"He has been here a week?"
"Yes, or almost."
"Came on last Tuesday, didn't he?"
"Yes, I believe that was the day."
"No; he came early; soon after breakfast, in fact."
"Does your wife like him?"
His Honor gave a start, flushed (I can sometimes see a great deal
even while very busily occupied) and answered without anger, but
with a good deal of pride:
"I doubt if Mrs. Packard more than knows of his presence. She
does not come to this room."
"And he does not sit at your table?"
"No; I must have some few minutes in the day free from the
suggestion of politics. Mr. Steele can safely be left out of our
discussion. He does not even sleep in the house."
The note I made at this was very emphatic. "You should know,"
said I; then quickly "Tuesday was the day Mrs. Packard first
showed the change you observed in her."
"Yes, I think so; but that is a coincidence only. She takes no
interest in this young man; scarcely noticed him when I
introduced him; just bowed to him over her shoulder; she was
fastening on our little one's cap. Usually she is extremely,
courteous to strangers, but she was abstracted, positively
abstracted at that moment. I wondered at it, for he usually
makes a stir wherever he goes. But my wife cares little for
beauty in a man; I doubt if she noticed his looks at all. She
did not catch his name, I remember."
"Pardon me, what is that you say?"
"She did not catch his name, for later she asked me what it was."
"Tell me about that, Mr. Packard."
"It is immaterial; but I am ready to answer all your questions.
It was while we were out dining. Chance threw us together, and
to fill up the moment she asked the name of the young man I had
brought into the library that morning. I told her and explained
his position and the long training he had had in local politics.
She listened, but not as closely as she did to the music. Oh,
she takes no interest in him. I wish she did; his stories might
I did not pursue the subject. Taking out the letter I had been
writing, I held it out for his inspection, with the remark:
"More copy, please, Mayor Packard."
IN THE GABLE WINDOW
A few minutes later I was tripping up-stairs in the wake of a
smart young maid whom Mayor Packard had addressed as Ellen. I
liked this girl at first sight and, as I followed her up first
one flight, then another, to the room which had been chosen for
me, the hurried glimpses I had of her bright and candid face
suggested that in this especial member of the household I might
hope to find a friend and helper in case friendship and help were
needed in the blind task to which I stood committed. But I soon
saw cause - or thought I did - to change this opinion. When she
turned on me at the door of my room, a small one at the extreme
end of the third floor, I had an opportunity of meeting her eyes.
The interest in her look was not the simple one to be expected.
In another person in other circumstances I should have
characterized her glance as one of inquiry and wonder. But
neither inquiry nor wonder described the present situation, and I
put myself upon my guard.
Seeing me look her way, she flushed, and, throwing wide the door,
remarked in the pleasantest of tones:
"This is your room. Mrs. Packard says that if it is not large
enough or does not seem pleasant to you, she will find you
another one to-morrow."
"It's very pleasant and quite large enough," I confidently
replied, after a hasty look about me. "I could not be more
She smiled, a trifle broadly for the occasion, I thought, and
patted a pillow here and twitched a curtain there, as she
remarked with a certain emphasis:
"I'm sure you will be comfortable. There's nobody else on this
floor but Letty and the baby, but you don't look as if you would
be easily frightened." Astonished, not so much by her words as
by the furtive look she gave me, I laughed as I repeated
"Frightened? What should frighten me?"
"Oh, nothing." Her back was to me now, but I felt that I knew her
very look. "Nothing, of course. If you're not timid you won't
mind sleeping so far away from every one. Then, we are always
within call. The attic door is just a few steps off. We'll
leave it unlocked and you can come up if - if you feel like it at
any time. We'll understand."
Understand! I eyed her as she again looked my way, with some of
her own curiosity if not wonder.
"Mrs. Packard must have had some very timorous guests," I
observed. "Or, perhaps, you have had experiences here which have
tended to alarm you. The house is so large and imposing for the
quarter it is in I can readily imagine it to attract burglars."
"Burglars! It would be a brave burglar who would try to get in
here. I guess you never heard about this house."
