Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

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pause in his gigantic stride to throw himself between
me and the pursuers.

“Sprint for it hot,” he called very coolly, as though
he were coaching me in a contest of the most amiable
sort imaginable.

“Get away from those guns,” I panted, angered by
the very generosity of his defense.

“Feint for the front entrance and then run for the
terrace and the library-door,” he commanded, as we
crossed the little ravine bridge. “They’ve got us headed

Twice the guns boomed behind us, and twice I saw
shot cut into the snow about me.

“I’m all right,” called Stoddard reassuringly, still
at my back. “They’re not a bit anxious to kill me.”

I was at the top of my speed now, but the clergyman
kept close at my heels. I was blowing hard, but he
made equal time with perfect ease.

The sheriff was bawling orders to his forces, who
awaited us before the front door. Bates and Larry were
not visible, but I had every confidence that the Irishman
would reappear in the fight at the earliest moment
possible. Bates, too, was to be reckoned with, and the
final struggle, if it came in the house itself, might not
be so unequal, providing we knew the full strength
of the enemy.

“Now for the sheriff—here we go!” cried Stoddard—
beside me—and we were close to the fringe of trees that
shielded the entrance. Then off we veered suddenly to
the left, close upon the terrace, where one of the French
windows was thrown open and Larry and Bates stepped
out, urging us on with lusty cries.

They caught us by the arms and dragged us over
where the balustrade was lowest, and we crowded
through the door and slammed it. As Bates snapped
the bolts Morgan’s party discharged its combined artillery
and the sheriff began a great clatter at the front

“Gentlemen, we’re in a state of siege,” observed
Larry, filling his pipe.

Shot pattered on the wails and several panes of glass
cracked in the French windows.

“All’s tight below, sir,” reported Bates. “I thought
it best to leave the tunnel trap open for our own use.
Those fellows won’t come in that way,—it’s too much
like a blind alley.”

“Where’s your prisoner, Larry?”

“Potato cellar, quite comfortable, thanks!”

It was ten o’clock and the besiegers suddenly withdrew
a short distance for parley among themselves. Outside
the sun shone brightly; and the sky was never bluer.
In this moment of respite, while we made ready for
what further the day might bring forth, I climbed up
to the finished tower to make sure we knew the enemy’s
full strength. I could see over the tree-tops, beyond the
chapel tower, the roofs of St. Agatha’s. There, at least,
was peace. And in that moment, looking over the black
wood, with the snow lying upon the ice of the lake white
and gleaming under the sun, I felt unutterably lonely
and heart-sick, and tired of strife. It seemed a thousand
years ago that I had walked and talked with the
child Olivia; and ten thousand years more since the
girl in gray at the Annandale station had wakened in
me a higher aim, and quickened a better impulse than I
had ever known.

Larry roared my name through the lower floors. I
went down with no wish in my heart but to even matters
with Pickering and be done with my grandfather’s
legacy for ever.

“The sheriff and Morgan have gone back toward the
lake,” reported Larry.

“They’ve gone to consult their chief,” I said. “I
wish Pickering would lead his own battalions. It would
give social prestige to the fight.”

“Bah, these women!” And Larry tore the corner
from a cartridge box.

Stoddard, with a pile of clubs within reach, lay on
his back on the long leather couch, placidly reading his
Greek testament. Bates, for the first time since my arrival,
seemed really nervous and anxious, He pulled a
silver watch from his pocket several times, something I
had never seen him do before. He leaned against the
table, looking strangely tired and worn, and I saw him
start nervously as he felt Larry’s eyes on him.

“I think, sir, I’d better take another look at the outer
gates,” he remarked to me quite respectfully.

His disturbed air aroused my old antagonism. Was
he playing double in the matter? Did he seek now an
excuse for conveying some message to the enemy?

“You’ll stay where you are,” I said sharply, and I
found myself restlessly fingering my revolver.

“Very good, sir,”—and the hurt look in his eyes
touched me.

“Bates is all right,” Larry declared, with an emphasis
that was meant to rebuke me.



“They’re coming faster this time,” remarked Stoddard.

“Certainly. Their general has been cursing them
right heartily for retreating without the loot. He wants
his three-hundred-thousand-dollar autograph collection,”
observed Larry.

