I was so thoroughly angry with myself that after idling along the shores fo_n hour I lost my way in the dark wood when I landed and brought up at th_ear door used by Bates for communication with the villagers who supplied u_ith provender. I readily found my way to the kitchen and to a flight o_tairs beyond, which connected the first and second floors. The house wa_ark, and my good spirits were not increased as I stumbled up the unfamilia_ay in the dark, with, I fear, a malediction upon my grandfather, who ha_uilt and left incomplete a house so utterly preposterous. My unpardonabl_ling at the girl still rankled; and I was cold from the quick descent of th_ight chill on the water and anxious to get into more comfortable clothes.
Once on the second floor I felt that I knew the way to my room, and I wa_eeling my way toward it over the rough floor when I heard low voices risin_pparently from my sitting-room.
It was pitch dark in the hall. I stopped short and listened. The door of m_oom was open and a faint light flashed once into the hall and disappeared. _eard now a sound as of a hammer tapping upon wood-work.
Then it ceased, and a voice whispered:
“He’ll kill me if he finds me here. I’ll try again to-morrow. I swear to Go_’ll help you, but no more now—”
Then the sound of a scuffle and again the tapping of the hammer. After severa_inutes more of this there was a whispered dialogue which I could not hear.
Whatever was occurring, two or three points struck me on the instant. One o_he conspirators was an unwilling party to an act as yet unknown; second, the_ad been unsuccessful and must wait for another opportunity; and third, th_usiness, whatever it was, was clearly of some importance to myself, as my ow_partments in my grandfather’s strange house had been chosen for th_nvestigation.
Clearly, I was not prepared to close the incident, but the idea of frightenin_y visitors appealed to my sense of humor. I tiptoed to the front stairway, ran lightly down, found the front door, and, from the inside, opened an_lammed it. I heard instantly a hurried scamper above, and the heavy fall o_ne who had stumbled in the dark. I grinned with real pleasure at the sound o_his mishap, hurried into the great library, which was as dark as a well, and, opening one of the long windows, stepped out on the balcony. At once from th_ear of the house came the sound of a stealthy step, which increased to a ru_t the ravine bridge. I listened to the flight of the fugitive through th_ood until the sounds died away toward the lake.
Then, turning to the library windows, I saw Bates, with a candle held abov_is head, peering about.
“Hello, Bates,” I called cheerfully. “I just got home and stepped out to se_f the moon had risen. I don’t believe I know where to look for it in thi_ountry.”
He began lighting the tapers with his usual deliberation.
“It’s a trifle early, I think, sir. About seven o’clock, I should say, was th_our, Mr. Glenarm.”
There was, of course, no doubt whatever that Bates had been one of the men _eard in my room. It was wholly possible that he had been compelled to assis_n some lawless act against his will; but why, if he had been forced int_iding a criminal, should he not invoke my own aid to protect himself? _icked the logs in the fireplace impatiently in my uncertainty. The man slowl_ighted the many candles in the great apartment. He was certainly a deep one, and his case grew more puzzling as I studied it in relation to the rifle-sho_f the night before, his collision with Morgan in the wood, which I ha_itnessed; and now the house itself had been invaded by some one with hi_onnivance. The shot through the refectory window might have been innocen_nough; but these other matters in connection with it could hardly be brushe_side.
Bates lighted me to the stairway, and said as I passed him:
“There’s a baked ham for dinner. I should call it extra delicate, Mr. Glenarm.
I suppose there’s no change in the dinner hour, sir?”
“Certainly not,” I said with asperity; for I am not a person to inaugurate _inner hour one day and change it the next. Bates wished to mak_onversation,—the sure sign of a guilty conscience in a servant,—and I was no_isposed to encourage him.
I closed the doors carefully and began a thorough examination of both th_itting-room and the little bed-chamber. I was quite sure that my own effect_ould not have attracted the two men who had taken advantage of my absence t_isit my quarters. Bates had helped unpack my trunk and undoubtedly knew ever_tem of my simple wardrobe. I threw open the doors of the three closets in th_ooms and found them all in the good order established by Bates. He ha_arried my trunks and bags to a store-room, so that everything I owned mus_ave passed under his eye. My money even, the remnant of my fortune that I ha_rawn from the New York bank, I had placed carelessly enough in the drawer o_ chiffonnier otherwise piled with collars. It took but a moment to satisf_yself that this had not been touched. And, to be sure, a hammer was no_ecessary to open a drawer that had, from its appearance, never been locked.
The game was deeper than I had imagined; I had scratched the crust withou_esult, and my wits were busy with speculations as I changed my clothes, pausing frequently to examine the furniture, even the bricks on the hearth.
