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   Chapter 1 No.1

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 18415

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Wanted: A Haunted House

"But I know it's so,-for Mrs. Fairbanks saw it herself,-and heard it, too!"

The air of finality in the gaze levelled at Braye defied contradiction, so he merely smiled at the girl who was doing the talking. But, talking or silent, Eve Carnforth was well worth smiling at. Her red hair was of that thin, silky, flat-lying sort, that spells temper, but looks lovely, and her white, delicate skin,-perhaps the least bit hand-painted,-showed temperament while her eyes, of the colour called beryl,-whatever that is,-showed all sorts of things.

Then from her canna-hued lips fell more wisdom. "And Professor Hardwick believes it, too, and he's--"

"A college professor," broke in Landon, "don't try to gild his refinement! But really, Eve, you mustn't believe in spooks,-it isn't done--"

"Oh, but it is! You've no idea how many people,-scientific and talented people,-are leaning toward spiritualism just now. Why, Sir Oliver Lodge says that after the war great and powerful assistance will be given by spirit helpers in matters of reconstruction and great problems of science."

Milly Landon's laugh rang out, and she politely clapped a little, fat hand over her mouth to stifle it.

Milly Landon was an inveterate giggler, but don't let that prejudice you against her. She was the nicest, dearest dumpling of a little woman who ever giggled her way through life. And as hostess on this present Sunday afternoon occasion, she sat, one foot tucked under her, on the davenport in her long, narrow parlour, on one of New York's East Seventieth streets.

It was a parlour like thousands of others in the city, and the quartette of people talking there were much like the people talking in those other parlours, that Sunday afternoon. Their only superiority lay in the fact that they constitute part of the personnel of this absorbing tale, and the other people do not.

Milly and her very satisfactory husband, Wynne Landon, were affably entertaining Rudolph Braye and the herein-before described Eve Carnforth, two pleasing callers, and the talk had turned on psychological matters and then, by inevitable stages, to the supernatural and spiritualism.

"It is all coming in again," Eve declared, earnestly. "You know it was taken very seriously about thirty or forty years ago, and then because of fake mediums and fraudulent séances, it fell into disrepute. But now, it's being taken up in earnest, and I, for one, am terribly interested."

"But it's so old-fashioned, Eve," and Milly looked at her guest in disdain.

"It's gammon and spinach, that's what it is," declared Landon, "very rubbishy gammon and a poor quality of spinach!"

"Queen Victoria didn't think so," Eve informed them. "She may have been old-fashioned, but she believed thoroughly in the spiritual reappearance of her friends who died, and especially took comfort in the communion and visitation of her dead husband."

"It's this way, I think," offered Braye; "it seems to me it's like that old 'Lady or the Tiger' story, you believe or not, according to your character or disposition. You know, it depended on your own nature, whether you think the Lady came out of the door, or the Tiger. And so with spooks, if you want to believe in them, you do."

"Don't say spooks, please," begged Eve; "say phantasms, or even ghosts."

"Is that the usage in the best mediumistic circles?" and Braye smiled. "Well, I think I could more easily believe in a spook than a phantasm. The latter sounds so unreal, but a good honest Injun spook seems sort of plausible."

"They're all unreal," began Landon, but Eve interrupted. "They're not unreal, Wynne; they're immaterial, of course, but that isn't being unreal. You have a real soul, haven't you, although it is immaterial? and I suppose you don't call your mind material, even if your brain is."

"Now you're quibbling, Eve," and Landon grew a bit more serious. "When I say unreal, I mean imperceptible to the senses. I hold that a departed spirit cannot return to earth and be seen, heard, or felt by mortal human beings. All the stories of such things to the contrary notwithstanding. If you or any one else has power to show me a visible spook,-I beg pardon, phantasm,-I'll be glad to see it, but I'm from Missouri. I wouldn't be a bit afraid of it, but I'd have to be jolly well convinced of its integrity. No faked-up spectres would go down with me!"

"But how can you know?" asked Milly. "I'd be scared to death of one, I'm sure, but if Wynne wants to see one, I do. Let's all go to a séance, or whatever they call the things. Shall us?"

