The Grotto Spectre





Miss Strange was not often pensive--at least not at large

functions or when under the public eye. But she certainly forgot

herself at Mrs. Provost's musicale and that, too, without

apparent reason. Had the music been of a high order one might

have understood her abstraction; but it was of a decidedly

mediocre quality, and Violet's ear was much too fine and her

musical sense too cultivated for her to be beguiled by anything

less than the very best.



Nor had she the excuse of a dull companion. Her escort for the

evening was a man of unusual conversational powers; but she

seemed to be almost oblivious of his presence; and when, through

some passing courteous impulse, she did turn her ear his way, it

was with just that tinge of preoccupation which betrays the

divided mind.



Were her thoughts with some secret problem yet unsolved? It would

scarcely seem so from the gay remark with which she had left

home. She was speaking to her brother and her words were: "I am

going out to enjoy myself. I've not a care in the world. The

slate is quite clean." Yet she had never seemed more out of tune

with her surroundings nor shown a mood further removed from

trivial entertainment. What had happened to becloud her gaiety in

the short time which had since elapsed?



We can answer in a sentence.



She had seen, among a group of young men in a distant doorway,

one with a face so individual and of an expression so

extraordinary that all interest in the people about her had

stopped as a clock stops when the pendulum is held back. She

could see nothing else, think of nothing else. Not that it was so

very handsome--though no other had ever approached it in its

power over her imagination--but because of its expression of

haunting melancholy,--a melancholy so settled and so evidently

the result of long-continued sorrow that her interest had been

reached and her heartstrings shaken as never before in her whole

life.



She would never be the same Violet again.



Yet moved as she undoubtedly was, she was not conscious of the

least desire to know who the young man was, or even to be made

acquainted with his story. She simply wanted to dream her dream

undisturbed.



It was therefore with a sense of unwelcome shock that, in the

course of the reception following the programme, she perceived

this fine young man approaching herself, with his right hand

touching his left shoulder in the peculiar way which committed

her to an interview with or without a formal introduction.



Should she fly the ordeal? Be blind and deaf to whatever was

significant in his action, and go her way before he reached her;

thus keeping her dream intact? Impossible. His eye prevented

that. His glance had caught hers and she felt forced to await his

advance and give him her first spare moment.



It came soon, and when it came she greeted him with a smile. It

was the first she had ever bestowed in welcome of a confidence of

whose tenor she was entirely ignorant.



To her relief he showed his appreciation of the dazzling gift

though he made no effort to return it. Scorning all

preliminaries in his eagerness to discharge himself of a burden

which was fast becoming intolerable, he addressed her at once in

these words:



"You are very good, Miss Strange, to receive me in this

unconventional fashion. I am in that desperate state of mind

which precludes etiquette. Will you listen to my petition? I am

told--you know by whom--"(and he again touched his shoulder)

"that you have resources of intelligence which especially fit you

to meet the extraordinary difficulties of my position. May I beg

you to exercise them in my behalf? No man would be more grateful

if-- But I see that you do not recognize me. I am Roger Upjohn.

That I am admitted to this gathering is owing to the fact that

our hostess knew and loved my mother. In my anxiety to meet you

and proffer my plea, I was willing to brave the cold looks you

have probably noticed on the faces of the people about us. But I

have no right to subject you to criticism. I--"



"Remain." Violet's voice was troubled, her self-possession

disturbed; but there was a command in her tone which he was only

too glad to obey. "I know the name" (who did not!) "and possibly

my duty to myself should make me shun a confidence which may

burden me without relieving you. But you have been sent to me by

one whose behests I feel bound to respect and--"



Mistrusting her voice, she stopped. The suffering which made

itself apparent in the face before her appealed to her heart in a

way to rob her of her judgment. She did not wish this to be seen,

and so fell silent.



He was quick to take advantage of her obvious embarrassment.

"Should I have been sent to you if I had not first secured the

confidence of the sender? You know the scandal attached to my

name, some of it just, some of it very unjust. If you will grant

me an interview to-morrow, I will make an endeavour to refute

certain charges which I have hitherto let go unchallenged. Will

you do me this favour? Will you listen in your own house to what

I have to say?"



Instinct cried out against any such concession on her part,

bidding her beware of one who charmed without excellence and

convinced without reason. But compassion urged compliance and

compassion won the day. Though conscious of weakness,--she,

Violet Strange on whom strong men had come to rely in critical

hours calling for well-balanced judgment,--she did not let this

concern her, or allow herself to indulge in useless regrets even

after the first effect of his presence had passed and she had

succeeded in recalling the facts which had cast a cloud about

his name.



Roger Upjohn was a widower, and the scandal affecting him was

connected with his wife's death.



