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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 18706

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Old Montgomery Place

At the Fisher and Hibbard Real Estate and Country House Agency, Wynne Landon had a spirited interview with their Mr. Fisher, and finally induced that somewhat unwilling gentleman to advertise for a haunted house.

"It's a purely business matter," Landon argued, "and if you're any sort of a live agency you ought to do your best to get for your clients any such peculiar domiciles as they may desire."

"I understand that," patiently explained Mr. Fisher, "but it's such a crazy thing to do. How would a dignified firm like ours look advertising for a house warranted haunted?"

"Don't use your own firm name, then. Have answers sent to a fictitious address. Oh, you can manage it, Fisher. I don't mean you can surely get one, but you can manage to try. And if the house is pleasant and attractive, it doesn't matter, between you and me, if there isn't any ghost, after all. But I want a bona fide story. I mean, I don't want a house that the owner pretends is haunted, just so he can rent it. It must be a well-known legend or ghost story connected with the place."

"There are plenty of such," and Fisher laughed. "I've struck them occasionally, and because of that well-authenticated story, known to all the neighbours, I couldn't rent them. To have one asked for is a new experience here."

"Well, I've told you the whole state of the case. You see why we want it, and though the ghost part is the primary factor with some of us, my wife and I care more about a pleasant setting for a month's house party."

Landon's personality went far toward gaining his end, and Mr. Fisher promised to do what he could. As a lawyer of fine standing, and a man of ample means, Wynne Landon was a desirable man to please, and the order was taken.

And when, a few weeks later, word came that a possible opportunity had offered, Landon telephoned for Braye to go with him, and they went to investigate it at once.

"It's this way," said Mr. Fisher to the listening men. "There's a big house up in Vermont,-in the Green Mountain region, not so very far from Manchester. But it's a lonely locality, quite high up, and near a lake."

"Sounds fine so far," commented Landon; "go on."

"A man named Stebbins is the owner. I haven't seen him, but here's his letter. Read it, you'll get the idea better than I can tell you." So they read:

"Fisher and Hibbard: "Dear sirs:

"I've got a house, and it sure is haunted. It's up here in the mountains, and it's a good house, and a big one, but in some disrepair. Leastways, things is old-fashioned, and not, as you may say, up to date. But nothing ornery. All high-toned and proper, only old and somewhat wore out. It's the old Montgomery mansion, built along about 1700 and something. But it's been added to since, and it's a sort of mixed up architecture. About forty rooms into it, I should judge, though I ain't never counted them. And most of them haunted. But they ain't no use going into particulars unless somebody really wants to rent it. I've tried nineteen years, and nobody'll take it, cause it's so lonesome like. It's called Black Aspens, mostly I guess, cause the thick groves of aspen trees all around look black at night, and Lord knows it's a fit place for ghosts. Anyway it's haunted and I can swear to that. But the story of the haunt I won't set down until I hear from you again. But you can take my affydavy it's a real haunt and there's a real reason for it.

"Yours truly,

"Elijah Stebbins."

"Sounds good to me; what do you think, Rudolph?" said Landon.

"All right, if it's genuine. Some of us ought to go up there and size it up before the whole crowd goes. Think so?"

"Yes, unless we can get a photograph, or some sort of a plan of the place. And, you know, Braye, I don't care such a lot about a ghost, if we can get a good intelligent crowd of people together. That's the only sort of vacation I care for. I wouldn't give a picayune for a month in a big summer hotel, or a little summer boarding-house, where you may meet good talkers and you may not. But with Eve Carnforth and Norma Cameron and the Professor and, pardon the bouquet, you, I foresee some good old chin-chins. And, add to this, picturesque, even wild mountain scenery, I somehow think we're in for a good time."

"I agree. Wish Uncle Gif and Vernie weren't going, though. He's a dictatorial old chap, though a good sport, and as to Vernie, I don't think it's the right place for a flapper."

"Oh, it won't hurt the kiddie. She's a mighty sensible little piece and she's ready to eat up experiences. She may as well be with her own people."

