Meredith Nicholson.

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rabbit leading off at a tangent, on a line parallel with
the lake, while his pursuer’s steps pointed toward the

There was, so far as I knew, only one student of adventurous
blood at St. Agatha’s, and I was not in the
least surprised to see, on the little sheltered balcony of
the boat-house, the red tam-o’-shanter. She wore, too,
the covert coat I remembered from the day I saw her
first from the wall. Her back was toward me as I drew
near; her hands were thrust into her pockets. She was
evidently enjoying the soft mingling of the snow with
the still, blue waters of the lake, and a girl and a snow-storm
are, if you ask my opinion, a pretty combination.
The fact of a girl’s facing a winter storm argues
mightily in her favor,—testifies, if you will allow me,
to a serene and dauntless spirit, for one thing, and a
sound constitution, for another.

I ran up the steps, my cap in one hand, her overshoe
in the other. She drew back a trifle, just enough to
bring my conscience to its knees.

“I didn’t mean to listen that day. I just happened
to be on the wall and it was a thoroughly underbred
trick—my twitting you about it—and I should have told
you before if I’d known how to see you—”

“May I trouble you for that shoe?” she said with a
great deal of dignity.

They taught that cold disdain of man, I supposed, as
a required study at St. Agatha’s.

“Oh, certainly! Won’t you allow me?”

“Thank you, no!”

I was relieved, to tell the truth, for I had been out of
the world for most of that period in which a youngster
perfects himself in such graces as the putting on of a
girl’s overshoes. She took the damp bit of rubber—a
wet overshoe, even if small and hallowed by associations,
isn’t pretty—as Venus might have received a soft-shell
crab from the hand of a fresh young merman. I was
between her and the steps to which her eyes turned longingly.

“Of course, if you won’t accept my apology I can’t
do anything about it; but I hope you understand that
I’m sincere and humble, and anxious to be forgiven.”

“You seem to be making a good deal of a small matter—”

“I wasn’t referring to the overshoe!” I said.

She did not relent.

“If you’ll only go away—”

She rested one hand against the corner of the boat-house
while she put on the overshoe. She wore, I noticed,
brown gloves with cuffs.

“How can I go away! You children are always leaving
things about for me to pick up. I’m perfectly worn
out carrying some girl’s beads about with me; and I
spoiled a good glove on your overshoe.”

“I’ll relieve you of the beads, too, if you please.”
And her tone measurably reduced my stature.

She thrust her hands into the pockets of her coat and
shook the tam-o’-shanter slightly, to establish it in a
more comfortable spot on her head. The beads had been
in my corduroy coat since I found them. I drew them
out and gave them to her.

“Thank you; thank you very much.”

“Of course they are yours, Miss—”

She thrust them into her pocket.

“Of course they’re mine,” she said indignantly, and
turned to go.

“We’ll waive proof of property and that sort of thing,”
I remarked, with, I fear, the hope of detaining her.
“I’m sorry not to establish a more neighborly feeling
with St. Agatha’s. The stone wall may seem formidable,
but it’s not of my building. I must open the gate.
That wall’s a trifle steep for climbing.”

I was amusing myself with the idea that my identity
was a dark mystery to her. I had read English novels
in which the young lord of the manor is always mistaken
for the game-keeper’s son by the pretty daughter
of the curate who has come home from school to be the
belle of the county. But my lady of the red tam-o’-shanter
was not a creature of illusions.

“It serves a very good purpose—the wall, I mean—
Mr. Glenarm.”

She was walking down the steps and I followed. I
am not a man to suffer a lost school-girl to cross my
lands unattended in a snow-storm; and the piazza of a
boat-house is not, I submit, a pleasant loafing-place on
a winter day. She marched before me, her hands in her
pockets—I liked her particularly that way—with an
easy swing and a light and certain step. Her remark
about the wall did not encourage further conversation
and I fell back upon the poets.

“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage,”

I quoted. Quoting poetry in a snow-storm while you
stumble through a woodland behind a girl who shows
no interest in either your prose or your rhymes has its
embarrassments, particularly when you are breathing a
trifle hard from the swift pace your auditor is leading

“I have heard that before,” she said, half-turning her
face, then laughing as she hastened on.

