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   Chapter 18 ALL RIGHT AT LAST

The Deep Lake Mystery By Carolyn Wells Characters: 26923

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was just after I had given Alma that first kiss, and had realized that she was not offended by my daring, that Merry came to the house door, crying out, "Come, Miss Alma, come quickly!" and with an agonized look, Alma begged me to go at once, and she herself ran into the house.

Then John Merivale came out and controlling his agitation with an effort, he said, "If you please, sir, Miss Remsen asks that you go home now. She cannot see you again and she will send you some word later on."

"Tell me what's the trouble, Merivale," I urged. "I am a friend of Miss Alma, more than a friend, indeed."

I looked at him squarely, as man to man, and he gazed back at me, his face drawn with strong emotion of some sort.

"If you want to help her, sir, you'll just go quietly away. You can do nothing here."

So, there was nothing to do but to go, and I started off down the garden path.

I looked back at the house as I stepped on the dock, but I saw nobody at any window, nor any sign of anybody about.

It was all mysterious, terribly so, but I had the remembrance of that moment when I had held Alma close in my arms, and she had offered no resistance.

Surely, some day, the clouds would clear away and all would be explained.

Slowly I rowed back to the Moore cottage and pondered as I went.

When I reached Variable Winds, I found the family and Detective March in full conclave.

Spread on a table before them lay a conglomerate collection of small objects, among which I recognized a lot of beads that I had seen Alma wear, a pretty finger ring and several other odd bits of jewellery. Also, some scraps of bright coloured silk, that I felt, intuitively, were bits of the Tracy waistcoats. Also, a Totem Pole, broken into three pieces.

I sat down with the others, and prepared to enter the discussion.

"I want to know all about it," I said. "All you know. Don't keep anything back with the idea of sparing my feelings. I have not had a definite talk with Alma, but I have reason to think she cares for me, and I am content to bide my time. But, I propose to do all I can to save her from what I feel sure is a mistaken suspicion of her guilt in the Tracy matter."

"Very well," said March, looking at me gravely, "then please understand that the evidence against Miss Remsen is overwhelming. You know most of it, you have heard nearly all the details of the case as they have come to light. Now, try to realize that the cumulation of all these facts is a mountain of proof that will be hard to move."

"I have heard it stated," I said, calmly, "that circumstantial evidence, though seemingly convincing, must never be taken as absolute proof."

Keeley stared at me, as if amazed, but I stood my ground.

"You'll have to get a human witness before you can declare a certainty."

"True enough, Mr. Norris," March agreed. "And we have plenty of human evidence. Mr. Ames's story of the quarrel between Miss Remsen and her uncle, you have heard. At that time Miss Remsen declared she would do something desperate, if Sampson Tracy persisted in his determination to tell Mrs. Dallas something that Alma wanted kept secret. What could that be, save the fact of her own defective health, or impaired mentality? She said Mrs. Dallas already hated her, and, knowing that, would hate her more. What other construction can possibly be put on those words? Then, we have Jennie's story of Miss Remsen's behaviour the night of Mr. Tracy's death. That girl would never invent a story so wildly improbable as the tale of Miss Remsen jumping from the window into the lake."

"You'll have to admit all March says is true, Gray," Keeley said to me, his fine face drawn with deepest concern. "And also the stories Posy May has told us. They bear the stamp of truth, and they are all human evidence, not merely circumstantial. Now, I will tell you the conclusion that I have been obliged to arrive at. And that is, that Alma Remsen is indeed afflicted. Not with epilepsy but with a far more serious malady. I mean dementia praecox. This is a terrible statement to make, but I am sure it is the only diagnosis that fits the case. As you may or may not know, that condition may be in existence yet remain unknown and unsuspected by those nearest and dearest to the patient."

"No!" I cried, recoiling from the thought of horrors that this idea conjured up. "That lovely girl--"

"You know nothing about the disease, Gray," Keeley said, patiently. "I didn't know much about it myself, until I read it up, which I have just done. It has many forms and phases, but there are some symptoms inseparable from the conditions. For instance, and this is the thing that impressed me from the very first. You remember I said the watch in the water pitcher was the keynote. Well, I had a vague idea, and my recent study has corroborated it, that victims of this dread disease almost invariably throw a watch into a jar or pail of water if they get a chance. That is a common peculiarity, and all the queer work around Tracy's deathbed points unmistakably to a mind disordered by dementia praecox and nothing else. Epilepsy won't do. That is a different disease. But the feather duster, the flowers, the waistcoat business, the Totem Pole, and more than all, the fatal nail, all indicate the same thing. Now, this disease has the strange quality of becoming evident at times, and then disappearing so utterly that no one would suspect its presence in the person affected. March and I have concluded that Alma Remsen is a victim of this horrible curse and that her actions are in no way of her own volition during the attacks of the dementia."

