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Chapter 7 THE MAN ON THE WALL

  • 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.