The House of a Thousand Candles
A TRIPLE ALLIANCE
Larry refused to share my quarters and chose a room for himself, which Bates fitted, up out of the house stores. I did not know what Bates might surmise about Larry, but he accepted my friend in good part, as a guest who would remain indefinitely. He seemed to interest Larry, whose eyes followed the man inquiringly. When we went into Bates’ room on our tour of the house, Larry scanned the books on a little shelf with something more than a casual eye. There were exactly four volumes,—Shakespeare’s Comedies, The Faerie Queen, Sterne’s Sentimental Journey and Yeats’ Land of Heart’s Desire.
“A queer customer, Larry. Nobody but my grandfather could ever have discovered him—he found him up in Vermont.”
“I suppose his being a bloomin’ Yankee naturally accounts for this,” remarked Larry, taking from under the pillow of the narrow iron bed a copy of the Dublin Freeman’s Journal.
“It is a little odd,” I said. “But if you found a Yiddish newspaper or an Egyptian papyrus under his pillow I should not be surprised.”
“Nor I,” said Larry. “I’ll wager that not another shelf in this part of the world contains exactly that collection of books, and nothing else. You will notice that there was once a book-plate in each of these volumes and that it’s been scratched out with care.”
On a small table were pen and ink and a curious much-worn portfolio.
“He always gets the mail first, doesn’t he?” asked Larry.
“Yes, I believe he does.”
“I thought so; and I’ll swear he never got a letter from Vermont in his life.”
When we went down Bates was limping about the library, endeavoring to restore order.
“Bates,” I said to him, “you are a very curious person. I have had a thousand and one opinions about you since I came here, and I still don’t make you out.”
He turned from the shelves, a defaced volume in his hands.
“Yes, sir. It was a good deal that way with your lamented grandfather. He always said I puzzled him.”
Larry, safe behind the fellow’s back, made no attempt to conceal a smile.
“I want to thank you for your heroic efforts to protect the house last night. You acted nobly, and I must confess, Bates, that I didn’t think it was in you. You’ve got the right stuff in you; I’m only sorry that there are black pages in your record that I can’t reconcile with your manly conduct of last night. But we’ve got to come to an understanding.”
“The most outrageous attacks have been made on me since I came here. You know what I mean well enough. Mr. Glenarm never intended that I should sit down in his house and be killed or robbed. He was the gentlest being that ever lived, and I’m going to fight for his memory and to protect his property from the scoundrels who have plotted against me. I hope you follow me.”
“Yes, Mr. Glenarm.” He was regarding me attentively. His lips quavered, perhaps from weakness, for he certainly looked ill.
“Now I offer you your choice,—either to stand loyally by me and my grandfather’s house or to join these scoundrels Arthur Pickering has hired to drive me out. I’m not going to bribe you,—I don’t offer you a cent for standing by me, but I won’t have a traitor in the house, and if you don’t like me or my terms I want you to go and go now.”
He straightened quickly,—his eyes lighted and the color crept into his face. I had never before seen him appear so like a human being.
“Mr. Glenarm, you have been hard on me; there have been times when you have been very unjust—”
“Unjust,—my God, what do you expect me to take from you! Haven’t I known that you were in league with Pickering? I’m not as dull as I look, and after your interview with Pickering in the chapel porch you can’t convince me that you were faithful to my interests at that time.”
He started and gazed at me wonderingly. I had had no intention of using the chapel porch interview at this time, but it leaped out of me uncontrollably.
“I suppose, sir,” he began brokenly, “that I can hardly persuade you that I meant no wrong on that occasion.”
“You certainly can not,—and it’s safer for you not to try. But I’m willing to let all that go as a reward for your work last night. Make your choice now; stay here and stop your spying or clear out of Annandale within an hour.”
He took a step toward me; the table was between us and he drew quite near but stood clear of it, erect until there was something almost soldierly and commanding in his figure.
“By God, I will stand by you, John Glenarm!” he said, and struck the table smartly with his clenched hand.
