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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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his tuberculosis, nor cut teeth, nor set the house on fire with a bath
cabinet - - "

At this juncture Uncle Israel was so overcome with violent emotion that it
was some time before the reading could proceed.

"Never having come into any kind of relations with my dear nephew, James
Harlan Carr," continued Mr. Perkins, in troubled tones, "I have shown my
gratitude in this humble way. To him I give the house and all my
furniture, my books and personal effects of every kind, my farm in Hill
County, two thousand acres, all improved and clear of incumbrance, except
blooded stock, - - "

"I never knowed 'e 'ad no farm," interrupted Mrs. Smithers.

"And the ten thousand and eighty-four dollars in the City Bank which at
this writing is there to my credit, but will be duly transferred, and my
dear Rebecca's diamond pin to be given to my beloved nephew's wife when he
marries. It is all in my will, which my dear friend Jeremiah Bradford has,
and which he will read at the proper time to those concerned."

"The old snake!" shrieked Mrs. Holmes.

"Further," went on the poet, almost past speech by this time, "I direct
that the remainder of my estate, which is here in this box, shall be
divided as follows:

"Eight cents each to that loafer, Si Martin, his lazy wife, and their
eight badly brought-up children, with instructions to be generous to any
additions to said children through matrimony or natural causes; Fanny Wood
and that poor, white-livered creature she married, thereby proving her own
idiocy if it needed proof; Uncle James's cross-eyed third wife and her two
silly daughters; Rebecca's sister's scoundrelly second husband, with his
foolish wife and their little boy with a face like a pug dog; Uncle Jason,
who has needed a bath ever since I knew him - I want he should spend his
legacy for soap - and his epileptic stepson, whose name I forget, though he
lived with me five years hand-running; lying Sally Simmons and her
half-witted daughter; that old hen, Belinda Dodd; that skunk, Harold
Vernon Perkins, who never did a stroke of honest work in his life till he
began to dig for this box; monkey-faced Lucretia and the four thieving
little Riley children, who are likely to get into prison when they grow
up; that human undertaker's waggon, Betsey Skiles, and her two impudent
nieces; that grand old perambulating drug store, Israel Skiles; that
Holmes fool with the three reprints of her ugliness - eight cents apiece,
and may you get all possible good out of it.

"Dick Chester, however, having always paid his board, and tried to be a
help to me in several small ways, and in spite of having lived with me
eight Summers or more without having been asked to do so, gets two
thousand two hundred and fifty dollars which is deposited for him in the
savings department of the Metropolitan Bank, plus the three hundred and
seventy dollars he paid me for board without my asking him for it. Sarah
Smithers, being in the main a good woman, though sharp-tongued at times,
and having been faithful all the time my house has been full of lowdown
cusses too lazy to work for their living, gets twelve hundred and fifty
dollars which is in the same bank as Dick's. The rest of you take your
eight cents apiece and be damned. You can get the money changed at the
store. If any have been left out, it is my desire that those remembered
should divide with the unfortunate.

"If you had not all claimed to be Rebecca's relatives, you would have been
kicked out of my house years ago, but since writing this, I have seen
Rebecca and made it right with her. It was not her desire that I should be
imposed upon.

"Get out of my house, every one of you, before noon to-morrow, and the
devil has my sincere sympathy when you go to live with him and make hell
what you have made my house ever since Rebecca's death. GET OUT!!!

"Ebeneezer Judson."

The letter was badly written and incoherent, yet there could be no doubt
of its meaning, nor of the state of mind in which it had been penned. For
a moment, there was a tense silence, then Mrs. Dodd tittered

"We thought diamonds was goin' to be trumps," she observed, "an' it turned
out to be spades."

Uncle Israel wheezed again and Mrs. Smithers smacked her lips with intense
satisfaction. Mrs. Holmes was pale with anger, and, under cover of the
night, Dick sneaked back to his room, shame-faced, yet happy. Claudius
Tiberius still purred, sticking his claws into the bark with every
evidence of pleasure.

"I do not know," said Mr. Perkins, sadly, running his fingers through his
mane, "whether we are obliged to take as final these vagaries of a dying
man. Dear Uncle Ebeneezer could not have been sane when he penned this
cruel letter. I do not believe it was his desire to have any of us go away
before the usual time." Under cover of these forgiving sentiments, he
pocketed all the money in the box.

"Me neither," said Mrs. Dodd. "Anyhow, I'm goin' to stay. No sheeted
spectre can't scare me away from a place I've always stayed in Summers,
'specially," she added, sarcastically, "when I'm remembered in the will."

