Copyright
Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

. (page 15 of 19)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 15 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


come. I hope it will not embarrass you to deliver
the message.”

“I quite sympathize with your reluctance to deliver
it yourself,” she said. “Is this all you came to say?”

“I came to tell you that you could have the house,
and everything in its hideous walls,” I snapped; “to
tell you that my chivalry is enough for some situations
and that I don’t intend to fight a woman. I had accepted
your own renouncement of the legacy in good
part, but now, please believe me, it shall be yours to-morrow.
I’ll yield possession to you whenever you ask
it,—but never to Arthur Pickering! As against him
and his treasure-hunters and assassins I will hold out
for a dozen years!”

“Nobly spoken, Mr. Glenarm! Yours is really an
admirable, though somewhat complex character.”

“My character is my own, whatever it is,” I blurted.

“I shouldn’t call that a debatable proposition,” she
replied, and I was angry to find how the mirth I had
loved in her could suddenly become so hateful. She
half-turned away so that I might not see her face. The
thought that she should countenance Pickering in any
way tore me with jealous rage.

“Mr. Glenarm, you are what I have heard called a
quitter, defined in common Americanese as one who
quits! Your blustering here this afternoon can hardly
conceal the fact of your failure,—your inability to keep
a promise. I had hoped you would really be of some
help to Sister Theresa; you quite deceived her,—she
told me as she left to-day that she thought well of you,
—she really felt that her fortunes were safe in your
hands. But, of course, that is all a matter of past history
now.”

Her tone, changing from cold indifference to the
most severe disdain, stung me into self-pity for my stupidity
in having sought her. My anger was not against
her, but against Pickering, who had, I persuaded myself,
always blocked my path. She went on.

“You really amuse me exceedingly. Mr. Pickering
is decidedly more than a match for you, Mr. Glenarm,
—even in humor.”

She left me so quickly, so softly, that I stood staring
like a fool at the spot where she had been, and then I
went gloomily back to Glenarm House, angry, ashamed
and crestfallen.

While we were waiting for dinner I made a clean
breast of my acquaintance with her to Larry, omitting
nothing,—rejoicing even to paint my own conduct as
black as possible.

“You may remember her,” I concluded, “she was the
girl we saw at Sherry’s that night we dined there. She
was with Pickering, and you noticed her,—spoke of her,
as she went out.”

“That little girl who seemed so bored, or tired? Bless
me! Why her eyes haunted me for days. Lord man,
do you mean to say—”

A look of utter scorn came into his face, and he eyed
me contemptuously.

“Of course I mean it!” I thundered at him.

He took the pipe from his mouth, pressed the tobacco
viciously into the bowl, and swore steadily in Gaelic
until I was ready to choke him.

“Stop!” I bawled. “Do you think that’s helping me?
And to have you curse in your blackguardly Irish dialect!
I wanted a little Anglo-Saxon sympathy, you
fool! I didn’t mean for you to invoke your infamous
gods against the girl!”

“Don’t be violent, lad. Violence is reprehensible,”
he admonished with maddening sweetness and patience.
“What I was trying to inculcate was rather the fact,
borne in upon me through years of acquaintance, that
you are,—to he bold, my lad, to be bold,—a good deal
of a damned fool.”

The trilling of his r’s was like the whirring rise of
a flock of quails.

“Dinner is served,” announced Bates, and Larry led
the way, mockingly chanting an Irish love-song.


CHAPTER XXIII

THE DOOR OF BEWILDERMENT


We had established the practice of barring all the
gates and doors at nightfall. There was no way of
guarding against an attack from the lake, whose frozen
surface increased the danger from without; but we
counted on our night patrol to prevent a surprise from
that quarter. I was well aware that I must prepare to
resist the militant arm of the law, which Pickering
would no doubt invoke to aid him, but I intended to
exhaust the possibilities in searching for the lost treasure
before I yielded. Pickering might, if he would,
transfer the estate of John Marshall Glenarm to Marian
Devereux and make the most he could of that service,
but he should not drive me forth until I had satisfied
myself of the exact character of my grandfather’s fortune.
If it had vanished, if Pickering had stolen it
and outwitted me in making off with it, that was another
matter.

The phrase, “The Door of Bewilderment,” had never
ceased to reiterate itself in my mind. We discussed a
thousand explanations of it as we pondered over the
scrap of paper I had found in the library, and every
book in the house was examined in the search for further
clues.