Though a degenerate in some respects, lacking the domineering

presence, the strong mental qualities, and inflexible character

of his progenitors, the wealthy Massachusetts Upjohns whose

great place on the coast had a history as old as the State

itself, he yet had gifts and attractions of his own which would

have made him a worthy representative of his race, if only he

had not fixed his affections on a woman so cold and heedless

that she would have inspired universal aversion instead of love,

had she not been dowered with the beauty and physical

fascination which sometimes accompany a hard heart and a scheming

brain. It was this beauty which had caught the lad; and one day,

just as the careful father had mapped out a course of study

calculated to make a man of his son, that son drove up to the

gates with this lady whom he introduced as his wife.



The shock, not of her beauty, though that was of the dazzling

quality which catches a man in the throat and makes a slave of

him while the first surprise lasts, but of the overthrow of all

his hopes and plans, nearly prostrated Homer Upjohn. He saw, as

most men did the moment judgment returned, that for all her satin

skin and rosy flush, the wonder of her hair and the smile which

pierced like arrows and warmed like wine, she was more likely to

bring a curse into the house than a blessing.



And so it proved. In less than a year the young husband had lost

all his ambitions and many of his best impulses. No longer

inclined to study, he spent his days in satisfying his wife's

whims and his evenings in carousing with the friends with which

she had provided him. This in Boston whither they had fled from

the old gentleman's displeasure; but after their little son came

the father insisted upon their returning home, which led to great

deceptions, and precipitated a tragedy no one ever understood.

They were natural gamblers--this couple--as all Boston society

knew; and as Homer Upjohn loathed cards, they found life slow in

the great house and grew correspondingly restless till they made

a discovery--or shall I say a rediscovery--of the once famous

grotto hidden in the rocks lining their portion of the coast.

Here they found a retreat where they could hide themselves (often

when they were thought to be abed and asleep) and play together

for money or for a supper in the city or for anything else that

foolish fancy suggested. This was while their little son remained

an infant; later, they were less easily satisfied. Both craved

company, excitement, and gambling on a large scale; so they took

to inviting friends to meet them in this grotto which, through

the agency of one old servant devoted to Roger to the point of

folly, had been fitted up and lighted in a manner not only

comfortable but luxurious. A small but sheltered haven hidden in

the curve of the rocks made an approach by boat feasible at high

tide; and at low the connection could be made by means of a path

over the promontory in which this grotto lay concealed. The

fortune which Roger had inherited from his mother made these

excesses possible, but many thousands, let alone the few he could

call his, soon disappeared under the witchery of an irresponsible

woman, and the half-dozen friends who knew his secret had to

stand by and see his ruin, without daring to utter a word to the

one who alone could stay it. For Homer Upjohn was not a man to be

approached lightly, nor was he one to listen to charges without

ocular proof to support them; and this called for courage, more

courage than was possessed by any one who knew them both.



He was a hard man was Homer Upjohn, but with a heart of gold for

those he loved. This, even his wary daughter-in-law was wise

enough to detect, and for a long while after the birth of her

child she besieged him with her coaxing ways and bewitching

graces. But he never changed his first opinion of her, and once

she became fully convinced of the folly of her efforts, she gave

up all attempt to please him and showed an open indifference.

This in time gradually extended till it embraced not only her

child but her husband as well. Yes, it had come to that. His love

no longer contented her. Her vanity had grown by what it daily

fed on, and now called for the admiration of the fast men who

sometimes came up from Boston to play with them in their unholy

retreat. To win this, she dressed like some demon queen or witch,

though it drove her husband into deeper play and threatened an

exposure which would mean disaster not only to herself but to the

whole family.



In all this, as any one could see, Roger had been her slave and

the willing victim of all her caprices. What was it, then, which

so completely changed him that a separation began to be talked of

and even its terms discussed? One rumour had it that the father

had discovered the secret of the grotto and exacted this as a

penalty from the son who had dishonoured him. Another, that Roger

himself was the one to take the initiative in this matter: That,

on returning unexpectedly from New York one evening and finding

her missing from the house, he had traced her to the grotto where

he came upon her playing a desperate game with the one man he had

the greatest reason to distrust.



But whatever the explanation of this sudden change in their

relations, there is but little doubt that a legal separation

between this ill-assorted couple was pending, when one bleak

autumn morning she was discovered dead in her bed under

circumstances peculiarly open to comment.



The physicians who made out the certificate ascribed her death to

heart-disease, symptoms of which had lately much alarmed the

family doctor; but that a personal struggle of some kind had

preceded the fatal attack was evident from the bruises which

blackened her wrists. Had there been the like upon her throat it

might have gone hard with the young husband who was known to be

contemplating her dismissal from the house. But the

discoloration of her wrists was all, and as bruised wrists do

not kill and there was besides no evidence forthcoming of the

two having spent one moment together for at least ten hours

preceding the tragedy but rather full and satisfactory testimony

to the contrary, the matter lapsed and all criminal proceedings

were avoided.



But not the scandal which always follows the unexplained. As time

passed and the peculiar look which betrays the haunted soul

gradually became visible in the young widower's eyes, doubts

arose and reports circulated which cast strange reflections upon

the tragic end of his mistaken marriage. Stories of the

disreputable use to which the old grotto had been put were

mingled with vague hints of conjugal violence never properly

investigated. The result was his general avoidance not only by

the social set dominated by his high-minded father, but by his

own less reputable coterie, which, however lax in its moral code,

had very little use for a coward.