Mrs. Smithers clucked disagreeably and went back to the house. Uncle
Israel looked after her with dismay. "Do you suppose," he queried, in
falsetto, "that she'll tell the Carrs?"

"Hush, Israel," replied Mrs. Dodd. "She can't tell them Carrs about our
diggin' all night in the orchard, 'cause she was here herself. They didn't
get no spirit communication an' they won't suspect nothin'. We'll just
stay where we be an' go on 's if nothin' had happened."

Indeed, this seemed the wisest plan, and, shivering with the cold, the
baffled ones filed back to the Jack-o'-Lantern. "How did you get out,
Israel?" whispered Mrs. Dodd, as they approached the house.

The old man snickered. It was the only moment of the evening he had
thoroughly enjoyed. "The same spirit that give me the letter, Belinda," he
returned, pleasantly, "also give me a key. You didn't think I had no
flyin' machine, did you?"

"Humph" grunted Mrs. Dodd. "Spirits don't carry no keys!"

At the threshold they paused, the sensitive poet quite unstrung by the
night's adventure. From the depths of the Jack-o'-Lantern came a shrill,
infantile cry.

"Is that Ebbie," asked Mrs. Dodd, "or Rebbie?"

Mrs. Holmes turned upon her with suppressed fury. "Don't you ever dare to
allude to my children in that manner again," she commanded, hoarsely.

"What is their names?" quavered Uncle Israel, lighting his candle.

"Their names," returned Mrs. Holmes, with a vast accession of dignity,
"are Gladys Gwendolen and Algernon Paul! Good night!"

Just before dawn, a sheeted spectre appeared at the side of Sarah
Smither's bed, and swore the trembling woman to secrecy. It was long past
sunrise before the frightened handmaiden came to her senses enough to
recall that the voice of the apparition had been strangely like Mrs.


Good Fortune

The next morning, Harlan and Dorothy ate breakfast by themselves. There
was suppressed excitement in the manner of Mrs. Smithers, who by this time
had quite recovered from her fright, and, as they readily saw, not wholly
of an unpleasant kind. From time to time she tittered audibly - a thing
which had never happened before.

"It's just as if a tombstone should giggle," remarked Harlan. His tone was
low, but unfortunately, it carried well.

"Tombstone or not, just as you like," responded Mrs. Smithers, as she came
in with the bacon. "I'd be careful 'ow I spoke disrespectfully of
tombstones if I was in your places, that's wot I would. Tombstones is kind
to some and cussed to others, that's wot they are, and if you don't like
the monument wot's at present in your kitchen, you know wot you can do."

After breakfast, she beckoned Dorothy into the kitchen, and "gave

"Oh, Mrs. Smithers," cried Dorothy, almost moved to tears, "please don't
leave me in the lurch! What should I do without you, with all these people
on my hands? Don't think of such a thing as leaving me!"

"Miss Carr," said Mrs. Smithers, solemnly, with one long bony finger laid
alongside of her hooked nose, "'t ain't necessary for you to run no Summer
hotel, that's what it ain't. These 'ere all be relations of your uncle's
wife and none of his'n except by marriage. Wot's more, your uncle don't
want 'em 'ere, that's wot 'e don't."

Mrs. Smithers's tone was so confident that for the moment Dorothy was
startled, remembering yesterday's vague allusion to "sheeted spectres of
the dead."

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"Miss Carr," returned Mrs. Smithers, with due dignity, "ever since I come
'ere, I've been invited to shut my 'ead whenever I opened it about that
there cat or your uncle or anythink, as you well knows. I was never one
wot was fond of 'avin' my 'ead shut up."

"Go on," said Dorothy, her curiosity fully alive, "and tell me what you

"You gives me your solemn oath, Miss, that you won't tell me to shut my
'ead?" queried Mrs. Smithers.

"Of course," returned Dorothy, trying to be practical, though the
atmosphere was sepulchral enough.

"Well, then, you knows wot I told you about that there cat. 'E was kilt by
your uncle, that's wot 'e was, and your uncle couldn't never abide cats.
'E was that feared of 'em 'e couldn't even bury 'em when they was kilt,
and one of my duties, Miss, as long as I lived with 'im, was buryin' of
cats, and until this one, I never come up with one wot couldn't stay
buried, that's wot I 'aven't.

