S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

. (page 9 of 10)
Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 9 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


they went as they came The news of the
death alarmed them. Some further threats
about his position at last drew out full
knowledge as to the whereabouts of the will.
In the afternoon the girl was arrested, and
was easily persuaded to tell where it was hid
den under the carpet in her room. It was
resealed by Fernwood s wish and without be
ing read was left in the safe in care of the
chief. Swing must in some way have been
alarmed, for he was long sought for in vain,
but was at last arrested in St. Louis.

I had anxiously waited until the girl and the
will were brought in. I hurried away in a
cab to see Miss Musgrave. I told her of the
happy ending of our weeks of trial, and driving
with her to the library, sent her to my study
that she might have the joy of entirely relieving
her lover s mind.

When, in half an hour, I entered the room,
Miss Musgrave rose, saying: "I want to
thank our friend, and how can I "

242



THE MIND-READER

For my part, I was just a little embarrassed,
as I always am by thanks. I said: "Let us
all go and dine together."

"Some quiet place/ said Fernwood.

"Yes. Trust me."

I think no one of us has ever forgotten that
dinner. Gay and glad at first, the talk soon
became grave, and at last Fernwood said: "Is
it not time, Alston, that we heard about the
mind-reading?"

"Oh, yes !" cried Miss Musgrave. "I am so
curious."

"Well," I said, "my sister was deaf and
dumb, and when she was taught lip-reading, I
took it up and became very expert. It may
have some pretty dangerous uses. I try not
to use it. The temptations it offers are too
great."

"So that was it!" cried Miss Musgrave.
"And I really believed it to have been mind-
reading."

"Well, is it not?" I said.

As we rose from the table, Fernwood as
tounded the young waiter by saying: "This

243



THE MIND-READER

is a dinner I shall never forget. I want you to
remember it," and gave him a five-dollar note.

I felt more anger at old White s folly than
did his nephew; but Miss Musgrave said that
with her modest income and the Captain s pay
they would be better off than most army offi
cers. They were, in fact, too happy and thank
ful to feel the loss of what they had never had.
I said, however, that as under the will, they
would get something, Fernwood must be pres
ent when it was presented for probate.

This took place two days later. The presi
dent of the hospital, several trustees, and two
or three lawyers were present. The room was
crowded with reporters and others, and Mr.
Burke was of course present.

The president of the trust company which
was the executor handed over the will to the
registrar, and made the usual application
through the company s legal adviser. The reg
istrar looked it over, and then said quietly to
the president of the hospital : "Mr. Dainger-
field, I regret to say that this will is no more
than waste paper as far as concerns the hos-

244



THE MIND-READER

pital. It was witnessed and signed on June
first. Mr. White died July third. That is
thirty-two days after. A few more days of life
would have made good his gift to the hospital.
Of course, gentlemen, you all know the law.
Forty days must have elapsed. The estate
goes in totality to the heirs at law."

Daingerfield said: "Incredible, Mr. Regis
trar. Mr. White was too good a business man
to have made such a mistake!" A roar of
laughter broke out among the reporters; the
lawyers smiled; Daingerfield grew red with
anger, and Mr. Burke, beside me, said:
"What a glorious bull! I have not lost my
time."

"I fear that you will find me correct," said
the registrar, repressing his mirth. "By the
way, I see that among those who benefit is Doc
tor Alston. A codicil gives him a hundred
thousand dollars."

I looked up amazed.

Mr. Fernwood s lawyer said, "Mr. Regis
trar, unless there is a contest, which seems
hardly possible, my client, Captain Fernwood,

245



THE MIND-READER

is the chief heir. There are no other relatives
none; but this is I presume a matter for the
courts to decide."

The faces of Mr. Daingerfield and his friends
must have pleased my Captain if he had cared
to look at them, as the old gentleman broke out :
"We will fight it to the last. It is a swindle."

Fernwood said: "Mr. Daingerfield, bad
manners and an evil temper lost your hospital
this estate. Be a little careful what you say.
Come, doctor. Good-morning, gentlemen."

There was, of course, no contest, and in due
season my friend was in possession of some two
millions.

My delightful legacy was stated in a codicil
to be an expression of gratitude because of my
having saved his life, and made him no charge.

