Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

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used to take great pleasure in it. Bass,—yes, sir. Mr.
Glenarm held there was nothing quite equal to a black

I liked the way the fellow spoke of my grandfather.
He was evidently a loyal retainer. No doubt he could
summon from the past many pictures of my grandfather,
and I determined to encourage his confidence.

Any resentment I felt on first hearing the terms of
my grandfather’s will had passed. He had treated me
as well as I deserved, and the least I could do was to
accept the penalty he had laid upon me in a sane and
amiable spirit. This train of thought occupied me as
we tramped along the highway. The road now led away
from the lake and through a heavy wood. Presently, on
the right loomed a dark barrier, and I put out my hand
and touched a wall of rough stone that rose to a height
of about eight feet.

“What is this, Bates?” I asked.

“This is Glenarm land, sir. The wall was one of
your grandfather’s ideas. It’s a quarter of a mile long
and cost him a pretty penny, I warrant you. The road
turns off from the lake now, but the Glenarm property
is all lake front.”

So there was a wall about my prison house! I grinned
cheerfully to myself. When, a few moments later, my
guide paused at an arched gateway in the long wall,
drew from his overcoat a bunch of keys and fumbled at
the lock of an iron gate, I felt the spirit of adventure
quicken within me.

The gate clicked behind us and Bates found a lantern
and lighted it with the ease of custom.

“I use this gate because it’s nearer. The regular entrance
is farther down the road. Keep close, sir, as the
timber isn’t much cleared.”

The undergrowth was indeed heavy, and I followed
the lantern of my guide with difficulty. In the darkness
the place seemed as wild and rough as a tropical wilderness.

“Only a little farther,” rose Bates’ voice ahead of
me; and then: “There’s the light, sir,”—and, lifting
my eyes, as I stumbled over the roots of a great tree, I
saw for the first time the dark outlines of Glenarm

“Here we are, sir!” exclaimed Bates, stamping his
feet upon a walk. I followed him to what I assumed to
be the front door of the house, where a lamp shone
brightly at either side of a massive entrance. Bates
flung it open without ado, and I stepped quickly into
a great hall that was lighted dimly by candles fastened
into brackets on the walls.

“I hope you’ve not expected too much, Mr. Glenarm,”
said Bates, with a tone of mild apology. “It’s very incomplete
for living purposes.”

“Well, we’ve got to make the best of it,” I answered,
though without much cheer. The sound of our steps
reverberated and echoed in the well of a great staircase.
There was not, as far as I could see, a single article of
furniture in the place.

“Here’s something you’ll like better, sir,”—and Bates
paused far down the ball and opened a door.

A single candle made a little pool of light in what I
felt to be a large room. I was prepared for a disclosure
of barren ugliness, and waited, in heartsick foreboding,
for the silent guide to reveal a dreary prison.

“Please sit here, sir,” said Bates, “while I make a
better light.”

He moved through the dark room with perfect ease,
struck a match, lighted a taper and went swiftly and
softly about. He touched the taper to one candle after
another,—they seemed to be everywhere,—and won
from the dark a faint twilight, that yielded slowly to a
growing mellow splendor of light. I have often watched
the acolytes in dim cathedrals of the Old World set
countless candles ablaze on magnificent altars,—always
with awe for the beauty of the spectacle; but in this
unknown house the austere serving-man summoned
from the shadows a lovelier and more bewildering enchantment.
Youth alone, of beautiful things, is lovelier
than light.

The lines of the walls receded as the light increased,
and the raftered ceiling drew away, luring the eyes upward.
I rose with a smothered exclamation on my lips
and stared about, snatching off my hat in reverence as
the spirit of the place wove its spell about me. Everywhere
there were books; they covered the walls to the
ceiling, with only long French windows and an enormous
fireplace breaking the line. Above the fireplace a
massive dark oak chimney-breast further emphasized
the grand scale of the room. From every conceivable
place—from shelves built for the purpose, from brackets
that thrust out long arms among the books, from a
great crystal chandelier suspended from the ceiling, and
from the breast of the chimney—innumerable candles
blazed with dazzling brilliancy. I exclaimed in wonder
and pleasure as Bates paused, his sorcerer’s wand in

“Mr. Glenarm was very fond of candle-light; he
liked to gather up candlesticks, and his collection is
very fine. He called his place ‘The House of a Thousand
Candles.’ There’s only about a hundred here;
but it was one of his conceits that when the house was
finished there would be a thousand lights, he had quite
a joking way, your grandfather. It suited his humor
to call it a thousand. He enjoyed his own pleasantries,

“I fancy he did,” I replied, staring in bewilderment.