Her brilliant cheeks were a delight to the eye. The
snow swirled about her, whitened the crown of her red
cap and clung to her shoulders. Have you ever seen
snow-crystals gleam, break, dissolve in fair, soft, storm-blown
hair? Do you know how a man will pledge his
soul that a particular flake will never fade, never cease
to rest upon a certain flying strand over a girlish temple?
And he loses—his heart and his wager—in a
breath! If you fail to understand these things, and are
furthermore unfamiliar with the fact that the color in
the cheeks of a girl who walks abroad in a driving snow-storm
marks the favor of Heaven itself, then I waste
time, and you will do well to rap at the door of another

“I’d rather missed you,” I said; “and, really, I should
have been over to apologize if I hadn’t been afraid.”

“Sister Theresa is rather fierce,” she declared. “And
we’re not allowed to receive gentlemen callers,—it says
so in the catalogue.”

“So I imagined. I trust Sister Theresa is improving.”

[Illustration: She marched before me, her hands in her pockets.]

“Yes; thank you.”

“And Miss Devereux,—she is quite well, I hope?”

She turned her head as though to listen more carefully,
and her step slackened for a moment; then she
hurried blithely forward.

“Oh, she’s always well, I believe.”

“You know her, of course.”

“Oh, rather! She gives us music lessons.”

“So Miss Devereux is the music-teacher, is she?
Should you call her a popular teacher?”

“The girls call her”—she seemed moved to mirth by
the recollection—“Miss Prim and Prosy.”

“Ugh!” I exclaimed sympathetically. “Tall and hungry-looking,
with long talons that pound the keys with
grim delight. I know the sort.”

“She’s a sight!“—and my guide laughed approvingly.
“But we have to take her; she’s part of the treatment.”

“You speak of St. Agatha’s as though it were a sanatorium.”

“Oh, it’s not so bad! I’ve seen worse.”

“Where do most of the students come from,—all what
you call Hoosiers?”

“Oh, no! They’re from all over—Cincinnati, Chicago,
Cleveland, Indianapolis.”

“What the magazines call the Middle West.”

“I believe that is so. The bishop addressed us once
as the flower of the Middle West, and made us really
wish he’d come again.”

We were approaching the gate. Her indifference to
the storm delighted me. Here, I thought in my admiration,
is a real product of the western world. I felt that
we had made strides toward such a comradeship as it is
proper should exist between a school-girl in her teens
and a male neighbor of twenty-seven. I was—going
back to English fiction—the young squire walking home
with the curate’s pretty young daughter and conversing
with fine condescension.

“We girls all wish we could come over and help hunt
the lost treasure. It must be simply splendid to live in
a house where there’s a mystery,—secret passages and
chests of doubloons and all that sort of thing! My!
Squire Glenarm, I suppose you spend all your nights exploring
secret passages.”

This free expression of opinion startled me, though
she seemed wholly innocent of impertinence.

“Who says there’s any secret about the house?” I demanded.

“Oh, Ferguson, the gardener, and all the girls!”

“I fear Ferguson is drawing on his imagination.”

“Well, all the people in the village think so. I’ve
heard the candy-shop woman speak of it often.”

“She’d better attend to her taffy,” I retorted.

“Oh, you mustn’t be sensitive about it! All us girls
think it ever so romantic, and we call you sometimes the
lord of the realm, and when we see you walking through
the darkling wood at evenfall we say, ‘My lord is brooding
upon the treasure chests.’ ”

This, delivered in the stilted tone of one who is half-quoting
and half-improvising, was irresistibly funny,
and I laughed with good will.

“I hope you’ve forgiven me—” I began, kicking the
gate to knock off the snow, and taking the key from my

“But I haven’t, Mr. Glenarm. Your assumption is,
to say the least, unwarranted,—I got that from a book!”

“It isn’t fair for you to know my name and for me not
to know yours,” I said leadingly.

“You are perfectly right. You are Mr. John Glenarm
—the gardener told me—and I am just Olivia.
They don’t allow me to be called Miss yet. I’m very
young, sir!”

