had thus shocked the proprieties of this orderly household? It
certainly seemed so; yet where all was strange, this strange and
incomprehensible denial of a self-evident fact by the vindictive
Nixon might have its source in some motive unsuggested by the
circumstances. Certainly, Nixon's mistress appeared to have a
great deal of confidence in him.
I wished that more had been told me about the handsome secretary.
I wished that fate would give me another opportunity for seeing
that gentleman and putting the same direct question to him I had
put to Nixon.
Scarcely had this thought crossed my mind before a loud ring at the
telephone disturbed the quiet below and I heard the secretary's
voice in reply. A minute after he appeared at the foot of the
stairs. His aspect was one of embarrassment, and he peered aloft
in a hesitating way, as if he hardly knew how to proceed.
Taking advantage of this hesitation, I ran softly down to meet him.
"Any message for Mrs. Packard?" I asked.
He looked relieved.
"Yes, from his Honor. The mayor is unavoidably detained and may
not be home till morning."
"I will tell her." Then, as he reached for his overcoat, I risked
all on one venture, and enlarging a little on the facts, said:
"Excuse me, but was it you we heard laughing down-stairs a few
minutes ago? Mrs. Packard feared it might be some follower of the
Pausing in the act of putting on his coat, he met my look with an
air of some surprise.
"I am not given to laughing," he remarked; "certainly not when
"But you heard this laugh?"
He shook his head. His manner was perfectly courteous, almost
"If I did, it made no impression on my mind. I am extremely busy
just now, working up the mayor's next speech." And with a smile
and bow in every way suited to his fine appearance, he took his hat
from the rack and left the house.
I drew back more mystified than ever. Which of these two men had
told me a lie? One, both, or neither? Impossible to determine.
As I try never to waste gray matter, I resolved to spend no further
energy on this question, but simply to await the next development.
It came unexpectedly and was of an entirely different nature from
any I had anticipated.
I had not retired, not knowing at what moment the mayor might
return or what I might be called upon to do when he did. It will
be remembered that one of my windows looked out upon the next
house. I approached it to see if my ever watchful neighbors had
retired. Their window was dark, but I observed what was of much
more vital interest to me at that moment. It was that I was not
the only one awake and stirring in our house. The light from a
room diagonally below me poured in a stream on the opposite wall,
and it took but a moment's consideration for me to decide that the
shadow I saw crossing and recrossing this brilliant square was cast
by Mrs. Packard.
My first impulse was to draw back - (that was the lady's impulse not
quite crushed out of me by the occupation circumstances had
compelled me to take up) - my next, to put out my own light and seat
myself at the post of observation thus afforded me. The excuse I
gave myself for this was plausible enough. Mrs. Packard had been
placed in my charge and, if all was not right with her, it was my
business to know it.
Accordingly I sat and watched each movement of my mysterious charge
as it was outlined on the telltale wall before me, and saw enough
in one half-hour to convince me that something very vigorous and
purposeful was going on in the room so determinedly closed against
every one, even her own husband.
The moving silhouette of her figure, which was all that I could see,
was not perfect enough in detail for me to determine. She was busy at
some occupation which took her from one end of the room to the other;
but after watching her shadow for an hour I was no surer than at
first as to what that occupation was. It was a serious one, I saw,
and now and then the movements I watched gave evidence of frantic
haste, but their character stood unrevealed till suddenly the thought
"She is rummaging bureau-drawers and emptying boxes, - in other
words, packing a bag or trunk."
Should I be witness to a flight? I thought it very likely,
especially when I heard the faint sound of a door opening below,
followed by the swish of silken skirts. I recalled Mayor Packard's
fears and began to suspect that they were not groundless.
This called for action, and I was about to open my door and rush
out when I was deterred by the surprising discovery that the steps
I heard were coming up rather than going down, and that in another
moment she would be in the hall outside, possibly on her way to the
nursery, possibly with the intention of coming to my own room.
Greatly taken aback, I stood with my ear to the door, listening
intently. Yes, she has reached the top of the stairs and is
stopping no, she passes the nursery door, she is coming my way.