“Oil lamps might be more suited to your own taste,
sir. But your grandfather would not have them. Old
brass and copper were specialties with him, and he had
a particular taste, Mr. Glenarm had, in glass candlesticks.
He held that the crystal was most effective of
all. I’ll go and let in the baggageman and then serve
you some supper.”

He went somberly out and I examined the room with
amazed and delighted eyes. It was fifty feet long and
half as wide. The hard-wood floor was covered with
handsome rugs; every piece of furniture was quaint or
interesting. Carved in the heavy oak paneling above
the fireplace, in large Old English letters, was the inscription:

The Spirit of Man is the Candle of the Lord

and on either side great candelabra sent long arms
across the hearth. All the books seemed related to architecture;
German and French works stood side by side
among those by English and American authorities. I
found archaeology represented in a division where all
the titles were Latin or Italian. I opened several cabinets
that contained sketches and drawings, all in careful
order; and in another I found an elaborate card
catalogue, evidently the work of a practised hand. The
minute examination was too much for me; I threw
myself into a great chair that might have been spoil
from a cathedral, satisfied to enjoy the general effect.
To find an apartment so handsome and so marked by
good taste in the midst of an Indiana wood, staggered
me. To be sure, in approaching the house I had seen
only a dark bulk that conveyed no sense of its character
or proportions; and certainly the entrance hall
had not prepared me for the beauty of this room. I was
so lost in contemplation that I did not hear a door open
behind me. The respectful, mournful voice of Bates

“There’s a bite ready for you, sir.”

I followed him through the hall to a small high-wainscoted
room where a table was simply set.

“This is what Mr. Glenarm called the refectory. The
dining-room, on the other side of the house, is unfinished.
He took his own meals here. The library was the
main thing with him. He never lived to finish the house,
—more’s the pity, sir. He would have made something
very handsome of it if he’d had a few years more. But
he hoped, sir, that you’d see it completed. It was his
wish, sir.”

“Yes, to be sure,” I replied.

He brought cold fowl and a salad, and produced a
bit of Stilton of unmistakable authenticity.

“I trust the ale is cooled to your liking. It’s your
grandfather’s favorite, if I may say it, sir.”

I liked the fellow’s humility. He served me with a
grave deference and an accustomed hand. Candles in
crystal holders shed an agreeable light upon the table;
the room was snug and comfortable, and hickory logs
in a small fireplace crackled cheerily. If my grandfather
had designed to punish me, with loneliness as
his weapon, his shade, if it lurked near, must have
been grievously disappointed. I had long been inured
to my own society. I had often eaten my bread alone,
and I found a pleasure in the quiet of the strange unknown
house. There stole over me, too, the satisfaction
that I was at last obeying a wish of my grandfather’s,
that I was doing something he would have me do. I
was touched by the traces everywhere of his interest
in what was to him the art of arts; there was something
quite fine in his devotion to it. The little refectory
had its air of distinction, though it was without
decoration. There had been, we always said in the
family, something whimsical or even morbid in my
grandsire’s devotion to architecture; but I felt that it
had really appealed to something dignified and noble
in his own mind and character, and a gentler mood
than I had known in years possessed my heart. He had
asked little of me, and I determined that in that little
I would not fail.

Bates gave me my coffee, put matches within reach
and left the room. I drew out my cigarette case and
was holding it half-opened, when the glass in the window
back of me cracked sharply, a bullet whistled over
my head, struck the opposite wall and fell, flattened
and marred, on the table under my hand.



I ran to the window and peered out into the night.
The wood through which we had approached the house
seemed to encompass it. The branches of a great tree
brushed the panes. I was tugging at the fastening of
the window when I became aware of Bates at my elbow.

“Did something happen, sir?”

His unbroken calm angered me. Some one had fired
at me through a window and I had narrowly escaped
being shot. I resented the unconcern with which this
servant accepted the situation.