In conclusion, I may say that my friends
were married, and that Fernwood sent the hos
pital a check for one hundred thousand dollars.
Then they went away to his post at San Fran
cisco, where later I joined them, and finally be
came the manager of a productive mine, a part
of the White estate.

246



THE HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH



THE HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

WHEN after breakfast I lounged on the
porch of the Newport House and saw
the fog s gray nightcaps drift away from the
Porcupine Islands, I knew myself secure of a
perfect day; a day with a character for in
deed September weather at Bar Harbor leaves
one with remembrance of sunshine warm
enough to flatter the aging year with summer
dreams, and of shade cool enough to remind
one that the festal days of the year s life are
over. To my regret this was the last of my
holiday on the happy island. I meant it to be
memorable, and had planned it with such care
as the gourmet in the story gave to his last
dinner on earth. I meant to walk in the morn
ing, to sail alone in the afternoon, and return
to dine where one should dine in order to end

249



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

perfectly a day without a break in its happi
ness.

I carried a mood of entire satisfaction into
the afternoon, when I stood on Captain Con
ner s slip at Bar Harbor and felt the whole
some northwest wind s promise of the delight
of a brisk sail. I was about to step into my
skiff in order to go out to where the cat-boat
was moored, when I heard behind me, "I say,
Afton, w-want a c-crew?"

I knew the voice too well. My dream of
a lonely sail was gone. I turned and saw Tom
Westway coming ponderous over the float,
which rocked under the weight of a rotund,
short, middle-aged man, clad in faultless white
flannel, a straw hat with a red ribbon shading
his large, ruddy, clean shaven face. There
was now as always something oddly impressive
in the changeless gravity of the man. He
never seemed depressed or excited, and ap
peared to be so wanting in alertness of mind
that his success in the speculations of the grain
market was as surprising to me as to others.

Now he remarked as he stood by my side,
250



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

"Good thing I c-came. You d have had to
s-sail alone. Knew you d w-want a c-crew."
I did not, but to say no to the best natured
fellow I knew was quite beyond me. I did not
doubt the honesty of his belief that his coming
was to relieve my solitude, since to be alone
was for Tom himself a serious discomfort, al
though why I never could say, since he was
like some domestic animals which are unhappy
without human company but have no need of
human conversation. Man s craving for talk
varies. Tom had none. Not even the bitter
of gossip could provoke an appetite. Indeed
he transacted the business of life with fewer
words than anybody I can recall. Someone,
years ago, seeing him at the club, serene, fat,
contented and silent, his arms crossed on his
ample stomach, called him the club Joss. And
now, on the approach of his tranquil largeness
and good-natured assurance of welcome, I
knew that, although I never more surely de
sired to be alone, I could not with decency de
cline his offer. There seemed to me, for a mo
ment contemplating escape, some vague cruelty
15 251



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

in refusing the company of a man who stam
mered. I smiled at the thought and at the
quickly added reflection that a fat man who
stammered made some mysteriously larger ap
peal to my good-nature. My reflection would
have offered the over-analytic novelist occasion
for a page of psychological comment, with the
usual doubt which stands for a conclusion.

"All right, Tom," I said sweetly. "Get in,"
adding something concerning the uncertainties
of such as go down to the sea in cat-boats.

Tom, pleased to escape the solitude of self,
merely murmured dislocated thanks and care
fully got his bulky person into the skiff, which
I was steadying to counterbalance his weight.
When, however, we were safe in the cat-boat,
free of the mooring, and the sail up, he began
to ask me, with intervals of silence, how far I
was going, and to desire some assurance of re
turn in time for dinner. When he learned
with whom I was to dine at Cromwell s Cove,
he seemed, and I think with reason, to feel
more secure.

As we sped out between Bar Island and the
252



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

Porcupines into the open bay, he soon became
too uncomfortably busy in keeping his place
as ballast on the windward gunwale to attend
to any other mental business. He bit hard on
his pipe stem and now and then exclaimed,
"G-Great Scott!" when the boat lay over.
In fact, as the wind rose in perilous gusts and
played tricks with the boom, I fancy he may
have felt that a lonesome grain broker might
pay too dearly for society. At last I saw that
his pipe was out and that he was unaware of
it. This was too real an expression of dis
comfort not to touch me, and although my
hands were full with the viciousness of the
wind I began to talk to him, with now and
then an eye to the southeast where, over Green
Mountain and Sargent, a low-lying range of
clouds was changing from minute to minute.
In the afternoon light the early autumn yel
lows gave the mountains an appearance of be
ing powdered with gold dust. I spoke of it to
Tom, who said, after a reflective pause,
"That s so." Then I gave him out of my
musings something better to see what he would

253



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

do with it. I got only brief replies, usually a
repetition of my queries in some slightly varied
form of assent.

