Missing: Page Thirteen





"One more! just one more well paying affair, and I promise to

stop; really and truly to stop."



"But, Puss, why one more? You have earned the amount you set for

yourself,--or very nearly,--and though my help is not great, in

three months I can add enough--"



"No, you cannot, Arthur. You are doing well; I appreciate it; in

fact, I am just delighted to have you work for me in the way you

do, but you cannot, in your present position, make enough in

three months, or in six, to meet the situation as I see it.

Enough does not satisfy me. The measure must be full, heaped up,

and running over. Possible failure following promise must be

provided for. Never must I feel myself called upon to do this

kind of thing again. Besides, I have never got over the Zabriskie

tragedy. It haunts me continually. Something new may help to put

it out of my head. I feel guilty. I was responsible--"



"No, Puss. I will not have it that you were responsible. Some

such end was bound to follow a complication like that. Sooner or

later he would have been driven to shoot himself--"



"But not her."



"No, not her. But do you think she would have given those few

minutes of perfect understanding with her blind husband for a few

years more of miserable life?"



Violet made no answer; she was too absorbed in her surprise. Was

this Arthur? Had a few weeks' work and a close connection with

the really serious things of life made this change in him? Her

face beamed at the thought, which seeing, but not understanding

what underlay this evidence of joy, he bent and kissed her,

saying with some of his old nonchalance:



"Forget it, Violet; only don't let any one or anything lead you

to interest yourself in another affair of the kind. If you do, I

shall have to consult a certain friend of yours as to the best

way of stopping this folly. I mention no names. Oh! you need not

look so frightened. Only behave; that's all."



"He's right," she acknowledged to herself, as he sauntered away;

"altogether right."



Yet because she wanted the extra money--



The scene invited alarm,--that is, for so young a girl as Violet,

surveying it from an automobile some time after the stroke of

midnight. An unknown house at the end of a heavily shaded walk,

in the open doorway of which could be seen the silhouette of a

woman's form leaning eagerly forward with arms outstretched in an

appeal for help! It vanished while she looked, but the effect

remained, holding her to her seat for one startled moment. This

seemed strange, for she had anticipated adventure. One is not

summoned from a private ball to ride a dozen miles into the

country on an errand of investigation, without some expectation

of encountering the mysterious and the tragic. But Violet

Strange, for all her many experiences, was of a most susceptible

nature, and for the instant in which that door stood open, with

only the memory of that expectant figure to disturb the faintly

lit vista of the hall beyond, she felt that grip upon the throat

which comes from an indefinable fear which no words can explain

and no plummet sound.



But this soon passed. With the setting of her foot to ground,

conditions changed and her emotions took on a more normal

character. The figure of a man now stood in the place held by the

vanished woman; and it was not only that of one she knew but that

of one whom she trusted--a friend whose very presence gave her

courage. With this recognition came a better understanding of the

situation, and it was with a beaming eye and unclouded features

that she tripped up the walk to meet the expectant figure and

outstretched hand of Roger Upjohn.



"You here!" she exclaimed, amid smiles and blushes, as he drew

her into the hall.



He at once launched forth into explanations mingled with

apologies for the presumption he had shown in putting her to this

inconvenience. There was trouble in the house--great trouble.

Something had occurred for which an explanation must be found

before morning, or the happiness and honour of more than one

person now under this unhappy roof would be wrecked. He knew it

was late--that she had been obliged to take a long and dreary

ride alone, but her success with the problem which had once come

near wrecking his own life had emboldened him to telephone to the

office and--"But you are in ball-dress," he cried in amazement.

"Did you think--"



"I came from a ball. Word reached me between the dances. I did

not go home. I had been bidden to hurry."



He looked his appreciation, but when he spoke it was to say:



"This is the situation. Miss Digby--"



"The lady who is to be married tomorrow?"



"Who hopes to be married tomorrow."



"How, hopes?"



"Who will be married tomorrow, if a certain article lost in this

house tonight can be found before any of the persons who have

been dining here leave for their homes."



Violet uttered an exclamation.



"Then, Mr. Cornell," she began--



"Mr. Cornell has our utmost confidence," Roger hastened to

interpose. "But the article missing is one which he might

reasonably desire to possess and which he alone of all present

had the opportunity of securing. You can therefore see why he,

with his pride--the pride off a man not rich, engaged to marry a

woman who is--should declare that unless his innocence is

established before daybreak, the doors of St. Bartholomew will

remain shut to-morrow."



"But the article lost--what is it?"



"Miss Digby will give you the particulars. She is waiting to

receive you," he added with a gesture towards a half-open door at

their right.



Violet glanced that way, then cast her looks up and down the hall

in which they stood.



"Do you know that you have not told me in whose house I am? Not

hers, I know. She lives in the city."



"And you are twelve miles from Harlem. Miss Strange, you are in

the Van Broecklyn mansion, famous enough you will acknowledge.

Have you never been here before?"



"I have been by here, but I recognized nothing in the dark. What

an exciting place for an investigation!"



"And Mr. Van Broecklyn? Have you never met him?"



"Once, when a child. He frightened me then."



"And may frighten you now; though I doubt it. Time has mellowed

him. Besides, I have prepared him for what might otherwise

occasion him some astonishment. Naturally he would not look for

just the sort of lady investigator I am about to introduce to

him."



She smiled. Violet Strange was a very charming young woman, as

well as a keen prober of odd mysteries.



The meeting between herself and Miss Digby was a sympathetic one.

After the first inevitable shock which the latter felt at sight

of the beauty and fashionable appearance of the mysterious little

being who was to solve her difficulties, her glance, which, under

other circumstances, might have lingered unduly upon the piquant

features and exquisite dressing of the fairy-like figure before

her, passed at once to Violet's eyes, in whose steady depths

beamed an intelligence quite at odds with the coquettish dimples

which so often misled the casual observer in his estimation of a

character singularly subtle and well-poised.



As for the impression she herself made upon Violet, it was the

same she made upon everyone. No one could look long at Florence

Digby and not recognize the loftiness of her spirit and the

generous nature of her impulses. In person she was tall and as

she leaned to take Violet's hand, the difference between them

brought out the salient points in each, to the great admiration

of the one onlooker.



Meantime, for all her interest in the case in hand, Violet could

not help casting a hurried look about her, in gratification of

the curiosity incited by her entrance into a house signalized

from its foundation by such a series of tragic events. The result

was disappointing. The walls were plain, the furniture simple.

Nothing suggestive in either, unless it was the fact that nothing

was new, nothing modern. As it looked in the days of Burr and

Hamilton so it looked to-day, even to the rather startling detail

of candles which did duty on every side in place of gas.



