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- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AT THE SIGN OF THE JACK O'LANTERN

By
MYRTLE REED

Author of

Lavender and Old Lace
The Master's Violin
A Spinner in the Sun
Old Rose and Silver
A Weaver of Dreams
Flower of the Dusk
Etc.

New York
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Publishers

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Copyright, 1902

BY
MYRTLE REED

By Myrtle Reed:

A Weaver of Dreams Sonnets to a Lover
Old Rose and Silver Master of the Vineyard
Lavender and Old Lace Flower of the Dusk
The Master's Violin At the Sign of the Jack-o'-Lantern
Love Letters of a Musician A Spinner in the Sun
The Spinster Book Later Love Letters of a Musician
The Shadow of Victory Love Affairs of Literary Men
Myrtle Reed Year Book

This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE
I. The End of the Honeymoon 1
II. The Day Afterward 18
III. The First Caller 35
IV. Finances 53
V. Mrs. Smithers 68
VI. The Coming of Elaine 84
VII. An Uninvited Guest 100
VIII. More 119
IX. Another 136
X. Still More 154
XI. Mrs. Dodd's Third Husband 173
XII. Her Gift to the World 191
XIII. A Sensitive Soul 210
XIV. Mrs. Dodd's Fifth Fate 226
XV. Treasure-Trove 243
XVI. Good Fortune 264
XVII. The Lady Elaine Knows Her Heart 282
XVIII. Uncle Ebeneezer's Diary 299
XIX. Various Departures 319
XX. The Love of Another Elaine 338

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




I

The End of the Honeymoon


It was certainly a queer house. Even through the blinding storm they could
distinguish its eccentric outlines as they alighted from the stage.
Dorothy laughed happily, heedless of the fact that her husband's umbrella
was dripping down her neck. "It's a dear old place," she cried; "I love it
already!"

For an instant a flash of lightning turned the peculiar windows into
sheets of flame, then all was dark again. Harlan's answer was drowned by a
crash of thunder and the turning of the heavy wheels on the gravelled
road.

"Don't stop," shouted the driver; "I'll come up to-morrer for the money.
Good luck to you - an' the Jack-o'-Lantern!"

"What did he mean?" asked Dorothy, shaking out her wet skirts, when they
were safely inside the door. "Who's got a Jack-o'-Lantern?"

"You can search me," answered Harlan, concisely, fumbling for a match. "I
suppose we've got it. Anyhow, we'll have a look at this sepulchral mansion
presently."

His deep voice echoed and re-echoed through the empty rooms, and Dorothy
laughed; a little hysterically this time. Match after match sputtered and
failed. "Couldn't have got much wetter if I'd been in swimming," he
grumbled. "Here goes the last one."

By the uncertain light they found a candle and Harlan drew a long breath
of relief. "It would have been pleasant, wouldn't it?" he went on. "We
could have sat on the stairs until morning, or broken our admirable necks
in falling over strange furniture. The next thing is a fire. Wonder where
my distinguished relative kept his wood?"

Lighting another candle, he went off on a tour of investigation, leaving
Dorothy alone.

She could not repress a shiver as she glanced around the gloomy room. The
bare loneliness of the place was accentuated by the depressing furniture,
which belonged to the black walnut and haircloth period. On the
marble-topped table, in the exact centre of the room, was a red plush
album, flanked on one side by a hideous china vase, and on the other by a
basket of wax flowers under a glass shade.

Her home-coming! How often she had dreamed of it, never for a moment
guessing that it might be like this! She had fancied a little house in a
suburb, or a cosy apartment in the city, and a lump came into her throat
as her air castle dissolved into utter ruin. She was one of those rare,
unhappy women whose natures are so finely attuned to beauty that ugliness
hurts like physical pain.

She sat down on one of the slippery haircloth chairs, facing the mantel
where the single candle threw its tiny light afar. Little by little the
room crept into shadowy relief - the melodeon in the corner, the what-not,
with its burden of incongruous ornaments, and even the easel bearing the
crayon portrait of the former mistress of the house, becoming faintly
visible.

Presently, from above the mantel, appeared eyes. Dorothy felt them first,
then looked up affrighted. From the darkness they gleamed upon her in a
way that made her heart stand still. Human undoubtedly, but not in the
least friendly, they were the eyes of one who bitterly resented the
presence of an intruder. The light flickered, then flamed up once more and
brought into view the features that belonged with the eyes.