Such was the gossip which had reached Violet's ears in connection

with this new client, prejudicing her altogether against him till

she caught that beam of deep and concentrated suffering in his

eye and recognized an innocence which ensured her sympathy and

led her to grant him the interview for which he so earnestly

entreated.



He came prompt to the hour, and when she saw him again with the

marks of a sleepless night upon him and all the signs of

suffering intensified in his unusual countenance, she felt her

heart sink within her in a way she failed to understand. A dread

of what she was about to hear robbed her of all semblance of self-

possession, and she stood like one in a dream as he uttered his

first greetings and then paused to gather up his own moral

strength before he began his story. When he did speak it was to

say:



"I find myself obliged to break a vow I have made to myself. You

cannot understand my need unless I show you my heart. My trouble

is not the one with which men have credited me. It has another

source and is infinitely harder to bear. Personal dishonour I

have deserved in a greater or less degree, but the trial which

has come to me now involves a person more dear to me than myself,

and is totally without alleviation unless you--" He paused,

choked, then recommenced abruptly: "My wife"--Violet held her

breath--"was supposed to have died from heart-disease or--or some

strange species of suicide. There were reasons for this

conclusion--reasons which I accepted without serious question

till some five weeks ago when I made a discovery which led me to

fear--"



The broken sentence hung suspended. Violet, notwithstanding his

hurried gesture, could not restrain herself from stealing a look

at his face. It was set in horror and, though partially turned

aside, made an appeal to her compassion to fill the void made by

his silence, without further suggestion from him.



She did this by saying tentatively and with as little show of

emotion as possible:



"You feared that the event called for vengeance and that

vengeance would mean increased suffering to yourself as well as

to another?"



"Yes; great suffering. But I may be under a most lamentable

mistake. I am not sure of my conclusions. If my doubts have no

real foundation--if they are simply the offspring of my own

diseased imagination, what an insult to one I revere! What a

horror of ingratitude and misunderstanding--"



"Relate the facts," came in startled tones from Violet. "They may

enlighten us."



He gave one quick shudder, buried his face for one moment in his

hands, then lifted it and spoke up quickly and with unexpected

firmness:



"I came here to do so and do so I will. But where begin? Miss

Strange, you cannot be ignorant of the circumstances, open and

avowed, which attended my wife's death. But there were other and

secret events in its connection which happily have been kept from

the world, but which I must now disclose to you at any cost to my

pride and so-called honour. This is the first one: On the morning

preceding the day of Mrs. Upjohn's death, an interview took place

between us at which my father was present. You do not know my

father, Miss Strange. A strong man and a stern one, with a hold

upon old traditions which nothing can shake. If he has a weakness

it is for my little boy Roger in whose promising traits he sees

the one hope which has survived the shipwreck of all for which

our name has stood. Knowing this, and realizing what the child's

presence in the house meant to his old age, I felt my heart turn

sick with apprehension, when in the midst of the discussion as to

the terms on which my wife would consent to a permanent

separation, the little fellow came dancing into the room, his

curls atoss and his whole face beaming with life and joy.



"She had not mentioned the child, but I knew her well enough to

be sure that at the first show of preference on his part for

either his grandfather or myself, she would raise a claim to him

which she would never relinquish. I dared not speak, but I met

his eager looks with my most forbidding frown and hoped by this

show of severity to hold him back. But his little heart was full

and, ignoring her outstretched arms, he bounded towards mine with

his most affectionate cry. She saw and uttered her ultimatum. The

child should go with her or she would not consent to a

separation. It was useless for us to talk; she had said her last

word. The blow struck me hard, or so I thought, till I looked at

my father. Never had I beheld such a change as that one moment

had made in him. He stood as before; he faced us with the same

silent reprobation; but his heart had run from him like water.



"It was a sight to call up all my resources. To allow her to

remain now, with my feelings towards her all changed and my

father's eyes fully opened to her stony nature, was impossible.

Nor could I appeal to law. An open scandal was my father's

greatest dread and divorce proceedings his horror. The child

would have to go unless I could find a way to influence her

through her own nature. I knew of but one--do not look at me,

Miss Strange. It was dishonouring to us both, and I'm horrified

now when I think of it. But to me at that time it was natural

enough as a last resort. There was but one debt which my wife

ever paid, but one promise she ever kept. It was that made at the

gaming-table. I offered, as soon as my father, realizing the

hopelessness of the situation, had gone tottering from the room,

to gamble with her for the child.



"And she accepted."



