Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Red Lady
Author: Burt, Katharine Newlin
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Red Lady" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE RED LADY

By Katharine Newlin Burt

Houghton Mifflin Company

1920

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]



THE RED LADY



CHAPTER I--HOW I CAME TO THE PINES


|IT is the discomfort of the thing which comes back upon me, I believe,
most forcibly. Of course it was horrible, too, emphatically horrible,
but the prolonged, sustained, baffling discomfort of my position is what
has left the mark. The growing suspicion, the uncanny circumstances, my
long knowledge of that presence: it is all extraordinary, not least, the
part I somehow managed to play.

I was housekeeper at the time for little Mrs. Brane. How I had come to
be her housekeeper might have served to forewarn me, if I had had the
clue. None but an inexperienced, desperate girl would have taken the
position after the fashion in which I was urged to take it. I remember
the raw, colorless day, and how it made me shiver to face its bitter
grayness as I came out of the dismal New York boardinghouse to begin my
dreary, mortifying search for work. I remember the hollowness of purse
and stomach; and the dullness of head. I even remember wondering that
hair like mine, so conspiculously golden-red, could possibly keep its
flame under such conditions. And halfway down the block, how very well I
remember the decent-looking, black-clad woman who touched my arm, looked
me hard in the face, and said, "A message for you, madam."

She got away so quickly that I had n't opened the blank envelope before
she was round the corner and out of sight.

The envelope contained a slip of white paper on which was neatly printed
in pen and ink: "Excellent position vacant at The Pines, Pine Cone, N.C.
Mrs. Theodore Brane wants housekeeper. Apply at once."

This was not signed at all. I thought: "Some one is thinking kindly of
me, after all. Some oldtime friend of my father's, perhaps, has sent
a servant to me with this message." I returned to my third-story back
hall-bedroom and wrote at once, offering my services and sending my
references to Mrs. Brane. Two days later, during which my other
efforts to find a position entirely failed, there came a letter on good
note-paper in a light, sloping hand.

The Pines

My dear Miss Gale:

I shall be delighted to try you as housekeeper. I think you will find
the place satisfactory. It is a small household, and your duties will
be light, though I am very much out of health and must necessarily leave
every detail of management to you. I want you to take your meals with
me. I shall be glad of your companionship. The salary is forty dollars a
month.

Sincerely yours

Edna Worthington Brane

And to my delight she enclosed the first month's salary in advance. I
wonder if many such checks are blistered with tears. Mine was, when
I cashed it at the bank at the corner, where my landlady, suddenly
gracious, made me known.

Three days later, I was on my way to "The Pines."

The country, more and more flat and sandy, with stunted pines and negro
huts, with shabby patches of corn and potatoes, was sad under a low,
moist sky, but my heart was high with a sense of adventure at all times
strong in me, and I read promise between the lines of Mrs. Brane's kind
little note.

I slept well in my berth that night and the next afternoon came safely
to Pine Cone. My only experience had been the rather annoying, covert
attention of a man on the train. He was a pleasant-enough looking
fellow and, though he tried to conceal his scrutiny, it was disagreeably
incessant. I was glad to leave him on the train, and I saw his face
peering out of the window at me and caught a curious expression when I
climbed into the cart that had been sent to meet me from "The Pines." It
was a look of intense excitement, and, it seemed to me, almost of
alarm. Also, his fingers drew a note-book from his pocket and he fell
to writing in it as the train went out. I could not help the ridiculous
fancy that he was taking notes on me.

I had never been in the South before, and the country impressed me
as being the most desolate I had ever seen. Our road took us straight
across the level fields towards a low, cloudlike bank of pines. We
passed through a small town blighted by poverty and dark with negro
faces which had none of the gayety I associated with their race. These
men and women greeted us, to be sure, but in rather a gloomy fashion,
not without grace and even a certain stateliness. The few whites looked
poorer than the blacks or were less able to conceal their poverty.

My driver was a grizzled negro, friendly, but, I soon found, very deaf.
He was eager to talk, but so often misinterpreted my shouted questions
that I gave it up. I learned, at least, that we had an eight-mile
drive before us; that there was a swamp beyond the pine woods; that
the climate was horribly unhealthy in summer so that most of the gentry
deserted, but that Mrs. Brane always stayed, though she sent her little
boy away.

"Lit'l Massa Robbie, he's jes' got back. Sho'ly we-all's glad to see him
too. Jes' makes world of diffunce to hev a child about."

I, too, was glad of the child's presence. A merry little lad is good
company, and can easily be won by a housekeeper with the pantry keys in
her hand.

"Mrs. Brane is an invalid?" was one of my questions, I remember, to
which I had the curious answer, "Oh, no, missy, not to say timid, not
timorous. It's jes' her way, don' mean nothin'. She's a right peart
little lady. No, missy, don' get notions into yo' haid. We ain't none of
us timid; no, indeed."

And he gave his head a valiant roll and clipped his fat gray horse with
a great show of valor. Evidently he had mistaken my word "invalid," for
"timid," but the speech was queer, and gave me food for thought.

We had come to an end of our talk by the time we reached the low ridge
of pines, and we plodded through the heavy sand into the gloom, out of
it, and down into the sudden dampness of the swamp, in silence. This was
strange country; a smothered sort of stream under high, steep banks
went coiling about under twisted, sprawling trees, all draped with
deadlooking gray moss. Everything was gray: sky, road, trees, earth,
water. The air was gray and heavy. I tried not to breathe it, and was
glad when we came out and up again to our open sandy stretches. There
was a further rise and more trees; a gate, an ill-weeded drive, and in a
few minutes we stopped before a big square white house. It had six
long columns from roof to ground, intersected at the second story by a
balcony floor. The windows were large, the ceilings evidently very
high. In fact, it was the typical Southern house, of which I had seen
pictures, stately and not unbeautiful, though this house looked in need
of care.

I felt very nervous as I stepped across the porch and pulled the bell.
My hands were cold, and my throat dry. But, no sooner was the door
opened, than I found myself all but embraced by a tiny, pale, dark woman
in black, who came running out into the high, cold hall, took me by both
hands, and spoke in the sweetest voice I had ever heard.

"Oh, Miss Gale, indeed I'm glad to see you. Come in now and have tea
with me. My little boy and I have been waiting for you, all impatience
since three o'clock. George must just have humored the old horse.
They're both so old that they spoil each other, out of fellow-feeling, I
reckon."

She went before me through a double doorway, trailing her scarf behind
her, and I came into a pleasant, old-fashioned room, crowded with fussy
little ornaments and large furniture.

It was thickly carpeted, and darkly papered, but was lit to warmth by
a bright open fire of coals. The glow was caught high up by a hanging
chandelier with long crystal pendants, and under this stood a little
boy. My heart tightened at sight of him, he looked so small and
delicate.

"Here is our new friend, Robbie," said Mrs. Brane. "Come and shake
hands."

I took the clammy little hand and kissed the sallow little face. The
child looked up. Such a glare of speechless, sudden terror I have never
seen in the eyes of any child. I hope I shall never see it again. I
stepped back, half afraid, and hurt, for I love children, and children
love me, and this little, sickly thing I longed to take close to my
heart.

"Why, Robbie!" said Mrs. Brane, "Robbie, dear! He's very timid, Miss
Gale, you'll have to excuse him."

She had not seen the look, only the shrinking gesture. He was much worse
than "timid." But I was really too overwhelmed to speak. I turned away,
tears in my silly eyes, and took off my hat and coat in silence, tucking
in a stray end of hair. The child had got into his mother's lap, and
was clinging to her, while she laughed and coaxed him. Under her
encouragements he ventured to look up, then threw himself back,
stiffened and shrieked, pointing at me, "It's her hair! It's her hair!
See her hair!"

For a few moments his mother was fairly unnerved, then she began
to laugh again, looked apologetically at me, and, rocking the poor,
frightened baby in her arms, "Oh, Miss Gale," she said sweetly, "we're
not used to such splendor in our old house. Come, Robbie dear, all women
are not as little and black and dreary as your poor mamma. I'll let him
creep off into a corner, Miss Gale, while we have tea, then he'll get
used to your prettiness and that wonderful hair from a distance."

As I came up, the child fled from me and crouched in a far corner of the
room, from which his little white face glimmered fearfully.

Mrs. Brane poured tea, and chattered incessantly. It was evident that
she had suffered greatly from loneliness. Her eyes showed that she had
lived too long in memories. I felt a warm desire to cheer and to protect
her. She was so small and helpless-looking.

"Since my husband died," she said, "I really have n't had the courage to
go away. It's difficult to pull up roots, and, then, there are the old
servants who depend so absolutely upon me. If I moved away it would
simply be to explode their whole existence. And I can't quite afford to
pension them." Here she paused and added absently, "At least, not yet."

I wondered if she had expectations of wealth. Her phrase suggested it.

"By the by," she went on, "you must meet Delia, and Jane and Annie. They
are your business from now on. Delia's the cook, while Annie and Jane
do all the other work. I'll tell you about them so you'll be able to
understand their crotchets. They're really old dears, and as loyal as
loyalty itself. Sometimes,"--she laughed a hollow little laugh that
sounded as if it had faded from long disuse,--"I wonder how on earth I
could get rid of them."

She gave me a humorous account of the three old women who did the
indoors work at "The Pines." She had hardly finished when Jane came in.
This was the fat, little one; wrinkled, with gray curls; a pursed-up
face, little, bright, anxious eyes. Again I was struck by the furtive,
frightened air every one at "The Pines" wore, except George, the colored
coachman, with his bravado.

Jane was introduced to me, and gave me rather a gloomy greeting.
Nevertheless, I thought that she, too, after her own fashion, was glad
to see me.

"You don't keep colored servants for indoors, do you, Mrs. Brane?" I
asked, when Jane had taken away the tea-things and we were on our way
upstairs.

"Oh, mercy, no! Of all wretched, superstitious, timid creatures, negro
women are the most miserable. I would n't have one in the house with me
over a single night. This is your room, Miss Gale. It is in the old part
of the house, what we call the northern wing. Opposite you, along the
passageway, is Robbie's nursery, which my husband used in the old days
as a sort of study. This end of the house has the deep windows. You
won't see those window sills anywhere else at 'The Pines.' My husband
discovered the reason. There's a double wall at this end of the house.
I think the old northern wall was burnt or torn down, or out of repair,
and a former owner just clapped on another wall over it; or, perhaps,
he thought it would make this end of the house warmer and more
weatherproof. It's the quarter our storms come from. Whatever the
reason, it makes these end rooms very pretty, I think. There's nothing
like a deep window, is there? I hope you will like your room."

I was sure that I should. It was really very fresh and pretty, seemed
to have been done over recently, for the paper, the matting, the coat
of white paint on the woodwork, the muslin curtains, were all spick and
span. After Mrs. Brane had left me, I went to the window and looked
out. I had a charming view of the old garden, still gay with late fall
flowers, and with roses which bloomed here, probably all winter long.
A splendid magnolia tree all but brushed the window with its branches.
Just below stood a pretty arbor covered with rose-vines and honeysuckle.
I drew in a deep breath of the soft, fragrant air. I was very happy,
that night, very grateful for the "state of life to which Heaven had
called me."



CHAPTER II--SOMETHING IN THE HOUSE


|DOWNSTAIRS, the little room that opened from the drawing-room was given
to me by Mrs. Brane for my "office." Here every morning Jane, Annie, and
Delia came to me for orders.

It was a fortnight after my arrival, everything having run smoothly and
uneventfully, when, earlier than usual, there came footsteps and a rap
on the door of this room. My "Come in" served to admit all three old
women, treading upon one another's heels. So odd and so ridiculous was
their appearance that I had some ado to keep my laughter in my throat.

"Why," said I, "what on earth's the matter?"

Jane's little, round, crumpled face puckered and blinked; Annie's
stolid, square person was just a symbol of obstinate fear; Delia, long,
lean, and stooping, with her knotted hand fingering her loose
mouth, shuffled up to me. "We're givin' notice, ma'am," she whined.
Astonishment sent me back into my chair.

"Delia!"

Delia wavered physically, and her whitish-blue eyes watered, but the
spirit of fear possessed her utterly.

"I can't help it, ma'am, I've been in this house me last night."

"But it's impossible! Leave Mrs. Brane like this, with no notice, no
time to get any one else? Why, only the other day she was saying, 'I
don't see how I could get rid of them even if I wanted to.'"

I meant this to sting, and I succeeded. All three queer, old faces
flushed.

Delia muttered, "Well, she's found the way, that's all."

"What has happened?" I demanded. "Is it because of me?"

"No'm," the answer came promptly. "You're the best manager we've had
here yet, an' you're a kind young lady." This compliment came from
Delia, the most affable of the three. "But, the fact is----"

A pause, and the fright they must have had to bring them all pale and
gasping and inarticulate, like fish driven from the dim world of their
accustomed lives, communicated itself in some measure to me.

"Yes?" I asked a little uncertainly.

Then Annie, the stolid, came out with it.

"There's somethin' in the house."

At the words all three of them drew together.

"We've been suspectin' of it for a long time. Them housekeepers did n't
leave a good place an' a kind mistress so quick for nothin'." Delia
had taken up the tale. "But we kinder mistrusted like that it was
foolishness of some kind. But, miss, well--it ain't."

I was silent a moment, looking at them, and feeling, I confess, rather
blank.

"What is it, then?" I asked sharply.

"It's somethin'," Jane wobbled into the talk.

"Or somebody," contributed Annie.

I rapped my desk. "Something or somebody doing what? Doing it where?"

"All over the house, miss. But especially in the old part where us
servants live. That's where it happened to them housekeepers in the day
time, an' that's where it happened to us last night."

"Well, now, let's have it!" said I impatiently. "What happened to you
last night?"

"Delia was in the kitchen makin' bread late last night," said Annie.

"Oh, let Delia tell it herself," I insisted.

"But, ma'am, it happened first off to me. I was a-goin' down to help
her. She was so late an' her with a headache. So I put on me wrapper,
an' come down the passage towards the head o' the back stairs. Just as I
come to the turn, ma'am, in the dark--I'm so well used to the way that I
did n't even light a candle--somebody went by me like a draught of cold
air, an' my hair riz right up on me head!"

"In other words, a draught of cold air struck you, eh?" I said
scornfully.

"No, ma'am, there was steps to it, rayther slow, light steps that was
n't quite so dost to me as the draught of air."

I could make nothing of this.

Delia broke in.

"She come into the kitchen, white as flour she was, an' we went up to
bed together. But scarce was we in bed when in come Jane, a-shakin' so
that the candle-grease spattered all over the floor--you can see it for
yourself this day-"

"And what had happened to Jane?" I asked with a sneer.

"I was a-layin' in bed, miss, in the dark, a bit wakeful, an' I heard,
jes' back of me in the wall, somebody give a great sigh."

I threw back my head, laughing. "You silly women! Is this all? Now, you
don't mean to tell me that a draught of cold air, some falling plaster
or a rat in the wall, are going to drive you away, in your old age, from
a good home out into the world?"

"Wait a moment, miss," cried Delia; "there's somethin' else."

I waited. This something else seemed difficult to tell.

"You go ahead," breathed Delia at last, nudging Annie, who gulped and
set off with unusual rapidity.

"Robbie was sick last night, towards morn-in'. He had the night terrors,
Mary said" (Mary was Robbie's nurse of whom at that time I had seen
little), "an' she could n't get him quiet. He kep' a-talkin' about a
lady with red hair"--they looked at me out of the corners of their eyes,
and I felt my face grow hot--"a lady that stood over him--well! there's
no tellin' the fancies of a nervous child like him! Anyways, Mary was
after a hot-water bottle, an' we, bein' wakeful an' jumpy-like, was
after helpin' her. Delia an' me, we went for a cup of hot milk, an' me
an' Mary come upstairs from the kitchen again together an' went towards
the nursery. Now, miss,"--again they cuddled up to one another, and
Annie's throat gave a queer sort of click,--"jes' as we come to the turn
of the passage, we seen somethin' come out o' the nursery, quick an'
quiet, an' jump away down the hall an' out o' sight. Delia an' me, bein'
scairt already, run away to our own room, but Mary she made fer the
nursery as quick as she could, an' there she found Robbie all but in
fits, so scairt he could n't scream, doublin' an' twistin', an' rollin'
his eyes. But when she got him calmed down at last, why, it was the same
story--a lady with red hair that come an' stood over him, an' stuck
her face down closter an' closter--jes' a reg'lar nightmare--but we all
three seen the thing come boundin' out o' his room."

"Why isn't Mary here to give notice?" I asked after a few moments.
During that time I conquered, first, a certain feeling of fear, caused
less by the story than by the look in Delia's light eyes, and, second,
a very strong sensation of anger. I could not help feeling that they
enjoyed that endless repetition of the "lady with red hair." Did the
silly creatures suspect me of playing ghoulish tricks to terrify a
child?

"Well, Mary, she looks rather peaky this mornin'," said Annie, "but
she's young an' venturesome, an' she says mebbe we jes' fancied the
thing cornin' out o' the nursery, an', anyways, she's the kind that
would n't leave her charge. She's that fond of Robbie."

"I think I like this Mary," said I. Then, looking them over as
scornfully as I could, I went on coldly: "Very well, I'll take your
story to Mrs. Brane. I will tell her that you want to leave at once. No,
don't waste any more time. Do your work, and be prepared to pack your
trunks. I think Mrs. Brane may be glad to have you go."

But I was really very much surprised to find that I was right in this.
Mrs. Brane almost eagerly consented, and even seemed to feel relief.

"By all means pack them off as soon as you can. I shall advertise for
a man and wife to take their places. It will mean some pretty hard work
for Mary and you for a short time, I am afraid, as I simply will not
have any of these blacks in the house. But--"

I did n't in the least mind hard work, and I told her so and hastened to
give the result of my interview, first to Annie, Delia, and Jane, who,
to my satisfaction, seemed quite as much dashed as relieved at the
readiness with which their mistress let them go, and, second, to Mary,
the nurse.



CHAPTER III--MARY


|I FOUND Mary, with Robbie, in the garden. She got up from her rustic
chair under a big magnolia tree, and came hurrying to meet me, more to
keep me from her charge, I thought, than to shorten my walk.

She need not have distressed herself. I felt keenly enough Robbie's
daytime fear of me, but that I should inspire horrible dreams of
red-haired women bending over his bed at night, filled me with a real
terror of the child. I would not, for anything, have come near to him.

I stopped and waited for Mary.

She looked as fresh and sturdy as some hardy blooming plant, nothing
"peaky" about her that I could see: short and trim with round, loyal
eyes, round, ruddy face, a pugnacious nose, and a bull-dog's jaw--not
pretty, certainly, but as trusty and delightful to look at as health,
and honesty, and cleanliness could make her. I rejoiced in her that
morning, and I have rejoiced in her ever since, even during that worst
time when her trust in me wavered a little, a very little.

"Mary," I said, "can you give me five minutes or so? I have a good deal
to say to you."

She glanced back at Robbie. He was busy, playing with some sticks on the
gravel path.

"Yes, miss. Certainly." And I had her quiet, complete attention.

"You aren't frightened out of your senses, then, this morning?" I asked.

She did not smile back at me, but she shook her head. "No, Miss Gale,"
she said sturdily, "though I did see thet thing come out of the nursery
plain enough. But it might have been Mrs. Brane's Angora cat. Times like
that when one is a bit upset, why, things can look twice as big as they
really are, and, as for Robbie's nightmare, why, as I make it out, it
means just nothing but that some time, when he was a mere infant maybe,
some red-haired woman give him a great scare. He's a terrible nervous
little fellow, anyways, and terrible secret in his ways. At first, I
could n't take to him, somehow, he was so queer. But now--why,"--and
here she did smile with an honest radiance,--"it would take more'n a
ghost to scare me away from takin' care of him. And a scared ghost, at
that."

"Did you know that Delia and Annie and Jane are all leaving us to-day?"

Mary put up her hands and opened her blue eyes. "My Lor'! The poor,
silly fools! Excuse me, Miss Gale, but I never did see such a place for
cowards. Them housekeepers and their nerves!"

"Housekeepers, Mary?"

"Yes'm. We've had three this summer. They was as lonely and jumpy women
as ever I saw. The first, she could n't sleep for hearin' footsteps
above her head, and the second, she felt somebody pass her in the
hallway, and the third, she would n't say what the matter was, but she
was the most frightened of all. You promise to be a young lady with more
grit. I'm glad of it, for I do think a delicate lady like Mrs. Brane
had ought to have some peace and quiet in her house. Now, miss, I'll do
anything to help you till you can find some one to take those women's
places. I can cook pretty good, and I can do the laundry, too, and not
neglect my Robbie, neither."

I dismissed the thought of the three housekeepers.

"Oh, Mary, thank you! You are just splendid! Mrs. Brane says she is
going to get a man and wife."

"Now, that's good. That's what we need--a man," said Mary. She was
emphatically an old-fashioned woman, that is, a woman completely capable
of any sort of heroism, but who never feels safe unless there is a man
in the house. "Those black men, I think, are worse'n ghosts about a
place. Not that they come in often, but one of the housekeepers was
askin' that George be allowed to sleep inside. I was against it myself.
Now, you depend upon me, miss."

I was almost absurdly grateful, partly because her pluck steadied my
nerves, which the morning's occurrences had flurried a little, and
partly because I was glad that she did not share Robbie's peculiar
prejudice. I went back to the house thoroughly braced, and watched the
three old women depart without a pang.

Nevertheless, that description of the other housekeepers did linger
uncomfortably in my memory.



CHAPTER IV--PAUL DABNEY


|I'LL be glad to get at this kitchen," said Mary when we went down
to survey the scene of our impromptu labors; "those old women were
abominably careless. Why, they left enough food about and wasted enough
to feed an army. I would n't wonder, miss, if some of them blacks from
outside come in here and make a fine meal off of pickin's. They could
easy enough, and Mrs. Brane never miss it."

"I dare say," said I, inspecting the bright, cheerful place with real
pleasure; "but, at any rate, Delia was a clean old soul. Everything's as
bright as a new pin."

Mary begrudged Delia this compliment. "Outside, miss," she said, "but
it's a whited sepulchre"--she pronounced it "sepoolcur"--"Look in here a
moment. There's a closet that's just a scandal."

She threw open a low door in the far end of the kitchen and, bending, I
peered in.

"Why," I said, "it's been used as a storehouse for old junk. One end is
just a heap of broken-down furniture and old machinery. It would be a
job to clear out, too, heavy as lead. I doubt if a woman could move most
of it. I think Delia tried, for I see that things have been pushed to
one side. Let me have a candle. You go on with your bread-making, while
I get to work in here. I might do a little to straighten things out."

Mary lit a candle and handed it to me, and I went poking about amongst a
clutter of broken implements, pots and kettles, old garden tools, even
a lawn-mower, and came against a great mass of iron, which turned out to
be a lawn-roller. However did it get in here, and why was it put here? I
gave it a push, and found that it rolled ponderously, but very silently
aside. In the effort I lost my balance a little, and put my hand out to
the wall. It went into damp darkness, and I fell. There was no wall at
the narrow, low end of the closet under the stairs, but a hole.

"Oh, miss," called Mary, coming to the door, her hands covered with
flour, "Mrs. Brane says she wants you, please, to take tea up to the
drawing-room. There's company, I fancy, and my hands are in the dough."

I came out, a little jarred by my fall, a little puzzled by that closet
with its dark, open end so carefully protected by a mass of heavy
things. Then, for the first time, I began really to suspect that
something was not quite right at "The Pines." I said nothing to Mary.
Her steady, cheerful sanity was invaluable. Hastily I washed my rusty,
dusty hands, smoothed my hair, prepared the tea-tray, and went upstairs.

Mrs. Brane was entertaining two men in the drawing-room.

I came in and set the tray down on the little table at Mrs. Brane's
elbow. As I did so, I glanced at the two men. One was a large, stout
man with gray hair and a gray beard and a bullying manner, belied by the
kindly expression of his eyes. I liked him at once. The other, for
some reason, impressed me much less favorably. He had an air of lazy
indifference, large, demure eyes, black hair very sleekly groomed,
clothes which even my ignorance of such matters proclaimed themselves
just what was most appropriate for an afternoon visit to a Southern
country house, and a low, deprecatory, pleasant voice. He gave me a
casual look when Mrs. Brane very pleasantly introduced me--she made much
more of a guest of me than of a housekeeper--and dropped his eyes again
on the cup between his long, slim hands. He dropped them, however, not
before I had time to notice that his pupils had grown suddenly large.
Otherwise, his expression did not change--indeed, why should it?--but
this inexplicable look in his eyes gave me an unpleasant little shock.

"Mr. Dabney," Mrs. Brane was saying, "has been sent over by Mrs. Rodman,
one of our distant neighbors, to enliven our dulness. He wants to study
my husband's Russian library, and, as my husband made it an especial
request that his books should not be lent, this means that we shall see
Mr. Dabney very often. Dr. Haverstock has been looking Robbie over. The
poor little fellow's nerves are in a pretty bad condition--"

"You'll let me see him, won't you?" murmured young Dabney; "I rather
adore young children."

"Oh," laughed the big doctor in his noisy way, "any one who hasn't red
hair may see Robbie. I hear he has a violent objection to red hair, eh,
Miss Gale! Very pretty red hair, too."

Of course it was friendly teasing, but it angered me unreasonably, and
I felt the color rising to my conspicuous crop. Especially as Mr. Dabney
looked at me with an air of mildly increasing interest.

"How very odd!" he said.

"Would you mind taking Mr. Dabney to the bookroom when he's finished his
tea, Miss Gale," asked Mrs. Brane in her sweet way. "I'd like to talk
Robbie over a little longer with Dr. Haverstock, if you'll excuse me,
Mr. Dabney. Show him the card catalogue, Miss Gale. Thank you."

It was an unwelcome duty, and I intended to make it as short as
possible. I had not reckoned on young Mr. Dabney's ability as an
entertainer.

He began to talk as we crossed the hall.

"Splendid house, isn't it, Miss Gale? The sort of place you read about
and would like to write about if you had the gift. Have you ever been in
the South before?"

"No," I said discouragingly. "This is the room."

"I know the country about here very well. Have you been able to get
around much?"

"Naturally not. As a housekeeper--"

For a moment, as we came into the book-room he had stood looking gravely
down; now he gave me a sudden frank, merry look and laughed. "Oh," he
said, "it's absurd, too absurd, you know,--your being a housekeeper, I
mean. You're just playing at it, are n't you?"

"Indeed, Mr. Dabney," I said, "I am not. I am very little likely to play
at anything. I am earnestly trying to earn my living. The card catalogue
is over there between the front windows. Is there anything else?"

"Was I rude?" he asked with an absurdly boyish air; "I am sorry. I did
n't mean to be. But surely you can't mind people's noticing it?"

I fell into this little trap. "Noticing what?" I could n't forbear
asking him.

"Why," said he, "the utter incongruity of your being a housekeeper at
all. I believe that that is what frightened Robbie."

There was a strange note in his voice now, an edge. Was he trying to be
disagreeable? I could not make out this young man. I moved away.

"Miss Gale,"--he was perfectly distant and casual again,--"I'll have to
detain you just a moment. This bookcase is locked, you see--"

"I'll ask Mrs. Brane."

I came back in a few minutes with the key. Mr. Dabney was busy with the
card catalogue, but, for some reason,--I have always had a catlike
sense in such matters,--I felt that he had only just returned to this
position, and that he wanted me to believe that he had spent the entire
time of my absence there.

"These other housekeepers," he said, "were n't very earnest about
earning their living, were they? Mrs. Brane was telling me--"

"Oh," I smiled, rather surprised that Mrs. Brane had been so
confidential. To me she had never mentioned the other housekeepers.
"They were very nervous women. You see, I am not."

He turned the key about in his hand, looked down, then up at me
demurely. He had the most disarming and trust-inspiring look.

"No," he said, "you are not nervous. It's a great thing to have a steady
nerve. You're not easily startled." Then, turning to the bookcase, he
added sharply, looking back at me as he spoke, "Do you know anything
about Russia?"

"No," I answered; "that is, very little." There were reasons why this
subject was distasteful to me. Again I moved away.

He opened the bookcase.