“You’ve only told me half,”—and I kept my hand on
the closed gate. The snow still fell steadily and the
short afternoon was nearing its close. I did not like to
lose her,—the life, the youth, the mirth for which she
stood. The thought of Glenarm House amid the snow-hung
wood and of the long winter evening that I must
spend alone moved me to delay. Lights already gleamed
in the school-buildings straight before us and the sight
of them smote me with loneliness.

“Olivia Gladys Armstrong,” she said, laughing,
brushed past me through the gate and ran lightly over
the snow toward St. Agatha’s.



I read in the library until late, hearing the howl of
the wind outside with satisfaction in the warmth and
comfort of the great room. Bates brought in some sandwiches
and a bottle of ale at midnight.

“If there’s nothing more, sir—”

“That is all, Bates.” And he went off sedately to his
own quarters.

I was restless and in no mood for bed and mourned
the lack of variety in my grandfather’s library. I moved
about from shelf to shelf, taking down one book after
another, and while thus engaged came upon a series of
large volumes extra-illustrated in water-colors of unusual
beauty. They occupied a lower shelf, and I
sprawled on the floor, like a boy with a new picture-book,
in my absorption, piling the great volumes about me.
They were on related subjects pertaining to the French

In the last volume I found a sheet of white note-paper
no larger than my hand, a forgotten book-mark,
I assumed, and half-crumpled it in my fingers before I
noticed the lines of a pencil sketch on one side of it. I
carried it to the table and spread it out.

It was not the bit of idle penciling it had appeared
to be at first sight. A scale had evidently been followed
and the lines drawn with a ruler. With such trifles my
grandfather had no doubt amused himself. There was
a long corridor indicated, but of this I could make nothing.
I studied it for several minutes, thinking it might
have been a tentative sketch of some part of the house.
In turning it about under the candelabrum I saw that
in several places the glaze had been rubbed from the
paper by an eraser, and this piqued my curiosity. I
brought a magnifying glass to bear upon the sketch.
The drawing had been made with a hard pencil and the
eraser had removed the lead, but a well-defined imprint

I was able to make out the letters N. W. 3/4 to C.—
a reference clearly enough to points of the compass and
a distance. The word ravine was scrawled over a rough
outline of a doorway or opening of some sort, and then
the phrase:


Now I am rather an imaginative person; that is why
engineering captured my fancy. It was through his trying
to make an architect (a person who quarrels with
women about their kitchen sinks!) of a boy who wanted
to be an engineer that my grandfather and I failed to hit
it off. From boyhood I have never seen a great bridge or
watched a locomotive climb a difficult hillside without
a thrill; and a lighthouse still seems to me quite the
finest monument a man can build for himself. My
grandfather’s devotion to old churches and medieval
houses always struck me as trifling and unworthy of a
grown man. And fate was busy with my affairs that
night, for, instead of lighting my pipe with the little
sketch, I was strangely impelled to study it seriously.

I drew for myself rough outlines of the interior of
Glenarm House as it had appeared to me, and then I
tried to reconcile the little sketch with every part of

“The Door of Bewilderment” was the charm that held
me. The phrase was in itself a lure. The man who had
built a preposterous house in the woods of Indiana and
called it “The House of a Thousand Candles” was quite
capable of other whims; and as I bent over this scrap of
paper in the candle-lighted library it occurred to me
that possibly I had not done justice to my grandfather’s
genius. My curiosity was thoroughly aroused as to the
hidden corners of the queer old house, round which the
wind shrieked tormentingly.

I went to my room, put on my corduroy coat for its
greater warmth in going through the cold halls, took a
candle and went below. One o’clock in the morning is
not the most cheering hour for exploring the dark recesses
of a strange house, but I had resolved to have a
look at the ravine-opening and determine, if possible,
whether it bore any relation to “The Door of Bewilderment.”

All was quiet in the great cellar; only here and there
an area window rattled dolorously. I carried a tape-line
with me and made measurements of the length and
depth of the corridor and of the chambers that were set
off from it. These figures I entered in my note-book for
further use, and sat down on an empty nail-keg to reflect.
The place was certainly substantial; the candle
at my feet burned steadily with no hint of a draft; but
I saw no solution of my problem. All the doors along
the corridor were open, or yielded readily to my hand.
I was losing sleep for nothing; my grandfather’s sketch
was meaningless, and I rose and picked up my candle,

Then a curious thing happened. The candle, whose
thin flame had risen unwaveringly, sputtered and went
out as a sudden gust swept the corridor.

