S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

. (page 10 of 10)
Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 10 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

no longer. That was commonplace enough,
and yet now, interpreted by a mood, it became
uncommonplace. There has always been to
me something impressive in an empty house,
something which sets me to thinking.

It was useless to invite Tom to share my
thoughts, and perhaps after all there was not
enough in them to make division worth while.
I stood looking about me, now seeing, now
blind, as the wax matches flared and went out.
Strange as it may seem, it was Tom who
showed the first signal of any sense of the un
usual. In an interval of darkness he clutched
my arm and said in the low voice of one
startled, "D-did you hear that? Hush!



"Hear what?"

"A clock. There! You didn t hear. It
struck eight."

"Struck nonsense. I wish there were a

"Great heavens, and you didn t hear that?
Someone laughed."

"Someone laughed, did they? I wish they
had. We are alone, you and I, host and guest
if you like. You may choose which you will
be. That wind has groaned and howled and
whistled in the last half-hour, and you heard
it laugh, old man. Well, why not?"

"Damn it," he said, "wind doesn t strike

"An old house and a forty-mile gale make a
queer orchestra."

"Oh, stuff!" he broke in rudely, for him an
amazing thing. "I am not a child. There s
something wrong in this house."

"There is n t anything in it wrong or right.
Let us have a look at the cellar. There 11 be
wood there if anywhere. I am chilled to the



bones. We must have a fire. And don t
waste matches that way, Tom. Mine are
nearly all gone/

This I said because as we stood in the gloom
Tom was flashing the small wax lights and un
easily turning from side to side. As I spoke,
he said, "It s c-coming."

"What," I broke in. The queer ways of my
stout friend were vexing me a little and per
plexing me more. Well used to the pause
before his mental mechanism could become
vocally expressive, I waited, making no com
ment. I heard him move as he said, "I think
you are getting n-nervous."

"II? Nervous?"

"Yes. I only w-wanted to say that storm
would be c-coming back from the northwest.
That was all. I don t know what s the matter
with you/

This was not like him. He was suffering
from an attack of abnormal acuteness of per
ception. Of a sudden Tom did an unusual
thing, and when he said or did an unusual
thing, it disturbed those who knew him well as



with a sense of shock. He cried, "I shall not
stay here a m-minute," and ran by me and out
into the hall.

When I overtook him, I made him out by
my flashed match leaning against the stair-
rail. I said, "What the deuce is the matter,

"N-nothing. It was so close in there."
He was wiping his forehead.

"Oh, is that all ! You acted just the way my
terrier Susan did last year. I was looking
over an empty house. She sat down to howl
in one of the rooms and then ran out as if

"Hang Susan! I m cold and wet. Let s
get a fire."

We found the cellar door beneath the stair
way. Striking a match we went down and
found ourselves in a damp, earth-paved space
under the west half of the house. It was here
quite dark. Tom took one side of the cellar
and I the other. There was no wood. Guard
ing my feeble taper, I came to a corner. There
lay on the ground a rusty spade with a broken



handle and a mattock. As I looked idly at
the worn tools, Tom called out, "Come here,
Afton, that s q-queer."

I turned at his summons and found him
standing over the wreck of an old-fashioned
mahogany cradle. Neither of us spoke for a
moment. I had a sense of awe and of unseen
human nearness. Except the canopy and
rockers, the cradle was in large fragments.
It must have been broken very long ago, for in
places it was rotten, a rare thing to see in ma

"It has been sm- smashed with an axe," said
Tom. "Queer to want to sm-smash a
ch-child s cr-cradle. Who c-could have done

"Who indeed?" I murmured.

"What s that?" said Tom.

I looked down and saw the remnants of a
mouldered, mouse-gnawed little slipper a
child s. I picked it up and turned it over and
laid it in the broken cradle as Tom said,
"Well, there s fire-wood at last. Got to have



a fire. Can t be any harm in b-burning a
b-busted cradle."

"Harm? No," I said, "but something else."
I could not have said what else. "I would as
soon be warmed by a broken coffin. Let it
alone. We 11 find something upstairs."

"Oh, darn your sentiment. I m ch-chilled
to the bone." As he spoke he kicked over the
broken fragments of the cradle.

"Don t do that," I said, "I say don t"
Upon this he growled, but went back with me
to the hall and then up the creaking stair to
the second story.

There again was a hallway with doors open
to east and west, so that as we stood we could
look to right and left into the dark depths of
two large rooms. I chose without reason the
room to westward. As I moved into it Tom
said, almost in a whisper, "I w-would n t go in.
It it s no g-good, and it s so c-cussed

"Nonsense," I said, "if you go on this way,
we shall either see or think we see ghosts."



"Great Scott! G-Ghosts?"