The passage between the house and the chapel seemed
to fascinate Larry. He held that it must have some
particular use and he devoted his time to exploring it.

He came up at noon—it was the twenty-ninth of
December—with grimy face and hands and a grin on his
face. I had spent my morning in the towers, where it
was beastly cold, to no purpose and was not in a mood
for the ready acceptance of new theories.

“I’ve found something,” he said, filling his pipe.

“Not soap, evidently!”

“No, but I’m going to say the last word on the tunnel,
and within an hour. Give me a glass of beer and a
piece of bread, and we’ll go back and see whether we’re
sold again or not.”

“Let us explore the idea and be done with it. Wait
till I tell Stoddard where we’re going.”

The chaplain was trying the second-floor walls, and
I asked him to eat some luncheon and stand guard while
Larry and I went to the tunnel.

We took with us an iron bar, an ax and a couple of
hammers. Larry went ahead with a lantern.

“You see,” he explained, as we dropped through the
trap into the passage, “I’ve tried a compass on this
tunnel and find that we’ve been working on the wrong
theory. The passage itself runs a straight line from
the house under the gate to the crypt; the ravine is a
rough crescent-shape and for a short distance the tunnel
touches it. How deep does that ravine average—about
thirty feet?”

“Yes; it’s shallowest where the house stands. it
drops sharply from there on to the lake.”

“Very good; but the ravine is all on the Glenarm side
of the wall, isn’t it? Now when we get under the wall
I’ll show you something.”

“Here we are,” said Larry, as the cold air blew in
through the hollow posts. “Now we’re pretty near that
sharp curve of the ravine that dips away from the wall.
Take the lantern while I get out the compass. What
do you think that C on the piece of paper means? Why,
chapel, of course. I have measured the distance from
the house, the point of departure, we may assume, to
the chapel, and three-fourths of it brings us under those
beautiful posts. The directions are as plain as daylight.
The passage itself is your N. W., as the compass
proves, and the ravine cuts close in here; therefore, our
business is to explore the wall on the ravine side.”

“Good! but this is just wall here—earth with a layer
of brick and a thin coat of cement. A nice job it must
have been to do the work,—and it cost the price of a
tiger hunt,” I grumbled.

“Take heart, lad, and listen,”—and Larry began
pounding the wall with a hammer, exactly under the
north gate-post. We had sounded everything in and
about the house until the process bored me.

“Hurry up and get through with it,” I jerked impatiently,
holding the lantern at the level of his head. It
was sharply cold under the posts and I was anxious to
prove the worthlessness of his idea and be done.

Thump! thump!

“There’s a place here that sounds a trifle off the key.
You try it.”

I snatched the hammer and repeated his soundings.

Thump! thump!

There was a space about four feet square in the wall
that certainly gave forth a hollow sound.

“Stand back!” exclaimed Larry eagerly. “Here goes
with the ax.”

He struck into the wall sharply and the cement
chipped off in rough pieces, disclosing the brick beneath.
Larry paused when he had uncovered a foot of
the inner layer, and examined the surface.

“They’re loose—these bricks are loose, and there’s
something besides earth behind them!”

I snatched the hammer and drove hard at the wall.
The bricks were set up without mortar, and I plucked
them out and rapped with my knuckles on a wooden
surface.

Even Larry grew excited as we flung out the bricks.

“Ah, lad,” he said, “the old gentleman had a way
with him—he had a way with him!” A brick dropped
on his foot and he howled in pain.

“Bless the old gentleman’s heart! He made it as
easy for us as he could. Now, for the Glenarm millions,
—red money all piled up for the ease of counting it,—
a thousand pounds in every pile.”

“Don’t be a fool, Larry,” I coughed at him, for the
brick dust and the smoke of Larry’s pipe made breathing
difficult.

“That’s all the loose brick,—bring the lantern closer,”
—and we peered through the aperture upon a wooden
door, in which strips of iron were deep-set. It was fastened
with a padlock and Larry reached down for the ax.

“Wait!” I called, drawing closer with the lantern.
“What’s this?”

The wood of the door was fresh and white, but burned
deep on the surface, in this order, were the words:

THE DOOR
OF
BEWILDERMENT

“There are dead men inside, I dare say! Here, my
lad, it’s not for me to turn loose the family skeletons,”
—and Larry stood aside while I swung the ax and
brought it down with a crash on the padlock. It was
of no flimsy stuff and the remaining bricks cramped me,
but half a dozen blows broke it off.