I had left nothing open behind me, and the outer
doors of the house were always locked and barred. But
some one had gained ingress to the cellar by an opening
of which I knew nothing.

I faced the stairway that led up to the back hall of the
house, when to my astonishment, steps sounded behind
me and, turning, I saw, coming toward me, a man carrying
a lantern. I marked his careless step; he was undoubtedly
on familiar ground. As I watched him he
paused, lifted the lantern to a level with his eyes and
began sounding the wall with a hammer.

Here, undoubtedly, was my friend Morgan,—again!
There was the same periodicity in the beat on the wall
that I had heard in my own rooms. He began at the
top and went methodically to the floor. I leaned
against the wall where I stood and watched the lantern
slowly coming toward me. The small revolver with
which I had fired at his flying figure in the wood was in
my pocket. It was just as well to have it out with the
fellow now. My chances were as good as his, though I
confess I did not relish the thought of being found dead
the next morning in the cellar of my own house. It
pleased my humor to let him approach in this way, unconscious
that he was watched, until I should thrust my
pistol into his face.

His arms grew tired when he was about ten feet from
me and he dropped the lantern and hammer to his side,
and swore under his breath impatiently.

Then he began again, with greater zeal. As he came
nearer I studied his face in the lantern’s light with interest.
His hat was thrust back, and I could see his jaw
hard-set under his blond beard.

He took a step nearer, ran his eyes over the wall and
resumed his tapping. The ceiling was something less
than eight feet, and he began at the top. In settling
himself for the new series of strokes he swayed toward
me slightly, and I could hear his hard breathing. I was
deliberating how best to throw myself upon him, but as
I wavered he stepped back, swore at his ill-luck and
flung the hammer to the ground.

“Thanks!” I shouted, leaping forward and snatching
the lantern. “Stand just where you are!”

With the revolver in my right hand and the lantern
held high in my left, I enjoyed his utter consternation,
as my voice roared in the corridor.

“It’s too bad we meet under such strange circumstances,
Morgan,” I said. “I’d begun to miss you; but
I suppose you’ve been sleeping in the daytime to gather
strength for your night prowling.”

“You’re a fool,” he growled. He was recovering from
his fright,—I knew it by the gleam of his teeth in his
yellow beard. His eyes, too, were moving restlessly
about. He undoubtedly knew the house better than I
did, and was considering the best means of escape. I
did not know what to do with him now that I had him
at the point of a pistol; and in my ignorance of his motives
and my vague surmise as to the agency back of
him, I was filled with uncertainty.

“You needn’t hold that thing quite so near,” he said,
staring at me coolly.

“I’m glad it annoys you, Morgan,” I said. “It may
help you to answer some questions I’m going to put to

“So you want information, do you, Mr. Glenarm? I
should think it would be beneath the dignity of a great
man like you to ask a poor devil like me for help.”

“We’re not talking of dignity,” I said. “I want you
to tell me how you got in here.”

He laughed.

“You’re a very shrewd one, Mr. Glenarm. I came in
by the kitchen window, if you must know. I got in before
your solemn jack-of-all-trades locked up, and I
walked down to the end of the passage there”—he indicated
the direction with a slight jerk of his head—
“and slept until it was time to go to work. You can
see how easy it was!”

I laughed now at the sheer assurance of the fellow.

“If you can’t lie better than that you needn’t try
again. Face about now, and march!”

I put new energy into my tone, and he turned and
walked before me down the corridor in the direction
from which he had come. We were, I dare say, a pretty
pair,—he tramping doggedly before me, I following at
his heels with his lantern and my pistol. The situation
had played prettily into my hands, and I had every intention
of wresting from him the reason for his interest
in Glenarm House and my affairs.

“Not so fast,” I admonished sharply.

“Excuse me,” he replied mockingly.

He was no common rogue; I felt the quality in him
with a certain admiration for his scoundrelly talents—
a fellow, I reflected, who was best studied at the point
of a pistol.

I continued at his heels, and poked the muzzle of the
revolver against his back from time to time to keep him
assured of my presence,—a device that I was to regret a
second later.