As Violet recalled the reason for this, the fascination of the

past seized upon her imagination. There was no knowing where this

might have carried her, had not the feverish gleam in Miss

Digby's eyes warned her that the present held its own excitement.

Instantly, she was all attention and listening with undivided

mind to that lady's disclosures.



They were brief and to the following effect:



The dinner which had brought some half-dozen people together in

this house had been given in celebration of her impending

marriage. But it was also in a way meant as a compliment to one

of the other guests, a Mr. Spielhagen, who, during the week, had

succeeded in demonstrating to a few experts the value of a

discovery he had made which would transform a great industry.



In speaking of this discovery, Miss Digby did not go into

particulars, the whole matter being far beyond her understanding;

but in stating its value she openly acknowledged that it was in

the line of Mr. Cornell's own work, and one which involved

calculations and a formula which, if prematurely disclosed, would

invalidate the contract Mr. Spielhagen hoped to make, and thus

destroy his present hopes.



Of this formula but two copies existed. One was locked up in a

safe deposit vault in Boston, the other he had brought into the

house on his person, and it was the latter which was now missing,

having been abstracted during the evening from a manuscript of

sixteen or more sheets, under circumstances which she would now

endeavour to relate.



Mr. Van Broecklyn, their host, had in his melancholy life but one

interest which could be at all absorbing. This was for

explosives. As consequence, much of the talk at the dinner-table

had been on Mr. Spielhagen's discovery, and possible changes it

might introduce into this especial industry. As these, worked out

from a formula kept secret from the trade, could not but affect

greatly Mr. Cornell's interests, she found herself listening

intently, when Mr. Van Broecklyn, with an apology for his

interference, ventured to remark that if Mr. Spielhagen had made

a valuable discovery in this line, so had he, and one which he

had substantiated by many experiments. It was not a marketable

one, such as Mr. Spielhagen's was, but in his work upon the same,

and in the tests which he had been led to make, he had discovered

certain instances he would gladly name, which demanded

exceptional procedure to be successful. If Mr. Spielhagen's

method did not allow for these exceptions, nor make suitable

provision for them, then Mr. Spielhagen's method would fail more

times than it would succeed. Did it so allow and so provide? It

would relieve him greatly to learn that it did.



The answer came quickly. Yes, it did. But later and after some

further conversation, Mr. Spielhagen's confidence seemed to wane,

and before they left the dinner-table, he openly declared his

intention of looking over his manuscript again that very night,

in order to be sure that the formula therein contained duly

covered all the exceptions mentioned by Mr. Van Broecklyn.



If Mr. Cornell's countenance showed any change at this moment,

she for one had not noticed it; but the bitterness with which he

remarked upon the other's good fortune in having discovered this

formula of whose entire success he had no doubt, was apparent to

everybody, and naturally gave point to the circumstances which a

short time afterward associated him with the disappearance of

the same.



The ladies (there were two others besides herself) having

withdrawn in a body to the music-room, the gentlemen all

proceeded to the library to smoke. Here, conversation loosed from

the one topic which had hitherto engrossed it, was proceeding

briskly, when Mr. Spielhagen, with nervous gesture, impulsively

looked about him and said:



"I cannot rest till I have run through my thesis again. Where can

I find a quiet spot? I won't be long; I read very rapidly."



It was for Mr. Van Broecklyn to answer, but no word coming from

him, every eye turned his way, only to find him sunk in one of

those fits of abstraction so well known to his friends, and from

which no one who has this strange man's peace of mind at heart

ever presumes to rouse him.



What was to be done? These moods of their singular host sometimes

lasted half an hour, and Mr. Spielhagen had not the appearance of

a man of patience. Indeed he presently gave proof of the great

uneasiness he was labouring under, for noticing a door standing

ajar on the other side of the room, he remarked to those around

him:



"A den! and lighted! Do you see any objection to my shutting

myself in there for a few minutes?"



No one venturing to reply, he rose, and giving a slight push to

the door, disclosed a small room exquisitely panelled and

brightly lighted, but without one article of furniture in it, not

even a chair.



"The very place," quoth Mr. Spielhagen, and lifting a light cane-

bottomed chair from the many standing about, he carried it inside

and shut the door behind him.



Several minutes passed during which the man who had served at

table entered with a tray on which were several small glasses

evidently containing some choice liqueur. Finding his master

fixed in one of his strange moods, he set the tray down and,

pointing to one of the glasses, said:



"That is for Mr. Van Broecklyn. It contains his usual quieting

powder." And urging the gentlemen to help themselves, he quietly

left the room. Mr. Upjohn lifted the glass nearest him, and Mr.

Cornell seemed about to do the same when he suddenly reached

forward and catching up one farther off started for the room in

which Mr. Spielhagen had so deliberately secluded himself.



Why he did all this--why, above all things, he should reach

across the tray for a glass instead of taking the one under his

hand, he can no more explain than why he has followed many

another unhappy impulse. Nor did he understand the nervous start

given by Mr. Spielhagen at his entrance, or the stare with which

that gentleman took the glass from his hand and mechanically

drank its contents, till he saw how his hand had stretched itself

across the sheet of paper he was reading, in an open attempt to

hide the lines visible between his fingers. Then indeed the

intruder flushed and withdrew in great embarrassment, fully

conscious of his indiscretion but not deeply disturbed till Mr.

Van Broecklyn, suddenly arousing and glancing down at the tray

placed very near his hand remarked in some surprise: "Dobbs seems

to have forgotten me." Then indeed, the unfortunate Mr. Cornell

realized what he had done. It was the glass intended for his host

which he had caught up and carried into the other room--the glass

which he had been told contained a drug. Of what folly he had

been guilty, and how tame would be any effort at excuse!



Attempting none, he rose and with a hurried glance at Mr. Upjohn

who flushed in sympathy at his distress, he crossed to the door

he had lately closed upon Mr. Spielhagen. But feeling his

shoulder touched as his hand pressed the knob, he turned to meet

the eye of Mr. Van Broecklyn fixed upon him with an expression

which utterly confounded him.



"Where are you going?" that gentleman asked.



The questioning tone, the severe look, expressive at once of

displeasure and astonishment, were most disconcerting, but Mr.

Cornell managed to stammer forth:



"Mr. Spielhagen is in here consulting his thesis. When your man

brought in the cordial, I was awkward enough to catch up your

glass and carry it in to. Mr. Spielhagen. He drank it and I--I am

anxious to see if it did him any harm."



As he uttered the last word he felt Mr. Van Broecklyn's hand slip

from his shoulder, but no word accompanied the action, nor did

his host make the least move to follow him into the room.



