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Chapter 26 THE FIGHT IN THE LIBRARY

  • “They’re coming faster this time,” remarked Stoddard.
  • “Certainly. Their general has been cursing them right heartily for retreatin_ithout the loot. He wants his three-hundred-thousand-dollar autograp_ollection,” observed Larry.
  • “Why doesn’t he come for it himself, like a man?” I demanded.
  • “Like a man, do you say!” ejaculated Larry. “Faith and you flatter that fat- head!”
  • It was nearly eleven o’clock when the attacking party returned after a parle_n the ice beyond the boat-house. The four of us were on the terrace ready fo_hem. They came smartly through the wood, the sheriff and Morgan slightly i_dvance of the others. I expected them to slacken their pace when they came t_he open meadow, but they broke into a quick trot at the water-tower and cam_oward the house as steady as veteran campaigners.
  • “Shall we try gunpowder?” asked Larry.
  • “We’ll let them fire the first volley,” I said.
  • “They’ve already tried to murder you and Stoddard, —I’m in for letting loos_ith the elephant guns,” protested the Irishman.
  • “Stand to your clubs,” admonished Stoddard, whose own weapon was comparable t_he Scriptural weaver’s beam. “Possession is nine points of the fight, an_e’ve got the house.”
  • “Also a prisoner of war,” said Larry, grinning.
  • The English detective had smashed the glass in the barred window of the potat_ellar and we could hear him howling and cursing below.
  • “Looks like business this time!” exclaimed Larry. “Spread out now and th_irst head that sticks over the balustrade gets a dose of hickory.”
  • When twenty-five yards from the terrace the advancing party divided, hal_alting between us and the water-tower and the remainder swinging around th_ouse toward the front entrance.
  • “Ah, look at that!” yelled Larry. “It’s a battering-ram they have. O man o_eace! have I your Majesty’s consent to try the elephant guns now?”
  • Morgan and the sheriff carried between them a stick of timber from which th_ranches had been cut, and, with a third man to help, they ran it up the step_nd against the door with a crash that came booming back through the house.
  • Bates was already bounding up the front stairway, a revolver in his hand and _ook of supreme rage on his face. Leaving Stoddard and Larry to watch th_ibrary windows, I was after him, and we clattered over the loose boards i_he upper hall and into a great unfinished chamber immediately over th_ntrance. Bates had the window up when I reached him and was well out upon th_oping, yelling a warning to the men below.
  • He had his revolver up to shoot, and when I caught his arm he turned to m_ith a look of anger and indignation I had never expected to see on hi_olorless, mask-like face.
  • “My God, sir! That door was his pride, sir,—it came from a famous house i_ngland, and they’re wrecking it, sir, as though it were common pine.”
  • He tore himself free of my grasp as the besiegers again launched thei_attering-ram against the door with a frightful crash, and his revolve_racked smartly thrice, as he bent far out with one hand clinging to th_indow frame.
  • His shots were a signal for a sharp reply from one of the men below, and _elt Bates start, and pulled him in, the blood streaming from his face.
  • “It’s all right, sir,—all right,—only a cut across my cheek, sir,”—and anothe_ullet smashed through the glass, spurting plaster dust from the wall. _ierce onslaught below caused a tremendous crash to echo through the house, and I heard firing on the opposite side, where the enemy’s reserve wa_aiting.
  • Bates, with a handkerchief to his face, protested that he was unhurt.
  • “Come below; there’s nothing to be gained here,”—. and I ran down to the hall, where Stoddard stood, leaning upon his club like a Hercules and cooll_atching the door as it leaped and shook under the repeated blows of th_esiegers.
  • A gun roared again at the side of the house, and I ran to the library, wher_arry had pushed furniture against all the long windows save one, which h_eld open. He stepped out upon the terrace and emptied a revolver at the me_ho were now creeping along the edge of the ravine beneath us. One of the_topped and discharged a rifle at us with deliberate aim. The ball snappe_now from the balustrade and screamed away harmlessly.
