Part 3 out of 4
have had a man's training in the handling of tools and felt quite
confident that I could pry this brick out if it was as easily
loosened as Bess had given me to understand. My first thrust at
the dusty cement inclosing it encouraged me greatly. It was very
friable and so shallow that my scissors'-point picked it at once.
In five minutes' time the brick was clear, so that I easily lifted
it out and set it on the floor. The small black hole which was
left was large enough to admit my hand. I wasted no time thrusting
it in, expecting to feel the box at once and draw it out. But it
was farther back than I expected, and while I was feeling about
something gave way and fell with a slight, rustling noise down out
of my reach. Was it the box? No, for in another instant I had
come in contact with its broken edges and had drawn it out; the
falling object must have been some extra mortar, and it had gone
where? I did not stop to consider then. The object in my hand was
too alluring; the size, the shape too suggestive of a package of
folded bonds for me to think of anything but the satisfaction of my
curiosity and the consequent clearing of a very serious mystery.
Just at this moment, one of intense excitement, I heard, or thought
I heard, a stealthy step behind me. Forcing myself to calmness,
however, I turned and, holding the candle high convinced myself
that I was alone in the cellar.
Carrying the box nearer the light, I pulled off its already
loosened string and lifted the cover. In doing this I suffered
from no qualms of conscience. My duty seemed very clear to me, and
the end, a totally impersonal one, more than justified the means.
A folded paper met my eyes--one--not of the kind I expected; then
some letters whose address I caught at a glance. "Elizabeth
Brainard"--a discovery which might have stayed my hand at another
time, but nothing could stay it now. I opened the paper and looked
at it. Alas! it was only her marriage certificate; I had taken
all this trouble and all this risk, only to rescue for her the
proof of her union with one John Silverthorn Brainard. The same
name was on her letters. Why had Bess so strongly insisted on a
secret search, and why had she concealed her license in so strange
Greatly sobered, I restored the paper to its place in the box,
slipped on the string and prepared to leave the cellar with it.
Then I remembered the brick on the floor and the open hole where it
had been, and afterward the something which had fallen over within
and what this space might mean in a seemingly solid wall.
More excited now even than I had been at any, time before, I thrust
my hand in again and tried to sound the depth of this unexpected
far-reaching bole; but the size of my arm stood in the way of my
experiment, and, drawing out my hand, I looked about for a stick
and finding one, plunged that in. To my surprise and growing
satisfaction it went in its full length--about three feet. There
was a cavity on the other side of this wall of very sizable
dimensions. Had I struck the suspected passage? I had great hope
of it. Nothing else would account for so large a space on the
other side of a wall which gave every indication of being one with
the foundation. Catching up my stick I made a rude estimate of its
location, after which I replaced the brick, put out the gas, and
caught up Bess' box. Trembling, and more frightened now than at my
descent at my own footfall and tremulous pursuing shadow, I went
As I passed the corridor leading to the converted vestibule which
had so excited my interest in the afternoon, I paused and made a
hurried calculation. If the stick had been three feet long, as I
judged, and my stride was thirty inches, then the place of that
hole in the wall below was directly in a line with where I now
stood,--in other words, under the vestibule floor, as I had
How was I to verify, this without disturbing Mrs. Packard? That
was a question to sleep on. But it took me a long time to get to
I SEEK HELP
A bad night, a very bad night, but for all that I was down early
the next morning. Bess must have her box and I a breath of fresh
air before breakfast, to freshen me up a bit and clear my/ mind for
the decisive act, since my broken rest had failed to refresh me.
As I reached the parlor floor Nixon came out of the reception-room.
"Oh, Miss!" he exclaimed, "going out?" surprised, doubtless, to see
me in my hat and jacket.
"A few steps," I answered, and then stopped, not a little
disturbed; for in moving to open the door he had discovered that
the key was not in it and was showing his amazement somewhat
"Mrs. Packard took the key up to her room," I explained, thinking
that some sort of explanation was in order. "She is nervous, you
know, and probably felt safer with it there."
The slow shake of his head had a tinge of self-reproach in it.
"I was sorry to go out," he muttered. "I was very sorry to go
out,"--but the look which he turned upon me the next minute was of
a very different sort. "I don't see how you can go out yet," said
he, "unless you go by the back way. That leads into Stanton
Street; but perhaps you had just as lief go into Stanton Street."
There was impertinence in his voice as well as aggressiveness in
his eye, but I smiled easily enough and was turning toward the back
with every expectation of going by way of Stanton Street, when
Letty came running down the stairs with the key in her hand. I
don't think he was pleased, but he opened the door civilly enough
and I gladly went out, taking with me, however, a remembrance of
the furtive look with which he had noted the small package in my
hand. I pass over the joy with which Bess received the box and its
desired contents. I had lost all interest in the matter, which was
so entirely personal to herself, and, declining the ten dollars
which I knew she could ill afford, made my visit so short that I
was able to take a brisk walk down the street and yet be back in
time for breakfast.
This, like that of the preceding day, I took alone. Mrs. Packard
was well but preferred to eat up-stairs. I did not fret at this;
I was really glad, for now I could think and plan my action quite
unembarrassed by her presence. The opening under the vestibule
floor was to be sounded, and sounded this very morning, but on what
pretext? I could not take Mrs. Packard into my counsel, for that
would be to lessen the force of the discovery with which I yet
hoped to dissipate at one blow the superstitious fears I saw, it
was otherwise impossible to combat. I might interest Ellen, and I
was quite certain that I could interest the cook; but this meant
Nixon, also, who was always around and whose animosity to myself
was too mysteriously founded for me to trust him with any of my
secrets or to afford him any inkling of my real reason for being in
Yet help I must have and very efficient help, too. Should I
telegraph to Mayor Packard for some sort of order which would lead
to the tearing up of this end of the house? I could not do this
without fuller explanations than I could give in a telegram.
Besides, he was under sufficient pressure just now for me to spare
him the consideration of so disturbing a matter, especially as he
had left a substitute behind whose business it was, not only to
relieve Mrs. Packard in regard to the libelous paragraph, but in
all other directions to which his attention might be called. I
would see Mr. Steele; he would surely be able to think up some
scheme by which that aperture might be investigated without
creating too much disturbance in the house.
An opportunity for doing this was not long in presenting itself.
Mr. Steele came in about nine o'clock and passed at once into the
study. The next moment I was knocking at his door, my heart in any
mouth, but my determination strung up to the point of daring
anything and everything for the end I had in view.
Fortunately he came to the door; I could never have entered without
his encouragement. As I met his eye I was ashamed of the color my
cheeks undoubtedly showed, but felt reconciled the next minute, for
he was not quite disembarrassed himself, though he betrayed it by
a little extra paleness rather than by a flush, such as had so
disturbed myself. Both of us were quite natural in a moment,
however, and answering his courteous gesture I stepped in and at
once opened up my business.
"You must pardon me," said I, "for this infringement upon the usual
rules of this office. I have something very serious to say about
Mrs. Packard--oh, she's quite well; it has to do with a matter I
shall presently explain--and I wish to make a request."
"Thank you for the honor," he said, drawing up a chair for me.
But I did not sit, neither did I speak for a moment. I was
contemplating his features and thinking how faultless they were.
"I hardly know where to begin," I ventured at last. "I am burdened
with a secret, and it may all appear puerile to you. I don't know
whether to remind you first of Mayor Packard's intense desire to
see his wife's former cheerfulness restored--a task in which I have
been engaged to assist--or to plunge at once into my discoveries,
which are a little peculiar and possibly important, in spite of my
short acquaintance with the people under this roof and the nature
of my position here."
"You excite me," were his few quick but sharply accentuated words.
"What secret? What discoveries? I didn't know that the house held
any that were worth the attention of sensible persons like
I had not been looking at him directly, but I looked up at this and
was astonished to find that his interest in what I had said was
greater than appeared from his tone or even from his manner.
"You know the cause of Mrs. Packard's present uneasiness?" I asked.
"Mayor Packard told me--the paragraph which appeared in yesterday
morning's paper. I have tried to find out its author, but I have
failed so far."
"That is a trifle," I said. "The real cause--no, I prefer to
stand," I put in, for he was again urging me by a gesture to seat
"The real cause--" he repeated.
"--is one you will smile at, but which you must nevertheless
respect. She thinks--she has confided to us, in fact--that she has
seen, within these walls, what many others profess to have seen.
You understand me, Mr. Steele?"
"I don't know that I do, Miss Saunders."
"I find it hard to speak it; you have heard, of course, the common
gossip about this house."
"That it is haunted?" he smiled, somewhat disdainfully.
"Yes. Well, Mrs. Packard believes that she has seen what--what
gives this name to the house."
"Yes, a ghost--in the library one night."
The ejaculation was eloquent. I did not altogether understand it,
but its chief expression seemed to be contempt. I began to fear he
would not have sufficient sympathy with such an unreasoning state
of mind to give me the attention and assistance I desired. He saw
the effect it had upon me and hastened to say:
"The impression Mrs. Packard has made upon me was of a common-sense
woman. I'm sorry to hear that she is the victim of an
hallucination. What do you propose to do about it?--for I see that
you have some project in mind."
Then I told him as much of my story as seemed necessary to obtain
his advice and to secure his cooperation. I confided to him my
theory of the unexplainable sights and sounds which had so
unfortunately aroused Mrs. Packard's imagination, and what I had
done so far to substantiate it. I did not mention the bonds, nor
tell him of Bess and her box, but led him to think that my
experiments in the cellar had been the result of my discoveries in
the side entrance.
