Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

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“I don’t see why you center all your suspicions on
me. You exaggerate my importance, Mr. Glenarm. I’m
only the man-of-all-work at a summer resort.”

“I wouldn’t believe you, Morgan, if you swore on a
stack of Bibles as high as this wall.”

“Thanks!” he ejaculated mockingly.

Like a flash he swung the hammer over his head and
drove it at me, and at the same moment I fired. The
hammer-head struck the pillar near the outer edge and
in such a manner that the handle flew around and
smote me smartly in the face. By the time I reached
the ground the man was already running rapidly
through the park, darting in and out among the trees,
and I made after him at hot speed.

[Illustration: Like a flash he swung the hammer, and at the same moment I fired.]

The hammer-handle had struck slantingly across my
forehead, and my head ached from the blow. I abused
myself roundly for managing the encounter so stupidly,
and in my rage fired twice with no aim whatever after
the flying figure of the caretaker. He clearly had the
advantage of familiarity with the wood, striking off
boldly into the heart of it, and quickly widening the
distance between us; but I kept on, even after I ceased
to hear him threshing through the undergrowth, and
came out presently at the margin of the lake about fifty
feet from the boat-house. I waited in the shadow for
some time, expecting to see the fellow again, but he did
not appear.

I found the wall with difficulty and followed it back
to the gate. It would be just as well, I thought, to
possess myself of the hammer; and I dropped down on
the St. Agatha side of the wall and groped about among
the leaves until I found it.

Then I walked home, went into the library, alight
with its many candles just as I had left it, and sat
down before the fire to meditate. I had been absent
from the house only forty-five minutes.



A moment later Bates entered with a fresh supply of
wood. I watched him narrowly for some sign of perturbation,
but he was not to be caught off guard. Possibly
he had not heard the shots in the wood; at any
rate, he tended the fire with his usual gravity, and after
brushing the hearth paused respectfully.

“Is there anything further, sir?”

“I believe not, Bates. Oh! here’s a hammer I picked
up out in the grounds a bit ago. I wish you’d see if it
belongs to the house.”

He examined the implement with care and shook his

“It doesn’t belong here, I think, sir. But we sometimes
find tools left by the carpenters that worked on
the house. Shall I put this in the tool-chest, sir?”

“Never mind. I need such a thing now and then and
I’ll keep it handy.”

“Very good, Mr. Glenarm. It’s a bit sharper to-night,
but we’re likely to have sudden changes at this season.”

“I dare say.”

We were not getting anywhere; the fellow was certainly
an incomparable actor.

“You must find it pretty lonely here, Bates. Don’t
hesitate to go to the village when you like.”

“I thank you, Mr. Glenarm; but I am not much for
idling. I keep a few books by me for the evenings. Annandale
is not what you would exactly call a diverting

“I fancy not. But the caretaker over at the summer
resort has even a lonelier time, I suppose. That’s what
I’d call a pretty cheerless job,—watching summer cottages
in the winter.”

“That’s Morgan, sir. I meet him occasionally when
I go to the village; a very worthy person, I should call
him, on slight acquaintance.”

“No doubt of it, Bates. Any time through the winter
you want to have him in for a social glass, it’s all
right with me.”

He met my gaze without flinching, and lighted me
to the stair with our established ceremony. I voted him
an interesting knave and really admired the cool way
in which he carried off difficult situations. I had no
intention of being killed, and now that I had due warning
of danger, I resolved to protect myself from foes
without and within. Both Bates and Morgan, the caretaker,
were liars of high attainment. Morgan was,
moreover, a cheerful scoundrel, and experience taught
me long ago that a knave with humor is doubly dangerous.

Before going to bed I wrote a long letter to Larry
Donovan, giving him a full account of my arrival at
Glenarm House. The thought of Larry always cheered
me, and as the pages slipped from my pen I could feel
his sympathy and hear him chuckling over the lively beginning
of my year at Glenarm. The idea of being fired
upon by an unseen foe would, I knew, give Larry a real
lift of the spirit.