One thing only I found—the slight scar of a hammer-head on the oak panelin_hat ran around the bedroom. The wood had been struck near the base and at th_op of every panel, for though the mark was not perceptible on all, a test ha_vidently been made systematically. With this as a beginning, I found a momen_ater a spot of tallow under a heavy table in one corner. Evidently th_urniture had been moved to permit of the closest scrutiny of the paneling.
Even behind the bed I found the same impress of the hammer-head; the test ha_ndoubtedly been thorough, for a pretty smart tap on oak is necessary to leav_n impression. My visitors had undoubtedly been making soundings in search o_ recess of some kind in the wall, and as they had failed of their purpos_hey were likely, I assumed, to pursue their researches further.
I pondered these things with a thoroughly-awakened interest in life. Glenar_ouse really promised to prove exciting. I took from a drawer a smal_evolver, filled its chambers with cartridges and thrust it into my hi_ocket, whistling meanwhile Larry Donovan’s favorite air, the _Marche Funèbr_’une Marionnette_. My heart went out to Larry as I scented adventure, and _ished him with me; but speculations as to Larry’s whereabouts were alway_rofitless, and quite likely he was in jail somewhere.
The ham of whose excellence Bates had hinted was no disappointment. There is, I have always held, nothing better in this world than a baked ham, and th_pecimen Bates placed before me was a delight to the eye,—so adorned was i_ith spices, so crisply brown its outer coat; and a taste—that first tentativ_aste, before the sauce was added—was like a dream of Lucullus come true. _ould forgive a good deal in a cook with that touch,—anything short of arso_nd assassination!
“Bates,” I said, as he stood forth where I could see him, “you cook amazingl_ell. Where did you learn the business?”
“Your grandfather grew very captious, Mr. Glenarm. I had to learn to satisf_im, and I believe I did it, sir, if you’ll pardon the conceit.”
“He didn’t die of gout, did he? I can readily imagine it.”
“No, Mr. Glenarm. It was his heart. He had his warning of it.”
“Ah, yes; to be sure. The heart or the stomach,—one may as well fail as th_ther. I believe I prefer to keep my digestion going as long as possible.
Those grilled sweet potatoes again, if you please, Bates.”
The game that he and I were playing appealed to me strongly. It was altogethe_orth while, and as I ate guava jelly with cheese and toasted crackers, an_hen lighted one of my own cigars over a cup of Bates’ unfailing coffee, m_pirit was livelier than at any time since a certain evening on which Larr_nd I had escaped from Tangier with our lives and the curses of the police. I_s a melancholy commentary on life that contentment comes more easily throug_he stomach than along any other avenue. In the great library, with its ric_tore of books and its eternal candles, I sprawled upon a divan before th_ire and smoked and indulged in pleasant speculations. The day had offere_uch material for fireside reflection, and I reviewed its history calmly.
There was, however, one incident that I found unpleasant in the retrospect. _ad been guilty of most unchivalrous conduct toward one of the girls of St.
Agatha’s. It had certainly been unbecoming in me to sit on the wall, howeve_nwillingly, and listen to the words—few though they were—that passed betwee_er and the chaplain. I forgot the shot through the window; I forgot Bates an_he interest my room possessed for him and his unknown accomplice; but th_udden distrust and contempt I had awakened in the girl by my clownis_ehavior annoyed me increasingly.
I rose presently, found my cap in a closet under the stairs, and went out int_he moon-flooded wood toward the lake. The tangle was not so great when yo_new the way, and there was indeed, as I had found, the faint suggestion of _ath. The moon glorified a broad highway across the water; the air was shar_nd still. The houses in the summer colony were vaguely defined, but the sigh_f them gave me no cheer. The tilt of her tam-o’-shanter as she paddled awa_nto the sunset had conveyed an impression of spirit and dignity that I coul_ot adjust to any imaginable expiation.
These reflections carried me to the borders of St. Agatha’s, and I followe_he wall to the gate, climbed up, and sat down in the shadow of the pilla_arthest from the lake. Lights shone scatteringly in the buildings of St.
Agatha’s, but the place was wholly silent. I drew out a cigarette and wa_bout to light it when I heard a sound as of a tread on stone. There was, _new, no stone pavement at hand, but peering toward the lake I saw a ma_alking boldly along the top of the wall toward me. The moonlight threw hi_igure into clear relief. Several times he paused, bent down and rapped upo_he wall with an object he carried in his hand.
Only a few hours before I had heard a similar sound rising from th_ainscoting of my own room in Glenarm House. Evidently the stone wall, too, was under suspicion!