At last I said, "When a man is in the autumn
of life, he makes wild efforts to resist decay,
but here are these great forests fading with no
effort to stay the march of time. It seems
strange to me ; and to think how we poor devils
fight, when our fate is just as inevitable."
What I thus offered was no way remarkable
except for the comment it provoked.

For a moment the wind held steady, and,
more at ease, Tom considered his pipe to see if
it were alive, and then remarked, "Y-Yes. It
does. It goes on and on, just like the s-slump
in the wheat m-market in 91. No f -fellow
could stop it, and "

There was something exasperating in this
contribution to the possibilities of human
thought. What more there was I never
knew, for just then the wind and a careless
hand on the tiller of a sudden tipped the boat
so that we took in a little water, and Tom
evolved profane generalizations.

254



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

I supposed the talk to have come to a close,
but to my surprise Tom rallied, and after a
slight search in his mind, said with the con
sciousness of being valuably productive, "It s
a g-good thing there are no m-middle-aged
women in the g-grain market."

When I asked, "Why middle-aged?" Tom,
refreshed by my want of intelligent apprehen
sion, replied, "Why, d-don t you see? Most
any fellow c-could see that autumn and all
that." What he meant I do not know; per
haps he did not.

Just past Badley s Point I concluded to get
about for the sail home, since now we had run
far to the westward up Frenchman s Bay.
I was on the point of getting about when
I realized that I was too late. The wind
was failing and the dark summer storm long
brewing over Sargent and the Bubbles was
coming up from the southeast with unexpected
speed. I said nothing but held my course un
til I had put the boat through the drawbridge,
just opened for a small sloop. Then, at last,
Tom began to gather the bitter fruit of a crav-

255



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

ing for company, and desired to know when
we might calculate upon being at Bar Harbor.

Some mild sense of satisfaction was mine as,
with thought of my spoiled afternoon, I said,
"There will be no dinner for us to-day, Tom.
The norther is dying out. If we try to return,
we shall be caught in Frenchman s Bay by the
storm you see to the southward. I don t mind
a ducking we are in for that but I won t
risk drowning you."

Tom said it was pretty bad, but took the
tiller while I double-reefed. As I resumed my
place, the north wind ceased with an abrupt
ness I did not like, and for a minute there was
a dead calm. The water took on a leaden tint,
and the fast coming cloud masses of a dull
greenish hue were aglow now and then with
grim javelins of violet light.

I saw that Tom was more and more uneasy.
He crouched a little as the lightning flared,
and said with a sorry attempt to look the
courage he did not feel, "R-rather a scrape,
Af ton, is n t it ? G-great Scott ! That was
c-close." As the thunder followed instant on

256



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

the flash, his shoulders rose and gave him the
appearance of a turtle retreating into the se
curity of its shell.

As it blew harder, I felt that to be caught
even in the half shelter of the narrows
of Western Bay by the fury of wind out
of yonder blackness was not to be risked.
Overhead every storm signal was set, and I
knew that we were about to encounter some
thing unusual. The north wind came again
in puffs and for a time helped my purpose of
securing a shelter. Then of a sudden the
wind changed and we felt the first irregular
gusts of the coming storm. Leaving Tom the
tiller with a word of warning, I stood up on
the bow to pilot him into a place of security.
Although for him it was alarming, and the
prospect of wet clothes and no dinner tragic, I
was rejoicing in the magnificence of the scene
overhead and in the interest of what I saw
around me. The rising southeast wind was tak
ing little nips at the black surface, and the large
rain drops were making brief, bell-like bub
bles, followed instantly by the upleap of dark

257



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

spikes of water. To westward, still in a clear
sky, the setting sun touched with gold every
leaping ripple and turned to lustrous bronze
the far seen summits of the Gouldsboro Hills
on the mainland. It was really an amazing
spectacle with something dramatic in the con
trasts it offered.

I said at last, "Is n t it glorious?"