The next morning I walked into the village, mailed
my letter, visited the railway station with true rustic
instinct and watched the cutting out of a freight car for
Annandale with a pleasure I had not before taken in
that proceeding. The villagers stared at me blankly as
on my first visit. A group of idle laborers stopped talking
to watch me; and when I was a few yards past them
they laughed at a remark by one of the number which
I could not overhear. But I am not a particularly sensitive
person; I did not care what my Hoosier neighbors
said of me; all I asked was that they should refrain
from shooting at the back of my head through the windows
of my own house.

On this day I really began to work. I mapped out
a course of reading, set up a draftsman’s table I found
put away in a closet, and convinced myself that I was
beginning a year of devotion to architecture. Such was,
I felt, the only honest course. I should work every day
from eight until one, and my leisure I should give to
recreation and a search for the motives that lay behind
the crafts and assaults of my enemies.

When I plunged into the wood in the middle of the
afternoon it was with the definite purpose of returning
to the upper end of the lake for an interview with Morgan,
who had, so Bates informed me, a small house back
of the cottages.

I took the canoe I had chosen for my own use from
the boat-house and paddled up the lake. The air was
still warm, but the wind that blew out of the south
tasted of rain. I scanned the water and the borders of
the lake for signs of life,—more particularly, I may as
well admit, for a certain maroon-colored canoe and a
girl in a red tam-o’-shanter, but lake and summer cottages
were mine alone. I landed and began at once my
search for Morgan. There were many paths through
the woods back of the cottages, and I followed several
futilely before I at last found a small house snugly
bid away in a thicket of young maples.

The man I was looking for came to the door quickly
in response to my knock.

“Good afternoon, Morgan.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Glenarm,” he said, taking the
pipe from his mouth the better to grin at me. He
showed no sign of surprise, and I was nettled by his cool
reception. There was, perhaps, a certain element of
recklessness in my visit to the house of a man who had
shown so singular an interest in my affairs, and his cool
greeting vexed me.

“Morgan—” I began.

“Won’t you come in and rest yourself, Mr. Glenarm?”
he interrupted. “I reckon you’re tired from your trip

“Thank you, no,” I snapped.

“Suit yourself, Mr. Glenarm.” He seemed to like my
name and gave it a disagreeable drawling emphasis.

“Morgan, you are an infernal blackguard. You have
tried twice to kill me—”

“We’ll call it that, if you like,”—and he grinned.
“But you’d better cut off one for this.”

He lifted the gray fedora hat from his head, and
poked his finger through a hole in the top.

“You’re a pretty fair shot, Mr. Glenarm. The fact
about me is,”—and he winked,—”the honest truth is,
I’m all out of practice. Why, sir, when I saw you paddling
out on the lake this afternoon I sighted you from
the casino half a dozen times with my gun, but I was
afraid to risk it.” He seemed to be shaken with inner
mirth. “If I’d missed, I wasn’t sure you’d be scared to

For a novel diversion I heartily recommend a meeting
with the assassin who has, only a few days or hours
before, tried to murder you. I know of nothing in the
way of social adventure that is quite equal to it. Morgan
was a fellow of intelligence and, whatever lay back
of his designs against me, he was clearly a foe to reckon
with. He stood in the doorway calmly awaiting my
next move. I struck a match on my box and lighted a

“Morgan, I hope you understand that I am not responsible
for any injury my grandfather may have inflicted
on you. I hadn’t seen him for several years before
he died. I was never at Glenarm before in my
life, so it’s a little rough for you to visit your displeasure
on me.”

He smiled tolerantly as I spoke. I knew—and he
knew that I did—that no ill feeling against my grandfather
lay back of his interest in my affairs.

“You’re not quite the man your grandfather was, Mr.
Glenarm. You’ll excuse my bluntness, but I take it
that you’re a frank man. He was a very keen person,
and, I’m afraid,”—he chuckled with evident satisfaction
to himself,—”I’m really afraid, Mr. Glenarm, that
you’re not!”

“There you have it, Morgan! I fully agree with you!
I’m as dull as an oyster; that’s the reason I’ve called on
you for enlightenment. Consider that I’m here under a
flag of truce, and let’s see if we can’t come to an agreement.”

“It’s too late, Mr. Glenarm; too late. There was a
time when we might have done some business; but that’s
past now. You seem like a pretty decent fellow, too,
and I’m sorry I didn’t see you sooner; but better luck
next time.”

