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"THE COLONEL'S OWN"
Words can not express the tediousness of that return journey. The affair which occupied all my thoughts was as yet too much enveloped in mystery for me to contemplate it with anything but an anxious and inquiring mind. While I clung with new and persistent hope to the thread which had been put in my hand, I was too conscious of the maze through which we must yet pass, before the light could be reached, to feel that lightness of spirit which in itself might have lessened the hours, and made bearable those days of forced inaction. To beguile the way a little, I made a complete analysis of the facts as they appeared to me in the light of this latest bit of evidence. The result was not strikingly encouraging, yet I will insert it, if only in proof of my diligence and the extreme interest I experienced in each and every stage of this perplexing affair. It again took the form of a summary and read as follows:
Facts as they now appear:
1. The peremptory demand for an interview which had been delivered to Miss Moore during the half-hour preceding her marriage had come, not from the bridegroom as I had supposed, but from the so-called stranger, Mr. Pfeiffer.
2. Her reply to this demand had been an order for that gentleman to be seated in the library.
3. The messenger carrying this order had been met and earnestly talked with by Mr. Jeffrey either immediately before or immediately after the aforementioned gentleman had been so seated.
4. Death reached Mr. Pfeiffer before the bride did.
5. Miss Moore remained in ignorance of this catastrophe till after her marriage, no intimation of the same having been given her by the few persons allowed to approach her before she descended to her nuptials; yet she was seen to shrink unaccountably when her husband's lips touched hers, and when informed of the dreadful event before which she beheld all her guests fleeing, went from the house a changed woman.
6. For all this proof that Mr. Pfeiffer was well known to her, if not to the rest of the bridal party, no acknowledgment of this was made by any of them then or afterward, nor any contradiction given either by husband or wife to the accepted theory that this seeming stranger from the West had gone into this fatal room of the Moores' to gratify his own morbid curiosity.
7. On the contrary, an extraordinary effort was immediately made by Mr. Jeffrey to rid himself of the only witnesses who could tell the truth concerning those fatal ten minutes; but this brought no peace to the miserable wife, who never again saw a really happy moment.
8. Extraordinary efforts at concealment argue extraordinary causes for fear. Fully too understand the circumstances of Mrs. Jeffrey's death, it would be necessary first to know what had happened in the Moore house when Mr. Jeffrey learned from Curly Jim that the man, whose hold upon his bride had been such that he dared to demand an interview with her just as she was on the point of descending to her nuptials, had been seated, or was about to be seated, in the room where death had once held its court and might easily be persuaded to hold court again.
This was the limit of my conclusions. I could get no further, and awaited my arrival in Washington with the greatest impatience. But once there, and the responsibility of this new inquiry shifted to broader shoulders than my own, I was greatly surprised and as deeply chagrined to observe the whole affair lag unaccountably and to note that, in spite of my so-called important discoveries, the prosecution continued working up the case against Miss Tuttle in manifest intention of presenting it to the grand jury at its fall sitting.
Whether Durbin was to blame for this I could not say. Certainly his look was more or less quizzical when next we met, and this nettled me so that I at once came to the determination that whatever was in his mind, or in the minds of the men whose counsels he undoubtedly shared, I was going to make one more great effort on my own account; not to solve the main mystery, which had passed out of my hands, but to reach the hidden cause of the equally unexplained deaths which had occurred from time to time at the library fireplace.
For nothing could now persuade me that the two mysteries were not indissolubly connected, or that the elucidation of the one would not lead to the elucidation of the other.
To be sure, it was well accepted at headquarters that all possible attempts had been made in this direction and with nothing but failure as a result. The floor, the hearth, the chimney, and, above all, the old settle, had been thoroughly searched. But to no avail. The secret had not been reached and had almost come to be looked upon as insolvable.
But I was not one to be affected by other men's failures. The encouragement afforded me by my late discoveries was such that I felt confident that nothing could hinder my success save the necessity of completely pulling down the house. Besides, all investigation had hitherto started, if it had not ended, in the library. I was resolved to begin work in quite a different spot. I had not forgotten the sensations I had experienced in the southwest chamber.