This was a matter of great regret to him later, as it left him

for a moment out of the range of every eye, during which he says

he simply stood in a state of shock at seeing Mr. Spielhagen

still sitting there, manuscript in hand, but with head fallen

forward and eyes closed; dead, asleep or--he hardly knew what;

the sight so paralysed him.



Whether or not this was the exact truth and the whole truth, Mr.

Cornell certainly looked very unlike himself as he stepped back

into Mr. Van Broecklyn's presence; and he was only partially

reassured when that gentleman protested that there was no real

harm in the drug, and that Mr. Spielhagen would be all right if

left to wake naturally and without shock. However, as his present

attitude was one of great discomfort, they decided to carry him

back and lay him on the library lounge. But before doing this,

Mr. Upjohn drew from his flaccid grasp, the precious manuscript,

and carrying it into the larger room placed it on a remote table,

where it remained undisturbed till Mr. Spielhagen, suddenly

coming to himself at the end of some fifteen minutes, missed the

sheets from his hand, and bounding up, crossed the room to

repossess himself of them.



His face, as he lifted them up and rapidly ran through them with

ever-accumulating anxiety, told them what they had to expect.



The page containing the formula was gone!



Violet now saw her problem.



II



There was no doubt about the loss I have mentioned; all could see

that page 13 was not there. In vain a second handling of every

sheet, the one so numbered was not to be found. Page 14 met the

eye on the top of the pile, and page 12 finished it off at the

bottom, but no page 13 in between, or anywhere else.



Where had it vanished, and through whose agency had this

misadventure occurred? No one could say, or, at least, no one

there made any attempt to do so, though everybody started to look

for it.



But where look? The adjoining small room offered no facilities

for hiding a cigar-end, much less a square of shining white

paper. Bare walls, a bare floor, and a single chair for

furniture, comprised all that was to be seen in this direction.

Nor could the room in which they then stood be thought to hold

it, unless it was on the person of some one of them. Could this

be the explanation of the mystery? No man looked his doubts; but

Mr. Cornell, possibly divining the general feeling, stepped up to

Mr. Van Broecklyn and in a cool voice, but with the red burning

hotly on either cheek, said, so as to be heard by everyone

present:



"I demand to be searched--at once and thoroughly."



A moment's silence, then the common cry:



"We will all be searched."



"Is Mr. Spielhagen sure that the missing page was with the others

when he sat down in the adjoining room to read his thesis?" asked

their perturbed host.



"Very sure," came the emphatic reply. "Indeed, I was just going

through the formula itself when I fell asleep."



"You are ready to assert this?"



"I am ready to swear it."



Mr. Cornell repeated his request.



"I demand that you make a thorough search of my person. I must be

cleared, and instantly, of every suspicion," he gravely asserted,

"or how can I marry Miss Digby to-morrow."



After that there was no further hesitation. One and all subjected

themselves to the ordeal suggested; even Mr. Spielhagen. But this

effort was as futile as the rest. The lost page was not found.



What were they to think? What were they to do?



There seemed to be nothing left to do, and yet some further

attempt must be made towards the recovery of this important

formula. Mr. Cornell's marriage and Mr. Spielhagen's business

success both depended upon its being in the latter's hands before

six in the morning, when he was engaged to hand it over to a

certain manufacturer sailing for Europe on an early steamer.



Five hours!



Had Mr. Van Broecklyn a suggestion to offer? No, he was as much

at sea as the rest.



Simultaneously look crossed look. Blankness was on every face.



"Let us call the ladies," suggested one.



It was done, and however great the tension had been before, it

was even greater when Miss Digby stepped upon the scene. But she

was not a woman to be shaken from her poise even by a crisis of

this importance. When the dilemma had been presented to her and

the full situation grasped, she looked first at Mr. Cornell and

then at Mr. Spielhagen, and quietly said:



"There is but one explanation possible of this matter. Mr.

Spielhagen will excuse me, but he is evidently mistaken in

thinking that he saw the lost page among the rest. The condition

into which he was thrown by the unaccustomed drug he had drank,

made him liable to hallucinations. I have not the least doubt he

thought he had been studying the formula at the time he dropped

off to sleep. I have every confidence in the gentleman's candour.

But so have I in that of Mr. Cornell," she supplemented, with a

smile.



An exclamation from Mr. Van Broecklyn and a subdued murmur from

all but Mr. Spielhagen testified to the effect of this

suggestion, and there is no saying what might have been the

result if Mr. Cornell had not hurriedly put in this extraordinary

and most unexpected protest:



"Miss Digby has my gratitude," said he, "for a confidence which I

hope to prove to be deserved. But I must say this for Mr.

Spielhagen. He was correct in stating that he was engaged in

looking over his formula when I stepped into his presence with

the glass of cordial. If you were not in a position to see the

hurried way in which his hand instinctively spread itself over

the page he was reading, I was; and if that does not seem

conclusive to you, then I feel bound to state that in

unconsciously following this movement of his, I plainly saw the

number written on the top of the page, and that number was--13."



A loud exclamation, this time from Spielhagen himself, announced

his gratitude and corresponding change of attitude toward the

speaker.



"Wherever that damned page has gone," he protested, advancing

towards Cornell with outstretched hand, "you have nothing to do

with its disappearance."



Instantly all constraint fled, and every countenance took on a

relieved expression. But the problem remained.



Suddenly those very words passed some one's lips, and with their

utterance Mr. Upjohn remembered how at an extraordinary crisis in

his own life he had been helped and an equally difficult problem

settled, by a little lady secretly attached to a private

detective agency. If she could only be found and hurried here

before morning, all might yet be well. He would make the effort.

Such wild schemes sometimes work. He telephoned to the office and--



Was there anything else Miss Strange would like to know?



III



Miss Strange, thus appealed to, asked where the gentlemen were

now.



She was told that they were still all together in the library;

the ladies had been sent home.



"Then let us go to them," said Violet, hiding under a smile her

great fear that here was an affair which might very easily spell

for her that dismal word, failure.



So great was that fear that under all ordinary circumstances she

would have had no thought for anything else in the short interim

between this stating of the problem and her speedy entrance among

the persons involved. But the circumstances of this case were so

far from ordinary, or rather let me put it in this way, the

setting of the case was so very extraordinary, that she scarcely

thought of the problem before her, in her great interest in the

house through whose rambling halls she was being so carefully

guided. So much that was tragic and heartrending had occurred

here. The Van Broecklyn name, the Van Broecklyn history, above

all the Van Broecklyn tradition, which made the house unique in

the country's annals (of which more hereafter), all made an

appeal to her imagination, and centred her thoughts on what she

saw about her. There was door which no man ever opened--had never

opened since Revolutionary times--should she see it? Should she

know it if she did see it? Then Mr. Van Broecklyn himself! just

to meet him, under any conditions and in any place, was an event.