What shall I say to her, - how account for my comfortable wrapper
and the fact that I have not yet been abed? Had I but locked my
door! Could I but lock it now, unseen and unheard before the
nearing step should pause! But the very attempt were folly; no, I
must stand my ground and - Ah! the step has paused, but not at my
door. There is a third one on this hall, communicating, as I knew,
with a covered staircase leading to the attic. It was at this she
stopped and it was up this staircase she went as warily and softly
as its creaking boards would allow; and while I marveled as to what
had taken her aloft so late, I heard her steps over my head and
knew that she had entered the room directly above mine.
Striking a match, I consulted my watch. It was just ten minutes to
three. Hardly knowing what my duty was in the circumstances, I
blew out the match and stood listening while the woman who was such
a mystery to all her friends moved about overhead in much the same
quick and purposeful way as had put life into her shadow while she
was in her own room.
"Packing! Nothing less and nothing more," was my now definite
decision. "That is a trunk she is dragging forward. What a hurry
she is in, and how little she cares whether anybody hears her!"
So little did she care that during the next few minutes of acute
attention I distinguished the flinging down of article after
article on to the floor, as well as many other movements betraying
haste or irritation.
Suddenly I heard her give a bound, then the sound of a heavy lid
falling and then, after a minute or two of complete silence, the
soft pat-pat of her slippered feet descending the stair.
Waiting till she was well down the second flight, I pushed my door
ajar and, flying down the hall, peered over the balustrade in time
to see her entering her room. She held a lighted candle in her
hand and by its small flame I caught a full glimpse of her figure.
To my astonishment and even to my dismay she was still in the gown
she had refused to have me unlace, - a rich yellow satin in which
she must have shone resplendent a few hours before. She had not
even removed the jewels from her neck. Whatever had occupied her,
whatever had taken her hither and thither through the house, moving
furniture out of her way, lifting heavy boxes, opening dust-covered
trunks, had been of such moment to her as to make her entirely
oblivious of the rich and delicate apparel she thus wantonly
sacrificed. But it was not this alone which attracted my
attention. In her hand she held a paper, and the sight of that
paper and the way she clutched it rather disturbed my late
conclusions. Had her errand been one of search rather than of
arrangement? and was this crumpled letter the sole result of a
half-hour's ransacking in an attic room at the dead of night? I
was fain to think so, for in the course of another half-hour her
light went out. Relieved that she had not left the house, I was
still anxious as to the cause of her strange conduct.
Mayor Packard did not come in till daybreak. He found me waiting
for him in the lower hall.
"Well?" he eagerly inquired.
"Mrs. Packard is asleep, I hope. A shrill laugh, ringing through
the house shortly after her return, gave her a nervous shock and
she begged that she might be left undisturbed till morning."
He turned from hanging up his overcoat, and gave me a short stare.
"A laugh!" he repeated. "Who could have laughed like that? We are
not a very jolly crowd here."
"I don't know, sir. I thought it must have been either Mr. Steele
or Nixon, the butler, but each denied it. There was no one else in
this part of the house."
"Mrs. Packard is very sensitive just now," he remarked. Then as he
turned away toward the library door: "I will throw myself on a
lounge. I have but an hour or two before me, as I have my
preparations to make for leaving town on the early morning train.
I shall have some final instructions to give you."
I was up betimes. Would Mrs. Packard appear at breakfast? I
hardly thought so. Yet who knows? Such women have great
recuperative powers, and from one so mysteriously affected anything
might be expected. Ready at eight, I hastened down to the second
floor to find the lady, concerning whom I had had these doubts,
awaiting me on the threshold of her room. She was carefully
dressed and looked pale enough to have been up for hours. An
envelope was in her hand, and the smile which hailed my approach
was cold and constrained.
"Good morning," said she. "Let us go down. Let us go down
together. I slept wretchedly and do not feel very strong. When
did Mr. Packard come in?"