"'E 'ated 'em like poison, that's wot 'e did. The week afore your uncle
died, he kilt this 'ere cat wot's chasin' the chickens now, and I buried
'im with my own hands, but could 'e stay buried? 'E could not. No sooner
is your uncle dead and gone than this 'ere cat comes back, and it's the
truth, Miss Carr, for where 'e was buried, there ain't no sign of a cat
now. Wot's worse, this 'ere cat looks per-cisely like your uncle, green
eyes, white shirt front, black tie and all. It's enough to give a body the
shivers to see 'im a-settin' on the kitchen floor lappin' up 'is mush and
milk, the which your uncle was so powerful fond of.

"Wot's more," continued Mrs. Smithers, in tones of awe, "I'll a'most bet
my immortal soul that if you'll dig in the cemetery where your uncle was
buried good and proper, you won't find nothin' but the empty coffin and
maybe 'is grave clothes. Your uncle's been livin' with us all along in
that there cat," she added, triumphantly. "It's 'is punishment, for 'e
couldn't never abide 'em, that's wot 'e couldn't."

Mrs. Carr opened her mouth to speak, then, remembering her promise, took
refuge in flight.

"'Er's scared," muttered Mrs. Smithers, "and no wonder. Wot with cats as
can't stay buried, writin' letters and deliverin' 'em in the dead of
night, and a purrin' like mad while blamed fools digs for eight cents,
most folks would be scared, I take it, that's wot they would."

Dorothy was pale when she went into the library where Harlan was at work.
He frowned at the interruption and Dorothy smiled back at him - it seemed
so normal and sane.

"What is it, Dorothy?" he asked, not unkindly.

"Oh - just Mrs. Smithers's nonsense. She's upset me."

"What about, dear?" Harlan put his work aside readily enough now.

"Oh, the same old story about the cat and Uncle Ebeneezer. And I'm
afraid - - "

"Afraid of what?"

"I know it's foolish, but I'm afraid she's going to dig in the cemetery to
see if Uncle Ebeneezer is still there. She thinks he's in the cat."

For the moment, Harlan thought Dorothy had suddenly lost her reason, then
he laughed heartily.

"Don't worry," he said, "she won't do anything of the kind, and, besides,
what if she did? It's a free country, isn't it?"

"And - there's another thing, Harlan." For days she had dreaded to speak of
it, but now it could be put off no longer.

"It's - it's money," she went on, unwillingly. "I'm afraid I haven't
managed very well, or else it's cost so much for everything, but
we're - we're almost broke, Harlan," she concluded, bravely, trying to

Harlan put his hands in his pockets and began to walk back and forth. "If
I can only finish the book," he said, at length, "I think we'll be all
right, but I can't leave it now. There's only two more chapters to write,
and then - - "

"And then," cried Dorothy, her beautiful belief in him transfiguring her
face, "then we'll be rich, won't we?"

"I am already rich," returned Harlan, "when you have such faith in me as

For a moment the shimmering veil of estrangement which so long had hung
between them, seemed to part, and reveal soul to soul. As swiftly the mood
changed and Dorothy felt it first, like a chill mist in the air. Neither
dreamed that with the writing of the first paragraph in the book, the
spell had claimed one of them for ever - that cobweb after cobweb, of
gossamer fineness, should make a fabric never to be broken; that on one
side of it should stand a man who had exchanged his dreams for realities
and his realities for dreams, and on the other, a woman, blindly hurt,
eternally straining to see beyond the veil.

"What can we do?" asked Harlan, unwontedly practical for the nonce.

"I don't know," said Dorothy. "There are the diamonds, you know, that we
found. I don't care for any diamonds, except the one you gave me. If we
could sell those - - "

"Dorothy, don't. I don't believe they're ours, and if they were, they
shouldn't be sold. You should keep them."

"My engagement ring, then," suggested Dorothy, her lips trembling. "That's

"Don't be foolish," said Harlan, a little roughly. "I'll finish this and
then we'll see what's to be done."

Feeling her dismissal, Dorothy went out, and, all unknowingly, straight
into the sunshine.

Elaine was coming downstairs, fresh and sweet as the morning itself. "Am I
too late to have any breakfast, Mrs. Carr?" she asked, gaily. "I know I
don't deserve any."

"Of course you shall have breakfast. I'll see to it."

Elaine took her place at the table and Dorothy, reluctant to put further
strain on the frail bond that anchored Mrs. Smithers to her service,
brought in the breakfast herself.

"You're so good to me," said the girl, gratefully, as Dorothy poured out a
cup of steaming coffee. "To think how beautiful you've been to me, when I
never saw either one of you in my whole life, till I came here ill and
broken-hearted! See what you've made of me - see how well and strong I

Swiftly, Dorothy bent and kissed Elaine, a strange, shadowy cloud for ever
lifted from her heart. She had not known how heavy it was nor how charged
with foreboding, until it was gone.