He listened gravely--I hardly feel justified in saying with a
surprise that was complimentary. I am not sure that it was. Such
men are difficult to understand. When I had finished, he remarked
with a smile:
"So you conclude that the floor of this place is movable and that
the antiquated ladies you mention have stretched their old limbs in
a difficult climb, just for the game of frightening out tenants
they did not desire for neighbors?"
"I know that it sounds ridiculous," I admitted, refraining still,
in spite of the great temptation, from mentioning the treasure
which it was the one wish of their lives to protect from the
discovery of others. "If they were quite sane I should perhaps not
have the courage to suggest this explanation of what has been heard
and seen here. But they are not quite sane; a glance at their faces
is enough to convince one of this, and from minds touched with
insanity anything can be expected. Will you go with me to this side
entrance and examine the floor for yourself? The condition of things
under it I will ask you to take my word for; you will hardly wish to
visit the cellar on an exploring expedition till you are reasonably
assured of its necessity."
His eye, which had grown curiously cold and unresponsive through
this, turned from me toward the desk before which he had been
sitting. It was heaped high with a batch of unopened letters, and
I could readily understand what was in his mind.
"You will be helping the mayor more by listening to me," I
continued earnestly, "than by anything you can do here. Believe
me, Mr. Steele, I am no foolish, unadvised girl. I know what I am
He suppressed an impatient sigh and endeavored to show a proper
appreciation of my own estimate of myself and the value of my
"I am at your service," said he.
I wished he had been a little more enthusiastic, but, careful not
to show my disappointment, I added, as I led the way to the door:
"I wish we could think of some way of securing ourselves from
interruption. Nixon does not like me, and will be sure to interest
himself in our movements if he sees us go down that hall together."
"Is there any harm in that?"
"There might be. He is suspicious of me, which makes it impossible
for one to count upon his conduct. If he saw us meddling with the
cabinet, he would be very apt to rush with his complaints to Mrs.
Packard, and I am not ready, yet to take her into our confidence.
I want first to be sure that my surmises are correct."
"You are quite right." If any sarcasm tinged this admission, he
successfully hid it. "I think I can dispose of Nixon for a short
time," he went on. "You are bent upon meddling with that vestibule
"Even if I should advise not?"
"Yes, Mr. Steele; even if you roused the household and called Mrs.
Packard down to witness my folly. But I should prefer to make my
experiments quickly and without any other witness than yourself.
I am not without some pride to counterbalance my presumption."
We had come to a stand before the door as I said this. As I
finished, he laid his hand on the knob, saying kindly:
"Your wishes shall be considered. Take a seat in the library, Miss
Saunders, and in a few moments I will join you. I have a task for
Nixon which will keep him employed for some time."
At this he opened the door and I glided out. Making my way to the
library I hastened in and threw myself into one of its great
chairs. In another minute I heard Mr. Steele summon Nixon, and in
the short interview which followed between them heard enough to
comprehend that he was loading the old butler's arms with a large
mass of documents and papers for immediate consumption in the
furnace. Nixon was not to leave till they were all safely
consumed. The grumble which followed from the old fellow's lips
was not the most cheerful sound in the world, but he went back with
his pile. Presently I heard the furnace door rattle and caught the
smell, which I was careful to explain to Ellen as she went by the
library door on her way up-stairs, lest Mrs. Packard should be
alarmed and come running down to see what was the matter.
The next moment Mr. Steele appeared in the doorway.
"Now what are we to do?" said he.
I led the way to what I have sometimes called "the recess" for lack
of a better name.
"This is the place," I cried, adding a few explanations as I saw
the curiosity with which he now surveyed its various features.
"Don't you see now that cabinet leans to the left? I declare it
leans more than it did yesterday; the floor certainly dips at that
He cast a glance where I pointed and instinctively put out his
hand, but let it fall as I remarked:
"The cabinet is not so very heavy. If I take out a few of those
big pieces of pottery, don't you think we could lift it away from
"And what would you do then?"
"Tear up the carpet and see what is the matter with this part of
the floor. Perhaps we shall find not only that, but something else
of a still more interesting nature"
He was standing on the sill of what had been the inner doorway. As
I said these words he fell back in careless grace against the panel
and remained leaning there in an easy attitude, assumed possibly
just to show me with what incredulity, and yet with what kindly
forbearance he regarded my childish enthusiasm.
"I don't understand," said he. "What do you expect to find?"
"Some spring or button by which this floor is made to serve the
purpose of a trap. I'm sure that there is an opening underneath--a
large opening. Won't you help me--"
I forgot to finish. In my eagerness to impress him I had turned in
his direction, and was staring straight at his easy figure and
faintly smiling features, when the molding against which he leaned
caught my eye. With a total absence of every other thought than
the idea which had suddenly come to me, I sprang forward and
pressed with my whole weight against one of the edges of the
molding which had a darker hue about it than the rest. I felt it
give, felt the floor start from under me at the same moment, and in
another heard the clatter and felt the force of the toppling
cabinet on my shoulder as it and I went shooting down into the hole
I had been so anxious to penetrate, though not in just this
The cry, uttered by Mr. Steele as I disappeared from before his
eyes, was my first conscious realization of what had happened after
I had struck the ground below.
"Are you hurt?" he cried, with real commiseration, as he leaned
over to look for me in the hollow at his feet. "Wait and I will
drop down to you," he went on, swinging himself into a position to
I was trembling with the shock and probably somewhat bruised, but
not hurt enough to prevent myself from scrambling to my feet, as he
slid down to my side and offered me his arm for support.
"What did you do?" he asked. "Was it you who made this trap give
way? I see that it is a trap now,"--and he pointed to the square
boarding hampered by its carpet which hung at one side.
"I pressed one of those round knobs in the molding," I explained,
laughing to hide the tears of excitement in my eyes. "It had a
loose look. I did it without thinking,--that is, without thinking
enough of what I was doing to be sure that I was in a safe enough
position for such an experiment. But I'm all right, and so is the
cabinet. See!" I pointed to where it stood, still upright,
its contents well shaken up but itself in tolerably good condition.
"You are fortunate," said he. "Shall I help you up out of this?
Your curiosity must be amply satisfied."
"Not yet, not yet," I cried. "Oh! it is as I thought," I now
exclaimed, peering around the corner of the cabinet into a place of
total darkness. "The passage is here, running directly under the
alley-way. Help me, help me, I must follow it to the end. I'm
sure it communicates with the house next door."
He had to humor me. I already had one hand on the cabinet's edge,
and should have pushed it aside by my own strength if he had not
interfered. The space we were in was so small, some four feet
square, I should judge, that the utmost we could do was to shove
one corner of it slightly aside, so as to make a narrow passage
into the space beyond. Through this I slipped and should have
stepped recklessly on if he had not caught me back and suggested
that he go first into what might have its own pitfalls and dangers.
I did not fear these, but was glad, nevertheless, to yield to his
suggestion and allow him to pass me. As he did so, he took out a
match from his pocket and in another moment had lit and held it
out. A long, narrow vaulting met our eyes, very rude and propped
up with beams in an irregular way. It was empty save for a wooden
stool or some such object which stood near our feet. Though the
small flame was insufficient to allow us to see very far, I was
sure that I caught the outlines of a roughly made door at the
extreme end and was making for this door, careless of his judgment
and detaining hand, when a quick, strong light suddenly struck me
in the face. In the square hollow made by the opening of this
door, I saw the figure of Miss Charity with a lighted lantern in
her hand. She was coming my way. the secret of the ghostly
visitations which had deceived so many people was revealed.
HARDLY A COINCIDENCE
The old lady's eyes met ours without purpose or intelligence. It
was plain that she did not see us; also plain that she was held
back in her advance by some doubt in her beclouded brain. We could
see her hover, as it were, at her end of the dark passage, while I
held my breath and Mr. Steele panted audibly. Then gradually she
drew back and disappeared behind the door, which she forgot to
shut, as we could tell from the gradually receding light and the
faint fall of her footsteps after the last dim flicker had faded
When she was quite gone, Mr. Steele spoke:
"You must be satisfied now," he said. "Do you still wish to go on,
or shall we return and explain this accident to the girls whose
voices I certainly hear in the hall overhead?"
"We must go back," I reluctantly consented. A wild idea lead
crossed my brain of following out my first impulse and of charging
Miss Charity in her own house with the visits which had from time
to time depopulated this house.
"I shall leave you to make the necessary explanations," said he.
"I am really rushed with business and should be down-town on the
mayor's affairs at this very moment."
"I am quite ready," said I. Then as I squeezed my way through
between the corner of the cabinet and the foundation wall, I could
not help asking him how he thought it possible for these old ladies
to mount to the halls above from the bottom of the four-foot hole
in which we now stood.
"The same way in which I now propose that you should," he replied,
lifting into view the object we had seen at one side of the
passage, and which now showed itself to be a pair of folding steps.
"Canny enough to discover or perhaps to open this passage, they
were canny enough to provide themselves with means of getting out
of it. Shall I help you?"
"In a minute," I said. "I am so curious. How do you suppose they
worked this trap from here? They did not press the spring in the
He pointed to one side of the opening, where part of the supporting
mechanism was now visible.
"They worked that. It is all simple enough on this side of the
trap; the puzzle is about the other. How did they manage to have
all this mechanism put in without rousing any one's attention? And
why so much trouble?"