"I can't believe it," I said, after a straight glance into Keeley's sympathetic eyes, "but I suppose I must take your word for it. However, it makes no difference in my love and loyalty to Alma, but I want to get at the truth. Now if it is true, her doctor must know about it. And I can't think Doctor Rogers would have gone off and left her if there was danger of attacks of such a sort."

"That's the way it seemed to me," Keeley said. "Now, listen, Gray, and we'll tell you all. We have tried to think Alma is shielding somebody, somebody maybe that is a victim of dementia praecox. We thought of the two Merivales and we considered their daughter, Dora. Any of the three are possible, you see. Then, owing to some things March noticed when making his search at Whistling Reeds, we had a new suspicion. He observed two breakfast trays, in the pantry cupboard, that had the general effect of being in frequent use and the dining table was used for two. He observed a can of cocoa, though he had been told that Miss Remsen had always coffee for her breakfast. He thought the guest room showed signs of being in use when there was no acknowledged company there. Indeed, he brought that lot of stuff on the table from the guest room waste basket. As you see, there are bits of jewellery and a lot of beads and such odds and ends. Those are the things a demented person throws away. Also, there are bits of the waistcoats that have been so much talked about. Well, we came to the conclusion that there was another inmate of that house beside Alma Remsen. Some relative or friend she was shielding, or perhaps the nurse or her daughter. Again, it might be a man, say, an unacknowledged brother or cousin, whose very existence had been kept secret. Anyway, there was a very decided mystery to be unravelled at Whistling Reeds. But then, Posy May's stories and Jennie's, too, brought it all back to Alma herself, and while we hated to do it we had to find out. And the surest way was through Doctor Rogers. So I telegraphed him at a dozen or more different places where he might possibly be found, and one of them hit its mark."

Keeley drew a telegram from his pocket and passed it over to me. It sounded cryptic, for it ran thus:

YES A R VICTIM OF D P RECORDS IN MY SAFE LINCOLN HOLDS KEY.

"And so," March said, rising, "we are just going over to the office of Doctor Rogers to investigate the matter. You may go or not, as you wish."

"Don't go, Gray," Lora said, gently. "It is not necessary and will only cause you suffering. Keeley will tell you all when he comes back. You stay here with me."

"Thank you, Lora, dear," I said, "but I must go. I must know every development as it takes place. I'm a little dazed with this news from the doctor, but I can't help feeling there's a mistake somewhere. It can't be that Alma--"

I stopped suddenly, for I remembered seeing her on the lake that night, and hearing her say afterward that she never went on the lake in the evening. Then, when she had these attacks, she acted without knowledge of what she was doing. If she had, under these conditions, killed her uncle, she was of course in no way responsible, and would not be held so.

Maud and Lora looked sorrowfully after us, and we three went down the path to the drive and got into Keeley's car.

At Doctor Rogers's office we found his assistant in charge. He had but a few of the doctor's cases to look after and these were the simpler ones. Serious matters had been placed in the hands of more skilled practitioners, and some few important ones, we were told, were given over to specialists.

March showed him the telegram and asked what it meant.

"Well," said Doctor Greenway, a pleasant-faced young man, "I guess I can help you out on that. My orders are to meet the wishes of any one bringing a telegram couched in that language. As you have doubtless deduced," he smiled at the detective, "it means the key to the safe is hidden--"

"Behind Lincoln's picture," cried Kee, before March could speak.

"Yes," smiled the young man, his eyes following ours to the large engraving of Lincoln on the wall.

He stepped up on a chair, turned the frame from the wall a little, and from an envelope pasted on the back of the picture he extracted a paper.

"This is the combination," he explained, "which is what he means by key."

Following the message on the paper, he twirled the dials, and soon opened the safe.

"I will leave you to your investigations," he said. "This must be an important matter, or Doctor Rogers wouldn't have sent that information. Those are his case books, I leave them in your charge. When you are finished with them I will return and close the safe again. I shall be in the next room."

He went out and closed the door, and we looked into the safe, wondering what secret it would divulge.

So well was everything labelled and indexed that we had no trouble at all in finding the pages marked Remsen.

Keeley and March did the research work, I sitting idly by, but alert to learn their findings.

In a moment, I saw the utmost surprise and excitement manifest on their faces. They read from the same page, silently, eagerly, and then Keeley lifted his head, and with a look of pure joy on his face cried out:

"Take heart, Gray, Alma is all right!"

My heart almost stopped beating. I couldn't speak, but my whole soul seemed to go out in a great prayer of gratitude that swallowed up all other emotion. I did not hasten them or beg for further disclosures; I knew they would come in good time.