"Late. He went directly to the library. He said that he had
but a short time in which to rest, and would take what sleep he
could get on the lounge, when I told him of your very natural
She sighed - a sigh which came from no inconsiderable depths - then
with a proud and resolute gesture preceded me down-stairs.
Her husband was already in the breakfast-room. I could hear his
voice as we turned at the foot of the stairs. Mrs. Packard,
hearing it, too, drew herself up still more firmly and was passing
bravely forward, when Nixon's gray head protruded from the doorway
and I heard him say:
"There's company for breakfast, ma'am. His Honor could not spare
Mr. Steele and asked me to set a place for him."
I noted a momentary hesitation on Mrs. Packard's part, then she
silently acquiesced and we both passed on. In another instant we
were receiving the greetings and apologies of the gentlemen. If
Mr. Steele had expected that his employer's wife would offer him
her hand, he was disappointed.
"I am happy to welcome one who has proved so useful to my husband,"
she remarked with cool though careful courtesy as we all sat down
at the table; and, without waiting for an answer, she proceeded to
pour the coffee with a proud grace which gave no hint of the
extreme feeling by which I had seen her moved the night before.
Had I known her better I might have found something extremely
unnatural in her manner and the very evident restraint she put upon
herself through the whole meal; but not having any acquaintance
with her ordinary bearing under conditions purely social, I was
thrown out of my calculations by the cold ease with which she
presided at her end of the table, and the set smile with which she
greeted all remarks, whether volunteered by her husband or by his
respectful but affable secretary. I noticed, however, that she ate
Nixon, whom I dared not watch, did not serve with his usual
precision, - this I perceived from the surprised look cast at him by
Mayor Packard on at least two occasions. Though to the ordinary
eye a commonplace meal, it had elements of tragedy in it which made
the least movement on the part of those engaged in it of real
moment to me. I was about to leave the table unenlightened,
however, when Mrs. Packard rose and, drawing a letter from under
the tray before which she sat, let her glances pass from one
gentleman to the other with a look of decided inquiry. I drew in
my breath and by dropping my handkerchief sought an excuse for
lingering in the room an instant longer.
"Will - may I ask one of you," she stammered with her first show of
embarrassment during the meal, "to - to post this letter for me?"
Both gentlemen were standing and both gentlemen reached for it; but
it was into the secretary's hand she put it, though her husband's
was much the nearer. As Mr. Steele received it he gave it the
casual glance natural under the circumstances, - a glance which
instantly, however, took on an air of surprise that ended in a
"Have you not made some mistake?" he asked.
"This does not look like a letter." And he handed her back the
paper she had given him. With an involuntary ingathering of her
breath, she seemed to wake out of some dream and, looking down at
the envelope she held, she crushed it in her hand with a little
laugh in which I heard the note of real gaiety for the first time.
"Pardon me," she exclaimed; and, meeting his amused gaze with one
equally expressive, she carelessly added: "I certainly brought a
letter down with me."
Bowing pleasantly, but with that indefinable air of respect which
bespeaks the stranger, he waited while she hastened back to the
tray and drew from under it a second paper.
"Pardon my carelessness," she said. "I must have caught up a
scrawl of the baby's in taking this from my desk."
She brought forward a letter and ended the whole remarkable episode
by handing it now to her husband, who, with an apologetic glance at
the other, put it in his pocket.
I say remarkable; for in the folded slip which had passed back and
forth between her and the secretary, I saw, or thought I saw, a
likeness to the paper she had brought the night before out of the
If Mayor Packard saw anything unusual in his wife's action he made
no mention of it when I went into his study at nine o'clock. And
it was so much of an enigma to me that I was not ready to venture
a question regarding it.
Her increased spirits and more natural conduct were the theme of
the few sentences he addressed me, and while he urged precaution
and a continued watch upon his wife, he expressed the fondest hope
that he should find her fully restored on his return at the end of
I encouraged his hopes, and possibly shared them; but I changed my
mind, as he probably did his, when a few minutes later we met her
in the hall hurrying toward us with a newspaper in her hand and a
ghastly look on her face. "See! see! what they have dared to
print!" she cried, with a look, full of anguish, into his
He took the sheet, read, and flushed, then suddenly grew white.