"No, indeed!" cried Eve. "Professional séances are always fakes. And I don't aspire to see one. If we could get some messages from the beyond, that would satisfy me."

"Get messages how?" asked Braye.

"Oh, by a Ouija board, or some such way."

"Ouija!" derided Landon; "that's the biggest fraud of all!"

"Only in the hands of frauds. If we tried it here by ourselves and if we all trusted each other not to stoop to deception of any sort that would be a fair test."

"I'd like that," and Milly giggled in pleased anticipation. "That wouldn't frighten me, and I'd promise to play fair."

"There'd be no reason for not playing fair," said Eve, seriously. "We're not a pack of silly children who want to trick one another. If we could get together some evening and have an earnest, serious test, I'd agree. But not if there's to be the least suspicion of anybody trying trickery."

At this point two more callers arrived, and Milly jumped up to greet them.

"Mr. Bruce!" she exclaimed, "how nice to see you! And Vernie,-my goodness, how you've grown!"

"Indeed, yes," and Vernie Reid, a most lively and energetic sub-deb of sixteen, darted from one to another, greeting all with interest.

"Hello, Cousin Rudolph, what are you doing here? Mooning after Miss Carnforth, I s'pose. Dear Mrs. Landon, let me sit here by you. I want to show you my graduating gifts."

"Oh, yes, you've just had commencement, haven't you?"

"Yes, and Uncle Gifford gave me this heavenly wrist-watch, and my respected Cousin Rudolph, over there, sent me this pendant. Isn't it stunning? Oh, I had beautiful presents. I'd like to graduate every year!"

"Aren't you going to school any more at all?"

"Dunno yet. Uncle Gifford says I am, I say I'm not. It remains to be seen. Though I don't mind confiding to you that I usually get my own way. And, too, out in Chicago, you know, we're not such terrible highbrows. Something tells me my schooldays are over. I think Uncle Gif needs the pleasure of my society at home. And, too, I want to get acquainted with Cousin Rudolph. Until this week I haven't seen him for years."

"He isn't your cousin, Vernie."

"Same as. He's a son of Uncle Gif's half-brother, and I'm a daughter of Uncle's own sister, so it sort of evens up. Anyway, I like Cousin Rudolph, because he's such a good-looking young man, and he's promised to take me round New York some. That's why I'm so jealous of Miss Carnforth or any other girl."

Vernie was so pretty that her chatter amused the whole crowd. She was brown-haired and brown-eyed, and somewhat of a browned complexion, by reason of much tennis and outdoor life at the school from which she had just been graduated. And after a summer spent among the Eastern resorts, she and her Uncle were to return to their Chicago home, where they had lived all of Vernie's orphaned life. Gifford Bruce idolized the girl and though often short and crabbed in his manner to others, he was never cross or stern to his dead sister's child.

"What were you talking about when we came in?" Vernie asked, smiling at Milly. "You were all so in earnest, it must have been something important."

"Of ghosts," answered Braye, looking at the pretty child. "Do you enjoy them?"

"Oh, don't I!" cried Vernie. "Why, at school we just ate 'em up! Table tippings and all such things, as soon as lights were out!"

"We don't mean that sort," said Eve. "We were talking seriously."

"Count me out, then," laughed Vernie. "Our ghosts weren't a bit real. I did most of 'em myself, jogging the table, when the others didn't know it!"

Eve's scarlet lips came together in a narrow line, but the others laughed at Vernie as she babbled on.

"Yes, and we tried the Ouija board. I can make it say anything I want to."

"Good for you, Kiddie," cried Braye, "I believe I like your notion of these things better than the ideas of the psychologists. It sounds a lot more fun!"

"And comes nearer the truth," declared Mr. Bruce. "I've looked up these matters and I've read all the best and most authoritative books on the subjects. There are many writers more diffuse and circumstantial, but Andrew Lang sums up the whole situation in his able way. He says there are no ghosts, but there are hallucinations. And that explains all."

"It doesn't to me," and Eve's beryl eyes took on a mystic, faraway look. "I, too, have read a lot of books--"

"Scientific or psychic?" interrupted Mr. Bruce, acidly.

"Psychical and Theosophic--"

"Rubbish! The Theosophic bunch have been in the discard for years."