  • “Bah, such monkeys!” he muttered. “I believe I’ve hit that chap!” One man ha_allen and lay howling in the ravine, his hand to his thigh, while hi_omrades paused, demoralized.
  • “Serves you right, you blackguard!” Larry muttered.
  • I pulled him in and we jammed a cabinet against the door.
  • Meanwhile the blows at the front continued with increasing violence. Stoddar_till stood where I had left him. Bates was not in sight, but the barking of _evolver above showed that he had returned to the window to take vengeance o_is enemies.
  • Stoddard shook his head in deprecation.
  • “They fired first,—we can’t do less than get back at them,” I said, betwee_he blows of the battering-ram.
  • A panel of the great oak door now splintered in, but in their fear that w_ight use the opening as a loophole, they scampered out into range of Bates’ revolver. In return we heard a rain of small shot on the upper windows, and _ew seconds later Larry shouted that the flanking party was again at th_errace.
  • This movement evidently heartened the sheriff, for, under a fire from Bates, his men rushed up and the log crashed again into the door, shaking it free o_he upper hinges. The lower fastenings were wrenched loose an instant later, and the men came tumbling into the hall, —the sheriff, Morgan and four other_ had never seen before. Simultaneously the flanking party reached the terrac_nd were smashing the small panes of the French windows. We could hear th_lass crack and tinkle above the confusion at the door.
  • In the hall he was certainly a lucky man who held to his weapon a moment afte_he door tumbled in. I blazed at the sheriff with my revolver as he stumble_nd half-fell at the threshold, so that the ball passed over him, but h_ripped me by the legs and had me prone and half-dazed by the rap of my hea_n the floor.
  • I suppose I was two or three minutes, at least, getting my wits. I was firs_onscious of Bates grappling the sheriff, who sat upon me, and as the_truggled with each other I got the full benefit of their combined, swerving, tossing weight. Morgan and Larry were trying for a chance at each other wit_evolvers, while Morgan backed the Irishman slowly toward the library.
  • Stoddard had seized one of the unknown deputies with both hands by the colla_nd gave his captive a tremendous swing, jerking him high in the air an_riving him against another invader with a blow that knocked both fellow_pinning into a corner.
  • “Come on to the library!” shouted Larry, and Bates, who had got me to my feet, dragged me down the hall toward the open library-door.
  • Bates presented at this moment an extraordinary appearance, with the bloo_rom the scratch on his face coursing down his cheek and upon his shoulder.
  • His coat and shirt had been torn away and the blood was smeared over hi_reast. The fury and indignation in his face was something I hope not to se_gain in a human countenance.
  • “My God, this room—this beautiful room!” I heard him cry, as he pushed m_efore him into the library. “It was Mr. Glenarm’s pride,” he muttered, an_prang upon a burly fellow who had came in through one of the library door_nd was climbing over the long table we had set up as a barricade.
  • We were now between two fires. The sheriff’s party had fought valiantly t_eep us out of the library, and now that we were within, Stoddard’s bi_houlders held the door half-closed against the combined strength of the me_n the ball. This pause was fortunate, for it gave us an opportunity to dea_ingly with the fellows who were climbing in from the terrace. Bates had lai_ne of them low with a club and Larry disposed of another, who had made _urderous effort to stick a knife into him. I was with Stoddard against th_oor, where the sheriff’s men were slowly gaining upon us.
  • “Let go on the jump when I say three,” said Stoddard, and at his word w_prang away from the door and into the room. Larry yelled with joy as th_heriff and his men pitched forward and sprawled upon the floor, and we wer_t it again in a hand-to-hand conflict to clear the room.
  • “Hold that position, sir,” yelled Bates.
  • Morgan had directed the attack against me and I was driven upon the heart_efore the great fireplace. The sheriff, Morgan and Ferguson hemmed me in. I_as evident that I was the chief culprit, and they wished to eliminate me fro_he contest. Across the room, Larry, Stoddard and Bates were engaged in _ively rough and tumble with the rest of the besiegers, and Stoddard, seein_y plight, leaped the overturned table, broke past the trio and stood at m_ide, swinging a chair.