"No," I admitted, unpleasantly divided between a wish to draw her
out and the fear of betraying Mayor Packard's trust in me by
showing the extent of my interest.
"Well, it's only gossip," she laughingly assured me. "You
needn't think of it, Miss. I'm sure you'll be all right. We
girls have been, so far, and Mrs. Packard - "
Here she doubtless heard a voice outside or some summons from
below, for she made a quick start toward the door, remarking in a
different and very pleasant tone of voice:
"Dinner at seven, Miss. There'll be no extra company to-night.
I'm coming." This to some one in the hall as she hastily passed
through the door.
Dropping the bag I had lifted to unpack, I stared at the door
which had softly closed under her hand, then, with an odd
impulse, turned to look at my own face in the glass before which
I chanced to be standing. Did I expect to find there some
evidence of the excitement which this strange conversation might
naturally produce in one already keyed up to an expectation of
the mysterious and unusual? If so, I was not disappointed. My
features certainly betrayed the effect of this unexpected attack
upon my professional equanimity. What did the girl mean? What
was she hinting at? What underlay - what could underlie her
surprising remark, "I guess you never heard about this house"?
Something worth my knowing; something which might explain Mayor
Packard's fears and Mrs. Packard's -
There I stopped. It was where the girl had stopped. She and not
I must round out this uncompleted sentence.
Meanwhile I occupied myself in unpacking my two bags and making
acquaintance with the room which, I felt, was destined to be the
scene of many, anxious thoughts. Its first effect had been a
cheerful one, owing to its two large windows, one looking out on
a stretch of clear sky above a mass of low, huddled buildings,
and the other on the wall of the adjacent house which, though
near enough to obstruct the view, was not near enough to exclude
all light. Another and closer scrutiny of the room did not alter
the first impression. To the advantages of light were added
those of dainty furnishing and an exceptionally pleasing color
scheme. There was no richness anywhere, but an attractive
harmony which gave one an instantaneous feeling of home. From
the little brass bedstead curtained with cretonne, to the tiny
desk filled with everything needful for immediate use, I saw
evidences of the most careful housekeeping, and was vainly asking
myself what could have come into Mrs. Packard's life to disturb
so wholesome a nature, when my attention was arrested by a
picture hanging at the right of the window overlooking the next
It gave promise of being a most interesting sketch, and I crossed
over to examine it; but instead of doing so, found my eyes drawn
toward something more vital than any picture and twice as
It was a face, the face of an old woman staring down at me from a
semicircular opening in the gable of the adjoining house. An
ordinary circumstance in itself, but made extraordinary by the
fixity of her gaze, which was leveled straight on mine, and the
uncommon expression of breathless eagerness which gave force to
her otherwise commonplace features. So remarkable was this
expression and so apparently was it directed against myself, that
I felt like throwing up my window and asking the poor old
creature what I could do for her. But her extreme immobility
deterred me. For all the intentness of her look there was no
invitation in it warranting such an advance on my part. She
simply stared down at me in unbroken anxiety, nor, though I
watched her for some minutes with an intensity equal to her own,
did I detect any change either in her attitude or expression.
"Odd," thought I, and tested her with a friendly bow. The
demonstration failed to produce the least impression. "A most
uncanny neighbor," was my mental comment on finally turning away.
Truly I was surrounded by mysteries, but fortunately this was one
with which I had no immediate concern. It did not take me long to
put away my few belongings and prepare for dinner. When quite
ready, I sat down to write a letter. This completed, I turned to
go downstairs. But before leaving the room I cast another look
up at my neighbor's attic window. The old woman was still there.
As our glances met I experienced a thrill which was hardly one of
sympathy, yet was not exactly one of fear. My impulse was to
pull down the shade between us, but I had not the heart. She was
so old, so feeble and so, evidently the prey of some strange and
fixed idea. What idea? It was not for me to say, but I found it
impossible to make any move which would seem to shut her out; so
I left the shade up; but her image followed me and I forgot it
only when confronted once again with Mrs. Packard.