"Phew!" he said,--"the dust of ages here! I'll have to ask Mrs. Brane to
let you--"

I went out and shut the door.

But I was not so easily to escape young Dabney's determination to see
more of me. Mrs. Brane, that very evening, asked me to spend my mornings
dusting, her husband's books and cataloguing them. At first I dreaded
these hours with our visitor, but as the days went by I came more and
more to enjoy them. I found myself talking to Mr. Dabney freely, more
about my thoughts and fancies than about my life, which holds too
much that is painful. And he was, at first, a most frank and engaging
companion. I was young and lonely, I had never had such pleasant
intercourse. Well, there is no use apologizing for it, trying to
explain it, beating about the bush,--I lost my heart to him. It went
out irrevocably before the shadow fell. And I thought that his heart had
begun to move towards mine. Sometimes there was the strangest look of
troubled feeling in his eyes.

This preoccupation kept me from thinking of other things. I was
always going over yesterday's conversation with Mr. Dabney, planning
to-morrow's, enjoying to-day's. Mrs. Brane seemed to watch us with
sympathy. After a week or so, she put an end to what she called "Paul
Dabney's short comings and long goings" and invited him to stay with
us. He accepted, and I was wonderfully happy. I felt very young for the
first time in my whole sad life. I remember this period as a sort of
shadowy green stretch in a long, horrible, rocky journey. It came--the
quiet, shady stretch--soon enough to an end.



CHAPTER V--"NOT IN THE DAYTIME, MA'AM"


|MARY'S labors and mine did not last very long. At the end of a week,
a promising couple applied for the position described in Mrs. Brane's
advertisement. They drove up to the house in a hired hack one morning,
and Mrs. Brane and I interviewed them in my little office. They were
English people, and had one or two super-excellent references. These
were rather antiquated, to be sure, dating to a time before the couple's
marriage, but they explained that for a long while they had been living
on their savings, but that now the higher cost of living had forced them
to go into service again.

The woman would have been very handsome except for a defect in her
proportions: her face was very much too large. Also, there was a lack
of expression in the large, heavy-lidded eyes. The man was the most
discreet type of English house servant imaginable, with side whiskers
and a small, thin-lipped, slightly caved-in mouth. His eyes were so
small that they were almost negligible in the long, narrow head. Their
general appearance, however, was presentable, and their manner left
nothing to be desired. To me, especially, they were so respectful, so
docile, so eager to serve, that I found it almost disconcerting. They
had the oddest way of fixing their eyes on me, as though waiting for
some sort of signal. Sometimes, I fancied that, far down underneath the
servility of those two pairs of eyes, there was a furtive expression
of something I could not quite translate, fear, perhaps, or--how can
I express it?--a sort of fearful awareness of secret understanding.
Perhaps there is no better way to describe it than to say that I should
not have been astonished if, looking up quickly into the woman's large,
blank, handsome face, I should have surprised a wink. And she would have
expected me to understand the wink.

Of course, I did not gather all these impressions at once. It was only
as the days went by that I accumulated them. Once, and once only, Henry
Lorrence, the new man, was guilty of a real impertinence. I had been
busy in the bookroom with my interminable, but delightful, task of
dusting and arranging Mr. Brane's books in Paul Dabney's company, and,
hearing Mary's voice calling from the garden rather anxiously for "Miss
Gale," I came out suddenly into the hall. Henry was standing there near
the door of the bookroom, doing nothing that I could see, though he
certainly had a dust-cloth in his hand. He looked not at all abashed by
my discovery of him; on the contrary, that indescribable look of mutual
understanding or of an expectation of mutual understanding took strong
possession of his face.

"I see you're keepin' your eyes on him, madam," said he softly, jerking
his head towards the room where I had left Mr. Dabney.

I was vexed, of course, and I suppose my face showed it. My reproof was
not so severe, however, as to cause such a look of cowering fear. Henry
turned pale, his thin, loose lips seemed to find themselves unable to
fit together properly. He stammered out an abject apology, and melted
away in the hall.

I stood for several minutes staring after him, I remember, and when,
turning, I found that Mr. Dabney had followed me to the door and
was watching both me and the departing man, I was distinctly and
unreasonably annoyed with him.

He, too, melted away into the room, and I went out to see Mary in
the garden. Truly I never thought myself a particularly awe-inspiring
person, but, since I had come to "The Pines," every one from Robbie to
this young man, every one, that is, except Mary and Mrs. Brane, seemed
to regard me with varying degrees of fear. It distressed me, but, at
the same time, gave me a new feeling of power, and I believe it was a
support to me in the difficult and terrifying days to come.

At the box hedge of the garden, Mary met me. As usual, she kept me at a
distance from her charge.

"Miss Gale," she said, "may I speak to you for a minute?"

"For as many minutes as you like," I said cordially.

She moved to a little arbor near by where there was a rustic seat. I sat
down upon it, and she stood before me, her strong, red hands folded on
her apron. I saw that she was grave and anxious, though as steady As
ever.

"Miss Gale,'t is a queer matter," she began.

My heart gave a sad jump. "Oh, Mary," I begged her, "don't say anything,
please, about ghosts or weird presences in the house."

She tried to smile, but it was a half-hearted attempt.

"Miss Gale," she said, "you know I aren't the one to make mountains out
of mole-hills, and you know I ain't easy scairt. But, miss, for Robbie's
sake, somethin' must be done."

"What must be done, Mary?"

"Well, miss, I don't say as it mayn't be nerves; nerves is mysterious
things as well I know, havin' lived in a haunted house in the old
country where chains was dragged up and down the front stairs regular
after dark, and such-like doin's which all of us took as a matter of
course, but which was explained to the help when they was engaged. But
I do think that Mrs. Brane had ought to move Robbie out of that wing.
Yes'm, that I do."

"Has anything more happened?" I asked blankly.

"Yes'm. That is to say, Robbie's nightmares has been gettin' worse than
ever, and, last night, when I run into the nursery, jumpin' out of my
bed as quick as I could and not even stoppin' for my slippers--you
know, miss, I sleep right next to the nursery, and keeps a night light
burnin', for I'm not one of the people that holds to discipline and lets
a nervous child cry hisself into fits--when I come in I seen the nursery
door close, and just a bit of a gown of some sort whiskin' round the
edge. Robbie was most beside hisself, I did n't hardly dare to leave
him, but I run to the door and I flung it wide open sudden, the way a
body does when they're scairt-like but means to do the right thing, and,
in course, the hall was dark, but miss,"--Mary swallowed,--"I heard a
footstep far down the passage in the direction of your room."

My blood chilled all along my veins. "In the direction of my room?"

"Yes, miss, so much so that I thought it must'a' been you, and I felt a
bit easier like, but when I come back to Robbie--" here she turned her
troubled eyes from my face--"why, he was yellin' and screamin' again
about that woman with red hair.... Oh, Miss Gale, ma'am, don't you be
angry with me. You know I'm your friend, but, miss, did you ever walk in
your sleep?"

"No, Mary, no," I said, and, to my surprise, I had no more of a voice
than a whisper to say it in.

After a pause, "You must lock me in at night after this, Mary," I added
more firmly.

"Or, better still, after Robbie is sound asleep, let me come into your
bedroom. You can make me up some sort of a bed there, and we will keep
watch over Robbie. I am sure it is just a dream of his--the woman with
red hair bending over him--and I am sure, too, that the closing door,
and the gown, and the footstep were the result of a nervous and excited
imagination. You had been waked suddenly out of a sound sleep."

"I was broad awake, ma'am," said Mary, in the voice of one who would
like to be convinced.

I sat there cold in the warm sun, thinking of that woman with long,
red hair who visited Robbie. That it might be myself, prompted by some
ghoulish influence of sleep and night, made my very heart sick.

"Mary," I asked pitifully enough, "didn't Robbie ever see the woman with
red hair before I came to 'The Pines'?"

Unwillingly she shook her head. "No, miss. The first time he woke up
screamin' about her was the night before Delia and Jane and Annie gave
notice."

"But he was afraid of red-haired women before, Mary, because, as soon
as I took off my hat downstairs in the drawing-room the afternoon I
arrived, he pointed at me and cried, 'It's her hair!'"

"Is that so, miss?" said Mary, much impressed. "Well, that does point
to his havin' been scairt by some red-haired person before you come
here."

"Surely Robbie could tell you something that would explain the whole
thing," I said irritably. "Haven't you questioned him?"

Mary flung up her hands. "Have n't I? As long as I dared, Miss Gale,
it's as much as his life is worth. Dr. Haverstock has forbidden it
absolutely."

"That's strange, I think, for I know that the first way to be rid of
some nervous terror is to confess its cause."

"Yes, miss." Mary was evidently impressed by my knowledge. "And that's
just what Dr. Haverstock said hisself. But he says it has got to be
drawn out of Robbie by what he calls the indirect method. He has asked
Mr. Dabney to win the child's confidence; that is, it was Mr. Dabney's
own suggestion, I believe. Mr. Dabney was with Mrs. Brane and the doctor
when they was discussing Robbie and he says he likes children and
they likes him, as, indeed, they do, miss. Robbie and him are like
two kiddies together, a-playin' at railroads and such in the gravel
yesterday--"

"Did he ask Robbie about the red-haired woman yesterday, because that
may have brought on the nightmare last night?"

"I don't know, miss. I was n't in earshot of them. Mr. Dabney, he always
coaxes Robbie a bit away from the bench where I set and sew out here."

"I think I'll ask Mr. Dabney," I said. I began to move away; then,
with an afterthought I turned back to Mary. She was studying me with a
dubious air.

"I think we had better try the plan of watching closely over Robbie
before we say anything to alarm Mrs. Brane," I said. "It would distress
her very much to move Robbie out of his nursery, and she has been very
tired and languid lately. She has been doing too much, I think. This new
woman, Sara Lorrence, is a terror for house-cleaning, and she's
urged Mrs. Brane to let her give the old part of the house a thorough
cleaning. Mrs. Brane simply won't keep away. She works almost as hard
as Sara, and goes into every crack and cranny and digs out old
rubbish--nothing's more exhausting."

"Yes, ma'am," Mary agreed, "she's sure a wonder at cleaning, that Sara.
She's straightened out our kitchen closet somethin' wonderful, miss."

"She has?" I wondered if Sara, too, had discovered that queer opening
in the back of the closet. I had almost forgotten it, but now I decided,
absurd as such action probably was, to investigate the black hole into
which I had fallen when I tried to move the lawn roller.

I chose a time when Sara Lorrence was out of the kitchen, cutting
lettuces in the kitchen-garden. For several minutes I watched her broad,
well-corseted body at its task, then, singing softly to myself,--for
some reason I had a feeling that I was in danger,--I walked across the
clean board floor and stepped into the closet to which my attention
had first been drawn by Mary. It was indeed a renovated spot, sweet
and garnished like the abode of devils in the parable; pots scoured and
arranged on shelves, rubbish cleared out, the lawn-mower removed, the
roller taken to some more appropriate place. But it was, in its further
recesses, as dark as ever. I moved in, bending down my head and feeling
before me with my hand. My fingers came presently against a wall. I
felt about, in front, on either side, up and down; there was no break
anywhere. Either I had imagined an opening or my hole had been boarded
up.

I went out, lighted a candle, and returned. The closet was entirely
normal,--just a kitchen closet with a sloping roof; it lay under the
back stairs, one small, narrow wall, and three high, wide ones. The
low, narrow wall stood where I had imagined my hole. I went close and
examined it by the light of my candle. There was only one peculiarity
about this wall; it had a temporary look, and was made of odd, old
boards, which, it seemed to me, showed signs of recent workmanship.
Perhaps Henry had made repairs. I blew out my candle and stepped from
the closet.

Sara had come back from the garden. She greeted my appearance with a
low, quavering cry of fear. "Oh, my God!" Then, recovering herself,
though her large face remained ashen, "Excuse me, ma'am," she
said timidly, "I wasn't expectin' to see you there"--and she added
incomprehensibly--"_not in the daytime_, ma'am."

Now, for some reason, these words gave me the most horrible chill of
fear. My mind simply turned away from them. I could not question Sara of
their meaning. Subconsciously, I must have refused to understand them.
It is always difficult to describe such psychological phenomena, but
this is one that I am sure many people have experienced. It is akin to
the paralysis which attacks one in frightening dreams and sometimes in
real life, and prevents escape. The sort of shock it gave me absolutely
forbade my taking any notice of it. I spoke to Sara in a strained, hard
voice.

"You have been putting the closet in order," I said. "Has Henry been
repairing it? I mean has he been mending up that--hole?"

"Yes, ma'am," she said half sullenly, "accordin' to your orders." And
she glanced around as though she were afraid some one might be listening
to us.

"My orders? I gave no orders whatever about this closet!" My voice was
almost shrill, and sounded angry, though I was not angry, only terribly
and quite unreasonably frightened.

"Just as you please, ma'am," said Sara with that curious submissiveness
and its undercurrent of something else,--"just as you say. Of course
you did n't give no such orders. Not you. I just had Henry nail it up
myself"--? here she fixed those expressionless eyes upon me and the lid
of one, or I imagined it, just drooped--"on account of sleuths."

"Sleuths?" I echoed.

"A kitchen name for rats, ma'am," said Sara, and came as near to
laughing as I ever saw her come. "Rats, ma'am, that comes about old
houses such as this." And here she glanced in a meaning way over her
shoulder out of the window.

My glance followed hers; in fact, my whole body followed. I went and
stood near the window. The kitchen was on a lower level than the garden,
so that I looked up to the gravel path. Here Mr. Dabney was walking with
Robbie's hand in his. Robbie was chattering like a bird, and Paul Dabney
was smiling down at him. It was a pretty picture in the pale November
sunshine, a prettier picture than Sara's face. But, as I looked at them
gratefully, feeling that the very sight of those two was bringing me
back from a queer attack of dementia, Robbie, looking by chance my way,
threw himself against his companion, stiffening and pointing. I heard
his shrill cry, "There she is! I _wisht_ they'd take her away!"

I flinched out of his sight, covering my face with my hands and hurrying
towards the inner door which led to the kitchen stairs. I did not
want to look again at Sara, but something forced me to do so. She was
watching me with a look of fearful amusement, a most disgusting look. I
rushed through the door and stumbled up the stairs. I was shaking with
anger, and fear, and pain of heart, and, yet, this last feeling was the
only one whose cause I could fully explain to myself. Paul Dabney had
seen a child turn pale and stiff with fear at the mere sight of me, and
I could not forget the grim, stern look with which he followed Robbie's
little pitiful, pointing finger. And I had fancied that this man was
falling in love with me!

Truly my nerves should have been in no condition to face the dreadful
ordeal of the time that was to come, but, truly, too, and very
mercifully, those nerves are made of steel. They bend often, and with
agonizing pain, but they do not break. I know now that they never will.
They have been tested supremely, and have stood the test.



CHAPTER VI--A STRAND OF RED-GOLD HAIR


|I WENT to bed early that night, and, partially undressing myself, I put
on a wrapper and sat on my bed reading till Mary should come to tell me
that Robbie had fallen asleep, and that it was time for our night-watch
to begin. I had not spoken to Mary again on the subject, for soon after
my investigations in the kitchen, Mrs. Brane had asked me to help her in
her work of going over the old, long-closed drawers and wardrobes in
the north wing, and I had had a very busy and tiring afternoon. It was
a relief, however, to find that Sara dropped her labors when I appeared.
Mrs. Brane looked almost as relieved as I felt.

"That is the most indefatigable worker I ever met, Miss Gale," she said
in her listless, nervous way; "she's been glued to my side ever since we
began this interminable piece of work."

"I wish you'd give it up, dear Mrs. Brane," I said, "and let the
indefatigable Sara tire out her own energy. I'm sure that you have
none to spare, and this going over of old letters, and papers, and books
and clothes is very tiring and depressing work for you."

She gave a tormented sigh. "Oh, isn't it? It's aging me." She stood
before a great, old highboy, its drawers pulled out, and she looked
so tiny and helpless, as small almost as Robbie. All the rest of
the furniture was as massive as the highboy, the four-poster and the
marble-topped bureau, and the tall mirror with its tarnished frame. I
liked the mirror, and rather admired its reflection of myself.

Mrs. Brane looked wistfully about the room, and her eyes, like mine,
stopped at the mirror. "How young you look beside me," she said, "and so
bright, with that wonderful hair! I wish you'd let me know you better,
dear; I am really very fond of you, you know, and you must have
something of a history with your beauty and your 'grand air,' and that
halo of tragedy Mr. Dabney talks about." She smiled teasingly, but I was
too sad to smile back.

"My history is not romantic," I said bitterly; "it is dull and sordid.
You are very good to me, dear Mrs. Brane." I was close to tears. "I wish
I could do more for you."

"More! Why, child, if it wasn't for you, I'd run away from 'The Pines'
and never come back. _No_ inducement, no consideration of any kind would
keep me in this place."

She certainly spoke as though she had in mind some very weighty
inducement and consideration.

"Why do you stay, Mrs. Brane." I asked impulsively. "At least, why don't
you go away for a change? It would do you so much good, and it would be
wonderful for Robbie. Why, Mrs. Brane, you have n't left this place for
a day, have you, since your husband died?"

"No, dear," said the little lady sorrowfully, "hardly for an hour. It's
my prison." She looked about the room again, and added as though she
were talking to herself, "I don't dare to leave it."

"Dare?" I repeated.

She smiled deprecatingly. "That was a silly word to use, was n't it?"
Again that tormented little sigh. "You see, I'm a silly little person.
I'm not fit to carry the weight of other people's secrets."

Again I repeated like some brainless parrot, "Secrets?"

"Of course there are secrets, child," she said impatiently. "Every one
has secrets, their own or other people's. You have secrets, without
doubt?"

I had. She had successfully silenced me. After that we worked steadily,
and there was no further attempt at confidence.

Nevertheless, as I lay on my bed trying to read and waiting for Mary's
summons, I decided that I would make a strong effort to get Mrs. Brane
and Robbie out of the house. I had come to the conclusion that my
employer was the victim of a mild sort of mania, one symptom of which
was a fear of leaving her home. I thought I would consult with Dr.
Haverstock and get him to order Robbie and Robbie's mother a change of
air. It might cure the little fellow of his nervous terrors. How I wish
I had thought of this plan a few days sooner! What dreadful reason I
have for regretting my delay!

Mary was a long time in coming. I must have fallen asleep, for a while
later, I became aware that I had slipped down on my pillows and that
my book had fallen to the floor. I got up, feeling rather startled, and
looked at my clock. It was already half-past twelve, and Mary had not
called me. I went to my door and found that it was locked. I remembered
that it had been my alternate plan for Mary to lock me in, and I
supposed that she had forgotten that our final decision was in favor of
the other scheme, or she had preferred to watch over Robbie alone. I was
a little hurt, but I acquiesced in my imprisonment and went back to bed.
I put out the light, and was very soon asleep again.

I was waked by a dreadful sound of screaming. I sat up in bed, stiff
with fear, my heart leaping. Then I ran towards the door, remembered
that it was locked, and stood in the middle of the room, pressing my
hands together.

The screaming stopped. Robbie had had his nightmare, and it was over.
Thank God! this time my alibi was established without doubt. I was
enormously relieved, for I had begun myself to fear that I had been
walking in my sleep, and, perhaps, influenced by the description of
Robbie's favorite nightmare, had unconsciously acted out the horror
beside his bed. After a while, the house being fairly quiet, though I
thought I would hear Mary moving about, I went back to my bed. When she
could leave her charge I knew that she would come to me with her story.
I tried to be calm and patient, but of course I was anything but that.

It was nearly morning, a faint, greenish light spread in the sky,
opening fanlike fingers through the slats of my shutter. After a while,
it seemed interminable, a step came down the hall. It was not Mary's
padded, nurselike tread, it was the quick, resolute footstep of a man.
It stopped outside my door. There was no ceremony of knocking, no key
turned. The handle was sharply moved, and, to my utter amazement, the
door opened.

There stood Paul Dabney, fully dressed, his face pale and grim.

"Come out," he said. "Come with me and see what has been done." I
noticed that he kept one hand in his pocket, and that the pocket bulged.

I got up, still in my wrapper, my hair hanging in two long, dishevelled
braids, and came, in a dazed way, towards him. He took me by the wrist,
using his left hand, the other still in his pocket. His fingers were
as cold and hard as steel. I shrunk a little from them, and he gave my
wrist a queer, cruel little shake.

"What does it feel like, eh?" he snarled.

I merely looked at him. His unexpected appearance, his terrible manner,
the opening of that locked door without the use of any key, above all,
a dull sense of some overwhelming tragedy for which I was to be held
responsible,--all these things held me dumb and powerless. I let
him keep his grasp on my wrist, and I walked beside him along the
passage-way as though I were indeed a somnambulist. So we came to the
nursery door. Inside, I saw Mary kneeling beside Robbie's little bed,
and heard her sobbing as though her heart would break.

"What is it?" I whispered, looking at Paul Dabney and pulling back.

My look must have made some impression on him. A queer sort of gleam
of doubt seemed to pass across his face. He drew me towards the cot,
keeping his eyes riveted upon me.

There lay the little boy who had never allowed me to come so near to
him before, passive and still--a white little face, a body like a broken
flower. I saw at once that he was dead.

"Oh, miss," sobbed Mary, keeping her face hidden, "why didn't you keep
to your plan? Oh, God have mercy on us, we have killed the poor soul!"

"Mary," I whispered, "you locked me in."

"Oh, indeed, Miss Gale, no. I thought you said you'd come and spend the
night with me. I had a couch made up. I waited for you, and I must have
fallen asleep..." Here she got to her feet, drying her eyes. We were
both talking in whispers, Dabney still held my wrist, the little corpse
lay silent there before us as though he were asleep. "I was waked by
Robbie. Oh, my lamb! My lamb!" Again she wept and tears poured down my
own face.

"I heard him," I choked. "I would have come. But the door was locked."

Here Mr. Dabney's fingers tightened perceptibly, almost painfully upon
my wrist.

"I opened your locked door," he sneered. "Remember that."

Mary looked at me with bewildered eyes. "I did n't lock your door,
miss."

We stared at each other in dumb and tragic mystification.

"I came to Robbie as fast as I could," she went on. "I was too late to
see any one go out. He was in convulsions, the pitiful baby! In my arms,
he died before ever I could call for help. Mr. Dabney come in almost at
once and and--Oh, miss, who's to tell his mother?"

I made a move. "I must--" I began, but that cold, steel grip on my wrist
coerced me.

"You go, Mary," said Dabney, "and break it to her carefully. Send for
Dr. Haverstock. This--sleep-walker will stay here with me," he added
between his teeth.

Mary, with a little moan, obeyed and went out and slowly away. Paul
Dabney and I stood in silence, linked together strangely in that room of
death. This was the man I loved. I looked at him.

"You look as innocent as a flower," he said painfully. "Perhaps this
will move you."

He drew me close to Robbie. He lifted one of the little hands and laid
it, still warm, in mine. The small fingers were clenched into a fist,
and about two of them was wrapped a strand of red-gold hair.

I fell down at Paul Dabney's feet.

The consciousness of his grip on my wrist, which kept me from measuring
my length on the floor, stayed with me through a strange, short journey
into forgetfulness.

"Ah!" said Paul Dabney, as I came back and raised my head; "I thought
that would cut the ground from under you."

He quietly untwisted the hairs from the child's clutch, and, still
keeping his hold of me, he put the lock into his pocket-book and
replaced it in an inner pocket.

"Stand up!" he said.

I obeyed. The blood was beginning to return to my brain, and with it an
intolerable sense of outrage. I returned him look for look.

"If I am unfortunate enough to walk in my sleep," I said quiveringly,
"and if, through this misfortune, I have been so terribly unhappy as to
cause the death of this poor delicate child, is that any reason, Paul
Dabney, that you should hold me by the wrist and threaten me and treat
me like a murderess?"

I was standing at my full height, and my eyes were fixed on his. To
my inexpressible relief, the expression of his face changed. His eyes
faltered from their implacable judgment, his lips relaxed, his fingers
slowly slipped from my wrist. I caught his arm in both my hands.

"Paul! Paul!" I gasped. Not for long afterwards did I realize that I had
used his name. "How can you, how can you put me through such agony? As
though this were not enough! O God! God!"

I broke down utterly. I shook and wept. He held me in his arms. I could
feel him tremble.

"Go back to your room," he said at last, in a low, guilty sort of voice.
"Try to command yourself."

I faltered away, trying pitifully as a punished child, to be obedient,
to be good, to merit trust. He looked after me with such a face of
doubt and despair that, had it not been for Robbie's small, wax-like
countenance, I must have been haunted by the look.

I got somehow to my room and lay down on my bed. I was broken in body,
mind, and spirit. For the time being there was no strength or courage
left in me. But they came back.



CHAPTER VII--THE RUSSIAN BOOK-SHELVES


|IT was fortunate for us all, especially for poor Mary, that, after
Robbie's death, Mrs. Brane needed every care and attention that we could
give her. For myself, I had expected prompt dismissal, but, as it
turned out, Mrs. Brane more than ever insisted upon my staying on
as housekeeper. Neither Mary, because of her loyalty to me, nor Paul
Dabney, for some less friendly reason, had told the poor little woman
of the cause of Robbie's death, nor of their suspicions concerning my
complicity, unconscious or otherwise.

It may seem strange to the reader that I should not have left "The
Pines." It seems strange to me now. But there was more than one reason
for my courage or my obstinacy. First, I felt that after Dabney's
extraordinary treatment of me, treatment which he made no attempt to
explain and for which he made no apology, my honor demanded that I
should stay in the house and clear up the double mystery of the locked
door that opened, and of the strand of red-gold hair that was wrapped
around poor little Robbie's fingers. Of course I may have dreamed that
the door was locked; I may have, that time when I fancied myself broad
awake, been really in a state of trance, and, instead of finding a
locked door and going back to bed, I may then have gone through the
door and down the hall to Robbie's nursery, coming to myself only, when,
being again in bed, I had awakened to the sound of his screams. This
explanation, I know, was the one adopted by Mary. Mr. Dabney had other
and darker suspicions. I realized that in some mysterious fashion he had
constituted himself my judge. I realized, too, by degrees, and here, if
you like, was the chief reason for my not leaving "The Pines," that Paul
Dabney simply would not have let me go. Unobtrusively, quietly, more,
almost loathfully, he kept me under a strict surveillance. I became
conscious of it slowly. If I had to leave the place on an errand he
accompanied me or he sent Mary to accompany me. At about this time Mrs.
Brane, without asking any advice from me, engaged two outdoor men.
They were to tidy up the grounds, she told me, and to do some repairing
within and without. They were certainly the most inefficient workmen I
have ever seen. They were always pottering about the house or grounds.
I grew weary of the very sight of them. It seemed to me that one was
always in my sight, whatever I did, wherever I went.

Mrs. Brane felt Robbie's death terribly, of course; she suffered not
only from the natural grief of a mother, but from a morbid fancy that,
in some way, the tragedy was her own fault. "I should have taken him
away. I should not have let him live in this dreary, dreadful house.
What was anything worth compared to his dear life! What is anything
worth to me now!" There was again the suggestion that living in this
house was worth something. I should have discussed all these matters
with Mr. Dabney. Indeed, I should have made him my confidant on all
these mysteries which confronted me, had it not been for his harshness
on that dreadful night. As it was, I could hardly bear to look at him,
hardly bear to speak to him. And, yet, poor, wretched, lonely-hearted
girl that I was, I loved him more than ever. I kept on with my work
of dusting books, and he kept on with his everlasting notes on Russian
literature, so we were as much as ever in each other's company. But what
a sad change in our intercourse! The shadow of sorrow and discomfort
that lay upon "The Pines" lay heaviest of all in that sunny, peaceful
bookroom where we had had such happy hours. And I could not help being
glad of his presence, and, sometimes, I found his eyes fixed upon me
with such a look of doubt, of dumb and miserable feeling. I was trying
to make up my mind to speak to him in those days. I think that in the
end I should have done so, with what result I cannot even now imagine,
had it not been, first, for the episode of the Russian Baron, and,
second, for another matter, infinitely and incomparably more dreadful
than any other experience of my life.