Tap, tap, tap! The man with the hammer was examining the farther side of th_ate, and very likely he would carry his investigations beyond it. I drew u_y legs and crouched in the shadow of the pillar, revolver in hand. I was no_nxious for an encounter; I much preferred to wait for a disclosure of th_urpose that lay behind this mysterious tapping upon walls on my grandfather’_state.
But the matter was taken out of my own hands before I had a chance to debat_t. The man dropped to the ground, sounded the stone base under the gate, likewise the pillars, evidently without results, struck a spiteful crack upo_he iron bars, then stood up abruptly and looked me straight in the eyes. I_as Morgan, the caretaker of the summer colony.
“Good evening, Mr. Morgan,” I said, settling the revolver into my hand.
There was no doubt about his surprise; he fell back, staring at me hard, an_nstinctively drawing the hammer over his shoulder as though to fling it a_e.
“Just stay where you are a moment, Morgan,” I said pleasantly, and dropped t_ sitting position on the wall for greater ease in talking to him.
He stood sullenly, the hammer dangling at arm’s length, while my revolve_overed his head.
“Now, if you please, I’d like to know what you mean by prowling about here an_ummaging my house!”
“Oh, it’s you, is it, Mr. Glenarm? Well, you certainly gave me a bad scare.”
His air was one of relief and his teeth showed pleasantly through his beard.
“It certainly is I. But you haven’t answered my question. What were you doin_n my house to-day?”
He smiled again, shaking his head.
“You’re really fooling, Mr. Glenarm. I wasn’t in your house to-day; I neve_as in it in my life!”
His white teeth gleamed in his light beard; his hat was pushed back from hi_orehead so that I saw his eyes, and he wore unmistakably the air of a ma_hose conscience is perfectly clear. I was confident that he lied, but withou_ppealing to Bates I was not prepared to prove it.
“But you can’t deny that you’re on my grounds now, can you?” I had dropped th_evolver to my knee, but I raised it again.
“Certainly not, Mr. Glenarm. If you’ll allow me to explain—”
“That’s precisely what I want you to do.”
“Well, it may seem strange,”—he laughed, and I felt the least bit foolish t_e pointing a pistol at the head of a fellow of so amiable a spirit.
“Hurry,” I commanded.
“Well, as I was saying, it may seem strange; but I was just examining the wal_o determine the character of the work. One of the cottagers on the lake lef_e with the job of building a fence on his place, and I’ve been expecting t_ome over to look at this all fall. You see, Mr. Glenarm, your honore_randfather was a master in such matters, as you may know, and I didn’t se_ny harm in getting the benefit—to put it so—of his experience.”
I laughed. He had denied having entered the house with so much assurance tha_ had been prepared for some really plausible explanation of his interest i_he wall.
“Morgan—you said it was Morgan, didn’t you?—you are undoubtedly a scoundrel o_he first water. I make the remark with pleasure.”
“Men have been killed for saying less,” he said.
“And for doing less than firing through windows at a man’s head. It wasn’_riendly of you.”
“I don’t see why you center all your suspicions on me. You exaggerate m_mportance, Mr. Glenarm. I’m only the man-of-all-work at a summer resort.”
“I wouldn’t believe you, Morgan, if you swore on a stack of Bibles as high a_his wall.”
“Thanks!” he ejaculated mockingly.
Like a flash he swung the hammer over his head and drove it at me, and at th_ame moment I fired. The hammer-head struck the pillar near the outer edge an_n such a manner that the handle flew around and smote me smartly in the face.
By the time I reached the ground the man was already running rapidly throug_he park, darting in and out among the trees, and I made after him at ho_peed.
The hammer-handle had struck slantingly across my forehead, and my head ache_rom the blow. I abused myself roundly for managing the encounter so stupidly, and in my rage fired twice with no aim whatever after the flying figure of th_aretaker. He clearly had the advantage of familiarity with the wood, strikin_ff boldly into the heart of it, and quickly widening the distance between us; but I kept on, even after I ceased to hear him threshing through th_ndergrowth, and came out presently at the margin of the lake about fifty fee_rom the boat-house. I waited in the shadow for some time, expecting to se_he fellow again, but he did not appear.
I found the wall with difficulty and followed it back to the gate. It would b_ust as well, I thought, to possess myself of the hammer; and I dropped dow_n the St. Agatha side of the wall and groped about among the leaves until _ound it.
Then I walked home, went into the library, alight with its many candles jus_s I had left it, and sat down before the fire to meditate. I had been absen_rom the house only forty-five minutes.