The shame and humiliation expressed in this final whisper; the

sudden darkness--for a storm was coming up--shook Violet to the

soul. With strained gaze fixed on the man before her, now little

more than a shadow in the prevailing gloom, she waited for him to

resume, and waited in vain. The minutes passed, the darkness

became intolerable, and instinctively her hand crept towards the

electric button beneath which she was sitting. But she failed to

press it. A tale so dark called for an atmosphere of its own

kind. She would cast no light upon it. Yet she shivered as the

silence continued, and started in uncontrollable dismay when at

length her strange visitor rose, and still, without speaking,

walked away from her to the other end of the room. Only so could

he go on with the shameful tale; and presently she heard his

voice once more in these words:



"Our house is large and its rooms many; but for such work as we

two contemplated there was but one spot where we could command

absolute seclusion. You may have heard of it, a famous natural

grotto hidden in our own portion of the coast and so fitted up as

to form a retreat for our miserable selves when escape from my

father's eye seemed desirable. It was not easy of access, and no

one, so far as we knew, had ever followed us there.



"But to ensure ourselves against any possible interruption, we

waited till the whole house was abed before we left it for the

grotto. We went by boat and oh! the dip of those oars! I hear

them yet. And the witchery of her face in the moonlight; and the

mockery of her low fitful laugh! As I caught the sinister note in

its silvery rise and fall, I knew what was before me if I failed

to retain my composure. And I strove to hold it and to meet her

calmness with stoicism and the taunt of her expression with a

mask of immobility. But the effort was hopeless, and when the

time came for dealing out the cards, my eyes were burning in

their sockets and my hands shivering like leaves in a rising

gale.



"We played one game--and my wife lost. We played another--and my

wife won. We played the third--and the fate I had foreseen from

the first became mine. The luck was with her, and I had lost my

boy!"



A gasp--a pause, during which the thunder spoke and the lightning

flashed,--then a hurried catching of his breath and the tale went

on.



"A burst of laughter, rising gaily above the boom of the sea,

announced her victory--her laugh and the taunting words: 'You

play badly, Roger. The child is mine. Never fear that I shall

fail to teach him to revere his father.' Had I a word to throw

back? No. When I realized anything but my dishonoured manhood, I

found myself in the grotto's mouth staring helplessly out upon

the sea. The boat which had floated us in at high tide lay

stranded but a few feet away, but I did not reach for it. Escape

was quicker over the rocks, and I made for the rocks.



"That it was a cowardly act to leave her there to find her way

back alone at midnight by the same rough road I was taking, did

not strike my mind for an instant. I was in flight from my own

past; in flight from myself and the haunting dread of madness.

When I awoke to reality again it was to find the small door, by

which we had left the house, standing slightly ajar. I was

troubled by this, for I was sure of having closed it. But the

impression was brief, and entering, I went stumbling up to my

room, leaving the way open behind me more from sheer inability to

exercise my will than from any thought of her.



"Miss Strange" (he had come out of the shadows and was standing

now directly before her), "I must ask you to trust implicitly in

what I tell you of my further experiences that fatal night. It

was not necessary for me to pass my little son's door in order to

reach the room I was making for; but anguish took me there and

held me glued to the panels for what seemed a long, long time.

When I finally crept away it was to go to the room I had chosen

in the top of the house, where I had my hour of hell and faced my

desolated future. Did I hear anything meantime in the halls

below? No. Did I even listen for the sound of her return? No. I

was callous to everything, dead to everything but my own misery.

I did not even heed the approach of morning, till suddenly, with

a shrillness no ear could ignore, there rose, tearing through the

silence of the house, that great scream from my wife's room which

announced the discovery of her body lying stark and cold in her

bed.



"They said I showed little feeling." He had moved off again and

spoke from somewhere in the shadows. "Do you wonder at this after

such a manifest stroke by a benevolent Providence? My wife being

dead, Roger was saved to us! It was the one song of my still

undisciplined soul, and I had to assume coldness lest they should

see the greatness of my joy. A wicked and guilty rejoicing you

will say, and you are right. But I had no memory then of the part

I had played in this fatality. I had forgotten my reckless flight

from the grotto, which left her with no aid but that of her own

triumphant spirit to help her over those treacherous rocks. The

necessity for keeping secret this part of our disgraceful story

led me to exert myself to keep it out of my own mind. It has only

come back to me in all its force since a new horror, a new

suspicion, has driven me to review carefully every incident of

that awful night.



"I was never a man of much logic, and when they came to me on

that morning of which I have just spoken and took me in where she

lay and pointed to her beautiful cold body stretched out in

seeming peace under the satin coverlet, and then to the pile of

dainty clothes lying neatly folded on a chair with just one fairy

slipper on top, I shuddered at her fate but asked no questions,

not even when one of the women of the house mentioned the

circumstance of the single slipper and said that a search should

be made for its mate. Nor was I as much impressed as one would

naturally expect by the whisper dropped in my ear that something

was the matter with her wrists. It is true that I lifted the lace

they had carefully spread over them and examined the

discoloration which extended like a ring about each pearly arm;

but having no memories of any violence offered her (I had not so



much as laid hand upon her in the grotto), these marks failed to

rouse my interest. But--and now I must leap a year in my story--

there came a time when both of these facts recurred to my mind

with startling distinctness and clamoured for explanation.