Dorothy would have screamed, had it not been for the lump in her throat. A
step came nearer and nearer, from some distant part of the house,
accompanied by a cheery, familiar whistle. Still the stern, malicious face
held her spellbound, and even when Harlan came in with his load of wood,
she could not turn away.

"Now," he said, "we'll start a fire and hang ourselves up to dry."

"What is it?" asked Dorothy, her lips scarcely moving.

His eyes followed hers. "Uncle Ebeneezer's portrait," he answered. "Why,
Dorothy Carr! I believe you're scared!"

"I was scared," she admitted, reluctantly, after a brief silence, smiling
a little at her own foolishness. "It's so dark and gloomy in here, and you
were gone so long - - "

Her voice trailed off into an indistinct murmur, but she still shuddered
in spite of herself.

"Funny old place," commented Harlan, kneeling on the hearth and laying
kindlings, log-cabin fashion, in the fireplace. "If an architect planned
it, he must have gone crazy the week before he did it."

"Or at the time. Don't, dear - wait a minute. Let's light our first fire
together."

He smiled as she slipped to her knees beside him, and his hand held hers
while the blazing splinter set the pine kindling aflame. Quickly the whole
room was aglow with light and warmth, in cheerful contrast to the stormy
tumult outside.

"Somebody said once," observed Harlan, as they drew their chairs close to
the hearth, "that four feet on a fender are sufficient for happiness."

"Depends altogether on the feet," rejoined Dorothy, quickly. "I wouldn't
want Uncle Ebeneezer sitting here beside me - no disrespect intended to
your relation, as such."

"Poor old duck," said Harlan, kindly. "Life was never very good to him,
and Death took away the only thing he ever loved.

"Aunt Rebecca," he continued, feeling her unspoken question. "She died
suddenly, when they had been married only three or four weeks."

"Like us," whispered Dorothy, for the first time conscious of a tenderness
toward the departed Mr. Judson, of Judson Centre.

"It was four weeks ago to-day, wasn't it?" he mused, instinctively seeking
her hand.

"I thought you'd forgotten," she smiled back at him. "I feel like an old
married woman, already."

"You don't look it," he returned, gently. Few would have called her
beautiful, but love brings beauty with it, and Harlan saw an exquisite
loveliness in the deep, dark eyes, the brown hair that rippled and shone
in the firelight, the smooth, creamy skin, and the sensitive mouth that
betrayed every passing mood.

"None the less, I am," she went on. "I've grown so used to seeing 'Mrs.
James Harlan Carr' on my visiting cards that I've forgotten there ever was
such a person as 'Miss Dorothy Locke,' who used to get letters, and go
calling when she wasn't too busy, and have things sent to her when she had
the money to buy them."

"I hope - " Harlan stumbled awkwardly over the words - "I hope you'll never
be sorry."

"I haven't been yet," she laughed, "and it's four whole weeks. Come, let's
go on an exploring expedition. I'm dry both inside and out, and most
terribly hungry."

Each took a candle and Harlan led the way, in and out of unexpected doors,
queer, winding passages, and lonely, untenanted rooms. Originally, the
house had been simple enough in structure, but wing after wing had been
added until the first design, if it could be dignified by that name, had
been wholly obscured. From each room branched a series of apartments - a
sitting-room, surrounded by bedrooms, each of which contained two or
sometimes three beds. A combined kitchen and dining-room was in every
separate wing, with an outside door.

"I wonder," cried Dorothy, "if we've come to an orphan asylum!"

"Heaven knows what we've come to," muttered Harlan. "You know I never was
here before."

"Did Uncle Ebeneezer have a large family?"

"Only Aunt Rebecca, who died very soon, as I told you. Mother was his only
sister, and I her only child, so it wasn't on our side."

"Perhaps," observed Dorothy, "Aunt Rebecca had relations."

"One, two, three, four, five," counted Harlan. "There are five sets of
apartments on this side, and three on the other. Let's go upstairs."

From the low front door a series of low windows extended across the house
on each side, abundantly lighting the two front rooms, which were
separated by the wide hall. A high, narrow window in the lower hall,
seemingly with no purpose whatever, began far above the low door and ended
abruptly at the ceiling. In the upper hall, a similar window began at the
floor and extended upward no higher than Harlan's knees. As Dorothy said,
"one would have to lie down to look out of it," but it lighted the hall,
which, after all, was the main thing.

