Meredith Nicholson.

The House of a Thousand Candles online

. (page 8 of 19)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 8 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that boded no good to me.

It was now past two o’clock and he should have been
asleep and out of the way long ago. I crept to his room
and threw open the door without, I must say, the slightest
idea of finding him there. But Bates, the enigma,
Bates, the incomparable cook, the perfect servant, sat at
a table, the light of several candles falling on a book
over which he was bent with that maddening gravity
he had never yet in my presence thrown off.

He rose at once, stood at attention, inclining his head

“Yes, Mr. Glenarm.”

“Yes, the devil!” I roared at him, astonished at
finding him,—sorry, I must say, that he was there. The
stick fell from my hands. I did not doubt he knew
perfectly well that I had some purpose in breaking in
upon him. I was baffled and in my rage floundered
for words to explain myself.

“I thought I heard some one in the house. I don’t
want you prowling about in the night, do you hear?”

“Certainly not, sir,” he replied in a grieved tone.

I glanced at the book he had been reading. It was a
volume of Shakespeare’s comedies, open at the first
scene of the last act of The Winter’s Tale.

“Quite a pretty bit of work that, I should say,” he
remarked. “It was one of my late master’s favorites.”

“Go to the devil!” I bawled at him, and went down
to my room and slammed the door in rage and chagrin.



Going to bed at three o’clock on a winter morning in
a house whose ways are disquieting, after a duel in
which you escaped whole only by sheer good luck, does
not fit one for sleep. When I finally drew the covers
over me it was to lie and speculate upon the events of
the night in connection with the history of the few
weeks I had spent at Glenarm. Larry had suggested
in New York that Pickering was playing some deep
game, and I, myself, could not accept Pickering’s statement
that my grandfather’s large fortune had proved
to be a myth. If Pickering had not stolen or dissipated
it, where was it concealed? Morgan was undoubtedly
looking for something of value or he would not risk
his life in the business; and it was quite possible that he
was employed by Pickering to search for hidden property.
This idea took strong hold of me, the more readily,
I fear, since I had always been anxious to see evil
in Pickering. There was, to be sure, the unknown alternative
heir, but neither she nor Sister Theresa was,
I imagined, a person capable of hiring an assassin to
kill me.

On reflection I dismissed the idea of appealing to
the county authorities, and I never regretted that resolution.
The seat of Wabana County was twenty miles
away, the processes of law were unfamiliar, and I
wished to avoid publicity. Morgan might, of course,
have been easily disposed of by an appeal to the Annandale
constable, but now that I suspected Pickering of
treachery the caretaker’s importance dwindled. I had
waited all my life f or a chance at Arthur Pickering,
and in this affair I hoped to draw him into the open
and settle with him.

I slept presently, but woke at my usual hour, and
after a tub felt ready for another day. Bates served
me, as usual, a breakfast that gave a fair aspect to the
morning. I was alert for any sign of perturbation in
him; but I had already decided that I might as well
look for emotion in a stone wall as in this placid, colorless
serving man. I had no reason to suspect him of
complicity in the night’s affair, but I had no faith in
him, and merely waited until he should throw himself
more boldly into the game.

By my plate next morning I found this note, written
in a clear, bold, woman’s hand:

The Sisters of St. Agatha trust that the intrusion upon
his grounds by Miss Armstrong, one of their students, has
caused Mr. Glenarm no annoyance. The Sisters beg that
this infraction of their discipline will be overlooked, and
they assure Mr. Glenarm that it will not recur.

An unnecessary apology! The note-paper was of the
best quality. At the head of the page “St. Agatha’s,
Annandale” was embossed in purple. It was the first
note I had received from a woman for a long time, and
it gave me a pleasant emotion. One of the Sisters I had
seen beyond the wall undoubtedly wrote it—possibly
Sister Theresa herself. A clever woman, that! Thoroughly
capable of plucking money from guileless old
gentlemen! Poor Olivia! born for freedom, but doomed
to a pent-up existence with a lot of nuns! I resolved to
send her a box of candy sometime, just to annoy her
grim guardians. Then my own affairs claimed attention.

“Bates,” I asked, “do you know what Mr. Glenarm
did with the plans for the house?”

He started slightly. I should not have noticed it if
I had not been keen for his answer.