"That's just it. She's lived nearly all her life alone with Uncle, and he isn't enough people for her. She ought to have a woman to look after her, now she's out of school."

"Well, what's the matter with Milly? For this trip at least. Milly loves the little girl, and will have a good influence over her."

"That's right as rain, but I'm not sure Eve Carnforth is desirable company for Vernie."

"Oh, Eve isn't a bad sort. And with her strict Uncle, and you and Milly and me to look after the child, Eve can't do much to counteract."

"She probably won't do anything. It's all right, Wynne. Now shall we decide to take this Montgomery place?"

"Oh, no, we can't decide positively. I'm pretty sure we shall take it, but I think we ought to call a confab of the whole bunch to discuss it."

Meantime, Eve Carnforth was talking it over with Milly Landon.

"I adore the plan," Eve said, "except your insistence on taking Norma Cameron. I don't like her, Milly, and you know it."

"Now, Eve, cunnin' little cherub child, don't let the greeny-weeny-eyed monster claim you for his own! You know perf'ly well," Milly giggled, "that you don't want Norma along, because you think she will attract Friend Braye."

"Why, Milly Landon! What nonsense! I don't care two cents for Rudolph Braye--"

"Oh, I don't mean romantically, but I do know you want to be top of the psychic heap, up there, and you think little Norma will get ahead of you in phantasmagoria, or whatever you call it."

"No, it isn't that; but Norma does think she knows it all, and she puts on such airs about her clairvoyance, and calls herself a sensitive and all that."

"Well, let her. You can hold your own; and, too, Eve, if we carry out this scheme, I think we ought all to pull together, and help each other. And we can't do that, if there's antagonism or rivalry. Now, can we? And if you're in earnest, as you've always insisted you are, you ought to be glad of any help Norma can give. She feels that way about you. When I asked her to go, she was delighted that you were to be in the party, because, she said, you were so interested and so well up in all these things we're going to discover."

"I suppose I am silly. I may as well confess I'm not sure of Norma. She wouldn't be above pretending she heard or saw things, even if she didn't."

"Fiddlesticks! There won't be any pretending! Or, if there is, it'll be discovered right straight off. Why, Wynne is terribly in earnest,-about having it all fair and square, I mean,-and so is the Professor, and I'd like to see any one fool Gifford Bruce! And little Vernie is a real wideawake. There won't be anything doing that that child doesn't know, if it's fraud or foolery! Don't you believe it, my dear. Norma Cameron won't pull any wool over anybody's eyes in our party. No, siree!"

The crowd came together that night to discuss the house that had been offered, and to come to a decision.

Norma Cameron was present, and her manner and appearance were so exactly opposite to those of Eve Carnforth, that it was small wonder the girls were not congenial.

Norma was blonde, and had what her friends called a seraphic countenance and her enemies, a doll-face. For Norma had enemies. She was prominent in war relief work and public charities of many kinds, and it is seldom possible for such a one to go through the world entirely peaceably. But all conceded that her doll-face was a very pretty one, and few who criticized it, would not have been glad to wear it.

Her golden hair was softly curly, and her sky blue eyes big and expressive. But her complexion was her greatest beauty; soft as a rose petal, the pink and white were so delicately blended as to make a new observer suspect art's assistance. A second glance, however, removed all such suspicion, for no hare's foot could ever have produced that degree of perfection. Her softly rounded chin, and creamy throat were exquisitely moulded, and her usual expression was gentle and amiable.

But Norma was no namby-pamby character, and her eyes could turn to deep violet, and her pink cheeks flush rosily if she ran up against unjustice or meanness. That was why her career of philanthropy was not always a serene path, for she never hesitated to speak her mind and her mind was of a positive type.

Always outspoken, though, was Norma. No slyness or deceit marked her procedure, never did she say behind any one's back what she would not say to his face.

And this was the principal reason why Norma and Eve could never hit it off. For Eve frequently carried tales, and sometimes denied them later. Milly, however, was friends with both girls, and secretly hoped that if they could all get away toget

her, the two warring natures might react on each other for good. Then, too, both were immensely interested in psychics, and if they were rivals in this field, so much better chance for all concerned, to find out the things they were to look for.