In each of the two front rooms, upstairs, was a single round window, too
high for one to look out of without standing on a chair, though in both
rooms there was plenty of side light. One wing on each side of the house
had been carried up to the second story, and the arrangement of rooms was
the same as below, outside stairways leading from the kitchens to the
ground.

"I never saw so many beds in my life," cried Dorothy.

"Seems to be a perfect Bedlam," rejoined Harlan, making a poor attempt at
a joke and laughing mirthlessly. In his heart he began to doubt the wisdom
of marrying on six hundred dollars, an unexplored heirloom in Judson
Centre, and an overweening desire to write books.

For the first time, his temerity appeared to him in its proper colours. He
had been a space writer and Dorothy the private secretary of a Personage,
when they met, in the dreary basement dining-room of a New York
boarding-house, and speedily fell in love. Shortly afterward, when Harlan
received a letter which contained a key, and announced that Mr. Judson's
house, fully furnished, had been bequeathed to his nephew, they had
light-heartedly embarked upon matrimony with no fears for the future.

Two hundred dollars had been spent upon a very modest honeymoon, and the
three hundred and ninety-seven dollars and twenty-three cents remaining,
as Harlan had accurately calculated, seemed pitifully small. Perplexity,
doubt, and foreboding were plainly written on his face, when Dorothy
turned to him.

"Isn't it perfectly lovely," she asked, "for us to have this nice, quiet
place all to ourselves, where you can write your book?"

Woman-like, she had instantly touched the right chord, and the clouds
vanished.

"Yes," he cried, eagerly. "Oh, Dorothy, do you think I can really write
it?"

"Write it," she repeated; "why, you dear, funny goose, you can write a
better book than anybody has ever written yet, and I know you can! By next
week we'll be settled here and you can get down to work. I'll help you,
too," she added, generously. "If you'll buy me a typewriter, I can copy
the whole book for you."

"Of course I'll buy you a typewriter. We'll send for it to-morrow. How
much does a nice one cost?"

"The kind I like," she explained, "costs a hundred dollars without the
stand. I don't need the stand - we can find a table somewhere that will
do."

"Two hundred and ninety-seven dollars and twenty-three cents," breathed
Harlan, unconsciously.

"No, only a hundred dollars," corrected Dorothy. "I don't care to have it
silver mounted."

"I'd buy you a gold one if you wanted it," stammered Harlan, in some
confusion.

"Not now," she returned, serenely. "Wait till the book is done."

Visions of fame and fortune appeared before his troubled eyes and set his
soul alight with high ambition. The candle in his hand burned unsteadily
and dripped tallow, unheeded. "Come," said Dorothy, gently, "let's go
downstairs again."

An open door revealed a tortuous stairway at the back of the house,
descending mysteriously into cavernous gloom. "Let's go down here," she
continued. "I love curly stairs."

"These are kinky enough to please even your refined fancy," laughed
Harlan. "It reminds me of travelling in the West, where you look out of
the window and see your engine on the track beside you, going the other
way."

"This must be the kitchen," said Dorothy, when the stairs finally ceased.
"Uncle Ebeneezer appears to have had a pronounced fancy for kitchens."

"Here's another wing," added Harlan, opening the back door. "Sitting-room,
bedroom, and - my soul and body! It's another kitchen!"

"Any more beds?" queried Dorothy, peering into the darkness. "We can't
keep house unless we can find more beds."

"Only one more. I guess we've come down to bed rock at last."

"In other words, the cradle," she observed, pulling a little old-fashioned
trundle bed out into the light.

"Oh, what a joke!" cried Harlan. "That's worth three dollars in the office
of any funny paper in New York!"

"Sell it," commanded Dorothy, inspired by the prospect of wealth, "and
I'll give you fifty cents for your commission."

Outside, the storm still raged and the old house shook and creaked in the
blast. The rain swirled furiously against the windows, and a swift rush of
hailstones beat a fierce tattoo on the roof. Built on the summit of a hill
and with only a few trees near it, the Judson mansion was but poorly
protected from the elements.

None the less, there was a sense of warmth and comfort inside. "Let's
build a fire in the kitchen," suggested Dorothy, "and then we'll try to
find something to eat."

"Which kitchen?" asked Harlan.