"I had risen above the shock which such a death following such

events would naturally occasion even in one of my blunted

sensibilities, and was striving to live a new life under the

encouragement of my now fully reconciled father, when accident

forced me to re-enter the grotto where I had never stepped foot

since that night. A favourite dog in chase of some innocent prey

had escaped the leash and run into its dim recesses and would not

come out at my call. As I needed him immediately for the hunt, I

followed him over the promontory and, swallowing my repugnance,

slid into the grotto to get him. Better a plunge to my death from

the height of the rocks towering above it. For there in a remote

corner, lighted up by a reflection from the sea, I beheld my

setter crouched above an object which in another moment I

recognized as my dead wife's missing slipper. Here! Not in the

waters of the sea or in the interstices of the rocks outside, but

here! Proof that she had never walked back to the house where she

was found lying quietly in her bed; proof positive; for I knew

the path too well and the more than usual

tenderness of her feet.



"How then, did she get there; and by whose agency? Was she living

when she went, or was she already dead? A year had passed since

that delicate shoe had borne her from the boat into these dim

recesses; but it might have been only a day, so vividly did I

live over in this moment of awful enlightenment all the events of

the hour in which we sat there playing for the possession of our

child. Again I saw her gleaming eyes, her rosy, working mouth,

her slim, white hand, loaded with diamonds, clutching the cards.

Again I heard the lap of the sea on the pebbles outside and smelt

the odour of the wine she had poured out for us both. The bottle

which had held it; the glass from which she had drunk lay now in

pieces on the rocky floor. The whole scene was mine again and as

I followed the event to its despairing close, I seemed to see my

own wild figure springing away from her to the grotto's mouth and

so over the rocks. But here fancy faltered, caught by a quick

recollection to which I had never given a thought till now. As I

made my way along those rocks, a sound had struck my ear from

where some stunted bushes made a shadow in the moonlight. The

wind might have caused it or some small night creature hustling

away at my approach; and to some such cause I must at the time

have attributed it. But now, with brain fired by suspicion, it

seemed more like the quick intake of a human breath. Some one had

been lying there in wait, listening at the one loophole in the

rocks where it was possible to hear what was said and done in the

heart of the grotto. But who? who? and for what purpose this

listening; and to what end did it lead?



"Though I no longer loved even the memory of my wife, I felt my

hair lift, as I asked myself these questions. There seemed to be

but one logical answer to the last, and it was this: A struggle

followed by death. The shoe fallen from her foot, the clothes

found folded in her room (my wife was never orderly), and the

dimly blackened wrists which were snow-white when she dealt the

cards--all seemed to point to such a conclusion. She may have

died from heart-failure, but a struggle had preceded her death,

during which some man's strong fingers had been locked about her

wrists. And again the question rose, Whose?



"If any place was ever hated by mortal man that grotto was hated

by me. I loathed its walls, its floor, its every visible and

invisible corner. To linger there--to look--almost tore my soul

from my body; yet I did linger and did look and this is what I

found by way of reward.



"Behind a projecting ledge of stone from which a tattered rug

still hung, I came upon two nails driven a few feet apart into a

fissure of the rock. I had driven those nails myself long before

for a certain gymnastic attachment much in vogue at the time, and

on looking closer, I discovered hanging from them the rope-ends

by which I was wont to pull myself about. So far there was

nothing to rouse any but innocent reminiscences. But when I heard

the dog's low moan and saw him leap at the curled-up ends, and

nose them with an eager look my way, I remembered the dark marks

circling the wrists about which I had so often clasped my

mother's bracelets, and the world went black before me.



"When consciousness returned--when I could once more move and see

and think, I noted another fact. Cards were strewn about the

floor, face up and in a fixed order as if laid in a mocking mood

to be looked upon by reluctant eyes; and near the ominous half-

circle they made, a cushion from the lounge, stained horribly

with what I then thought to be blood, but which I afterwards

found to be wine. Vengeance spoke in those ropes and in the

carefully spread-out cards, and murder in the smothering pillow.

The vengeance of one who had watched her corroding influence eat

the life out of my honour and whose love for our little Roger was

such that any deed which ensured his continued presence in the

home appeared not only warrantable but obligatory. Alas! I knew

of but one person in the whole world who could cherish feeling to

this extent or possess sufficient will power to carry her

lifeless body back to the house and lay it in her bed and give no

sign of the abominable act from that day on to this.



"Miss Strange, there are men who have a peculiar conception of

duty. My father--"



"You need not go on." How gently, how tenderly our Violet spoke.