"I think," said Norma, at the confab, "it would be better for two of the crowd, say, Mr. and Mrs. Landon, to go up first and look at the house. It sounds fine, but it may be impossible. So, why get us all up there, only to come home again?"

"I don't think so," said Eve, promptly, while Milly giggled to hear the two begin to disagree at once. "I think it would be a lot more fun for us all to go and see it for the first time together. Then, if it isn't livable, we can all come back, but we shall have had a sort of picnic out of it, at least."

"Yes, I think that, too!" put in Vernie, who was beside herself with joy at the outlook. "Oh, what a gorgeous party it will be! Do we go in the train, or motors or what?"

"Hush, Vernie," said her Uncle, "we haven't decided to go at all, yet. Where is this place, Landon?"

"The post-office is East Dryden. The house is about a mile further up the mountain. I fancy it's a picturesque sort of a place, though with few modern appointments. Fisher got a little more data, somehow, and he says it's a hodge-podge old pile, as to architecture, as it's been rebuilt, or added to several times. But I don't care about all that, I mean, if we don't like the appointments we needn't stay. What I want is the ghost story. Shall we send to Stebbins for that before we take the place, or go on a wild goose chase entirely?"

"Oh, let's start off without knowing anything about it," and old Mr. Bruce's eyes twinkled like a boy's at thought of an escapade.

"Good for you, Uncle!" and Vernie shouted with glee. "I didn't know you were such an old top, did you, Cousin Rudolph?"

"Well, I've known him longer than you have, Flapper, and I'm not so surprised at his wanting a sporting proposition. But, I say, Milly, if we're going to take Tracy, you people ought to see him and give him the once over first. Maybe you won't like him at all."

"Oh, your friends are sure to be our friends, Rudolph," said Landon, "but telephone him to run up here, can't you? It's only fair to let him in on the planning."

Tracy came, and he made good at once. His ministerial air was softened by a charming smile and a certain chivalry of address that pleased the women and satisfied the men.

"What about servants?" he asked, after the main details had been explained to him.

"That's what I'm thinking about," said Milly. "I don't want to take our servants, they'd be scared to death in such a place, and, too, we can't go ghost hunting under Charles' nose! He'd sniff at us!"

"Right you are!" agreed Landon. "Charles is one estimable and valuable butler, but he's no sort to take on the picnic we're out for."

"Don't let's take any servants," suggested Eve, "but get some up there. Natives, you know."

"That would be better," said Mr. Bruce. "Then, they'll be used to the place, and can tell us of the legends and traditions, you see."

"You're poking fun," said Eve, reproachfully, "but it's true, all the same. Do we go in motors?"

"I think so," said Landon. "Two big cars would take us all, and we can leave our luggage to be sent up if we stay."

"Of course we'll stay," asserted Milly. "I love that old house already, and if there's no ghost at all, I'll be just as well pleased, and I'll stay the month out, with whoever wants to stay with me."

"I'll stand by you," said Norma, "and I'll own up that I don't really expect any spectral manifestations up there, anyway."

"It matters little what you expect," and Professor Hardwick looked at her thoughtfully. "We're going investigating, not expecting."

"Don't you expect anything, Prof?" asked Vernie, gaily.

"What do you mean by expect, child? Do you mean wish or think?"

"Gracious, goodness, Professor! I never know what I mean by the words I use, and I never care!"

Professor Hardwick's hobby was the use of words, and rarely did he fail to question it, if a word was misused or uncertainly used in his presence. But he smiled benignly on the pretty child, and didn't bother her further.

Finally, the men drew together to make up the budget of necessary expenses and the women talked clothes.

"Smocks all round," said Norma, who loved the unconventional in dress.

"Not for me!" said Eve, who didn't.

Milly giggled. "Let every one wear just what she chooses," she settled it. "I'm at my best in white linen in the summer time, but what about laundry? Well, I shall leave two sets of things packed, and then send for whichever I want."

Norma, uninterested in clothes, edged over toward the men. Though a friend of the Landons and acquainted with Professor Hardwick, she had never met Braye or Tracy before.