He stroked his yellow beard reflectively and shook his
head a little sadly. He was not a bad-looking fellow;
and he expressed himself well enough with a broad western

“Well,” I said, seeing that I should only make myself
ridiculous by trying to learn anything from him, “I
hope our little spats through windows and on walls won’t
interfere with our pleasant social relations. And I don’t
hesitate to tell you,”—I was exerting myself to keep
down my anger,—”that if I catch you on my grounds
again I’ll fill you with lead and sink you in the lake.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, with so perfect an imitation
of Bates’ voice and manner that I smiled in spite
of myself.

“And now, if you’ll promise not to fire into my back
I’ll wish you good day. Otherwise—”

He snatched off his hat and bowed profoundly. “It’ll
suit me much better to continue handling the case on
your grounds,” he said, as though he referred to a
business matter. “Killing a man on your own property
requires some explaining—you may have noticed it?”

“Yes; I commit most of my murders away from
home,” I said. “I formed the habit early in life. Good
day, Morgan.”

As I turned away he closed his door with a slam,—a
delicate way of assuring me that he was acting in good
faith, and not preparing to puncture my back with a
rifle-ball. I regained the lake-shore, feeling no great
discouragement over the lean results of my interview,
but rather a fresh zest for the game, whatever the
game might be. Morgan was not an enemy to trifle
with; he was, on the other hand, a clever and daring
foe; and the promptness with which he began war on
me the night of my arrival at Glenarm House, indicated
that there was method in his hostility.

The sun was going his ruddy way beyond St. Agatha’s
as I drove my canoe into a little cove near which the
girl in the tam-o’-shanter had disappeared the day before.
The shore was high here and at the crest was a
long curved bench of stone reached by half a dozen
steps, from which one might enjoy a wide view of the
country, both across the lake and directly inland. The
bench was a pretty bit of work, boldly reminiscential of
Alma Tadema, and as clearly the creation of John
Marshall Glenarm as though his name had been carved
upon it.

It was assuredly a spot for a pipe and a mood, and
as the shadows crept through the wood before me and
the water, stirred by the rising wind, began to beat below,
I invoked the one and yielded to the other. Something
in the withered grass at my feet caught my eye.
I bent and picked up a string of gold beads, dropped
there, no doubt, by some girl from the school or a careless
member of the summer colony. I counted the separate
beads—they were round and there were fifty of
them. The proper length for one turn about a girl’s
throat, perhaps; not more than that! I lifted my eyes
and looked off toward St. Agatha’s.

“Child of the red tam-o’-shanter, I’m very sorry I
was rude to you yesterday, for I liked your steady stroke
with the paddle; and I admired, even more, the way you
spurned me when you saw that among all the cads in
the world I am number one in Class A. And these
golden bubbles (O girl of the red tam-o’-shanter!), if
they are not yours you shall help me find the owner, for
we are neighbors, you and I, and there must be peace
between our houses.”

With this foolishness I rose, thrust the beads into my
pocket, and paddled home in the waning glory of the

That night, as I was going quite late to bed, bearing
a candle to light me through the dark hall to my room,
I heard a curious sound, as of some one walking stealthily
through the house. At first I thought Bates was still
abroad, but I waited, listening for several minutes, without
being able to mark the exact direction of the sound
or to identify it with him. I went on to the door of my
room, and still a muffled step seemed to follow me,—first
it had come from below, then it was much like some one
going up stairs,—but where? In my own room I still
heard steps, light, slow, but distinct. Again there was a
stumble and a hurried recovery,—ghosts, I reflected, do
not fall down stairs!

The sound died away, seemingly in some remote part
of the house, and though I prowled about for an hour
it did not recur that night.



Wind and rain rioted in the wood, and occasionally
both fell upon the library windows with a howl and a
splash. The tempest had wakened me; it seemed that
every chimney in the house held a screaming demon.
We were now well-launched upon December, and I was
growing used to my surroundings. I had offered myself
frequently as a target by land and water; I had sat
on the wall and tempted fate; and I had roamed the
house constantly expecting to surprise Bates in some act
of treachery; but the days were passing monotonously.
I saw nothing of Morgan—he had gone to Chicago on
some errand, so Bates reported—but I continued to walk
abroad every day, and often at night, alert for a reopening
of hostilities. Twice I had seen the red tam-o’-shanter
far through the wood, and once I had passed my
young acquaintance with another girl, a dark, laughing
youngster, walking in the highway, and she had bowed
to me coldly. Even the ghost in the wall proved inconstant,
but I had twice heard the steps without being able
to account for them.