“Why doesn’t he come for it himself, like a man?” I

“Like a man, do you say!” ejaculated Larry. “Faith
and you flatter that fat-head!”

It was nearly eleven o’clock when the attacking party
returned after a parley on the ice beyond the boat-house.
The four of us were on the terrace ready for them.
They came smartly through the wood, the sheriff and
Morgan slightly in advance of the others. I expected
them to slacken their pace when they came to the open
meadow, but they broke into a quick trot at the water-tower
and came toward the house as steady as veteran

“Shall we try gunpowder?” asked Larry.

“We’ll let them fire the first volley,” I said.

“They’ve already tried to murder you and Stoddard,
—I’m in for letting loose with the elephant guns,” protested
the Irishman.

“Stand to your clubs,” admonished Stoddard, whose
own weapon was comparable to the Scriptural weaver’s
beam. “Possession is nine points of the fight, and we’ve
got the house.”

“Also a prisoner of war,” said Larry, grinning.

The English detective had smashed the glass in the
barred window of the potato cellar and we could hear
him howling and cursing below.

“Looks like business this time!” exclaimed Larry.
“Spread out now and the first head that sticks over the
balustrade gets a dose of hickory.”

When twenty-five yards from the terrace the advancing
party divided, half halting between us and the
water-tower and the remainder swinging around the
house toward the front entrance.

“Ah, look at that!” yelled Larry. “It’s a battering-ram
they have. O man of peace! have I your Majesty’s
consent to try the elephant guns now?”

Morgan and the sheriff carried between them a stick
of timber from which the branches had been cut, and,
with a third man to help, they ran it up the steps and
against the door with a crash that came booming back
through the house.

Bates was already bounding up the front stairway, a
revolver in his hand and a look of supreme rage on his
face. Leaving Stoddard and Larry to watch the library
windows, I was after him, and we clattered over the loose
boards in the upper hall and into a great unfinished
chamber immediately over the entrance. Bates had the
window up when I reached him and was well out upon
the coping, yelling a warning to the men below.

He had his revolver up to shoot, and when I caught
his arm he turned to me with a look of anger and indignation
I had never expected to see on his colorless, mask-like

“My God, sir! That door was his pride, sir,—it came
from a famous house in England, and they’re wrecking
it, sir, as though it were common pine.”

He tore himself free of my grasp as the besiegers
again launched their battering-ram against the door
with a frightful crash, and his revolver cracked smartly
thrice, as he bent far out with one hand clinging to
the window frame.

His shots were a signal for a sharp reply from one of
the men below, and I felt Bates start, and pulled him
in, the blood streaming from his face.

“It’s all right, sir,—all right,—only a cut across my
cheek, sir,”—and another bullet smashed through the
glass, spurting plaster dust from the wall. A fierce
onslaught below caused a tremendous crash to echo
through the house, and I heard firing on the opposite
side, where the enemy’s reserve was waiting.

Bates, with a handkerchief to his face, protested that
he was unhurt.

“Come below; there’s nothing to be gained here,”—.
and I ran down to the hall, where Stoddard stood, leaning
upon his club like a Hercules and coolly watching
the door as it leaped and shook under the repeated blows
of the besiegers.

A gun roared again at the side of the house, and I ran
to the library, where Larry had pushed furniture against
all the long windows save one, which he held open. He
stepped out upon the terrace and emptied a revolver at
the men who were now creeping along the edge of the
ravine beneath us. One of them stopped and discharged
a rifle at us with deliberate aim. The ball snapped snow
from the balustrade and screamed away harmlessly.

“Bah, such monkeys!” he muttered. “I believe I’ve
hit that chap!” One man had fallen and lay howling
in the ravine, his hand to his thigh, while his comrades
paused, demoralized.

“Serves you right, you blackguard!” Larry muttered.

I pulled him in and we jammed a cabinet against the

Meanwhile the blows at the front continued with increasing
violence. Stoddard still stood where I had left
him. Bates was not in sight, but the barking of a revolver
above showed that he had returned to the window
to take vengeance on his enemies.

Stoddard shook his head in deprecation.

“They fired first,—we can’t do less than get back at
them,” I said, between the blows of the battering-ram.

A panel of the great oak door now splintered in, but
in their fear that we might use the opening as a
loophole, they scampered out into range of Bates’ revolver.
In return we heard a rain of small shot on the
upper windows, and a few seconds later Larry shouted
that the flanking party was again at the terrace.