The Russian Baron came to "The Pines" one morning about ten days after
little Robbie's death. Mrs. Brane received him in the drawing-room, and
presently rang the bell and sent Sara upstairs with a message for me.

I came down at once. The Baron sat opposite to Mrs. Brane before the
small coal fire. He was a heavy, high-shouldered, bearded man, with that
look of having too many and too white teeth which a full black beard
gives. His figure reminded me of a dressed-up bolster. It was round and
narrow, and without any shape, and it looked soft. His plump hands were
buttoned into light-colored gloves, which he had not removed, and his
feet were encased in extravagantly long, pointed, very light tan shoes.
He kept his eyebrows raised, and his eyes opened so wide that the whites
showed above the iris, and this with no sense of effort and for no
reason whatever. It disguised every possible expression except one of
entirely unwarranted, extreme surprise. At first, when I came into the
room, I thought that in some way I must have caused the look, but I soon
found that it was habitual to him. Mrs. Brane looked at once nervous,
and faintly amused.

"Miss Gale," she said, "this is Baron Borff." She consulted the card on
her lap. "He was a friend of my husband's when my husband was in Europe,
and he, too, like Mr. Dabney, wants to see my husband's collection of
Russian books."

The Baron stood up, and made me a bow so deep that I discovered his hair
was parted down the back.

"Mees Gale," said the Baron, looking up at me while he bowed. He
suggested the contortions of a trained sea-animal of some kind.

"I shall have to ask you to show him the books, Miss Gale," went on Mrs.
Brane. "It seems to be one of your principal duties in the house, does
n't it! And I certainly did not engage you for a librarian. But I have
not been very well since my little boy died--" Her lips quivered and
the Baron gave a magnificent, deep, organ-like murmur of sympathy, his
unreasonably astonished eyes being fixed meanwhile upon me. In fact,
he had stared at me without deviation since my entrance, and I was
thoroughly out of countenance.

"It ees true that I should not have intruded myself at this so tragic
time into your house of mourning," he said, "but, unfortunately, my time
in your country is so very short that unless I come at this juncture I
should not be able to come at all, and so--"

"I understand, of course," said Mrs. Brane, rising and twisting the
Baron's card in her hand. "I am very glad you came. Will you not take
dinner with us this evening?"

The Baron looked at me as if for consent or advice, and, thinking that
he was considering his hostess's health I made a motion of my lips of
"no," at which he promptly but very politely and effusively declined her
hospitality, and followed me out of the room.

Young Dabney met us in the hall. I introduced him to the Baron, who
turned very pale, quite green, in fact. I was astonished at this loss
of color on his part, especially as Mr. Dabney was extremely polite
and gentle with him in his demure way, and strolled beside him into the
bookroom chatting in the most friendly fashion, and reminding me of his
manner to me on the first afternoon of our acquaintance. The Baron stood
in the middle of the bookroom peeling off his gloves as though his hands
were wet. His forehead certainly was, and he stayed green and kept those
astonished eyes fixed upon me so that I felt like screaming at him to
remove them.

Paul Dabney sat on the window seat and took up a book.

"I shall be perfectly quiet, Baron," he said, "and not disturb your
investigations."

He was admirably quiet, but I could not help but see that he did very
little reading. He did not turn a page, but sat with one hand in his
pocket. I remembered that he had held his hand just that way on the
night of Robbie's death. One of the outdoors men came across the lawn,
and began to trim the vine beside one of the open windows. I thought the
Baron could not complain of any too much privacy for his researches.

"This is the Russian library," I said, and led the way to the shelves.
He followed me so closely that I could feel his breath on my neck. He
was breathing fast, and rather unevenly.

"Thank you so much," he said. He took out a volume, and rustled the
pages. At last, "I wonder if I might be allowed to pursue my studies
with no other assistance than yours, Miss Gale," he asked irritably. He
wiped his forehead. "I am a student, a recluse. It is a folly, but
these presences"--he pointed towards Mr. Dabney and the man at the
window--"disturb me."

I glanced at Paul Dabney, who smiled and came down from his window seat,
moving towards the door, the book under his arm, his hand still in his
pocket. He did not say anything, but went out quietly and nearly closed
the door. I shut it quite. A second later I heard him speaking to
the man outside, and he, too, removed himself. The Baron gave a great
whistling sigh of relief, ran to each of the windows in turn, then came
back to me and spoke in a low, muttering voice.

"You are incomparable, madame," he said.

I was perfectly astonished, both at the speech and the manner. But this
was my first specimen of the Russian nobility, and supposing that it
was the aristocratic Russian method of compliment, I bowed, and
was going to follow Mr. Dabney out, when the Baron, kneeling by the
bookcase, clutched my skirt in his hand.

"You will not leave me?"

I withdrew my skirt from his grasp. "Not if I can be of any help to you,
Baron," I said and could not restrain a smile, he was so absurd.

"Help? _Boje moe! Da!_"

He turned from me, and began rapidly to remove all the books from the
bookcase. I thought this a peculiar way to pursue studies, especially
as he was so frightfully quick about it; I have never seen any one so
marvellously quick with his hands, tumbling the books down one after the
other. When the case was entirely empty, and I knew that I should have
the work of filling it again, he very calmly removed a shelf and began
feeling with his fingers along the back of the case. I stared at him,
silent and fascinated. I thought him harmlessly insane. He was evidently
very much excited. He tapped with his fingers. Perspiration streamed
down his face. He glanced at me over his shoulder.

"You see," he said. "It is back there. Don't you hear?"

I heard that his tapping produced a hollow sound.

"What are you about?" I asked him sternly.

At that he began tumbling the books back in their places as feverishly
as he had taken them out. In an incredibly short time they were
arranged.

"Yes, yes, you are quite right," he said as though my bewildered
question had been a piece of advice. "Now you see for yourself." He got
up and dusted his knees. "It is much safer for you, but I did not dare
to trust it to writing. You have, however, much better opportunities
than I knew. It will be in Russian, of course, but that, too, will give
you no trouble. I meant to contrive a meeting with Maida, but this is
much better."

I stared at him, open-mouthed, the jargon made no sense at all.

He took my hand and raised it to his lips.

"You are extraordinary, astonishing! Such youth! Such innocence! _Bo je
moe!_ How is it done?" He put his mouth close to my ear, and muttered
something in Russian, the spitting, purring tongue which I detest. What
he said, for I was able to translate it, sent me back, white and shaking
into the nearest chair.

"It will not be long, eh?" the Baron had sputtered into my ear, "before
the young man, too, is found with three of those golden hairs about his
fingers, eh?"

I sat down and covered my eyes with my hands, an action that seemed to
throw him into a convulsion of mirth. When I looked up, the abominable,
grotesque figure was gone.

I went over to the window. He was walking rapidly down the driveway.
As he turned the corner I saw a man step from the side of the road and
saunter after him. It was one of the outside men engaged by Mrs. Brane.

I ran upstairs to my own room, and sat down at random in the chair
before my dressing-table and rested my head in my hands. I sat there for
a long, long time, and I felt that I was fighting against a mist. Just
so must some victim dragonfly struggle with the dreadful stickiness of
the spider's web. I was blinded mentally by the very meshes that were
beginning to wrap round me. I knew now that I was in great danger of
some kind, that I was being played with by sinister and evil forces,
that, perhaps purposely, I was being terrified and bewildered and
mystified. There was none whom I could surely count for a friend, no one
except Mary, and how could she or any one else understand the undefined,
dreamlike, grotesque forms my experiences had taken. Mrs. Brane,
perhaps, was the person for me to take into my confidence, and yet, was
it fair to frighten her when she was so delicate? Already one person
too many had been frightened in that house. Mr. Dabney was my enemy. No
matter what the feeling that possessed his heart, his brain was pitted
against me. I was being made a victim, a cat's-paw. But how and by whom?
This Baron had treated me as an accomplice. He had showed me a secret.
He had made to me a horrible suggestion. The power that had frightened
away the three housekeepers, the power that had scared Delia and Jane
and Annie from their home, the power that had thrown little Robbie into
the convulsions that caused his death, the power that had taken every
one but me and the Lorrences--for Mary now slept near Mrs. Brane--out of
the northern wing--this power was threatening Paul Dabney and, from
the Baron's whispered words, I understood that it was threatening Paul
Dabney through me. Was it not a supernatural evil? Was I not perhaps
possessed? Could I be driven to commit crimes and to leave as evidence
against myself those strands of hair? Flesh and blood could not bear
the horror of all this. I would go to Mr. Dabney at once.

With this resolution to comfort me, I rose and made myself ready for
dinner. It was too late to change my dress, but Mrs. Brane was not
particular as to our dressing for dinner; besides, my frock was neat and
fresh, a soft gray crêpe with wide white collar and cuffs. My working
dresses were all made alike and trimmed in this Quaker style which I had
found becoming. I thought that, in spite of extreme pallor and shadows
under my eyes, I looked rather pretty. I believe that was the last
evening when I took any particular pleasure in my own looks. I was
rather nervous over my impending interview with Paul Dabney and it was
with a certain relief that I heard from Mrs. Brane in the diningroom
that our guest had gone out and would not be back that night.

"How queer it seems to be alone again!" she said, but I thought she
looked more alarmed than relieved.

That night, however, in spite of her timidity, she was in better spirits
than I had seen her since Robbie's death. Her listlessness was not quite
so extreme as usual, she even chatted about her youth and dances she
used to go to. She must have been as pretty as a fairy and she had
evidently been something of a belle, though I have noticed that all
Southern women see themselves in retrospect as the center of a little
throng of suitors. Mary waited on us, for Henry had the toothache and
had gone to bed. It was quite a cozy and cheerful meal. In spite of
myself, the disagreeable impression produced by the Baron faded a little
from my mind and, as it faded, another feeling began to strengthen.
In other words, I began to be acutely curious about the hollow sound
produced by tapping on the back of that bookcase.

"I think you made a great impression on the Baron, Miss Gale," said Mrs.
Brane teasingly as we sat at our coffee in the drawing-room; "he really
seemed unable to take his eyes off you. I don't wonder. You are really
extraordinarily pretty in an odd way."

"In an odd way?" I could n't help asking.

"Why, yes, you are the strangest-looking pretty girl I've ever seen. You
know, my dear, if I should catalogue your features no one would think
it the portrait of an angelic-looking creature. It would sound like a
vixen. Now, stiffen up your vanity and listen." She looked me over and
gave me this description. "You have fiery hair, in the first place,
which is the right color for a vixen, you know, and you have a long,
slender, pale face, and green-blue eyes, though they do look black at
night and gray sometimes, but still they are the real Becky Sharp color
and no mistake. You have very thin, red lips, and, if their expression
was not so unmistakably sweet, I should say they were frightfully
capable of looking cruel and--well, yes--mean."

"Oh, Mrs. Brane, what a dreadful portrait!"

"What did I tell you? It is true, too, line by line, and yet you are
quite the loveliest-looking woman I have ever seen. Miss Gale, come,
now, you must see the impression you make. Are you not concerned over
the condition of poor Paul Dabney?"

"I have not noticed his condition," said I bitterly.

She shook her head at me. "Fibs!" she said. "The poor boy is as restless
as a hawk. He is getting pale and thin and gaunt. He eats nothing. He
can't let you out of his sight."

"If he is consumed by love of me," I said, "it is strange that he has
never confided to me as to his sufferings."

"But has n't he really, Janice?--I am just going to call you by your
first name, may I?" I was so grateful to her for the pretty way she said
it and for the sweet look she gave me, that I kissed the hand she held
out.

"Has n't he really made love to you, Janice? I could have sworn that,
during all those hours you two have spent in the bookroom, something of
the sort was going on."

"Nothing of the sort at all. In fact, Mrs. Brane, I think that Paul
Dabney dislikes me very much."

She thought this over, stirring her coffee absently and staring into the
coalfire. "It is rather mysterious, but, sometimes, I have thought that
too. At least, his feeling for you is very strong, one way or the other.
Sometimes it has seemed to me that he both hates and loves you. How do
you treat him, Janice?"

I tried to avoid her eyes. "Not any way at all," I stammered. "That is,
just the way I feel, with polite indifference."

Mrs. Brane gave a little trill of sad laughter. "Oh, how I am enjoying
this nonsense, Janice! I have n't talked such delicious stuff for years.
No, dear, you don't treat him with polite indifference at all. You treat
him with the most dreadful and crushing and stately hauteur imaginable.
Now, you were much more affable with the Baron."

I gave a little involuntary shiver.

"How ridiculous that creature was, was n't he?" laughed Mrs. Brane. "I
could hardly keep my face straight as I looked at him. He was like a
make-up of some kind. He did n't seem real, do you know what I mean? I
wish he had stayed to dinner. He would have amused me."

"He did n't amuse me," I said positively; "I thought he was detestable."

"Poor Baron Borff! And he was _so_ enamoured. You have a very hard
heart, Janice. Never mind, when I get rich, I'll set you up like a
queen. You must not be a housekeeper always even if you do refuse to be
a baroness. You did n't know I had hopes of wealth, did you?" She looked
rather sly as she put this question.

"I had fancied it, Mrs. Brane," I said.

She looked about the room nervously and lowered her voice.

"It is so queer, Janice," she said; then she moved over to the sofa
where I sat and spoke very low indeed: "It is so queer to have a fortune
and--_not to know where it is_."

I, too, looked anxiously about me, even behind me where there was no
possible space for a listener.

"If you would only tell me, Mrs. Brane," I began earnestly,--"if you
would only tell me something, about this fortune of yours, I feel that I
might be able to help you. Mrs. Brane, does any one know? Mr. Dabney, for
instance?"

"No," she murmured. "I have never told any one; I ought not to tell
you.--Oh, Mary, is that you? How you made me jump! I suppose it's
bedtime."

"Yes'm," said Mary, "and past bedtime. Don't you want to get strong and
well, Mrs. Brane?"

She laughed and stood up obediently, gave me a look that said "Hush,"
and followed Mary out. I took up a book and began to read.

After an hour or two, oppressed by the dead stillness of the house, I
went upstairs to my own room.

But I did not undress. The most overwhelming desire possessed me
suddenly to go down to the bookroom and to discover, if I could, the
secret of the bookcase. There is no doubt about it, there is the blood
of adventurers in my veins. Danger is a real temptation to me, danger
and the devious way. I would rather, I believe, be playing with peril
than not.

The house was very silent. I was alone in the old wing. My nerves had
been badly shaken only that afternoon, but I was keen for adventure.
Curiosity was far stronger than my fears. I took off my shoes and opened
the door. A faint light shone at the far end of the passage, the night
light that Mrs. Brane had been burning there since Robbie's death. I
walked along the hallway to the stairs. I had never realized before how
noiseless one may be in stocking feet, nor how noisy an old floor is
of itself under the quietest step. Boards snapped under me like pistol
shots. But no one in the sleeping house seemed the wiser for my stealthy
passing. I got down the stairs and found my way into the bookroom, saw
that the shutters were all tightly fastened and the shades drawn down.
Then I lighted the gas-jet near the Russian collection and knelt before
it on the floor.

I began quietly to take out the books, as I had seen the Baron take
them. I had removed perhaps half a dozen from the middle shelf when the
strangest feeling made me look around.

The door of the bookroom was open and I had left it shut. I rose to my
feet. At the same instant something just outside the threshold of the
door seemed to rise to its feet. I looked at it. _It was myself._

There is no way of describing the horror of such a sight.

This figure wore my dress of gray with its Quaker collar and cuffs, its
long, slender face was framed in fiery hair, its green-blue eyes, narrow
and long-lashed, were fixed on mine. There was no mirror outside of
that door; besides, no mirror could have reflected the look of white
damnation that possessed this face. Haggard and hard and vile, with a
wicked, stony leer in the eyes, with a wicked, tight smile on the lips,
with a blasted, devastated look too dreadful to describe, it faced me.
And it was myself, as I might have been after a lifetime of crime and
cruelty.

I stood and looked at it till a black cloud seemed to roll up over it,
from which for a second its evil countenance smiled imperturbably at me.
Then the face, too, was blotted out and I fell down on the floor.



CHAPTER VIII. A DANGEROUS GAME


|I CAME to my senses. I looked up slowly.

The thing was gone. I put out the light and fled like a hunted creature
to my room. There I locked myself in and dropped down on my knees beside
my bed.

At first it was entirely a battle with fear that kept me, rigid and
silent, on my knees. I knew that unless I overcame the extremity of my
nervous terror, I should lose my mind. If I went out of my room at all,
it would be to go raving and shrieking down the hall and to alarm the
house. Self-control was possible only if I should stay here and
conquer the evil spirit of "The Pines"--conquer its effect upon my
own steadiness and self-respect. I would not repeat the grotesque
tragi-comedy of Jane and Delia and Annie, and present myself, gasping
and wild-eyed, to Mrs. Brane demanding my dismissal on the spot. Neither
would I be like the other three housekeepers. Even in that moment of
prostration I am glad to say that I was not utterly a victim; the demon
that had possessed the house had to a certain extent already met its
match in me.

Of course, during those first hours, I did entertain the belief that I
was possessed by a denizen from another world who had come to this
house to terrify and to kill and had borrowed my astral body for
its clothing--a horrid idea enough and not unnatural under the
circumstances. If I remember rightly I decided that if the awful figure
came again or if any other tragedy should happen at "The Pines" I should
kill myself. Fortunately my reason, though badly shaken, did at least
reassert itself. After all, I am not a natural believer in ghosts. The
supernatural has never greatly interested or impressed me. It is not
so much-that I am skeptical as that I am pragmatic--that is, I have to
discern some use or meaning in spiritual experiences. It is this turn of
mind, inherited, I think, from my French father, that saved me now. Very
gradually, as I knelt there in that God-given attitude of prayer, an
attitude whose subjective benefit to the human race no one will ever be
able to measure, an attitude which, in its humility, in its resignation,
in its shutting out of this world's light, so opens the inner eyes of
the soul--as I knelt there, my mood began to change from one of insane
superstition and fear to one of quiet and most determined thought.

In fact, my reason reasserted itself and powerfully. One by one, all the
alarming incidents began to link themselves together, to suggest a plan,
a logical whole. It was as though, with my eyes shut and hidden in my
hands, I saw for the first time.

Three housekeepers, one after the other, had been frightened away from
"The Pines." The old servants of the house had been forced, also by
supernatural fears, to leave. A most determined attempt had been made
against Robbie's nerves and Mary's courage. And now, at the climax
of the crescendo--for then it seemed to me, God forgive me! that
my experience had been worse than Robbie's death--I, the fourth
housekeeper, was being terrified almost out of my wits. All these things
pointed to one conclusion. It was somebody's interest to isolate little
Mrs. Brane. It was especially somebody's interest to frighten every one
away from the northern wing. Somewhere in this house, and presumably
in this part of the house, there was something enormously valuable,
something to tempt evil spirits clad in substantial flesh and blood,
as substantial, for instance, as that of the bolster-like figure of
the Baron. And the leader of this enterprise, the master-spirit, was a
hell-cat with red-gold hair and a face like my own.

This was a horrid thought in itself and almost an incredible one, but it
was, at least, not supernatural. The creature that had seemed to rise
up on the threshold of the bookroom was a living being, a woman of flesh
and blood. I repeated this over and over to myself. I felt that I must
possess my mind perfectly of this fact and lay hold of it so that no
future manifestations might so nearly drive me to distraction as the
manifestation of to-night. She was a real woman, a female criminal,
wily and brave and very cunning. She had deliberately made use of this
extraordinary chance resemblance, had artfully heightened it, had copied
my habitual costume, for excellent reasons of her own. It was probably
entirely by her agency that I had been brought to "The Pines." With a
blinding realization of my own stupidity I remembered the suspicious
fashion in which I had learned of the position--a slip of paper handed
to me on the street! I had been chosen deliberately, for my resemblance,
by this thief for a double purpose of mystification and of diverting
suspicion. What more convenient for a night-prowler than to possess a
double in some authorized inmate of the house? Night-prowler?--why, she
might walk up and down the house in broad daylight, and, providing only
that she was careful not to be seen simultaneously with me, nor at
too close intervals of time at an unreasonable distance from my known
whereabouts, she might stand at Mrs. Brane's elbow or flit past Mary
down the stairs or go through the kitchen under Sara Lorrence's very
nose.

More light here broke upon me so brilliantly that it brought me to
my feet. I began walking up and down the room in a fever of excited
thought. I knew now why Henry Lorrence and the woman who called herself
his wife, cringed when they met my eye, whitened at my lightest
reproof, and, at the same time, could barely repress that leer of evil
understanding. They, too, had been brought to "The Pines." They were
members of the gang of which my double was the leader. Only--and this
cleared up a whole fog of mystery--they did not know the secret of the
dual personality. They thought that the criminal and the housekeeper
were one and the same person under a different make-up. They were
evidently under strict orders not to betray, even by a word or look,
even when there was no one by, their knowledge of collusion with Mrs.
Brane's reputed housekeeper; but Sara had made a bad slip. She had
spoken of "instruction" and she had said that she had not expected to
see me come out of the kitchen closet in the daytime.

My God! What danger we were all in! While we shivered and shook over
ghosts and nightmares, light footsteps in the wall and draughts of cold
air going by, a dangerous gang of thieves had actually taken up its
abode with us; one of them was hiding somewhere in the old house, the
others served us, walked about amongst us, took our orders, spoke to
us discreetly with soft voices and hypocritical, lowered eyes. We were
entirely at their mercy and the only suspecting person in the house,
Paul Dabney, suspected _me_. Undoubtedly he, too, had explained to
his own satisfaction the mystery of "The Pines," and _his_ explanation
was--Janice Gale. He knew nothing about me, but he did--he must--know
something about Mrs. Brane's mysterious fortune. Bobbie's nightmares,
the strand of hair about his little fingers, were evidence enough
against my innocence. I might be a sleep-walker,--he could not prove
that I was not,--but in his heart he believed me to be a sleep-walker
with a purpose. He was watching me, playing amateur detective in the
house. He had constituted himself a guardian of Mrs. Brane. Perhaps he
was in love with her.

You see, this is not only the history of the Pine Cone mystery. It is
the history of my love for Paul Dabney. This must be understood, for it
explains my actions. The part I managed to play, which it astounds
me even now to think that I was able to play, would barely have been
possible without the goad of my bitterness and pain and anger. I would
have gone at once to Paul Dabney and have told him everything I knew
and let him call in outside help. But, ever since he had held me by the
wrist and, in spite of his very apparent mental abhorrence for me,
had taken me into his arms, my pride was up. I would fight this thing
through alone. I would make no appeal to him, rather I would save the
household myself, and when I had exposed the real criminal and shamed
Paul Dabney's cruelty to a lonely girl and humbled him in his conceit, I
would go away and begin life again as far as possible from him.

This resolution utterly possessed me. Under its spur I began to think
with great lucidity. I suppose it was then, at about four o'clock on
that November morning, with the quiet house sleeping around me and the
quiet world outside just faintly turning gray with dawn, that I began to
see the weapon which lay within my grasp. It was a matter of turning
the situation upside down. In fact, if we did that more often with our
mental tangles, if suddenly in the midst of a train of thought we made a
_volte-face_, and from looking at things from our own obvious viewpoint,
we suddenly chose a right angle for contemplation, I am sure there would
be many illuminations similar to mine that night. But I did not make any
_volte-face_ deliberately. It was a sort of accident. Quite suddenly I
saw the situation as though I were a criminal myself, a criminal or
a sleuth, the mental attitude must be in some respects the same. What
advantage did this fantastic resemblance give the woman downstairs that
it did not also give me?

Now you have it, the whole astounding situation. You see what decision I
was coming to. I would deliberately play out the dangerous game. For
the woman's benefit I would pretend that I believed the apparition to
be ghostlike, dreamlike, the fabrication of my own feverish mind, but to
Sara and Henry and any other Barons that might visit us, I would play my
vixen as skilfully, as informingly as Heaven and my own wits and courage
would let me. I would discover the whereabouts of Mrs. Brane's fortune,
I would save it for her, and I would trap the thieves. That was my
resolve, the fruit of my night's vigil. Having made it, I undressed
myself and went to bed. I fell asleep at once like an overwearied child.



CHAPTER IX--MAIDA


|I WAS surprised to find, when I examined myself in the glass next
morning, that I did not look like a person that has seen a ghost. I had
rather more color than usual and my eyes were bright; also the fact
that I had controlled and overcome my nerves seemed to have acted like
a tonic to my whole system. In some mysterious way I had tapped a whole
reservoir of nervous strength and resilience. The same thing often
happens physically: one is tired to the very point of exhaustion, one
goes on, there is a renewal of strength, the effort that seems about
to crack the muscles suddenly lightens, becomes almost easy again. I
suppose the nervous system is subject to the same rules. At any rate, in
my case, the explanation works.

Without any exaggerated horror I dressed again in my Quaker costume and
I went down to breakfast. There must have been something in my face,
however, for Mrs. Brane, after we had had our coffee, began to look at
me rather searchingly, and at last she said, "You are getting very thin,
Janice, do you know that?"

"I had n't noticed it. Perhaps."

"Not perhaps at all. Certainly. Your gown is beginning to hang on you
and your face is just a wedge between all that hair. You look a little
feverish too. Suppose you try to take a little more exercise and fresh
air. After all, keeping house at 'The Pines' does not demand so much
strenuous desk work, does it? And now that Paul Dabney is away, you can
neglect that endless library work."

"Has he gone for good?" I asked, as lightly as possible, though my heart
fell.

"No, my dear. You will still be able to torment him with your proud
'Maisie' looks and ways. He is coming back this evening on the afternoon
train. He'll be late for tea, but we'll wait for him, shall we? He did
n't want to be met, said he would walk up. I think he dreads that long,
poky ride with old George nursing old Gregory through the sand. When
you're a young man who flies about the country in a motor, 'The Pines'
vehicle must be an instrument of torture. Janice, suppose you put on
your cloak and hat and come out with me for a nice long walk. It would
do us both good, I have n't had any heart for exercise. There seems to
be nothing to live for now--but Dr. Haverstock--"

"You think Dr. Haverstock something to live for?" I asked, rather
puzzled.

She laughed a little and blushed a great deal. "Mercy, no! I meant to
say, 'But Dr. Haverstock has told me that I must take more exercise'--I
don't know why I stopped that way--absent-mindedness. I was looking
through the window at one of those men."

"Do you think they are very useful members of society, Mrs. Brane? They
seem to do very little work."

She gave me an odd, half-amused, half-embarrassed look.

"They think they are useful, poor fellows! They are my pet charity."

"Oh," said I blankly. I was not sure whether she was joking or not.

"Come on, Janice. Don't worry your head over my extravagances. Your duty
is just to be a nice, cheerful, young companion for me. It's a help
to me to see that fiery gold head of yours moving about this musty old
house. Don't wear your hat. It's not cold, and I love to see the sun on
your hair."

I tried to suppress my little shiver, but couldn't. She interpreted it
very naturally, however. "Oh, it is n't a bit cold, not a bit."

So we went out into the mild, soft day, and I went without my hat for
the sake of letting her see the sun on my hair. As we walked down the
ill-weeded drive on which the labors of the two men had made little or
no impression, I wondered if narrow, green eyes under a mass of just
such hair were watching us from some secret post of observation. I
thought that I could feel them boring into my back. I could not restrain
a backward look. The old house stood quietly, its long windows blank
except for an upper one, out of which Sara was shaking a pillow. I
wondered why she should be working in the nursery, but I did n't like to
draw Mrs. Brane's attention to the fact.

To my surprise Mrs. Brane was a very energetic walker. She stepped along
briskly on her tiny feet, and a faint color came into her poor, wistful
face.

"I should be a different person, Janice," she sighed, "if I could get
away from this place and live in some more bracing climate, or some more
cheerful country. How lovely Paris would be!"

She laughed her hollow, little laugh.

"My husband lived in Paris for a long time. Before that he was in
Russia. He knew a great deal of Russian, even dialects. He was a great
traveler. I met him at Aix-les-Bains. He was taking the baths, and so
was I. We were both invalids, and I suppose it was a sort of bond. But
invalids should not be allowed to marry. Of course, we had no serious
disease; it was rheumatism with him, and nervous prostration with me. I
wonder if there is n't such a thing as a nerve-germ, Janice."