During my absence this house had been released from surveillance. But the major still held the keys and I had no difficulty in obtaining them. The next thing was to escape its owner's vigilance. This I managed to do through the assistance of Jinny, and when midnight came and all lights went out in the opposite cottage I entered boldly upon the scene.
As before, I went first of all to the library. It was important to know at the outset that this room was in its normal condition. But this was not my only reason for prefacing my new efforts by a visit to this scene of death and mysterious horror. I had another, so seemingly puerile, that I almost hesitate to mention it and would not if the sequel warranted its omission.
I wished to make certain that I had exhausted every suspected, as well as every known clue, to the information I sought. In my long journey home and the hours of thought it had forced upon me, I had more than once been visited by flitting visions of things seen in this old house and afterward nearly forgotten. Among these was the book which on that first night of hurried search had given proofs of being in some one's hand within a very short period. The attention I had given it at a moment of such haste was necessarily cursory, and when later a second opportunity was granted me of looking into it again, I had allowed a very slight obstacle to deter me. This was a mistake I was anxious to rectify. Anything which had been touched with purpose at or near the time of so mysterious a tragedy,--and the position of this book on a shelf so high that a chair was needed to reach it proved that it had been sought and touched with purpose, held out the promise of a clue which one on so blind a trail as myself could not afford to ignore.
But when I had taken the book down and read again its totally uninteresting and unsuggestive title and, by another reference to its dim and faded leaves, found that my memory had not played me false and that it contained nothing but stupid and wholly irrelevant statistics, my confidence in it as a possible aid in the work I had in hand departed just as it had on the previous occasion. I was about to put it back on the shelf, when I bethought me of running my hand in behind the two books between which it had stood. Ah! that was it! Another book lay flat against the wall at the back of the shelf; and when, by the removal of those in front I was enabled to draw this book out, I soon saw why it had been relegated to such a remote place of concealment on the shelves of the Moore library.
It was a collection of obscure memoirs written by an English woman, but an English woman who had been in America during the early part of the century, and who had been brought more or less into contact with the mysteries connected with the Moore house in Washington. Several passages were marked, one particularly, by a heavy pencil-line running the length of the margin. As the name of Moore was freely scattered through these passages as well as through two or three faded newspaper clippings which I discovered pasted on the inside cover, I lost no time in setting about their perusal.
The following extracts are from the book itself, taken in the order in which I found them marked:
"It was about this time that I spent a week in the Moore house; that grand and historic structure concerning which and its occupants so many curious rumors are afloat. I knew nothing then of its discreditable fame; but from the first moment of my entrance into its ample and well lighted halls I experienced a sensation which I will not call dread, but which certainly was far from being the impulse of pure delight which the graciousness of my hostess and the imposing character of the place itself were calculated to produce. This emotion was but transitory, vanishing, as was natural, in the excitement of my welcome and the extraordinary interest I took in Callista Moore, who in those days was a most fascinating little body. Small to the point of appearing diminutive, and lacking all assertion in manner and bearing, she was nevertheless such a lady that she easily dominated all who approached her, and produced, quite against her will I am sure, an impression of aloofness seasoned with kindness, which made her a most surprising and entertaining study to the analytic observer. Her position as nominal mistress of an establishment already accounted one of the finest in Washington,--the real owner, Reuben Moore, preferring to live abroad with his French wife,--gave to her least action an importance which her shy, if not appealing looks, and a certain strained expression most difficult to characterize, vainly attempted to contradict. I could not understand her, and soon gave up the attempt; but my admiration held firm, and by the time the evening was half over I was her obedient slave. I think from what I know of her now that she would have preferred to be mine.
"I was put to sleep in a great chamber which I afterward heard called 'The Colonel's Own.' It was very grand and had a great bed in it almost royal in its size and splendor. I believe that I shrank quite unaccountably from this imposing piece of furniture when I first looked at it; it seemed so big and so out of proportion to my slim little body. But admonished by the look which I surprised on Mistress Callista's high-bred face, I quickly recalled an expression so unsuited to my position as guest, and, with a gush of well-simulated rapture, began to expatiate upon the interesting characteristics of the room, and express myself as delighted at the prospect of sleeping there.