Tom said it would be if he were n t so cold.
I myself felt the chill of the September even
ing and too, in the swift coming wind, the
colder air from the mountain tops. Presently
it would be far worse.

Now and then, as the gale gathered force
and the rain grew heavier, I heard Tom s ex
clamations. His mind was on his dinner, as
to which my conscience was quite at rest. At
last, as a terrible zigzag of light flashed over
head, Tom cried out, "Oh, don t stand by that
m-mast when you re g-getting wet. It s
dangerous."

"Getting wet? I am wet," I said laughing.
"Run her in there, Tom. Put her head up.
So. That will do." I let fall the anchor,

258



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

dropped and secured the sail, and sat down in
the partial shelter of Prettymarsh Harbor.

"I w-won t stay here," protested Tom.
"I m wet."

"All right. We will go ashore. Pull up
the skiff. We will make for that house on the
hill. I should stand by my boat if I were
alone."

"Well, I w-won t."

"All right," I said.

It was now raining harder, and in a min
ute I was wet to the skin, and the wind so
furious that it was a hard pull to the beach.
Tom was in as sorry a plight. "Cheer up, old
man," I said. "We will go up to the house
and make a good fire."

"And get some g-grub," said Tom.
"What is the place? It looks shut up."

"Prettymarsh is over yonder," I replied,
"and no one lives here. We 11 get in some
how."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Tom, amid a
solid downfall of rain.

"What s wrong? Any wetter?"

259



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

"I c-could n t be w-wetter. There 11 be
thirteen at table ! My aunt will never forgive
me. I was to dine with her."

"Can t be helped," said I, and strode on
doggedly behind him, contemplating the pon
derous form, the water-soaked flannels, now a
dull gray, the limp dripping straw hat giving
an air of singular dejection to his figure.

It was all very sad for a man who divided
his time systematically between the grain ex
change, bridge at the club, and an afternoon on
the speedway. Adventure, bodily risks and
the unusual had no place in his ordered life
and for him no charm. I began to pity him
as he walked on, growling out his usual brief
sentences. Even ordinary talk seemed to be
an effort requiring pauses and some slow
marshaling of his mental forces.

As with difficulty facing the wind we topped
the hill, I wiped the rain from my eyes for a
survey of the house, which before to-day I had
seen only at a distance, but always with a cer
tain interested curiosity. It is visible every-
wHere from the upper water beyond French-

260



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

man s Bay as well as from Prettymarsh on the
landward side, and is in fact the most notable
dwelling in this the flatter part of Mt. Desert
Island. I saw it better now, a house of dull
ruddy color with a rather small doorway in
front and two large windows on each side of
the entrance. Some tradition of hospitality
and of former importance was indicated by the
great size of the house and by the large chim
neys over both gables. As we drew near, I
observed that the paling fence was in ruin,
and what had once been modest flower beds
was overgrown with golden rod and asters.
The house, if showing no sign of recent habi
tation, was not dilapidated.

Two fine red-oaks stood just outside of the
fence. Under one of these we took shelter,
and, as Tom said, took stock of an unpromis
ing situation. Then, with the manner of a
man revealing a secret, Tom said, "Tell you
something, Afton. The w-water is running
down the b-back of my neck worse than it



was."



"Me too/ I said, laughing.
261



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

"Is that so?" he returned, as if surprised.
"What a house!"

It was hardly descriptive, but meant, as I
soon learned, that it was absurdly big for a
farmhouse.

"How to get in, Tom. It seems pretty se
curely shut up," said I, as we stood, the wind
somewhat broken for us by the house. The
day was slowly darkening, while the storm not
only gave no sign of ending, but in fact was
every minute increasing in violence.

"Let s go round it and see," said Tom.

As we turned the corner, the gray lashes of
rain driven by a good thirty-mile gale seemed
nearly level and stung as they struck the face.
Before us were well tilled fields, and beyond
the house a barn in ruin. At the back of the
house we looked in vain for an easy way of en
trance. The shutters were solid and tightly
closed. There were none above the first story.

Tom went up the steps and tried the door in
vain. Leaning against the door he turned to
make this clear to me. "It s no use," he roared,

262



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

for what with a fury of rain and wind beating
on the house I hardly heard him. Then there
was an abrupt increase in the violence of the
gale. A big maple behind me went down with
a loud crack and clatter of broken branches,
and the door of the house was blown open,
slamming inward so that the wind and Tom
burst into the emptiness with a whooping
sound like a huge, deep inbreath.