“Nothing worth mentioning. Somebody tried to assassinate
me, that’s all,” I said, in a voice that failed
to be calmly ironical. I was still fumbling at the catch
of the window.

“Allow me, sir,”—and he threw up the sash with an
ease that increased my irritation.

I leaned out and tried to find some clue to my assailant.
Bates opened another window and surveyed the
dark landscape with me.

“It was a shot from without, was it, sir?”

“Of course it was; you didn’t suppose I shot at myself,
did you?”

He examined the broken pane and picked up the bullet
from the table.

“It’s a rifle-ball, I should say.”

The bullet was half-flattened by its contact with the
wall. It was a cartridge ball of large caliber and might
have been fired from either rifle or pistol.

“It’s very unusual, sir!” I wheeled upon him angrily
and found him fumbling with the bit of metal, a
troubled look in his face. He at once continued, as
though anxious to allay my fears. “Quite accidental,
most likely. Probably boys on the lake are shooting at

I laughed out so suddenly that Bates started back in

“You idiot!” I roared, seizing him by the collar with
both hands and shaking him fiercely. “You fool! Do the
people around here shoot ducks at night? Do they
shoot water-fowl with elephant guns and fire at people
through windows just for fun?”

I threw him back against the table so that it leaped
away from him, and he fell prone on the floor.

“Get up!” I commanded, “and fetch a lantern.”

He said nothing, but did as I bade him. We traversed
the long cheerless hall to the front door, and I sent him
before me into the woodland. My notions of the geography
of the region were the vaguest, but I wished to
examine for myself the premises that evidently contained
a dangerous prowler. I was very angry and my
rage increased as I followed Bates, who had suddenly
retired within himself. We stood soon beneath the
lights of the refectory window.

The ground was covered with leaves which broke
crisply under our feet.

“What lies beyond here?” I demanded.

“About a quarter of mile of woods, sir, and then the

“Go ahead,” I ordered, “straight to the lake.”

I was soon stumbling through rough underbrush similar
to that through which we had approached the house.
Bates swung along confidently enough ahead of me,
pausing occasionally to hold back the branches. I began
to feel, as my rage abated, that I had set out on a foolish
undertaking. I was utterly at sea as to the character of
the grounds; I was following a man whom I had not
seen until two hours before, and whom I began to suspect
of all manner of designs upon me. It was wholly
unlikely that the person who had fired into the windows
would lurk about, and, moreover, the light of the lantern,
the crack of the leaves and the breaking of the
boughs advertised our approach loudly. I am, however,
a person given to steadfastness in error, if nothing else,
and I plunged along behind my guide with a grim determination
to reach the margin of the lake, if for no
other reason than to exercise my authority over the
custodian of this strange estate.

A bush slapped me sharply and I stopped to rub the
sting from my face.

“Are you hurt, sir?” asked Bates solicitously, turning
with the lantern.

“Of course not,” I snapped. “I’m having the time
of my life. Are there no paths in this jungle?”

“Not through here, sir. It was Mr. Glenarm’s idea
not to disturb the wood at all. He was very fond of
walking through the timber.”

“Not at night, I hope! Where are we now?”

“Quite near the lake, sir.”

“Then go on.”

I was out of patience with Bates, with the pathless
woodland, and, I must confess, with the spirit of John
Marshall Glenarm, my grandfather.

We came out presently upon a gravelly beach, and
Bates stamped suddenly on planking.

“This is the Glenarm dock, sir; and that’s the boat-house.”

He waved his lantern toward a low structure that rose
dark beside us. As we stood silent, peering out into the
starlight, I heard distinctly the dip of a paddle and the
soft gliding motion of a canoe.

“It’s a boat, sir,” whispered Bates, hiding the lantern
under his coat.

I brushed past him and crept to the end of the dock.
The paddle dipped on silently and evenly in the still
water, but the sound grew fainter. A canoe is the most
graceful, the most sensitive, the most inexplicable contrivance
of man. With its paddle you may dip up stars
along quiet shores or steal into the very harbor of
dreams. I knew that furtive splash instantly, and knew
that a trained hand wielded the paddle. My boyhood
summers in the Maine woods were not, I frequently
find, wholly wasted.