"Some time I will tell you," I replied, putting my foot on the
step. "O girls!" I exclaimed, as two screams rang out above and
two agitated faces peered down upon us. "I've had an accident and
a great adventure, but I've solved the mystery of the ghost. It
was just one of the two poor old ladies next door. They used to
come up through this trap. Where is Mrs. Packard?"
They were too speechless with wonder to answer me. I had to reach
up my arms twice before either of them would lend me a helping
hand. But when I was once up and Mr. Steele after me, the questions
they asked came so thick and fast that I almost choked in my endeavor
to answer them and to get away. Nixon appeared in the middle of it,
and, congratulating myself that Mr. Steele had been able to slip
away to the study while I was talking to the girls, I went over the
whole story again for his benefit, after which I stopped abruptly
and asked again where Mrs. Packard was.
Nixon, with a face as black as the passage from which I had just
escaped, muttered some words about queer doings for respectable
people, but said nothing about his mistress unless the few words he
added to his final lament about the cabinet contained some allusion
to her fondness for the articles it held. We could all see that
they had suffered greatly from their fall. Annoyed at his manner,
which was that of a man personally aggrieved, I turned to Ellen.
"You have just been up-stairs," I said. "Is Mrs. Packard still in
"She was, but not more than five minutes ago she slipped down-
stairs and went out. It was just before the noise you made falling
down into this hole."
Out! I was sorry; I wanted to disburden myself at once.
"Well, leave everything as it is," I commanded, despite the
rebellion in Nixon's eye. "I will wait in the reception-room till
she returns and then tell her at once. She can blame nobody but
me, if she is displeased at what she sees."
Nixon grumbled something and moved off. The girls, full of talk,
ran up-stairs to have it out in the nursery with Letty, and I went
toward the front. How long I should have to stay there before Mrs.
Packard's return I did not know. She might stay away an hour and
she might stay away all day. I could simply wait. But it was a
happy waiting. I should see a renewal of joy in her and a bounding
hope for the future when once I told any tale. It was enough to
keep me quiet for the three long hours I sat there with my face to
the window, watching for the first sight of her figure on the
crossing leading into our street.
When it came, it was already lunch-time, but there was no evidence
of hurry in her manner; there was, rather, an almost painful
hesitation. As she drew nearer, she raised her eyes to the house-
front and I saw with what dread she approached it, and what courage
it took for her to enter it at all.
The sight of my face at the window altered her expression, however,
and she came quite cheerfully up the steps. Careful to forestall
Nixon in his duty, I opened the front door, and, drawing her into
the room where I had been waiting, I blurted out my whole story
before she could remove her hat.
"O Mrs. Packard," I cried, "I have such good news for you. The
thing you feared hasn't any meaning. The house was never haunted;
the shadows which have been seen here were the shadows of real
beings. There is a secret entrance to this house, and through it
the old ladies next door, have come from time to time in search of
their missing bonds, or else to frighten off all other people from
the chance of finding them. Shall I show you where the place is?"
Her face, when I began, had shown such changes I was startled; but
by the time I had finished a sort of apathy had fallen across it
and her voice sounded hollow as she cried: "What are you telling
me? A secret entrance we knew nothing about and the Misses Quinlan
using it to hunt about these halls at night! Romantic, to be sure.
Yes, let me see the place. It is very interesting and very
inconvenient. Will you tell Nixon, please, to have this passage
I felt a chill. If it was interest she felt it was a very forced
one. She even paused to take off her hat. But when I had drawn
her through the library into the side hall, and shown her the great
gap where the cabinet had stood, I thought she brightened a little
and showed some of the curiosity I expected. But it was very
easily appeased, and before I could have made the thing clear to
her she was back in the library, fingering her hat and listening,
as it seemed to me, to everything but my voice.
I did not understand it.
Making one more effort I came up close to her and impetuously cried
"Don't you see what this does to the phantasm you professed to have
seen yourself once in this very spot? It proves it a myth, a
product of your own imagination, something which it must certainly
be impossible for you ever to fear again. That is why I made the
search which has ended in this discovery. I wanted to rid you of
your forebodings. Do assure me that I have. It will be such a
comfort to me--and how much more to the mayor!"
Her lack-luster eyes fell; her fingers closed on the hat whose
feathers she had been trifling with, and, lifting it, she moved
softly into the reception-room and from there into the hall and up
the front stairs. I stood aghast; she had not even heard what I
had been saying.
By the time I had recovered my equanimity enough to follow, she had
disappeared into her own room. It could not have been in a very
comfortable condition, for there were evidences about the hall that
it was being thoroughly swept. As I endeavored to pass the door,
I inadvertently struck the edge of a little taboret standing in my
way. It toppled and a little book lying on it slid to the floor;
as I stooped to pick it up my already greatly disconcerted mind was
still further affected by the glimpse which was given me of its
title. It was this
THE ECCENTRICITIES OF GHOSTS AND COINCIDENCES
SUGGESTING SPIRITUAL INTERFERENCE
Struck forcibly by a coincidence suggesting something quite
different from spiritual interference, I allowed the book to open
in my hand, which it did at this evidently frequently conned
A book was in my hand and a strong light was shining on it and
on me from a lamp on a near-by table. The story was interesting
and I was following the adventures it was relating, with eager
interest, when suddenly the character of the light changed, a
mist seemed to pass before my eyes and, on my looking up, I saw
standing between me and the lamp the figure of a man, which
vanished as I looked, leaving in my breast an unutterable dread
and in my memory the glare of two unearthly eyes whose menace
could mean but one thing--death.
The next day I received news of a fatal accident to my husband.
I closed the little volume with very strange thoughts. If Mayor
Packard had believed himself to have received an explanation of his
wife's strange condition in the confession she had made of having
seen an apparition such as this in her library, or if I had
believed myself to have touched the bottom of the mystery absorbing
this unhappy household in my futile discoveries of the human and
practical character of the visitants who had haunted this house,
then Mayor Packard and I had made a grave mistake.
IN THE LIBRARY
I was still in Mrs. Packard's room, brooding over the enigma
offered by the similarity between the account I had just read and
the explanation she had given of the mysterious event which had
thrown such a cloud over her life, when, moved by some unaccountable
influence, I glanced up and saw Nixon standing in the open doorway,
gazing at me with an uneasy curiosity I was sorry enough to have
"Mrs. Packard wants you," he declared with short ceremony. "She's
in the library." And, turning on his heel, he took his deliberate
I followed hard after him, and, being brisk in my movements, was at
his back before he was half-way to the bottom. He seemed to resent
this, for he turned a baleful look back at me and purposely delayed
his steps without giving me the right of way.
"Is Mrs. Packard in a hurry?" I asked. "If so, you had better let
He gave no appearance of having heard me; his attention had been
caught by something going on at the rear of the hall we were now
approaching. Following his anxious glance, I saw the door of the
mayor's study open and Mrs. Packard come out. As we reached the
lower step, she passed us on her way to the library. Wondering
what errand had taken her to the study, which she was supposed not
to visit, I turned to join her and caught a glimpse of the old
man's face. It was more puckered, scowling and malignant of aspect
than usual. I was surprised that Mrs. Packard had not noticed it.
Surely it was not the countenance of a mere disgruntled servant.
Something not to be seen on the surface was disturbing this old
man; and, moving in the shadows as I was, I questioned whether it
would not conduce to some explanation between Mrs. Packard
and myself if I addressed her on the subject of this old serving-
man's peculiar ways.
But the opportunity for doing this did not come that morning. On
entering the library I was met by Mrs. Packard with the remark:
"Have you any interest in politics? Do you know anything about the
"I have an interest in Mayor Packard's election," I smilingly
assured her; "and I know that in this I represent a great number of
people in this town if not in the state."
"You want to see him governor? You desired this before you came to
this house? You believe him to be a good man--the right man for
"I certainly do, Mrs. Packard."
"And you represent a large class who feel the same?"
"I think so, Mrs. Packard."
"I am so glad!" Her tone was almost hysterical. "My heart is set
on this election," she ardently explained. "It means so much this
year. My husband is very ambitious. So am I--for him. I would
give--" there she paused, caught back, it would seem, by some
warning thought. I took advantage of her preoccupation to
scrutinize her features more closely than I had dared to do while
she was directly addressing me. I found them set in the stern mold
of profound feeling--womanly feeling, no doubt, but one actuated by
causes far greater than the subject, serious as it was, apparently
called for. She would give--
What lay beyond that give?
I never knew, for she never finished her sentence.
Observing the breathless interest her manner evoked, or possibly
realizing how nearly she had come to an unnecessary if not unwise
self-betrayal, she suddenly smoothed her brow and, catching up a
piece of embroidery from the table, sat down with it in her hand.
"A wife is naturally heart and soul with her husband," she
observed, with an assumption of composure which restored some sort
of naturalness to the conversation. "You are a thinking person, I
see, and what is more, a conscientious one. There are many, many
such in town; many amongst the men as well as amongst the women.
Do you think I am in earnest about this--that Mr. Packard's chances
could be affected by--by anything that might be said about me? You
saw, or heard us say, at least, that my name had been mentioned in
the morning paper in a way not altogether agreeable to us. It was
false, of course, but--" She started, and her work fell from her
hands. The door-bell had rung and we could hear Nixon in the hall
hastening to answer it.
"Miss Saunders," she hurriedly interposed with a great effort to
speak naturally, "I have told Nixon that I wish to see Mr. Steele
if he comes in this morning. I wish to speak to him about the
commission intrusted to him by my husband. I confess Mr. Steele
has not inspired me with the confidence that Mr. Packard feels in
him and I rather shrink from this interview. Will you be good
enough--rather will you show me the great kindness of sitting on
that low divan by the fireplace where you will not be visible--see,
you may have my work to busy yourself with--and if--he may not,
you know--if he should show the slightest disposition to transgress
in any way, rise and show yourself?"