“The house of a thousand ghosts,” chanted the irrepressible
Larry, as I pushed the door open and crawled
through.

Whatever the place was it had a floor and I set my
feet firmly upon it and turned to take the lantern.

“Hold a bit,” he exclaimed. “Some one’s coming,”
—and bending toward the opening I heard the sound
of steps down the corridor. In a moment Bates ran up,
calling my name with more spirit than I imagined possible
in him.

“What is it?” I demanded, crawling out into the
tunnel.

“It’s Mr. Pickering. The sheriff has come with him,
sir.”

As he spoke his glance fell upon the broken wall and
open door. The light of Larry’s lantern struck full
upon him. Amazement, and, I thought, a certain satisfaction,
were marked upon his countenance.

“Run along, Jack,—I’ll be up a little later,” said
Larry. “If the fellow has come in daylight with the
sheriff, he isn’t dangerous. It’s his friends that shoot
in the dark that give us the trouble.”

I crawled out and stood upright. Bates, staring at
the opening, seemed reluctant to leave the spot.

“You seem to have found it, sir,” he said,—I thought
a little chokingly. His interest in the matter nettled
me; for my first business was to go above for an interview
with the executor, and the value of our discovery
was secondary.

“Of course we have found it!” I ejaculated, brushing
the dust from my clothes. “Is Mr. Stoddard in the
library?”

“Oh, yes, sir; I left him entertaining the gentlemen.”

“Their visit is certainly most inopportune,” said
Larry. “Give them my compliments and tell them I’ll
be up as soon as I’ve articulated the bones of my friend’s
ancestors.”

Bates strode on ahead of me with his lantern, and I
left Larry crawling through the new-found door as I
hurried toward the house. I knew him well enough to
be sure he would not leave the spot until he had found
what lay behind the Door of Bewilderment.

“You didn’t tell the callers where you expected to
find me, did you?” I asked Bates, as he brushed me off
in the kitchen.

“No, sir. Mr. Stoddard received the gentlemen. He
rang the bell for me and when I went into the library
he was saying, ‘Mr. Glenarm is at his studies. Bates,’—
he says—‘kindly tell Mr. Glenarm that I’m sorry to interrupt
him, but won’t he please come down?’ I thought
it rather neat, sir, considering his clerical office. I
knew you were below somewhere, sir; the trap-door was
open and I found you easily enough.”

Bates’ eyes were brighter than I had ever seen them.
A certain buoyant note gave an entirely new tone to
his voice. He walked ahead of me to the library door,
threw it open and stood aside.

“Here you are, Glenarm,” said Stoddard. Pickering
and a stranger stood near the fireplace in their overcoats.

Pickering advanced and offered his hand, but I
turned away from him without taking it. His companion,
a burly countryman, stood staring, a paper in his
hand.

“The sheriff,” Pickering explained, “and our business
is rather personal—”

He glanced at Stoddard, who looked at me.

“Mr. Stoddard will do me the kindness to remain,”
I said and took my stand beside the chaplain.

“Oh!” Pickering ejaculated scornfully. “I didn’t
understand that you had established relations with the
neighboring clergy. Your taste is improving, Glenarm.”

“Mr. Glenarm is a friend of mine,” remarked Stoddard
quietly. “A very particular friend,” he added.

“I congratulate you—both.”

I laughed. Pickering was surveying the room as he
spoke,—and Stoddard suddenly stepped toward him,
merely, I think, to draw up a chair for the sheriff; but
Pickering, not hearing Stoddard’s step on the soft rug
until the clergyman was close beside him, started perceptibly
and reddened.

It was certainly ludicrous, and when Stoddard faced
me again he was biting his lip.

“Pardon me!” he murmured.

“Now, gentlemen, will you kindly state your business?
My own affairs press me.”

Pickering was studying the cartridge boxes on the
library table. The sheriff, too, was viewing these effects
with interest not, I think, unmixed with awe.

“Glenarm, I don’t like to invoke the law to eject you
from this property, but I am left with no alternative.
I can’t stay out here indefinitely, and I want to know
what I’m to expect.”

“That is a fair question,” I replied. “If it were
merely a matter of following the terms of the will I
should not hesitate or be here now. But it isn’t the will,
or my grandfather, that keeps me, it’s the determination
to give you all the annoyance possible,—to make it
hard and mighty hard for you to get hold of this house
until I have found why you are so much interested
in it.”