"Instantly the nervous look left her, and, with the quiet remark, 'It was my father's room,' she set down the candles with which both her hands were burdened, and gave me a kiss so warm and surcharged with feeling that it sufficed to keep me happy and comfortable for a half-hour or more after she passed out.
"I had thought myself a very sleepy girl, but when, after a somewhat lengthened brooding over the dying embers in the open fireplace, I lay down behind the curtains of the huge bed, I found myself as far from sleep as I had ever been in my whole life.
"And I did not recover from this condition for the entire night. For hours I tossed from one side of the bed to the other in my efforts to avoid the persistent eyes of a scarcely-to-be-perceived drawing facing me from the opposite wall. It had no merit as a picture, this drawing, but seen as it was under the rays of a gibbous moon looking in through the half-open shutter, it exercised upon me a spell such as I can not describe and hope never again to experience. Finally I rose and pulled the curtains violently together across the foot of the bed. This shut out the picture; but I found it worse to imagine it there with its haunting eyes peering at me through the intervening folds of heavy damask than to confront it openly; so I pushed the curtains back again, only to rise a half-hour later and twitch them desperately together once more.
"I fidgeted and worried so that night that I must have looked quite pale when my attentive hostess met me at the head of the stairs the next morning. For her hand shook quite perceptibly as she grasped mine, and her voice was pitched in no natural key as she inquired how I had slept. I replied, as truth, if not courtesy, demanded, 'Not as well as usual,' whereupon her eyes fell and she remarked quite hurriedly; 'I am so sorry; you shall have another room tonight,' adding, in what appeared to be an unconscious whisper: 'There is no use; all feel it; even the young and the gay;' then aloud and with irrepressible anxiety: 'You didn't see anything, dear?'
"'No!' I protested in suddenly awakened dismay; 'only the strange eyes of that queer drawing peering at me through the curtains of my bed. Is it--is it a haunted room?'
"Her look was a shocked one, her protest quite vehement. 'Oh, no! No one has ever witnessed anything like a ghost there, but every one finds it impossible to sleep in that bed or even in the room. I do not know why, unless it is that my father spent so many weary years of incessant wakefulness inside its walls.'
"'And did he die in that bed?' I asked.
"She gave a startled shiver, and drew me hurriedly downstairs. As we paused at the foot, she pressed my hand and whispered:
"'Yes; at night; with the full of the moon upon him.'
"I answered her look with one she probably understood as little as I did hers. I had heard of this father of hers. He had been a terrible old man and had left a terrible memory behind him.
"The next day my room was changed according to her promise, but in the light of the charges I have since heard uttered against that house and the family who inhabit it, I am glad that I spent one night in what, if it was not a haunted chamber, had certainly a very thrilling effect upon its occupants."
Second passage; the italics showing where it was most heavily marked.
"The house contained another room as interesting as the one I have already mentioned. It went by the name of the library and its walls were heavily lined with books; but the family never sat there, nor was I ever fortunate enough to see it with its doors unclosed except on the occasion of the grand reception Mistress Callista gave in my honor. I have a fancy for big rooms and more than once urged my hostess to tell me why this one stood neglected. But the lady was not communicative on this topic and it was from another member of the household I learned that its precincts had been forever clouded by the unexpected death within them of one of her father's friends, a noted army officer.
"Why this should have occasioned a permanent disuse of the spot I could not understand, and as every one who conversed on this topic invariably gave the impression of saying less than the subject demanded, my curiosity soon became too much for me and I attacked Miss Callista once again in regard to it. She gave me a quick smile, for she was always amiable, but shook her head and introduced another topic. But one night when the wind was howling in the chimneys and the sense of loneliness was even greater than usual in the great house, we drew together on the rug in front of my bedroom fire, and, as the embers burned down to ashes before us, Miss Callista became more communicative.