I was conscious of flushing slightly, but she was not looking my
way, and the betrayal cost me only a passing uneasiness. She had,
quite without realizing it, offered me the one opportunity I most
desired. In my search for a new explanation of Mrs. Packard's
rapidly changing moods, I had returned to my first suspicion--the
attraction and possibly the passion of the handsome secretary for
herself. I had very little reason for entertaining such a
possibility. I had seen nothing on his part to justify it and but
little on hers.
Yet in the absence of every other convincing cause of trouble I
allowed myself to dwell on this one, and congratulated myself upon
the chance she now offered me of seeing and hearing how he would
comport himself when he thought that he was alone with her.
Assured by the sounds in the hall that Mr. Steele was approaching,
I signified my acquiescence with her wishes, and, taking the
embroidery from her hand, sat down in the place she had pointed
I heard the deep breath she drew, forgot in an instant my purpose
of questioning her concerning Nixon, and settled myself to listen,
not only to such words as must inevitably pass between them, but to
their tones, to the unconscious sigh, to whatever might betray his
feeling toward her or hers toward him, convinced as I now was that
feeling of some kind lay back of an interview which she feared to
hold without the support of another's secret presence.
The calm even tones of the gentleman himself, modulated to an
expression of utmost deference, were the first to break the
"You wish to see me, Mrs. Packard?"
"Yes." The tremble in this ordinary monosyllable was slight but
quite perceptible. "Mr. Packard has given you a task, concerning
the necessity of which I should be glad to learn your opinion. Do
you think it wise to--to probe into such matters? Not that I mean
to deter you. You are under Mr. Packard's orders, but a word from
so experienced a man would be welcome, if only to reconcile me to
an effort which must lead to the indiscriminate use of my name in
quarters where it hurts a woman to imagine it used at all."
This, with her eyes on his face of this I felt sure. Her tone was
much too level for her not to be looking directly at him. To any
response he might give of the same nature I had no clue, but his
tone when he answered was as cool and deferentially polite as was
to be expected from a man chosen by Mayor Packard for his private
secretary. "Mrs. Packard, your fears are very natural. A woman
shrinks from such inquiries, even when sustained by the
consciousness that nothing can rob her name of its deserved honor.
But if we let one innuendo pass, how can we prevent a second? The
man who did this thing should be punished. In this I agree with
She stirred impulsively. I could hear the rustle of her dress as
she moved, probably to lessen the distance between them. "You are
honest with me?" she urged. "You do agree with Mr. Packard in
His answer was firm, straightforward, and, as far as I could judge,
free from any objectionable feature. "I certainly do, Mrs. Packard.
The hesitation I expressed when he first spoke was caused by the
one consideration mentioned,--my fear lest something might go amiss
in C---- to-night if I busied myself otherwise than with the
necessities of the speech with which he is about to open his
"I see. You are very desirous that Mr. Packard should win in this
"I am his secretary, and was largely instrumental in securing his
nomination for governor," was the simple reply. There was a pause
--how filled, I would have given half my expected salary to know.
Then I heard her ask him the very question she had asked me.
"Do you think that in the event of your not succeeding in forcing
an apology from the man who inserted that objectionable paragraph
against myself--that--that such hints of something being wrong with
me will in any way affect Mr. Packard's chances--lose him votes, I
mean? Will the husband suffer because of some imagined lack in his
"One can not say." Thus appealed to, the man seemed to weigh his
words carefully, out of consideration for her, I thought. "No real
admirer of the mayor's would go over to the enemy from any such
cause as that. Only the doubtful--the half-hearted--those who are
ready to grasp at any excuse for voting with the other party, would
allow a consideration of the mayor's domestic relations to
interfere with their confldence in him as a public officer."
"But these--" How I wish I could have seen her face! "These
half-hearted voters, their easily stifled convictions are what make
majorities," she stammered. Mr. Steele may have bowed; he probably
did, for she went on confidently and with a certain authority not
observable in the tone of her previous remarks. "You are right.
The paragraph reflecting on me must be traced to its source. The
lie must be met and grappled with. I was not well last week and
showed it, but I am perfectly well to-day and am resolved to show
that, too. No skeleton hangs in the Packard closet. I am a happy
wife and a happy mother. Let them come here and see. This morning
I shall issue invitations for a dinner to be given the first night
you can assure me Mr. Packard will be at home. Do you know of any
"On Friday week he has no speech to make." Mrs. Packard seemed to
consider. Finally she said: "When you see him, tell him to leave
that evening free. And, Mr. Steele, if you will be so good, give
me the names of some of those halfhearted ones--critical people who
have to see in order to believe. I shall have them at my table
--I shall let them see that the shadow which enveloped me was
ephemeral; that a woman can rise above all weakness in the support
of a husband she loves and honors as I do Mr. Packard."
She must have looked majestic. Her voice thrilling with
anticipated triumph rang through the room, awaking echoes which
surely must have touched the heart of this man if, as I had
sometimes thought, he cherished an unwelcome admiration for her.
But when he answered, there was no hint in his finely modulated
tones of any chord having been touched in his breast, save the
legitimate one of respectful appreciation of a woman who fulfilled
the expectation of one alive to what is admirable in her sex.
"Your idea is a happy one," said he. "I can give you three names
now. Those of Judge Whittaker, Mr. Dumont, the lawyer, and the two
Mowries, father and son."
"Thank you. I am indebted to you, Mr. Steele, for the patience
with which you have met Land answered my doubts."
He made some reply, added something about not seeing her again till
he returned with the mayor, then I heard the door open and quietly
shut. The interview was over, without my having felt called upon to
show myself. An interval of silence, and then I heard her voice.
She had thrown herself down at the piano and was singing gaily,
Approaching her in undisguised wonder at this new mood, I stood at
her back and listened. I do not suppose she had what is called a
great voice, but the feeling back of it at this moment of reaction
gave it a great quality. The piece--some operatic aria--was sung
in a way to thrill the soul. Opening with a burst, it ended with
low notes of an intense sweetness like sobs, not of grief, but
happiness. In their midst and while the tones sank deepest, a
child's voice rose in the hall and we heard, uttered at the very
"Mama busy; mama sing."
With a cry she sprang from the piano and, bounding to the door,
flung it open and caught her child in her arms.
"Darling! darling! my darling!" she exclaimed in a burst of
mother-rapture, crushing the child to her breast and kissing it
Then she began to dance, holding the baby in her arms and humming
a waltz. As I stood on one side in my own mood of excited
sympathy, I caught fleeting glimpses of their two faces, as she
went whirling about. Hers was beautiful in her new relief--if it
was a relief--the child's dimpled with delight at the rapid
movement--a lovely picture. Letty, who stood waiting in the
doorway, showed a countenance full of surprise. Mrs. Packard was
the first to feel tired. Stopping her dance, she peered round at
the baby's face and laughed.
"Was that good?" she asked. "Are you glad to have mama merry
again? I am going to be merry all the time now. With such a dear,
dear dearie of a baby, how can I help it?" And whirling about in
my direction, she held up the child for inspection, crying: "Isn't
she a darling! Do you wonder at my happiness?"
Indeed I did not; the sweet baby-face full of glee was
irresistible; so was the pat-pat of the two dimpled hands on her
mother's shoulders. With a longing all women can understand, I
held out my own arms.
"I wonder if she will come to me?" said I.
But though I got a smile, the little hands closed still more
tightly round the mother's neck.
"Mama dear!" she cried, "mama dear!" and the tender emphasis on the
endearing word completed the charm. Tears sprang to Mrs. Packard's
eyes, and it was with difficulty that she passed the clinging child
over to the nurse waiting to take her out.
"That was the happiest moment of my life!" fell unconsciously from
Mrs. Packard's lips as the two disappeared; but presently, meeting
my eyes, she blushed and made haste to remark:
"I certainly did Mr. Steele an arrant injustice. He was very
respectful; I wonder how I ever got the idea he could be anything
Anxious myself about this very fact, I attempted to reply, but she
gave me no opportunity.
"And now for those dinner invitations!" she gaily suggested.
"While I feel like it I must busy myself in making out my list. It
will give me something new to think about."
THE TWO WEIRD SISTERS
Ellen seemed to understand my anxiety about Mrs. Packard and to
sympathize with it. That afternoon as I passed her in the hall she
"I have just been unpacking that bag and putting everything back
into place. She told me she had packed it in readiness to go with
Mr. Packard if he desired it at the last minute."
I doubted this final statement, but the fact that the bag had been
unpacked gave me great relief. I began to look forward with much
pleasure to a night of unbroken rest.
Alas! rest was not for me yet. Relieved as to Mrs. Packard, I
found my mind immediately reverting to the topic which had before
engrossed it, though always before in her connection. The mystery
of the so-called ghosts had been explained, but not the loss of the
bonds, which had driven my poor neighbors mad. This was still a
fruitful subject of thought, though I knew that such well-balanced
and practical minds as Mayor Packard's or Mr. Steele's would have
but little sympathy with the theory ever recurring to me. Could
this money be still in the house?--the possibility of such a fact
worked and worked upon my imagination till I grew as restless as I
had been over the mystery of the ghosts and presently quite as
ready, for action.