Both succumbed to her sure-fire smile, but Tracy showed it and Braye didn't.

"Sit here, Miss Cameron," and Tracy eagerly made a place for her at his side; "we need a lady assistant. How much do you think it ought to cost to provision nine people and two or three natives for a month?"

"It isn't a question of what it ought to cost," returned Norma, "but what it will cost. But in any case it will be less than most of us would spend if we went to the average summer hotel. So why not just put down some round numbers, divide 'em by nine and let it go at that?"

"Fine!" approved Landon. "No food dictator could beat that scheme! I wonder if ghost-hunters are as hungry as other hunters, or if we'll be so scared we'll lose our appetites."

"I have a profound belief in ghosts," Norma asserted, "but I shall only indulge in it between meals. Count me in for all the good things going, three times a day."

"What do you mean by profound?" asked the Professor; "deep-seated or widely informed?"

"Both," answered Norma, flashing her pretty smile at the serious old man. "Profundity of all kinds is my happy hunting-ground, and on this trip I expect to get all the profundity I want."

"And I'm the girl to put the fun in profundity," cried Vernie, coming over to them. "My mission is to keep you serious people joyed up. Mr. Tracy, your profession won't interfere with your having a jolly time, will it? No, I see it won't, by that twinkly little smile."

"You may count on me," said the clergyman a bit stiffly, but with a cordial glance at the girl.

"And I can wind Professor Hardwick round my finger," Vernie went on, "for a companion on a gay lark, I don't know any one better than a dry-as-dust old college professor!"

The object of this encomium received it with a benignant smile, but Gifford Bruce reproved his saucy niece.

"I'll leave you at home, miss, if you talk impertinences," he declared.

"Not much you won't, my bestest, belovedest Uncle! Why, I'm the leading lady of this troupe. And I expect the spectre will appear to me first of all. That's my motto: 'Spect the Spectre! How's that? Then the rest of you can inspect the spectre!"

"Vernie! don't be so excruciatingly funny," begged Braye, while Milly Landon giggled at the pretty child, whose charm and sweetness took all rudeness from her foolery.

"Perhaps we ought to call in an inspector to inspect the spectre," contributed Landon.

"There, there, Wynne," said Braye, "we'll take such stuff from an ignorant little girl but not from a grown-up man."

"Ignorant, huh!" scorned Vernie. "I'll bet you couldn't have passed my examination in psychology!"

"Perhaps not," admitted Braye, "but after this trip of ours, we'll all be honour men."

"I want it thoroughly understood," said Mr. Bruce, "that I range myself on the side of the sceptics. I don't want to sail under false colours and I wish to state positively that there are no ghosts or phantasms or any such things. Moreover, I announce my intention of fooling you gullible ones, if I can."

"Oh, that isn't fair!" exclaimed Landon. "I don't believe in the things either, but I want an honest test. Why, you take away the whole point of the experiment if you're going to put up a trick on us!"

"No, no, Bruce," said the Professor, "that won't do. Come, now, give me your word there'll be no hocus-pocus or I refuse to go at all."

"If it's any sort of a real test, Hardwick, it oughtn't to be possible to fool you."

"That's true," said Eve; "and I'm not afraid of any tricks. If they are tricks, I'll know it--"

"I too," said Norma. "I'm sensitive to all psychical manifestations and if I can't tell a real phantasm from Mr. Bruce's tricks, I deserve to be fooled."

"I think it's a good thing that Mr. Bruce warned us," observed John Tracy. "It puts us on our guard. But I think the rest of us ought to agree not to do anything of that sort. We can expect and discount Mr. Bruce's little game, but if others are going to do the same, it seems to me the game isn't worth playing."

"Right you are!" declared Landon, and forthwith everybody present except Gifford Bruce solemnly pledged his or her word to do nothing tricky or fraudulent, and to preserve an open-minded, honest attitude toward any developments they might experience.

"And with eight argus-eyed inquirers watching him, Mr. Bruce can't put anything over," opined Landon, and the others agreed.

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