I broke into the comment of a laugh, which
brought back a crude echo from the empty
chamber. The notion of a ghost s appearing
to a stout member of the grain exchange some
how tickled me into a brief mood of whole
some amusement.

"I don t see anything to 1-laugh at," said
Tom. "I say light up. It s awful here."

I said no more. Both struck vestas and we
moved into the dark space before us. Then I
stood still. I saw far away, across the room,
an answering glow of light, and as if coming
toward me the dimly-seen form of a woman,
and then a confusion of many figures, appear
ing to come out of the gleaming distance. All
were indistinct; and now of a sudden they
were gone. I was simply startled.

"Great heavens," cried Tom, "what s that?"

We were moving forward as he stopped, say
ing, "They came out of that that " I saw
that our lights were reflected back to us from a
full length mirror such as in France they call
a cheval glass. I had no more doubt than had



Tom that these shadowy phantoms came, or
seemed to come, out of the mirror, but to reas
sure him and myself I said, "Stuff and non
sense. You saw your own image and mine/

"I_saw ; t _


Now that we were nearer I understood why
we had seen only the reflected flash from the
glass. The tall side columns between which
swung the mirror were of dark mahogany
worn shabby, and were crowned with brass
pineapples green rusted. This bit of lonely
furniture troubled me more than the delusion
of the figures and set me to thinking. I re
membered to have heard that the house had
been built by one of the early French settlers,
people with some means and of a class much
above the rank of the ordinary English emi

Alone in the deserted farmhouse, which was
only remarkable for its great size, this broken
relic of days of luxury and refinement, aban
doned as worthless when the owners moved
away, affected me strangely. Reflecting upon



my excited interpretation of the flash of our
wax lights, I stood alone while Tom was open
ing a window. What fair women had the mir
ror seen; what gay gowns away in France;
what looks of love, hate, sorrow, had its far-
gone hours caught. Were they all there still
for nothing is lost the forms and faces of the
dead, generations of unseen pictures.

As Tom s return broke in on my musings I
kept up my tiny illuminations, and drawing
near to the glass began to examine it more
closely. One of the claw-toed legs was
broken and the mirror stood awry. There was
even in this something pitiful and appealing.
A crack crossed the glass from side to side.

As Tom, a little reassured, came near he an
nounced the limits of his wonder. "Was n t
worth t-taking. Well I never ! That s queer.
Don t you n-notice the smell in this room
like like dead rose leaves?"

"Yes. What is it? It is like no I don t
know what it is like. I ll open the other win



As I raised the sash the wind came in and
blew out Tom s taper. I heard his quickened
step across the room as he exclaimed, "G-good
heavens !"

"What?" I said. Not seeing him at all in
the deep darkness whence came to me only a
scared voice, I put out a hand and touched him.
"What nonsense are you talking? Strike a

He did. It was blown out instantly as he
cried, "They came out of the mirror. They
came again."

"Who came? What came? What did you

"See? Oh, Lord, they are all around me.
Can t you feel them?"

"No, I can t, you idiot."

"I can t feel them now, but it s awful."

I neither felt them in the sense of contact,
nor saw, nor heard them, but I was as surely
aware in the deep gloom of there being persons
around me as I was of the presence of West-
way. I was past power to reason. Nor had



I any sense of peril. I did have something
like awe, such as one has in the face of great
elemental forces.

Tom was stammering broken phrases in
pure fear. His condition rallied me and I
cried, "Steady, old fellow," casting an arm over
his shoulder. "Come," I said, "there is no


"I can t I can t move."

I felt like him some sense of difficulty in
moving. Then with a great effort I went by
him hearing him cry, "Don t 1-leave me."

I was suddenly aware that they were behind
me and none in the front. Tom cried out
again in a childlike way, "Don t 1-leave me."

"Come," I called, and at the door, "a match,
Tom," and struck it as we stood at the head of
the stair. I was in a cold sweat. As I spoke
I got a look at Tom in the red flare of the
match. I once saw a man who in rude health
had come of a sudden into the shadow of
death. So looked Tom, his face flushed, his
eyes red, the sweat trickling down his fore
head, his jaws dropped. I may have looked no



better. I knew vaguely that we were in
truders. All my futile explanatory wrestling
was come to a feeble end. I made believe a
little. "Come, Tom," I said, "we are a pair
of children. Let s go down stairs and wait
till morning/

I was relieved when he said, "N-not I. Not
a m-minute."

As I made my proposal I was again aware
of what I hesitate to call "people." I was at
once resolute not to confess to Tom; and in
deed my feeling of terror was less and my
sense of being unwelcome more distinct.