Possibly the hurried glimpse I had got of Miss Thankful's
countenance a little while before, in the momentary visit she paid
to the attic window at which I had been accustomed to see either
her or her sister constantly sit, inspired me with my present
interest in this old and wearing trouble of theirs and the
condition into which it had thrown their minds. I thought of their
nights of broken rest while they were ransacking the rooms below
and testing over and over the same boards, the same panels for the
secret hiding-place of their lost treasure, of their foolish
attempts to scare away all other intruders, and the racking of
nerve and muscle which must have attended efforts so out of keeping
with their age and infirmities.
It would be natural to regard the whole matter as an hallucination
on their part, to disbelieve in the existence of the bonds, and to
regard Miss Thankful's whole story to Mrs. Packard as the play of
a diseased imagination.
But I could not, would not, carry my own doubts to this extent.
The bonds had been in existence; Miss Thankful had seen them; and
the one question calling for answer now was, whether they had been
long ago found and carried off, or whether they were still within
the reach of the fortunate hand capable of discovering their
The nurse who, according to Miss Thankful, had wakened such dread
in the dying man's breast as to drive him to the attempt which had
ended in this complete loss of the whole treasure, appeared to me
the chief factor in the first theory. If any one had ever found
these bonds, it was she; how, it was not for me to say, in my
present ignorant state of the events following the reclosing of the
house after this old man's death and burial. But the supposition
of an utter failure on the part of this woman and of every other
subsequent resident of the house to discover this mysterious
hiding-place, wakened in me no real instinct of search. I felt
absolutely and at once that any such effort in my present blind
state of mind would be totally unavailing. The secret trap and the
passage it led to, with all the opportunities they offered for the
concealment of a few folded documents, did not, strange as it may
appear at first blush, suggest the spot where these papers might be
lying hid. The manipulation of the concealed mechanism and the
difficulties attending a descent there, even on the part of a well
man, struck me as precluding all idea of any such solution to this
mystery. Strong as dying men sometimes are in the last flickering
up of life in the speedily dissolving frame, the lowering of this
trap, and, above all, the drawing of it back into place, which I
instinctively felt would be the hardest act of the two, would be
beyond the utmost fire or force conceivable in a dying man. No,
even if he, as a member of the family, knew of this subterranean
retreat, he could not have made use of it. I did not even accept
the possibility sufficiently to approach the place again with this
new inquiry in mind. Yet what a delight lay in the thought of a
possible finding of this old treasure, and the new life which
would follow its restoration to the hands which had once touched
it only to lose it on the instant.
The charm of this idea was still upon me when I woke the next
morning. At breakfast I thought of the bonds, and in the hour
which followed, the work I was doing for Mrs. Packard in the
library was rendered difficult by the constant recurrence of the
one question into my mind: "What would a man in such a position
do with the money he was anxious to protect from the woman he saw
coming and secure to his sister who had just stepped next door?"
When a moment came at last in which I could really indulge in these
intruding thoughts, I leaned back in my chair and tried to
reconstruct the room according to Mrs. Packard's description of
it at that time. I even pulled my chair over to that portion of
the room where his bed had stood, and, choosing the spot where
his head would naturally lie, threw back my own on the reclining
chair I had chosen, and allowed my gaze to wander over the walls
before me in a vague hope of reproducing, in my mind, the ideas
which must have passed through his before he rose and thrust
those papers into their place of concealment. Alas! those walls
were barren of all suggestion, and my eyes went wandering through
the window before me in a vague appeal, when a sudden remembrance
of his last moments struck me sharply and I bounded up with a new
thought, a new idea, which sent me in haste to my room and brought
me down again in hat and jacket. Mrs. Packard had once said that
the ladies next door were pleased to have callers, and advised me
to visit them. I would test her judgment in the matter. Early
though it was, I would present myself at the neighboring door and
see what my reception would be. The discovery I had made in my
unfortunate accident in the old entry way should be my excuse.
Apologies were in order from us to them; I would make these
I was prepared to confront poverty in this bare and
comfortless-looking abode of decayed gentility. But I did not
expect quite so many evidences of it as met my eyes as the door
swung slowly open some time after my persistent knock, and I
beheld Miss Charity's meager figure outlined against walls and
a flight of uncarpeted stairs such as I had never seen before
out of a tenement house. I may have dropped my eyes, but I
recovered myself immediately. Marking the slow awakening of
pleasure in the wan old face as she recognized me, I uttered
some apology for my early call and then waited to see if she
would welcome me in.
She not only did so, but did it with such a sudden breaking up of
her rigidity into the pliancy of a naturally hospitable nature,
that my heart was touched, and I followed her into the great bare
apartment, which must have once answered the purposes of a drawing-
room, with very different feelings from those with which I had been
accustomed to look upon her face in the old attic window.
"I should like to see your sister, too," I said, as she hastily,
but with a certain sort of ceremony, too, pushed forward one of the
ancient chairs which stood at long intervals about the room. "I
have not been your neighbor very long, but I should like to pay my
respects to both of you."
I had purposely spoken with the formal precision she had been
accustomed to in her earlier days, and I could see how perceptibly
her self-respect returned at this echo of the past, giving her a
sudden dignity which made me forget for the moment her neglected
"I will summon my sister," she returned, disappearing quietly from
I waited fifteen minutes, then Miss Thankful entered, dressed in
her very best, followed by my first acquaintance in her same gown,
but with a little cap on her head. The cap, despite its faded
ribbons carefully pressed out but with too cold an iron, gave her
an old-time fashionable air which for the moment created the
impression that she might have been a beauty and a belle in her
early days, which I afterward discovered to be true.
It was Miss Thankful, however, who had the personal presence, and
it was she who now expressed their sense of the honor, pushing
forward another chair than that from which I had risen, with the
"Take this, I pray. Many an honored guest has occupied this seat.
Let us see you in it."
I could detect no difference between the one she offered and the
one in which I had just sat, but I at once stepped forward and took
the chair she proffered. She bowed and Miss Charity bowed, and
then they seated themselves side by side on the hair-cloth sofa,
which was the only other article of furniture in the room.
"We are--we are preparing to move," stammered Miss Charity, a faint
flush tingeing her faded cheeks, as she caught the involuntary
glance I had cast about me.
Miss Thankful bridled and gave her sister a look of open rebuke.
She had, as one could instantly see from her strong features and
purposeful ways, been a woman of decided parts and of strict,
upright character. Weakened as she was, the shadow of an untruth
disturbed her. Her pride ran in a different groove from that of
her once over-complimented, over-fostered sister. She was going to
add a protest in words to that expressed by her gesture, but I
hastily prevented this by coming at once to the point of my errand.
"My excuse for this early call," I said, this time addressing Miss
Thankful, "lies in an adventure which occurred to me yesterday in
the adjoining house." It was painful to see how they both started,
and how they instinctively caught each at the other's hand as they
sat side by side on the sofa, as if only thus they could bear the
shock of what might be coming next. I had to nerve myself to
proceed. "You know, or rather I gather from your kind greetings
that you know that I am at present staying with Mrs. Packard. She
is very kind and we spend many pleasant hours together; but of
course some of the time I have to be alone, and then I try to amuse
myself by looking about at the various interesting things which are
scattered through the house."
A gasp from Miss Charity, a look still more expressive from Miss
Thankful. I hastened to cut their suspense short.
"You know the little cabinet they have placed in the old entrance
pointing this way? Well, I was looking at that when the whim
seized me--I Hardly know how--to press one of the knobs in the
molding which runs about the doorway, when instantly everything
gave way under me and I fell into a deep hole which had been
scooped out of the alley-way--nobody knows for what."
A cry and they were on their feet, still holding hands and
endeavoring to show nothing but concern for my disaster.
"Oh, I wasn't hurt," I smiled. "I was frightened, of course, but
not so much as to lose my curiosity. When I got to my feet again,
I looked about in this surprising hole--"
"It was our uncle's way of reaching his winecellar," Miss Thankful
explained with great dignity as she and her sister sank back into
their seats. "He had some remarkable old wine, and, as he was
covetous of it, he conceived this way of securing it from
everybody's knowledge but his own. It was a strange way, but he
was a little touched," she added, laying a slow impressive finger
on her forehead, "just a little touched here."
The short, significant glance she cast at Charity as she said this,
and the little smile she gave were to give me to understand that
this weakness had descended in the family. I felt my heart
contract; my self-imposed task was a harder one than I had
anticipated, but I could not shirk it now. "Did this wine-cellar
you mention run all the way to this house?" I lightly inquired. "I
stumbled on a passage leading here, which I thought you ought to
know is now open to any one in Mayor Packard's house. Of course,
it will be closed soon," I hastened to add as Miss Charity
hurriedly rose at her sister's quick look and anxiously left the
room. "Mrs. Packard will see to that."
"Yes, yes, I have no doubt; she's a very good woman, a very fair
woman, don't you think so, Miss--"
"My name is Saunders."
"A very good name. I knew a fine family of that name when I was
younger. There was one of them--his name was Robert--" Here she
rambled on for several minutes as if this topic and no other filled
her whole mind; then, as if suddenly brought back to what started
it, she uttered in sudden anxiety, "You think well of Mrs. Packard?
You have confidence in her?"
I allowed myself to speak with all the enthusiasm she so greedily
"Indeed I have," I cried. "I think she can be absolutely depended
on to do the right thing every time. You are fortunate in having
such good neighbors at the time of this mishap."
At this minute Miss Charity reentered. Her panting condition, as
well as the unsettled position of the cap on her head, told very
plainly where she had been. Reseating herself, she looked at Miss
Thankful and Miss Thankful looked at her, but no word passed. They
evidently understood each other.