  • At that moment my eyes, sweeping the outer doors, saw the face of Pickering.
  • He had come to see that his orders were obeyed, and I remember yet m_atisfaction, as, hemmed in by the men he had hired to kill me or drive m_ut, I felt, rather than saw, the cowardly horror depicted upon his face.
  • Then the trio pressed in upon me. As I threw down my club and drew m_evolver, some one across the room fired several shots, whose roar through th_oom seemed to arrest the fight for an instant, and then, while Stoddard stoo_t my side swinging his chair defensively, the great chandelier, loosened o_roken by the shots, fell with a mighty crash of its crystal pendants. Th_heriff, leaping away from Stoddard’s club, was struck on the head and born_own by the heavy glass.
  • Smoke from the firing floated in clouds across the room, and there was _oment’s silence save for the sheriff, who was groaning and cursing under th_ebris of the chandelier. At the door Pickering’s face appeared again anxiou_nd frightened. I think the scene in the room and the slow progress his me_ere making against us had half-paralyzed him.
  • We were all getting our second wind for a renewal of the fight, with Morgan i_ommand of the enemy. One or two of his men, who had gone down early in th_truggle, were now crawling back for revenge. I think I must have raised m_and and pointed at Pickering, for Bates wheeled like a flash and before _ealized what happened he had dragged the executor into the room.
  • “You scoundrel—you ingrate!” howled the servant.
  • The blood on his face and bare chest and the hatred in his eves made him _ideous object; but in that lull of the storm while we waited, watching for a_dvantage, I heard off somewhere, above or below, that same sound of footstep_hat I had remarked before. Larry and Stoddard heard it; Bates heard it, an_is eyes fixed upon Pickering with a glare of malicious delight.
  • “There comes our old friend, the ghost,” yelled Larry.
  • “I think you are quite right, sir,” said Bates. He threw down the revolver h_eld in his hand and leaned upon the edge of the long table that lay on it_ide, his gaze still bent on Pickering, who stood with his overcoat buttone_lose, his derby hat on the floor beside him, where it had fallen as Bate_auled him into the room.
  • The sound of a measured step, of some one walking, of a careful foot on _tairway, was quite distinct. I even remarked the slight stumble that I ha_oticed before.
  • We were all so intent on those steps in the wall that we were off guard. _eard Bates yell at me, and Larry and Stoddard rushed for Pickering. He ha_rawn a revolver from his overcoat pocket and thrown it up to fire at me whe_toddard sent the weapon flying through the air.
  • “Only a moment now, gentlemen,” said Bates, an odd smile on his face. He wa_ooking past me toward the right end of the fireplace. There seemed to be i_he air a feeling of something impending. Even Morgan and his men, half- crouching ready for a rush at me, hesitated; and Pickering glanced nervousl_rom one to the other of us. It was the calm before the storm; in a moment w_hould be at each other’s throats for the final struggle, and yet we waited.
  • In the wall I heard still the sound of steps. They were clear to all of u_ow. We stood there for what seemed an eternity—I suppose the time was reall_ot more than thirty seconds—inert, waiting, while I felt that something mus_appen; the silence, the waiting, were intolerable. I grasped my pistol an_ent low for a spring at Morgan, with the overturned table and wreckage of th_handelier between me and Pickering; and every man in the room was instantl_n the alert.
  • All but Bates. He remained rigid—that curious smile on his blood-smeared face, his eyes bent toward the end of the great fireplace back of me.
  • That look on his face held, arrested, numbed me; I followed it. I forgo_organ; a tacit truce held us all again. I stepped back till my eyes fastene_n the broad paneled chimney-breast at the right of the hearth, and it wa_here now that the sound of footsteps in the wall was heard again; then i_eased utterly, the long panel opened slowly, creaking slightly upon it_inges, then down into the room stepped Marian Devereux. She wore the dar_own in which I had seen her last, and a cloak was drawn over her shoulders.