"Any old kitchen. The one the back stairs end in, I guess. It seems to be
the principal one of the set."

Harlan brought more wood and Dorothy watched him build the fire with a
sense that a god-like being was here put to base uses. Hampered in his
log-cabin design by the limitations of the fire box, he handled the
kindlings awkwardly, got a splinter into his thumb, said something under
his breath which was not meant for his wife to hear, and powdered his
linen with soot from the stove pipe. At length, however, a respectable
fire was started.

"Now," he asked, "what shall I do next?"

"Wind all the clocks. I can't endure a dead clock. While you're doing it,
I'll get out the remnants of our lunch and see what there is in the pantry
that is still edible."

In the lunch basket which the erratic ramifications of the road leading to
Judson Centre had obliged them to carry, there was still, fortunately, a
supply of sandwiches and fruit. A hasty search through the nearest pantry
revealed jelly, marmalade, and pickles, a box of musty crackers and a
canister of tea. When Harlan came back, Dorothy had the kitchen table set
for two, with a lighted candle dispensing odorous good cheer from the
centre of it, and the tea kettle singing merrily over the fire.

"Seems like home, doesn't it?" he asked, pleasantly imbued with the
realisation of the home-making quality in Dorothy. Certain rare women with
this gift take their atmosphere with them wherever they go.

"To-morrow," he went on, "I'll go into the village and buy more things to
eat."

"The ruling passion," she smiled. "It's - what's that!"

Clear and high above the sound of the storm came an imperious "Me-ow!"

"It's a cat," said Harlan. "You don't suppose the poor thing is shut up
anywhere, do you?"

"If it had been, we'd have found it. We've opened every door in the house,
I'm sure. It must be outside."

"Me-ow! Me-ow! Me-ow!" The voice was not pleading; it was rather a
command, a challenge.

"Kitty, kitty, kitty," she called. "Where are you, kitty?"

Harlan opened the outside door, and in rushed a huge black cat, with the
air of one returning home after a long absence.

"Poor kitty," said Dorothy, kindly, stooping to stroke the sable visitor,
who instinctively dodged the caress, and then scratched her hand.

"The ugly brute!" she exclaimed. "Don't touch him, Harlan."

Throughout the meal the cat sat at a respectful distance, with his
greenish yellow eyes fixed unwaveringly upon them. He was entirely black,
save for a white patch under his chin, which, in the half-light, carried
with it an uncanny suggestion of a shirt front. Dorothy at length became
restless under the calm scrutiny.

"I don't like him," she said. "Put him out."

"Thought you liked cats," remarked Harlan, reaching for another sandwich.

"I do, but I don't like this one. Please put him out."

"What, in all this storm? He'll get wet."

"He wasn't wet when he came in," objected Dorothy. "He must have some
warm, dry place of his own outside."

"Come, kitty," said Harlan, pleasantly.

"Kitty" merely blinked, and Harlan rose.

"Come, kitty."

With the characteristic independence of cats, the visitor yawned. The
conversation evidently bored him.

"Come, kitty," said Harlan, more firmly, with a low swoop of his arm. The
cat arched his back, erected an enlarged tail, and hissed threateningly.
In a dignified but effective manner, he eluded all attempts to capture
him, even avoiding Dorothy and her broom.

"There's something more or less imperial about him," she remarked, wiping
her flushed cheeks, when they had finally decided not to put the cat out.
"As long as he's adopted us, we'll have to keep him. What shall we name
him?"

"Claudius Tiberius," answered Harlan. "It suits him down to the ground."

"His first name is certainly appropriate," laughed Dorothy, with a rueful
glance at her scratched hand. Making the best of a bad bargain, she spread
an old grey shawl, nicely folded, on the floor by the stove, and requested
Claudius Tiberius to recline upon it, but he persistently ignored the
invitation.

"This is jolly enough," said Harlan. "A cosy little supper in our own
house, with a gale blowing outside, the tea kettle singing over the fire,
and a cat purring on the hearth."

"Have you heard Claudius purr?" asked Dorothy, idly.

"Come to think of it, I haven't. Perhaps something is wrong with his
purrer. We'll fix him to-morrow."

From a remote part of the house came twelve faint, silvery tones. The
kitchen clock struck next, with short, quick strokes, followed immediately
by a casual record of the hour from the clock on the mantel beneath Uncle
Ebeneezer's portrait. Then the grandfather's clock in the hall boomed out
twelve, solemn funereal chimes. Afterward, the silence seemed acute.