"I wondered," absently. I was busy with my own thoughts, and she was a
great chatterer.

"I think old houses get saturated with nerve-germs, truly I do. That's
the real explanation of ghosts. I am sure rooms are haunted by the
sorrows and mournful preoccupations of the people that die in them. I
am not very superstitious, and I am so glad that you are n't. I trembled
for you. You see those other housekeepers--"

"Do tell me about the other housekeepers," I begged, "especially the one
just before me. What was she like?"

"Oh, a little, fat thing, white as wax, very bustling, but with no real
ability. She stayed with me for some time, though, and I was beginning
to think that--you know, Janice, I owe you an apology."

"Why, dear Mrs. Brane?"

"Because I never told you about those three housekeepers and their
alarms. It was rather shabby of me not to warn you. But, you see, I did
n't want to suggest fears to you. I hope I won't suggest them now. But
all my other housekeepers have been haunted."

"Haunted?" I asked with as much surprise as I could assume.

"Yes; the first heard a voice in the wall, and the second knew that some
one was in her room at night. The third was so badly frightened that she
would n't tell me what happened at all."

"Where is she now?"

"I don't know. She went away leaving me no address, and I've never heard
a word of her since. At first I thought she might have made away with
something, some money or jewelry, but I have never missed anything."

"Mrs. Brane," I asked hesitatingly, "what is your explanation of these
apparitions, of the things that alarmed the housekeepers, of the things
that frightened Delia and Annie and Jane?"

As we talked, we had been coming down the long hill on top of which
stood "The Pines," and now were beginning to go towards that swamp, with
its black, smothered stream, across which George had driven me on the
day of my arrival. I did not like the direction of our walk; I did
not like the swamp nor my memory of the oily-looking stream under the
twisted, sprawling trees, draped with Spanish moss. But I supposed it
was Mrs. Brane's business, and not mine. Besides, I was now interested
in what she was saying.

She listened to my question, and seemed to ponder her reply rather
doubtfully. At last she made up her mind to some measure of frankness.

"Of course, I have a sort of explanation of my own for their leaving,"
she said; "rather a suspicion than an explanation. But, Janice," she
looked about her, drew closer and spoke very low, "if I tell you this
suspicion you must promise to keep it very strictly to yourself. I
am going against orders in speaking of it at all. And against my own
resolution, too. But I feel as if I must have a confidante, and I do
think that you are a person to be trusted."

"Oh, Mrs. Brane," I said half-tearfully, "indeed, indeed I am. You will
not be sorry if you tell me everything, everything that has to do with
these queer happenings at 'The Pines.'"

We came down the sandy slope to the bridge and on it we paused, leaning
against the rail and looking far down at the sluggish, gray water.
The black roots of the trees crawled down into it like snakes from the
banks. It was the stillest, deadliest-looking water I have ever seen.

"Just underneath this bridge there is a quicksand," said Mrs. Brane; "a
mule was lost here two years ago, and a poor, half-witted negress killed
herself by letting herself drop down from the bridge. Was n't it a
dreadful death to choose--slow and suffocating? Ugh!"

"I hate this place," I said half angrily; "why do we stay here? Let's go
and do our talking somewhere else."

"I have a fancy to tell you here," she half laughed. The laugh ended in
a little shriek. "Janice! There's some one under the bridge!"

I clutched the rail and leaned forward, though God knows, I was in no
mind for horrid sights. This was neither horrid nor ghostly, however;
no drowned negress haunting the scene of her death. The discreet,
bewhiskered face of Henry Lorrence looked respectfully up at us. He was
squatting on the bank of the stream under the shadow of the bridge, his
coat lay beside him, and he was busy with some tools.

"What are you doing, Henry?" asked Mrs. Brane in rather a shrill voice.
She had been startled.

"Mendin' up the bridge, ma'am," said Henry thickly, for his mouth was
full of rusty-looking nails. "There's a couple of weak planks here,
ma'am, that I noticed the other afternoon, and they seemed to me
dangerous to life and limb over this here stream at such a height. If
a person fell through, ma'am, there would n't be much chance for him,
would there?"

"I should think not. You're quite right."

"Better wait till I've got it fixed before you goes acrost, ma'am. It
will be a matter of a few hours, and I ain't sure't will be safe then.
The whole bridge should be rebuilt."

"We'll stay on this side," said Mrs. Brane; "we can go back and walk
along the ridge. I don't think the air is particularly healthy down in
this swamp, anyway, even at this time of the year. We won't be back this
way, Henry. Make a good job of it."

"Yes, ma'am," said Henry, with one of his servile, thin-lipped smiles,
"I mean to make a regular good job."

He began to hammer away vigorously. He had quite an assortment of tools,
a saw and an axe and some planks. It really looked as if he were going
to make a thorough good job of it, and I hoped he would. A fall through
the bridge into that thick, gray, turbid water with its faint odor of
rottenness--it was not a pleasant thought. And even a very loud crying
for help would not reach "The Pines." There was no nearer place, and the
road led only to us. Not a nice spot for an accident at all!

Mrs. Brane and I hastened back to the higher ground, where we found a
path, soft with pine needles, where the sunlight sifted through wide
branches to the red-brown, hushed earth.

"You see," she said, "there is no safe place for confidence. If I had
not happened to see Henry at just that instant, he would have heard
my suspicions, and Heaven knows what effect they might have had on his
dull, honest, old mind!"

An honest, old mind, indeed!--if my own suspicions were correct. I
wondered if the whiskers were false. Henry was really too perfect an
image of the reliable old family servant. He might have been copied from
a book.

"Well, here we can look about us, at any rate," I said; "there's no
place for eavesdroppers to hide in."

"After all, there is n't so much to tell. If I knew more, why, then,
there would be no mystery, and I should be safely away from 'The Pines.'
You see, I suspect that there has been an attempt at burglary which has
failed."

"An attempt at burglary? Oh, Mrs. Brane!" This was almost as perfect an
imitation of the stereotyped exclamation of perfect ignorance as Henry's
get-up was of the English house-servant. I blushed at it, but Mrs. Brane
did not notice.

"My husband died of paralysis, a sudden stroke. He could not speak. And
that is why I have never been able to leave 'The Pines.'"

"I don't understand," said I, honestly this time.

"Of course you don't. You see, there were secrets in my husband's life.
He had an adventurous past. I fear he was very wild." She sighed, but I
could see that his wildness was a pleasure to her. She was one of those
foolish women to whose sheltered virtue the fancy picture of daring vice
appeals very strongly. I was far wiser than she. There were some sordid
memories in my life.

"When he married me, he was a man of quite forty-five, and he reformed
completely. I think he had had a shock, a fright of some kind which
served as a warning. Sometimes I fancied that he lived under a dread of
trouble. Certainly, he was very watchful and secret in his ways, and,
from being such a globe-trotter, he became the veriest stick-at-home.
He never left 'The Pines,' winter or summer, though he would send Robbie
and me away,"--she gave the pitiful, little sigh that came always now
with Robbie's name. "He was not at all rich, though we were sufficiently
comfortable on my small fortune. But at times he talked like a very
wealthy man. He made plans, he was very strange about it. At last,
towards the end of his life he began to drop hints. He would tell me
that some day Robbie would be rich beyond dreams; that, if he died, I
would be left provided for like a queen. He said, always very fearfully,
very stealthily, that he had left everything to me, everything--and of
course I thought I knew that he had very little to leave. He said that I
must be braver than he had been. 'With a little caution, Edna, a very
little caution, you can reap the fruits of it all.' Of course I
questioned him, but he teased me and pretended that he had been talking
nonsense. He made his will, though, at about this time, and left me
everything he had, everything, and he underlined the 'everything.' One
night we were sitting at dinner. He had been perfectly well all day, but
he had taken a ride in the sun and complained of a slight headache. We
had wine for dinner. I've never been able to touch a drop since--is n't
it odd? Suddenly, while he was talking, he put his hand to his head. 61
feel queer,' he said, and his voice was thick. He grabbed the arms of
his chair, and fixed his eyes upon me. 'Perhaps I had better tell you
now, Edna,' the words were all heavy and blurred, 'it is in the house,
you know--the old part.' He stood up, went over to the door, closed it
carefully; he looked into the pantry to be sure that the waitress was
not there. He came back and stood beside my chair, looking down at me.
His face was flushed. 'You will find the paper,' he began; and then the
words began to come queer, he struggled with them, his tongue seemed to
stick to his mouth. Suddenly he threw up his arms and fell down on the
floor." Mrs. Brane wiped her eyes. "Poor Theodore! Poor fellow! He never
spoke again. He lived for several days, and his eyes followed me about
so anxiously, so yearningly, but he was entirely helpless, could not
move a finger, could not make a sound. He died and left me tormented by
the secret that he could not tell. It has been like a curse. It _has_
been a curse. It has killed Robbie. I believe that it will some day kill
me."

Here the poor woman sank down on a log and cried. I comforted her as
well as I could, and begged her to forget this miserable business. "No
problematic fortune is worth so much misery and distress," I said, "and
if, in all this time, in spite of your searching--and I suppose you have
searched very thoroughly--"

"Oh, yes," she sighed, "I have worn myself out with it. Every scrap of
paper in the house has been gone over a hundred times, every drawer and
closet. Why, since Sara stirred me up with her cleaning in the old
part of the house, I have been over everything again during this last
fortnight, but with not the slightest result."

"You see. It is useless. And, dear Mrs. Brane, I hope you won't mind
my suggesting it, but, perhaps, the whole idea is a mistake, or some
fantastic obsession of your husband's mind. He was ill towards the last,
probably more ill than you knew. You may be wasting your health and life
in the pursuit of a mere chimera. You have no further suspicions of any
attempt at burglary, have you?"

"No." My words had had some effect. She stood up and began to walk home
thoughtfully and calmly. "No. There have been no disturbances for a long
time. Sara and Henry have not been frightened nor have you. Mary has
seen no ghosts. Perhaps you are right, dear, and the whole thing is a
fiction." She sighed. One does not relinquish the hope of a fabulous
fortune without a sigh.

We were rather silent on the way home. I was planning an interview with
Sara, my first move in the difficult and dangerous game that I had set
myself to play. I was frightened, yes, but terribly interested. I left
Mrs. Brane after lunch and went down to the kitchen. Sara was seated
by the table peeling potatoes, the most commonplace and respectable of
figures. She lifted her large, handsome face and stood up, setting down
the bowl.

"Go on with your work, Sara," I said, "I shall not keep you but a
moment."

She sat down and I stood there, my hand resting on the table. My heart
was beating fast, and I was conscious of a tightening in my throat.
Unconsciously, I narrowed my eyes, and tightened my lips till my
expression must have been something like that mask of wickedness I had
seen in the doorway of the book-room. I spoke in a low, hard voice,
level and cruel, and I put my whole theory to the test at once;
foolishly enough, I think, for I might have given myself away if my
guess had not been correct in this detail.

"How goes it, _Maida?_" I asked. It was the name the Baron had used.

She started; the knife stopped its work. She looked up, glancing
nervously about the room.

"God!" she said. "You're gettin' nervy, ain't you?"

No speech could have been more unlike the speech of the smooth and
respectful Sara.

I smiled as evilly as I could. "Once in a while I take a risk, that's
all. Don't refer to it again. But answer my questions, will you?
Anything new?"

"God, no! I'm about done with this game. Housework is no holiday to me,
and since they nabbed the Nobleman my heart's gone out of me. Our game's
about up, unless we get that--"here she used a string of vile,
whispered epithets--"this afternoon, and I don't think it's likely. He's
got nine lives, that cat of a Hovey!"

My heart thumped. I dared not ask her meaning.

Sara went on, only it was certainly Maida that spoke in the coarse,
breathless, furtive voice. "If the Nobleman has talked, they're coming
back for us. There's a dozen chances the bridge trick won't work. And,
even if it does, the whole pack will be down here to investigate. All
very well for you to say that we need just twenty-four free hours to
pull the thing off, but I tell you what, madam, Jaffrey and me are
gettin' pretty sick--we'd like a glimpse of them jools."

One phrase of this speech had struck me deaf and half blind. I made a
sign of caution to the horrible creature, and I went out. I stopped
in the hall to look at the tall grandfather's clock ticking loudly and
solemnly. It was already very nearly five o'clock. Paul Dabney's train
was in, and he was on his way to "The Pines." I stood there stupidly
repeating "the bridge trick" over and over to myself. The bridge trick!
Henry had had a saw and an axe. He might just as easily have been
weakening a plank as strengthening it. Had it not been for my presence,
his entire reliance on my skill in diverting Mrs. Brane's suspicion, we
should not have seen him at his work. But thinking me his leader, the
real instigator of the crime, he had probably decided that for some
reason I had brought Mrs. Brane purposely to watch him at his task. It
was five o'clock. Paul Dabney would be near the bridge. He was probably
bringing with him a detective, this Hovey, of whom Sara had spoken so
vilely. And the red-haired woman did not mean them to reach "The Pines"
that night. By this time she probably had some knowledge of the secret
of the bookcase, and she must feel that she had successfully frightened
away my desire to take out a book at night. She would rob the bookcase
some time within the next twenty-four hours, before any one found the
smothered bodies of Paul Dabney and his companion, and with her treasure
she would be off. Sara and Henry would give notice. I stood there as
though movement were impossible, and yet I knew that everything depended
upon haste.

I began to reckon out the time. The train got in to Pine Cone at
four-thirty, and it would probably be late. It was always late. It
would take two men walking at a brisk pace at least an hour to reach the
swamp. It was now just five o'clock. I had thirty minutes, therefore, in
which to save the secret of the bookcase and to rescue the man I loved.
It would take me at least twenty minutes to get to the bridge; once
below the top of the hill I could run as fast as I liked. Every second
was valuable now. I went into the bookroom and shut the door. Kneeling
on the floor I tumbled out the books as I had seen the Baron, doubtless
Sara's "Nobleman," do. Then I removed the middle shelf and began tapping
softly with my fingers. There was the hollow spot, and there, just back
of the shelf I had removed, was a tiny metal projection. I pushed it.
Down dropped a little sliding panel, and I thrust my hand into the
shallow opening. I was cold and shuddering with haste and fear and
excitement. My fingers touched a paper, and I drew it out. I did not
even glance at it. I hid it in my dress, closed the panel, restored the
shelf, and returned the books as quickly and quietly as I could. Then I
went out into the hall.

The clock had ticked away fifteen of my precious minutes. If the train
was late, I still had time. I went out of the front door and began,
with as good an air of careless sauntering as I could force my body to
assume, to stroll down the winding driveway. I longed to take a short
cut, but I did not dare. I was sure that my double was on the watch.
She would not leave that driveway unguarded on such an afternoon. I felt
that my life was not a thing to wager on at that moment. I doubted if I
should be allowed to reach the bridge alive. The utter importance of
my doing so gave me the courage to use some strategy. I actually forced
myself to return, still sauntering, to the house and I got a parasol.
Then I walked around to the high-walled garden. Here I strolled about
for a few moments, and then slipped away, plunged through a dense mass
of bushes at the back, followed the rough course of a tiny stream, and,
climbing a stone wall, came out on the road below the hill and several
feet outside of "The Pines" gateway. My return for a parasol and the
changed direction of my walk would be certain to divert suspicion of my
going towards the bridge. Nevertheless, I felt like a mouse who allows
itself a little hope when the watchful cat, her tail twitching, her
terrible eyes half shut, allows it to creep a perilous little distance
from her claws. As soon as I was well out of sight of the house, I
chose a short cut at random, shut my parasol, and ran as I had never run
before.



CHAPTER X--THE SWAMP


|I HAVE always loved pine trees since that desperate afternoon, for the
very practical reason that the needles prevent the growth of underbrush.
My skirts were left free, and my feet had their full opportunity for
speed, and I needed every ounce of strength and breath. Before I came to
the top of the last steep slope that plunged down to the stream, I heard
a hoarse, choking cry, that terrible cry for "Help! Help! Help!" It
was a man's voice, but so thick and weak and hollow that I could not
recognize it for Paul Dabney's. I did not dare to answer it, such was
my dread of being stopped by some murderess lurking in the gnarled and
stunted trees. But I fairly hurled myself down the path. There was the
bridge. I saw that a great gap yawned in the middle of it. I hurried to
the edge. Down below me in the gray, rotten-smelling shadows floated
a desperate, white face. Paul Dabney's straining eyes under his
mud-streaked hair looked up at me, and the faint hope in them went out.

"You again!" he gasped painfully. "You've come back to see the end..."
He smiled a twisted, ironical smile. "If I could get my hand out of this
infernal grave I'd let you wrap some of that hair of yours around my
fingers. That's your trade-mark, is n't it? Did you come back for
that?" He sank an inch lower, his chin had gone under. He lifted it out,
bearded with filthy mud, and leaned back as though against a pillow,
closing his eyes. He had given up hope.

All this, of course, took but a moment of time. I had been looking
about, searching the place for help. Near the edge of the horrible,
sluggish stream lay a board, left there by Henry after his devilish
work, or, else, fallen when Paul Dabney had broken through. It lay on
the farther bank. I stood up, measured the distance of the break in the
bridge, and, going back a few paces, ran and jumped across. It was
a good jump. I hardly looked to see, however, but hurried down the
opposite bank and shoved out the board towards Paul Dabney. Only his
face now glimmered like a death-mask on the surface of the mud.

"Paul," I cried desperately, urgently, commandingly, "pull out your arm.
I have come to save you."

His eyes opened. He stared at me. Then life seemed to come back to
his face. He made a frantic, choking, gasping struggle; once he went
altogether down; then, with a sucking sound his arm came up, the fingers
closed on my board. I caught his poor, cold, slimy hand. I pulled with
all my strength. His grip was like a convulsion. Inch by inch I dragged
him towards the bank. The stream surrendered its victim with a sort of
sticky sob, and he lay there on the ground beside me, lifeless as a log,
hardly to be recognized as a human being, so daubed and drenched was he
with the black ooze that had so nearly been his death. My attempts
to restore him were soon successful, for it was exhaustion, not
suffocation, that had made him faint. He had taken very little of the
mud into his mouth, but, struggling there in the bottomless, horrible
slough for nearly half an hour had taxed his strength to the last gasp.

He opened his eyes and looked up at me with an expression of grave
astonishment. I knew that he had not expected me to be such a serious
criminal as to make this deliberate attempt on his life, and, yet, I was
sure as his large, gray eyes searched me that he was deliberating the
possibility. He sat up presently, and, taking my handkerchief, he wiped
off his face and hair and hands.

"The rest is hopeless," he said.

"The other man?" I asked him shudderingly, my eyes fixed on the smooth
and oily water.

He looked at me with a puzzled face. "The other man! There was not any
other man..." Then, stilt looking at me, a faint, unwilling flush stole
up his cheek.

"Miss Gale," he said, "you are without doubt my guardian angel. And
yet, strangely enough, I had a dreadful vision of what you might be as
another kind of angel. When I was going down,"--he shivered all over and
glanced at the stream, whose surface was now as smooth as it would have
been had he sunk beneath it,--"when I was going down, and at the last of
my strength,--I was delirious, I suppose,--but I had a sort of vision. I
thought you stood there on the bank above me, and looked down with your
narrow face between its two wings of red hair, and mocked me. Just as
I was settling down to death, you disappeared. And, just a few moments
later, there you were again, this time with the aura of a saint... Miss
Gale,"--and here he looked at me with entire seriousness, dropping his
tone of mockery,--"do you believe in dual personalities?"

"Really, Mr. Dabney," I said, "I don't think it's a very good time to
take up the subject."

He looked away from me, and spoke low with an air of confusion. "You
called me 'Paul' when you shoved out that blessed board, which has gone
down in my place..."

I paid no attention to this remark, but stood up. Silently he, too, rose
and we laid a log across the deadly opening of the bridge and balanced
carefully back to safety. I could not think of my leap of a few minutes
before without a feeling of deathly sickness.

"You risked your life," murmured Paul Dabney; "you risked your life to
save me..." He stopped me as we climbed up the hill. It was very dark
there amongst the trees. He took me by the wrists, and, "Janice Gale,"
he said desperately, speaking through his teeth, "look up at me, for the
love of God."

I did look up, and he plunged his eyes into mine as though he were
diving for a soul.

I put up no barriers between my heart and his searching eyes. It was so
dusky there that he could not read any of my secrets. I let him search
till at last he sighed from the bottom of his soul, and let my hands
fall, passing his own across his forehead with a pitiful air of
confusion and defeat.

"'La belle dame sans merci has thee in thrall,'" he murmured, and
we went up into the glimmering twilight of the open spaces where the
swallows were still wheeling high in search of the falling sun.

When we reached the house, I asked Paul Dabney timidly if he did not
think it best to change and not to alarm Mrs. Brane by any sight of his
condition. He agreed with a wry sort of smile, and went slowly up the
stairs. I saw that he held tight to the railing, and that his feet
dragged. He was very near, indeed, to collapse; the walk up the hill had
been almost too much for him.

Nevertheless, he appeared at dinner-time as trim and neat as possible,
with the air of demure boyishness, which was so disarming, completely
restored.

Not only was he neat and trim in person, but he was mentally alert and
gay. He ate hardly anything, to be sure, drank not at all, and sat,
tight-strung, leaning a little forward in his chair, his hand in
his pocket, as he laughed and talked. His eyes held, beneath bright,
innocent surfaces, rather a harried, hunted look. But he was very
entertaining, so much so that his pallor, the little choking cough that
bothered him, and my own condition of limp reaction to the desperate
excitement of the afternoon, passed entirely unnoticed by Mrs. Brane.
Her better spirits of the morning had returned in force. She was very
glad to see Paul Dabney, so glad that I suffered a twinge of heart.

"Oh," she laughed, "but it's good to have a man in the house.
Shakespeare is right, you know, when he says, 'a woman naturally born to
fears.'"

"I don't think he was right at all," Paul Dabney took her up. "I believe
that the man is naturally the more fearful animal. Shakespeare ought to
have said, 'a woman naturally feigning fear.' I'm with the modern poet,
'the female of the species is more deadly than the male.' Take the lady
spider, for instance."

"What does the lady spider do?" asked Mrs. Brane.

"She devours her lover while she is still in his embrace."

"How horrible!"

"Horrible, but the creature is a very faithful and devoted mother. I
think there are many women"--here his hunted and haggard look
rested upon me--"who would be glad to rid themselves of a lover when
his--particular--usefulness is over."

"All women kill the thing they love," I smiled, and I had a dreadful
feeling that my smile was like the cruel and thin-lipped smile of the
woman who had planned Paul Dabney's death.

That was one of the most terrifying consequences of the nervous shock I
had suffered, that I had quite often now this obsession, as though
the vixen were using me, obsessing my body with her blackened soul,
as though gradually I were becoming her instrument. The smile left my
shaken lips, and I saw a sort of reflection of it draw Dabney's mouth
stiffly across his teeth. His pallor deepened; he looked away and began
to crumble his bread with restless fingers.

Henry passed through, and we followed him into the drawing-room, where
coffee was always served. When Paul Dabney had first come into the
dining-room I had glanced shrewdly at Henry. The jaw behind the whiskers
had dropped, the eyes had blinked, then discretion was perfectly
restored. But I felt a threatening sort of gloom emanate from the man
towards me, and I realized that my position was doubly dangerous. There
was a spirit of mutiny in my supposed accomplices. I trusted my double,
however, to control the pair. Their fear of her was doubtless greater
than their dread of detection, and Henry probably was relieved of some
portion of his fears by the non-appearance of the Hovey, whom Sara had
so befouled with epithets, and whom she evidently so greatly feared.

Mrs. Brane excused herself early, and I, too, rose shortly after she had
left the room. I moved slowly towards the door. Paul Dabney stood by the
high mantel, one hand in his pocket, the other resting on the shelf,
his head a little bent, looking somberly at me from under his handsome
brows. He looked very slim and young. The thought of his loneliness, of
his danger, so much greater than he suspected, smote my heart. I wanted
to go back and tell him everything, even my love. I was hesitating,
ready to turn, when he spoke. The voice, sharp and stinging as a lash,
fell with a bite across my heart.

"Good-night, _sleep-walker_," he said.

My hand flew to my breast because of the pain he caused me. He watched
me narrowly. His pale face was rigid with the guard he kept upon some
violent feeling. My hurt turned to anger.

"You suspect me of sinister things, Paul Dabney," I said hotly; "you
think that I prowl about Mrs. Brane's house while she sleeps, in search
of something valuable, perhaps." I laughed softly. "Perhaps you are
right. I give you leave to pursue your investigations, though I can't
say I consider you a very ingenious detective."

He started, and the color came in a wave across his face. For some
reason the slight upon his amateur detecting seemed to sting. I was
glad. I would have liked to strike him, to cause him physical pain. I
came in a sort of rush straight over to him, and he drew warily back
till he stood against the wall, his eyes narrowed upon me, his head
bent, as I have seen the eyes and heads of men about to strike.

"Listen to me," I said; "I give you fair warning. This afternoon I saved
your life at the risk of my own. I may not be able to do that again.
I advise,"--here I threw all the contempt possible into my voice,--"I
advise you to keep out of this, to stay in your room and lock your
door at night. Don't smile. It is a very serious warning. Good-night,
_dreamer_, and--_lover without faith_."

At this he put his hand to his eyes, and I left him standing with this
gesture of ashamed defeat.

It was a night of full and splendid moon; my room was as white as the
calyx of a lily, so white that its very radiance made sleep impossible.
Besides, I was excited by my battle with Paul Dabney, and by the thought
of that paper in my dress. God willing, now, the struggle would soon be
over. If I lived through the next twenty-four hours, I would find the
treasure, capture the thieves, confront Paul Dabney with my innocence
and my achievement, and leave "The Pines" forever. My ordeal was not
so nearly over as I hoped. There were further tangles in the female
spider's web. It makes me laugh now and blush to think how, all the
while, the creature made her use of me, how the cat let the little
mouse run hither and thither in its futile activity; no, not altogether
futile, I did play an extraordinary rôle. I did that very afternoon save
Paul Dabney's life; I did bewilder the queen spider and disturb and tear
her web, but, when all is said and done, it was she who was mistress of
"The Pines" that night.

I did not light my gas, so splendid was the moon, but crouching near my
open window on the floor, I took out the paper and spread it open on my
knee. It was covered with close lines in the Russian script. The writing
was so fine and delicate that, to read it, I should need a stronger
light. I rose, drew my shade and lit the gas. Again I spread out the
paper, then gave a little exclamation of dismay. It was the Russian
script, perfectly legible to me, but, alas! the language was not that of
modern Russian speech. It was the old Slavonic language of the Church.
The paper was as much a mystery to me as though it were still hidden in
the bookcase.



CHAPTER XI--THE SPIDER


|IN vain I tortured my wits; here and there a word was comprehensible.
I made out the number 5 and fairly ground my teeth. Here was the key to
the secret; here was my chart, and I could not decipher it. I folded up
the paper with great care, ripped open a seam of my mattress, and folded
the mystery in. By night I would keep it there; by day I would carry
it about on my body. Somehow, I would think out a way to decipher it;
I would go to New York and interview a priest of the Greek Church. If
necessary I would bribe him to secrecy... my brain was full of plans,
more or less foolish and impossible. At any rate, I reasoned that the
Red-haired Woman, not finding any paper in the bookcase, would do one
of two things--either she would suspect a previous theft and disposal of
the treasure and give up her perilous mission, or she would suspect me
whom she had found once at night before the book-shelves. In this case
I was, of course, both in greater danger, and, also, providentially
protected. At least, she would not kill me till she had got that paper
out of my possession. My problem was, first, to find the meaning of my
valuable chart, then to put it in her way, and, while she endeavored
to get a translation--I could not believe her to possess a knowledge of
ecclesiastical Russian--it was my part to rifle the hoard and to set the
police on her track. When I had the meaning of the paper, I would send
word to the police at Pine Cone. Till then, I would play the game alone.
So did my vanity and wounded feelings lead me on, and so very nearly to
my own destruction.