"Outrageous!" he exclaimed. Then tenderly, "My poor darling! that
they should dare to drag your name into this abominable campaign!"
"And for no reason," she faltered; "there is nothing wrong with me.
You believe that; you are sure of that," she cried. I saw the
article later. It ran something like this:
"Rumor has it that not even our genial mayor's closet is free from
the proverbial skeleton. Mrs. Packard's health is not what it
was, - and some say that the causes are not purely physical."
He tried to dissimulate. Putting his arm about her, he kissed her
fondly and protested with mingled energy and feeling:
"I believe you to be all you should be - a true woman and true
Her face lighted and she clung for a moment in passionate delight
to his breast; then she caught his look, which was tender but not
altogether open, and the shadows fell again as she murmured:
"You are not satisfied. Oh, what do you see, what do others see,
that I should be the subject of doubt? Tell me! I can never right
myself till I know."
"I see a troubled face when I should see a happy one," he answered
lightly; then, as she still clung in very evident question to his
arm, he observed gravely: "Two weeks ago you were the life of this
house, and of every other house into which your duties carried you.
Why shouldn't you be the same to-day? Answer me that, dear, and
all my doubts will vanish, I assure you."
"Henry," - drooping her head and lacing her fingers in and out with
nervous hesitation, - "you will think me very foolish, - I know that
it will sound foolish, childish even, and utterly ridiculous; but
I can explain myself no other way. I have had a frightful
experience - here - in my own house - on the spot where I have been
so happy, so unthinkingly happy. Henry - do not laugh - it is real,
very real, to me. The specter which is said to haunt these walls
has revealed itself to me. I have seen the ghost."
We did not laugh; we did not even question her sanity; at least I
did not; there was too much meaning in her manner.
"A specter," her husband repeated with a suggestive glance at the
brilliant sunshine in which we all stood.
"Yes." The tone was one of utter conviction. "I had never
believed in such things - never thought about them, but - it was a
week ago - in the library - I have not seen a happy moment since - "
"Yes, yes, I know; but imagine! I was sitting reading. I had just
come from the nursery, and the memory of Laura's good-night kiss
was more in my mind than the story I was finishing when - oh, I can
not think of it without a shudder! - the page before me seemed to
recede and the words fade away in a blue mist; glancing up I beheld
the outlines of a form between me and the lamp. which a moment
before had been burning brightly. Outlines, Henry, - I was
conscious of no substance, and the eyes which met mine from that
shadowy, blood-curdling Something were those of the grave and meant
a grave for you or for me. Oh, I know what I say! There was no
mistaking their look. As it burned into and through me, everything
which had given reality to my life faded and seemed as far away and
as unsubstantial as a dream. Nor has its power over me gone yet.
I go about amongst you, I eat, I sleep, or try to; I greet men,
talk with women, but it is all unreal, all phantasmagoric, even
yourself and your love and, O God, my baby! What is real and
distinctive, an absolute part of me and my life, is that shape from
the dead, with its threatening eyes which pierce - pierce - "
She was losing her self-control. Her husband, with a soothing
touch on her arm, brought her back to the present.
"You speak of a form," he said, "a shadowy outline. The form of
what? A man or a woman?"
"A man! a man!" With the exclamation she seemed to shrink into
herself and her eyes, just now deprecating and appealing, took on
a hollow stare, as if the vision she described had risen again
In spite of himself and the sympathy he undoubtedly felt for her,
an ejaculation of impatience left her husband's lips. Obligations
very far removed from the fantasies of a disturbed mind made these
unsubstantial fears of hers seem puerile enough to this virile,
outspoken man. No doubt she heard it, and to stop the matter-of-
fact protest on his lips added quickly:
"Not the form, face and eyes of a man, as they usually appear. Hell
was in his gaze and the message he gave, if it was a message, was one
of disaster, if not death. Do you wonder that my happiness vanished
before it? That I can not be myself since that dreadful day?"
The mayor was a practical man; he kept close to the subject.