This movement evidently heartened the sheriff, for,
under a fire from Bates, his men rushed up and the log
crashed again into the door, shaking it free of the upper
hinges. The lower fastenings were wrenched loose an
instant later, and the men came tumbling into the hall,
—the sheriff, Morgan and four others I had never seen
before. Simultaneously the flanking party reached the
terrace and were smashing the small panes of the French
windows. We could hear the glass crack and tinkle
above the confusion at the door.

In the hall he was certainly a lucky man who held to
his weapon a moment after the door tumbled in. I
blazed at the sheriff with my revolver as he stumbled
and half-fell at the threshold, so that the ball passed
over him, but he gripped me by the legs and had me
prone and half-dazed by the rap of my head on the floor.

I suppose I was two or three minutes, at least, getting
my wits. I was first conscious of Bates grappling the
sheriff, who sat upon me, and as they struggled with each
other I got the full benefit of their combined, swerving,
tossing weight. Morgan and Larry were trying for a
chance at each other with revolvers, while Morgan
backed the Irishman slowly toward the library. Stoddard
had seized one of the unknown deputies with both
hands by the collar and gave his captive a tremendous
swing, jerking him high in the air and driving him
against another invader with a blow that knocked both
fellows spinning into a corner.

“Come on to the library!” shouted Larry, and Bates,
who had got me to my feet, dragged me down the hall
toward the open library-door.

Bates presented at this moment an extraordinary appearance,
with the blood from the scratch on his face
coursing down his cheek and upon his shoulder. His
coat and shirt had been torn away and the blood was
smeared over his breast. The fury and indignation in
his face was something I hope not to see again in a human

“My God, this room—this beautiful room!” I heard
him cry, as he pushed me before him into the library.
“It was Mr. Glenarm’s pride,” he muttered, and sprang
upon a burly fellow who had came in through one of
the library doors and was climbing over the long table
we had set up as a barricade.

We were now between two fires. The sheriff’s party
had fought valiantly to keep us out of the library, and
now that we were within, Stoddard’s big shoulders held
the door half-closed against the combined strength of
the men in the ball. This pause was fortunate, for it
gave us an opportunity to deal singly with the fellows
who were climbing in from the terrace. Bates had laid
one of them low with a club and Larry disposed of another,
who had made a murderous effort to stick a knife
into him. I was with Stoddard against the door, where
the sheriff’s men were slowly gaining upon us.

“Let go on the jump when I say three,” said
Stoddard, and at his word we sprang away from the
door and into the room. Larry yelled with joy as the
sheriff and his men pitched forward and sprawled upon
the floor, and we were at it again in a hand-to-hand conflict
to clear the room.

“Hold that position, sir,” yelled Bates.

Morgan had directed the attack against me and I was
driven upon the hearth before the great fireplace. The
sheriff, Morgan and Ferguson hemmed me in. It was
evident that I was the chief culprit, and they wished to
eliminate me from the contest. Across the room, Larry,
Stoddard and Bates were engaged in a lively rough and
tumble with the rest of the besiegers, and Stoddard, seeing
my plight, leaped the overturned table, broke past
the trio and stood at my side, swinging a chair.

At that moment my eyes, sweeping the outer doors,
saw the face of Pickering. He had come to see that his
orders were obeyed, and I remember yet my satisfaction,
as, hemmed in by the men he had hired to kill me
or drive me out, I felt, rather than saw, the cowardly
horror depicted upon his face.

Then the trio pressed in upon me. As I threw down
my club and drew my revolver, some one across the
room fired several shots, whose roar through the room
seemed to arrest the fight for an instant, and then, while
Stoddard stood at my side swinging his chair defensively,
the great chandelier, loosened or broken by the shots,
fell with a mighty crash of its crystal pendants. The
sheriff, leaping away from Stoddard’s club, was struck
on the head and borne down by the heavy glass.

Smoke from the firing floated in clouds across the
room, and there was a moment’s silence save for the
sheriff, who was groaning and cursing under the debris
of the chandelier. At the door Pickering’s face appeared
again anxious and frightened. I think the scene
in the room and the slow progress his men were making
against us had half-paralyzed him.