But to meet him here, under the pall of his own mystery! No

wonder she had no words for her companions, or that her thoughts

clung to this anticipation in wonder and almost fearsome delight.



His story was a well-known one. A bachelor and a misanthrope, he

lived absolutely alone save for a large entourage of servants,

all men and elderly ones at that. He never visited. Though he now

and then, as on this occasion, entertained certain persons under

his roof, he declined every invitation for himself, avoiding

even, with equal strictness, all evening amusements of whatever

kind, which would detain him in the city after ten at night.

Perhaps this was to ensure no break in his rule of life never to

sleep out of his own bed. Though he was a man well over fifty he

had not spent, according to his own statement, but two nights out

of his own bed since his return from Europe in early boyhood, and

those were in obedience to a judicial summons which took him to

Boston.



This was his main eccentricity, but he had another which is

apparent enough from what has already been said. He avoided

women. If thrown in with them during his short visits into town,

he was invariably polite and at times companionable, but he never

sought them out, nor had gossip, contrary to its usual habit,

ever linked his name with one of the sex.



Yet he was a man of more than ordinary attraction. His features

were fine and his figure impressive. He might have been the

cynosure of all eyes had he chosen to enter crowded drawing-

rooms, or even to frequent public assemblages, but having turned

his back upon everything of the kind in his youth, he had found

it impossible to alter his habits with advancing years; nor was

he now expected to. The position he had taken was respected.

Leonard Van Broecklyn was no longer criticized.



Was there any explanation for this strangely self-centred life?

Those who knew him best seemed to think so. In the first place he

had sprung from an unfortunate stock. Events of unusual and

tragic nature had marked the family of both parents. Nor had his

parents themselves been exempt from this seeming fatality.

Antagonistic in tastes and temperament, they had dragged on an

unhappy existence in the old home, till both natures rebelled,

and a separation ensued which not only disunited their lives but

sent them to opposite sides of the globe never to return again,

At least, that was the inference drawn from the peculiar

circumstances attending the event. On the morning of one never-

to-be-forgotten day, John Van Broecklyn, the grandfather of the

present representative of the family, found the following note

from his son lying on the library table:



"FATHER:



"Life in this house, or any house, with her is no longer

endurable. One of us must go. The mother should not be separated

from her child. Therefore it is I whom you will never see again.

Forget me, but be considerate of her and the boy.



"WILLIAM."



Six hours later another note was found, this time from the wife:



"FATHER:



"Tied to a rotting corpse what does one do? Lop off one's arm if

necessary to rid one of the contact. As all love between your

son and myself is dead, I can no longer live within the sound of

his voice. As this is his home, he is the one to remain in it.

May our child reap the benefit of his mother's loss and his

father's affection.



"RHODA."



Both were gone, and gone forever. Simultaneous in their

departure, they preserved each his own silence and sent no word

back. If the one went east and the other west, they may have met

on the other side of the globe, but never again in the home which

sheltered their boy. For him and for his grandfather they had

sunk from sight in the great sea of humanity, leaving them

stranded on an isolated and mournful shore. The grand-father

steeled himself to the double loss, for the child's sake; but the

boy of eleven succumbed. Few of the world's great sufferers, of

whatever age or condition, have mourned as this child mourned, or

shown the effects of his grief so deeply or so long. Not till he

had passed his majority did the line, carved in one day in his

baby forehead, lose any of its intensity; and there are those who

declare that even later than that, the midnight stillness of the

house was disturbed from time to time by his muffled shriek of

"Mother! Mother!", sending the servants from the house, and

adding one more horror to the many which clung about this

accursed mansion.



Of this cry Violet had heard, and it was that and the door--But I

have already told you about the door which she was still looking

for, when her two companions suddenly halted, and she found

herself on the threshold of the library, in full view of Mr. Van

Broecklyn and his two guests.



Slight and fairy-like in figure, with an air of modest reserve

more in keeping with her youth and dainty dimpling beauty than

with her errand, her appearance produced an astonishment none of

which the gentlemen were able to disguise. This the clever

detective, with a genius for social problems and odd elusive

cases! This darling of the ball-room in satin and pearls! Mr.

Spielhagen glanced at Mr. Cornell, and Mr. Cornell at Mr.

Spielhagen, and both at Mr. Upjohn, in very evident distrust. As

for Violet, she had eyes only for Mr. Van Broecklyn who stood

before her in a surprise equal to that of the others but with



more restraint in its expression.



She was not disappointed in him. She had expected to see a man,

reserved almost to the point of austerity. And she found his

first look even more awe-compelling than her imagination had

pictured; so much so indeed, that her resolution faltered, and

she took a quick step backward; which seeing, he smiled and her

heart and hopes grew warm again. That he could smile, and smile

with absolute sweetness, was her great comfort when later--But I

am introducing you too hurriedly to the catastrophe. There is

much to be told first.



I pass over the preliminaries, and come at once to the moment

when Violet, having listened to a repetition of the full facts,

stood with downcast eyes before these gentlemen, complaining in

some alarm to herself: "They expect me to tell them now and

without further search or parley just where this missing page is.

I shall have to balk that expectation without losing their

confidence. But how?"



Summoning up her courage and meeting each inquiring eye with a

look which seemed to carry a different message to each, she

remarked very quietly:



"This is not a matter to guess at. I must have time and I must

look a little deeper into the facts just given me. I presume that

the table I see over there is the one upon which Mr. Upjohn laid

the manuscript during Mr. Spielhagen's unconsciousness."



All nodded.



"Is it--I mean the table--in the same condition it was then? Has

nothing been taken from it except the manuscript?"



"Nothing."



"Then the missing page is not there," she smiled, pointing to its

bare top. A pause, during which she stood with her gaze fixed on

the floor before her. She was thinking and thinking hard.



Suddenly she came to a decision. Addressing Mr. Upjohn she asked

if he were quite sure that in taking the manuscript from Mr.

Spielhagen's hand he had neither disarranged nor dropped one of

its pages.



The answer was unequivocal.



"Then," she declared, with quiet assurance and a steady meeting

with her own of every eye, "as the thirteenth page was not found

among the others when they were taken from this table, nor on the

persons of either Mr. Cornell or Mr. Spielhagen, it is still in

that inner room."



"Impossible!" came from every lip, each in a different tone.

"That room is absolutely empty."



"May I have a look at its emptiness?" she asked, with a naive

glance at Mr. Van Broecklyn.



"There is positively nothing in the room but the chair Mr.

Spielhagen sat on," objected that gentleman with a noticeable air

of reluctance.