  • She laughed as her eyes swept the room.
  • “Ah, gentlemen,” she said, shaking her head, as she viewed our disorder, “wha_retched housekeepers you are!”
  • Steps were again heard in the wall, and she turned to the panel, held it ope_ith one hand and put out the other, waiting for some one who followed her.
  • Then down into the room stepped my grandfather, John Marshall Glenarm! Hi_taff, his cloak, the silk hat above his shrewd face, and his sharp black eye_ere unmistakable. He drew a silk handkerchief from the skirts of his froc_oat, with a characteristic flourish that I remembered well, and brushed a bi_f dust from his cloak before looking at any of us. Then his eyes fell upo_e.
  • “Good morning, Jack,” he said; and his gaze swept the room.
  • “God help us!”
  • It was Morgan, I think, who screamed these words as he bolted for the broke_oor, but Stoddard caught and held him.
  • “Thank God, you’re here, sir!” boomed forth in Bates’ sepulchral voice.
  • It seemed to me that I saw all that happened with a weird, unnatura_istinctness, as one sees, before a storm, vivid outlines of far headland_hat the usual light of day scarce discloses.
  • I was myself dazed and spellbound; but I do not like to think, even now, o_he effect of my grandfather’s appearance on Arthur Pickering; of the shoc_hat seemed verily to break him in two, so that he staggered, then collapsed, his head falling as though to strike his knees. Larry caught him by the colla_nd dragged him to a seat, where he huddled, his twitching hands at hi_hroat.
  • “Gentlemen,” said my grandfather, “you seem to have been enjoying yourselves.
  • Who is this person?”
  • He pointed with his stick to the sheriff, who was endeavoring to crawl ou_rom under the mass of broken crystals.
  • “That, sir, is the sheriff,” answered Bates.
  • “A very disorderly man, I must say. Jack, what have you been doing to caus_he sheriff so much inconvenience? Didn’t you know that that chandelier wa_ikely to kill him? That thing cost a thousand dollars, gentlemen. You ar_xpensive visitors. Ah, Morgan,— and Ferguson, too! Well, well! I though_etter of both of you. Good morning, Stoddard! A little work for the Churc_ilitant! And this gentleman?”—he indicated Larry, who was, for once in hi_ife, without anything to say.
  • “Mr. Donovan,—a friend of the house,” explained Bates.
  • “Pleased, I’m sure,” said the old gentleman. “Glad the house had a friend. I_eems to have had enemies enough,” he added dolefully; and he eyed the wrec_f the room ruefully. The good humor in his face reassured me; but still _tood in tongue-tied wonder, staring at him.
  • “And Pickering!” John Marshall Glenarm’s voice broke with a quiet mirth that _emembered as the preface usually of something unpleasant. “Well, Arthur, I’_lad to find you on guard, defending the interests of my estate. At the ris_f your life, too! Bates!”
  • “Yes, Mr. Glenarm.”
  • “You ought to have called me earlier. I really prized that chandelie_mmensely. And this furniture wasn’t so bad!”
  • His tone changed abruptly. He pointed to the sheriff’s deputies one after th_ther with his stick. There was, I remembered, always something insinuating, disagreeable and final about my grandfather’s staff.
  • “Clear out!” he commanded. “Bates, see these fellows through the wall. Mr.
  • Sheriff, if I were you I’d be very careful, indeed, what I said of thi_ffair. I’m a dead man come to life again, and I know a great deal that _idn’t know before I died. Nothing, gentlemen, fits a man for life like _emporary absence from this cheerful and pleasant world. I recommend you t_ry it.”
  • He walked about the room with the quick eager step that was peculiarly hi_wn, while Stoddard, Larry and I stared at him. Bates was helping the daze_heriff to his feet. Morgan and the rest of the foe were crawling an_taggering away, muttering, as though imploring the air of heaven against a_vil spirit.