“You always had a grand way in money matters. As
I told you before you came out here, it’s a poor stake.
The assets consist wholly of this land and this house,
whose quality you have had an excellent opportunity
to test. You have doubtless heard that the country
people believe there is money concealed here,—but I
dare say you have exhausted the possibilities. This is
not the first time a rich man has died leaving precious
little behind him.”

“You seem very anxious to get possession of a property
that you call a poor stake,” I said. “A few acres
of land, a half-finished house and an uncertain claim
upon a school-teacher!”

“I had no idea you would understand it,” he replied.
“The fact that a man may be under oath to perform
the solemn duties imposed upon him by the law would
hardly appeal to you. But I haven’t come here to debate
this question. When are you going to leave?”

“Not till I’m ready,—thanks!”

“Mr. Sheriff, will you serve your writ?” he said, and
I looked to Stoddard for any hint from him as to what
I should do.

“I believe Mr. Glenarm is quite willing to hear whatever
the sheriff has to say to him,” said Stoddard. He
stepped nearer to me, as though to emphasize the fact
that he belonged to my side of the controversy, and the
sheriff read an order of the Wabana County Circuit
Court directing me, immediately, to deliver the house
and grounds into the keeping of the executor of the
will of the estate of John Marshall Glenarm.

The sheriff rather enjoyed holding the center of the
stage, and I listened quietly to the unfamiliar phraseology.
Before he had quite finished I heard a step in
the hall and Larry appeared at the door, pipe in mouth.
Pickering turned toward him frowning, but Larry paid
not the slightest attention to the executor, leaning
against the door with his usual tranquil unconcern.

“I advise you not to trifle with the law, Glenarm,”
said Pickering angrily. “You have absolutely no right
whatever to be here. And these other gentlemen—your
guests, I suppose—are equally trespassers under the
law.”

He stared at Larry, who crossed his legs for greater
ease in adjusting his lean frame to the door.

“Well, Mr. Pickering, what is the next step?” asked
the sheriff, with an importance that had been increased
by the legal phrases he had been reading.

“Mr. Pickering,” said Larry, straightening up and
taking the pipe from his mouth, “I’m Mr. Glenarm’s
counsel. If you will do me the kindness to ask the
sheriff to retire for a moment I should like to say a
few words to you that you might prefer to keep between
ourselves.”

I had usually found it wise to take any cue Larry
threw me, and I said:

“Pickering, this is Mr. Donovan, who has every authority
to act for me in the matter.”

Pickering looked impatiently from one to the other
of us.

“You seem to have the guns, the ammunition and the
numbers on your side,” he observed dryly.

“The sheriff may wait within call,” said Larry, and
at a word from Pickering the man left the room.

“Now, Mr. Pickering,”—Larry spoke slowly,—“as
my friend has explained the case to me, the assets of
his grandfather’s estate are all accounted for,—the land
hereabouts, this house, the ten thousand dollars in securities
and a somewhat vague claim against a lady
known as Sister Theresa, who conducts St. Agatha’s
School. Is that correct?”

“I don’t ask you to take my word for it, sir,” rejoined
Pickering hotly. “I have filed an inventory of the
estate, so far as found, with the proper authorities.”

“Certainly. But I merely wish to be sure of my facts
for the purpose of this interview, to save me the trouble
of going to the records. And, moreover, I am somewhat
unfamiliar with your procedure in this country. I am
a member, sir, of the Irish Bar. Pardon me, but I repeat
my question.”

“I have made oath—that, I trust, is sufficient even
for a member of the Irish Bar.”

“Quite so, Mr. Pickering,” said Larry, nodding his
head gravely.

He was not, to be sure, a presentable member of any
bar, for a smudge detracted considerably from the appearance
of one side of his face, his clothes were rumpled
and covered with black dust, and his hands were
black. But I had rarely seen him so calm. He recrossed
his legs, peered into the bowl of his pipe for a moment,
then asked, as quietly as though he were soliciting an
opinion of the weather:

“Will you tell me, Mr. Pickering, whether you yourself
are a debtor of John Marshall Glenarm’s estate?”