That lady was awaiting me at the dining-room door. She had
succeeded in throwing off her secret depression and smiled quite
naturally as I approached. Her easy, courteous manners became
her wonderfully. I immediately recognized how much there was to
admire in our mayor's wife, and quite understood his relief when,
a few minutes later, we sat at table and conversation began.
Mrs. Packard, when free and light-hearted, was a delightful
companion and the meal passed off cheerily. When we rose and the
mayor left us for some necessary business it was with a look of
satisfaction in my direction which was the best possible
preparation for my approaching tete-a-tete with his moody and
But I was not destined to undergo the contemplated ordeal this
evening. Guests were announced whom Mrs. Packard kindly invited
me to meet, but I begged to be allowed to enjoy the library. I
had too much to consider just now, to find any pleasure in
society. Three questions filled my mind.
What was Mrs. Packard's secret trouble?
Why were people afraid to remain in this house?
Why did the old woman next door show such interest in the new
member of her neighbor's household?
Would a single answer cover all? Was there but one cause for
each and every one of these peculiarities? Probably, and it was
my duty to ferret out this cause. But how should I begin? I
remembered what I had read about detectives and their methods,
but the help I thus received was small. Subtler methods were
demanded here and subtler methods I must find. Meantime, I would
hope for another talk with Mayor Packard. He might clear up some
of this fog. At least, I should like to give him the
opportunity. But I saw no way of reaching him at present. Even
Mrs. Packard did not feel at liberty to disturb him in his study.
I must wait for his reappearance, and in the meantime divert
myself as best I could. I caught up a magazine, but speedily
dropped it to cast a quick glance around the room. Had I heard
anything? No. The house was perfectly still, save for the sound
of conversation in the drawing-room. Yet I found it hard to keep
my eyes upon the page. Quite without my volition they flew,
first to one corner, then to another. The room was light, there
were no shadowy nooks in it, yet I felt an irresistible desire to
peer into every place not directly under my eye. I knew it to be
folly, and, after succumbing to the temptation of taking a sly
look behind a certain tall screen, I resolutely set myself to
curb my restlessness and to peruse in good earnest the article I
had begun. To make sure of myself, I articulated each word
aloud, and to my exceeding satisfaction had reached the second
column when I found my voice trailing off into silence, and every
sense alarmingly alert. Yet there was nothing, absolutely
nothing in this well-lighted, cozy family-room to awaken fear. I
was sure of this the next minute, and felt correspondingly
irritated with myself and deeply humiliated. That my nerves
should play me such a trick at the very outset of my business in
this house! That I could not be left alone, with life in every
part of the house, and the sound of the piano and cheerful
talking just across the hall, without the sense of the morbid and
unearthly entering my matter-of-fact brain!
Uttering an ejaculation of contempt, I reseated myself. The
impulse came again to look behind me, but I mastered it this time
without too great an effort. I already knew every feature of the
room: its old-fashioned mantel, large round center-table, its
couches and chairs, and why should I waste my attention again
"Is there anything you wish, Miss?" asked a voice directly over my
I wheeled about with a start. I had heard no one approach; it
was not sound which had disturbed me.
"The library bell rang," continued the voice. "Is it ice-water
Then I saw that it was Nixon, the butler, and shook my head in
mingled anger and perplexity; for not only had he advanced quite
noiselessly, but he was looking at me with that curious
concentrated gaze which I had met twice before since coming into
"I need nothing," said I, with all the mildness I could summon
into my voice; and did not know whether to like or not like the
quiet manner in which he sidled out of the room.
"Why do they all look at me so closely?" I queried, in genuine
confusion. "The man had no business here. I did not ring, and I
don't believe he thought I did. He merely wanted to see what I
was doing and whether I was enjoying myself. Why this curiosity?
I have never roused it anywhere else. It is not myself they are
interested in, but the cause and purpose of my presence under
this roof." I paused to wonder over the fact that the one member
of the family who might be supposed to resent my intrusion most
was the one who took it most kindly and with least token of
surprise - Mrs. Packard.