"That's what I say," p

ut in Milly, "the whole business is old-fashioned."

"It isn't a question of fashion," and Gifford Bruce spoke assuredly; "the subject is one that recurs in waves, as many such things do. Why, there have been ghosts and haunted houses in people's imagination ever since there has been man and a house for him to live in. Some are spoken of in the Bible, the primitive Australians had legions of ghosts, the awful Dyaks record them, and there is scarce a castle or palace of the middle ages that hasn't its Woman in White, or a Little Gray Lady or the Man in Black. And in an old Egyptian papyrus, there's an account of a defunct lady who insisted on haunting her husband to his great distaste."

"My goodness, Uncle Gif, you do know a lot about it!" and Vernie went over and sat on the arm of his chair. "Tell us more. I like this sort of ghost stories better than the fool stunts we did at school."

"I'm not telling ghost stories, child, I'm only declaring that ghost stories are merely stories, and in no case a true relation of happenings. Lang investigated thousands of cases, and in ten out of every eleven, he states, fraud was proved."

"Quite so," said Eve, "and it is that eleventh case that interests the real thinker, the true inquirer."

"But the eleventh case was simply not proven, it never has been shown that it was really a ghostly visitation."

"But they do say, Uncle Gifford," observed Braye, "that the very fact of the frauds being perpetrated proves that there was something to imitate. If no spirit had ever returned to earth and made itself manifest, no one would have thought of pretending that one did."

"Nonsense and super-nonsense! Why, Rudolph, perpetual motion is not a real thing, but how many times has it been pretended! You don't remember the Keeley Motor, but that deceived thousands into believing that perpetual motion was at last discovered, but it wasn't; and that fraud doesn't prove that perpetual motion, without adequate cause, exists."

"Here comes Professor Hardwick," exclaimed Milly, "splendid to have him come just now! Sit down, Professor, and get right into the game. You know all these people, except this angel child, Miss Vernie Reid."

"I am an angel," declared Vernie, "but I'm no child! I've just graduated with honours and diplomas and lots of presents. Now, I'm out in the great world, and glory, but I love it! But don't mind me, Professor, go right on and tell us all you know about ghosts and ghostesses."

"Bless my soul! I don't know anything about them."

"Well, do you believe in ghosts?"

"What do you mean by ghosts? How do you define a ghost?"

"Ah, there's the rub," said Landon. "These people are all talking at cross purposes. Mr. Bruce means a scarecrow phantom rigged up in sheets, Miss Carnforth means a supernatural being of some sort, but I take a ghost, in the proper sense, to mean the visible soul of some one who has died."

"What do you mean by visible soul? Disembodied?"

"No," considered Landon, "I suppose I mean clothed in a body,-that is an apparent body."

"And raiment?" asked the old Professor.

"Yes, certainly. I never heard of a nude spook!"

"Then your visible soul is concealed by a body of flesh, and clothes, of fabric, or, at least, apparently so. The soul, I take it, would show but low visibility."

"Good, Hardwick!" cried Mr. Bruce. "Give them a jolt, they need it,-talking such rubbish!"

"Rubbish, Bruce? What do you mean by rubbish?"

"Why, all this ghost gabble--"

"How do you know it's rubbish? Have you personally disproved it? Do you mean intentional rubbish? Are they talking deceptively, or are they themselves deceived?"

"By the Lord Harry, Hardwick, I had forgotten you were such a stickler for words! I must choose my diction carefully. Do you, then, believe that so-called supernatural appearances are caused by psychical influences or are hallucinations of the senses? There, I think I've put it clearly."

"Fairly so. But I can't answer clearly. I never express an opinion on a grave question--"

Milly's hand flew up to her mouth to repress an involuntary giggle. "A grave question!" she exploded. "It surely is."

The Professor looked at her thoughtfully. "It is," he went on, "and it is no laughing matter. As I was saying, I never state an opinion without being sure of my facts. Now, I've had no experience, personally, with supernatural matters, and so am unfit to discuss them. But, I admit I should be very glad to have some such experience. Yes, I certainly should."

"Really," and Eve Carnforth looked interested. "I can arrange it for you, Professor Hardwick."