After I had finished sewing up my mattress-seam, I put out my light and
went to stand near my window. Unconsciously affected by my fears, I kept
close to the long, dark curtain, and stood still, looking down at the
silvered garden paths, the green-gray lines of the box, the towering,
fountain-like masses of the trees, waving their spray of shadow tracery
across the turf. I stood there a long time brooding over my plans--it
must have been an hour--before I saw a figure come out into the garden.
It was Paul Dabney. He was walking quietly to and fro, smoking and
whistling softly. I could hear the gravel crunch beneath his feet.

All at once he stopped short and threw up his head as though at a
signal. He tossed away his cigarette. He stared at the arbor, the one
where poor Mary used to watch her little charge at play, and then,
as though he were drawn against his will, he went slowly towards it,
hesitated, bent his head a little, and stepped in. I heard the low
murmur of his voice. I thought that Mrs. Brane was in the arbor, and my
heart grew sick with jealousy. I was about to drag myself away from
the window when another figure came out of the arbor and stood for an
instant in the bright moonlight looking straight up to my window. I grew
cold. I stood there holding my breath. I heard a little, low,
musical, wicked laugh. The creature--my own cloak drooping from her
shoulders--turned and went back into the shelter of the vine. My God!
What was she about to do to Paul, the blind fool to sit there with that
horrible thing and to fancy that he sat with me? Having failed in her
attempt to drown him, she was now beguiling him out of the house for a
few hours, in order to give one of her accomplices a chance to search
the bookcase. I had no scruples about playing eavesdropper. I took off
my shoes and hurried noiselessly down the stairs. I stole to a shuttered
window in the dining-room, and, inch by inch, with infinite caution, I
raised the sash. I was so near to the arbor that a hand stretched out
at the full length of its arm could touch the honeysuckle vines. I stood
there and strained my ears.

The woman was speaking so low that it was but a gentle thread of voice.
It was extraordinarily young and sweet, the tone--sweeter than my voice,
though astonishingly like it.

"Why did I save you, Paul Dabney?" she was murmuring, "can't you guess?
_Now_, can't you guess?"

There came the sound of a soft, long-drawn, dreadful kiss. I burned with
shame from head to foot.

"You devil--you she-devil!" said Paul Dabney in low, hot speech; "you
can kiss!"

I could bear no more. She must be in his arms. What was the reason
for this deviltry, this profanation of my innocence and youth, this
desecration of my name? I hated and loathed Paul Dabney for his hot
voice, for his kiss. He thought that he held _me_ there in his arms,
that he insulted _me_, tamely submissive, with his words, "You devil,
you she-devil..." I fled to my room. I threw myself upon my bed. I
sobbed and raved in a crazed, smothered fashion to my pillow. I struck
the bed with my hands. I do not know how long that dreadful meeting
lasted; I realized, with entire disregard, that _while_ it lasted Sara
was searching the bookcase. To this day I can think of it only with a
sickness of loathing. Once I fancied that I heard Paul Dabney's step
under my window. But I hid my head, covered my ears. I lay in a still
fever of rage and horror all that night. The insult--so strange and
unimaginable a one--to my own unhappy love was more than I could bear. I
wanted to kill, and kill, and kill these two, and, last, myself.



CHAPTER XII--NOT REG'LAR


|I MEANT to ask Mrs. Brane the next morning to excuse me from my work of
cataloguing the books of her husband's library. I had no courage to face
Paul Dabney. Unluckily, Mrs. Brane did not come down to breakfast. She
had a severe headache. I did not like to disturb her with my request,
nor did I like to give up my duty without permission, for the catalogue
was nearly completed and Mrs. Brane was very impatient about it, so I
dragged myself into the bookroom at the usual time. Paul Dabney was not
yet there. He breakfasted late, going out first for a long tramp and a
swim. I hoped that he would not come at all this morning.

I went languidly to work. I did not feel the slightest interest to know
whether or not Sara Lorrence had taken advantage of the decoying of Paul
Dabney and had made an investigation of the Russian book-shelves. I felt
utterly wretched and drained of life, and of the desire to live.

When at last Paul Dabney's footstep came along the hall, and, somewhat
hesitatingly, in at the door, I did not turn my head. He stopped at
sight of me, and stood still. I could feel that his eyes were on me,
and I struggled against a nervous curiosity to see the expression of his
look. But I would not yield. I kept on doggedly, taking down a volume,
dusting it, clapping its leaves together, putting it back and making a
note of its title and author in the book that Mrs. Brane had given me
for the purpose. My face burned, my finger-tips turned to ice. Anger,
disgust, shame, seemed to have taken the place of the blood along my
veins. At last, "You are not as affable a companion by day as you are
by night," drawled the young man, and came strolling a step nearer to me
across the floor.

"I know you made me promise," he went on, "not to speak of any moonlight
madness by the common light of day, but, strangely enough, your spell
does n't hold. I feel quite able to break my word to you now."

He paused. I wondered if he could feel the tumult of my helpless rage.
"I have been very much afraid of you," he said, "but that is changed. No
man can be afraid of the serpent he has fondled, even when he knows that
its fang is as poisonous as sin. I am not afraid of you at all."

The book slid to the floor. My head seemed to bend of its own weight
to meet my hands. A great strangling burst of laughter tore my throat,
pealed from my lips, filled the room. I laughed like a maniac. I rocked
with laughter. Then, staggering to my feet, I went over to the window
bench, and sat there sobbing and crying as though my heart must break.

Paul Dabney shut the door, swore, paced the room, at last came over to
me and bade me, roughly, to "stop my noise."

"Don't make a fool of yourself," he said coldly. "You won't make one of
me, I assure you."

At that I looked up at him through a veil of tears, showing him a face
that must have been as simple as an angry child's.

"Look at me, Paul Dabney," I gasped. "Look hard--as hard as you looked
yesterday afternoon down there near the swamp after I had saved
your life. And, when you have looked, tell me what you know about
me--me--me--Janice Gale."

He caught me by the hands and looked. My tears, falling, left my vision
clear, and his face showed so haunted and haggard and spent, so wronged,
that with a welcome rush, tenderness and pity and understanding came
back for a moment to my heart. I realized, for just that moment, what he
must be suffering from this dreadful tangle in which he had been caught.
How could he know me for what I really was when that demon came to him
with my face and voice and hands and eyes? And yet--the moment passed
and left me hard again--I felt that he ought to have known. Some glimmer
of the truth should have come to him. In fact, after a moment he dropped
my hands and put his own over his eyes. He went over to the window and
stood there, staring out, unseeing, I was sure. His shoulders sagged,
his whole slight, energetic body drooped. I saw his fist shut and open
at his side. After a long time, he turned and came slowly back to stand
before me.

"Janice Gale," he said, in a changed and much more gentle voice, "I wish
you would tell me what the accursed--mystery means. Do you remember last
night? Do you remember--do your lips remember our kisses? I can't look
at the sweetness and the sorrow of them and believe it. Is this your
real self, or is that? Are you possessed by a night-demon, or is this a
mask of youth and innocence? I do believe you must be a victim of that
strange psychic affliction of a divided personality. Janice--tell me, do
you know what you do"--he dropped his voice as a man who speaks of
ghostly and unhallowed things--"after you have gone to sleep?"

I wanted to tell him, but I wanted more strongly to triumph over him.
The rush of tenderness had passed. I could not forget the insult of
his tone to me, the jeering, biting contempt of his speeches. I longed
passionately to bring him down to my feet, to humble him, and then--to
raise him up. Love is a cruel sort of madness, a monster perfectionist.
My love for him could not forgive his blindness. He ought to have known,
he ought to have seen my soul too clearly to be so easy a dupe, and his
love for me ought to have driven him shuddering from those other lips.
It ought to have been his shield and weapon of defense, instead of his
lure.

"I have nothing to confess," I told him coldly. "Why should I confess to
you? You have come to this house to persecute and to insult me. How do
you dare"--I shook with a resurgent rage and disgust--"to speak to me
of--_kisses?_ When are you going away from this house? Or must I go,
and begin to struggle again, to hunt for work? If I had a brother or a
father or any protector strong enough to deal with the sort of man you
are, I should have you horse-whipped for your conduct to me! Oh, I
could strike you myself! I hate and loathe you!" I sobbed, having worked
myself up almost to the frenzy of the past night. "I want to punish you!
You have hurt and shamed me!" I fought for self-control. "Thank God! It
will soon be over."

I stood up, and tried to pass him. He held out his arms to bar me, and,
looking down at me, his face flushed and quivering, he said between his
teeth: "When it is over, as you must know, my dear Sphinx, one of us two
will be dead. I am not the first man, I fancy, that you have driven to
madness or worse. I hope I shall have the strength to make the world
safe from you before I go. That's what I live for now, though you've
made my life rather more of a hell than even I ever thought life could
be made."

Our eyes met, and the looks crossed like swords.

"Let me go out. Your faith is not much greater than your skill, Master
Detective-Lover. I think the outcome will astonish you. Let me go out, I
say."

He moved away, grim and pale, his jaws set, and I went out.

On my way to my room Mary met me in the hall. "I want to speak to you,"
she began; then broke off, "Oh, Miss Gale, dear, how bad you look!" she
said.

I was so glad to see her dear, honest, trusting, truthful face that I
put my head down on her shoulder, and cried like a baby in her arms. She
made me go to my room and lie down, she bathed my face and laid a cold,
wet cloth across my temples.

"Poor blessed girl!" she said in her nursey way, "she's all wore out.
Poor soul! Poor pretty!" A dozen such absurd and comforting ejaculations
she made use of, how comforting my poor motherless youth had never till
then let me know. When I was quieter she brought her sewing and sat
beside my bed, rocking and humming. She asked no questions; just told me
when I tried to apologize to "hush now and try to get a little nap." And
actually I did go to sleep.

I woke up as though on the crest of a resurgent wave of life. I sat on
my bed and smiled at Mary; then, gathering my knees in my hands, I said,
"Now, I'm all right again, nursey; tell me what you wanted to ask me
when you met me in the hall."

It was extraordinary how calm and clear I felt, how sufficient to myself
and able to meet what was coming and bring it to a triumphant end. With
what good and healing spirits do we sometimes walk when we are asleep.

"Don't hesitate, dear Mary. I'm done with my nonsense now. I'm perfectly
able to face any domestic crisis, from ghosts to broken china."

"Well, ma'am," said Mary, beginning to rock in an indignant, staccato
fashion--there are as many ways of rocking as there are moods in the one
who rocks--"it's that there Sara. Never, in all my days of service in
the old country and here, have I met with the like of her!"

"In what way? I mean, what _is_ she like?"

"Why, ma'am, she's like a whited sepulcher"--this time she pronounced it
"sep-looker"--"that's what she's like. She's as smooth and
soft-spoken as a pet dove, that she is"--Mary's similes were quite
extraordinary--"she fair coos, and so full of her 'ma'ams' and 'if you
pleases.' She's a good worker, too, steady and quiet, too quiet to
be nacheral. And, indeed, ma'am, nacheral it ain't, not for her. A
murderess at heart, miss, that's what she is."

I was startled. I gripped my knees more tightly.

"Yes, miss. Up to this mornin', though I can't say I had a likin' for
her, for that would n't be the truth, and I always hold to my mother's
sayin' of 'tell the truth and shame the devil'; but this mornin', ma'am,
I run into her quite by accident, a-standin' in the nursery--and what
she should be doin' in my blessed lamb's room I can't say, and a-cursin'
and a-swearin', and her face like a fury--O Lor', miss! I can't give you
no notion of what she was like, nor the langwidge; filth it was, ma'am,
though I should n't use the word. And, miss, I made sure it was you she
was in a rage with, a-stampin' and a-mouthin' there like the foul fiend.
She did n't know I was seein' her first-off, but when she did, the
shameless hussy went on as bad as before. Never did I see nor hear the
like of it. I tried to shame her, but it was like tryin' to shame a
witch's caldron, a-boilin' with cats' tongues and vipers', and dead
men's hands. Awful it was, to make your blood run cold! Miss Gale, you
had n't ought to keep the creature in the house. It ain't safe."

"Could you find out why she was so angry?"

"Indeed, ma'am, there was so much cursin' and sputterin' that I could
n't make out much sense to her, but it was somethin' about bein' made a
mock of and gettin' nothin' for your pains. She'd been glum all mornin',
miss, I seen that, and I'd left her alone. Her and Henry had been havin'
words at breakfast time, but _this_ was fair awful. Seems like as if she
had just kept the whole rumpus in her wickit breast till it boiled over
and she run into the nursery and let it go off, like some poison bottle
with the cork blown away, if you know what I mean. Miss, it ain't safe
to keep her in the house!"

I laughed a little.

"No, Mary, I don't believe it is very safe."

"Yes, miss. And that's not all. There is doin's I don't like in this
house, and I'd have come to you before, but it seems like I've made you
so much trouble in this place and you've been lookin' peaky--"

"You've been a perfect godsend to me, Mary!" I cried. "Please tell
me anything, everything. Never hesitate to come to me. Never delay an
instant."

"Well, ma'am, there's two or three things that has been vexin' me,
little things in themselves, but not reg'lar--now, that's what I say,
ma'am, you can stand anything so long as it's reg'lar. In the old
country now, as I told you, I worked in a haunted house, and the help
was told to expect a ghost and it come reg'lar every night a-draggin'
its chains up the stairs; but, bless me, did we mind it? Not a bit.'T
was all reg'lar and seemly, if you know what I mean, nothin' that you
could n't expect and prepare your mind for. What I don't like about the
happenin's here is they're most irreg'lar. There's no tellin' whatever
where they'll break out nor how."

This typically English distinction as to the desirable regularity of
apparitions amused me so much that I did not hurry Mary in her story.
She got back to it presently.

"Miss Gale, you know that long, gray cloak of yours with the rose-silk
linin'?"

"Yes, Mary." My heart did beat a trifle faster.

"And the little hat you leave with the cloak down in the front hall on
the rack behind the door?"

"Yes, Mary."....

"Well, miss,"--the rocking grew impressive, portentous, climatic.
"Somebody has been usin''em at night."

"Oh, Mary!"

"Yes, miss. And it must'a' been that Sara. Like as not she sneaks off
and meets some feller down the road, or even over to Pine Cone. And her
a married woman! Pleased she'd be to fix the blame of her bad doin's on
you. What would Mrs. Brane think, miss, if she seen you, one of these
moonlight nights as bright as day, a-walkin' away from her house at some
unseemly hour. Ir-reg'lar, she'd call it! Yes, miss. It makes my blood
boil!"

"It is certainly not a pleasant idea," I said dryly--"No, miss; to put
it mild, not pleasant, not a bit. Well, miss, I found your cloak this
morn-in' hangin' in its place and the hem drenched with dew. You can see
for yourself if you go down in the hall. Now, it stands to reason, if
you'd worn it yourself, the hem would n't'a' touched the grass hardly,
but a short woman like Sara is--"

"Unless I had sat down on a low rustic bench," I put in.

"Well, _miss_, was you out last night?"

"No, Mary--unless I've been walking in my sleep."

She looked a little startled, and stared at me with round, anxious eyes
to which tears came.

"Oh, miss, I don't think it. Really and truly I don't."

She had not seen the strand of red-gold hair about Robbie's fingers
and the kind soul had diligently weeded out any suspicions even of my
unconscious complicity in Robbie's death.

"Nor do I, Mary dear. In fact, I was broad awake all last night. I
never closed my eyes. Perhaps I drank too much coffee after dinner, or,
perhaps, it was the moon."

"There now!" The rocking became triumphant. "That proves it. Sara, it
must'a' been."

"What else, Mary? What are the other little things?"

"Why, ma'am, it seems foolish to mention 'em, but I just think I kinder
ought."

"Indeed you ought, Mary."

"I had to go down to the kitchen late last Friday night. Mrs. Brane
could n't sleep, and I thought I'd give her a glass of warm milk same as
I ust to give my poor lamb. Well, miss, I found the kitchen door locked;
the one at the foot of the back stairs, not the one that goes outdoors,
which nacherly would be fastened at night. The key was n't on my side of
the door, so it stands to reason't was locked on the kitchen side, and
Sara and Henry must'a' been in that kitchen, though it was dark, not a
glimmer under the door or through the keyhole, and not a sound--or else
they'd gone out the back way. Why should Sara lock her kitchen door and
go round the other way? Don't it seem a bit odd to you, ma'am? And when
I axed her the next mornin', she kinder snarled like and told me to mind
my own business, that the kitchen door was her affair, and that if I
valued my soul I'd best keep to my bed nights in this house."

We were silent for a moment while I digested this sinister injunction,
and the rocker "registered" the indignation of a respectable
Englishwoman.

"Anything else, Mary?" I asked at last.

Mary stopped rocking. She folded her hands on her work and her round
eyes took on a doubting, puzzled look.

"Yes, ma'am. One other thing. And maybe it means naught, and, maybe,
it means a lot. Deviltry it must be of some kind, I says, or else mere
foolishness." She paused, and I saw her face pucker tearfully. "You know
how I did love that pitiful little Robbie, miss?"

"Yes, Mary dear."

"Well, times when I feel like my heart would bust out with grievin', I
go off and away by myself somewhere and kinder mourn."

"Yes, you dear, faithful soul!"

"And I'm like to choose some spot that 'minds me of my lamb."

"Yes."

"Well,'t was only this mornin' that I woke up and missed him out of
common, so sweet he was when he waked up, and cheery as a robin! So,'t
was early, early mornin', the sun just up, and I crep' out quiet and
went out to the garden and sat down in the arbor where I ust to sit and
watch the little darlin' at his play--well, miss, I have to tell you
that I sat there cryin' like a baby, and 't was a while before I seen
that there lay a paper under the bench, like as if it might have fallen
there from a body's pocket. I picked it up, and't was covered with
heathenish writin'. Here. I kep' it in my apron to show you, miss."

She took the paper from her pocket, and I sprang up and seized it
eagerly. I had no doubt whatever that it had been lost by my double as
she sat with Paul last night. It was a letter in the Russian script. I
read it rapidly.

"Ever dear and honored madame, I await the summons of your necessity. A
message received here"--there followed a name and address of some town
in the county, unknown to me--"will bring me to Pine Cone in a few hours
by motor-cycle. I hold myself at your commands, and will lend you the
service of my knowledge in translating the Slavonic curiosity you have
described to me so movingly. I need not remind you of your promises.
One knows that they are never broken, even to death. Appoint a place
and hour. Meet me or send some accredited messenger. It could all be
arranged between sunrise and sunset or--should you prefer--between
sunset and sunrise. Do not forget your faithful servant, and the servant
of that Eternal Eye that watches the good and evil of this earthly
life."



CHAPTER XIII--THE SPIDER BITES


|I WAS so excited by the importance of Mary's accidental discovery that
I folded up the paper, thrust it into my pocket, and was turning towards
the desk, when Mary, in an aggrieved voice, recalled herself to my
attention.

"Well, miss, maybe it ain't my business, and, maybe, it is, and I don't
want to push myself forward, but--"

"Oh, Mary," I said, "indeed it is your business, and a very important
business, too, and just as soon as I think it safe to tell you, I will,
every word of it; only I have to ask you to trust me just a little bit
further, and to let me make use of this paper. You don't imagine how
terribly important it is to me!"

I could see that Mary was shocked by my uncanny knowledge. "Indeed, Miss
Gale, if you can make anything out of that heathen writin'--"

I smiled as reassuringly as I could. "It is not heathenish. It is
Russian, and it was written by a sort of clergy man."

"Oh, miss! And under the rustic bench in our arbor!"

"Yes, Mary. I know it all sounds as wild as a dream, and I can't explain
it just yet, but you will trust me, Mary, a little longer, and keep the
secret of this paper to yourself? Don't mention it; don't even whisper
of it; don't show that you have ever heard of such a thing--everything
depends upon this."

Mary had stood up, and now smoothed down her apron and drew in a
doubtful, whistling breath which she presently expelled in sharp, little
tongue-clicks--"Teks! Teks! Teks!" I translated all this readily. She
did not like my superior and secret knowledge; she did not like my air
of cool captaincy; she did not like my reserve, nor my disposal of her
"devil-paper." But the good soul could not help but be loyalty itself.
She made no more protest than that of the "Teks!"--then said, in a
rather sad but perfectly dependable voice, "Very good, miss."

I came over and patted her on the shoulder.

"Mary, you are the best woman in the world and the best friend I ever
had."

This brought her around completely. Her natural, honest, kindly smile
broke out upon her face.

"Bless you, miss," she said heartily, "I'd do most anything for you. You
can trust me not to speak of the paper."

"I know I can, Mary dear."

When she had gone I did go over to my desk and took out a slip of paper.
After some careful thinking I printed in ink a few lines in Russian
script.

"At eleven o'clock of next Wednesday morning I will meet you in the
ice-cream parlor of the only drug-store in Pine Cone. Be prepared to
translate the Slavonic curiosity, and be assured of a reward." I dared
not risk any signature, but, for fear there might be something in these
lines that would rouse the suspicion of their authenticity, I racked my
brain for some signal that might be a convincing one. At last I pulled
out a red-gold hair from my head, placed it on the paper as though it
had fallen there, and folded it in. Then I put my paper into a blank
envelope, which I sealed and secreted in my dress. This done, I tore
the letter Mary had found into a hundred minute pieces and burned
them, hiding the ashes in my window-box of flowers. I had memorized the
address and name of Mr. Gast.

At lunch I asked Mrs. Brane, who had sufficiently recovered from her
headache to appear, whether she would n't like me to go over to Pine
Cone and buy her the shade hat for which she had been longing ever
since Mary had reported the arrival of some Philippine millinery in the
principal shop. I said that I felt the need of a good, long walk.

Henry, without a flicker of interest in my request, went on with perfect
and discreet performance of table-duty, but I felt that he was mentally
pricking up his ears. He must have wondered what the purpose of my
expedition really was. I hoped that, if any rumor of it reached the
ears of my double, she would take the precaution of keeping close in
her mysterious hiding-place during my absence. It was absurd how I felt
responsible for the life of every member of the household. Paul Dabney
did not ask to accompany me on my walk, though Mrs. Brane evidently
expected him to. He was absent and silent at lunch, crumbled his bread,
and wore his air of demure detachment like a shield. He was as white as
the table napery, but had a cool, self-reliant expression that for some
reason annoyed me.

I started on my long and lonely walk about half an hour after lunch. I
was nervous and fearful, and wished that I, too, had a pocket such as
Paul Dabney's bulging one where, so often, I fancied he kept his right
hand on the smooth handle of an automatic. I thought scornfully of his
timidity. My own danger was so enormously greater than his, and his own
was so enormously greater than he could possibly suspect.

I must confess, however, that it taxed my nerve severely to cross the
bridge over the quicksand that afternoon. It had been mended, of course,
the very evening of Paul's accident but I tested every plank before I
gave it my weight, and I clung to the railing with both clammy hands.
Not until I reached the other bank did I let the breath out of my lungs.

On the dusty, shady highroad courage returned to me, and I walked ahead
at a good pace. I did want very strongly to reach that bridge again
before dark. I would not trust my letter to the rural delivery box near
"The Pines" lane. I was determined to mail it at the post-office, and
to be sure that it went out by the evening mail. I was successful,
addressed the blank envelope, and slipped it in, bought Mrs. Brane's
hat, and, hurrying home, found myself in time for five o'clock tea. I
had met with no misadventure of any kind; not even a shadow had fallen
on my path; but I was as tired as though I had been through every terror
that had tormented my imagination. I went to bed that night and slept
well.

The four days that followed the mailing of my letter were as still as
the proverbial lull before the storm. We all went quietly about our
lives. Whatever mutiny was hidden in the souls of Henry and his female
accomplice smouldered there without explosion. Sara, indeed, was sullen,
and obeyed my orders with an air of resentment. Paul Dabney seemed to be
immersed in study. It looked to me sometimes as though every one in
the house was waiting, as breathlessly and secretly as I was, for the
meeting with that unknown Servant of the Eternal Eye. Certainly it
was curious that on the very Wednesday morning Mrs. Brane should have
decided to send Gregory, the old horse, to Pine Cone, for a new pair of
shoes, and that she should herself have suggested my going with George
for a little outing. Her face was perfectly innocent, but I could
not refrain from asking her, "What made you think of sending me, Mrs.
Brane?"

She gave me a knowing, teasing little look. "Somebody takes a great
interest in your health, proud Maisie," she said.

Paul Dabney! I was not a little startled by the opportuneness of his
interest. It was, to say the least, a trifle odd that he should want me
to drive to Pine Cone on the very morning of my appointment. I was half
minded to refuse to drive with George, then decided that this refusal
would only serve to point any suspicion that Paul Dabney might be
entertaining of me, so I agreed meekly to the arrangement and set off in
due time seated in the brake-cart by George's substantial side. He was
undoubtedly a comfort to me, and I kept him chattering all the way. He
had lost the air of bravado he had shown on our first drive together,
for "The Pines" had been, to all appearances, a place of supreme
tranquillity since Robbie's death. His talk was all of the country-side,
a string of complaints. The roads needed mending, the fences were down,
"government don't do nothin' fer this yere po' place." He pointed out
a tall, ragged, dead pine near a turn in the road, I remember, and
groaned, "Jes a tech to send that tree plum oveh yeah on the top of
us-all, missy." This complaint was one of a hundred and stuck in my mind
because of later happenings.

We jogged into Pine Cone at eleven, and I occupied myself variously till
the hour of the appointment, when, with a sickish feeling of nervous
suspense, I forced my steps towards the drug-store. I went in through
the fly-screen door, and passed the soda-water fountain and the counters
where stale candy and coarse calicoes beckoned for a purchaser, and I
went on between green rep, tasseled portières to the damp, dark, inner
room where the marble-topped tables, vacant of food, seemed to attract,
by some mysterious promise, a swarm of dull and sluggish flies whose
mournful buzzing filled the stagnant air.

There was one person in the ice-cream parlor--a man. I moved doubtfully
towards him, and he lifted his head. This head was a replica of the
pre-Raphaelite figures of Christ, a long, oval, high-browed countenance,
with smooth, long, yellow hair parted in the middle of the brow, with
oblong eyes, a long nose, a mouth drooping exaggeratedly at the corners,
and a very long, silky, yellow beard, also parted in the middle and
hanging in two rippling points almost to his waist. He was dressed in
a rusty black suit, the very long sleeves of which hung down quite over
his hands.

At sight of me he turned pale, rose, the dolorous mouth drooping more
extremely. "Madame," he said in the lisping, clumsy speech of those
whose supply of teeth falls short of lingual demands, "is as prompt as
the justice of Heaven." And he bowed and cringed painfully.

I sat down opposite to him, and gave the languid, pimply-faced youth who
came an order for two plates of ice-cream. I was horribly embarrassed
and confused, but by a mighty effort I maintained an air of
self-possession. The priest--I should have known him for a renegade
priest anywhere--sat meekly with his hidden hands resting on the table
before him, and his great, smooth lids pulled down over his eyes. Once
he looked up for an instant.

"Madame preserves her youth," he lisped, "as though she had lived upon
the blood of babes." And he ran the tip of his tongue over his lips.

This horrible speech was, no doubt, exactly suited to the taste of my
counterpart. I knew that I was expected to laugh, and I dragged my lips
across my teeth in imitation of the ghastly smile. It passed muster.

He fell upon his ice-cream, when it was brought to him, like a starved
creature, and then I noticed the horrible deformity of his hands. He
hooked a twisted stump about the handle of his spoon. Nearly all the
fingers were gone; what was left were mere torn fragments of bone and
tendon. His hands must have been horribly crushed, the top part of the
hands crushed off entirely. It made me sick to look at them.

I produced my chart, and passed it over to him. He paused in his repast,
wiped off his lips and beard, took out a blank sheet of paper from one
of his ragged pockets, and translated with great rapidity, scribbling
down the lines with a stump of a pencil about which he wrapped his
crooked index stump very cleverly. He grew quite hot with excitement as
he wrote; his enormous forehead turned pink. He smacked his lips:
"_Nu_, madame, _Boje moe_, what a reward for your great, your excellent
courage!"

He handed back both pages to me, and began on his ice-cream again. I
took the translation and read it eagerly.