“No, sir. I can’t put my hand upon them, sir.”

“That’s all very well, Bates, but you didn’t answer
my question. Do you know where they are? I’ll put
my hand on them if you will kindly tell me where
they’re kept.”

“Mr. Glenarm, I fear very much that they have been
destroyed. I tried to find them before you came, to tell
you the whole truth, sir; but they must have been made
’way with.”

“That’s very interesting, Bates. Will you kindly
tell me whom you suspect of destroying them? The
toast again, please.”

His hand shook as he passed the plate.

“I hardly like to say, sir, when it’s only a suspicion.”

“Of course I shouldn’t ask you to incriminate yourself,
but I’ll have to insist on my question. It may
have occurred to you, Bates, that I’m in a sense—in a
sense, mind you—the master here.”

“Well, I should say, if you press me, that I fear
Mr. Glenarm, your grandfather, burned the plans when
he left here the last time. I hope you will pardon me,
sir, for seeming to reflect upon him.”

“Reflect upon the devil! What was his idea, do you

“I think, sir, if you will pardon—”

“Don’t be so fussy!” I snapped. “Damn your pardon,
and go on!”

“He wanted you to study out the place for yourself,
sir. It was dear to his heart, this house. He set his
heart upon having you enjoy it—”

“I like the word—go ahead.”

“And I suppose there are things about it that he
wished you to learn for yourself.”

“You know them, of course, and are watching me to
see when I’m hot or cold, like kids playing hide the

The fellow turned and faced me across the table.

“Mr. Glenarm, as I hope God may be merciful to me
in the last judgment, I don’t know any more than you

“You were here with Mr. Glenarm all the time he was
building the house, but you never saw walls built that
weren’t what they appeared to be, or doors made that
didn’t lead anywhere.”

I summoned all my irony and contempt for this arraignment.
He lifted his hand, as though making

“As God sees me, that is all true. I was here to care
for the dead master’s comfort and not to spy on him.”

“And Morgan, your friend, what about him?”

“I wish I knew, sir.”

“I wish to the devil you did,” I said, and flung out
of the room and into the library.

At eleven o’clock I heard a pounding at the great
front door and Bates came to announce a caller, who
was now audibly knocking the snow from his shoes in
the outer hall.

“The Reverend Paul Stoddard, sir.”

The chaplain of St. Agatha’s was a big fellow, as I
had remarked on the occasion of his interview with
Olivia Gladys Armstrong by the wall. His light brown
hair was close-cut; his smooth-shaven face was bright
with the freshness of youth. Here was a sturdy young
apostle without frills, but with a vigorous grip that left
my hand tingling. His voice was deep and musical,—a
voice that suggested sincerity and inspired confidence.

“I’m afraid I haven’t been neighborly, Mr. Glenarm.
I was called away from home a few days after I heard
of your arrival, and I have just got back. I blew in
yesterday with the snow-storm.”

He folded his arms easily and looked at me with
cheerful directness, as though politely interested in what
manner of man I might be.

“It was a fine storm; I got a great day out of it,” I
said. “An Indiana snow-storm is something I have
never experienced before.”

“This is my second winter. I came out here because
I wished to do some reading, and thought I’d rather do
it alone than in a university.”

“Studious habits are rather forced on one out here,
I should say. In my own case my course of reading
is all cut out for me.”

He ran his eyes over the room.

“The Glenarm collection is famous,—the best in the
country, easily. Mr. Glenarm, your grandfather, was
certainly an enthusiast. I met him several times; he
was a trifle hard to meet,”—and the clergyman smiled.

I felt rather uncomfortable, assuming that he probably
knew I was undergoing discipline, and why my
grandfather had so ordained it. The Reverend Paul
Stoddard was so simple, unaffected and manly a fellow
that I shrank from the thought that I must appear to
him an ungrateful blackguard whom my grandfather
had marked with obloquy.

“My grandfather had his whims; but he was a fine,
generous-hearted old gentleman,” I said.

“Yes; in my few interviews with him he surprised
me by the range of his knowledge. He was quite able
to instruct me in certain curious branches of church
history that had appealed to him.”

“You were here when he built the house, I suppose?”

My visitor laughed cheerfully.