"I understand your trouble--"



Did she? She paused to ask herself if this were so, and he, deaf

perhaps to her words, caught up his broken sentence and went on:



"My father was in the hall the day I came staggering in from my

visit to the grotto. No words passed, but our eyes met and from

that hour I have seen death in his countenance and he has seen it

in mine, like two opponents, each struck to the heart, who stand

facing each other with simulated smiles till they fall. My father

will drop first. He is old--very old since that day five weeks

ago; and to see him die and not be sure--to see the grave close

over a possible innocence, and I left here in ignorance of the

blissful fact till my own eyes close forever, is more than I can

hold up under; more than any son could. Cannot you help me then

to a positive knowledge? Think! think! A woman's mind is

strangely penetrating, and yours, I am told, has an intuitive

faculty more to be relied upon than the reasoning of men. It must

suggest some means of confirming my doubts or of definitely

ending them."



Then Violet stirred and looked about at him and finally found

voice.



"Tell me something about your father's ways. What are his habits?

Does he sleep well or is he wakeful at night?"



"He has poor nights. I do not know how poor because I am not

often with him. His valet, who has always been in our family,

shares his room and acts as his constant nurse. He can watch over

him better than I can; he has no distracting trouble on his

mind."



"And little Roger? Does your father see much of little Roger?

Does he fondle him and seem happy in his presence?"



"Yes; yes. I have often wondered at it, but he does. They are

great chums. It is a pleasure to see them together."



"And the child clings to him--shows no fear--sits on his lap or

on the bed and plays as children do play with his beard or with

his watch-chain?"



"Yes. Only once have I seen my little chap shrink, and that was

when my father gave him a look of unusual intensity,--looking for

his mother in him perhaps."



"Mr. Upjohn, forgive me the question; it seems necessary. Does

your father--or rather did your father before he fell ill--ever

walk in the direction of the grotto or haunt in any way the rocks

which surround it?"



"I cannot say. The sea is there; he naturally loves the sea. But

I have never seen him standing on the promontory."



"Which way do his windows look?"



"Towards the sea."



"Therefore towards the promontory?"



"Yes."



"Can he see it from his bed?"



"No. Perhaps that is the cause of a peculiar habit he has."



"What habit?"



"Every night before he retires (he is not yet confined to his

bed) he stands for a few minutes in his front window looking out.

He says it's his good-night to the ocean. When he no longer

does this, we shall know that his end is very near."



The face of Violet began to clear. Rising, she turned on the

electric light, and then, reseating herself, remarked with an

aspect of quiet cheer:



"I have two ideas; but they necessitate my presence at your

place. You will not mind a visit? My brother will accompany me."



Roger Upjohn did not need to speak, hardly to make a gesture; his

expression was so eloquent.



She thanked him as if he had answered in words, adding with an

air of gentle reserve: "Providence assists us in this matter. I

am invited to Beverly next week to attend a wedding. I was

intending to stay two days, but I will make it three and spend

the extra one with you."



"What are your requirements, Miss Strange? I presume you have

some."



Violet turned from the imposing portrait of Mr. Upjohn which she

had been gravely contemplating, and met the troubled eye of her

young host with an enigmatical flash of her own. But she made no

answer in words. Instead, she lifted her right hand and ran one

slender finger thoughtfully up the casing of the door near which

they stood till it struck a nick in the old mahogany almost on a

level with her head.



"Is your son Roger old enough to reach so far?" she asked with

another short look at him as she let her finger rest where it had

struck the roughened wood. "I thought

he was a little fellow."



"He is. That cut was made by--by my wife; a sample of her

capricious willfulness. She wished to leave a record of herself

in the substance of our house as well as in our lives. That nick

marks her height. She laughed when she made it. 'Till the walls

cave in or burn,' is what she said. And I thought her laugh and

smile captivating."



Cutting short his own laugh which was much too sardonic for a

lady's ears, he made a move as if to lead the way into another

portion of the room. But Violet failed to notice this, and

lingering in quiet contemplation of this suggestive little nick,--

the only blemish in a room of ancient colonial magnificence,--

she thoughtfully remarked:



"Then she was a small woman?" adding with seeming irrelevance--

"like myself."



Roger winced. Something in the suggestion hurt him, and in the

nod he gave there was an air of coldness which under ordinary

circumstances would have deterred her from pursuing this subject

further. But the circumstances were not ordinary, and she allowed

herself to say:



"Was she so very different from me,--in figure, I mean?"



"No. Why do you ask? Shall we not join your brother on the

terrace?"



"Not till I have answered the question you put me a moment ago.

You wished to know my requirements. One of the most important you

have already fulfilled. You have given your servants a half-

holiday and by so doing ensured to us full liberty of action.

What else I need in the attempt I propose to make, you will find

listed in this memorandum." And taking a slip of paper from her

bag, she offered it to him with a hand, the trembling of which he

would have noted had he been freer in mind.



As he read, she watched him, her fingers nervously clutching her

throat.



"Can you supply what I ask?" she faltered, as he failed to raise

his eyes or make any move or even to utter the groan she saw

surging up to his lips. "Will you?" she impetuously urged, as his

fingers closed spasmodically on the paper, in evidence that he

understood at last the trend of her daring purpose.