The owner of the canoe had evidently stolen close to
the Glenarm dock, and had made off when alarmed by
the noise of our approach through the wood.

“Have you a boat here?”

“The boat-house is locked and I haven’t the key with
me, sir,” he replied without excitement.

“Of course you haven’t it,” I snapped, full of anger
at his tone of irreproachable respect, and at my own
helplessness. I had not even seen the place by daylight,
and the woodland behind me and the lake at my feet
were things of shadow and mystery. In my rage I
stamped my foot.

“Lead the way back,” I roared.

I had turned toward the woodland when suddenly
there stole across the water a voice,—a woman’s voice,
deep, musical and deliberate.

“Really, I shouldn’t be so angry if I were you!” it
said, with a lingering note on the word angry.

“Who are you? What are you doing there?” I bawled.

“Just enjoying a little tranquil thought!” was the
drawling, mocking reply.

Far out upon the water I heard the dip and glide of
the canoe, and saw faintly its outline for a moment;
then it was gone. The lake, the surrounding wood, were
an unknown world,—the canoe, a boat of dreams. Then
again came the voice:

“Good night, merry gentlemen!”

“It was a lady, sir,” remarked Bates, after we had
waited silently for a full minute.

“How clever you are!” I sneered. “I suppose ladies
prowl about here at night, shooting ducks or into people’s

“It would seem quite likely, sir.”

I should have liked to cast him into the lake, but be
was already moving away, the lantern swinging at his
side. I followed him, back through the woodland to the

My spirits quickly responded to the cheering influence
of the great library. I stirred the fire on the
hearth into life and sat down before it, tired from my
tramp. I was mystified and perplexed by the incident
that had already marked my coming. It was possible,
to be sure, that the bullet which narrowly missed my
head in the little dining-room had been a wild shot that
carried no evil intent. I dismissed at once the idea that
it might have been fired from the lake; it had crashed
through the glass with too much force to have come so
far; and, moreover, I could hardly imagine even a rifle-ball’s
finding an unimpeded right of way through so
dense a strip of wood. I found it difficult to get rid of
the idea that some one had taken a pot-shot at me.

The woman’s mocking voice from the lake added to
my perplexity. It was not, I reflected, such a voice as
one might expect to hear from a country girl; nor could
I imagine any errand that would excuse a woman’s
presence abroad on an October night whose cool air inspired
first confidences with fire and lamp. There was
something haunting in that last cry across the water;
it kept repeating itself over and over in my ears. It
was a voice of quality, of breeding and charm.

“Good night, merry gentlemen!”

In Indiana, I reflected, rustics, young or old, men or
women, were probably not greatly given to salutations
of just this temper.

Bates now appeared.

“Beg pardon, sir; but your room’s ready whenever
you wish to retire.”

I looked about in search of a clock.

“There are no timepieces in the house, Mr. Glenarm.
Your grandfather was quite opposed to them. He had
a theory, sir, that they were conducive, as he said, to
idleness. He considered that a man should work by his
conscience, sir, and not by the clock,—the one being
more exacting than the other.”

I smiled as I drew out my watch,—as much at Bates’
solemn tones and grim lean visage as at his quotation
from my grandsire. But the fellow puzzled and annoyed
me. His unobtrusive black clothes, his smoothly-brushed
hair, his shaven face, awakened an antagonism
in me.

“Bates, if you didn’t fire that shot through the window,
who did—will you answer me that?”

“Yes, sir; if I didn’t do it, it’s quite a large question
who did. I’ll grant you that, sir.”

I stared at him. He met my gaze directly without
flinching; nor was there anything insolent in his tone
or attitude. He continued:

“I didn’t do it, sir. I was in the pantry when I heard
the crash in the refectory window. The bullet came
from out of doors, as I should judge, sir.”

The facts and conclusions were undoubtedly with
Bates, and I felt that I had not acquitted myself creditably
in my effort to fix the crime on him. My abuse of
him had been tactless, to say the least, and I now tried
another line of attack.

“Of course, Bates, I was merely joking. What’s your
own theory of the matter?”

“I have no theory, sir. Mr. Glenarm always warned
me against theories. He said—if you will pardon me—
there was great danger in the speculative mind.”