"Still, may I not have a look at it?" she persisted, with that

disarming smile she kept for great occasions.



Mr. Van Broecklyn bowed. He could not refuse a request so urged,

but his step was slow and his manner next to ungracious as he led

the way to the door of the adjoining room and threw it open.



Just what she had been told to expect! Bare walls and floors and

an empty chair! Yet she did not instantly withdraw, but stood

silently contemplating the panelled wainscoting surrounding her,

as though she suspected it of containing some secret hiding-

place not apparent to the eye.



Mr. Van Broecklyn, noting this, hastened to say:



"The walls are sound, Miss Strange. They contain no hidden

cupboards."



"And that door?" she asked, pointing to a portion of the

wainscoting so exactly like the rest that only the most

experienced eye could detect the line of deeper colour which

marked an opening.



For an instant Mr. Van Broecklyn stood rigid, then the immovable

pallor, which was one of his chief characteristics, gave way to a

deep flush as he explained:



"There was a door there once; but it has been permanently closed.

With cement," he forced himself to add, his countenance losing

its evanescent colour till it shone ghastly again in the strong

light.



With difficulty Violet preserved her show of composure. "The

door!" she murmured to herself. "I have found it. The great

historic door!" But her tone was light as she ventured to say:



"Then it can no longer be opened by your hand or any other?"



"It could not be opened with an axe."



Violet sighed in the midst of her triumph. Her curiosity had been

satisfied, but the problem she had been set to solve looked

inexplicable. But she was not one to yield easily to

discouragement. Marking the disappointment approaching to disdain

in every eye but Mr. Upjohn's, she drew herself up--(she had not

far to draw) and made this final proposal.



"A sheet of paper," she remarked, "of the size of this one cannot

be spirited away, or dissolved into thin air. It exists; it is

here; and all we want is some happy thought in order to find it.

I acknowledge that that happy thought has not come to me yet, but

sometimes I get it in what may seem to you a very odd way.

Forgetting myself, I try to assume the individuality of the

person who has worked the mystery. If I can think with his

thoughts, I possibly may follow him in his actions. In this case

I should like to make believe for a few moments that I am Mr.

Spielhagen" (with what a delicious smile she said this) "I should

like to hold his thesis in my hand and be interrupted in my

reading by Mr. Cornell offering his glass of cordial; then I

should like to nod and slip off mentally into a deep sleep.

Possibly in that sleep the dream may come which will clarify the

whole situation. Will you humour me so far?"



A ridiculous concession, but finally she had her way; the farce

was enacted and they left her as she had requested them to do,

alone with her dreams in the small room.



Suddenly they heard her cry out, and in another moment she

appeared before them, the picture of excitement.



"Is this chair standing exactly as it did when Mr. Spielhagen

occupied it?" she asked.



"No," said Mr. Upjohn, "it faced the other way."



She stepped back and twirled the chair about with her disengaged

hand.



"So?"



Mr. Upjohn and Mr. Spielhagen both nodded, so did the others when

she glanced at them.



With a sign of ill-concealed satisfaction, she drew their

attention to herself; then eagerly cried:



"Gentlemen, look here!"



Seating herself, she allowed her whole body to relax till she

presented the picture of one calmly asleep. Then, as they

continued to gaze at with fascinated eyes, not knowing what to

expect, they saw something white escape from her lap and slide

across the floor till it touched and was stayed by the wainscot.

It was the top page of the manuscript she held, and as some

inkling of the truth reached their astonished minds, she sprang

impetuously to her feet and, pointing to the fallen sheet, cried:



"Do you understand now? Look where it lies and then look here!"



She had bounded towards the wall and was now on her knees

pointing to the bottom of the wainscot, just a few inches to the

left of the fallen page.



"A crack!" she cried, "under what was once the door. It's a very

thin one, hardly perceptible to the eye. But see!" Here she laid

her finger on the fallen paper and drawing it towards her, pushed

it carefully against the lower edge of the wainscot. Half of it

at once disappeared.



"I could easily slip it all through," she assured them,

withdrawing the sheet and leaping to her feet in triumph. "You

know now where the missing page lies, Mr. Spielhagen. All that

remains is for Mr. Van Broecklyn to get it for you."



IV



The cries of mingled astonishment and relief which greeted this

simple elucidation of the mystery were broken by a curiously

choked, almost unintelligible, cry. It came from the man thus

appealed to, who, unnoticed by them all, had started at her first

word and gradually, as action followed action, withdrawn himself

till he now stood alone and in an attitude almost of defiance

behind the large table in the centre of the library.



"I am sorry," he began, with a brusqueness which gradually toned

down into a forced urbanity as he beheld every eye fixed upon him

in amazement, "that circumstances forbid my being of assistance

to you in this unfortunate matter. If the paper lies where you

say, and I see no other explanation of its loss, I am afraid it

will have to remain there for this night at least. The cement in

which that door is embedded is thick as any wall; it would take

men with pickaxes, possibly with dynamite, to make a breach there

wide enough for any one to reach in. And we are far from any such

help."



In the midst of the consternation caused by these words, the

clock on the mantel behind his back rang out the hour. It was but

a double stroke, but that meant two hours after midnight and had

the effect of a knell in the hearts of those most interested.



"But I am expected to give that formula into the hands of our

manager before six o'clock in the morning. The steamer sails at a

quarter after."



"Can't you reproduce a copy of it from memory?" some one asked;

"and insert it in its proper place among the pages you hold

there?"



"The paper would not be the same. That would lead to questions

and the truth would come out. As the chief value of the process

contained in that formula lies in its secrecy, no explanation I

could give would relieve me from the suspicions which an

acknowledgment of the existence of a third copy, however well

hidden, would entail. I should lose my great opportunity."



Mr. Cornell's state of mind can be imagined. In an access of

mingled regret and despair, he cast a glance at Violet, who, with

a nod of understanding, left the little room in which they still

stood, and approached Mr. Van Broecklyn.



Lifting up her head,--for he was very tall,--and instinctively

rising on her toes the nearer to reach his ear, she asked in a

cautious whisper:



"Is there no other way of reaching that place?"



She acknowledged afterwards, that for one moment her heart stood

still from fear, such a change took place in his face, though she

says he did not move a muscle. Then, just when she was expecting

from him some harsh or forbidding word, he wheeled abruptly away

from her and crossing to a window at his side, lifted the shade

and looked out. When he returned, he was his usual self so far as

she could see.



"There is a way," he now confided to her in a tone as low as her

own, "but it can only be taken by a child."



"Not by me?" she asked, smiling down at her own childish

proportions.