We were all getting our second wind for a renewal
of the fight, with Morgan in command of the enemy.
One or two of his men, who had gone down early in the
struggle, were now crawling back for revenge. I think
I must have raised my hand and pointed at Pickering,
for Bates wheeled like a flash and before I realized what
happened he had dragged the executor into the room.

“You scoundrel—you ingrate!” howled the servant.

The blood on his face and bare chest and the hatred
in his eves made him a hideous object; but in that lull
of the storm while we waited, watching for an advantage,
I heard off somewhere, above or below, that same
sound of footsteps that I had remarked before. Larry
and Stoddard heard it; Bates heard it, and his eyes fixed
upon Pickering with a glare of malicious delight.

“There comes our old friend, the ghost,” yelled Larry.

“I think you are quite right, sir,” said Bates. He
threw down the revolver he held in his hand and leaned
upon the edge of the long table that lay on its side, his
gaze still bent on Pickering, who stood with his overcoat
buttoned close, his derby hat on the floor beside him,
where it had fallen as Bates hauled him into the room.

The sound of a measured step, of some one walking,
of a careful foot on a stairway, was quite distinct. I even
remarked the slight stumble that I had noticed before.

We were all so intent on those steps in the wall that
we were off guard. I heard Bates yell at me, and Larry
and Stoddard rushed for Pickering. He had drawn a
revolver from his overcoat pocket and thrown it up to
fire at me when Stoddard sent the weapon flying through
the air.

“Only a moment now, gentlemen,” said Bates, an odd
smile on his face. He was looking past me toward the
right end of the fireplace. There seemed to be in the
air a feeling of something impending. Even Morgan
and his men, half-crouching ready for a rush at me, hesitated;
and Pickering glanced nervously from one to the
other of us. It was the calm before the storm; in a moment
we should be at each other’s throats for the final
struggle, and yet we waited. In the wall I heard still
the sound of steps. They were clear to all of us now.
We stood there for what seemed an eternity—I suppose
the time was really not more than thirty seconds—inert,
waiting, while I felt that something must happen; the
silence, the waiting, were intolerable. I grasped my pistol
and bent low for a spring at Morgan, with the overturned
table and wreckage of the chandelier between me
and Pickering; and every man in the room was instantly
on the alert.

All but Bates. He remained rigid—that curious
smile on his blood-smeared face, his eyes bent toward the
end of the great fireplace back of me.

That look on his face held, arrested, numbed me; I
followed it. I forgot Morgan; a tacit truce held us all
again. I stepped back till my eyes fastened on the
broad paneled chimney-breast at the right of the hearth,
and it was there now that the sound of footsteps in the
wall was heard again; then it ceased utterly, the long
panel opened slowly, creaking slightly upon its hinges,
then down into the room stepped Marian Devereux.
She wore the dark gown in which I had seen her last,
and a cloak was drawn over her shoulders.

She laughed as her eyes swept the room.

“Ah, gentlemen,” she said, shaking her head, as she
viewed our disorder, “what wretched housekeepers you

Steps were again heard in the wall, and she turned to
the panel, held it open with one hand and put out the
other, waiting for some one who followed her.

Then down into the room stepped my grandfather,
John Marshall Glenarm! His staff, his cloak, the silk
hat above his shrewd face, and his sharp black eyes were
unmistakable. He drew a silk handkerchief from the
skirts of his frock coat, with a characteristic flourish
that I remembered well, and brushed a bit of dust from
his cloak before looking at any of us. Then his eyes
fell upon me.

“Good morning, Jack,” he said; and his gaze swept
the room.

“God help us!”

It was Morgan, I think, who screamed these words as
he bolted for the broken door, but Stoddard caught and
held him.

“Thank God, you’re here, sir!” boomed forth in Bates’
sepulchral voice.

It seemed to me that I saw all that happened with a
weird, unnatural distinctness, as one sees, before a
storm, vivid outlines of far headlands that the usual
light of day scarce discloses.

I was myself dazed and spellbound; but I do not like
to think, even now, of the effect of my grandfather’s
appearance on Arthur Pickering; of the shock that
seemed verily to break him in two, so that he staggered,
then collapsed, his head falling as though to strike his
knees. Larry caught him by the collar and dragged him
to a seat, where he huddled, his twitching hands at his

“Gentlemen,” said my grandfather, “you seem to have
been enjoying yourselves. Who is this person?”