"Her heart was heavy, she told me; had been heavy for years. Perhaps some ray of comfort would reach her if she took a friend into her confidence. God knew that she needed one, especially on nights like this, when the wind woke echoes all over the house and it was hard to tell which most to fear, the sounds which came from no one knew where, or the silence which settled after.
"She trembled as she said this, and instinctively drew nearer my side so that our heads almost touched over the flickering flame from whose heat and light we sought courage. She seemed to feel grateful for this contact, and the next minute, flinging all her scruples to the wind, she began a relation of events which more or less answered my late unwelcome queries.
"The death in the library, about which her most perplexing memory hung, took place when she was a child and her father held that high governmental position which has reflected so much credit upon the family. Her father and the man who thus perished had been intimate friends. They had fought together in the War of 1812 and received the same distinguishing marks of presidential approval afterward. They were both members of an important commission which brought them into diplomatic relations with England. It was while serving on this commission that the sudden break occurred which ended all intimate relations between them,, and created a change in her father that was equally remarked at home and abroad. What occasioned this break no one knew. Whether his great ambition had received some check through the jealousy of this so-called friend--a supposition which did not seem possible, as he rose rapidly after this--or on account of other causes darkly hinted at by his contemporaries, but never breaking into open gossip, he was never the same man afterwards. His children, who used to rush with effusion to greet him, now shrank into corners at his step, or slid behind half open doors, whence they peered with fearful interest at his tall figure, pacing in moody silence the halls of his ancestral home, or sitting with frowning brows over the embers dying away on the great hearthstone of his famous library.
"Their mother, who was an invalid, did not share these terrors. The father was ever tender of her, and the only smile they ever saw on his face came with his entrance into her darkened room.
"Such were Callista Moore's first memories. Those which followed were more definite and much more startling. President Jackson, who had a high opinion of her father's ability, advanced him rapidly. Finally a position was given him which raised him into national prominence. As this had been the goal of his ambition for years, he was much gratified by this appointment, and though his smiles came no more frequently, his frowns lightened, and from being positively threatening, became simply morose.
"Why this moroseness should have sharpened into menace after an unexpected visit from his once dear, but long estranged companion-in-arms, his daughter, even after long years of constant brooding upon this subject, dares not decide. If she could she might be happier.
"The general was a kindly man, sharp of face and of a tall thin figure, but with an eye to draw children and make them happy with a look. But his effect on the father was different. From the moment the two met in the great hall below, the temper of the host betrayed how little he welcomed this guest. He did not fail in courtesy--the Moores are always gentlemen--but it was a hard courtesy, which cut while it flattered. The two children, shrinking from its edge without knowing what it was that hurt them, slunk to covert, and from behind the two pillars which mark the entrance to the library, watched the two men as they walked up and down the halls discussing the merits of this and that detail of the freshly furnished mansion. These two innocent, but eager spies, whom fear rather than curiosity held in hiding, even caught some of the sentences which passed between tire so-called friends; and though these necessarily conveyed but little meaning to their childish minds, the words forming them were never forgotten, as witness these phrases confided to me by Mistress Callista twenty-five years afterward.
"'You have much that most men lack,' remarked the general, as they paused to admire some little specimen of Italian art which had been lately received from Genoa. 'You have money--too much money, Moore, by an amount I might easily name--a home which some might call palatial, a lovely, if not altogether healthy wife, two fine children, and all the honor which a man in a commonwealth like this should ask for. Drop politics.'
"'Politics are my life,' was the cold response. 'To bid me drop them is to bid me commit suicide.' Then, as an afterthought to which a moment of intervening silence added emphasis, 'And for you to drive me from them would be an act little short of murder.'
"'Justice dealt upon a traitor is not murder,' was the stern and unyielding reply. 'By one black deed of treacherous barter and sale, of which none of your countrymen is cognizant but myself, you have forfeited the confidence of this government. Were I, who so unhappily surprised your secret, to allow you to continue in your present place of trust, I myself would be a traitor to the republic for which I have fought and for which I am ready to die. That is why I ask you to resign before -'
"The two children did not catch the threat latent in that last word, but they realized the force of it from their father's look and were surprised when he quietly said:
"'You declare yourself to be the only man on the commission who is acquainted with the facts you are pleased to style traitorous?'