Hardly to my surprise Tom ran by me down
the stairs. He tore open the hall door, and
pausing cried, "Heavens," and bounded down
the outer steps. I had no intention of making
such a cowardly exit. I went down stair by
stair. I was rather in a state of tension
than of alarm. What I expected from mo
ment to moment was that I should see some
one something. At the last step my expec
tant imagination, as I then believed, did its
work. While taking out my last two tapers I



dropped the match safe, and this slight mate
rial reminder steadied me, so that for an in
stant I was again free from the despotism of
my belief that I was accompanied by unseen
beings. To recover the little silver case I
struck the vestas on the wall and, finding the
box at my feet, looked up. I was aware of a
woman standing in the open doorway. I got
but a moment s glance at her, enough to learn
that she was young and was in a plain gown
and carried in one hand what was called in my
grandmother s time a caleche bonnet. The
face I saw in the flare of the matches I shall
never forget. It seemed to express fear and
horror. I stood still a moment really appalled.
She moved aside as though to let me pass.
The tapers flickered in the wind and went out,
the figure disappeared, and I drew a full breath
of relief in the open air.

The storm was over. The moon was bril
liant overhead. I saw Tom seated under a
tree. "Halloa," he cried. "What kept you?
A 1-little more and I should have gone to 1-look
for you."



"Thanks, my dear fellow."

"No, I w-would n t," said Tom. "Did you,
n-now did you see her?"

"See whom?" I asked, quick to test the real
ity of what I had seen.

"A g-girl a woman. She had a queer bon
net in her hand."

"Yes, I saw her."

"Well, I say, Afton, we were n t d-drunk or
dreaming. No one will believe us." He
wiped his forehead.

"No one will believe us; I should think not.
Better not try the credulity of our club friends,

"No indeed, guess I know what they would
say, but a fellow might tell a woman."

"What, Miss Martha, your Aunt?"

"Yes, perhaps." The thought struck me as

"You see it would explain things."

"Would it indeed? There would be a more
probable explanation. You left your hat in
the house. Better go and get it."

"I will not," said Tom.


Both were disposed to be silent, as we
walked down the hill and found refuge in a
farmhouse near by, where we told of the
wrecked cat-boat, but no more. Early next
day I went with Tom to recover his hat. I
found it lying in the hall. Tom declined to
enter. We both felt, or I at least, the impro
priety of making use of daylight to aid our idle
curiosity by a new inspection. I closed the
door, and we walked across the fields to re
turn to the farmhouse, where a wagon was
ready to take us to Bar Harbor. At the foot
of the hill we came upon an inclosure, one of
the many pathetic little graveyards to be found
here and there on the island. A single large
gray stone bore, some scarcely legible, names
and dates in the first third of the nineteenth
century. Last of all was the single name,
"Hortense," and no more.

"Well now, I w-wonder," said Tom. "Was
that Hortense, the ch-child?"

"Hush!" said I, a faint sense, perhaps a
mere remembrance of unseen listeners coming



upon me. "What secrets lay beneath these

"Now that child b-bothers me/ said Tom.
"There must have been a b-baby."

"Hush !" I said. "Come, let us go."

"W-well, I d like to know, Afton. You
don t want to talk about it."

"No, I do not."

"All right, but I can t get that smashed
c-cradle out of my head, and the spade and mat
tock and the sh-shoe."

I stood above the grave-stone silent, hardly
hearing him. In a little while the slow mech
anism of Tom s brain ground out, "Well, but
now, s-suppose that "

"Oh, quit," I cried, and walked away.

At the farmhouse just as we got into the
wagon Tom said to the farmer, "Who owns
that house on the hill?"

"Some French people did once. They went
away in my grandfather s time."

"Anything queer happen there?" asked Tom.

"Yes, but my folk would n t ever talk about


it. Those French they sold the farm and the
house, but they kept the graveyard. My
father said that when he was a boy he heard
say that the house was set afire the day they
left, but it war n t burnt much only one room

"Yes, we saw that?"

"What! Was you in it?"

"Yes, we got in."

The farmer returned, "I own it and the
farm, but my wife won t live up there. And
you was in it after dark?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, is that so!"

"Good-bye," I cried, as we drove away.

Tom was as usual silent and I deep in per
plexed thought. I reflected that not always
was it Tom who had first felt these ghostly
presences. Had I been the victim of the crude
imagined phantoms of a cold, hungry, common
place man disturbed by physical discomfort and
a novel environment ? But then I remembered
that we had both seen the woman. That
seemed conclusive.



"Give me a Wight," said Tom. "That
cradle was queer, was n t it, and what you said
about c-coffins "

"Hush !" I said, pointing to the driver.

"But the little s-shoe," persisted Tom.

"Oh, let s drop it," I said.




202 Main Library


2 3


5 6


Ka5WJS^ fc w*-" -


II X Y ^

ULI V fy&;

i\ i\l n 3 IQ^/

:; / .

r > ,


FORM NO. DD6, 60m, 1/83 BERKELEY, CA 94720

I ~ 30m-6, 14





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10

Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 10 of 10)