"She accepts me easily enough," thought I. "To her I am a
welcome companion. What am I to these?"
The answer, or rather a possible answer, came speedily. At nine
o'clock Mayor Packard entered the room from his study across the
hall, and, seeing me alone, came forward briskly. "Mrs. Packard
has company and I am on my way to the drawing-room, but I am
happy to have the opportunity of assuring you that already she
looks better, and that I begin to hope that your encouraging
presence may stimulate her to throw aside her gloom and needless
apprehensions. I shall be eternally grateful to you if it will.
It is the first time in a week that she has consented to receive
visitors." I failed to feel the same elation over this possibly
temporary improvement in his wife's condition, but I carefully
refrained from betraying my doubts. On the contrary, I took
advantage of the moment to clear my mind of one of the many
perplexities disturbing it.
"And I am glad of this opportunity to ask you what may seem a
foolish, if not impertinent question. The maid, Ellen, in
showing me my room, was very careful to assure me that she slept
near me and would let me into her room in case I experienced any
alarm in the night; and when I showed surprise at her expecting
me to feel alarm of any kind in a house full of people, made the
remark, 'I guess you do not know about this house.' Will you
pardon me if I ask if there is anything I don't know, and should
know, about the home your suffering wife inhabits? A problem
such as you have given me to solve demands a thorough
understanding of every cause capable of creating disturbance in a
The mayor's short laugh failed to hide his annoyance. "You will
find nothing in this direction," said he, "to account for the
condition I have mentioned to you. Mrs. Packard is utterly
devoid of superstition. That I made sure of before signing the
lease of this old house. But I forgot; you are doubtless
ignorant of its reputation. It has, or rather has had, the name
of being haunted. Ridiculous, of course, but a fact with which
Mrs. Packard has had to contend in" - he gave me a quick glance
- "in hiring servants."
It was now my turn to smile, but somehow I did not. A vision had
risen in my mind of that blank and staring face in the attic
window next door, and I felt - well, I don't know how I felt, but
I did not smile.
Another short laugh escaped him.
"We have not been favored by any manifestations from the
spiritual world. This has proved a very matter-of-fact sort of
home for us. I had almost forgotten that it was burdened with
such an uncanny reputation, and I'm sure that Mrs. Packard would
have shared my indifference if it had not been for the domestic
difficulty I have mentioned. It took us two weeks to secure help
of any kind."
"Indeed! and how long have you been in the house? I judge that
you rent it?"
"Yes, we rent it and we have been here two months. It was the
only house I could get in a locality convenient for me; besides,
the old place suits me. It would take more than an obsolete
ghost or so to scare me away from what I like."
"But Mrs. Packard? She may not be a superstitious woman, yet - "
"Don't be fanciful, Miss Saunders. You will have to look deeper
than that for the spell which has been cast over my wife.
Olympia afraid of creaks and groans? Olympia seeing sights?
She's much too practical by nature, Miss Saunders, to say nothing
of the fact that she would certainly have confided her trouble to
me, had her imagination been stirred in this way. Little things
have invariably been discussed between us. I repeat that this
possibility should not give you a moment's thought."
A burst of sweet singing came from the drawing-room.
"That's her voice," he cried. "Whatever her trouble may be she
has forgotten it for the moment. Excuse me if I join her. It is
such pleasure to have her at all like herself again."
I longed to detain him, longed to put some of the numberless
questions my awakened curiosity demanded, but his impatience was
too marked and I let him depart without another word.
But I was not satisfied. Inwardly I determined to see him again
as soon as possible and gain a more definite insight into the
mysteries of his home.
LIGHTS - SOUNDS
I am by nature a thoroughly practical woman. If I had not been,
the many misfortunes of my life would have made me so. Yet, when
the library door closed behind the mayor and I found myself again
alone in a spot where I had not felt comfortable from the first,
I experienced an odd sensation not unlike fear. It left me
almost immediately and my full reasoning powers reasserted
themselves; but the experience had been mine and I could not
smile it away.