  • Pickering sat silent, not sure whether he saw a ghost or real flesh and blood, and Larry kept close to him, cutting off his retreat. I think we al_xperienced that bewildered feeling of children who are caught in mischief b_ sudden parental visitation. My grandfather went about peering at the books, with a tranquil air that was disquieting.
  • He paused suddenly before the design for the memorial tablet, which I had mad_arly in my stay at Glenarm House. I had sketched the lettering with som_are, and pinned it against a shelf for my more leisurely study of it_hrases. The old gentlemen pulled out his glasses and stood with his hand_ehind his back, reading. When he finished he walked to where I stood.
  • “Jack!” he said, “Jack, my boy!” His voice shook and his hands trembled as h_aid them on my shoulders. “Marian,”—he turned, seeking her, but the girl ha_anished. “Just as well,” he said. “This room is hardly an edifying sight fo_ woman.” I heard, for an instant, a light hurried step in the wall.
  • Pickering, too, heard that faint, fugitive sound, and our eyes met at th_nstant it ceased. The thought of her tore my heart, and I felt that Pickerin_aw and knew and was glad.
  • “They have all gone, sir,” reported Bates, returning to the room.
  • “Now, gentlemen,” began my grandfather, seating himself, “I owe you a_pology; this little secret of mine was shared by only two persons. One o_hese was Bates,” —he paused as an exclamation broke from all of us; and h_ent on, enjoying our amazement,—“and the other was Marian Devereux. I ha_ften observed that at a man’s death his property gets into the wrong hands, or becomes a bone of contention among lawyers. Sometimes,” and the ol_entleman laughed, “an executor proves incompetent or dishonest. I wa_horoughly fooled in you, Pickering. The money you owe me is a large sum; an_ou were so delighted to hear of my death that you didn’t even make sure I wa_eally out of the way. You were perfectly willing to accept Bates’ word fo_t; and I must say that Bates carried it off splendidly.”
  • Pickering rose, the blood surging again in his face, and screamed at Bates, pointing a shaking finger at the man.
  • “You impostor,—you perjurer! The law will deal with your case.”
  • “To be sure,” resumed my grandfather calmly; “Bates did make false affidavit_bout my death; but possibly—”
  • “It was in a Pickwickian sense, sir,” said Bates gravely.
  • “And in a righteous cause,” declared my grandfather. “I assure you, Pickering, that I have every intention of taking care of Bates. His weekly letters givin_n account of the curious manifestations of your devotion to Jack’s securit_nd peace were alone worth a goodly sum. But, Bates—”
  • The old gentleman was enjoying himself hugely. He chuckled now, and placed hi_and on my shoulder.
  • “Bates, it was too bad I got those missives of yours all in a bunch. I was i_ _dahabiyeh_ on the Nile and they don’t have rural free delivery in Egypt.
  • Your cablegram called me home before I got the letters. But thank God, Jack, you’re alive!”
  • There was real feeling in these last words, and I think we were all touched b_hem.
  • “Amen to that!” cried Bates.
  • “And now, Pickering, before you go I want to show you something. It’s abou_his mysterious treasure, that has given you—and I hear, the whol_ountryside—so much concern. I’m disappointed in you, Jack, that you couldn’_ind the hiding-place. I designed that as a part of your architectura_ducation. Bates, give me a chair.”
  • The man gravely drew a chair out of the wreckage and placed it upon th_earth. My grandfather stepped upon it, seized one of the bronze sconces abov_he mantel and gave it a sharp turn. At the same moment, Bates, upon anothe_hair, grasped the companion bronze and wrenched it sharply. Instantly som_echanism creaked in the great oak chimney-breast and the long oak panel_wung open, disclosing a steel door with a combination knob.
  • “Gentlemen,”—and my grandfather turned with a quaint touch of humor, and _erry twinkle in his bright old eyes—“gentlemen, behold the treasury! It ha_roved a better hiding-place than I ever imagined it would. There’s not muc_ere, Jack, but enough to keep you going for a while.”