“I was on my side of the barricade for a part of the
time. You know there was a great deal of mystery
about the building of this house. The country-folk
hereabouts can’t quite get over it. They have a superstition
that there’s treasure buried somewhere on the
place. You see, Mr. Glenarm wouldn’t employ any local
labor. The work was done by men he brought from
afar,—none of them, the villagers say, could speak English.
They were all Greeks or Italians.”

“I have heard something of the kind,” I remarked,
feeling that here was a man who with a little cultivating
might help me to solve some of my riddles.

“You haven’t been on our side of the wall yet? Well,
I promise not to molest your hidden treasure if you’ll
be neighborly.”

“I fear there’s a big joke involved in the hidden
treasure,” I replied. “I’m so busy staying at home to
guard it that I have no time for social recreation.”

He looked at me quickly to see whether I was joking.
His eyes were steady and earnest. The Reverend Paul
Stoddard impressed me more and more agreeably.
There was a suggestion of a quiet strength about him
that drew me to him.

“I suppose every one around here thinks of nothing
but that I’m at Glenarm to earn my inheritance. My
residence here must look pretty sordid from the outside.”

“Mr. Glenarm’s will is a matter of record in the
county, of course. But you are too hard on yourself.
It’s nobody’s business if your grandfather wished to
visit his whims on you. I should say, in my own case,
that I don’t consider it any of my business what you
are here for. I didn’t come over to annoy you or to
pry into your affairs. I get lonely now and then, and
thought I’d like to establish neighborly relations.”

“Thank you; I appreciate your coming very much,”
—and my heart warmed under the manifest kindness
of the man.

“And I hope”—he spoke for the first time with restraint
—“I hope nothing may prevent your knowing
Sister Theresa and Miss Devereux. They are interesting
and charming—the only women about here of your
own social status.”

My liking for him abated slightly. He might be a
detective, representing the alternative heir, for all I
knew, and possibly Sister Theresa was a party to the

“In time, no doubt, in time, I shall know them,” I
answered evasively.

“Oh, quite as you like!”—and he changed the subject.
We talked of many things,—of outdoor sports,
with which he showed great familiarity, of universities,
of travel and adventure. He was a Columbia man and
had spent two years at Oxford.

“Well,” he exclaimed, “this has been very pleasant,
but I must run. I have just been over to see Morgan,
the caretaker at the resort village. The poor fellow accidentally
shot himself yesterday, cleaning his gun or
something of that sort, and he has an ugly hole in his
arm that will shut him in for a month or worse. He
gave me an errand to do for him. He’s a conscientious
fellow and wished me to wire for him to Mr. Pickering
that he’d been hurt, but was attending to his duties.
Pickering owns a cottage over there, and Morgan has
charge of it. You know Pickering, of course?”

I looked my clerical neighbor straight in the eye, a
trifle coldly perhaps. I was wondering why Morgan,
with whom I had enjoyed a duel in my own cellar only
a few hours before, should be reporting his injury to
Arthur Pickering.

“I think I have seen Morgan about here,” I said.

“Oh, yes! He’s a woodsman and a hunter—our Nimrod
of the lake.”

“A good sort, very likely!”

“I dare say. He has sometimes brought me ducks
during the season.”

“To be sure! They shoot ducks at night,—these
Hoosier hunters,—so I hear!”

He laughed as he shook himself into his greatcoat.

“That’s possible, though unsportsmanlike. But we
don’t have to look a gift mallard in the eye.”

We laughed together. I found that it was easy to
laugh with him.

“By the way, I forgot to get Pickering’s address from
Morgan. If you happen to have it—”

“With pleasure,” I said. “Alexis Building, Broadway,
New York.”

“Good! That’s easy to remember,” he said, smiling
and turning up his coat collar. “Don’t forget me;
I’m quartered in a hermit’s cell back of the chapel, and
I believe we can find many matters of interest to talk

“I’m confident of it,” I said, glad of the sympathy
and cheer that seemed to emanate from his stalwart

I threw on my overcoat and walked to the gate with
him, and saw him hurry toward the village with long



“Bates!”—I found him busy replenishing the candlesticks
in the library,—it seemed to me that he was always
poking about with an armful of candles,—“there
are a good many queer things in this world, but I guess
you’re one of the queerest. I don’t mind telling you
that there are times when I think you a thoroughly bad
lot, and then again I question my judgment and don’t
give you credit for being much more than a doddering

He was standing on a ladder beneath the great crystal
chandelier that hung from the center of the ceiling,
and looked down upon me with that patient injury
that is so appealing in a dog—in, say, the eyes of an
Irish setter, when you accidentally step on his tail.
That look is heartbreaking in a setter, but, seen in a
man, it arouses the direst homicidal feelings of which
I am capable.