He pointed with his stick to the sheriff, who was endeavoring
to crawl out from under the mass of broken

“That, sir, is the sheriff,” answered Bates.

“A very disorderly man, I must say. Jack, what
have you been doing to cause the sheriff so much inconvenience?
Didn’t you know that that chandelier was
likely to kill him? That thing cost a thousand dollars,
gentlemen. You are expensive visitors. Ah, Morgan,—
and Ferguson, too! Well, well! I thought better of both
of you. Good morning, Stoddard! A little work for
the Church militant! And this gentleman?”—he indicated
Larry, who was, for once in his life, without anything
to say.

“Mr. Donovan,—a friend of the house,” explained

“Pleased, I’m sure,” said the old gentleman. “Glad
the house had a friend. It seems to have had enemies
enough,” he added dolefully; and he eyed the wreck of
the room ruefully. The good humor in his face reassured
me; but still I stood in tongue-tied wonder, staring
at him.

“And Pickering!” John Marshall Glenarm’s voice
broke with a quiet mirth that I remembered as the preface
usually of something unpleasant. “Well, Arthur,
I’m glad to find you on guard, defending the interests
of my estate. At the risk of your life, too! Bates!”

“Yes, Mr. Glenarm.”

“You ought to have called me earlier. I really prized
that chandelier immensely. And this furniture wasn’t
so bad!”

His tone changed abruptly. He pointed to the
sheriff’s deputies one after the other with his stick.
There was, I remembered, always something insinuating,
disagreeable and final about my grandfather’s staff.

“Clear out!” he commanded. “Bates, see these fellows
through the wall. Mr. Sheriff, if I were you I’d
be very careful, indeed, what I said of this affair. I’m
a dead man come to life again, and I know a great deal
that I didn’t know before I died. Nothing, gentlemen,
fits a man for life like a temporary absence from this
cheerful and pleasant world. I recommend you to try

He walked about the room with the quick eager step
that was peculiarly his own, while Stoddard, Larry and
I stared at him. Bates was helping the dazed sheriff
to his feet. Morgan and the rest of the foe were crawling
and staggering away, muttering, as though imploring
the air of heaven against an evil spirit.

Pickering sat silent, not sure whether he saw a ghost
or real flesh and blood, and Larry kept close to him, cutting
off his retreat. I think we all experienced that bewildered
feeling of children who are caught in mischief
by a sudden parental visitation. My grandfather went
about peering at the books, with a tranquil air that was

He paused suddenly before the design for the memorial
tablet, which I had made early in my stay at
Glenarm House. I had sketched the lettering with some
care, and pinned it against a shelf for my more leisurely
study of its phrases. The old gentlemen pulled out his
glasses and stood with his hands behind his back, reading.
When he finished he walked to where I stood.

“Jack!” he said, “Jack, my boy!” His voice shook
and his hands trembled as he laid them on my shoulders.
“Marian,”—he turned, seeking her, but the girl had
vanished. “Just as well,” he said. “This room is hardly
an edifying sight for a woman.” I heard, for an instant,
a light hurried step in the wall.

Pickering, too, heard that faint, fugitive sound, and
our eyes met at the instant it ceased. The thought of
her tore my heart, and I felt that Pickering saw and
knew and was glad.

“They have all gone, sir,” reported Bates, returning
to the room.

“Now, gentlemen,” began my grandfather, seating
himself, “I owe you an apology; this little secret of mine
was shared by only two persons. One of these was Bates,”
—he paused as an exclamation broke from all of us; and
he went on, enjoying our amazement,—“and the other
was Marian Devereux. I had often observed that at a
man’s death his property gets into the wrong hands, or
becomes a bone of contention among lawyers. Sometimes,”
and the old gentleman laughed, “an executor
proves incompetent or dishonest. I was thoroughly
fooled in you, Pickering. The money you owe me is a
large sum; and you were so delighted to hear of my
death that you didn’t even make sure I was really out of
the way. You were perfectly willing to accept Bates’
word for it; and I must say that Bates carried it off

Pickering rose, the blood surging again in his face,
and screamed at Bates, pointing a shaking finger at the

“You impostor,—you perjurer! The law will deal

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 17 of 19)