The answer came slowly, but it came. "I will. But what--"



Her hand rose in a pleading gesture.



"Do not ask me, but take Arthur and myself into the garden and

show us the flowers. Afterwards, I should like a glimpse of the

sea."



He bowed and they joined Arthur who had already begun to stroll

through the grounds.



Violet was seldom at a loss for talk even at the most critical

moments. But she was strangely tongue-tied on this occasion, as

was Roger himself. Save for a few observations casually thrown

out by Arthur, the three passed in a disquieting silence through

pergola after pergola, and around beds gorgeous with every

variety of fall flowers, till they turned a sharp corner and came

in full view of the sea.



"Ah!" fell in an admiring murmur from Violet's lips as her eyes

swept the horizon. Then as they settled on a mass of rock jutting

out from the shore in a great curve, she leaned towards her host

and softly whispered:



"The promontory?"



He nodded, and Violet ventured no farther, but stood for a little

while gazing at the tumbled rocks. Then, with a quick look back

at the house, she asked him to point out his father's window.



He did so, and as she noted how openly it faced the sea, her

expression relaxed and her manner lost some of its constraint. As

they turned to re-enter the house, she noticed an old man picking

flowers from a vine clambering over one end of the piazza.



"Who is that?" she asked.



"Our oldest servant, and my father's own man," was Roger's reply.

"He is picking my father's favourite flowers, a few late

honeysuckles."



"How fortunate! Speak to him, Mr. Upjohn. Ask him how your father

is this evening."



"Accompany me and I will; and do not be afraid to enter into

conversation with him. He is the mildest of creatures and devoted

to his patient. He likes nothing better than to talk about him."



Violet, with a meaning look at her brother, ran up the steps at

Roger's side. As she did so, the old man turned and Violet was

astonished at the wistfulness with which he viewed her.



"What a dear old creature!" she murmured. "See how he stares this

way. You would think he knew me."



"He is glad to see a woman about the place. He has felt our

isolation--Good evening, Abram. Let this young lady have a spray

of your sweetest honeysuckle. And, Abram, before you go, how is

Father to-night? Still sitting up?"



"Yes, sir. He is very regular in his ways. Nine is his hour; not

a minute before and not a minute later. I don't have to look at

the clock when he says: 'There, Abram, I've sat up long enough.'"



"When my father retires before his time or goes to bed without a

final look at the sea, he will be a very sick man, Abram."



"That he will, Mr. Roger; that he will. But he's very feeble to-

night, very feeble. I noticed that he gave the boy fewer kisses

than usual. Perhaps he was put out because the child was brought

in a half-hour earlier than the stated time. He don't like

changes; you know that, Mr. Roger; he don't like changes. I

hardly dared to tell him that the servants were all going out in

a bunch to-night."



"I'm sorry," muttered Roger. "But he'll forget it by to-morrow. I

couldn't bear to keep a single one from the concert. They'll be

back in good season and meantime we have you. Abram is worth half

a dozen of them, Miss Strange. We shall miss nothing."



"Thank you, Mr. Roger, thank you," faltered the old man. "I try

to do my duty." And with another wistful glance at Violet, who

looked very sweet and youthful in the half-light, he pottered

away.



The silence which followed his departure was as painful to her as

to Roger Upjohn. When she broke it it was with this decisive

remark:



"That man must not speak of me to your father. He must not even

mention that you have a guest to-night. Run after him and tell

him so. It is necessary that your father's mind should not be

taken up with present happenings. Run."



Roger made haste to obey her. When he came back she was on the

point of joining her brother but stopped to utter a final

injunction:



"I shall leave the library, or wherever we may be sitting, just

as the clock strikes half-past eight. Arthur will do the same, as

by that time he will feel like smoking on the terrace. Do not

follow either him or myself, but take your stand here on the

piazza where you can get a full view of the right-hand wing

without attracting any attention to yourself. When you hear the

big clock in the hall strike nine, look up quickly at your

father's window. What you see may determine--oh, Arthur! still

admiring the prospect? I do not wonder. But I find it chilly.

Let us go in."



Roger Upjohn, sitting by himself in the library, was watching

the hands of the mantel clock slowly approaching the hour of

nine.



Never had silence seemed more oppressive nor his sense of

loneliness greater. Yet the boom of the ocean was distinct to the

ear, and human presence no farther away than the terrace where

Arthur Strange could be seen smoking out his cigar in solitude.

The silence and the loneliness were in Roger's own soul; and, in

face of the expected revelation which would make or unmake his

future, the desolation they wrought was measureless.