"I want to do something for you," Elaine went on, laughing to hide the
mist in her eyes, "and I've just thought what I can do. My mother had some
beautiful old mahogany furniture, just loads of it, and some wonderful
laces, and I'm going to divide with you."

"No, you're not," returned Dorothy, warmly. She felt that Elaine had
already given her enough.

"It isn't meant for payment, Mrs. Carr," the girl went on, her big blue
eyes fixed upon Dorothy, "but you're to take it from me just as I've taken
this lovely Summer from you. You took in a stranger, weak and helpless and
half-crazed with grief, and you've made her into a happy woman again."

Before Dorothy could answer, Dick lounged in, frankly sleepy. "Second call
in the dining car?" he asked, taking Mrs. Dodd's place, across the table
from Elaine.

"Third call," returned Dorothy, brightly, "and, if you don't mind, I'll
leave you two to wait on yourselves." She went upstairs, her heart light,
not so much from reality as from prescience. "How true it is," she
thought, "that if you only wait and do the best you can, things all work
out straight again. I've had to learn it, but I know it now."

"Bully bunch, the Carrs," remarked Dick, pushing his cup to Elaine.

"They're lovely," she answered, with conviction.

The sun streamed brightly into the dining-room of the Jack-o'-Lantern and
changed its hideousness into cheer. Seeing Elaine across from him,
gracefully pouring his coffee, affected Dick strangely. Since the day
before, he had seen clearly something which he must do.

"I say, Elaine," he began, awkwardly. "That beast of a poem I read the
other day - - "

Her face paled, ever so slightly. "Yes?"

"Well, Perkins didn't write it, you know," Dick went on, hastily. "I did
it myself. Or, rather I found it, blowing around, outside, just as I said,
and I fixed it."

At length he became restless under the calm scrutiny of Elaine's clear
eyes. "I beg your pardon," he continued.

"Did you think," she asked, "that it was nice to make fun of a lady in
that way?"

"I didn't think," returned Dick, truthfully. "I never thought for a minute
that it was making fun of you, but only of that - that pup, Perkins," he
concluded, viciously.

"Under the circumstances," said Elaine, ignoring the epithet, "the silence
of Mr. Perkins has been very noble. I shall tell him so."

"Do," answered Dick, with difficulty. "He's ambling up to the
lunch-counter now." Mr. Chester went out by way of the window, swallowing

"I have just been told," said Miss St. Clair to the poet, "that
the - er - poem was not written by you, and I apologise for what I said."

Mr. Perkins bowed in acknowledgment. "It is a small matter," he said,
wearily, running his fingers through his hair. It was, indeed, compared
with deep sorrow of a penetrating kind, and a sleepless night, but Elaine
did not relish the comment.

"Were - were you restless in the night?" she asked, conventionally.

"I was. I did not sleep at all until after four o'clock, and then only for
a few moments."

"I'm sorry. Did - did you write anything?"

"I began an epic," answered the poet, touched, for the moment, by this
unexpected sympathy. "An epic in blank verse, on 'Disappointment.'"

"I'm sure it's beautiful," continued Elaine, coldly. "And that reminds me.
I have hunted through my room, in every possible place, and found

A flood of painful emotion overwhelmed the poet, and he buried his face in
his hands. In a flash, Elaine was violently angry, though she could not
have told why. She marched out of the dining-room and slammed the door.
"Delicate, sensitive soul," she said to herself, scornfully. "Wants people
to hunt for money he thinks may be hidden in his room, and yet is so far
above sordidness that he can't hear it spoken of!"

Seeing Mr. Chester pacing back and forth moodily at some distance from the
house, Elaine rushed out to him. "Dick," she cried, "he _is_ a lobster!"

Dick's clouded face brightened. "Is he?" he asked, eagerly, knowing
instinctively whom she meant. "Elaine, you're a brick!" They shook hands
in token of absolute agreement upon one subject at least, and the girl's
right hand hurt her for some little time afterward.

Left to himself, Mr. Perkins mused upon the dread prospect before him. For
years he had calculated upon a generous proportion of his Uncle
Ebeneezer's estate, and had even borrowed money upon the strength of his
expectations. These debts now loomed up inconveniently.

The vulgar, commercial people from whom Mr. Perkins had borrowed filthy
coin were quite capable of speaking of the matter, and in an unpleasant
manner at that. The fine soul of Mr. Perkins shrank from the ordeal. He
had that particular disdain of commercialism which is inseparable from the
incapable and unsuccessful, and yet, if the light of his genius were to
illuminate a desolate world, Mr. Perkins must have money.