"The end of the honeymoon," said Dorothy, a little sadly, with a quick,
inquiring look at her husband.

"The end of the honeymoon!" repeated Harlan, gathering her into his arms.
"To-morrow, life begins!"

Several hours later, Dorothy awoke from a dreamless sleep to wonder
whether life was any different from a honeymoon, and if so, how and why.




II

The Day Afterward


By the pitiless light of early morning, the house was even uglier than at
night. With an irreverence essentially modern, Dorothy decided, while she
was dressing, to have all the furniture taken out into the back yard,
where she could look it over at her leisure. She would make a bonfire of
most of it, or, better yet, have it cut into wood for the fireplace. Thus
Uncle Ebeneezer's cumbrous bequest might be quickly transformed into
comfort.

"And," thought Dorothy, "I'll take down that hideous portrait over the
mantel before I'm a day older."

But when she broached the subject to Harlan, she found him unresponsive
and somewhat disinclined to interfere with the existing order of things.
"We'll be here only for the Summer," he said, "so what's the use of
monkeying with the furniture and burning up fifty or sixty beds? There's
plenty of wood in the cellar."

"I don't like the furniture," she pouted.

"My dear," said Harlan, with patronising kindness, "as you grow older,
you'll find lots of things on the planet which you don't like. Moreover,
it'll be quite out of your power to cremate 'em, and it's just as well to
begin adjusting yourself now."

This bit of philosophy irritated Mrs. Carr unbearably. "Do you mean to
say," she demanded, with rising temper, "that you won't do as I ask you
to?"

"Do you mean to say," inquired Harlan, wickedly, in exact imitation of her
manner, "that you won't do as I ask you to? Four weeks ago yesterday, if I
remember rightly, you promised to obey me!"

"Don't remind me of what I'm ashamed of!" flashed Dorothy. "If I'd known
what a brute you were, I'd never have married you! You may be sure of
that!"

Claudius Tiberius insinuated himself between Harlan's feet and rubbed
against his trousers, leaving a thin film of black fur in his wake. Being
fastidious about his personal appearance, Harlan kicked Claudius Tiberius
vigorously, grabbed his hat and went out, slamming the door, and whistling
with an exaggerated cheerfulness.

"Brute!" The word rankled deeply as he went downhill with his hands in his
pockets, whistling determinedly. So Dorothy was sorry she had married him!
After all he'd done for her, too. Giving up a good position in New York,
taking her half-way around the world on a honeymoon, and bringing her to a
magnificent country residence in a fashionable locality for the Summer!

Safely screened by the hill, he turned back to look at the "magnificent
country residence," then swore softly under his breath, as, for the first
time, he took in the full meaning of the eccentric architecture.

Perched high upon the hill, with intervening shrubbery carefully cut down,
the Judson mansion was not one to inspire confidence in its possessor.
Outwardly, it was grey and weather-worn, with the shingles dropping off in
places. At the sides, the rambling wings and outside stairways, branching
off into space, conveyed the impression that the house had been recently
subjected to a powerful influence of the centrifugal sort. But worst of
all was the front elevation, with its two round windows, its narrow, long
window in the centre, and the low windows on either side of the front
door - the grinning, distorted semblance of a human face.

The bare, uncurtained windows loomed up boldly in the searching sunlight,
which spared nothing. The blue smoke rising from the kitchen chimney
appeared strangely like a plume streaming out from the rear. Harlan noted,
too, that the railing of the narrow porch extended almost entirely across
the front of the house, and remembered, dimly, that they had found the
steps at one side of the porch the night before. Not a single unpleasant
detail was in any way hidden, and he clutched instinctively at a tree as
he realised that the supports of the railing were cunningly arranged to
look like huge teeth.

"No wonder," he said to himself "that the stage driver called it the
Jack-o'-Lantern! That's exactly what it is! Why didn't he paint it yellow
and be done with it? The old devil!" The last disrespectful allusion, of
course, being meant for Uncle Ebeneezer.

"Poor Dorothy," he thought again. "I'll burn the whole thing, and she
shall put every blamed crib into the purifying flames. It's mine, and I
can do what I please with it. We'll go away to-morrow, we'll go - - "

Where could they go, with less than four hundred dollars? Especially when


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