At last they gave over reading and turned to look at one another with nods of understanding.

Then Keeley turned to me, and said, concisely:

"Gray, the dementia praecox patient is not Alma, but her sister-her twin sister, Alda. This twin did not die as a child, but lived, afflicted with this terrible disease. The mother of the little girl was so overcome with grief and shame, that she pretended the child had died, and had the little grave made to give credence to the story."

"Alda?" I said, dully, not quite taking it in. "That isn't a name--"

"It is the name of Alma's twin, anyway," March said, grasping me by the shoulder, none too gently. "Wake up, man, you have something to live for now! Listen to me. Alma's twin sister is in the house at Whistling Reeds, and has been there all the time. While their mother was alive she kept the girls at Pleasure Dome, Alma openly and Alda secretly. No one knew of the sister's existence except the three Merivales and Griscom and Mrs. Fenn.

"They were bound to secrecy by Sampson Tracy, and he knew how to command obedience. Of course, Tracy and Alma knew all. Then, when Alma's mother died, she left Alda as a sacred trust, and Alma has devoted her life to the afflicted twin. You see, Alda is normal and sane the greater part of the time. But she cannot be allowed to know people for there is no telling when the spasms will come on. And when they do there is no treatment necessary save to control and soothe her. The Merivales, with Alma, look after that, and much of the time the two girls are together."

"Now, you see the truth of March's deductions that there was another inmate of the Whistling Reeds' house," Keeley said. "Where they keep her, I don't know, but--"

"Let's go right over there," March suggested. "It's only fair to end Miss Alma's misery and suspense as soon as possible."

Still dazed and wondering, I watched the others recall Doctor Greenway and give him back the paper he had produced, and then we went away-back to Keeley's place, and into a boat and over to Whistling Reeds with all possible speed.

The glum boatmaster greeted us surlily, as usual, but March paid no attention and made straight for the house.

His ring was ans

wered by Merry herself, and she looked very perturbed and anxious.

"I'm glad you've come, gentlemen," she said. "We are in great trouble."

It was then that I took the helm. As Alma's fiancé, for I so considered myself, it was my right and my duty to take matters in charge.

"Mrs. Merivale," I said, simply, "we know all about Miss Alda."

She staggered back a step and then a look of relief passed over her strong, gaunt face.

"Yes, sir," she said, apparently accustomed to accept the word of her superiors. "Then you can advise us, sir. Miss Alda is took very bad."

"Do you want a doctor?" asked March, hurriedly.

"No, sir, a doctor can do nothing-nothing at all."

"What can we do?" Keeley asked, eagerly.

"I don't know yet-perhaps if you'd just wait down here, till I see how she is now--"

"Merry," called a man's voice from upstairs, and she hurried away.

I recognized the tones of John Merivale and I did not offer to go upstairs with the nurse, knowing she would call us, if necessary.

I longed to be with Alma, to comfort and care for her, but I could not intrude uninvited.

But after we had waited perhaps a half hour, Alma came downstairs and out to the porch where we sat.

She was composed, but with a new sadness in her eyes and a new droop to her lovely lips.

"I will tell you all," she said, quietly, as she sat down, opposite to the three of us. "Since you know of my sister's existence, there is no more occasion for secrecy."

"Take it easy, Miss Remsen," said March, with well-meant kindness, and Keeley rose, and then went and sat beside her.

I had an instant's flash of jealousy, then realized it was better so. This ordeal had to be gone through with, and were I near her, I should have been unable to resist the impulse to clasp her in my arms in spite of the others' presence.

Kee seemed to give her courage by his sympathy, and she began her story.

"I am so alone," she prefaced it, "that I must tell it all in my own way. It is a strange story, but here are the facts. When my sister and I had scarlet fever, she did not die, but she at that time began to show symptoms of dementia praecox. My mother learned this, and knew the inevitable progress and end of the malady. So she declared that her little girl was dead to her and dead to the world, and should remain so, apparently. She therefore, with the knowledge and permission of Uncle Sampson, pretended that the child had died, and ever after kept her hidden from all but the few servants who knew about it. Uncle Sampson was very kind; I learned later that he thought my mother demented also and that's why he humoured her so. But she was not, Doctor Rogers will tell you that. The years went by, and while my mother made a pretense of sorrowing for her dead child and often visited the little grave, she had great solace in taking care of my twin, Alda, and doing everything to make her life happy and pleasant. At Pleasure Dome, the grounds and house are so enormous it was not difficult to keep up the pretence and all went well until my mother died. As she left Alda to me, with an injunction to guard her as my life, I have tried to do all I could to obey her wishes. And I managed beautifully until Uncle Sampson wanted to marry and bring a wife home. There was only one thing to do, so we did it. I moved over to this secluded spot, and lived here, keeping Alda's existence still a secret. The trouble came when Uncle Sampson determined to tell Mrs. Dallas about Alda. Uncle thought it dishonourable not to tell her, and I feared if she knew it, the secret would be a secret no longer. Uncle and I quarrelled about this, the last time I ever saw him."

