was a very cold and
"That is Mr. Packard's secretary," said she. "He will join the
mayor just as soon as he has finished certain preparations
intrusted to him."
"Oh !" was their quiet rejoinder, but a note of disappointment rang
in both voices as the door shut behind him.
"One does not often see a perfectly handsome man."
I stepped down to meet her when she in turn had shut the door upon
But I stopped half-way. She was standing with her head turned away
from me and the knob still in her hand. I saw that she was
thinking or was the prey of some rapidly growing resolve.
Suddenly she seized the key and turned it.
"The house is closed for the night," she announced as she looked up
and met my astonished gaze. "No one goes out or comes in here
again till morning. I have seen all the visitors I have strength
And though she did not know I saw it, she withdrew the key and
slipped it into her pocket. "This is Nixon's night out," she
murmured, as she led the way to the library. "Ellen will wait on
us and we'll have the baby down and play games and be as merry as
ever we can be,--to keep the ghosts away," she cried in fresh,
defiant tones that had just the faintest suggestion of hysteria in
them. "We shall succeed; I don't mean to think of it again. I'm
right in that, am I not? You look as if you thought so. Ah, Mr.
Packard was kind to secure me such a companion. I must prove my
gratitude to him by keeping you close to me. It was a mistake to
have those light-headed women visit me to-day. They tired more
than they comforted me."
I smiled, and put the question which concerned me most nearly.
"Does Nixon stay late when he goes out?"
She threw herself into a chair and took up her embroidery.
"He will to-night," was her answer. "A little grandniece of his is
coming on a late train from Pittsburgh. I don't think the train is
due till midnight, and after that he's got to take her to his
daughter's on Carey Street. It will be one o'clock at least before
he can be back."
I hid my satisfaction. Fate was truly auspicious. I would make
good use of his absence. There was nobody else in the house whose
surveillance I feared.
"Pray send for the baby now," I exclaimed. "I am eager to begin
our merry evening."
She smiled and rang the bell for Letty, the nurse.
Late that night I left my room and stole softly down-stairs. Mrs.
Packard had ordered a bed made up for herself in the nursery and
had retired early. So had Ellen and Letty. The house was
therefore clear below stairs, and after I had passed the second
story I felt myself removed from all human presence as though I
were all alone in the house.
This was a relief to me, yet the experience was not a happy one.
Ellen had asked permission to leave the light burning in the hall
during the mayor's absence, so the way was plain enough before me;
but no parlor floor looks inviting after twelve o'clock at night,
and this one held a secret as yet unsolved, which did not add to
its comfort or take the mysterious threat from the shadows lurking
in corners and under stairways which I had to pass. As I hurried
past the place where the clock had once stood, I thought of the
nurses' story and of the many frightened hearts which had throbbed
on the stairway I had just left and between the walls I was fast
approaching; but I did not turn back. That would have been an
acknowledgment of the truth of what I was at this very time
exerting my full faculties to disprove.
I knew little about the rear of the house and nothing about the
cellar. But when I had found my way into the kitchen and lit the
candle I had brought from my room, I had no difficulty in deciding
which of the many doors led below. There is something about a
cellar door which is unmistakable, but it took me a minute to
summon up courage to open it after I had laid my hand on its
old-fashioned latch. Why do we so hate darkness and the chill of
unknown regions, even when we know they are empty of all that can
hurt or really frighten us? I was as safe there as in my bed
up-stairs, yet I had to force myself to consider more than once the
importance of my errand and the positive result it might have in
allaying the disturbance in more than one mind, before I could lift
that latch and set my foot on the short flight which led into the
yawning blackness beneath me.
But once on my way I took courage. I pictured to myself the
collection of useful articles with which the spaces before me were
naturally, filled, and thought how harmless were the sources of the
grotesque shadows which bowed to me from every side and even from
the cement floor toward the one spot where the stones of the
foundation showed themselves clear of all encumbering objects. As
I saw how numerous these articles were, and how small a portion of
the wall itself was really visible, I had my first practical fear,
and a practical fear soon puts imaginary ones to flight. What if
some huge box or case of bottles should have been piled up in front
of the marked brick I was seeking? I am strong, but I could not
move such an object alone, and this search was a solitary one; I
had been forbidden to seek help.
The anxiety this possibility involved nerved me to instant action.
I leaped forward to the one clear spot singled out for me by chance
and began a hurried scrutiny of the short strip of wall which was
all that was revealed to me on the right-hand side. Did it hold
the marked brick? My little candle shook with eagerness and it was
with difficulty I could see the face of the brick close enough to
determine. But fortune favored, and presently my eye fell on one
whose surface showed a ruder, scratched cross. It was in the
lowest row and well within reach of my hand. If I could move it
the box would soon be in my possession--and what might that box not
Looking about, I found the furnace and soon the gas-jet which made
attendance upon it possible. This lit, I could set my candle down,
and yet see plainly enough to work. I had shears in my pocket. I