Memory kept plucking my sleeve with reminders of
my grandfather. I was touched at finding constantly
his marginal notes in the books he had collected with so
much intelligence and loving care. It occurred to me
that some memorial, a tablet attached to the outer wall,
or perhaps, more properly placed in the chapel, would
be fitting; and I experimented with designs for it, covering
many sheets of drawing-paper in an effort to set
forth in a few words some hint of his character. On this
gray morning I produced this:

The life of John Marshall Glenarm
was a testimony to the virtue of
generosity, forbearance and gentleness
The Beautiful things he loved
were not nobler than his own days
His grandson (who served him ill)
writes this of him

I had drawn these words on a piece of cardboard and
was studying them critically when Bates came in with

“Those are unmistakable snowflakes, sir,” said Bates
from the window. “We’re in for winter now.”

It was undeniably snow; great lazy flakes of it were
crowding down upon the wood.

Bates had not mentioned Morgan or referred even remotely
to the pistol-shot of my first night, and he had
certainly conducted himself as a model servant. The
man-of-all-work at St. Agatha’s, a Scotchman named
Ferguson, had visited him several times, and I had surprised
them once innocently enjoying their pipes and
whisky and water in the kitchen.

“They are having trouble at the school, sir,” said
Bates from the hearth.

“The young ladies running a little wild, eh?”

“Sister Theresa’s ill, sir. Ferguson told me last

“No doubt Ferguson knows,” I declared, moving the
papers about on my desk, conscious, and not ashamed of
it, that I enjoyed these dialogues with Bates. I occasionally
entertained the idea that he would some day
brain me as I sat dining upon the viands which he prepared
with so much skill; or perhaps he would poison
me, that being rather more in his line of business and
perfectly easy of accomplishment; but the house was
bare and lonely and he was a resource.

“So Sister Theresa’s ill!” I began, seeing that Bates
had nearly finished, and glancing with something akin
to terror upon the open pages of a dreary work on English
cathedrals that had put me to sleep the day before.

“She’s been quite uncomfortable, sir; but they hope
to see her out in a few days!”

“That’s good; I’m glad to hear it.”

“Yes, sir. I think we naturally feel interested, being
neighbors. And Ferguson says that Miss Devereux’s devotion
to her aunt is quite touching.”

I stood up straight and stared at Bates’ back—he was
trying to stop the rattle which the wind had set up in
one of the windows.

“Miss Devereux!” I laughed outright.

“That’s the name, sir,—rather odd, I should call it.”

“Yes, it is rather odd,” I said, composed again, but
not referring to the name. My mind was busy with a
certain paragraph in my grandfather’s will:

Should he fail to comply with this provision, said property
shall revert to my general estate, and become, without
reservation, and without necessity for any process of
law, the property, absolutely, of Marian Devereux, of the
County and State of New York.

“Your grandfather was very fond of her, sir. She
and Sister Theresa were abroad at the time he died. It
was my sorrowful duty to tell them the sad news in New
York, sir, when they landed.”

“The devil it was!” It irritated me to remember that
Bates probably knew exactly the nature of my grandfather’s
will; and the terms of it were not in the least
creditable to me. Sister Theresa and her niece were
doubtless calmly awaiting my failure to remain at
Glenarm House during the disciplinary year,—Sister
Theresa, a Protestant nun, and the niece who probably
taught drawing in the school for her keep! I was sure
it was drawing; nothing else would, I felt, have brought
the woman within the pale of my grandfather’s beneficence.

I had given no thought to Sister Theresa since coming
to Glenarm. She had derived her knowledge of me
from my grandfather, and, such being the case, she
would naturally look upon me as a blackguard and a
menace to the peace of the neighborhood. I had, therefore,
kept rigidly to my own side of the stone wall. A
suspicion crossed my mind, marshaling a host of doubts
and questions that had lurked there since my first night
at Glenarm.