"The general's lips curled. 'Have I not said?' he asked.
"Something in this stern honesty seemed to affect the father. His face turned away and it was the other's voice which was next heard. A change had taken place in it and it sounded almost mellow as it gave form to these words:
"'Alpheus, we have been friends. You shall have two weeks in which to think over my demand and decide. If at the end of that time you have not returned to domestic life you may expect another visit from me which can not fail of consequences. You know my temper when roused. Do not force me into a position which will cause us both endless regret.'
"Perhaps the father answered; perhaps he did not. The children heard nothing further, but they witnessed the gloom with which he rode away to the White House the next day. Remembering the general's threat, they imagined in their childish hearts that their father had gone to give up his post and newly acquired honors. But he returned at night without having done so, and from that day on carried his head higher and showed himself more and more the master, both at home and abroad.
"But he was restless, very restless, and possibly to allay a great mental uneasiness, he began having some changes made in the house; changes which occupied much of his time and with which he never seemed satisfied. Men working one day were dismissed the next and others called in until this work and everything else was interrupted by the return of his late unwelcome guest, who kept his appointment to a day.
"At this point in her narrative Mistress Callista's voice fell and the flame which had thrown a partial light on her countenance died down until I could but faintly discern the secretly inquiring look with which she watched me as she went on to say
"'Reuben and I,'--Reuben was her brother,--'were posted in the dark corner under the stairs when my father met the general at the door. We had expected to hear high words, or some explosion of bitter feeling between them, and hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry when our father welcomed his guest with the same elaborate bow we once saw him make to the president in the grounds of the White House. Nor could we understand what followed. We were summoned in to supper. Our mother was there--a great event in those days--and toasts were drunk and our father proposed one to the general's health. This Reuben thought was an open signal of peace, and turned upon me his great round eyes in surprise; but I, who was old enough to notice that this toast was not responded to and that the general did not even touch his lips to the glass he had lifted in compliment to our mother, who had lifted hers, felt that there was something terrifying rather than reassuring in this attempt at good fellowship.
Though unable to reason over it at the time, I have often done so since, and my father's attitude and look as he faced this strange guest has dwelt so persistently in my memory that scarcely a year passes without the scene coming up in my dreams with its accompanying emotions of fear and perplexity. For--perhaps you know the story - that hour was the general's last. He died before leaving the house; died in that same dark library concerning which you have asked so many questions.
"'I remember the circumstances well, how well down to each and every detail. Our mother had gone back to her room, and the general and my father, who did not linger over their wine--why should they, when the general would not drink?--had withdrawn to the library at the suggestion of the general, whose last words are yet lingering in my ears.
"'The time has come for our little talk,' said he. 'Your reception augurs -'
"'You do not look well,' my father here broke in, in what seemed an unnaturally loud voice. 'Come and sit down -'
"'Here the door closed.
"'We had hung about this door, curious children that we were, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the queer new settle which had been put into place that day. But we scampered away at this, and were playing in and out of the halls when the library door agin opened and my father came out.
"'Where's Samba?' he cried. 'Tell him to carry a glass of wine in to the general. 1 do not like his looks. I am going upstairs for some medicine.' This he whispered in choked tones as he set foot on the stairs. Why I remember it I do not know, for Reuben, who was standing where he could look into the library when our father came out and saw the settle and the general sitting at one end of it, was chattering about it in my ear at the very moment our father was giving his orders.