“Yes, Mr. Glenarm,” he replied humbly.

“Now, I want you to grasp this idea that I’m going
to dig into this old shell top and bottom; I’m going
to blow it up with dynamite, if I please; and if I catch
you spying on me or reporting my doings to my enemies,
or engaging in any questionable performances
whatever, I’ll hang you between the posts out there in
the school-wall—do you understand?—so that the sweet
Sisters of St. Agatha and the dear little school-girls
and the chaplain and all the rest will shudder through
all their lives at the very thought of you.”

“Certainly, Mr. Glenarm,”—and his tone was the
same he would have used if I had asked him to pass
me the matches, and under my breath I consigned him
to the harshest tortures of the fiery pit.

“Now, as to Morgan—”

“Yes, sir.”

“What possible business do you suppose he has with
Mr. Pickering?” I demanded.

“Why, sir, that’s clear enough. Mr. Pickering owns
a house up the lake,—he got it through your grandfather.
Morgan has the care of it, sir.”

“Very plausible, indeed!”—and I sent him off to his

After luncheon I went below and directly to the end
of the corridor, and began to sound the walls. To the
eye they were all alike, being of cement, and substantial
enough. Through the area window I saw the solid earth
and snow; surely there was little here to base hope upon,
and my wonder grew at the ease with which Morgan
had vanished through a barred window and into frozen

The walls at the end of the passage were as solid as
rock, and they responded dully to the stroke of the
hammer. I sounded them on both sides, retracing my
steps to the stairway, becoming more and more impatient
at my ill-luck or stupidity. There was every reason
why I should know my own house, and yet a stranger
and an outlaw ran through it with amazing daring.

After an hour’s idle search I returned to the end of
the corridor, repeated all my previous soundings, and,
I fear, indulged in language unbecoming a gentleman.
Then, in my blind anger, I found what patient search
had not disclosed.

I threw the hammer from me in a fit of temper; it
struck upon a large square in the cement floor which
gave forth a hollow sound. I was on my knees in an
instant, my fingers searching the cracks, and drawing
down close I could feel a current of air, slight but unmistakable,
against my face.

The cement square, though exactly like the others in
the cellar floor, was evidently only a wooden imitation,
covering an opening beneath.

The block was fitted into its place with a nicety that
certified to the skill of the hand that had adjusted it.
I broke a blade of my pocket-knife trying to pry it
up, but in a moment I succeeded, and found it to be
in reality a trap-door, hinged to the substantial part
of the floor.

A current of cool fresh air, the same that had surprised
me in the night, struck my face as I lay flat and
peered into the opening. The lower passage was as black
as pitch, and I lighted a lantern I had brought with me,
found that wooden steps gave safe conduct below and
went down.

I stood erect in the passage and had several inches
to spare. It extended both ways, running back under
the foundations of the house. This lower passage cut
squarely under the park before the house and toward
the school wall. No wonder my grandfather had
brought foreign laborers who could speak no English
to work on his house! There was something delightful
in the largeness of his scheme, and I hurried through
the tunnel with a hundred questions tormenting my

The air grew steadily fresher, until, after I had gone
about two hundred yards, I reached a point where the
wind seemed to beat down on me from above. I put
up my hands and found two openings about two yards
apart, through which the air sucked steadily. I moved
out of the current with a chuckle in my throat and a
grin on my face. I had passed under the gate in the
school-wall, and I knew now why the piers that held it
had been built so high,—they were hollow and were the
means of sending fresh air into the tunnel.

I had traversed about twenty yards more when I felt
a slight vibration accompanied by a muffled roar, and
almost immediately came to a short wooden stair that
marked the end of the passage. I had no means of
judging directions, but I assumed I was somewhere near
the chapel in the school-grounds.

