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 out 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