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;
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."
"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
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
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 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
"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.
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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?
Miss Strange, thus appealed to, asked where the gentlemen were
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
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:
"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.
Six hours later another note was found, this time from the wife:
"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
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
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."
"Is it--I mean the table--in the same condition it was then? Has
nothing been taken from it except the manuscript?"
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
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-
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.
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
"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
"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
"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-
"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