He was moving toward the door with his characteristic
slow step.

“If your friend Morgan, or any one else, should shoot
me, or if I should tumble into the lake, or otherwise end
my earthly career—Bates!”

His eyes had slipped from mine to the window and I
spoke his name sharply.

“Yes, Mr. Glenarm.”

“Then Sister Theresa’s niece would get this property
and everything else that belonged to Mr. Glenarm.”

“That’s my understanding of the matter, sir.”

“Morgan, the caretaker, has tried to kill me twice
since I came here. He fired at me through the window
the night I came,—Bates!”

I waited for his eyes to meet mine again. His hands
opened and shut several times, and alarm and fear convulsed
his face for a moment.

“Bates, I’m trying my best to think well of you; but
I want you to understand”—I smote the table with my
clenched hand—“that if these women, or your employer,
Mr. Pickering, or that damned hound, Morgan, or you—
damn you, I don’t know who or what you are!—think
you can scare me away from here, you’ve waked up the
wrong man, and I’ll tell you another thing,—and you
may repeat it to your school-teachers and to Mr. Pickering,
who pays you, and to Morgan, whom somebody has
hired to kill me,—that I’m going to keep faith with my
dead grandfather, and that when I’ve spent my year
here and done what that old man wished me to do, I’ll
give them this house and every acre of ground and every
damned dollar the estate carries with it. And now one
other thing! I suppose there’s a sheriff or some kind of
a constable with jurisdiction over this place, and I could
have the whole lot of you put into jail for conspiracy,
but I’m going to stand out against you alone,—do you
understand me, you hypocrite, you stupid, slinking spy?
Answer me, quick, before I throw you out of the room!”

I had worked myself into a great passion and fairly
roared my challenge, pounding the table in my rage.

“Yes, sir; I quite understand you, sir. But I’m
afraid, sir—”

“Of course you’re afraid!” I shouted, enraged anew
by his halting speech. “You have every reason in the
world to be afraid. You’ve probably heard that I’m a
bad lot and a worthless adventurer; but you can tell
Sister Theresa or Pickering or anybody you please that
I’m ten times as bad as I’ve ever been painted. Now
clear out of here!”

He left the room without looking at me again. During
the morning I strolled through the house several
times to make sure he had not left it to communicate
with some of his fellow plotters, but I was, I admit, disappointed
to find him in every instance busy at some
wholly proper task. Once, indeed, I found him cleaning
my storm boots! To find him thus humbly devoted
to my service after the raking I had given him dulled
the edge of my anger. I went back to the library and
planned a cathedral in seven styles of architecture, all
unrelated and impossible, and when this began to bore
me I designed a crypt in which the wicked should be
buried standing on their heads and only the very good
might lie and sleep in peace. These diversions and several
black cigars won me to a more amiable mood. I
felt better, on the whole, for having announced myself
to the delectable Bates, who gave me for luncheon a
brace of quails, done in a manner that stripped criticism
of all weapons.

We did not exchange a word, and after knocking
about in the library for several hours I went out for a
tramp. Winter had indeed come and possessed the
earth, and it had given me a new landscape. The snow
continued to fall in great, heavy flakes, and the ground
was whitening fast.

A rabbit’s track caught my eye and I followed it,
hardly conscious that I did so. Then the clear print of
two small shoes mingled with the rabbit’s trail. A few
moments later I picked up an overshoe, evidently lost
in the chase by one of Sister Theresa’s girls, I reflected.
I remembered that while at Tech I had collected diverse
memorabilia from school-girl acquaintances, and here I
was beginning a new series with a string of beads and an

A rabbit is always an attractive quarry. Few things
besides riches are so elusive, and the little fellows have,
I am sure, a shrewd humor peculiar to themselves. I
rather envied the school-girl who had ventured forth for
a run in the first snow-storm of the season. I recalled
Aldrich’s turn on Gautier’s lines as I followed the
double trail:

“Howe’er you tread, a tiny mould
Betrays that light foot all the same;
Upon this glistening, snowy fold
At every step it signs your name.”

A pretty autograph, indeed! The snow fell steadily
and I tramped on over the joint signature of the girl
and the rabbit. Near the lake they parted company, the

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 6 of 19)