"You saw this form between you and the lighted lamp. How long did
it stay there and what became of it?"
"I can not tell you. One moment it was there and the next it was
gone, and I found myself staring into vacancy. I seem to be
staring there still, waiting for the blow destined to shatter this
"Nonsense! give me a kiss and fix your thoughts on something more
substantial. What we have to fear and all we have to fear is that
I may lose my election. And that won't kill me, whatever effect it
may have on the party."
"Henry," - her voice had changed to one more natural, also her
manner. The confidence expressed in this outburst, the vitality,
the masculine attitude he took were producing their effect. "You
don't believe in what I saw or in my fears. Perhaps you are right.
I am ready to acknowledge this; I will try to look upon it all as
a freak of my imagination if you will promise to forget these
dreadful days, and if people, other people, will leave me alone and
not print such things about me."
"I am ready to do my part," was his glad reply, "and as for the
other people you mention, we shall soon bring them to book."
Raising his voice, he called out his secretary's name. As it rang
loud and cheery down the hall, the joy and renewed life which had
been visible in her manner lost some of their brightness.
"What are you going to do?" she gasped, with the quickness of doubt
and strong if reasonless apprehension. "Give an order," he
explained; then, as the secretary appeared at our end of the hall,
he held out the journal which he had taken from his wife and
indicating the offensive paragraph, said:
"Find out who did that."
Mr. Steele with a surprised look ran his eyes over the paragraph,
knitting his brows as he did.
"It is calumny," fell from Mrs. Packard's lips as she watched him.
"Most certainly," he assented, with an energy which brought a
flush of pleasure to the humiliated woman's cheek. "It will detain
me two days or more to follow up this matter," he remarked, with a
look of inquiry directed at Mayor Packard.
"Never mind. Two days or a week, it is all one. I would rather
lose votes than pass over such an insult. Pin me down the man who
has dared attack me through my wife, and you will do me the
greatest favor one man can show another."
Mr. Steele bowed. "I can not forego the final consultation we had
planned to hold on the train. May I ride down with you to the
"Certainly; most happy."
Mr. Steele withdrew, after casting a glance of entirely respectful
sympathy at the woman who up to this hour had faced the world
without a shadow between her and it; and, marking the lingering
nature of the look with which the mayor now turned on his wife, I
followed the secretary's example and left them to enjoy their few
last words alone.
Verily the pendulum of events swung wide and fast in this house.
This conclusion was brought back to me with fresh insistence a few
minutes later, when, on hearing the front door shut, I stepped to
the balustrade and looked over to see if Mrs. Packard was coming
up. She was not, for I saw her go into the library; but plainly on
the marble pavement below, just where we had all been standing, in
fact, I perceived the piece of paper she had brought with her from
the dining-room and had doubtless dropped in the course of the
Running down in great haste, I picked it up. This scrap of I knew
not what, but which had been the occasion of the enigmatic scene I
had witnessed at the breakfast-table, necessarily interested me
very much and I could not help giving it a look. I saw that it was
inscribed with Hebraic-looking characters as unlike as possible to
the scrawl of a little child.
With no means of knowing whether they were legible or not, these
characters made a surprising impression upon me, one, indeed, that
was almost photographic.
I also noted that these shapes or characters, of which there were
just seven, were written on the face of an empty envelope. This
decided any doubts I may have had as to its identity with the paper
she had brought down from the attic. That had been a square sheet,
which even if folded would fail to enter this long and narrow
envelope. The interest which I had felt when I thought the two
identical was a false interest. Yet I could not but believe that
this scrap had a value of its own equal to the one with which,
under this misapprehension, I had invested it.
Carrying it back to Mrs. Packard, I handed it over with the remark
that I had found it lying in the hall. She cast a quick look at
it, gave me another look and tossed the paper into the grate. As
it caught fire and flared up, the characters started vividly into
This second glimpse of them, added to the one already given me,
fixed the whole indelibly in my mind. This is the way they looked.
; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
While I watched these cabalistic marks pass from red to black and
finally vanish in a wild leap up the chimney, Mrs. Packard