"'Reuben is a man now, and I have asked him more than once since then how the general looked at that critical instant. It is important to me, very, very important, and to him, too, now that he has come to know a man's passions and temptations. But he will never tell me, never relieve my mind, and I can only hope that there were real signs of illness on the general's brow; for then I could feel that all had been right and that his death was the natural result of the great distress he felt at opposing my father in the one desire of his heart. That glimpse which Reuben had of him before he fell has always struck me with strange pathos. A little child looking in upon a man, who, for all his apparent health, will in another moment be in eternity--I do not wonder he does not like to talk of it, and yet -
"'It was Samba who came upon the general first. Our father had not yet descended. When he did, it was with loud cries and piteous ejaculations. Word had gone upstairs and surprised him in the room with my mother. I recollect wondering in all childish simplicity why he wrung his hands so over the death of a man he so hated and feared. Nor was it till years had passed and our mother had been laid in the grave and the house had settled into a gloom too heavy and somber for Reuben to endure, that I recognized in my father the signs of a settled remorse. These I endeavored to account for by the fact that he had been saved from what he looked upon as political death by the sudden but opportune decease of his best friend. This caused a shock to his feelings which had unnerved him for life. Don't you think this the true explanation of his invariably moody brow and the great distaste he always showed for this same library? Though he would live in no other house, he would not enter that room nor look at the gloomy settle from which the general had fallen to his death. The place was virtually tabooed, and though, as the necessity arose, it was opened from time to time for great festivities, the shadow it had acquired never left it and my father hated its very door until he died. Is it not natural that his daughter should share this feeling?'
"It was, and I said so; but I would say no more, though she cast me little appealing looks which acquired an eery significance from the pressure of her small fingers on my arm and the wailing sound of the wind which at that moment blew down in one gust, scattering the embers and filling the house with banshee calls. I simply kissed her and advised her to go back with me to England and forget this old house and all its miserable memories. For that was the sum of the comfort at my poor command. When, after another restless night, I crept down in the early morning to peer into the dim and unused room whose story I had at last learned, I can not say but that I half expected to behold the meager ghost of the unfortunate general rise from the cushions of the prodigious bench which still kept its mysterious watch over the deserted hearthstone."
So much for the passages culled from the book itself. The newspaper excerpts, to which I next turned, bore a much later date, and read as follows:
"A strange coincidence marks the death of Albert Moore in his brother's house yesterday. He was discovered lying with his head on the identical spot where General Lloyd fell forty years before. It is said that this sudden demise of a man hitherto regarded as a model of physical strength and endurance was preceded by a violent altercation with his elder brother. If this is so, the excitement incident upon such a break in their usually pleasant relations may account for his sudden death. Edward Moore, who, unfortunately, was out of the room when his brother succumbed--some say that he was in his grandfather's room above--was greatly unnerved by this unexpected end to what was probably merely a temporary quarrel, and now lies in a critical condition.
"The relations between him and the deceased Albert have always been of the most amicable character until they unfortunately fell in love with the same woman."
Attached to this was another slip, apparently from a later paper.
"The quarrel between the two brothers Moore, just prior to the younger one's death, turns out to have been of a more serious nature than was first supposed. It has since leaked out that an actual duel was fought at that time between these two on the floor of the old library; and that in this duel the elder one was wounded. Some even go so far as to affirm that the lady's hand was to be the reward of him who drew the first blood; it is no longer denied that the room was in great disorder when the servants first rushed in at the sound he made in falling. Everything movable had been pushed back against the wall and an open space cleared, in the center of which could be seen one drop of blood. What is certain is that Mr. Moore is held to the house by something even more serious than his deep grief, and that the young lady who was the object of this fatal dispute has left the city."
Pasted under this was the following short announcement:
"Married on the twenty-first of January, at the American consulate in Rome, Italy, Edward Moore, of Washington, D. C., United States of America, to Antoinette Sloan, daughter of Joseph Dewitt Sloan, also of that city."
With this notice my interest in the book ceased and I prepared to step down from the chair on which I had remained standing during the reading of the above passages.