For an instant he seemed taken aback, then she saw his hand begin

to tremble and his lips twitch. Somehow--she knew not why--she

began to pity him, and asked herself as she felt rather than saw

the struggle in his mind, that here was a trouble which if once

understood would greatly dwarf that of the two men in the room

behind them.



"I am discreet," she whisperingly declared. "I have heard the

history of that door--how it was against the tradition of the

family to have it opened. There must have been some very dreadful

reason. But old superstitions do not affect me, and if you will

allow me to take the way you mention, I will follow your bidding

exactly, and will not trouble myself about anything but the

recovery of this paper, which must lie only a little way inside

that blocked-up door."



Was his look one of rebuke at her presumption, or just the

constrained expression of a perturbed mind? Probably, the latter,

for while she watched him for some understanding of his mood, he

reached out his hand and touched one of the satin folds crossing

her shoulder.



"You would soil this irretrievably," said he.



"There is stuff in the stores for another," she smiled. Slowly

his touch deepened into pressure. Watching him she saw the crust

of some old fear or dominant superstition melt under her eyes,

and was quite prepared, when he remarked, with what for him was

a lightsome air:



"I will buy the stuff, if you will dare the darkness and

intricacies of our old cellar. I can give you no light. You will

have to feel your way according to my direction."



"I am ready to dare anything."



He left her abruptly.



"I will warn Miss Digby," he called back. "She shall go with you

as far as the cellar."



V



Violet in her short career as an investigator of mysteries had

been in many a situation calling for more than womanly nerve and

courage. But never--or so it seemed to her at the time--had she

experienced a greater depression of spirit than when she stood

with Miss Digby before a small door at the extreme end of the

cellar, and understood that here was her road--a road which once

entered, she must take alone.



First, it was such a small door! No child older than eleven could

possibly squeeze through it. But she was of the size of a

child of eleven and might possibly manage that difficulty.



Secondly: there are always some unforeseen possibilities in every

situation, and though she had listened carefully to Mr. Van

Broecklyn's directions and was sure that she knew them by heart,

she wished she had kissed her father more tenderly in leaving him

that night for the ball, and that she had not pouted so

undutifully at some harsh stricture he had made. Did this mean

fear? She despised the feeling if it did.



Thirdly: She hated darkness. She knew this when she offered

herself for this undertaking; but she was in a bright room at the

moment and only imagined what she must now face as a reality. But

one jet had been lit in the cellar and that near the entrance.

Mr. Van Broecklyn seemed not to need light, even in his

unfastening of the small door which Violet was sure had been

protected by more than one lock.



Doubt, shadow, and a solitary climb between unknown walls, with

only a streak of light for her goal, and the clinging pressure of

Florence Digby's hand on her own for solace--surely the prospect

was one to tax the courage of her young heart to its limit. But

she had promised, and she would fulfill. So with a brave smile

she stooped to the little door, and in another moment had started

her journey.



For journey the shortest distance may seem when every inch means

a heart-throb and one grows old in traversing a foot. At first

the way was easy; she had but to crawl up a slight incline with

the comforting consciousness that two people were within reach of

her voice, almost within sound of her beating heart. But

presently she came to a turn, beyond which her fingers failed to

reach any wall on her left. Then came a step up which she

stumbled, and farther on a short flight, each tread of which she

had been told to test before she ventured to climb it, lest the

decay of innumerable years should have weakened the wood too much

to bear her weight. One, two, three, four, five steps! Then a

landing with an open space beyond. Half of her journey was done.

Here she felt she could give a minute to drawing her breath

naturally, if the air, unchanged in years, would allow her to do

so. Besides, here she had been enjoined to do a certain thing and

to do it according to instructions. Three matches had been given

her and a little night candle. Denied all light up to now, it was

at this point she was to light her candle and place it on the

floor, so that in returning she should not miss the staircase and

get a fall. She had promised to do this, and was only too happy

to see a spark of light scintillate into life in the immeasurable

darkness.



She was now in a great room long closed to the world, where once

officers in Colonial wars had feasted, and more than one council

had been held. A room, too, which had seen more than one tragic

happening, as its almost unparalleled isolation proclaimed. So

much Mr. Van Broecklyn had told her; but she was warned to be

careful in traversing it and not upon any pretext to swerve aside

from the right-hand wall till she came to a huge mantelpiece.

This passed, and a sharp corner turned, she ought to see

somewhere in the dim spaces before her a streak of vivid light

shining through the crack at the bottom of the blocked-up door.

The paper should be somewhere near this streak.



All simple, all easy of accomplishment, if only that streak of

light were all she was likely to see or think of. If the horror

which was gripping her throat should not take shape! If things

would remain shrouded in impenetrable darkness, and not force

themselves in shadowy suggestion upon her excited fancy! But the

blackness of the passage-way through which she had just struggled

was not to be found here. Whether it was the effect of that small

flame flickering at the top of the staircase behind her, or of

some change in her own powers of seeing, surely there was a

difference in her present outlook. Tall shapes were becoming

visible--the air was no longer blank--she could see--Then

suddenly she saw why. In the wall high up on her right was a

window. It was small and all but invisible, being covered on the

outside with vines, and on the inside with the cobwebs of a

century. But some small gleams from the star-light night came

through, making phantasms out of ordinary things, which unseen

were horrible enough, and half seen choked her heart with terror.



"I cannot bear it," she whispered to herself even while creeping

forward, her hand upon the wall. "I will close my eyes" was her

next thought. "I will make my own darkness," and with a spasmodic

forcing of her lids together, she continued to creep on, passing

the mantelpiece, where she knocked against something which fell

with an awful clatter.



This sound, followed as it was by that of smothered voices from

the excited group awaiting the result of her experiment from

behind the impenetrable wall she should be nearing now if she had

followed her instructions aright, freed her instantly from her

fancies; and opening her eyes once more, she cast a look ahead,

and to her delight, saw but a few steps away, the thin streak of

bright light which marked the end of her journey.



It took her but a moment after that to find the missing page, and

picking it up in haste from the dusty floor, she turned herself

quickly about and joyfully began to retrace her steps. Why then,

was it that in the course of a few minutes more her voice

suddenly broke into a wild, unearthly shriek, which ringing with

terror burst the bounds of that dungeon-like room, and sank, a

barbed shaft, into the breasts of those awaiting the result of

her doubtful adventure, at either end of this dread no-

thoroughfare.



What had happened?



If they had thought to look out, they would have seen that the

moon--held in check by a bank of cloud occupying half the heavens

--had suddenly burst its bounds and was sending long bars of

revealing light into every uncurtained window.



VI



Florence Digby, in her short and sheltered life, had possibly

never known any very great or deep emotion. But she touched the

bottom of extreme terror at that moment, as with her ears still

thrilling with Violet's piercing cry, she turned to look at Mr.