"The crown alone is worth every risk, almost every crime. Each jewel
is a fortune to dream about. The robe is encrusted with the wealth of
magic. If each stone is taken out and offered cautiously for sale at
different and widely separated places, the danger of detection would now
be very slight. You will have at each sale the dowry of a queen. And all
of this splendor is hidden in the wall. There are two ways of reaching
it. The easier is through the hole in the kitchen closet, the closet
under the stairs. These are directions, easy to remember and easier to
follow: Go up the sixteen steps, go along the passage to the inclined
plane. Ascend the inclined plane. Count five rafters from the first
perpendicular rafter from the top of the plane on your left side. The
fifth rafter, if strongly moved, pulls forward. Behind it, on end,
stands the iron box. The key is hidden back of the eighteenth brick to
the left of the fifth rafter on the row which is the thirtieth from the
floor of the passage. Have courage, have self-control, have always a
watchful eye for Her. She knows."

This was not signed. Now, I did a careful thing. I read this translation
over five or six times. And then I memorized the directions. Sixteen
steps up, ascend the inclined plane, five rafters from the one on your
left at the top of the plane, the eighteenth brick to the left of the
fifth rafter in the thirtieth row. And then I repeated "sixteen, five,
eighteen, thirty," till they made an unforgettable jingle in my brain.

"You will not forget me, madame?" murmured the priest, this time in
Russian. "Madame ruined me, and madame will lift me up." I lifted my
eyes from the paper and smiled that horrible smile.

"I will not forget you," I said in the same tongue. "You will still be
at the address?"

"Until you advise me to change it," he said cringingly.

"Excellent. _Do svedania_."

He stood up and blessed me. I bent my head, and he stalked out, his
long, light hair flapping against his shoulders as he walked. The clerks
at the drug-store counter gaped and tittered at him. I followed him to
the door. There he made me another bow, smiled a big, toothless smile,
mounted his motor-cycle, and went off at a tremendous speed, his
deformed hands hooked over the bars, the wind of his own motion sending
the long points of his beard flying behind him like pennons.

A few moments after his departure another man came out of the saloon
opposite, walked quickly to another motor-cycle, mounted it, and went
humming after the cloud of dust that hid my mysterious translator.

It was odd that sleepy Pine Cone should at the same time entertain two
such travelers on this vehicle; it was even more odd that the second
traveler bore so extraordinary a likeness to one of Mrs. Brane's outdoor
men, those whom she had described to me as her pet charity.

I might have followed this train of thought to its logical conclusion,
I might even have remembered that one of these same men had followed the
Baron's departure from "The Pines," had I not, at the moment, glanced in
the opposite direction and seen, far along the wide, dusty highway, the
departing brake-cart with George's fat person perched upon its seat. I
was possessed by indignation. He was actually leaving Pine Cone without
me. He was already too far away to hear my angry shout even if he had
not been deaf. As I watched helplessly, Gregory reached the top of the
hill, deliberately passed it, and pulled the brake-cart, dilapidated
whip, fat George, and all, out of my sight. There was nothing for it but
a walk home. I got a wretched lunch in the ice cream parlor, and set out
in no very good humor. As soon as I was out of sight of the town, I took
out my translation of the chart, refreshed my memory for the last time,
tore it into a thousand tiny bits, and buried the shreds deep in the
sandy soil of the roadside. I kept the original Slavonic writing in the
bosom of my dress. I meant in my own good time to let this paper fall
into the hands of the thieves, and so, having notified the police, to
catch them in the very hiding-place.

I stepped along rapidly. It was now past noon, a mild November day
of Indian summer warmth and softness; the pines swung their fragrant
branches against the sky. It was very still and pleasant on the woody
road. I was really glad that George had forgotten me. As I came round
one of the pretty turns of the road I heard a great, groaning rush of
sound, and, hurrying my steps, found that the great dead pine George had
pointed out to me had, indeed, true to his prophecy, fallen across the
road. It was a great, ragged giant of a tree, and as the bank on one
side of the road was steep and high, I was forced to go well into the
woods on the other, and to circle about the enormous root which stood
up like a wall between me and the road. Back of the tree I stepped down
into a hollow, and, as I stepped, looking carefully to my footing, for
the ground was very rough, a heavy smother of cloth fell over my head
and shoulders, and I was thrown violently backward to the ground. At the
same instant the stuff was pulled tight across my mouth. I could hardly
breathe, much less cry out. I was half suffocated and blind as a mole.
My arms were seized, and drawn back of me and tied at the wrists. The
hands that did this were fine and cold, and strong as steel. They were
a woman's hands, and I could feel the brush of skirts. It froze my blood
to know that I was being handled and trussed up by a pitiless image of
myself.

Having made me entirely blind, dumb, and helpless as a log, the creature
proceeded to search me with the most intolerable thoroughness. Of
course, the paper I had taken from the bookcase was promptly found, and
I heard a little gasp of satisfaction, followed by a low oath when she
discovered the nature of the script. She was no doubt furious at not
being able to find any translation. I was roughly handled, dragged about
on the stony ground, tossed this way and that, while the cold, hurried,
clever fingers thrust themselves through my clothing. At last they
fairly stripped me, every article was shaken out or torn apart, a
knife cut off the top of my head-covering, leaving my face in its tight
smother, my hair was taken down, shaken out, combed with hasty and
painful claws. When, after a horrible lifetime of fear and disgust,
anger and pain, the thing that handled me discovered that there was
really nothing further of any value to her upon me, she gave way to
a fury of disappointment. There, in the still woods, she cursed with
disgusting oaths, she beat me with her hands, with branches she found
near me on the ground.

"Discipline," she said, "discipline, and be thankful, my girl, that I
don't do you a worse injury. I can't stand being angry unless I make
somebody squirm for it. Besides, I mean you to lie quiet for a day or
two, till I need you again."

I did squirm, and she showed no mercy.

Nevertheless, she began to be afraid, I suppose, of being discovered at
her cruelty. She threw my clothes over me, laughed at my plight, and I
heard her light footsteps going away from me into the woods.

I lay there, raging, sobbing, struggling, till long after dusk, then,
my hands becoming gradually loosened, I wriggled one hand free, tore the
rope from the other, rid myself of the sacking on my head and sat up,
panting, trembling, exhausted, bathed in sweat. Slowly I got into my
clothes and smoothed my torn hair, crying with the pain of my hurts.
It had been an orgy of rage and cruelty, and I had been, God knows, a
helpless victim. Nevertheless, the discipline inflicted upon me did not
break my spirit. I was lashed and stung to a cold rage of hatred and
disgust. I would outwit the creature, hunt her down, and give her
to justice so that she might suffer for her sins. I could not well
understand the furious boldness of her action of this afternoon. Why did
she leave me to make my escape, to go back to "The Pines," to tell my
story and so to set the police on her track? For some reason she must
rely on my holding my tongue. As I stumbled on my painful way, the
reason came to me with some certainty. She thought that I, too, meant to
steal the fortune. It would not enter the head of a criminal that such
a temptation could be resisted by a penniless girl of my history. And,
indeed, what other explanation could she possibly entertain for my
previous secretiveness? Naturally, she could not understand my desire to
triumph over Paul Dabney. And this desire was as strong in me as ever
it had been. Indeed, I felt that in a certain way the events of the
afternoon left me with slight advantage over my double. It was now a
race between us. She knew that I was on the track of the treasure; she
knew that I knew of her intentions. I had the translation; she had not.
She would have it soon enough, I was sure; therefore I must be quick. No
later than that night, or, at farthest, the following night, while she
still fancied me laid up by the beating I had received, I must contrive
to get at Mrs. Brane's fortune. Dreadful as my experience had been, I
was still bent upon the success of my venture; truly I believe I was
more bent upon it.

If I failed now, there was no knowing what consequences might fall upon
"The Pines" household and upon me. Very easily--I trembled to think how
easily--some member of the family might be murdered and I be made to
appear the murderess. I had, by my bold course, provided blind justice
with a half-dozen witnesses against my innocence. The Baron, the priest,
Sara, Henry, Paul Dabney--not one of them but could stand up and swear
to my criminality, perhaps to a score of past crimes.

As I limped and stumbled home, wiping the tears from my eyes and the
blood from my chafed face, I decided to keep the truth of my adventure
to myself. An accident of some kind I must invent to explain my plight.
I decided that the fallen pine would have to bear the blame for my cuts
and bruises. I would say that I had been caught by the slashing outer
branches as it fell.

Before I reached the gateway of "The Pines," in fact, just as I was
dragging myself up the steep slope from the swamp, a will-o'-the-wisp
of light came dancing to meet me. The circle of its glow presently made
visible the unmistakable flat feet of George, who, at sight of me, broke
into a chant of relief and of reproach.

He set down his lamp before me and held up his hands.

"My lordamassy, Miss Gale, what fo' yo' put dis yere po' ole nigger in
sech a wo'ld o' mis'ry? Here am Massa Dabney a-tarin' up de groun' all
aroun' about hie an' a-callin' me names coz I done obey yo' instid o'
him. An' he done gib me one dolleh, yessa, an' yo'-all done gib me two.
I tole him de trufe. Yessa, I says, one dolleh done tuk me to Pine Cone
an' two dollehs done bring me back."

I pushed my hair from my tired forehead. "You mean I told you to drive
home without me, George?"

George danced a nigger dance of despair--a sort of cake-walk, grotesque
and laughable in the circle of lantern-light.

"Oh, lawsamassy, don' nobody 'member nothin' they done say to a po' ole
niggerman like George? Yo' come out, miss, while I was a-harnessin'
Gregory, an' yo' gib de dollehs an' yo' say, 'Be sho to drive away back
to de house af teh Gregory got his new shoes without waitin' fer me.'
Yo' say yo' like de walk. There, now! Yo'-all do commence to begin to
recollec', don' yo'?"

"Yes, yes. I do, of course, George," I agreed faintly--what use to
disclaim this minor action of my double? "Give me your arm, there's a
good fellow. I've been hurt."

He was as tender as a "mammy," all but carried me up to the house and
handed me over to Paul Dabney, who was pacing the hall like a caged
tiger, and who received me with a feverish eagerness, rather like the
pounce of a watchful beast of prey. I told my story--or, rather, my
fabrication--to him and Mrs. Brane and Mary. Paul did not join in the
ejaculation of sympathy and affection; he tried to be stoically cynical
even in the face of my quite apparent weakness and pain, but I thought
his eyes and mouth corners rather betrayed his self-control, and he
helped me carefully, with a sort of restrained passion, up to my room,
where I refused poor Mary's offers of help and ministered to myself as
best I could.

I was really in a pitiful condition; the beating had been delivered with
the intention of laying me up, and I began to think that it would be
successful. I don't mind admitting that I cried myself to sleep that
night.



CHAPTER XIV--MY FIRST MOVE


|THE woman who had so unmercifully used me had not taken into account
the fact that the spirit is stronger than the flesh. Certainly, the next
morning I wanted nothing so much as to lie still in my bed for a week.
My cuts and bruises were stiff and sore; I ached from head to foot.
But my resolution was strong. I had my meals sent up to me that day,
however, but in the evening, after dinner, I sent for Sara.

She came and presented herself, sullen and impassive, at the foot of my
bed. I fixed my eyes on her as coldly and malevolently as I could.

"Sara," I said, "as you see, I chose to be laid up to-day."

She grinned.

"Now, without a moment's delay I want you to leave for Pine Cone and
stay there for the next twenty-four hours, or until I send for you."

She looked surprised and reluctant, a red flush came up into her big
face.

"So's you can make off with the swag," she muttered; then shrank at the
scowl I gave her, and made an awkward and unwilling apology.

"All right, then," she said. "How about the work? What about Mrs.
Brane?"

"I'll make it right with Mrs. Brane," I said crisply. "Trust me for
that. Now, before you go, step over to the desk there and write what I
tell you."

She obeyed, and I dictated slowly: "Meet me on bridge at eleven o'clock
to-night. Wait for me till I come. Maida."

She looked at me with her lids narrowed suspiciously, and my heart
quailed, but the moment of inspection passed. In fact, nobody could have
imagined the resemblance that undoubtedly existed between the leader of
the enterprise and my wretched, daring self.

"Who's that for?" she asked, "and what's up? Ain't I to know anything?
What price all this?"

"What price!" I echoed, "just our lives--that's all. Do as I say, and
you'll be a wealthy woman in a fortnight. Don't do it, even a little of
it, and--and perhaps you can guess where and what you will be."

She gave me a hunted look, glanced about the room over her shoulder,
and, obedient to my gesture, handed me the paper she had written.

"And no questions asked," I added sternly. "Don't let me hear another
word of it. Now, get my cloak and hat and leave them in the kitchen
on the chair near the stove. Get out as soon as you can; don't wait a
minute. And leave the kitchen door unlocked. Go all the way to Pine Cone
and stay in the room above the drug-store. The woman is always ready to
take a boarder. I'll send you word before to-morrow night. Get out, and
be quick. Above all, don't be on the bridge to-night."

She vanished like a shadow, and I sat waiting with a pounding heart. If
she fell in with that red-haired double now, my game was up. Everything
depended upon her leaving the house without any conflicting orders,
without her suspecting my duplicity.

I sat up in bed till it seemed to me that she had had time to get my hat
and cloak and to make her own preparations. Then, wincing with pain, I
dragged myself up and limped over to my window. A moment later Sara came
round the corner of the house and started down the road. There was just
enough twilight for me to make her out. She walked slowly and doggedly,
carrying a little bag in her hand. I wondered if Mary would come flying
to me with the news of this departure, or if Mrs. Brane and Paul Dabney
would observe it. No attempt was made to stop her, however, or to call
her back. She went on stolidly, and stolidly passed out of my sight. It
was in strange circumstances that I saw her big, handsome face again.

I waited till I thought she must have had time to reach the lane outside
of "The Pines" gate, then I began painfully, slowly to creep into my
clothes. Often I had to rest; several times I stopped to cry for pain.
But I kept on, and at last I stood fully dressed before my mirror. My
mouth was cut and torn; my face scratched; a raw patch on one cheek; the
marks of the branch lay red across the base of my neck, and burned about
my shoulders. The sight of my injuries and the pain of them, throbbing
afresh with movement, inflamed my anger and my courage. I moved about
the room several times, gradually limbering myself; then I went quietly
out of my room and down the hall towards the kitchen stairs. It was
then about ten o'clock. Mrs. Brane and Paul Dabney were probably in
the drawing-room, quietly sipping their coffee; Mary would be upstairs
preparing Mrs. Brane's bedroom for the night; Henry would have washed up
his dishes and be gone upstairs to his room, unless he had received some
further orders from the hidden mistress of the house. I had to take this
risk. I stole down the kitchen stairs, and, opening the door a crack,
I peeped into the kitchen. The lamp had been turned low, the fire was
banked up for the night. A plate, with cup and fork and spoon, was laid
out on the kitchen table, and on the back of the stove a frying-pan full
of food was set to keep warm. What a _gourmande_ Sara must think her
leader whom she saw eating heartily enough at Mrs. Brane's table, but
who insisted, besides, on a heavy meal at night! I thought I knew who
would presently appear to enjoy her supper. She would fancy the kitchen
door securely locked; she would fancy that I was successfully laid by
the heels. I wondered what her plans for the night might be. I set my
teeth hard to keep down the rage that mounted in me at the very thought
of her. Sara had obediently placed my cloak and hat on one of the
kitchen chairs. I decided that there was no time to waste. I slipped
quickly into the room--I was in stocking feet--locked the kitchen door,
hid the key in my pocket, put the note that I had dictated to Sara
under the plate on the table, and then, stealing softly to the door of
a narrow closet where Sara kept her brooms, I squeezed myself in and
locked the door on the inside. When the key was removed, I put my eye
to the large, worn keyhole, and had a clear but limited view of the dim,
empty room. I knelt as comfortably as I could, for I knew that I should
have to keep my position without the motion of a finger when the room
should have an occupant. My heart beat heavily and loudly, my hurts
throbbed at every beat. It was a painful, a well-nigh unbearable
half-hour that I spent cramped there in the closet, waiting, waiting,
waiting.... At last--such a long last--there came the ghostly sound of a
step.

It drew nearer; I heard a faint noise of shifting boards, the door of
the low closet under the stairs opened, and out stepped the hideous
image of myself. The shock of that resemblance almost sent me off into
a faint. I had seen the creature only once face to face; now, in the dim
light of the kitchen lamp, I studied her features. Disfigured by passion
and guilt, it was nevertheless my face. This woman was older, certainly,
by many years, but a touch of paint and powder, the radiance of
moonlight, might easily disguise the lines and shadows. She was as
slender as a girl, and a clever actress could simulate a look of
innocence. I almost forgave Paul Dabney as I watched this other "Me"
move about the kitchen on her noiseless feet.

She went to the stove, took up the frying-pan, and carried it over
to the table. On the way she noticed my cloak and hat and stopped,
evidently startled, holding the pan in her hands. She glanced nervously
about the room, went over to the door that was at the foot of the stairs
and tried it. I was thankful that I had taken the precaution of locking
it. I hoped she would not notice that the key was gone. She returned
to the table and sat down before the plate. Then she saw the note
and snatched it up. She bent her fiery head, arranged so carefully in
imitation of mine, over the writing. I saw her lips move. She looked
up frowning, uncertain, surprised. Then she walked over to the stove,
thrust Sara's note into the fire, returned, and stood in deep thought in
the middle of the room. I was sick with suspense. Clouds passed over my
eyes. Would she fall into my clumsy trap? Presently she walked slowly
over to my cloak and hat and put them on. With the hat pressing her soft
hair down about her face, she was so terribly like me that my uncanny
fears returned. She must be some spirit clothed in my aura, possessing
herself in some infernal fashion of my outward semblance. A cold sweat
had broken out over me. I felt it run down my temples.

Another long minute she stood there, debating with herself; then she
looked at the clock, made use of her ghastly smile, and stepped quietly
across the kitchen and out into the night. I waited--a fortunate
precaution--for she came back five minutes later and peered about. There
was nothing to alarm her since she could not hear the pounding of my
heart. She decided to follow the instructions, and again disappeared. I
waited another fifteen minutes, then, cold with fear and excitement, I
came out of my hiding-place. I glided over to the door, and looked out.
It was a dark and cloudy night. I could hear the swinging and rustling
of the trees. There was no other sound, nor could I see anything astir
in the little garden except the gate which was ajar and creaking faintly
on its hinges. She had gone.

I came back hastily into the kitchen and lighted a candle which was
stuck into a tin candlestick on a shelf. I looked at the clock. It was
now half-past ten. In half an hour the woman would reach the bridge. She
would wait for Maida, perhaps an hour, perhaps not so long; after that,
she would be suspicious and return. I had therefore not more than an
hour, with any certainty, to follow the directions I had memorized; to
rifle the hoard, and to make my escape from the thief's hiding-place.
Then I would telephone to the Pine Cone police.

I opened the door of the low closet under the stairs.



CHAPTER XV--THE SECRET OF THE KITCHEN CLOSET


|I LIGHTED my candle and stepped into the closet, shutting the door
behind me. The small space, no longer cluttered by old odds and ends of
gardening tools, was clear to my eyes in every corner, and presented
so commonplace an appearance that I was almost ready to believe that
nightmares had possessed me lately, and that an especially vivid one had
brought me to stand absurdly here in the sleeping house peering at an
innocent board wall. Nevertheless, I set down my candle on the floor and
attacked the boards put up by Henry with what skill and energy I could.

They moved at once as though they were on oiled hinges, and the whole
low side of the closet came forward in my hands. Before me opened the
black hole into which I had fallen the morning when Mary and I had
explored the kitchen after Delia's departure. I did not know what lay
there in the dark, but, unless I had the courage of my final adventure,
there was no use in having braved and endured so much. I slid my lighted
candle ahead of me and crept along the floor into the hole.

I had to creep only for an instant, then damp, cool space opened above
my head and I stood up. I was in a narrow passageway of enormous height;
in fact, the whole outer wall of the house stood at my right hand, and
the whole inner wall at my left, crossed here and there by the beams of
the deep window sills to which Mrs. Brane had called my attention on the
evening of my arrival at "The Pines." It was the most curious place. A
foot or two in front of me a narrow stairs made of packing-boxes and odd
pieces of lumber nailed together, went up between the walls. Holding my
candle high, so that as far as possible I could see before and above
me, I began to mount the steps. I was weak with excitement and with the
heavy beating of my heart.

I counted sixteen steps, and saw that I had come to the top of the queer
flight. The narrow, enormously high, passage, like an alley between
towering sky-scrapers led on with an odd look, somewhere ahead of me
sloping up. I walked perhaps twenty steps, and saw that I had come to
the foot of an inclined plane. Probably Mr. Brane had found it easier of
construction than his amateur stairs. I mounted it slowly, stopping to
listen and to hold my breath. There was no sound in the house but the
faint scuttling of rats and the faint, faint pressure of my steps. I
realized that I must now be on a level with the passage in the northern
wing, and that here it was that the various housekeepers and servants
had heard a ghostly footfall or a gusty sigh. It would be easy enough to
play ghost here; in fact, I felt like an unholy spirit entombed between
the walls of the sleeping, unsuspecting house.

I reached the top of the inclined plane, and stopped with my left
hand against the wall. Here I could see a long row of parallel rafters
between which ran horizontal beams. In the spaces so enclosed lay the
rows of bricks, hardened cement curling along their edges. My hand
rested against the first parallel rafter on the left side. I began to
count: one, two, three, four, five. This was certainly the fifth rafter
on the left wall from the top of the inclined plane. I put down my
candle. If my chart was right, and not the crazy fiction of a diseased
brain as I half imagined it to be, this fifth rafter hid the iron box
in which lay a treasure thought by the writer of the directions to be
"worthy of any risk, almost of any crime." I put my arms out at a
level with my shoulders, and grasped the beam in both hands. I pulled.
Instantly, a section about as long as myself moved forward. I pulled
again. This time the heavy beam came out suddenly, and I fell with it.
The thud seemed to me loud enough to wake the dead. I crouched, holding
my breath, where I had fallen, then, freeing myself from the beam which
had caught my skirt, I stood up. I peered into the opening behind the
beam. In the narrow darkness of the space there seemed to be a narrower,
denser darkness. I put my hand on it, and touched the edge of a long,
narrow box.

Instantly the fascination of all stories of hidden treasure, the wonder
thrill of Ali Baba's hidden cave, the spell of Monte Cristo, had me, and
I felt no fear of any kind. Wounds, and pains, and terrors dropped from
me. I pulled out the box as boldly and as eagerly as any pirate in a
tale. It was heavy, the box. I eased it to the floor and laid it flat.
It was an old, shallow box of iron, rusted and stained. There was no
mark of any kind upon it, just a keyhole in the front. I must now find
the eighteenth brick in the thirtieth row in order to possess myself of
the key to my treasure. I counted carefully, pressing each brick with an
unsteady, feverish finger. On the thirtieth row from the floor, eighteen
bricks from the fifth rafter... yes, this was certainly the thirtieth
row. I counted twice to make sure, and now, from the rafter, the
eighteenth brick. It looked quite as secure as any other, and, indeed,
I had to work hard to clear away the cement that held it in place. When
that was done, I had no difficulty in loosening it. I took it out--yes,
there behind it lay an iron key. I did not stop to replace the brick,
but, hurrying back to my box, knelt down before it. My hands were
shaking so that I had to steady my right with my left in order to fit in
the key.

It would not turn. I worked and twisted and poked. Nothing would move
the rusty lock. Sweat streamed down my face. There was nothing for it
but to go back to the kitchen, get some kerosene, pour it into the lock,
and so oil the rusty contrivance. Every minute was as precious as life
itself. I made the trip at desperate speed, returned with a small bottle
full of oil, and saturated the lock. After another five minutes of
fruitless twisting, suddenly the key turned. I grasped the lid. It
opened with a faint, protesting squeak.

It seemed to me at first that the box was full of bright and moving
life; then I saw, with a catching breath, that the flame of my candle
played across the surface of a hundred gems. There lay in the box an
ecclesiastical robe of some kind, encrusted all over with jewels. And
at one end rested a slender circlet, like a Virgin's crown, studded
with crimson, and blue, and white, and yellow stones. So did the whole
bewildering, beautiful thing gleam and glisten and shoot sparks that
it seemed indeed to be on fire. I have never till that night felt the
mysterious lure of precious stones. Kneeling there alone in the strange
hiding-place, I was possessed by an intolerable longing to escape with
these glittering things, and to live somewhere in secret, to fondle
and cherish their unearthly fires. It was a thirst, an appetite, the
explanation of all the terrible digging and delving, the sweat and the
exhaustion of the mine... it was something akin to the hypnotism that
the glittering eye of the serpent has for its victim, a desire, a peril
rooted deep in the hearts of men, one of the most mysterious things in
our mysterious spirit. I knelt there, forgetful of my danger, forgetful
of my life, forgetful of everything except the beauty of those stones.
Then, with a violent start, I remembered. I carefully drew out the
robe, laid it over my arm, and, taking the heavy circlet in my hand, I
prepared myself for flight. The load was extraordinarily heavy. I bent
under it.

I had taken perhaps six steps towards safety when I heard a sound.

It was not the sound of rats, it was not the sound of my own light
step... it was something else. I did not know what that sound was, but
some instinct told me that it was a danger signal. I put out my candle
and flattened myself against the wall. Then I did distinctly hear an
approaching step. It was not anywhere else in the house. It was between
those two walls. It was ascending the steps, it was coming up the plane.
Through the pitchy darkness it advanced, bringing with it no light, but
moving surely as though it knew every step of the way. There was hardly
room for two people between those high walls; any one passing me, where
I stood, must brush against me. I dared not move even to lay down my
treasure and put myself into an attitude of self-defense.

I thought that my only chance lay in the miracle of being passed without
notice. Near to me the footsteps stopped, and I remembered that any foot
coming along the passage would perforce strike against the box and the
fallen beam. There was no hope. Nevertheless, like some frozen image, I
stood there clasping the robe and crown, incapable of motion, incapable
of thought.

I could hear a faint breathing in the dark. It was not more than two
feet away from me. It seemed to my straining eyeballs that I could make
out the lines of a body standing there, its blank face turned in my
direction. Then--my heart leaped with the terror of it--the invisible
being laughed.

"You have n't gone," said the low, sweet, horrible voice; "I can smell
the candle, so you must have put it out when you heard me. If I had n't
struck my foot against a board, I'd have come upon you in the midst of
your interesting work. There's no place to hide here. You've either
run back to the end of the passage and crept in under my bedclothes, or
you're flattened up against the wall. I think you're near me. I think I
hear your heart..." No doubt, she did; it was laboring like a ship in
a storm. She paused probably to listen to my pounding blood, then she
laughed again. "You're badly scared, aren't you? It's a feeling of
security, my girl, compared to the fright you'll get later. Why don't
you scream? Too scared? Or are you afraid you'll kill somebody else,
besides Robbie, of fright. A ghost screaming in the wall! Grrrrrr!"

I can give no idea of the terrible sound she made in her throat. And
the truth was I could n't scream. I was pinned there against the wall as
though there were hands around my neck.

She made a step forward--it was like a ghastly game of Blind Man's Buff;
most of those games must be based on fearful race-memories of outgrown
terrors; then she gave a sudden spring to one side, an instinctive,
beastlike movement, and her hand struck my face. Instantly she had flung
herself upon me. I let fall my booty and fought with all my strength. I
might as well have struggled with a tigress. She was made of strings
of steel. Her arms and legs twisted about me like serpents, her furious
strength was disgusting, loathsome, her breath beat upon my face. I fell
under her, and she turned up my skirt over my head, fastening it in the
darkness with such devilish quick skill that I could not move my arms.
Also she crammed fold after fold into my mouth till I was gagged, my
jaws forced open till they ached. The pain in my throat and neck was
intolerable.

Then, groping about, she found the candle and I heard her strike a
match. Afterwards she inspected the treasure, drawing deep sighs of
satisfaction and murmuring to herself. After a long time of enjoyment,
she sat down beside me, placing the candle so that it shone upon me. I
could see the light through the thinnish stuff over my face.