As I did so I spied a slip of paper lying on the floor at my feet. As it had not been there ten minutes before there could be little doubt that it had slipped from the book whose leaves I had been turning over so rapidly. Hastening to recover it, I found it to be a sheet of ordinary note paper partly inscribed with words in a neat and distinctive handwriting. This was a great find, for the paper was fresh and the handwriting one which could be readily identified. What I saw written there was still more remarkable. It had the look of some of the memoranda I had myself drawn up during the most perplexing moments of this strange case. I transcribe it just as it read:
"We have here two separate accounts of how death comes to those who breathe their last on the ancestral hearthstone of the Moore house library.
"Certain facts are emphasized in both:
"Each victim was alone when he fell.
"Each death was preceded by a scene of altercation or violent controversy between the victim and the alleged master of these premises.
"In each case the master of the house reaped some benefit, real or fancied, from the other's death."
A curious set of paragraphs. Some one besides myself was searching for the very explanation I was at that moment intent upon. I should have considered it the work of our detectives if the additional lines I now came upon could have been written by any one but a Moore. But no one of any other blood or associations could have indited the amazing words which followed. The only excuse I could find for them was the difficulty which some men feel in formulating their thoughts otherwise than with pen and paper, they were so evidently intended for the writer's eye and understanding only, as witness:
"Let me recall the words my father was uttering when my brother rushed in upon us with that account of my misdeeds which changed all my prospects in life. It was my twenty-first birthday and the old man had just informed me that as the eldest son I might expect the house in which we stood to be mine one day and with it a secret which has been handed down from father to son ever since the Moores rose to eminence in the person of Colonel Alpheus. Then he noted that I was now of age and immediately went on to say: 'This means that you must be told certain facts, without the knowledge of which you would be no true Moore. These facts you must hereafter relate to your son or whoever may be fortunate enough to inherit from you. It is the legacy which goes with this house and one which no inheritor as yet has refused either to receive or to transmit. Listen. You have often noted the gold filigree ball which I wear on my watch-guard. This ball is the talisman of our house, of this house. If, in the course of your life you find yourself in an extremity from which no issue seems possible mind the strictness of the injunction--an extremity from which no issue seems possible (I have never been in such a case; the gold filigree ball has never been opened by me)you will take this trinket from its chain, press upon this portion of it so, and use what you will find inside, in connection with -' Alas! it was at this point John Judson came rushing in and those disclosures were made which lost me my father's regard and gave to the informer my rightful inheritance, together with the full secret of which I only got a part. But that part must help me now to the whole. I have seen the filigree ball many times; Veronica has it now. But its contents have never been shown me. If I knew what they were and why the master of this secret always left the library--"
Here the memorandum ceased with a long line straggling from the letter y as if the writer had been surprised at his task.
The effect upon me of these remarkable words was to heighten my interest and raise me into a state of renewed hope, if not of active expectation.
Another mind than my own had been at work along the only groove which held out any promise of success, and this mind, having at its command certain family traditions, had let me into a most valuable secret. Another mind! Whose mind? That was a question easily answered. But one man could have written these words; the man who was thrust aside in early life in favor of his younger brother, and who now, by the sudden death of that brother's daughter, had come again into his inheritance. Uncle David, and he only, was the puzzled inquirer whose self-communings I had just read. This fact raised a new problem far me to work upon, and I could but ask when these lines were written--before or after Mr. Pfeiffer's death and whether he had ever succeeded in solving the riddle he had suggested, or whether it was still a baffling mystery to him. I was so moved by the suggestion conveyed in his final and half-finished sentence, that I soon lost sight of these lesser inquiries in the more important one connected with the filigree ball. For I had seen this filigree ball. I had even handled it. From the description given I was very certain that it had been one of the many trinkets I had observed lying on the dressing table when I made my first hasty examination of the room on the evening of Mrs. Jeffrey's death. Why had no premonition of its importance as a connecting link between these tragedies and their mysterious cause come to me at the time when it was within reach of my hand? It was too late now. It had been swept away with the other loose objects littering the place, and my opportunity for pursuing this very promising investigation was gone for the night.
Yet it was with a decided feeling of triumph that I finally locked the door of this old mansion behind me. Certainly I had taken a step forward since my entrance there, to which I had but to add another of equal importance to merit the attention of the superintendent himself.
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In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
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