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   Chapter 9 “HAUNTS”

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8967

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Does she mean that you can really act in the movies?" Jensie Crider's eyes were big with wonder as she ventured this question. They were still seated by the fire.

"She undoubtedly thinks that." Springing to her feet, the little French girl walked the length of the long room and back again.

"But it is too bad it is not to be a real picture." There was genuine sadness in the little mountain girl's tone. "I've seen some mountain pictures. They are so, so terrible! And they could be so beautiful!

"When the dogwood is in bloom," she murmured softly.

"Jensie!" Jeanne cried, seizing her by the shoulders and looking far back into her deep, mysterious eyes. "If I tried to make that a real picture, would you help me?"

"I-I'd do my double-durndest!" Jensie laughed in spite of herself.

"All right, Jensie." Jeanne was like a spring day. Sunshine and joy came one moment. The next there were clouds and rain. "All right, little girl." Her shoulders drooped. "We-we might try it. You never can tell."

She dropped into a chair before the fire.

Jensie went about the humble task of scrubbing the floor. Florence insisted upon helping her, so together, on hands and knees, they made their way back and forth, back and forth across the large room.

All this time Jeanne sat in deep thought. Once she murmured to herself, "It was before the fire in Rutledge Tavern that the great one, Abraham Lincoln, who with all his greatness was so simple and kind, sat for long hours dreaming of the future, reading his fortune in the flames, reading it to a girl, Ann Rutledge who, as simple and kind as he, understood.

"And then-" She stared hard at the fire. "Then the girl was gone forever, and he had to go on alone, all the way alone.

"He was an American, this great Lincoln, and I am only a poor little French girl.

"But perhaps-" She stared once more at the flames of orange and gold. "Perhaps I might make people understand and love him more if I could give them a true picture of the mountain country where he was born.

"When the dogwood is in bloom," she whispered. Her voice was deep and mellow, like a night bird's call.

"Come on, Jeanne! Snap out of it!" Florence was at her side. "The floor is done. We're going to have hot chocolate and some of those cake squares they call brownies."

Once again Jeanne marched across the floor to the back of the room. As she turned, her gaze strayed through the window.

"The hearse," she whispered with a shudder. "It's still waiting in the moonlight."

Having turned quickly about to shut out the scene, she found herself looking at a tall-backed organ standing against the wall. The moonlight falling across its ivory keys, yellow with age, gave it a ghostly appearance.

"Boo! Spooky place!"

She was glad enough to retreat to the narrow circle made by the fire's yellow glow.

"When the dogwood is in bloom," she whispered a moment later. With the light of the fire in her eyes, she forgot all else save those far away mountains.

She called back from memory's hidden places one springtime when, with Bihari the gypsy and his good wife, she had stolen away to the mountains of France in a gypsy van. They had gone to meet the loitering spring.

They had found her lingering among the hills. There tiny flowers were blooming gaily. There, too, they had caught the white drift of blossoming trees.

Never in all her wanderings had Jeanne found such simple and kindly people as those who had hewn their homes from the forests on these hills.

When nights were damp and chill they had invited her to sit beside their rough stone fireplaces. At night they had tucked her away in a corner and piled her high with blankets and coverlids woven in fantastic patterns, all woven by hand.

When Bihari had mended their pots and pans, when they were ready to journey onward, they had crowded round to press her hand and add as a blessing an invitation to return.

"And these mountains where our Jensie lives," she whispered. "They are like that. They must be.

"Ah, yes," she breathed, "it must be truly wonderful when the dogwood is in bloom on Big Black Mountain. Jensie shall tell me all about it. Then, who knows? If only-"

"Dreaming still," Florence broke in. "Come! The hot chocolate and cakes are ready."

During this late hour of refreshment, which was indeed a time of glorious fellowship, a thing happened which will linger long in their memories.

"It was in this Tavern,"

Jeanne was saying, "that Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge sang those strange religious songs that people of those times loved so well. I read some of them only yesterday. Listen! This is one of them:

"Death like an overflowing stream

Sweeps us away. Our life's a dream,

An empty tale, a morning flower

Cut down and withered in an hour."

There was silence down that long, dark room, where only the dull glow of coals cast an uncertain light about the narrow semicircle. Jeanne's soul was like a deep pool; it reflected all that came before it. Deeply moved by the strange sad words of other days, she could move her listeners.

Presently her mellow voice rose again:

"Teach me the measure of my days,

Thou Maker of my frame.

I would survey life's narrow space

And learn how frail I am.

"Such songs as these," she whispered. "Is it not very strange?"

"Yes," the little mountain girl replied, catching the spirit of the moment. "And sometimes Ann Rutledge sat before that tall old reed organ and played while they sang together. They-"

"Listen!" Jeanne held up a hand. Out from the silence of that long room came the Dong! Dong! of the ancient clock striking the hour. "This-" Her tone was deep and low. "This is my hour of enchantment. This-"

Who knows what she was about to say? She broke off to sit listening, stiff with sudden emotion. From the far corner where the darkness reigned came the strange, church-like notes of a reed organ.

The melody that came rolling back to them was strange, a wild, weird something, perhaps from the past-a forgotten song no living mortal had ever heard.

It continued for a full five minutes. And in all that time not one of them moved or spoke.

When the last note died away, the stout Florence found her courage returning. "I'm going to see." Her voice reached them in a low whisper.

Dropping on hands and knees, she disappeared into the dark.

"Who-who can it be?" Jeanne whispered to Jensie.

"There is no one." Jensie's words were scarcely audible.

After that they sat in silence until with a start Jeanne felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Oh!" She sprang to her feet.

Florence stood beside her.

"Who-who was it?"

The look on Florence's face was strange. "There was no one."

"Didn't I tell you?" Jensie reminded Jeanne. "I told you there was no one."

"Wha-what do you mean?"

"Haunts," Jensie explained quite simply. "We have haunts in the mountains. There are good haunts and bad haunts. I think this was a good haunt. Ann Rutledge was good."

After that, without a word, they filed out of the place in silence, locked the door behind them, then hurried away into the night.

* * * * * * * *

For a long time that night after Florence had retired, Jeanne sat by the open window, thinking.

Far away she caught the black sweep of Lake Michigan's waters, where dim, indistinct, a single ship's light gleamed.

"It's a strange and wonderful world!" she told herself. "Sometimes quite terrible, too."

Once more she allowed her mind to drift over the events of the past few days. She saw it all as in a dream: the auction house, the mysterious chest, the fire on the beach, and the Chinaman fleeing into the night with the three-bladed knife.

"Florence will never rest until she has found him and has that precious knife back," she told herself. "But will she find him?"

Once again in her imagination she saw their room in wild confusion-saw, too, the empty chest.

"I never told Florence about-about that laundry bag I left with the check boy at the hotel. I wonder if I should? And should I leave it there any longer? The mandarin said they were worth many, many dollars, those ancient pieces of embroidery work all done in threads of silver and gold.

"Ah well, the place to hide things is where no one will expect to find them. And as for Florence, the things you do not seem to possess are the ones that trouble you least."

Again she sat wriggling her pink toes and staring away at that one yellow light far out upon the lake.

"But this moving picture!" she exclaimed at last. "Why did I say 'yes'? How can I be some one else for even two short weeks?

"But then-" Her face took on a rapt expression. "If one could but make a success of that picture when every one believes it is to be a failure. Ah, that would be marvelous! So very, very superb!"

Leaping to her feet, she danced across the floor and at last tucked herself into her bed.

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