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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 18582

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Story of the House

From their nearby rooms Eve and Norma rushed to Vernie's room.

The child was huddled beneath the bed clothes and at their entrance shot her head out, crying wildly, "Look! look! the old candlestick!"

Milly came running, in dressing-gown and slippers, and from distant regions came the voices of the men.

"What's the matter?" asked Gifford Bruce. "Wasn't that Vernie's voice?"

"Yes, Uncle Gif," Vernie called out. "Oh, did you do it?"

"Do what?" and in his hastily donned bath robe, old Mr. Bruce appeared.

"Why," and Vernie was calm now, "there's that old candlestick, the one the-the murderer used-on my dresser! Last night I had a little china one!"

"What are you talking about-a murderer! Wake up, child!"

"I'm not asleep. But I see, now. You had this old one, Uncle Gif, and, you know you said you were going to fool us if you could, and so you sneaked it in here to pretend the haunt did it!"

"What! What nonsense! I did nothing of the sort!"

"Who did, then? You know you had this one last night."

"I certainly did. Wonder what's in my room now."

Mr. Bruce ran back to his room and returned with the little china candlestick Vernie had carried to her room the night before. They had certainly been exchanged during the night.

Everybody stared at the two candles, so worthless in themselves, but so inexplicably transferred, if, as he declared, Gifford Bruce had not exchanged them.

"Of course I didn't do it," he repeated, angrily. "I did say, in fun, that I meant to trick you, but when I saw how nervous and wrought up all you women were last night, I wouldn't dream of doing such a thing! Why, Vernie, I think too much of you, dear, to add to your fear or discomfort in any way."

At last everybody concluded it was the work of some one of their number, and there were varying opinions as to the identity of the perpetrator of what must have been meant for a joke.

But at breakfast time the matter was discussed very seriously and each avowed in all honour that he or she knew nothing of it.

"I can speak not only for myself," said Professor Hardwick, gravely, "but for Mr. Tracy and Mr. Braye. They would have had to pass my door to move around the halls, and I was awake all night, looking and listening, and I know they did not leave their rooms."

"I speak for myself," said Gifford Bruce, haughtily. "I declare on my oath that I did not leave my bed. Somebody exchanged those candles,-but it was not I."

The Landons spoke for each other, and no one, of course, could suspect Wynne or Milly. And naturally, the two girls, Eve and Norma, would not go to Mr. Bruce's room to play a trick like that.

"I don't mind now," said Vernie, "when it's all light and cheerful and you're all around me, and the breakfast is so good and all. I think it's the beginning of these experiences we came up here to look for. Why are you all so surprised? Because I had the first party?"

The merry-eyed girl was unafraid now, but Hardwick shook his head.

"I don't like it," he said. "We can't investigate if there's a trickster among us. You didn't do it yourself, did you, Vernie?"

"No, Professor," and the pure truthful gaze of the brown eyes left no room for disbelief. "Honest, I didn't. But," she laughed mischievously, "if I had, I should say I hadn't!"

"Vernie! This won't do!" and Eve glared at her, "You little minx, I believe you did do it!"

"Don't you look at me like that, Eve Carnforth! Stop it! You scare me." Vernie fairly cowered before Eve's basilisk eyes. "I believe you did it!"

"There, there, girls," broke in Tracy, with his gentle smile, "don't get to hair-pulling. If we've all finished breakfast, let's now hear the story of the house, and then we can tell if its patron ghost is the sort given to exchanging bedroom furniture o' nights."

"Yes," agreed Norma, "I'm crazy to hear the story. Where's Mr. Stebbins, does anybody know?"

"I'll dig him up," Landon assured them. "Where shall we congregate?"

"In the drawing room," said Milly, "that's the only room I'm not afraid of."

"I'm fearfully afraid of that!" said Tracy, in mock terror. "Those rep lambrequins get on my nerves!"

"Aren't they awful!" and Norma laughed. "They don't frighten me, but they jar my ?sthetics terribly."

"No," said Elijah Stebbins, firmly, as the conclave began, "not in that there parlour. Here in the hall. You folks want this house, you want the story of this house, now you sit here to hear it."

"Very well," said Braye, agreeably. "Just as you say, Mr. Stebbins. Now begin at the beginning, but don't drool too long a spiel."

The whole party grouped themselves in the great hall, and for the first time began to take in the details of its appointments. Though in disrepair as to walls and cornices, the lines of its architecture were fine and it was of noble proportions; the staircase was beautifully planned; and the wonderful bronze doors, which they had not examined the night before, were truly works of art.

"The old Montgomery who brought them doors from Italy, pretty much built the house behind 'em," Stebbins volunteered, "and them colyums, of course, come with the doors. They're some valu'ble, I'm told. You see, the doors is the same outside and in, and the colyums is, too. Well, then, he had the vestibule of murhoggany, to sort o' set off the bronze, I s'pose, and the rest of the walls is marble,-solid old Vermont marble, which Lord knows was to be had for the pickin', up here."

"Get along to the story, Steb," urged Landon.

"Yes, sir. Well, the Montgomery that built this house,-though, it was part built before, he added on to his father's house,-well, he was a daredevil, and a tyrant. Little mite of a man, but full of the old Nick. And, as those little men will do, he married a reg'lar Hessian of a woman. Big, sort o' long and gaunt, they say she was, and a termagant for sure! She led him a life, and also, he led her one. For he was a terror and so was she. What he lacked in size he made up in temper, and she had both. Well, here's the story.