We were about ten yards from the end of the corridor
when he flung himself backward upon me, threw his
arms over his head and seized me about the neck, turning
himself lithely until his fingers clasped my throat.

I fired blindly once, and felt the smoke of the revolver
hot in my own nostrils. The lantern fell from
my hand, and one or the other of us smashed it with our

A wrestling match in that dark hole was not to my
liking. I still held on to the revolver, waiting for a
chance to use it, and meanwhile he tried to throw me,
forcing me back against one side and then the other of
the passage.

With a quick rush he flung me away, and in the same
second I fired. The roar of the shot in the narrow corridor
seemed interminable. I flung myself on the floor,
expecting a return shot, and quickly enough a flash broke
upon the darkness dead ahead, and I rose to my feet,
fired again and leaped to the opposite side of the corridor
and crouched there. We had adopted the same tactics,
firing and dodging to avoid the target made by the flash
of our pistols, and watching and listening after the roar
of the explosions. It was a very pretty game, but destined
not to last long. He was slowly retreating toward
the end of the passage, where there was, I remembered,
a dead wall. His only chance was to crawl through an
area window I knew to be there, and this would, I felt
sure, give him into my hands.

After five shots apiece there was a truce. The pungent
smoke of the powder caused me to cough, and he

“Have you swallowed a bullet, Mr. Glenarm?” he

I could hear his feet scraping on the cement floor;
he was moving away from me, doubtless intending to
fire when he reached the area window and escape before
I could reach him. I crept warily after him, ready to
fire on the instant, but not wishing to throw away my
last cartridge. That I resolved to keep for close quarters
at the window.

He was now very near the end of the corridor; I
heard his feet strike some boards that I remembered
lay on the floor there, and I was nerved for a shot and
a hand-to-hand struggle, if it came to that.

I was sure that he sought the window; I heard his
hands on the wall as he felt for it. Then a breath of
cold air swept the passage, and I knew he must be
drawing himself up to the opening. I fired and dropped
to the floor. With the roar of the explosion I heard
him yell, but the expected return shot did not follow.

The pounding of my heart seemed to mark the passing
of hours. I feared that my foe was playing some
trick, creeping toward me, perhaps, to fire at close
range, or to grapple with me in the dark. The cold air
still whistled into the corridor, and I began to feel the
chill of it. Being fired upon is disagreeable enough,
but waiting in the dark for the shot is worse.

I rose and walked toward the end of the passage.

Then his revolver flashed and roared directly ahead,
the flame of it so near that it blinded me. I fell forward
confused and stunned, but shook myself together
in a moment and got upon my feet. The draft of air
no longer blew into the passage. Morgan had taken
himself off through the window and closed it after him.
I made sure of this by going to the window and feeling
of it with my hands.

I went back and groped about for my candle, which
I found without difficulty and lighted. I then returned
to the window to examine the catch. To my utter astonishment
it was fastened with staples, driven deep
into the sash, in such way that it could not possibly
have been opened without the aid of tools. I tried it
at every point. Not only was it securely fastened, but
it could not possibly be opened without an expenditure
of time and labor.

There was no doubt whatever that Morgan knew
more about Glenarm House than I did. It was possible,
but not likely, that he had crept past me in the corridor
and gone out through the house, or by some other
cellar window. My eyes were smarting from the smoke
of the last shot, and my cheek stung where the burnt
powder had struck my face. I was alive, but in my vexation
and perplexity not, I fear, grateful for my safety.
It was, however, some consolation to feel sure I had
winged the enemy.

I gathered up the fragments of Morgan’s lantern and
went back to the library. The lights in half the candlesticks
had sputtered out. I extinguished the remainder
and started to my room.

Then, in the great dark hall, I heard a muffled tread
as of some one following me,—not on the great staircase,
nor in any place I could identify,—yet unmistakably
on steps of some sort beneath or above me. My
nerves were already keyed to a breaking pitch, and the
ghost-like tread in the hall angered me—Morgan, or his
ally, Bates, I reflected, at some new trick. I ran into my
room, found a heavy walking-stick and set off for Bates’
room on the third floor. It was always easy to attribute
any sort of mischief to the fellow, and undoubtedly he
was crawling through the house somewhere on an errand

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 7 of 19)