"Now, Janice," she said, "I shall make you more comfortable, and then I
shall afford you some of the most excellent entertainment you can well
imagine. There are people all over the world who would give ten years
of their lives to hear what you are going to hear to-night. I have some
interesting stories to tell. There is plenty of time before us. I shall
not have to leave you till just before daybreak, and we might as well
have a pleasant time together. I was too busy the other afternoon in the
woods and too hurried to give you any real attention. This time I shall
do my duty by you. You are really rather a remarkable girl, and I am
proud of you. That beating I gave you would have laid up most young
women for a fortnight. But you are made of adventurous stuff." She
sighed, a strange sound to come from her lips; then, skillfully, she
drew the skirt partially from my face, possessed herself of my hands
which she bound securely with a string she took from her pocket--a piece
of twine which, if I stirred a finger, cut into my wrists like a knife.
She gradually drew the gag out of my mouth, keeping a strangling hold on
my throat as she did so, and when my jaw snapped back in place--it had
been almost out of its socket--still keeping that grip on my wind-pipe,
she tied a silk handkerchief over my mouth, knotting it tightly behind
my head. Then she released me and moved a little away. I looked at her,
no doubt, with the eyes of a trapped animal, so that, bending down to
inspect me, she laughed again.

"I'm not going to kill you, you know," she said sweetly,--"not yet.
I could have killed you the other day if it had n't been more to my
purpose to let you live. I could have killed you any time these past few
weeks. Don't you know that, you silly, reckless child? All of you here
in this absurd house lay in the hollow of my hand." She held out one of
her very long, slender hands, so like my own, as she spoke, and slowly,
tensely, drew her fingers together as though she were crushing some
small live thing to death. "I did n't really mean to kill Robbie. But I
did mean to get him out of that room, alive or dead. He killed himself,
which saved me the trouble. I don't like killing children--it's quite
untrue what they say of me in that respect--though I've been driven to
it once or twice. It's being too squeamish about babies' lives that's
put an end to most careers of burglary. That's the God's truth, Janice.
You're shaking, are n't you? How queer it must be to have nerves
like that--young, innocent, ignorant nerves! Poor Janice! Poor little
red-haired facsimile of myself! What explanation did you find for that
resemblance? I fancied you'd frighten yourself into a superstitious
spasm over it, and stop your night-meddling for good. But you didn't.
I'll be bound, though, that the true explanation never occurred to you."

I had been staring up into her beautiful, ghastly face, but now I closed
my eyes. A most intolerable thought had come to me. It came slowly,
gropingly, out of the remote past, and it turned my heart into a heavy
gray stone.

"Are you remembering, Janice? No, that's not possible. You were too
young." She leaned over me again, and pushed back a lock of hair that
had been troubling my eyes. "You've grown to be a very beautiful girl."

I groaned aloud, and writhed there. I knew the truth now. There was a
mother from whom I had been taken when I was a few months old--a mother
of whom my father would never let me speak, a mother I had been told to
forget, to blot out of my imagination as though she had never been. What
dreadful reason my father must have had for his secret, sordid manner of
living! What a shadow had lain on my childhood with its drab wanderings,
its homelessness, its disgraceful shifts and pitiful poverty! All that
far-off misery, which I had tried so hard to forget in the new land,
came back upon me now with an added, crushing weight. I lay there and
longed to die.

The woman began to talk again.

"Yes," she said, "I am your mother. My name was Wenda Tour, and I
married Sergius Gale, who was your father. I am Polish-French, and
he was Russian-French. When I married him he was an innocent, little,
pale-faced student at the University of Moscow. I was only sixteen,
myself, training for a dancer, acting... a clever, abused, gifted young
waif, and fairly innocent, too, though I'd always been light-fingered and
skillful at all sorts of tricks. I think I was in love with Sergius; at
any rate, I was anxious to escape from the trainer, who was a brute. But
Sergius began to bore me. Oh, my God! how insufferably he bored me! And
he was so wearisomely weak, weaker than most men, and, the Lord knows,
they're mostly made of butter, or milk-and-water mixtures. And you bored
me dreadfully, too; the very thought of you before you came filled
me with a real distaste for life. By the time you made your squalling
entrance into the world, I had got myself into rather complicated
trouble, and managed to make a scapegoat of your father, the poor fool!
It was a sharp business, and it might have made us both rich, but I was
clumsier than I am now, and Sergius was a hindrance. It did n't quite go
through, and I had to make a get-away, a quick one. I've made some even
quicker since then. After he'd spent some sobering and salutary months
in a Russian prison, your father came out, reformed and completely cured
of his passion for red-haired vixens with a natural taste for crime.
I've often wondered how he treated you, little miniature of myself as
you were even in your cradle. I don't believe you had a very comfortable
childhood, Janice. The crudest thing I ever did, and the wickedest, was
to let you come into the world, or, having let you come, to allow you
to remain here. I ought to have put you out of your misery before it had
really begun. You wouldn't be lying here shaking. You would n't have to
pay the piper for me as I fear I shall be forced to make you pay before
I leave you to-night. I hate to do it. I honestly do. There must be a
soft spot left in me somewhere, but there's no use balking. It's got
to be done. It's too good a chance to miss. I can wipe out my past as
though it had been written on a slate. You can't blame me yourself,
Janice. The jewels mean wealth, and your death means my freedom. When
they find you here--and they will find you--they will think that they
have found my corpse. Don't you see? Even Maida, even the Baron, even
Jaffrey, even the priest, will swear to it--you see. If you had n't been
so clever, or a little bit cleverer, you would n't have played my game,
or you'd have taken more pains to keep your plan a secret from me. Once
I was sure you did n't think your double a ghost, I began to suspect
you; when you pulled that lover of yours"--she laughed, and even in
my misery I felt the sting of anger and of shame--"of ours, I should
say--when you pulled him out of the mud, why, I found myself able to
read you like a child's first primer. Oh, you've been a nuisance to me,
kept me on pins and needles. I knew you would n't dare to search the
house. I suppose you guessed that would mean the end of your life, but
you've certainly given me some unhappy minutes. That fool of a Baron,
blabbing out his secret to you... but I made it all work out to my
salvation. They've nabbed the Baron and the priest; I suppose they'll
get Maida to-night; Jaffrey will be caught snoring in his bed"--she
chuckled--"and there's an end to all my partners, all the fools that
thought they'd come in for a share of booty. The only thing that bothers
me is that they'll never know how neatly I bagged them all, and made a
get-away myself. They will think me dead. They'll bear witness. They'll
point at your dead body, Janice, and say, 'Yes, that's she.' Oh, it's
a rare trick I'm playing on the police, on the gang, on every
one--especially that cat of a Hovey with his eyes." She rubbed her lips
angrily, a curious, to me inexplicable, gesture. "But it's a poor joke
for you, my girl. Playing your hand alone against a lot of hardened old
hands like us is a fool's work. That's what it is! Did you think I'd let
you run off with a fortune under my very nose? No; you'll have to pay
for that insolence. Daughter or no daughter, you'll have to pay. At
least, I'll be saving your soul alive. If I had n't got back to you
to-night, you'd be a thief flying out into the world. Perhaps your
dying to-night is the best thing that could happen to you. I don't know.
Looking back--well, it's hard to say."

She sat there thinking, forgetful of me, and I opened my miserable eyes
and stared hopelessly at the clear, hard profile, so beautiful, so evil,
so unutterably merciless. She had been sixteen when I was born, twenty
years ago. She was now only thirty-six, and yet her face was almost old.

She turned upon me again with her ghastly smile. "You don't look pleased
to see your mother, my dear. Perhaps I was a trifle rough with you
at our first interview, but you've been spared a great many worse
thrashings by having been separated from me at such an early age. I have
a devilish temper, as you know. I'd probably have flogged you to
death before you were out of your pinafores. I'd like to hear your
history--oh, I've kept track of its outlines, I always thought you
might some day be useful--but I don't dare take that handkerchief off of
your mouth. That handkerchief belonged to my second husband, the Comte
de Trème.... Yes, I went up in the world after I'd put Sergius into
prison. I've been a great lady. It's a tremendous advantage to any
career, to learn the grand air and to get a smattering of education.
Poor Trème! He was n't quite the weakling that most of them have been. I
have a certain respect for him actually. He was a good man, and no milk
and water in his veins, either. If any one could have exorcised the
devil in me, it was he. He did his best, but I was too much for him...
and in the end, poor fool, he put a bullet into his brain because--oh,
these idiot aristocrats!--of the _disgrace_. It was after Trème, a long
while after Trème, when I was queening it in St. Petersburg,--because,
you see, I did n't fall into disgrace at all; I let Trème shoulder it;
he was dead, and it could n't hurt him, and I was glad to stab that
high-nosed family of his,--about three years after his death, I
suppose, when the ex-army captain came along. Brane, you know, Theodore
Brane----He was a handsome chap, long and lean and blue-eyed. I lost my
head over him. I was still pretty young, twenty or thereabouts. He
would n't marry me, d---- him! And I was a fool. That's where I lost my
footing. Well, this is going to put me back again and revenge me on that
cold-blooded coward. We lived together, and we lived like princes--on
Trème's fortune. You should have seen his family! It was when the Trème
estate was bled dry that I happened to remember those jewels. Yes. I'd
seen them in the cathedral at Moscow in a secret crypt, down under the
earth. I was a child at the time, a little red-haired imp of nine or
ten, and I got round a silly old sheep of a priest, and begged him so
hard to let me go down through the trapdoor with him that he consented.
He thought it could do no harm, I suppose,--a child of that age! I saw
the Beloved Virgin of the Jewels! She stood there blazing, a candlestick
made of solid gold burning on her right hand and her left--an
unforgettable sight--the robe and the circlet that are here beside us
now in Brane's double wall in North Carolina... God! it's strange--this
life!

"I often thought of that Holy Wealthy Lady in her crypt. When Brane and
I were at an end of our means, and of our wits, and he beginning to get
tired of the connection, I made up my mind to have a try at the Moscow
Virgin's wardrobe. I did n't tell Brane, though he was a thief himself,
cashiered from the British army for looting in India. I thought this
scheme would be a bit too stiff for him. I went alone to Moscow, and
I became the most pious frequenter of ikons, the most devout of
worshipers, a generous patron to all droning priests. And there was
one--one with a big, oval Christ-face--that I meant to corrupt. He was
rotten to the core, anyway, a grayish-white sepulcher if ever there
was one. I got him so that he cringed at my feet. He was a white, soft
worm--ugh! I chose him for the scapegoat. That's the real secret of my
success, Janice. I never forgot to provide a scapegoat, some one
upon whom the police were bound to tumble headlong at the very first
investigation. I am afraid you are the scapegoat this time--you and
'Dabney'--this will give his fool-heart a twist, set him to rights until
next time.

"It's a rotten trick to play on you, but you should n't have mixed up
in it. A sensible girl would n't have taken the bait--a slip of paper
handed to her in the street! For shame, Janice! It was my first idea,
and I laughed at it. I thought I'd have to think up something better.
But it worked. Folly is just as deserving of punishment as crime--more
so, I believe. It's only just that a fool should lie tied up and gagged.
That's the way the world works, and it's not such a bad world, after
all, if you make yourself its master and kick over a few conventions....

"Well, Father Gast ate out of my hand, and thought me as beautiful
as one of God's angels, only a little more merciful to the desires
of men... and one day he gave me a permit, got a young acolyte of the
cathedral to take me down to worship at the shrine of the Most Beloved
Virgin of the Jewels. It was dark in the crypt, except for the candle
that poor boy carried above his head. The Virgin stood there glistening.
I knelt down to pray. The boy knelt down. I snatched the candlestick
of gold that stood on the Virgin's right hand and cracked his skull. He
dropped without so much as a whimper. Then I stripped our Holy Lady, and
came up out of the crypt."

She stopped to draw a long, long breath, as she must have stopped when,
in the dim Kremlin, she had come up out of the bowels of the earth
carrying her treasure, leaving the boy acolyte senseless before the
naked shrine. For all the terrible preoccupation of my mind, racing with
death, I could not help but listen to her story. My imagination seemed
to be stimulated by the terror of my plight. I might have been in
the crypt; I seemed to smell the damp, incense-laden, close smell of
candle-lighted chapels. I felt the weight of the jeweled robe, the
fearful necessity for escape.

After her long breath, she began again eagerly.

"I came up out of the crypt, and I called to my Christ-faced _baba_. He
was waiting for me near the altar at his hypocritical prayers. He came
quickly over to me, staring at the bundle in my arms, and I kept him
fascinated by the smile I wore. I can command the look in my eyes at
such moments. It's the eyes that give away a secret. You can see the
change of mood, the intention to deceive, the fear, the suspicion, the
decision to kill--but even in those days I knew how to guard my eyes.
Father Gast looked at me, and I smiled.

"'Hist!' I said to him, 'I have something amusing to show you. Kneel
down by this opening and look at the little acolyte. Lean forward.'

"The fool obeyed. He knelt, his big hands holding to the edge of the
trap, and peered into the darkness below. I let the door of the trap
fall. It was a square of solid masonry, easy enough to let fall, but too
heavy for one man to lift alone. But he was a trifle too quick for me,
drew back his head like a snake. It caught his hands. He howled like a
dog. I tore off a fastening of the Virgin's robe and hid it in his gown.
He fainted before I had gone out of the place.

"I had a hand-bag and a waiting droshky; I packed away my jewels and
left Moscow by the first train. I went to Paris, traveling at.
speed with all the art of disguise and subterfuge I could command.
Nevertheless, on my way from the Gare du Nord to the address Brane had
given me, I thought that I was being followed. Of course, I gave the
_cocher_ another number, went in at a certain house I knew, escaped by
the back, and made my way on foot to Brane's apartment, unobserved. They
made no difficulty about admitting me. I found everything in confusion.
Brane had packed his boxes. He was planning a journey." She laughed
bitterly. "I did n't know it then, but, in the interval, he'd met this
little black-eyed American woman and he'd made up his mind to be a _bon
sujet_. He was going to give me the slip. I opened one of his boxes,
wrapped up my booty in a dress-coat of his, well at the bottom, and then
I hid myself. I wanted to spy upon my Englishman. Brane came in, locked
up his luggage, and went out again at once. He was in the apartments
barely five minutes, and I never saw him again--the handsome,
good-for-nothing devil! I waited for him to come back. Presently some
men came in and carried off the boxes. I waited in the apartment for
several hours, but my lover did not return. He had gone to America,
Janice--think of it! with that treasure in his box."

The candle, which had been flickering for several minutes, here went
out, and she was busy for a while, taking another from her pocket and
lighting it. I wondered what time it was. Surely long past midnight. The
minutes seemed to hurry through my brain on wings of fear. If only she
would sit there, talking, talking, telling me the story of her crimes,
till daylight! Then there might be some faint hope for me. They would
discover my absence, they would hunt. I might be able to work the
handkerchief off of my mouth and risk a cry for help. All sorts of
impossible hopes kept darting painfully through my despair. They
were infinitely more agonizing than any acceptance of fate, but I was
powerless to quiet them. Surely they would search for me; surely they
would chance upon that hole in the kitchen closet; surely God would lead
them to it! Ah, if only I had told Mary! If only my vanity had not led
me to trust only in myself!

"Now, you know the history of the robe, Janice," began the woman after
she had settled herself again at my side. "The treasure that has already
caused three deaths, the acolyte's, and Robbie's, and--_yours_.

"I can't go into all the details of my adventures after I left Brane's
apartments. I soon found that he had been married and had gone to
America, and it was not long before I had his address. But it was very
long, a lifetime, before I was free to come after my treasure. Other
adventures intervened. Other people. I wrote some threatening letters,
but Brane never answered them, and I was not foolish enough to ruin
myself by trying to ruin him. I suppose he knew that and felt safe in
ignoring my attempts at blackmail and intimidation.

"Well, I am triumphant now--to-night. How's that for a moral tale? What
does the Bible say, 'the ungodly flourish like a green bay-tree'?

"But you will be interested to hear how I came to 'The Pines,' how I
managed to hide myself here, how I rid myself of those three idiotic
housekeepers and brought you down to take their place, how I introduced
Maida and Jaffrey, how I worked the whole affair. I don't know how much
you know. But I think there are several things that may surprise you.
Now, listen; we have still several hours. You shall have the story--you
alone, Janice--the true story of the Pine Cone Mystery. You are my
father confessor, Janice. My secrets are as safe with you to-night as
though I whispered them into a grave."



CHAPTER XVI--THE WITCH OF THE WALL


|I HAD news of Brane's death from the very priest whose hands I had
mutilated in the door of the trap. The fellow had been disciplined,
unfrocked, driven from Russia, where it was no longer possible for him
to make a living, and, as my method is, I had kept in touch with him.
I had even helped him to make a sort of fresh start--oh, by no means
an honorable one--in America, and purposely I'd seen to it that his new
activities should keep him in the neighborhood of Pine Cone. One who
knows the underworld as I do, Janice, has friends everywhere, has a tool
to her hand in the remotest corners of the earth. Gast was my spy on
Theodore Brane; Gast and the Baron. That nobleman, upon whom I dare
say you thought you made such an impression, Janice, was at one time
Theodore's valet. I knew him for a thief in the old days, but I kept him
in the household and so completely in subjection that the wretch would
tremble whenever he caught my eye. He, too, came over to this country,
and, ostensibly, his business became that of a cabinet-maker, a dealer
in old furniture. He had other, less reputable, business on the side. At
various times Brane bought furniture through him--Brane was always
ready to do a kindness to his inferiors. It was through the Baron that
Theodore got possession of that bookcase, the one with the double
back, but our wily ex-valet did n't put me wise to the possible
hiding-place,--even after I let him know that Brane had something to
hide--till I had bribed him for all I was worth. That is, he never did
put me wise. He blabbed his secret to you. It was only by finding you on
your knees before the shelves, the night after that fool's visit, that
I guessed he'd given himself away to my double. Till then I did n't
realize how safe I was in depending upon our resemblance, pretty
daughter. But, after that night, I amused myself greatly at your
expense. And I admit, Janice, I am forced to admit, that you amused
yourself at mine. I had no notion till to-night that you had dared to
use Maida, to question her, to force her to write notes! And then,
to write to Gast, to meet him, to get his translation and to destroy
it--Dieu! you have some courage, some wit, my girl!"

Her tone of pride, of complete power set my heart on fire with anger, so
that for a moment, I even lost my fear.

"Who found that letter of Gast's under the arbor seat? Whoever it was--I
suppose it must have been you--put me into a rage that was like enough
to drive me to any sort of violence. It was the last force of it that
you felt in the woods that afternoon. Dieu! I suffered from that anger.
To lie closed up in the wall, gnawing my own vitals, helpless, and to
know that you had got the clue, that you would perhaps be making use of
it! It was lucky for me that Jaffrey mentioned in my hearing the trip
that you were planning to Pine Cone. I enjoyed thrashing you, Janice,
and I enjoyed my little game at your friend Dabney's expense.... But I
am going too fast, I must get back to the beginning again. What are you
shaking for now? Scared? No, I believe you're angry."

She peered into my burning face, and met the look, which must have been
a hateful one, blazing in my eyes.

"Remember, my dear," she said tauntingly, "that it behooves you to be in
charity with all the world."

Indeed, it was not the least of my torments on that terrible night to
know that the last images to possess my brain should be such horrid
ones, of treachery, and cruelty, and murder. Sometimes I thought I would
close my eyes to her, shut out her presence from my mind, but the feat
was impossible. I was too greatly fascinated by her smooth, sweet voice,
by her vital presence, by the interest of her story.

"As I was telling you," she went on, "it was through Father Gast that I
heard of Brane's sudden death. It gave me the fright of my life, for I
thought he must have told about the treasures to his wife. Gast swore
that the Englishman had n't the courage to make use of his trove any
more than he had the courage to confess its whereabouts, but I decided
that there was no time to lose. Mrs. Brane might have a bolder spirit.

"I came over to this country disguised as a meek, brown-haired young
widow, named Mrs. Gaskell, and I rented a room above the Pine Cone
drug-store. This was last fall, about two months after Theodore Brane's
death.

"Ask Mrs. Brane some time--oh, I forgot, you are not apt to see her
again--no doubt, if you did ask her, she would tell you about the dear,
sweet woman who brought her little runaway Robbie home one afternoon and
took a friendly cup of tea with her. Yes, and learned in about half
an hour--only this the silly, little chatter-box would n't admit--more
about the habits of her husband and about her own life and plans and
character than most of the detectives I've hoodwinked could have learned
in a month. If it had n't been for Mrs. Gaskell, and for Mrs. Gaskell's
popularity with Robbie's nurse, and for Mrs. Gaskell's skill in winning
Robbie's confidence, I should never have learned about that hole in the
kitchen closet.

"Mary was n't Robbie's nurse in those days. Oh, no, my task would
n't have been so easy in that case. He was being cared for by a
happy-go-lucky negro woman from whom he ran away about twice a week. She
had a passion for driving over to Pine Cone every time George went for
supplies, and she was only too willing to leave her charge with Mrs.
Gaskell, who did so adore little children. From that girl I learned all
about the habits of 'The Pines' household, and from Robbie himself I got
the clue of clues.

"I understood that child. I could play upon him as though he had been
a little instrument of strings. He was the kind of secretive, sensitive
little animal that can be opened up or shut tight at will. A harsh
look would scare him into a deaf-mute, a little kindness would set him
chattering. I asked him questions about the house: where his father
had worked and spent most of his time; where he himself played; what,
especially, were his favorite play-places. He told me there were lots of
closets in the house, but that he was 'scared of dark closets,' and he
was 'most scared of the closet under the kitchen stairs.' I asked him
why, and he told me a long story about going in there and finding
his father bent over at one end of it--one of those mixed-up, garbled
accounts that children give; but I gathered that his father had been
vexed at the child's intrusion, and had told him to keep out of the
kitchen and out of the kitchen closet. It was the faintest sort of clue,
a mere will-o'-the-wisp, but I decided to follow it up.

"One day, when I knew that all the servants at 'The Pines' were off to
a county fair, I met with Robbie and his nurse, and easily persuaded the
girl to let me take her charge back to 'The Pines' while she joined the
other holiday-seekers. Robbie and I got a lift, and we were dropped at
'The Pines' gate. I asked him to take me up to the house by a short cut,
and in through the kitchen garden. I told him to pick me a nice nosegay
of flowers, and I went in to get a 'drink of water.' The kitchen was
empty, and I lost no time in slipping into the small kitchen closet. I
saw at once that it had been purposely crowded with heavy stuff, and
I began to search it. Of course I found the hole; I even went into the
hollow wall here, and explored the whole passage. Dieu! I was excited,
pleased! I knew that I was on the track of my treasure. And I saw how
easy it would be for some one to hide in that wall, and live there
comfortably enough for an indefinite time. I had what I'd come for, and
I decided that Mrs. Gaskell's stay in Pine Cone would come to an end
that night.

"It was disconcerting to hear Robbie's voice calling, 'Mithith Gathkell,
where are you? I was still in the passageway, but I crawled through that
hole in a hurry--too late! I met Robbie face to face. He'd come to find
me, and was standing timidly in the closet doorway with his hands full
of flowers. I knew that I should have to tie up his tongue for good and
all. I fixed him with my eyes, and let my face change till it must have
looked like the face of the worst witch in the worst old fairy-tale he'd
ever heard, and then, still staring at him, I slowly lifted off my brown
wig and I drew up my own red hair till it almost touched the top of the
kitchen closet. And I said, 'Grrrrrrrrr! I'm the witch that lives under
the stairs! I'm the witch that lives under the stairs!' in the worst
voice I could get out of my throat, a sort of suckling gobble it was,
pretty bad!"

She laughed, and again my rage and hatred overwhelmed my fear. "I had to
run at him, and put my hand over his mouth or he'd have raised the roof
with his screams. I got my wig on again, and I carried him out into the
garden, and I told him that if ever he went near that closet or even
whispered to any one that he'd seen that red-haired woman, I'd tell her
to come and stand by his bed at night and stick her face down at him
till he was all smothered by her long red hair. He was all confused and
trembling. I don't know what he thought. He seemed to imagine that Mrs.
Gaskell and the witch were two distinct people, but, at any rate, he was
scared out of his little wits, and I knew when I got through with him
that wild horses would n't tear the story of that experience out of him.
Children are like that, you know."

I did know, and I lay there and cursed her in my heart. I thought
of what agonies the poor little child had suffered in the mysterious
silence of his baby mind--that pitiful, terrible silence of childhood
that has covered so many cruelties, so much unspeakable fear, since the
childhood of the human race began. My heart, crushed as it was, ached
for little Robbie, sickened for him. I would have given so much to hold
him in my arms, and comfort him, and reassure his little shaken soul.
God willing, he was happy now, and reassured past all the powers of
earth or hell to disturb his beautiful serenity.

|THE next morning"--again I was listening to the story--"Mrs. Gaskell
left Pine Cone to the regret of all its inhabitants. I doubt if
ever there has been a more popular summer visitor. And not many days
afterwards, a gypsy woman came to 'The Pines' to peddle cheap jewelry.
Old Delia was in the kitchen, and old Delia refused to take any interest
in the wares. She told the woman to clear out, but she refused to go
until she had been properly dismissed by the lady of the house. At
last, to get rid of her, Delia went off to speak to her mistress, and
no sooner had she closed the door, than the gypsy slipped across the
kitchen, and got herself into that closet. And the odd part of it is,
that she never came out. When Delia returned with more emphatic orders
of dismissal, the peddling gypsy had gone. Nobody had seen her leave the
place, but that did not cause much distress to any one but Mrs. Brane.
I think that she was disturbed; at least I know that she ordered a
thorough search of the house and grounds, for footsteps were running all
about everywhere that day, and lights were kept burning in the house all
night. I think, perhaps, some of the negroes sat up to keep watch. But
the peddler made not so much as a squeak that night. She lay on a pile
of blankets she had carried in on her back, and she ate a crust of bread
and an apple. She was sufficiently comfortable, and very much pleased
with herself. Towards morning she went to sleep and slept far into the
next day.

"So you see, Janice, there I was in the house, and I was sure that not
far from me was Brane's treasure trove. This double wall of which he had
evidently made use--he had built up that queer flight of steps and made
a floor and an inclined plane--convinced me that I was hot on the
track of the jewels. You can guess how I worked to find them. All to no
purpose. I had to be very careful. Rats, to be sure, make a noise in the
walls of old houses, but the noise is barely noticeable, and it does not
sound like carpentry. However, I had convinced myself, by the end of the
third dreary day, that if the robe and crown were hidden in the double
wall, they were very secretly and securely hidden, and that I should
need some further directions to find them. It was annoying, especially
as my provisions had given out, and I knew that I should have to venture
down into the kitchen at night and pick up some fragments of food. I
was glad then and all the time, that Mrs. Brane's servants were such
decrepit old bodies, half-blind and half-deaf, and altogether stupid.
Many's the time I've crouched behind the junk in that closet and
listened to their silly droning! But it gave me a sad jump when I heard
the voice of Mrs. Brane's first housekeeper.

"She was young and nervous, and had a high, breathless manner of
talking, and she was bent upon efficiency. Well, so was I. I had decided
that, outside of the wall, there were two rooms in the Brane house that
must be thoroughly investigated--the bookroom where Theodore kept his
collection of Russian books, and the room upstairs in the north wing
which he had used as a sort of den, and which, after his death, Mrs.
Brane had converted into a nursery. I think she must have had a case
of nerves after her husband's death, for she was set on having a
housekeeper and a new nurse for Robbie, and she was always flitting
about that house like a ghost. Maybe, after all, he had dropped her a
hint about some money or jewels being hidden somewhere in the house!
That was Maida's notion, for she says Mrs. Brane was as keen as 'Sara'
about cleaning out the old part of the house, and never left her alone
an instant.

"To get back to the first days I spent in this accursed wall... that
housekeeper gave me a lot of misery. In the first place, she slept in
the north wing, the room you had, Janice,"--I was almost accustomed to
this horrible past tense she used towards me; I was beginning to think
of my own life as a thing that was over--"and she was a terribly light
sleeper. Twice, as I was sneaking along that passageway trying to locate
the rooms, she came out with a candle in her hand, and all but saw me.
I decided that my only chance to really search the place lay in getting
rid of the inhabitants of that northern wing. I thought, perhaps, I
could give that part of the house a bad name. Once it was empty, I could
practically live there. I had n't reckoned with that bull-dog of a Mary.