Pickering’s face grew white and his eyes stared, and
when he tried suddenly to speak his jaw twitched. The
room was so still that the breaking of a blazing log on
the andirons was a pleasant relief. We stood, the three
of us, with our eyes on Pickering, and in my own case
I must say that my heart was pounding my ribs at an
uncomfortable speed, for I knew Larry was not sparring
for time.

The blood rushed into Pickering’s face and he turned
toward Larry stormily.

“This is unwarrantable and infamous! My relations
with Mr. Glenarm are none of your business. When
you remember that after being deserted by his own flesh
and blood he appealed to me, going so far as to intrust
all his affairs to my care at his death, your reflection
is an outrageous insult. I am not accountable to you
or any one else!”

“Really, there’s a good deal in all that,” said Larry.
“We don’t pretend to any judicial functions. We are
perfectly willing to submit the whole business and all
my client’s acts to the authorities.”

(I would give much if I could reproduce some hint
of the beauty of that word authorities as it rolled from
Larry’s tongue!)

“Then, in God’s name, do it, you blackguards!”
roared Pickering.

Stoddard, sitting on a table, knocked his heels together
gently. Larry recrossed his legs and blew a
cloud of smoke. Then, after a quarter of a minute in
which he gazed at the ceiling with his quiet blue eyes,
he said:

“Yes; certainly, there are always the authorities. And
as I have a tremendous respect for your American institutions
I shall at once act on your suggestion. Mr.
Pickering, the estate is richer than you thought it was.
It holds, or will hold, your notes given to the decedent
for three hundred and twenty thousand dollars.”

He drew from his pocket a brown envelope, walked
to where I stood and placed it in my hands.

At the same time Stoddard’s big figure grew active,
and before I realized that Pickering had leaped toward
the packet, the executor was sitting in a chair, where the
chaplain had thrown him. He rallied promptly, stuffing
his necktie into his waistcoat; he even laughed a little.

“So much old paper! You gentlemen are perfectly
welcome to it.”

“Thank you!” jerked Larry.

“Mr. Glenarm and I had many transactions together,
and he must have forgotten to destroy those papers.”

“Quite likely,” I remarked. “It is interesting to
know that Sister Theresa wasn’t his only debtor.”

Pickering stepped to the door and called the sheriff.

“I shall give you until to-morrow morning at nine
o’clock to vacate the premises. The court understands
this situation perfectly. These claims are utterly worthless,
as I am ready to prove.”

“Perfectly, perfectly,” repeated the sheriff.

“I believe that is all,” said Larry, pointing to the
door with his pipe.

The sheriff was regarding him with particular attention.

“What did I understand your name to be?” he demanded.

“Laurance Donovan,” Larry replied coolly.

Pickering seemed to notice the name now and his eyes
lighted disagreeably.

“I think I have heard of your friend before,” he said,
turning to me. “I congratulate you on the international
reputation of your counsel. He’s esteemed so highly in
Ireland that they offer a large reward for his return.
Sheriff, I think we have finished our business for
to-day.”

He seemed anxious to get the man away, and we gave
them escort to the outer gate where a horse and buggy
were waiting.

“Now, I’m in for it,” said Larry, as I locked the gate.
“We’ve spiked one of his guns, but I’ve given him a new
one to use against myself. But come, and I will show
you the Door of Bewilderment before I skip.”


CHAPTER XXIV

A PROWLER OF THE NIGHT


Down we plunged into the cellar, through the trap
and to the Door of Bewilderment.

“Don’t expect too much,” admonished Larry; “I
can’t promise you a single Spanish coin.”

“Perish the ambition! We have blocked Pickering’s
game, and nothing else matters,” I said.

We crawled through the hole in the wall and lighted
candles. The room was about seven feet square. At
the farther end was an oblong wooden door, close to the
ceiling, and Larry tugged at the fastening until it came
down, bringing with it a mass of snow and leaves.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “we are at the edge of the
ravine. Do you see the blue sky? And yonder, if you
will twist your necks a bit, is the boat-house.”

“Well, let the scenic effects go and show us where
you found those papers,” I urged.

“Speaking of mysteries, that is where I throw up my
hands, lads. It’s quickly told. Here is a table, and here
is a tin despatch box, which lies just where I found it.
It was closed and the key was in the lock. I took out
that packet—it wasn’t even sealed—saw the character
of the contents, and couldn’t resist the temptation to
try the effect of an announcement of its discovery on
your friend Pickering. Now that is nearly all. I found
this piece of paper under the tape with which the envelope


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 15 of 19)