Van Broecklyn, and beheld the instantaneous wreck it had made of

this seemingly strong man. Not till he came to lie in his coffin

would he show a more ghastly countenance; and trembling herself

almost to the point of falling, caught him by the arm and sought

to read his face what had happened. Something disastrous she was

sure; something which he had feared and was partially prepared

for, yet which in happening had crushed him. Was it a pitfall

into which the poor little lady had fallen? If so--But he is

speaking--mumbling low words to himself. Some of them she can

hear. He is reproaching himself--repeating over and over that he

should never have taken such a chance; that he should have

remembered her youth--the weakness of a young girl's nerve. He

had been mad, and now--and now--



With the repetition of this word his murmuring ceased. All his

energies were now absorbed in listening at the low door

separating him from what he was agonizing to know--a door

impossible to enter, impossible to enlarge--a barrier to all help

--an opening whereby sound might pass but nothing else, save her

own small body, now lying--where?



"Is she hurt?" faltered Florence, stooping, herself, to listen.

"Can you hear anything--anything?"



For an instant he did not answer; every faculty was absorbed in

the one sense; then slowly and in gasps he began to mutter:



"I think--I hear--something. Her step--no, no, no step. All is as

quiet as death; not a sound, not a breath--she has fainted. O

God! O God! Why this calamity on top of all!"



He had sprung to his feet at the utterance this invocation, but

next moment was down on knees again, listening--listening.



Never was silence more profound; they were hearkening for murmurs

from a tomb. Florence began to sense the full horror of it all,

and was swaying helplessly when Mr. Van Broecklyn impulsively

lifted his hand in an admonitory Hush! and through the daze of

her faculties a small far sound began to make itself heard,

growing louder as she waited, then becoming faint again, then

altogether ceasing only to renew itself once more, till it

resolved into an approaching step, faltering in its course, but

coming ever nearer and nearer.



"She's safe! She's not hurt!" sprang from Florence's lips in

inexpressible relief; and expecting Mr. Van Broecklyn to show an

equal joy, she turned towards him, with the cheerful cry



"Now if she has been so fortunate as to that missing page, we

shall all be repaid for our fright."



A movement on his part, a shifting of position which brought him

finally to his feet, but he gave no other proof of having heard

her, nor did his countenance mirror her relief. "It is as if he

dreaded, instead of hailed, her return," was Florence's inward

comment as she watched him involuntarily recoil at each fresh

token of Violet's advance.



Yet because this seemed so very unnatural, she persisted in her

efforts to lighten the situation, and when he made no attempt to

encourage Violet in her approach, she herself stooped and called

out a cheerful welcome which must have rung sweetly in the poor

little detective's ears.



A sorry sight was Violet, when, helped by Florence, she finally

crawled into view through the narrow opening and stood once again

on the cellar floor. Pale, trembling, and soiled with the dust of

years, she presented a helpless figure enough, till the joy in

Florence's face recalled some of her spirit, and, glancing down

at her hand in which a sheet of paper was visible, she asked for

Mr. Spielhagen.



"I've got the formula," she said. "If you will bring him, I will

hand it over to him here."



Not a word of her adventure; nor so much as one glance at Mr. Van

Broecklyn, standing far back in the shadows.



Nor was she more communicative, when, the formula restored and

everything made right with Mr. Spielhagen, they all came together

again in the library for a final word. "I was frightened by the

silence and the darkness, and so cried out," she explained in

answer to their questions. "Any one would have done so who found

himself alone in so musty a place," she added, with an attempt at

lightsomeness which deepened the pallor on Mr. Van Broecklyn's

cheek, already sufficiently noticeable to have been remarked upon

by more than one.



"No ghosts?" laughed Mr. Cornell, too happy in the return of his

hopes to be fully sensible of the feelings of those about him.

"No whispers from impalpable lips or touches from spectre hands?

Nothing to explain the mystery of that room long shut up that

even Mr. Van Broecklyn declares himself ignorant of its secret?"



"Nothing," returned Violet, showing her dimples in full force

now.



"If Miss Strange had any such experiences--if she has anything to

tell worthy of so marked a curiosity, she will tell it now," came

from the gentleman just alluded to, in tones so stern and strange

that all show of frivolity ceased on the instant. "Have you

anything to tell, Miss Strange?"



Greatly startled, she regarded him with widening eyes for a

moment, then with a move towards the door, remarked, with a

general look about her:



"Mr. Van Broecklyn knows his own house, and doubtless can relate

its histories if he will. I am a busy little body who having

finished my work am now ready to return home, there to wait for

the next problem which an indulgent fate may offer me."



She was near the threshold--she was about to take her leave, when

suddenly she felt two hands fall on her shoulder, and turning,

met the eyes of Mr. Van Broecklyn burning into her own.



"You saw!" dropped in an almost inaudible whisper from his lips.



The shiver which shook her answered him better than any word.



With an exclamation of despair, he withdrew his hands, and facing

the others now standing together in a startled group, he said, as

soon as he could recover some of his self-possession:



"I must ask for another hour of your company. I can no longer

keep my sorrow to myself. A dividing line has just been drawn

across my life, and I must have the sympathy of someone who

knows my past, or I shall go mad in my self-imposed solitude.

Come back, Miss Strange. You of all others have the prior right

to hear."



VII



"I shall have to begin," said he, when they were all seated and

ready to listen, "by giving you some idea, not so much of the

family tradition, as of the effect of this tradition upon all

who bore the name of Van Broecklyn. This is not the only house,

even in America, which contains a room shut away from intrusion.

In England there are many. But there is this difference between

most of them and ours. No bars or locks forcibly held shut the

door we were forbidden to open. The command was enough; that and

the superstitious fear which such a command, attended by a long

and unquestioning obedience, was likely to engender.



"I know no more than you do why some early ancestor laid his ban

upon this room. But from my earliest years I was given to

understand that there was one latch in the house which was never

to be lifted; that any fault would be forgiven sooner than that;

that the honour of the whole family stood in the way of

disobedience, and that I was to preserve that honour to my dying

day. You will say that all this is fantastic, and wonder that

sane people in these modern times should subject themselves to

such a ridiculous restriction, especially when no good reason was

alleged, and the very source of the tradition from which it

sprung forgotten. You are right; but if you look long into human

nature, you will see that the bonds which hold the firmest are

not material ones--that an idea will make a man and mould a

character--that it lies at the source of all heroisms and is to

be courted or feared as the case may be.