"It was easy enough to scare the housekeeper. I found out just where the
wall of her bedroom stood, and I got close behind it near her bed and
groaned. That was quite enough. Two nights, and the miserable thing
left. Mrs. Brane got another woman at once, a lazy, absent-minded woman,
and I wasted no time getting rid of her. I simply stole near to her bed
one pitch-black night, and sighed. She left almost at once.

"Then Mrs. Brane, confound her! sent to New York to Skane for a
detective, and he played house-boy for a fortnight. I had to keep as
still as a mouse. I was almost starved, for I did n't dare take enough
food to hoard, and for a while that detective prowled the house all
night. I must have come near looking like a ghost in those days. Thank
God, the entire quiet bored Skane's man, and reassured the rest of the
household. When he had gone I did n't try ghost-tricks for sometime. I
fed myself up, and did a little night-prowling, down in the bookroom,
and in some of the empty bedrooms, with no result. Then came the third
housekeeper.

"That third housekeeper, my dear daughter, all but did for me. She was
a fussy little female with the sort of energy that goes prying about
for unnecessary pieces of labor. And she lit upon the kitchen closet.
Fortunately, Delia and the other two women were so annoyed by her
methods that they did n't take up her instructions to clean out the
closet with any zeal. So, one morning, I heard her in the kitchen
scolding and carrying on, 'You lazy women, I'll just have to shame you
by doing it myself.'

"Now, while I crouched there, listening to her, it occurred to me that
I had heard her voice before. I racked my frightened brains. I had
never seen the woman, but I was certain that the voice, a peculiar one,
belonged somewhere in my memory. I decided there might be some useful
association. I risked coming into the closet, and taking a look. Then I
fled back and laughed to myself. I had known that little wax-face when
she was a very great somebody's maid, and I knew enough about her to
send her to the chair. Was n't it luck! I went back into my hole, for
all the world like a spider, and sat there waiting for my prey.

"She did a lot of clattering around in the closet; then, I knew by the
silence, that she'd lit upon the hole. I crept near, and waited for her,
crouched in the dark. She came crawling through the hole--I can see her
silly, pale, dust-streaked face now! I pounced upon her with all the
swiftness and the silence of a long-legged tarantula. I stopped her
mouth before she could squeal, and I carried her back to the end of the
passage here, and I talked to her for about five seconds. At the end of
that time every bone in her body had turned to water. She had sworn as
though to God to hold her tongue, and to get out of the house; to keep
her mouth shut forever and ever, amen. And I let her go. She scuttled
out of the closet like a rat, and I heard her tell Delia to leave the
place alone. The third housekeeper left the next day, and, as I heard by
listening to kitchen gossip, she gave no reason for her going.

"But, of course, I had had a terrible experience myself. I was n't going
to risk anything like that again. Besides, I was sick of living in
the wall. I got out that night--half the time Delia forgot to lock the
outside door, and always blamed her own carelessness when she found it
open in the morning. I had decent clothes with me, and I tramped to a
station at some distance, and went up to New York. I'd decided to take
a few of my pals in on the game. I had several old pals in New York, and
some introductions. It's a first-class city for crooks, almost as good
as London, and not half so well policed. And there, my girl, I took the
trouble of hunting you up.

"It was n't because I meant to use you at 'The Pines.' It was just out
of curiosity--motherly love"--I wish I could describe the drawling irony
of the expression on her lips. "You are one of the people I've kept
track of. I always felt you might be useful, that I might be able to
frighten you into usefulness. Many's the time I've seen you when you
were a child, and, later, when you were working in Paris. Not much more
than a child then, but such a slim, little, white-faced beauty. What
was it, the work? Oh, yes, you were a little assistant milliner, and
you turned down the chance of being Monsieur le Baron's _maîtresse_, and
lost your job for the reward of virtue--little fool! I knew you had gone
to America, but I had lost track of your whereabouts. I soon picked up
your tracks, though, and found out that you were in New York looking
for work. Your beauty has been against you, Janice; it's always against
moral and correct living. It's a great help in going to the devil and
beating him at his own game, however, as you might discover if I were
immoral enough to let you live. The instant I set eyes on you in New
York and saw what a ridiculous copy of your mother you had grown to be,
I felt that here was an opportunity of some sort if I could only make
use of it. I racked my brains, and, as usual, the inspiration came.

"I got Mrs. Brane's advertisement, so far unanswered, and I handed it
to you myself in the street. As soon as I was sure that you had got the
job, I left for 'The Pines.' I slipped in like a thief at night, one of
the nights when Delia forgot to lock the back door. I had shadowed
you pretty closely those days between the time you answered the
advertisement, and left for 'The Pines,' and it was n't a difficult
matter for me to get a copy of your wardrobe. You don't know what a
help it was to me that you chose a sort of uniform. I knew that you'd be
wearing one of those four gray dresses most of the time.

"After you were in the house, I grew pretty bold, and it was then I
decided to get Robbie out of that nursery. So I made myself up as the
witch that lives under the stairs, and waked him by bending down over
his bed with my hair hanging in his face. I was nearly caught at it,
too, by Mary, and I scared the old women out of the house--which I had
n't in the least intended to do.

"I didn't half like Mrs. Brane's plan of getting a man and wife to take
the place of the old women, and I saw at once the necessity for Jaffrey
and Maida. However, I was determined not to let them know that there
were two red-haired women in the house. I was fascinated by this plan
of using you, Janice, of getting witnesses to swear to your identity as
Madame Trème, of baiting a trap--with you for bait--into which all of
my accomplices would tumble, as they have tumbled, and, then, as a last
stroke, putting an end to you and making a clean get-away myself. If any
one swings for your murder, it will be Maida, who left 'The Pines' so
hurriedly and secretly to-night.

"There's another reason why I did n't take them into the secret of your
resemblance: I was glad to have them fancy themselves always under my
eye. The risk of their giving themselves away to you was very small, for
I had arranged a signal, without which they were positively forbidden to
show by sign, or look, or word, even when they seemed to be alone with
me, that they had any collusion with Mrs. Brane's housekeeper, that they
thought her anything in the world but Mrs. Brane's housekeeper. I have
my tools pretty well scared, Janice, and I knew they would obey my
orders to the letter."

In this Madame was wrong. Maida and Jaffrey had both disobeyed this
order. With no signal from me, they had spoken in their own character
to me as though I had indeed been Madame Trème. Like the plans of most
generals, Madame's plans had their weak points.

"You know how it all worked," she went on, unconscious of my mental
connotations, "and, then, _sacre nom de Dieu!_ came 'Dabney'!

"God! How the rats scuttled in the house the night after he came! I had
Maida to thank for putting me wise. That innocent-faced, slim youngster,
with his air of begging-off punishment--I admit, he'd have given me very
little uneasiness. You see--"

As she talked I had been watching her with the fixity of my despair,
but, a few moments before this last speech of hers concerning Dabney,
the flickering of the light across her face had drawn my attention to
the second candle. It had burned for more than half its length, and I
knew that morning was at hand.

Morning, and a faint hope! The story was not finished, and, though I
thought I could tell the rest myself, the woman was so absorbed in the
delightful contemplation of her triumph and her cleverness, that I knew
she would go on to the end. The wild, resurgent hope deafened me for
a few minutes to her low murmur of narration. It had come to me like
a flash that, with my legs unbound, I might be able to knock over the
candle, put it out, get to my feet in one lightning spring, and make
a dash for the hole in the closet. Would there not be a chance of my
reaching it alive? Would not the noise of my flight, in spite of my
stocking feet and the handkerchief over my mouth, be enough to attract
the attention even of a sleeping house, much more certainly, of an
awakened and suspicious one? It was, of course a desperate hope, but I
could not help but entertain it. If I could force myself to wait till
morning had surely come, till there was the stir and murmur of awakening
life, surely--oh, dear God!--surely, there might be one little hope of
life. I was young and strong and active. I must not die here in this
horrible wall. I must not bear the infamy of this woman's guilt. I must
not lie dead and unspeakably defiled in the sight of the man I loved.

Paul Dabney's face, haggard, wistful, appeared before me, and my whole
heart cried out to its gray and doubting eyes for help, for pity, for
belief.

Unluckily, the woman, sensitive as a cat, had become aware of the
changed current of my thought, of the changed direction of my look. She,
too, glanced at the candle and gave a little exclamation of dismay that
stabbed the silence like a suddenly bared knife.

"Bah!" she said, "it must be daylight, and I have n't half confessed
myself. Pests on the time! We've been here four or five hours. Are you
cramped?"

I was insufferably cramped. The pain of my arms and shoulders, the
cutting of the twine about my wrists, were torment. I was very thirsty,
too. But nothing was so cruel as the sinking of my heart which her words
caused me.

"I suppose I shall have to cut it short," she said. "After all, you must
know it almost as well as I do, especially since you had the nerve to
play my part with Maida. The worst trick you put over on me was when you
pulled Dabney out of the mud--curse the mud, anyway; if it had been a
real quicksand he'd have been done for; but his getting back alive that
night certainly crossed me, and, as for Maida, she was in a devil's
rage. She could n't understand how he'd escaped. She cursed, and raved,
and threatened even me. It was all that Jaffrey and I could do to hold
her; she was for giving up the whole game and making a getaway before it
was too late. As a matter of fact, it was already too late for any one
but me. Hovey had you all just where he wanted you. At any instant he
could bag you all. I had known that for some time. If it had n't been
for your _beaux yeux_, Janice, and a little bit, perhaps, because of my
own pretty ways, all of you would be jailed by now. After you'd rescued
your Dabney, I had to play a bold, prompt game. I knew that the spell
could n't hold much longer. I could see by the strained look on that
boy's face that he was at the snapping point. I told Maida to search the
bookcase that night. Action of some kind was necessary to keep her in
hand. I did n't know that you had already taken away the paper. Gast had
told me about the paper when I was in New York, and the Baron had hinted
at its possible hiding-place. He came down here that day to tell me--I'd
bribed him for all I was worth. He was going to leave word with Maida.
Then, of course, he saw you and the poor fool thought I was playing
housekeeper, under 'Dabney's' very nose.

"The night after Dabney's rescue, after you'd saved his life at the risk
of your own, I whistled him into the arbor under your window and kissed
him for you. Were your maiden dreams disturbed?--No, no, my girl, don't
try to get your hands free"--for in my anger at her words I had begun
to wrench at my bonds--"you'll just cut your wrists to the bone. Eh,
did n't I tell you?" I felt the blood run down my hands, and stopped,
gasping with pain. She went on as coolly as before. "I found out that
night, when Maida came to me in the wall with her bad news, that you'd
got ahead of us. I was n't so much scared as I might have been, for
I knew that Brane had had his directions translated into the Slavonic
tongue; I suppose the poor, cracked fool did it to protect his treasure
from accidental discovery. He was crazed by having all that money in his
possession, and not being bold enough to use it. All his actions prove
that his mind was quite unbalanced. He just spun a fantastic web of
mystery about the hidden stuff because he had n't the nerve to do
anything else. I imagine he meant to tell his wife, but he died suddenly
of paralysis, and was n't able to do so. He'd hired a priest to help him
with the paper, and Gast, shadowing my former lover, and knowing that he
had the robe and crown, managed to find out what he'd been doing. Gast
did n't get the substance of the paper, but he learned from the priest
that an eccentric Englishman, writing a story of adventure, had asked
him to translate a paragraph into Old Russian. Gast handed on this
information to me, and promised to translate the paragraph when I was
lucky enough to find it.

"Janice, when I found out that I'd been fool enough to lose Gast's
letter, which he'd sent to me through Maida, and by losing it, had put
the means of getting a translation into your hands, I gnawed my fingers!
I was half mad then. When you made your first trip to Pine Cone, and
Dabney had you shadowed so closely that I could n't follow you myself--I
knew that you were sending Gast a letter. I was n't sure you'd dare
to meet him, though. I thought you might risk sending him the paper. I
risked my own life by bribing George to leave you in Pine Cone to foot
it home alone, and I risked it again by following you and laying that
trap for you in the woods. I risked it because I was certain that you
would have the translation hidden in your dress. I pushed the pine tree
over after George had passed; it needed only a push. _Nom de Dieu!_ You
cannot know what frenzy seized me when I found out that again you had
outwitted me. I wanted to kill you that day. I wanted to beat you to
death there, and leave you dead. But you were a little too valuable. I
decided to cripple you, to put you out of running for a few days while
I got hold of the fool priest myself. That was only yesterday, but it
seems an age. You must be made of iron, Janice! You came near defeating
me to-night--the insolence of it! You, a chit of a girl!

"This morning I gave Maida a letter for Gast, and I thought it was to
mail it that she went out after supper to-night. When I found her note
under my plate I had a shock. I was sure she had found out something
important. I went down to the bridge. Yes. You may have the
satisfaction. Make the most of it. I did go down to the bridge, but I
did n't wait long. Ten minutes was enough. Do you suppose Maida would be
late for an appointment with me? Not if she was living. No, my girl, I
stood there and realized that you might have worked the trick, that you
might have sent Maida out of the way, might have decoyed me, might, even
at that instant, be on the track of my jewels. God! How I ran back to
the house! When I found the kitchen door locked--_I knew_. I went
round to the front door and rang the bell. I was n't going to lose time
snooping around for unfastened windows--not with Dabney in the house! I
suppose he was sleeping sound because he, too, thought you were safely
laid by the heels. Jaffrey answered the bell, and looked surprised,
confound him! I gave him some excuse, and went like the wind up to your
room. Sure enough, it was empty. I waited till Jaffrey had got back to
his bed, and then I hurried down to the kitchen. You know the rest. You
know it all now. To the end. But you don't quite know the end."



CHAPTER XVIII--THE LAST VICTIM


|I HAD listened to all this as though to voices in a fever. I had been
trying to get up my courage for a leap. It seemed to me now a desperate,
hopeless undertaking, but it was easier to die in a struggle than to lie
there in cold blood while she strangled me with those long, cold, iron
hands. She was not calm. I could see that her eyes were shifting, her
arms and legs twitched, her fingers moved restlessly. Black and hard as
her lost soul must be, it shrank a little from this killing. The murder
of her own child gave her a very ague of dread. It was partly, no doubt,
the desire to postpone the hideous act that had kept her spinning out
her tale so long. But the end had come now. It was--I knew it well--the
last moment of my life. I looked at the candle.

At the same instant I heard a window open somewhere in the house. Thank
God! It was morning. The household was awake. The sound was all I needed
to fire my courage. I flung myself bodily upon the candle, rolled away,
scrambled to my feet, and fled along the passageway with the speed of my
despair. She was after me like a flash, but I had an instant's start.

Down the inclined plane I slid. I leapt along the steps, and there at
the foot she fell upon me, and we lay panting within a stone's throw of
the closet wall. And I realized that our flight had been no more noisy
than the scuttling of rats. I gave myself up to death.

Madame took me up in her arms as though I had been a little child, and,
soft-footed as a panther, carried me back to the side of the iron box.
There she laid me down and bound my ankles, not gently, so that the
blood flowed under the twine.

Then, with steady hands, she relighted the candle. I saw her face, livid
with rage and fear, pitiless, glaring. She slid her hand into the pocket
of her dress, that gray dress which she had copied from mine. Again for
a fantastic, icy second I had that awful feeling that she was I, that I
was she, that we were of the same spirit and flesh. When her hand came
out it held a slender knife, fine and keen and delicate as a surgical
instrument. With her other hand she sought and found the beating of my
heart.

I now knew the manner of my death. I shut my eyes, and prayed that it
would be over quickly.

There was the faintest sound above my head, and I opened my eyes. Before
the woman saw my deliverance, I saw it. A beam that had made part of the
sill, that crossed the passageway above us, slid quietly from its place,
and into the opening a figure swung and dropped.

Before even it could reach the ground, the woman had put out the light
and vanished like a ghost. I heard not so much as the rustle of her
dress.

The figure from above landed lightly beside me, and flashed on an
electric lantern. It was Paul Dabney. He bent over me, and drew a quick,
sharp breath. I tried to cry out, "Follow the woman!" but my bound lips
moved soundlessly.

"I have caught you," he said dully. "It is the end."

For me it was indeed the end, a far more bitter one than a knife in my
heart. I should be taken. I should be tried for my life. Half a dozen
people would swear that I was Madame Trème. Who would believe my
incredible story? I was lost. I looked up at Paul Dabney with complete
despair.

Footsteps came along the inclined plane, but Dabney did not turn around.
Evidently he expected them, and they did not interest him. He was
shaking, even his white lips were unsteady. I saw his hands open and
shut. The light of the electric lantern, and the light that fell through
the trapdoor which he had so mysteriously opened above our heads, made
him ghastly visible, made the whole passageway, with its rafters and its
red bricks, outlined with plaster, the iron box, the glimmer of jewels,
plain to my sight. I saw two men coming towards me. Between them, by her
arms, they held up Madame Trème.

"We've got her, sir!" said one of them triumphantly. I recognized Mrs.
Brane's outdoors men, and thought confusedly that one of these was
Hovey, the detective.

Paul Dabney looked slowly around. He looked and raised a shaking hand to
his eyes. He turned again towards me. Then, as though a current of life
had been flashed through his veins, he sprang to my side, untied my
bonds, tore off the silk handkerchief from my mouth. I was as helpless
as a babe, but he lifted me tenderly, and, kneeling, supported me in his
arms.

"Janice," he said brokenly, "Janice, what does it mean?"

My double laughed. "So now, Hovey, you cat, do you understand what a
fool my pretty daughter and I have made of you? You think yourself very
clever, no doubt. Your reputation is made, is n't it? Now that you've
nabbed the famous Madame of the red-gold strand. No, no, my friend, not
quite so fast."

She moved her head from side to side, struggling with her captors. I saw
her bend her mouth to her shoulder, bite and tear at her dress. We all
looked at her in a ghastly sort of silence. I could feel Paul Dabney's
quivering muscles and his quick breathing. Then, for a second, I saw
a white pellet on the woman's tongue. It must have been sewed into the
seam of her dress there at the shoulder. She swallowed convulsively, and
stood still, her head thrust forward, staring in front of her with eyes
like stones.

My face must have showed itself to her through the mists of death, for
she spoke once hoarsely: "The girl is quite innocent," she said; "she
wasn't trying for the jewels. Do you get that, Hovey? Keep your claws
off her."

Then she gave a great shiver, her face turned blue. Her head dropped
forward, her legs gave way, and the two men held a dead body in their
arms.



CHAPTER XIX--SKANE'S CLEVEREST MAN


|WITH the death of Madame Trème, and the arrest of Jaffrey and of Maida,
the danger to "The Pines" was over. It was a long time, however, before
I was allowed to tell my story. I lay in a darkened room, waited upon
by Mary, and the least sound or word would send me into a paroxysm of
hysterical tears. The first person to whom I recounted my adventures was
the detective Hovey, a certain gray-eyed and demure young man whom I had
long known by another name. Our interview was very formal. I called him
Mr. Hovey, and met his cool and unembarrassed look as rarely as I
could. I was propped up in bed to make my statement. Dr. Haverstock was
present, his hand often stealing to my pulse, and Mary stood near with
a stimulant. She had made me as pretty as she could, the dear soul; had
arranged my hair, and chosen my dainty dressing-gown, but I must have
looked like a ghost; and it seemed to me that there lay a brand of shame
across my face.

Mr. Hovey took down my statement and Dr. Haverstock witnessed it. I
was told that I should have to appear in court at the trial of Madame's
accomplices. At that, I shrank, and looked helplessly at Dr. Haverstock,
and my eyes, in spite of all I could do, filled with tears.

"Oh, my dear," said the doctor kindly, "it will be a long time yet. You
will be strong enough to face anything."

"There are some things," I murmured shakily, "that I shall never be
able to face." I covered my eyes with my hands, and turned against the
pillow.

I heard Dr. Haverstock whisper something, and I knew that Hovey and he
had left the room. Paul had not said a word to me except the necessary
questions. His face had been expressionless and pale. What else could
I expect? How could any man act otherwise to the daughter of the famous
Madame Trème?

The doctor, Mary, Mrs. Brane, were all wonderfully kind. I broke down
again under Mrs. Brane's kindness.

"Oh, Janice, my poor child," she said to me when I was at last allowed
to see her, "why did n't you come to me? Why did you try to bear all
this terror and misery yourself?"

I held her hand. "I wish I _had_ come to you, dear Mrs. Brane. I wish
for very many reasons that I had had the humility and good sense to do
so. What now is there, except that statement of my wretched mother, to
keep you, the whole world, every one, from thinking that I was a thief
myself? From putting that construction upon my insane behavior here?"

"Well, Janice," she said indulgently, "there is one person to prevent
it. I, for one, would never have the courage to suggest such a theory in
Paul Hovey's presence. He has written up your rescue of him so movingly,
and told the story of it so appealingly, that I think you are rather in
danger of being a sort of national heroine. In the papers, my dear, you
are painted in the most glowing colors. I should n't wonder if there
would be a movie written about you."

"Paul," I said,--"Paul has told it?"

"Yes, Paul. And I think he owes you an _amende_. In fact, we all do.
I engaged a detective the day after Delia and Jane and Annie left, and
very well I knew, of course, that our young student visitor was Skane's
cleverest man. But I did not guess that from the first moment he
suspected you. Poor child! Poor Janice! What misery you have been
through all by your brave, desolate, little self!"

"From the first moment!" I repeated blankly. "From the first moment Paul
thought that I was Madame Trème?"

My mind ran back over that meeting in the bookroom. I remembered his
sharp, sudden speeches, the slight edge to his voice. I had thought him
a coward with that hand in his pocket, and he, meanwhile, had imagined
himself always under the eyes of the Red-Gold Strand.

"Yes," said Mrs. Brane. "One of the force saw you get off the train at
Pine Cone, and was struck by your resemblance to the famous criminal."
(I remembered the man whose scrutiny had so annoyed me.) "He reported at
headquarters Madame's possible presence, and they realized at once that
if she was in it, the Pine Cone case was apt to be both dangerous and
interesting. There was big game somewhere. So, without telling me how
serious the situation might be, they chose Hovey, and sent him down here
as a student of Russian literature. They knew that Madame had never come
in contact with him. Paul Hovey has rather a remarkable history, Janice.
Would you care to hear it?"

I bent my head.

"He began life as a young man with great expectations, and a
super-excellent social position. But he was very careless in his choice
of companions. It was the love of adventure, I suppose, like Harry
Hotspur and his crew. At a house-party, not a very reputable one I am
afraid, on Long Island,--this was a good many years ago--he got mixed
up in a very tangled web, and disentangled himself with such cleverness
and resource, discovering the guilty man before the police had
even sniffed a trail, that Skane, half as a joke, urged him to turn
detective. Hovey, too, treated it as a joke, but, not long after, my
dear, the poor boy got himself into trouble--oh, nothing wicked! It was
a matter of holding his tongue and keeping other people safe, or telling
the truth and clearing himself of rather discreditable folly. He held
his tongue, and most people believed his innocence. I think every one
would have stood by him, for he was enormously popular, if the very
people from whom he had the best right to expect mercy and loyalty had
not turned against him--his uncle who had brought him up, and the girl
to whom he was engaged. He was disinherited and turned out of doors, and
the girl, a worldly little wretch, promptly threw him over. Hovey went
straight to Skane, who welcomed him like a long-lost child. Since then
Paul Hovey has become famous in his chosen line of work. Now you know
his history. I learned it--what was not already public property--from
a man, a friend of Paul's dead father, a man who loves Paul dearly, and
has known him all his life."

I was not sorry--selfish as the feeling was--to learn that Paul, too,
had a grievance against the world; that he, too, was something of a waif
and stray, another bit of Fate's flotsam like myself.

"And from the first moment he thought I was Madame Trème?"

"Yes--and fell in love with you. A nice situation for a detective, was
n't it? Don't start! You know he did. But I must run away before I tell
you any more secrets. I must leave Paul Hovey to make his own apologies,
to plead his own cause. I am tiring you, as it is. You are getting much
too pink."

"I will never give Mr. Hovey a chance to make his apologies," I said
sadly. "And I am certain, dear Mrs. Brane, that he will never try for
the chance. Who would? Who would want to--to love the daughter of--"

It was here that I broke down, and she comforted me. "Janice, darling,"
she said when I was a little quieter, "Love is a very mighty god, and
though they say he is blind, I believe that he sees like an immortal.
If Paul Hovey loved you in spite of his best will and judgment, against
every instinct of self-preservation, loved you to his own shame and
anguish when he thought you a woman dyed in crime, a woman who had
attempted his life, do you think he will stop loving you when he knows
your history and your innocence?"

She left me before I could answer her question, but she left me without
a ray of hope. I had made up my mind that I would never marry any one.
And I was sure, with the memory of Paul's cold, questioning looks in our
recent interview, that he would never come to me again.

But he did come.

We met in the sunny bookroom where I had first led him so long--it
seemed very long--ago. I was sitting in the window seat trying
listlessly to read, and listening heartbrokenly to the gay music of a
mocking-bird in the tree outside, when his step sounded in the hall,
and, while I stood, half risen to fly, he came in quietly and stood
before me with his boyish and disarming smile.

My knees gave way, and I dropped back into my place, the book falling to
the floor. I was trembling all over.

"Don't say you won't let me talk to you, Janice," he pleaded, and his
face was white with earnestness. "Don't try to run away from me. You
must in all fairness hear me out."

"There is nothing for me to listen to," I stammered; "I have nothing to
say to you."

"Perhaps it is nothing to listen to," he said, "but it is the most
important thing to me in the world. It means my life--that's all."

"To talk to me?"

"Yes. For God's sake, let us play no tricks with each other now. There
has been too much disguise between us. I mistook you for a wicked
woman--yes--but you knew that I mistook you, you knew that I loved you
better than my own soul, you knew that I suffered damnably, and you did
not undeceive me. I kept a policeman's guard upon you--yes--I let you
find the paper, I let you get the translation, and, when I could force
my heart to give in to my sense of duty, I tracked you down, and
found you with the treasure. I saw your double go out through the
kitchen-garden that night, and I thought, as I had thought from the
beginning, that she was you. I followed her to the bridge. I followed
her back to the house. I let her go into her hiding-place, and I set two
men to watch that entrance while I went out to make sure of Maida and
Jaffrey. Long before that night I had discovered the other opening to
the passage--the opening in Robbie's window sill---and had fastened it
up so that none of the gang should light upon it. When I came back at
my leisure, thinking to find my quarry in the hands of my two men, they
told me that she had not come out, that they had waited according to
orders, and had heard a long murmur of voices in the wall. Then I betook
myself to the other opening, and dropped on you from above." Here, all
at once, his self-control broke down. He came and took my hands, drawing
them up against his heart so that I rose slowly to my feet in front of
him. "Do you know what it was like to me to feel that I was handing you
over to justice? Even then, I loved you. Even then your beauty and your
eyes--Oh, Janice, I can't think of the agony of it all. Don't make me go
over it, don't make me explain it in cold blood. In cold blood? There
is n't a drop of cold blood in my body when I hold your hands! Are you
going to forgive me? Are you going to let me begin again? May I have my
chance?"

I laughed bitterly enough. "Your chance to win the daughter of Madame
Trème?"

At that he gripped me in his arms and kissed me till in the tumult of my
heart I could not hear the music of the mocking-bird.

"My heart has always known you for the lovely and holy thing you are,"
he told me later; "it knew you in spite of my bewildered wits."

"Did it know me that night in the arbor?" I asked him shakily. And he
was silent. I had to forgive him because he made no attempt to defend
himself. He sat there, miserable and silent, letting my hand go, till I
gave it back to him of my own free will, forgivingly.

And what more is there to tell?

Not long after the trial, Mrs. Brane left "The Pines" to marry Dr.
Haverstock, who, to my great surprise, had been her suitor all these
months. And as for Mary, she is living with Paul and me, and is the
happiest of faithful nurses to our child. Paul's and my daughter is a
little fairy, with demure gray eyes, and the blackest hair that I have
ever seen.

And the treasure, the robe and crown which so bedazzled the weak head
of Theodore Brane, and which drew Madame across the ocean to her death,
they are again in the crypt of the cathedral at Moscow, where there
stands, glittering once more between her golden candlesticks, our Holy
and Beloved Lady of the Jewels.


THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Red Lady" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home