Emotion almost overcame Alma at this point, but she bravely controlled herself and went on.

"I told Merry about the quarrel, and Alda chanced to overhear me. You must realize that when she is not in the attacks of dementia she is as sane as you or I. But she got it into her head that Uncle Sampson had offended or injured me, and she resolved, I've learned from her since, that she would avenge that insult. Never before had she been inclined to homicidal mania, never did we think of her as becoming menacing or dangerous-Doctor Rogers would not have left her except that he thought she would go right along as she has been for years. A fit of fierce anger now and then, or a mad tempest of rage and foolish actions, always followed by a period of exhaustion and many days of languor. But this time, the disease took a new turn, and Alda went over to Pleasure Dome, taking my key to let herself in. Like all unbalanced brains, hers has a crafty slyness and she is very cunning when she wishes to be. She, I know now, for she has told me, read a story about a man who was killed by a nail driven in his head. Her poor, distorted mind chose to imitate that act, and she took with her a nail and a mallet. She did kill Uncle Sampson, as he slept, she put all those strange things round about him, she threw his watch in the water pitcher-she is always throwing things away-and then she took the waistcoats, which she coveted, for her fancy work, the Totem Pole, which she admired, and finding his door locked-she had locked it herself-she stepped up on the window sill and dived into the lake. She is a perfect mermaid in the water; she can dive anywhere and swim for any length of time and under any conditions."

"She had thrown out the waistcoats first?" asked March.

"Had she? I daresay. She was a little lame just then, having twisted her ankle a bit, but she swam to her canoe, got in it and paddled home in safety."

"You didn't miss her while she was absent?" Keeley inquired, interestedly.

"No, indeed. She hadn't been out at night lately, though at one time she did have the habit. She usually occupies the guest room, but when I have friends staying here, we keep her in a room in the third story. It is a pleasant room, but soundproof and securely barred. She was there during the funeral."

"Then you knew nothing of the tragedy until next day?"

"Nothing. And even then, when Mrs. Fenn called up and told me, I didn't think of Alda. I supposed it was heart failure or apoplexy. But when I learned of the nail I suspected the truth, and later, Alda told me all. She has no regret-I mean, her sense of right and wrong is so clouded now that she cannot think clearly. Her mentality has dwindled rapidly of late, and even now-she is sleeping after a sedative-I think she will not recover her mind to the extent of sanity she has shown of late. I'm not sure I am telling you this so you can understand it, but I am so stunned, so dazed to think the time has come to tell it, that I want only to tell it truthfully and all at once, I don't want to have to go over it again--"

Merivale appeared in the doorway.

"Miss Alma," she said, gravely, and in solemn tone, "Miss Alda is going."

Alma rose, not hastily, but with a sweet dignity, and turning to me, said: "Come with me, Gray."

It was like a chrism; I felt sanctified to be chosen to stand at her side in this supreme moment.

The others followed us, but I did not know it then.

Alma and I went up the stairs together and she turned toward the guest room.

There on the bed lay the counterpart of my own darling. I knew now that it was Alda whom I had seen that night in the canoe; it was Alda whom Posy May and her friends had seen in tantrums with the nurse, it was Alda who-poor demented, irresponsible child-had killed Sampson Tracy, in blind imitation of the story she had read about the nail.

She was beautiful, even as Alma was beautiful, but the light in her eyes was not the light of reason, rather the weird light of visions seen by a deficient mentality. But even as we looked, the restless eyes closed, the restless body subsided into stillness, and a coma set in, from which Alda Remsen never awakened.

We sent for a doctor, but there was nothing to be done, and though she lingered for two days, the spirit was at last set free, Alda was released, and Alma's long and ghastly term of servitude was over.

It has ever since been my pleasure and duty to bring only sunshine into that life that knew no real sunshine for many long years.

Alma felt she never wanted to see Pleasure Dome again, so the place was sold and we travelled in many lands, returning at last to found a home far removed from any memories of painful association.

The Moores are still our dearest friends, and the Merivales our staunch henchmen and caretakers; while Alma and I, sufficient to one another, take for our motto: "All for Love, and the World Well Lost!"

THE END

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Transcriber's Notes

Copyright notice provided as in the original-this e-text is public domain in the country of publication.

Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and dialect unchanged.

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