"No, no, my dear lady, I do not mean that I want to go to a séance, where the so-called medium throws flowers and things out of a cabinet, or toots trumpets and bangs cymbals! No, thank you, I've seen such often."

"What would you choose as an experience?" asked Landon.

"I'd like to go to a house that is reputed haunted, and in circumstances that preclude all possibility of fraud, see the haunting spirits or hear them, for myself."

"Me, too!" cried Vernie. "Oh, I do think that would be the rippingest fun! If you ever do it, Professor, mayn't I go with you?"

"I'll go along," said Eve. "Wouldn't that be a splendid proof! To have such a scientific and open-minded man as the Professor, and a few others who are in earnest and anxious to learn. You couldn't go, Mr. Bruce. You are too sceptical."

"I'm just the one you need," he laughed. "A balance wheel to keep you enthusiasts straight. But haunted houses are not to be found on every bush in America. If we were in England now,-or Scotland."

"They do have some over here," Landon asserted. "I read of one recently, and I've heard of others."

"Let's find one," suggested Eve, "and spend our summer vacation in it! Wouldn't that be a lark?"

"Oh, do!" exclaimed Vernie. "I'd just love it! May I go, Uncle Gifford? Oh, please let me."

"Only if I go myself, child. The spooks,-I beg their pardon, phantasms, might carry you off. I'll have to go along to rescue you."

"Phantasms don't carry people off," said Eve, contemptuously. "And though I'd like to consider this plan, I'd only do so, if we were all in earnest as investigators, whatever our opinions may be."

"Come on, let's go," said Landon. "I think it a great little old scheme. Make up a party, you know, but every one who joins must promise to be earnest and honest. Must promise to do nothing to fool or mislead the others, but keep a fair and open mind for any developments. Of course, there won't be any developments, but we can have a jolly time and we can have wild discussions."

"Wynne would rather have a discussion than eat," said his wife. "I'll go, and I'll be the housekeeper and chaperon of the crowd, if, as Wynne says, there'll be no developments. I'd love the outing, and I think this a splendid party to belong to. And let's take Norma Cameron. She's a sensitive, or whatever you call it, and she'll help you out, Eve."

"Why make the party any larger?" asked Eve, a little petulantly. "The crowd here now seems just right and congenial and all that."

"Why lug in Norma?" said Braye, smiling. "I don't know said Norma, but I agree with Eve that the party here is just sort of complete."

"Yes, I will take Norma. The poor child never gets an outing, and she'd just love this chance."

"You talk as if we were going to a summer resort," said Landon. "In the first place, Milly, I doubt if we can find a properly haunted house in a pleasant locality, that is for rent."

"Of course we can't," declared Mr. Bruce. "The whole scheme is idiotic. But if you can work it out, Landon, I'll go along, and take this little piece of property." He looked smilingly at the eager-eyed Vernie. "She's due for some fun after her school work, and if she likes this stunt, let's try to put it over."

"How would you set out to find a house?" asked Braye.

"Advertise," said Landon, promptly. "I know a firm of real estate agents, that I'll bet could manage it in short order. Say we try it?"

"I'm going to take Norma," insisted Milly. "Mayn't I, Wynne?"

"Take anything or anybody you wish, my cherished one. But then, oughtn't we to have another man?"

"Yes," said Milly, decidedly. "I hate a bunch of hens, without plenty of menfolks about. Who knows a nice, good-natured, all round adaptable dinner man?"

"I know just the chap," said Braye, "but he's a minister. Or, at least, he used to be. But he's an awfully good fellow, and most agreeable parlour company."

"What's his name?" asked Landon.

"Tracy. I met him first in Chicago, some years ago, and I've always liked him."

"All right, if Milly asks Norma, you ask your friend, but it's a case of first catch your house!"

"It's got to be a nice house, and fairly comfortable," Milly stipulated, "or I won't go."

"It's got to have a well-authenticated ghost, or I won't go," laughed Braye. "I don't believe in the things, but I'd like to have a chance to hear their clanking chains, or whatever they perform on."

"I'll go just for the fun of the thing," said Vernie, "and if we do catch a ghost, so much the better!"

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