He flushed instantly, and I felt the blood mounting into my own face as we gazed at each other,—he, Bates, the servant, and I, his master! He had always addressed me so punctiliously with the “sir” of respect that his declaration of fealty, spoken with so sincere and vigorous an air of independence, and with the bold emphasis of the oath, held me spellbound, staring at him. The silence was broken by Larry, who sprang forward and grasped Bates’ hand.
“I, too, Bates,” I said, feeling my heart leap with liking, even with admiration for the real manhood that seemed to transfigure this hireling,—this fellow whom I had charged with most infamous treachery, this servant who had cared for my needs in so humble a spirit of subjection.
The knocker on the front door sounded peremptorily, and Bates turned away without another word, and admitted Stoddard, who came in hurriedly.
“Merry Christmas!” in his big hearty tones was hardly consonant with the troubled look on his face. I introduced him to Larry and asked him to sit down.
“Pray excuse our disorder,—we didn’t do it for fun; it was one of Santa Claus’ tricks.”
He stared about wonderingly.
“So you caught it, too, did you?”
“To be sure. You don’t mean to say that they raided the chapel?”
“That’s exactly what I mean to say. When I went into the church for my early service I found that some one had ripped off the wainscoting in a half a dozen places and even pried up the altar. It’s the most outrageous thing I ever knew. You’ve heard of the proverbial poverty of the church mouse,—what do you suppose anybody could want to raid a simple little country chapel for? And more curious yet, the church plate was untouched, though the closet where it’s kept was upset, as though the miscreants had been looking for something they didn’t find.”
Stoddard was greatly disturbed, and gazed about the topsy-turvy library with growing indignation.
We drew together for a council of war. Here was an opportunity to enlist a new recruit on my side. I already felt stronger by reason of Larry’s accession; as to Bates, my mind was still numb and bewildered.
“Larry, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t join forces with Mr. Stoddard, as he seems to be affected by this struggle. We owe it to him and the school to put him on guard, particularly since we know that Ferguson’s with the enemy.”
“Yes, certainly,” said Larry.
He always liked or disliked new people unequivocally, and I was glad to see that he surveyed the big clergyman with approval.
“I’ll begin at the beginning,” I said, “and tell you the whole story.”
He listened quietly to the end while I told him of my experience with Morgan, of the tunnel into the chapel crypt, and finally of the affair in the night and our interview with Bates.
“I feel like rubbing my eyes and accusing you of reading penny-horrors,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like the twentieth century in Indiana.”
“But Ferguson,—you’d better have a care in his direction. Sister Theresa—”
“Bless your heart! Ferguson’s gone—without notice. He got his traps and skipped without saying a word to any one.”
“We’ll hear from him again, no doubt. Now, gentlemen, I believe we understand one another. I don’t like to draw you, either one of you, into my private affairs—”
The big chaplain laughed.
“Glenarm,”—prefixes went out of commission quickly that morning,—”if you hadn’t let me in on this I should never have got over it. Why, this is a page out of the good old times! Bless me! I never appreciated your grandfather! I must run—I have another service. But I hope you gentlemen will call on me, day or night, for anything I can do to help you. Please don’t forget me. I had the record once for putting the shot.”
“Why not give our friend escort through the tunnel?” asked Larry. “I’ll not hesitate to say that I’m dying to see it.”
“To be sure!” We went down into the cellar, and poked over the lantern and candlestick collections, and I pointed out the exact spot where Morgan and I had indulged in our revolver duel. It was fortunate that the plastered walls of the cellar showed clearly the cuts and scars of the pistol-balls or I fear my story would have fallen on incredulous ears.
The debris I had piled upon the false block of stone in the cellar lay as I had left it, but the three of us quickly freed the trap. The humor of the thing took strong hold of my new allies, and while I was getting a lantern to light us through the passage Larry sat on the edge of the trap and howled a few bars of a wild Irish jig. We set forth at once and found the passage unchanged. When the cold air blew in upon us I paused.
“Have you gentlemen the slightest idea of where you are?”
“We must be under the school-grounds, I should say,” replied Stoddard.
“We’re exactly under the stone wall. Those tall posts at the gate are a scheme for keeping fresh air in the passage.”
“You certainly have all the modern improvements,” observed Larry, and I heard him chuckling all the way to the crypt door.
When I pushed the panel open and we stepped out into the crypt Stoddard whistled and Larry swore softly.