"For me it possessed a power proportionate to my loneliness. I

don't think there was ever a more lonely child. My father and

mother were so unhappy in each other's companionship that one or

other of them was almost always away. But I saw little of either

even when they were at home. The constraint in their attitude

towards each other affected their conduct towards me. I have

asked myself more than once if either of them had any real

affection for me. To my father I spoke of her; to her of him; and

never pleasurably. This I am forced to say, or you cannot

understand my story. Would to God I could tell another tale!

Would to God I had such memories as other men have of a father's

clasp, a mother's kiss--but no! my grief, already profound, might

have become abysmal. Perhaps it is best as it is; only, I might

have been a different child, and made for myself a different fate-

-who knows.



"As it was, I was thrown almost entirely upon my own resources

for any amusement. This led me to a discovery I made one day. In

a far part of the cellar behind some heavy casks, I found a

little door. It was so low--so exactly fitted to my small body,

that I had the greatest desire to enter it. But I could not get

around the casks. At last an expedient occurred to me. We had an

old servant who came nearer loving me than any one else. One day

when I chanced to be alone in the cellar, I took out my ball and

began throwing it about. Finally it landed behind the casks, and

I ran with a beseeching cry to Michael, to move them.



"It was a task requiring no little strength and address, but he

managed, after a few herculean efforts, to shift them aside and I

saw with delight, my way opened to that mysterious little door.

But I did not approach it then; some instinct deterred me. But

when the opportunity came for me to venture there alone, I did

so, in the most adventurous spirit, and began my operations by

sliding behind the casks and testing the handle of the little

door. It turned, and after a pull or two the door yielded. With

my heart in my mouth, I stooped and peered in. I could see

nothing--a black hole and nothing more. This caused me a moment's

hesitation. I was afraid of the dark--had always been. But

curiosity and the spirit of adventure triumphed. Saying to myself

that I was Robinson Crusoe exploring the cave, I crawled in, only

to find that I had gained nothing. It was as dark inside as it

had looked to be from without.



"There was no fun in this, so I crawled back, and when I tried

the experiment again, it was with a bit of candle in my hand, and

a surreptitious match or two. What I saw, when with a very

trembling little hand I had lighted one of the matches, would

have been disappointing to most boys, but not to me. The litter

and old boards I saw in odd corners about me were full of

possibilities, while in the dimness beyond I seemed to perceive a

sort of staircase which might lead--I do not think I made any

attempt to answer that question even in my own mind, but when,

after some hesitation and a sense of great daring, I finally

crept up those steps, I remember very well my sensation at

finding myself in front of a narrow closed door. It suggested too

vividly the one in Grandfather's little room--the door in the

wainscot which we were never to open. I had my first real

trembling fit here, and at once fascinated and repelled by this

obstruction I stumbled and lost my candle, which, going out in

the fall, left me in total darkness and a very frightened state

of mind. For my imagination which had been greatly stirred by my

own vague thoughts of the forbidden room, immediately began to

people the space about me with ghoulish figures. How should I

escape them, how ever reach my own little room again undetected

and in safety?



But these terrors, deep as they were, were nothing to the real

fright which seized me when, the darkness finally braved, and the

way found back into the bright, wide-open halls of the house, I

became conscious of having dropped something besides the candle.

My match-box was gone--not my match-box, but my grandfather's

which I had found lying on his table and carried off on this

adventure, in all the confidence of irresponsible youth. To make

use of it for a little while, trusting to his not missing it in

the confusion I had noticed about the house that morning, was one

thing; to lose it was another. It was no common box. Made of gold

and cherished for some special reason well known to himself, I

had often hear him say that some day I would appreciate its

value, and be glad to own it. And I had left it in that hole and

at any minute he might miss it--possibly ask for it! The day was

one of torment. My mother was away or shut up in her room. My

father--I don't know just what thoughts I had about him. He was

not to be seen either, and the servants cast strange looks at me

when I spoke his name. But I little realized the blow which had

just fallen upon the house in his definite departure, and only

thought of my own trouble, and of how I should meet my

grandfather's eye when the hour came for him to draw me to his

knee for his usual good-night.



"That I was spared this ordeal for the first time this very night

first comforted me, then added to my distress. He had discovered

his loss and was angry. On the morrow he would ask me for the box

and I would have to lie, for never could I find the courage to

tell him where I had been. Such an act of presumption he would

never forgive, or so I thought as I lay and shivered in my little

bed. That his coldness, his neglect, sprang from the discovery

just made that my mother as well as my father had just fled the

house forever was as little known to me as the morning calamity.

I had been given my usual tendance and was tucked safely into

bed; but the gloom, the silence which presently settled upon the

house had a very different explanation in my mind from the real

one. My sin (for such it loomed large in my mind by this time)

coloured the whole situation and accounted for every event.



"At what hour I slipped from my bed on to the cold floor, I shall

never know. To me it seemed to be in the dead of night; but I

doubt if it were more than ten. So slowly creep away the moments

to a wakeful child. I had made a great resolve. Awful as the

prospect seemed to me,--frightened as I was by the very thought,--

I had determined in my small mind to go down into the cellar, and

into that midnight hole again, in search of the lost box. I would

take a candle and matches, this time from my own mantel-shelf,

and if everyone was asleep, as appeared from the deathly quiet of

the house, I would be able to go and come without anybody ever

being the wiser.



"Dressing in the dark, I found my matches and my candle and,

putting them in one of my pockets, softly opened my door and

looked out. Nobody was stirring; every light was out except a

solitary one in the lower hall. That this still burned conveyed

no meaning to my mind. How could I know that the house was so

still and the rooms dark because everyone was out searching for

some clue to my mother's flight? If I had looked at the clock--

but I did not; I was too intent upon my errand, too filled with

the fever of my desperate undertaking, to be affected by anything

not bearing directly upon it.



"Of the terror caused by my own shadow on the wall as I made the

turn in the hall below, I have as keen a recollection today as

though it happened yesterday. But that did not deter me; nothing

deterred me, till safe in the cellar I crouched down behind the

casks to get my breath again before entering the hole beyond.



"I had made some noise in feeling my way around these casks, and

I trembled lest these sounds had been heard upstairs! But this

fear soon gave place to one far greater. Other sounds were making

themselves heard. A din of small skurrying feet above, below, on

every side of me! Rats! rats in the wall! rats on the cellar

bottom! How I ever stirred from the spot I do not know, but when

I did stir, it was to go forward, and enter the uncanny hole.



"I had intended to light my candle when I got inside; but for

some reason I went stumbling along in the dark, following the

wall till I got to the steps where I had dropped the box. Here a

light was necessary, but my hand did not go to my pocket. I

thought it better to climb the steps first, and softly one foot

found the tread and then another. I had only three more to climb

and then my right hand, now feeling its way along the wall, would

be free to strike a m





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