"I'm obliged to Mrs. Packard," now fell from Miss Thankful's lips,
"and to you, too, young lady, for acquainting us with this
accident. The passage we extended ourselves after taking up our
abode in this house. We--we did not see why we should not profit
by our ancestor's old and undiscovered wine-cellar to secure
certain things which were valuable to us."
Her hesitation in uttering this final sentence--a sentence all the
more marked because naturally, she was a very straightforward
person--awoke my doubt and caused me to ask myself what she meant
by this word "secure." Did she mean, as circumstances went to show
and as I had hitherto believed, that they had opened up this
passage for the purpose of a private search in their old home for
the lost valuables they believed to be concealed there? Or had
they, under some temporary suggestion of their disorganized brains,
themselves hidden away among the rafters of this unexplored spot
the treasure they believed lost and now constantly bewailed?
The doubt thus temporarily raised in my mind made me very uneasy
for a moment, but I soon dismissed it and dropping this subject for
the nonce, began to speak of the houses as they now looked and of
the changes which had evidently been made in them since they had
left the one and entered the other.
"I understand," I ventured at last, "that in those days this house
also had a door opening on the alley-way. Where did it lead--do
you mind my asking?--into a room or into a hallway? I am so
interested in old houses."
They did not resent this overt act of curiosity; I had expected
Miss Thankful to, but she didn't. Some recollection connected with
the name of Saunders had softened her heart toward me and made her
regard with indulgence an interest which she might otherwise have
looked upon as intrusive.
"We long ago boarded up that door," she answered. "It was of very
little use to us from our old library."
"It looked into one of the rooms then?" I persisted, but with a
wary gentleness which I felt could not offend.
"No; there is no room there, only a passageway. But it has closets
in it, and we did not like to be seen going to them any time of
day. The door had glass panes in it, you know, just like a window.
It made the relations so intimate with people only a few feet
"Naturally," I cried, "I don't wonder you wanted to shut them off
if you could." Then with a sudden access of interest which I
vainly tried to hide, I thought of the closets and said with a
smile, "The closets were for china, I suppose; old families have so
Miss Charity nodded, complacency in every feature; but Miss
Thankful thought it more decorous to seem to be indifferent in
"Yes, china; old pieces, not very valuable. We gave what we had of
worth to our sister when she married. We keep other things there,
too, but they are not important. We seldom go to those closets
now, so we don't mind the darkness."
"I--I dote on old china," I exclaimed, carefully restraining myself
from appearing unduly curious. "Won't you let me look at it? I
know that it is more valuable than you think. It will make me
happy for the whole day, if you will let me see these old pieces.
They may not look beautiful to you, you are so accustomed to them;
but to me every one must have a history, or a history my
imagination will supply."
Miss Charity looked gently but perceptibly frightened. She shook
her head, saying in her weak, fond tones:
"They are too dusty; we are not such housekeepers as we used to be;
I am ashamed--"
But Miss Thankful's peremptory tones cut her short.
"Miss Saunders will excuse a little dust. We are so occupied," she
explained, with her eye fixed upon me in almost a challenging way,
"that we can afford little time for unnecessary housework. If she
wants to see these old relics of a former day, let her. You,
Charity, lead the way."
I was trembling with gratitude and the hopes I had suppressed, but
I managed to follow the apologetic figure of the humiliated old
lady with a very good grace. As we quitted the room we were in,
through a door at the end leading into the dark passageway, I
thought of the day when, according to Mrs. Packard's story, Miss
Thankful had come running across the alley and through this very
place to astound her sister and nephew in the drawing-room with the
news of the large legacy destined so soon to be theirs. That was
two years ago, and to-day--I proceeded no further with what was in
my mind, for my interest was centered in the closet whose door Miss
Charity had just flung open.
"You see," murmured that lady, "that we haven't anything of
extraordinary interest to show you. Do you want me to hand some of
them down? I don't believe that it will pay you."
I cast a look at the shelves and felt a real disappointment. Not
that the china was of too ordinary a nature to attract, but that
the pieces I saw, and indeed the full contents of the shelves,
failed to include what I was vaguely in search of and had almost
brought my mind into condition to expect.
"Haven't you another closet here?" I faltered. "These pieces are
pretty, but I am sure you have some that are larger and with the
pattern more dispersed--a platter or a vegetable dish."
"No, no," murmured Miss Charity, drawing back as she let the door
slip from her hand. "Really, Thankful,"--this to her sister who
was pulling open another door,--"the look of those shelves is
positively disreputable all the old things we have had in the house
for years. Don't--"
"Oh, do let me see that old tureen up on the top shelf," I put in.
"I like that."
Miss Thankful's long arm went up, and, despite Miss Charity's
complaint that it was too badly cracked to handle, it was soon down
and placed in my hands. I muttered my thanks, gave utterance to
sundry outbursts of enthusiasm, then with a sudden stopping of my
heart-beats, I lifted the cover and--
"Let me set it down," I gasped, hurriedly replacing the cover. I
was really afraid I should drop it. Miss Thankful took it from me
and rested it on the edge of the lower shelf.
"Why, how you tremble, child!" she cried. "Do you like old
Colonial blue ware as well as that? If you do, you shall have this
piece. Charity, bring a duster, or, better, a damp cloth. You
shall have it, yes, you shall have it."
"Wait!" I could hardly speak. "Don't get a cloth yet. Come with
me back into the parlor, and bring the tureen. I want to see it in
They looked amazed, but they followed me as I made a dash for the
drawing-room, Miss Thankful with the tureen in her hands. I was
quite Mistress of myself before I faced them again, and, sitting
down, took the tureen on my lap, greatly to Miss Charity's concern
as to the injury it might do my frock.
"There is something I must tell you about myself before I can
accept your gift," I said.
"What can you have to tell us about yourself that could make us
hesitate to bestow upon you such an insignificant piece of old
cracked china?" Miss Thankful asked as I sat looking up at them
with moist eyes and wildly beating heart.
"Only this," I answered. "I know what perhaps you had rather have
had me ignorant of. Mrs. Packard told me about the bonds you lost,
and how you thought them still in the house where your brother
died, though no one has ever been able to find them there. Oh, sit
down," I entreated, as they both turned very pale and looked at
each other in affright. "I don't wonder that you have felt their
loss keenly; I don't wonder that you have done your utmost to
recover them, but what I do wonder at is that you were so sure they
were concealed in the room where he lay that you never thought of
looking elsewhere. Do you remember, Miss Quinlan, where his eyes
were fixed at the moment of death?"
"On the window directly facing his bed."
"Gazing at what?"
"Sky--no, the walls of our house."
"Be more definite; at the old side door through which he could see
the closet shelves where this old tureen stood. During the time
you had been gone, he had realized his sinking condition, and,
afraid of the nurse he saw advancing down the street, summoned all
his strength and rushed with his treasure across the alley-way and
put it in the first hiding-place his poor old eyes fell on. He may
have been going to give it to you; but you had company, you
remember, in here, and he may have heard voices. Anyhow, we know
that he put it in the tureen because--" here I lifted the
lid--"because--" I was almost as excited and trembling and beside
myself as they were--"because it is here now."
They looked, then gazed in each other's face and bowed their heads.
Silence alone could express the emotion of that moment. Then with
a burst of inarticulate cries, Miss Charity rose and solemnly began
dancing up and down the great room. Her sister looked on with
grave disapproval till the actual nature of the find made its way
into her bewildered mind, then she reached over and plunged her
hand into the tureen and drew out the five bonds which she clutched
first to her breast and then began proudly to unfold.
"Fifty thousand dollars!" she exclaimed. "We are rich women from
to-day," and as she said it I saw the shrewdness creep beck into
her eyes and the long powerful features take on the expressive
character which they had so pitifully lacked up to the moment. I
realized that I had been the witness of a miracle. The reason,
shattered, or, let us say, disturbed by one shock, had been
restored by another. The real Miss Thankful stood before me.
Meanwhile the weaker sister, dancing still, was uttering jubilant
murmurs to which her feet kept time with almost startling
precision. But as the other let the words I have recorded here
leave her lips, she came to a sudden standstill and approaching her
lips to Miss Thankful's ear said joyfully:
"We must tell--oh," she hastily interpolated as she caught her
sister's eyes and followed the direction of her pointing finger,
"we have not thanked our little friend, our good little friend who
has done us such an inestimable service." I felt her quivering
arms fall round my neck, as Miss Thankful removed the tureen and in
words both reasonable and kind expressed the unbounded gratitude
which she herself felt.
"How came you to think? How came you to care enough to think?"
fell from her lips as she kissed me on the forehead. "You are a
jewel, little Miss Saunders, and some day--"
But I need not relate all that she said or all the extravagant
things Miss Charity did, or even my own delight, so much greater
even than any I had anticipated, when I first saw this possible
ending of my suddenly inspired idea. However, Miss Thankful's
words as we parted at the door struck me as strange, showing that
it would be a little while yet before the full balance of her mind
"Tell everybody," she cried; "tell Mrs. Packard and all who live in
the house; but keep it secret from the woman who keeps that little
shop. We are afraid of her; she haunts this neighborhood to get at
these very bonds. She was the nurse who cared for my brother, and
it was to escape her greed that he hid this money. If she knew
that we had found these our lives wouldn't be safe. Wait till we
have them in the bank."
"Assuredly. I shall tell no one."
"But you must tell those at home," she smiled; and the beaming
light in her kindled eye followed me the few steps I had to take,
and even into the door.