“It must be for something!” exclaimed the chaplain. “You don’t suppose Mr. Glenarm built a secret passage just for the fun of it, do you? He must have had some purpose. Why, I sleep out here within forty yards of where we stand and I never had the slightest idea of this.”
“But other people seem to know of it,” observed Larry.
“To be sure; the curiosity of the whole countryside was undoubtedly piqued by the building of Glenarm House. The fact that workmen were brought from a distance was in itself enough to arouse interest. Morgan seems to have discovered the passage without any trouble.”
“More likely it was Ferguson. He was the sexton of the church and had a chance to investigate,” said Stoddard. “And now, gentlemen, I must go to my service. I’ll see you again before the day is over.”
“And we make no confidences!” I admonished.
“‘Sdeath!—I believe that is the proper expression under all the circumstances.” And the Reverend Paul Stoddard laughed, clasped my hand and went up into the chapel vestry.
I closed the door in the wainscoting and hung the map back in place.
We went up into the little chapel and found a small company of worshipers assembled,—a few people from the surrounding farms, half a dozen Sisters sitting somberly near the chancel and the school servants.
Stoddard came out into the chancel, lighted the altar tapers and began the Anglican communion office. I had forgotten what a church service was like; and Larry, I felt sure, had not attended church since the last time his family had dragged hint to choral vespers.
It was comforting to know that here was, at least, one place of peace within reach of Glenarm House. But I may be forgiven, I hope, if my mind wandered that morning, and my thoughts played hide-and-seek with memory. For it was here, in the winter twilight, that Marian Devereux had poured out her girl’s heart in a great flood of melody. I was glad that the organ was closed; it would have wrung my heart to hear a note from it that her hands did not evoke.
When we came out upon the church porch and I stood on the steps to allow Larry to study the grounds, one of the brown-robed Sisterhood spoke my name.
It was Sister Theresa.
“Can you come in for a moment?” she asked.
“I will follow at once,” I said.
She met me in the reception-room where I had seen her before.
“I’m sorry to trouble you on Christmas Day with my affairs, but I have had a letter from Mr. Pickering, saying that he will he obliged to bring suit for settlement of my account with Mr. Glenarm’s estate. I needn’t say that this troubles me greatly. In my position a lawsuit is uncomfortable; it would do a real harm to the school. Mr. Pickering implies in a very disagreeable way that I exercised an undue influence over Mr. Glenarm. You can readily understand that that is not a pleasant accusation.”
“He is going pretty far,” I said.
“He gives me credit for a degree of power over others that I regret to say I do not possess. He thinks, for instance, that I am responsible for Miss Devereux’s attitude toward him,—something that I have had nothing whatever to do with.”
“No, of course not.”
“I’m glad you have no harsh feeling toward her. It was unfortunate that Mr. Glenarm saw fit to mention her in his will. It has given her a great deal of notoriety, and has doubtless strengthened the impression in some minds that she and I really plotted to get as much as possible of your grandfather’s estate.”
“No one would regret all this more than my grandfather, —I am sure of that. There are many inexplicable things about his affairs. It seems hardly possible that a man so shrewd as he, and so thoughtful of the feelings of others, should have left so many loose ends behind him. But I assure you I am giving my whole attention to these matters, and I am wholly at your service in anything I can do to help you.”
“I sincerely hope that nothing may interfere to prevent your meeting Mr. Glenarm’s wish that you remain through the year. That was a curious and whimsical provision, but it is not, I imagine, so difficult.”
She spoke in a kindly tone of encouragement that made me feel uneasy and almost ashamed for having already forfeited my claim under the will. Her beautiful gray eyes disconcerted me; I had not the heart to deceive her.
“I have already made it impossible for me to inherit under the will,” I said.
The disappointment in her face rebuked me sharply.
“I am sorry, very sorry, indeed,” she said coldly. “But how, may I ask?”
“I ran away, last night. I went to Cincinnati to see Miss Devereux.”
She rose, staring in dumb astonishment, and after a full minute in which I tried vainly to think of something to say, I left the house.
There is nothing in the world so tiresome as explanations, and I have never in my life tried to make them without floundering into seas of trouble.