"Great Scott!" cried Tom. "Thought a
f-fellow opened it behind me."

"He did," I laughed, and darted by him
through the solid cascade from the eaves.
"Come in," I cried, for the wind-driven rain
was flooding the hall. "Quick," I cried,
"and get a big stone." And this being
fetched, closing the door we set the stone
against it, and were thus left in a darkened
hall.

I had been much on the sea, but as wild a
storm as this was a notable event in my life.
There was comic contrast in what Tom said.

"I m glad the w-wind b-burgled for us.
263



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

We did n t have to break in after all." This
reflection seemed to comfort a conservative
commercial citizen facing the unusual.

I felt it imperative that we should find
warmth, since the early chilliness of a Septem
ber evening had set in and we were water-
soaked to the skin. It was dark in the hall
and I struck match after match until, thus
aided, I found a closed door opening from the
hall into an eastern room.

I groped my way to a window, where I
raised the sash with difficulty and threw back
the shutters. There was no more than light
enough from the outside to show me, as I
turned from the window, that we were in a
room which had the appearance of being really
vast. For a moment this remained unex
plained until I saw in the fading light of the
storm-shortened day what caused this sense
of space without distinct boundaries. Walls,
floor, and the heavy rafters overhead were
black from the smoke of what seemed to have
been a fire once kindled in the middle of the

264



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

floor of the room. A deeply burned place was
left where the fire had burned half-way
through the floor. The blackening of the
room helped in the twilight to give an ap
pearance of indistinct size and of lack of limit
ing boundaries. It was mysteriously impres
sive even after the delusory effect was ex
plained, and was not quite pleasant.

If I was puzzled, Tom was not. "W-well,"
he exclaimed, "m-must have been a t-tramp did
that. I w-wonder why it did n t all g-go."

I made no reply. I did not accept his view
of the matter nor yet know why it was not ob
viously as he put it. Then after a pause he
brought out another theory. "That s it !
Someone m-might have w-wanted the in
surance." And still I was silent. An effort
had been made long ago to destroy the house,
but why? Tom s conjectures were reason
able.

I shook my head as I went over to the win
dow and rubbing away the blackened spider-
webs looked through a deluge of rain which

265



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

beat on the roof with a murmurous humming
sound, or swept over it in gusts like the patter
of numberless small feet.

"By George!" I cried, "There goes the
Sylvia !" As the lightning flashed I made
out the boat, dimly seen, bottom up, adrift
across the water.

When I announced to Tom that we were
mildly marooned, he said that he saw nothing
mild about it, but that he would not mind if
he had a fire and dinner and a good bed.
When I agreed with him, he went on to say
that was n t the worst of it. There was Aunt
Martha.

"Well?" I queried.

"She has n t got any head for arithmetic,
but she s got enough to know there s thir
teen at table. I can see her c-counting them."
I was well aware that Tom had expectations
which I was sure made his commercial con
science sensitive in matters concerning Aunt
Martha.

"Perhaps," I returned, laughing, "that fated
thirteenth may be Aunt Martha."

266



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

"I n-n-never th-th-thought of that," said
Tom frankly. I trust that he was measurably
consoled.

"Well/ I added, "it can t be helped. Come.
Let us see what there is in this place to make
us comfortable."

His small resources in the language of de
spair were seemingly at an end. As I spoke
he was standing still in wet dismay, all adrip,
dolefully regarding the growing pool of water
on the floor about him.

"Come along," I repeated. "There is noth
ing here. It can t be worse anywhere else."

Thus exhorted, he followed my steps into
the hall which ran through the house from
north to south.

As we struck matches for now, at least
within the house, it was quite dark we saw
small evidence of the smoke, and I concluded
that whoever kindled the fire had closed the
doors and windows of the room and may thus
have smothered the blaze. As we lighted our
brief-lived little vesta torches, we saw that the
hall was wide and that on the western side
16 267



HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH

was another room. As we passed across it I
observed no relics of former habitation ex
cept a crane in the chimney place, which made
me think it had been the kitchen.

The solitude of the place and the sense of its
having once been what now it was not trou
bled me. People had lived here, but were here


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9

Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 9 of 10)