  • We were all staring, and the old gentleman was unfeignedly enjoying ou_ystification. It was an hour on which he had evidently counted much; it wa_he triumph of his resurrection and home-coming, and he chuckled as he twirle_he knob in the steel door. Then Bates stepped forward and helped him pull th_oor open, disclosing a narrow steel chest, upright and held in place by heav_olts clamped in the stone of the chimney. It was filled with packets o_apers placed on shelves, and tied neatly with tape.
  • “Jack,” said my grandfather, shaking his head, “you wouldn’t be an architect, and you’re not much of an engineer either, or you’d have seen that tha_aneling was heavier than was necessary. There’s two hundred thousand dollar_n first-rate securities—I vouch for them! Bates and I put them there jus_efore I went to Vermont to die.”
  • “I’ve sounded those panels a dozen times,” I protested.
  • “Of course you have,” said my grandfather, “but solid steel behind wood i_afe. I tested it carefully before I left.”
  • He laughed and clapped his knees, and I laughed with him.
  • “But you found the Door of Bewilderment and Pickering’s notes, and that’_omething.”
  • “No; I didn’t even find that. Donovan deserves the credit. But how did yo_ver come to build that tunnel, if you don’t mind telling me?”
  • He laughed gleefully.
  • “That was originally a trench for natural-gas pipes. There was once a larg_umping-station on the site of this house, with a big trunk main running of_cross country to supply the towns west of here. The gas was exhausted, an_he pipes were taken up before I began to build. I should never have though_f that tunnel in the world if the trench hadn’t suggested it. I merel_eepened and widened it a little and plastered it with cheap cement as far a_he chapel, and that little room there where I put Pickering’s notes had onc_een the cellar of a house built for the superintendent of the gas plant. _ad never any idea that I should use that passage as a means of getting int_y own house, but Marian met me at the station, told me that there was troubl_ere, and came with me through the chapel into the cellar, and through th_idden stairway that winds around the chimney from that room where we keep th_andlesticks.”
  • “But who was the ghost?” I demanded, “if you were really alive and in Egypt?”
  • Bates laughed now.
  • “Oh, I was the ghost! I went through there occasionally to stimulate you_uriosity about the house. And you nearly caught me once!”
  • “One thing more, if we’re not wearing you out—I’d like to know whether Siste_heresa owes you any money.”
  • My grandfather turned upon Pickering with blazing eyes.
  • “You scoundrel, you infernal scoundrel, Sister Theresa never borrowed a cen_f me in her life! And you have made war on that woman—”
  • His rage choked him.
  • He told Bates to close the door of the steel chest, and then turned to me.
  • “Where are those notes of Pickering’s?” he demanded; and I brought the packet.
  • “Gentlemen, Mr. Pickering has gone to ugly lengths in this affair. How man_urders have you gentlemen committed?”
  • “We were about to begin actual killing when you arrived,” replied Larry, grinning.
  • “The sheriff got all his men off the premises more or less alive, sir,” sai_ates.
  • “That is good. It was all a great mistake,—a very great mistake,”—and m_randfather turned to Pickering.
  • “Pickering, what a contemptible scoundrel you are! I lent you that thre_undred thousand dollars to buy securities to give you better standing in you_ailroad enterprises, and the last time I saw you, you got me to release th_ollateral so you could raise money to buy more shares. Then, after I died”—h_huckled—“you thought you’d find and destroy the notes and that would end th_ransaction; and if you had been smart enough to find them you might have ha_hem and welcome. But as it is, they go to Jack. If he shows any mercy on yo_n collecting them he’s not the boy I think he is.”
  • Pickering rose, seized his hat and turned toward the shattered library-door.
  • He paused for one moment, his face livid with rage.
  • “You old fool!” he screamed at my grandfather. “You old lunatic, I wish to Go_ had never seen you! No wonder you came back to life! You’re a tricky ol_evil and too mean to die!”
  • He turned toward me with some similar complaint ready at his tongue’s end; bu_toddard caught him by the shoulders and thrust him out upon the terrace.
  • A moment later we saw him cross the meadow and hurry toward St. Agatha’s.