The man spoke with a slight Irish accent, which in
itself puzzled me. I have always been attentive to the
peculiarities of speech, and his was not the brogue of
the Irish servant class. Larry Donovan, who was English-born,
used on occasions an exaggerated Irish dialect
that was wholly different from the smooth liquid tones of
Bates. But more things than his speech were to puzzle
me in this man.

“The person in the canoe? How do you account for
her?” I asked.

“I haven’t accounted for her, sir. There’s no women
on these grounds, or any sort of person except ourselves.”

“But there are neighbors,—farmers, people of some
kind must live along the lake.”

“A few, sir; and then there’s the school quite a bit
beyond your own west wall.”

His slight reference to my proprietorship, my own
wall, as he put it, pleased me.

“Oh, yes; there is a school—girls?—yes; Mr. Pickering
mentioned it. But the girls hardly paddle on the
lake at night, at this season—hunting ducks—should
you say, Bates?”

“I don’t believe they do any shooting, Mr. Glenarm.
It’s a pretty strict school, I judge, sir, from all accounts.”

“And the teachers—they are all women?”

“They’re the Sisters of St. Agatha, I believe they call
them. I sometimes see them walking abroad. They’re
very quiet neighbors, and they go away in the summer
usually, except Sister Theresa. The school’s her regular
home, sir. And there’s the little chapel quite near the
wall; the young minister lives there; and the gardener’s
the only other man on the grounds.”

So my immediate neighbors were Protestant nuns
and school-girls, with a chaplain and gardener thrown
in for variety. Still, the chaplain might be a social resource.
There was nothing in the terms of my grandfather’s
will to prevent my cultivating the acquaintance
of a clergyman. It even occurred to me that this might
be a part of the game: my soul was to be watched over
by a rural priest, while, there being nothing else to do,
I was to give my attention to the study of architecture.
Bates, my guard and housekeeper, was brushing the
hearth with deliberate care.

“Show me my cell,” I said, rising, “and I’ll go to

He brought from somewhere a great brass candelabrum
that held a dozen lights, and explained:

“This was Mr. Glenarm’s habit. He always used this
one to go to bed with. I’m sure he’d wish you to have
it, sir.”

I thought I detected something like a quaver in the
man’s voice. My grandfather’s memory was dear to him.
I reflected, and I was moved to compassion for him.

“How long were you with Mr. Glenarm, Bates?” I
inquired, as I followed him into the hall.

“Five years, sir. He employed me the year you went
abroad. I remember very well his speaking of it. He
greatly admired you, sir.”

He led the way, holding the cluster of lights high for
my guidance up the broad stairway.

The hall above shared the generous lines of the whole
house, but the walls were white and hard to the eye.
Rough planks had been laid down for a floor, and beyond
the light of the candles lay a dark region that gave
out ghostly echoes as the loose boards rattled under our

“I hope you’ll not be too much disappointed, sir,”
said Bates, pausing a moment before opening a door.
“It’s all quite unfinished, but comfortable, I should say,
quite comfortable.”

“Open the door!”

He was not my host and I did not relish his apology.
I walked past him into a small sitting-room that was,
in a way, a miniature of the great library below. Open
shelves filled with books lined the apartment to the
ceiling on every hand, save where a small fireplace, a
cabinet and table were built into the walls. In the
center of the room was a long table with writing materials
set in nice order. I opened a handsome case and
found that it contained a set of draftsman’s instruments.

I groaned aloud.

“Mr. Glenarm preferred this room for working. The
tools were his very own, sir.”

“The devil they were!” I exclaimed irascibly. I
snatched a book from the nearest shelf and threw it
open on the table. It was The Tower: Its Early Use
for Purposes of Defense. London: 1816.

I closed it with a slam.

“The sleeping-room is beyond, sir. I hope—”

“Don’t you hope any more!” I growled; “and it
doesn’t make any difference whether I’m disappointed
or not.”

“Certainly not, sir!” he replied in a tone that made
me ashamed of myself.

The adjoining bedroom was small and meagerly furnished.
The walls were untinted and were relieved only
by prints of English cathedrals, French chateaux, and
like suggestions of the best things known to architecture.
The bed was the commonest iron type; and the
other articles of furniture were chosen with a strict regard
for utility. My trunks and bags had been carried
in, and Bates asked from the door f or my commands.

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 3 of 19)