The result was a conviction, which even reason could not dispel,
that whatever secret tragedy or wrong had signalized this house,
its perpetration had taken place in this very room. It was a
fancy, but it held, and under its compelling if irrational
influence, I made a second and still more minute survey of the
room to which this conviction had imparted so definite an
I found it just as ordinary and unsuggestive as before; an
old-fashioned, square apartment renovated and redecorated to suit
modern tastes. Its furnishings I have already described; they
were such as may be seen in any comfortable abode. I did not
linger over them a moment; besides, they were the property of the
present tenant, and wholly disconnected with the past I was
insensibly considering. Only the four walls and what they held,
doors, windows and mantel-piece, remained to speak of those old
days. Of the doors there were two, one opening into the main
hall under the stairs, the other into a cross corridor separating
the library from the dining-room. It was through the dining-room
door Nixon had come when he so startled me by speaking
unexpectedly over my shoulder! The two windows faced the main
door, as did the ancient, heavily carved mantel. I could easily
imagine the old-fashioned shutters hidden behind the modern
curtains, and, being anxious to test the truth of my imaginings,
rose and pulled aside one of these curtains only to see, just as
I expected, the blank surface of a series of unslatted shutters,
tightly fitting one to another with old-time exactitude. A flat
hook and staple fastened them. Gently raising the window, and
lifting one, I pulled the shutter open and looked out. The
prospect was just what I had been led to expect from the location
of the room - the long, bare wall of the neighboring house. I was
curious about that house, more curious at this moment than ever
before; for though it stood a good ten feet away from the one I
was now in, great pains had been taken by its occupants to close
every opening which might invite the glances of a prying eye. A
door which had once opened on the alley running between the two
houses had been removed and its place boarded up. So with a
window higher up; the half-circle window near the roof, I could
not see from my present point of view.
Drawing back, I reclosed the shutter, lowered the window and
started for my own room. As I passed the first stair-head, I
heard a baby's laugh, followed by a merry shout, which, ringing
through the house, seemed to dispel all its shadows.
I had touched reality again. Remembering Mayor Packard's
suggestion that I might through the child find a means of reaching
the mother, I paid a short visit to the nursery where I found a
baby whose sweetness must certainly have won its mother's deepest
love. Letty, the nurse, was of a useful but commonplace type, a
conscientious nurse, that was all.
But I was to have a further taste of the unusual that night and
to experience another thrill before I slept. My room was dark
when I entered it, and, recognizing a condition favorable to
the gratification of my growing curiosity in regard to the
neighboring house, I approached the window and stole a quick look
at the gable-end where, earlier in the evening I had seen peering
out at me an old woman's face. Conceive my astonishment at
finding the spot still lighted and a face looking out, but not
the same face, a countenance as old, one as intent, but of
different conformation and of a much more intellectual type. I
considered myself the victim of an illusion; I tried to persuade
myself that it was the same woman, only in another garb and under
a different state of feeling; but the features were much too
dissimilar for such an hypothesis to hold. The eagerness, the
unswerving attitude were the same, but the first woman had had a
weak round face with pinched features, while this one showed a
virile head and long heavy cheeks and chin, which once must have
been full of character, though they now showed only heaviness of
heart and the dull apathy of a fixed idea.
Two women, total strangers to me, united in an unceasing watch
upon me in my room! I own that the sense of mystery which this
discovery brought struck me at the moment as being fully as
uncanny and as unsettling to contemplate as the idea of a spirit
haunting walls in which I was destined for a while to live,
breathe and sleep. However, as soon as I had drawn the shade and
lighted the gas, I forgot the whole thing, and not till I was
quite ready for bed, and my light again turned low, did I feel
the least desire to take another peep at that mysterious window.
The face was still there, peering at me through a flood of
moonlight. The effect was ghastly, and for hours I could not
sleep, imagining that face still staring down upon me,
illuminated with the unnatural light and worn with a profitless
and unmeaning vigil.
That there was something to fear in this house was evident from
the halting step with which the servants, one and all, passed my
door on their way up to their own beds. I now knew, or thought I