He might even have to degrade himself by coarse toil - and hitherto, he had
been too proud to work. The thought was terrible. Pegasus hitched to the
plough was nothing compared with the prospect of Mr. Perkins being obliged
to earn three or four dollars a week in some humble, common capacity.

Then a bright idea came to his rescue. "Mr. Carr," he thought, "the
gentleman who is now entertaining me - he is doing my own kind of work,
though of course it is less fine in quality. Perhaps he would like the
opportunity of going down to posterity as the humble Mæcenas of a new

Borne to the library in the rush of this attractive idea, Mr. Perkins
opened the door, which Harlan had forgotten to lock, and without in any
way announcing himself, broke in on Harlan's chapter.

"What do you mean?" demanded the irate author. "What business have you
butting in here like this? Get out!"

"I - " stammered Mr. Perkins.

"Get out!" thundered Harlan. It sounded strangely like the last phrase of
"dear Uncle Ebeneezer's last communication," and, trembling, the
disconsolate poet obeyed. He fled to his own room as a storm-tossed ship
to its last harbour, and renewed the composition of his epic on
"Disappointment," for which, by this time, he had additional material.

Harlan went back to his work, but the mood was gone. The living, radiant
picture had wholly vanished, and in its place was a heap of dead, dry,
meaningless words. "Did I write it?" asked Harlan, of himself, "and if so,

Like the mocking fantasy of a dream as seen in the instant of waking,
Elaine and her company had gone, as if to return no more. Only two
chapters were yet to be written, and he knew, vaguely, what Elaine was
about to do when he left her, but his pen had lost the trick of writing.

Deeply troubled, Harlan went to the window, where the outer world still
had the curious appearance of unreality. It was as though a sheet of glass
were between him and the life of the rest of the world. He could see
through it clearly, but the barrier was there, and must always be there.
Upon the edge of this glass, the light of life should break and resolve
itself into prismatic colours, of which he should see one at a time, now
and then more, and often a clear, pitiless view of the world should give
him no colour at all.

Presently Lawyer Bradford came up the hill, dressed for a formal call. In
a flash it brought back to Harlan the day the old man had first come to
the Jack-o'-Lantern, when Dorothy was a happy girl with a care-free boy
for a husband. How much had happened since, and how old and grey the world
had grown!

"I desire to see the distinguished author, Mr. Carr," the thin, piping
voice was saying at the door, "upon a matter of immediate and personal
importance. And Mrs. Carr also, if she is at leisure. Privacy is
absolutely essential."

"Come into the library," said Harlan, from the doorway. Another
interruption made no difference now. Dorothy soon followed, much mystified
by the way in which Mrs. Smithers had summoned her.

Remembering the inopportune intrusion of Mr. Perkins, Harlan locked the
door. "Now, Mr. Bradford," he said, easily, "what is it?"

"I should have told you before," began the old lawyer, "had not the bonds
of silence been laid upon me by one whom we all revere and who is now past
carrying out his own desires. The house is yours, as my letters of an
earlier date apprised you, and the will is to be probated at the Fall term
of court.

"Your uncle," went on Mr. Bradford, unwillingly, "was a great sufferer
from - from relations," he added, lowering his voice to a shrill whisper,
"and he has chosen to revenge himself for his sufferings in his own way.
Of this I am not at liberty to speak, though no definite silence was
required of me later than yesterday.

"There is, however, a farm of two thousand acres, all improved, which is
still to come to you, and a sum of money amounting to something over ten
thousand dollars, in the bank to your credit. The multitudinous duties in
connection with the practice of my profession have prevented me from
making myself familiar with the exact amount.

"And," he went on, looking at Dorothy, "there is a very beautiful diamond
pin, the gift of my lamented friend to his lovely young wife upon the day
of the solemnisation of their nuptials, which was to be given to the wife
of Mr. Judson's nephew when he should marry. It is sewn in a mattress in
the room at the end of the north wing."

The earth whirled beneath Dorothy's feet. At first, she had not fully
comprehended what Mr. Bradford was saying, but now she realised that they
had passed from pinching poverty to affluence - at least it seemed so to
her. Harlan was not so readily confused, but none the less, he, too, was
dazed. Neither of them could speak.

"I should be grateful," the old man was saying, "if you would ask Mr.
Richard Chester and Mrs. Sarah Smithers to come to my office at their
earliest convenience. I will not trespass upon their valuable time at

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 12 of 16)