So Bess had been the old man's nurse'!
THE MORNING NEWS
That evening I was made a heroine of by Mrs: Packard and all the
other members of the household. Even Nixon thawed and showed me
his genial side. I had to repeat my story above stairs--and below,
and relate just what the old ladies had done and said, and how they
bore their joy, and whatever I thought they would do with their
money now they had it. When I at last reached my room, my first
act was to pull aside my shade and take a peep at the old attic
window. Miss Charity's face was there, but so smiling and gay I
hardly knew it. She kissed her hand to me as I nodded my head, and
then turned away with her light as if to show me she had only been
waiting to give me this joyous good night.
This was a much better picture to sleep on than the former one had
Next day I settled back into my old groove. Mrs. Packard busied
herself with her embroidery and I read to her or played on the
piano. Happier days seemed approaching, nay, had come. We enjoyed
two days of it, then trouble settled down on us once more.
It began on Friday afternoon. Mrs. Packard and I had been out
making some arrangements for the projected dinner-party and I had
stopped for a minute in the library before going up-stairs.
A pile of mail lay on the table. Running this over with a rapid
hand, she singled out several letters which she began to open.
Their contents seemed far from satisfactory. Exclamation after
exclamation left her lips, her agitation increasing with each one
she read, and her haste, too, till finally it seemed sufficient for
her just to glance at the unfolded sheet before letting it drop.
When the last one had left her hand, she turned and, encountering
my anxious look, bitterly remarked:
"We need not have made those arrangements this morning. Seven
regrets in this mail and two in the early one. Nine regrets in
all! and I sent out only ten invitations. What is the meaning of
it? I begin to feel myself ostracized."
I did not understand it any more than she did.
"Invite others," I suggested, and was sorry for my presumption the
Her poor lip trembled.
"I do not dare," she whispered. "Oh, what will Mr. Packard say!
Some one or something is working against us. We have enemies--
enemies, and Mr. Packard will never get his election."
Her trouble was natural and so was her expression of it. Feeling
for her, and all the more that the cause of this concerted action
against her was as much a mystery to me as it was to herself, I
made some attempt to comfort her, which was futile enough, God
knows. She heard my voice, no doubt, but she gave no evidence of
noting what I said. When I had finished that is, when she no
longer heard me speaking--she let her head droop and presently I
heard her murmur:
"It seems to me that if for any reason he fails to get his election
I shall wish to die."
She was in this state of dejection, with the echo of this sad
sentence in both our ears, when a light tap at the door was
followed by the entrance of Letty, the nurse-maid. She wore an
unusual look of embarrassment and held something crushed in her
hand. Mrs. Packard advanced hurriedly to meet her.
"What is it?" she interrogated sharply, like one expectant of evil
"Nothing! that is, not much," stammered the frightened girl,
attempting to thrust her hand behind her back.
But Mrs. Packard was too quick for her.
"You have something there! What is it? Let me see."
The girl's hand moved forward reluctantly. "A paper which I found
pinned to the baby's coat when I took her out of the carriage," she
faltered. "I--I don't know what it means."
Mrs. Packard's eyes opened wide with horror. She seized the paper
and staggered with it to one of the windows. While she looked at
it, I cast a glance at Letty. She was crying, from what looked
like pure fear; but it was the fear of ignorance rather than
duplicity; she appeared as much mystified as ourselves.
Meanwhile I felt, rather than saw, the old shadow settling fast
upon the head of her who an hour before had been so bright. She
had chosen a place where her form could not fail of being more or
less concealed by the curtain, and though I heard the paper rattle
I could not see it or the hand which held it. But the time she
spent over it seemed interminable before I heard her utter a sharp
cry and saw the curtains shake as she clutched them.
It seemed the proper moment to proffer help, but before either
Letty or I could start forward, her command rang out in smothered
but peremptory tones:
"Keep back! I want no one here!" and we stopped, each looking at
the other in very natural consternation. And when, after another
seemingly interminable interval, she finally stepped forth, I noted
a haggard change in her face, and that her coat had been torn open
and even the front of her dress wrenched apart as if she felt
herself suffocating, or as if--but this alternative only suggested
itself to me later and I shall refrain from mentioning it now.
Crossing the floor with a stumbling step, with the paper which had
roused all this indignation still in her hand, she paused before
the now seriously alarmed Letty, and demanded in great excitement:
"Who pinned that paper on my child? You know; you saw it done.
Was it a man or--"
"Oh no, ma'am, no, ma'am," protested the girl. "No man came near
her. It was a woman--a nice-looking woman."
Mrs. Packard's tone was incredulous. But the girl insisted.
"Yes, ma'am; there was no man there at all. I was on one of the
park benches resting, with the baby in my arms, and this woman
passed by and saw us. She smiled at the baby's ways, and then
stopped and took to talking about her,--how pretty she was and how
little afraid of strangers. I saw no harm in the woman, ma'am, and
let her sit down on the same bench with me for a few minutes. She
must have pinned the paper on the baby's coat then, for it was the
only time anybody was near enough to do it."
Mrs. Packard, with an irrepressible gesture of anger or dismay,
turned and walked back to the window. The movement was a natural
one. Certainly she was excusable for wishing to hide from the girl
the full extent of the agitation into which this misadventure had
"You may go." The words came after a moment of silent suspense.
"Give the baby her supper--I know that you will never let any one
else come so near her again."
Letty probably did not catch the secret anguish hidden in her tone,
but I did, and after the nurse-maid was gone, I waited anxiously
for what Mrs. Packard would say.
It came from the window and conveyed nothing. Would I do so and
so? I forget what her requests were, only that they necessitated
my leaving the room. There seemed no alternative but to obey, yet
I felt loath to leave her and was hesitating near the doorway when
a new interruption occurred. Nixon brought in a telegram, and, as
Mrs. Packard advanced to take it, she threw on the table the slip
of paper which she had been poring over behind the curtains.
As I stepped back at Nixon's entrance I was near the table and the
single glance I gave this paper as it fell showed me that it was
covered with the same Hebrew-like characters of which I already
possessed more than one example. The surprise was acute, but the
opportunity which came with it was one I could not let slip.
Meeting her eye as the door closed on Nixon, I pointed at the
scrawl she had thrown down, and wonderingly asked her if that was
what Letty had found pinned to the baby's coat.
With a surprised start, she paused in her act of opening the
telegram and made a motion as if to repossess herself of this, but
seeming to think better of it she confined herself to giving me a
"Yes," was her curt assent.
I summoned up all my courage, possibly all my powers of acting."
"Why, what is there in unreadable characters like these to alarm
She forgot her telegram, she forgot everything but that here was a
question she must answer in a way to disarm all suspicion.
"The fact," she accentuated gravely, "that they, are unreadable.
What menace may they not contain? I am afraid of them, as I am of
all obscure and mystifying things."
In a flash, at the utterance of these words, I saw, my way to the
fulfillment of the wish which had actuated me from the instant my
eyes had fallen on this paper.
"Do you think it a cipher?" I asked.
"I have always been good at puzzles. I wish you would let me see
what I can make out of these rows of broken squares and topsy-turvy
angles. Perhaps I can prove to you that they contain nothing to
The gleam of something almost ferocious sprang into this gentle
woman's eyes. Her lips moved and I expected an angry denial, but
fear kept her back. She did not dare to appear to understand this
paper any better than I did. Besides, she was doubtless conscious
that its secret was not one to yield to any mere puzzle-reader.
She could safely trust it to my curiosity. All this I detected in
her changing expression, before she made the slightest gesture
which allowed me to secure what I felt to be the most valuable
acquisition in the present exigency.
Then she turned to her telegram. It was from her husband, and I
was not prepared for the cry, of dismay which left her lips as she
read it, nor for the increased excitement into which she was thrown
by its few and seemingly simple words.
With apparent forgetfulness of what had just occurred--a
forgetfulness which insensibly carried her back to the moment when
she had given me some order which involved my departure from the
room--she impetuously called out over her shoulder which she had
turned on opening her telegram:
"Miss Saunders! Miss Saunders! are you there? Bring me the
morning papers; bring me the morning papers!"
Instantly I remembered that we had not read the papers. Contrary
to our usual habit we had gone about a pressing piece of work
without a glance at any of the three dailies laid to hand in their
usual place on the library table. "They are here on the table," I
replied, wondering as much at the hectic flush which now enlivened
her features as at the extreme paleness that had marked them the
"Search them! There is something new in them about me. There must
be. Read Mr. Packard's message."
I took it from her hand; only eight words in all.
Here they are--the marks of separation being mine:
I am coming--libel I know--where is S.
"Search the columns," she repeated, as I laid the telegram down.
I hastily obeyed. But it took me some time to find the paragraph
I sought. The certainty that others in the house had read these
papers, if we had not, disturbed me. I recalled certain glances
which I had seen pass between the servants behind Mrs. Packard's
back,--glances which I had barely noted at the time, but which
returned to my mind now with forceful meaning; and if these busy
girls had read, all the town had read--what? Suddenly I found it.
She saw my eyes stop in their hurried scanning and my fingers
clutch the sheet more firmly, and, drawing up behind me, she
attempted to follow with her eyes the words I reluctantly read out.