To cut his suspense short, he rose at length and hurried out to

the spot designated by Miss Strange as the best point from which

to keep watch upon his father's window. It was at the end of the

piazza where the honeysuckle hung, and the odour of the blossoms,

so pleasing to his father, well-nigh overpowered him not only by

its sweetness but by the many memories it called up. Visions of

that father as he looked at all stages of their relationship

passed in a bewildering maze before him. He saw him as he

appeared to his childish eyes in those early days of confidence

when the loss of the mother cast them in mutual dependence upon

each other. Then a sterner picture of the relentless parent who

sees but one straight course to success in this world and the

next. Then the teacher and the matured adviser; and then--oh,

bitter change! the man whose hopes he had crossed--whose life he

had undone, and all for her who now came stealing upon the scene

with her slim, white, jewelled hand forever lifted up between

them. And she! Had he ever seen her more clearly? Once more the

dainty figure stepped from fairy-land, beauteous with every

grace that can allure and finally destroy a man. And as he saw,

he trembled and wished that these moments of awful waiting might

pass and the test be over which would lay bare his father's heart

and justify his fears or dispel them forever.



But the crisis, if crisis it was, was one of his own making and

not to be hastened or evaded. With one quick glance at his

father's window, he turned in his impatience towards the sea

whose restless and continuous moaning had at length struck his

ear. What was in its call to-night that he should thus sway

towards it as though drawn by some dread magnetic force? He had

been born to the dashing of its waves and knew its every mood and

all the passion of its song from frolicsome ripple to melancholy

dirge. But there was something odd and inexplicable in its effect

upon his spirit as he faced it at this hour. Grim and implacable--

a sound rather than a sight--it seemed to hold within its

invisible distances the image of his future fate. What this image

was and why he should seek for it in this impenetrable void, he

did not know. He felt himself held and was struggling with this

influence as with an unknown enemy when there rang out, from the

hall within, the preparatory chimes for which his ear was

waiting, and then the nine slow strokes which signalized the

moment when he was to look for his father's presence at the

window.



Had he wished, he could not have forborne that look. Had his eyes

been closing in death, or so he felt, the trembling lids would

have burst apart at this call and the revelations it promised.



And what did he see? What did that window hold for him?



Nothing that he might not have seen there any night at this hour.

His father's figure drawn up behind the panes in wistful

contemplation of the night. No visible change in his attitude,

nothing forced or unusual in his manner. Even the hand, lifted to

pull down the shade, moves with its familiar hesitation. In a

moment more that shade will be down and-- But no! the lifted hand

falls back; the easy attitude becomes strained, fixed. He is

staring now--not merely gazing out upon the wastes of sky and

sea; and Roger, following the direction of his glance, stares

also in breathless emotion at what those distances, but now so

impenetrable, are giving to the eye.



A spectre floating in the air above the promontory! The spectre

of a woman--of his wife, clad, as she had been clad that fatal

night! Outlined in supernatural light, it faces them with lifted

arms showing the ends of rope dangling from either wrist. A sight

awful to any eye, but to the man of guilty heart--



Ah! it comes--the cry for which the agonized son had been

listening! An old man's shriek, hoarse with the remorse of

sleepless nights and days of unimaginable regret and foreboding!

It cuts the night. It cuts its way into his heart. He feels his

senses failing him, yet he must glance once more at the window

and see with his last conscious look-- But what is this! a change

has taken place in the picture and he beholds, not the distorted

form of his father sinking back in shame and terror before this

visible image of his secret sin, but that of another weak, old

man falling to the floor behind his back! Abram! the attentive,

seemingly harmless, guardian of the household! Abram! who had

never spoken a word or given a look in any way suggestive of his

having played any other part in the hideous drama of their lives

than that of the humble and sympathetic servant!



The shock was too great, the relief too absolute for credence.

He, the listener at the grotto? He, the avenger of the family's

honour? He, the insurer of little Roger's continuance with the

family at a cost the one who loved him best would rather have

died himself than pay? Yes! there is no misdoubting this old

servitor's attitude of abject appeal, or the meaning of Homer

Upjohn's joyfully uplifted countenance and outspreading arms. The

servant begs for mercy from man, and the master is giving thanks

to Heaven. Why giving thanks? Has he been the prey of cankering

doubts also? Has the father dreaded to discover that in the son

which the son has dreaded to discover in the father?



It might easily be; and as Roger recognizes this truth and the

full tragedy of their mutual lives, he drops to his knees amid

the honeysuckles.



"Violet, you are a wonder. But how did you dare?"



This from Arthur as the two rode to the train in the early

morning.



The answer came a bit waveringly.



"I do not know. I am astonished yet, at my own daring. Look at my

hands. They have not ceased trembling since the moment you threw

the light upon me on the rocks. The figure of old Mr. Upjohn in

the window looked so august."



Arthur, with a short glance at the little hands she held out,

shrugged his shoulders imperceptibly. It struck him that the

tremulousness she complained of was due more to some parting word

from their young host, than from prolonged awe at her own daring.

But he made no remark to this effect, only observed:



"Abram has confessed his guilt, I hear."



"Yes, and will die of it. The master will bury the man, and not

the man the master."



"And Roger? Not the little fellow, but the father?"



"We will not talk of him," said she, her eyes seeking the sea

where the sun in its rising was battling with a troop of

lowering clouds and slowly gaining the victory.





The Greek Interpreter The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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