“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.
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.