Here they are, just as they left my trembling lips that day--words
that only, the most rabid of opponents could have instigated:
Apropos of the late disgraceful discoveries, by which a woman
of apparent means and unsullied honor has been precipitated from
her proud preeminence as a leader of fashion, how many women,
known and admired to-day, could stand the test of such an inquiry
as she was subjected to? We know one at least, high in position
and aiming at a higher, who, if the merciful veil were withdrawn
which protects the secrets of the heart, would show such a dark
spot in her life, that even the aegis of the greatest power in
the state would be powerless to shield her from the indignation
of those who now speak loudest in her praise.
"A lie!" burst in vehement protest from Mrs. Packard, as I
finished. "A lie like the rest! But oh, the shame of it! a shame
that will kill me." Then suddenly and with a kind of cold horror:
"It is this which has destroyed my social prestige in town. I
understand those nine declinations now. Henry! my poor Henry!"
There was little comfort to offer, but I tried to divert her mind
to the practical aspect of the case by saying:
"What can Mr. Steele be doing? He does not seem to be very
successful in his attempts to carry nut the mayor's orders. See! your
husband asks where he is. He can mean no other by the words 'Where is
S--?' He knew that your mind would supply the name."
Her eyes had become fixed; her whole face betrayed a settled
despair. Quickly, violently, she rang the bell.
She advanced hurriedly to meet him.
"Nixon, you have Mr. Steele's address?"
"Yes, Mrs. Packard."
"Then go to it at once. Find Mr. Steele if you can, but if that is
not possible, learn where he has gone and come right back and tell
me. Mr. Packard telegraphs to know where he is. He has not joined
the mayor in C---."
"Yes, Mrs. Packard; the house is not far. I shall be back in
The words were respectful, but the sly glint in his blinking eyes
as he hastened out fixed my thoughts again on this man and the
uncommon attitude he maintained toward the mistress whose behests
he nevertheless flew to obey.
THE CRY FROM THE STAIRS
I was alone in the library when Nixon returned. He must have seen
Mrs. Packard go up before he left, for he passed by without
stopping, and the next moment I heard his foot on the stairs.
Some impulse made me step into the hall and cast a glance at his
ascending figure. I could see only his back, but there was
something which I did not like in the curve of that back and the
slide of his hand as it moved along the stair-rail.
His was not an open nature at the best. I almost forgot the
importance of his errand in watching the man himself. Had he not
been a servant--but he was, and an old and foolishly fussy one. I
would not imagine follies, only I wished I could follow him into
Mrs. Packard's presence.
His stay, however, was too short for much to have been gained
thereby. Almost immediately he reappeared, shaking his head and
looking very, much disturbed, and I was watching his pottering
descent when he was startled, and I was startled, by two cries
which rang out simultaneously from above, one of pain and distress
from the room he had just left, and one expressive of the utmost
glee from the lips of the baby whom the nursemaid was bringing down
from the upper hall.
Appalled by the anguish expressed in the mother's cry, I was
bounding up-stairs when my course was stopped by one of the most
poignant sights it has ever been my lot to witness. Mrs. Packard
had heard her child's laugh, and flying from her room had met the
little one on the threshold of her door and now, crying and
sobbing, was kneeling with the child in her arms in the open space
at the top of the stairs. Her paroxysm of grief, wild and
unconstrained as it was, gave less hint of madness than of
Wondering at an abandonment which bespoke a grief too great for all
further concealment, I glanced again at Nixon. He had paused in
the middle of the staircase and was looking back in a dubious way
denoting hesitation. But as the full force of the tragic scene
above made itself Felt in his slow mind, he showed a disposition to
escape and tremblingly continued his descent. He was nearly upon
me when he caught my eye. A glare awoke in his, and seeing his
right arm rise threateningly, I thought he would certainly strike
me. But he slid by without doing so.
What did it mean? Oh, what did it all mean?
Determined to know the cause of Mrs. Packard's anguish, if not of
Nixon's unprovoked anger against myself, I caught him back as he
was passing me and peremptorily demanded:
"What message did you carry to Mrs. Packard to throw her into such
a state as this? Answer! I am in this house to protect her
against all such disturbances. What did you tell her?"
Sullenness itself in the tone.
"Nothing? and you were sent on an errand? Didn't you fulfil it?"
"And didn't tell her what you learned?"
"She didn't give me the chance."
"I know it sounds queer, Miss, but it's true. She didn't give me
a chance to talk."
He muttered the final sentence. Indeed, all that we had said until
now had been in a subdued tone, but now my voice unconsciously
"You found Mr. Steele?"
"No, Miss, he was not at home."
"But they told you where to look for him?"
"No. His landlady thinks he is dead. He has queer spells, and
some one had sent her word about a man, handsome like him, who was
found dead at Hudson Three Corners last night. Mr. Steele told her
he was going over to Hudson Three Corners. She has sent to see if
the dead man is he."
"The dead man!"
Who spoke? Not Mrs. Packard! Surely that voice was another's.
Yet we both looked up to see:
The sight which met our eyes was astonishing, appalling. She had
let her baby slip to the floor and had advanced to the stairs,
where she stood, clutching at the rail, looking down upon us, with
a joy in her face matching the unholy elation we could still hear
ringing in that word "dead."
Such a look might have leaped to life in the eyes of the Medusa
when she turned her beauty upon her foredoomed victims.
"Dead!" came again in ringing repetition from Mrs. Packard's lips,
every fiber in her tense form quivering and the gleam of hope
shining brighter and brighter in her countenance. "No, not dead!"
Then while Nixon trembled and succumbed inwardly to this spectacle
of a gentle-hearted woman transformed by some secret and
overwhelming emotion into an image of vindictive delight, her hands
left the stair-rail and flew straight up over her head in the
transcendent gesture which only the greatest crises in life call
forth, and she exclaimed with awe-inspiring emphasis: "God could
not have been so merciful!"
It is not often, perhaps it is only once in a lifetime, that it is
given us to look straight into the innermost recesses of the human
soul. Never before had such an opportunity come to me, and
possibly never would it come again, yet my first conscious impulse
was one of fright at the appalling self-revelation she had made,
not only in my hearing, but in that of nearly her whole household.
I could see, over her shoulders, Letty's eyes staring wide in
ingenuous dismay, while from the hall below rose the sound of
hurrying feet as the girls came running in from the kitchen.
Something must be done, and immediately, to recall her to herself,
and, if possible, to reinstate her in the eyes of her servants.
Bounding upward to where she still stood forgetful and
self-absorbed, I laid my hands softly but firmly on hers, which
had fallen back upon the rail, and quietly said:
"You have some very strong reason, I see, for looking upon Mr.
Steele as your husband's enemy rather than friend."
The appeal was timely. With a start she woke to the realization of
her position and of the suggestive words she had just uttered, and
with a glance behind her at Letty and another at Nixon and the
maids, who by this time had pushed their way to the foot of the
stairs, she gathered herself up with a determination born of the
necessity of the moment and emphatically replied:
"No; I do not know Mr. Steele well enough for that. My emotion at
the unexpected tidings of his possible death springs from another
cause." Here the help, the explanation for which she had been
searching, came. "Girls," she went on, addressing them with an
emphasis which drew all eyes, "I am ashamed to tell you what has so
deeply disturbed me these last few days. I should blame any one of
you for being affected as I was. The great love I bear my husband
and child is my excuse--a poor one, I know, but one you will
understand. A week ago something happened to me in the library
which frightened me very much. I saw--or thought I saw--what some
would call an apparition, but what you would call a ghost. Don't
shriek!" (The two girls behind me had begun to scream and make as
if to run away.) "It was all imagination, of course--there can not
really be any such thing. Ghosts in these days? Pshaw! But I was
very, nervous that night and could not help feeling that the mere
fact of my thinking of anything so dreadful meant misfortune to
some one in this house. Wait!" Her voice was imperious; and the
shivering, terrified girls, superstitious to the backbone, stopped
in spite of themselves. "You must hear it all, and you, too, Miss
Saunders, who have only heard half. I was badly frightened then,
especially as the ghost, spirit-man, or whatever it was, wore a
look, in the one short moment I stood face to face with it, full of
threat and warning. Next day Mr. Packard introduced his new
secretary. Girls, he had the face of the Something I had seen,
without the threatening look, which had so alarmed me."
"Bad 'cess to him!" rang in vigorous denunciation from the cook.
"Why didn't ye send him 'mejitly about his business? It's trouble
he'll bring to us all and no mistake!"
"That was what I feared," assented her now thoroughly composed
mistress. "So when Nixon said just now that Mr. Steele was dead,
had fallen in a fit at Hudson Three Corners or something like
that--I felt such wicked relief at finding that my experience had
not meant danger to ourselves, but to him--wicked, because it was
so selfish--that I forgot myself and cried out in the way you all
heard. Blame me if you will, but don't frighten yourselves by
talking about it. If Mr. Steele is indeed dead, we have enough to
trouble us without that."
And with a last glance at me, which ended in a wavering half-
deprecatory smile, she stepped back and passed into her own room.
The mood in which I proceeded to my own quarters was as thoughtful
as any I had ever experienced.
Hitherto I had mainly admired Mrs. Packard's person and the extreme
charm of manner which never deserted her, no matter how she felt.
Now I found myself compelled to admire the force and quality of
her mind, her readiness to meet emergencies and the tact with
which she had availed herself of the superstition latent in the
Irish temperament. For I had no more faith in the explanation
she had seen fit to give these ignorant girls than I had in the
apparition itself. Emotion such as she had shown called for a more
matter-of-fact basis than the one she had ascribed to it. No unreal
and purely superstitious reason would account for the extreme joy
and self-abandonment with which she had hailed the possibility of
Mr. Steele's death. The "no" she had given me when I asked if she