I climbed the steps, noting still the vibration, and
found a door that yielded readily to pressure. In a
moment I stood blinking, lantern in hand, in a well-lighted,
floored room. Overhead the tumult and thunder
of an organ explained the tremor and roar I had heard
below. I was in the crypt of St. Agatha’s chapel. The
inside of the door by which I had entered was a part of
the wainscoting of the room, and the opening was wholly
covered with a map of the Holy Land.

In my absorption I had lost the sense of time, and I
was amazed to find that it was five o’clock, but I resolved
to go into the chapel before going home.

The way up was clear enough, and I was soon in the
vestibule. I opened the door, expecting to find a service
in progress; but the little church was empty save where,
at the right of the chancel, an organist was filling the
church with the notes of a triumphant march. Cap in
hand I stole forward and sank down in one of the

A lamp over the organ keyboard gave the only light
in the chapel, and made an aureole about her head,—
about the uncovered head of Olivia Gladys Armstrong!
I smiled as I recognized her and smiled, too, as I remembered
her name. But the joy she brought to the
music, the happiness in her face as she raised it in the
minor harmonies, her isolation, marked by the little isle
of light against the dark background of the choir,—
these things touched and moved me, and I bent forward,
my arms upon the pew in front of me, watching and
listening with a kind of awed wonder. Here was a
refuge of peace and lulling harmony after the disturbed
life at Glenarm, and I yielded myself to its solace with
an inclination my life had rarely known.

There was no pause in the outpouring of the melody.
She changed stops and manuals with swift fingers and
passed from one composition to another; now it was an
august hymn, now a theme from Wagner, and finally
Mendelssohn’s Spring Song leaped forth exultant in the
dark chapel.

She ceased suddenly with a little sigh and struck
her hands together, for the place was cold. As she
reached up to put out the lights I stepped forward to
the chancel steps.

“Please allow me to do that for you?”

She turned toward me, gathering a cape about her.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” she asked, looking about quickly.
“I don’t remember—I don’t seem to remember—that
you were invited.”

“I didn’t know I was coming myself,” I remarked
truthfully, lifting my hand to the lamp.

“That is my opinion of you,—that you’re a rather unexpected
person. But thank you, very much.”

She showed no disposition to prolong the interview,
but hurried toward the door, and reached the vestibule
before I came up with her.

“You can’t go any further, Mr. Glenarm,” she said,
and waited as though to make sure I understood.
Straight before us through the wood and beyond the
school-buildings the sunset faded sullenly. The night
was following fast upon the gray twilight and already
the bolder planets were aflame in the sky. The path
led straight ahead beneath the black boughs.

“I might perhaps walk to the dormitory, or whatever
you call it,” I said.

“Thank you, no! I’m late and haven’t time to
bother with you. It’s against the rules, you know, for
us to receive visitors.”

She stepped out into the path.

“But I’m not a caller. I’m just a neighbor. And I
owe you several calls, anyhow.”

She laughed, but did not pause, and I followed a
pace behind her.

“I hope you don’t think for a minute that I chased
a rabbit on your side of the fence just to meet you; do
you, Mr. Glenarm?”

“Be it far from me! I’m glad I came, though, for I
liked your music immensely. I’m in earnest; I think
it quite wonderful, Miss Armstrong.”

She paid no heed to me.

“And I hope I may promise myself the pleasure of
hearing you often.”

“You are positively flattering, Mr. Glenarm; but as
I’m going away—”

I felt my heart sink at the thought of her going
away. She was the only amusing person I had met at
Glenarm, and the idea of losing her gave a darker note
to the bleak landscape.

“That’s really too bad! And just when we were getting
acquainted! And I was coming to church every
Sunday to hear you play and to pray for snow, so you’d
come over often to chase rabbits!”

This, I thought, softened her heart. At any rate her
tone changed.

“I don’t play for services; they’re afraid to let me
for fear I’d run comic-opera tunes into the Te Deum!”

“How shocking!”

“Do you know, Mr. Glenarm,”—her tone became confidential
and her pace slackened,—“we call you the
squire, at St. Agatha’s, and the lord of the manor, and
names like that! All the girls are perfectly crazy about
you. They’d be wild if they thought I talked with you,
clandestinely,—is that the way you pronounce it?”

“Anything you say and any way you say it satisfies
me,” I replied.

“That’s ever so nice of you,” she said, mockingly

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonThe House of a Thousand Candles → online text (page 8 of 19)