"He took sick, and she nursed him. They didn't have trained nurses and specialists in them days. Now some says, he was jest naturally took sick and some says, that she give him slow poison. But, be that as it may, one night, she give him prussic acid, and he died. She threw a shawl over her head, and ran screamin' to the village for the doctor. I s'pose remorse got her, for she confessed, and said 'I killed him! I killed him! At four o'clock I killed him!'

"She went crazy, they say, then and there. Well, the doctor he said he'd come right away, but she ran home first. And he followed's fast's he could, and-when he come, here was the woman,-and she was a washin' the dead man's lips,-she said, to get the smell of the bitter ammonds off,-you know, prussic acid is for all the world the smell of bitter almonds. The doctor, he found the man was really dead, and he was for havin' her arrested, but she was so plumb crazy, he decided to take her to an asylum instead.

"He had to go off to get help, and he left her,-here alone in this house with the body. They was in that room," Stebbins pointed to the room with the locked door, at the right hand of the hall as one entered, "the room with the tassels, it's called."

"Why is it called that?" broke in Eve, whose piercing eyes were fairly glittering with excitement, "what sort of tassels?"

"Great heavy tassels on the curtains and lambaquins, ma'am,-want to see it?"

"Not now," ordained Landon, "the story first."

"Well," resumed Stebbins, "they was in that room, the dead husband and the live wife, when the doctor went away, and because he knew she was out of her head, he locked 'em in. And when he came back-she was setting there, just where he'd left her, still in a dazed sort o' stupor, and-the corpse was gone."

"Gone! where?" rasped out the Professor.

"Nobody knows. Nobody ever knew. It had just disappeared from off the face of the earth. The doctor and the village folks all agreed that it was sperrited away. 'Cause that woman,-she couldn't get out o' the doors to cart it off, and she couldn't 'a' got out of a winder with it, without showin' some signs, and if she had, what in the world could she 'a' done with it? It wasn't buried nowhere around, and if she'd 'a' threw it in the lake, s'posin' she'd got out a winder, how'd she got in again? Anyhow, that's the story, and they all said she was a witch and she bewitched the body away, so's the doctor and sheriff couldn't smell the prussic acid on it and hang her for murder. They searched and searched but they couldn't find no signs of her havin' even moved outen her chair. She sat there like a dead woman herself, when the doctor left her and likewise when he come back."

"The tale is very circumstantial," observed Gifford Bruce, a bit drily.

"I'm tellin' it as I've many a time heard it, sir," said Stebbins, a little resentfully. "This here story's been common talk around these parts a many years, and I ain't one to add to nor take from it."

"Go on," commanded Landon, briefly.

"They put her away, in a loonytic asylum, and she died in it. They never found hide nor hair of the dead man, and the place fell to so

me kin that lived down Pennsylvania way. They come up here for a while, I b'lieve, but the ha'nt scared 'em off. It's been sold some several times and at last it fell to my father's family. Now it's mine, and it's a white elephant to me. I can't sell or rent it, and so you folks may well believe I jumped at the chance to have you take it for a spell."

"We haven't heard about the haunt yet," said Norma. She spoke quietly, but her lips quivered a little, and her fingers were nervously picking at her handkerchief.

"That," and Stebbins looked even more sombre than he had, "that's my own experience, so I can give it to you first hand.

"I come here to live, 'bout ten years ago, and I was plucky enough to hoot at ghost stories and tales o' ha'nts.

"So I set out to sleep in that-that room with the tassels,-out o' sheer bravado. But I got enough of it."

The man's head fell on his breast and he paused in his narrative.

"Go on," said Landon, less brusquely than before.

Milly stirred nervously. "Don't let him tell the rest, Wynne," she said.

"Oh, yes, dear. Remember, this is what we're here for."

Most of the men shifted their positions; Hardwick leaned forward, both hands on his knees. Gifford Bruce sat with one arm flung carelessly over his chair back, a slight smile on his face.

Braye was beside Norma, and watched alternately her face and Eve's, while Tracy was holding Vernie's hand, and his gentle calm kept the volatile child quiet.

"I see it all so plainly,-that first night--" Stebbins said, slowly. "First night! Land! there never was another! Not for me. I'd sooner 'a' died than slep' in that room again!"

"See a ghost?" asked Bruce, flippantly.

"Yes, sir," and Stebbins looked straight at him. "I seen a ghost. I'm a sound sleeper, I am, and I went to sleep quiet and ca'm as a baby. I woke as the big clock there was a strikin' four. It was that what woke me-I hope."

"Is there-is there a bed in that room?" asked the Professor.

"Lord, yes, it was them folkses bedroom. In them days, people most always slep' downstairs. I come awake suddenly, and the room was full of an icy chill. Not just coldness, but a damp chill-like undertakers' iceboxes."

Vernie shuddered and Tracy held her hand more firmly. Landon slipped his arm round Milly, and Eve and Norma glanced at each other.

Gifford Bruce replaced his sneering smile, which had somehow disappeared.

"It was winter, and plumb dark at four o'clock in the morning, but the room was full of an unearthly light,-a sort of frosty, white glow, like you see in a graveyard sometimes.

"And comin' toward me was a tall, gaunt figure, with a shawl over its head, a white, misty shape, that had a sort of a halting step but was comin' straight and sure toward that bed I was lyin' on. I tried to scream, I tried to move, but I couldn't,-I was paralyzed. On and on came the thing-halting at every step, but gettin' nearer and nearer. As she-oh, I knew it was that woman--"

"I thought it was a man who was murdered," put in Mr. Bruce, in his most sardonic tones.

"So it was, sir," Stebbins spoke mildly, "but it was the murderess doin' the ha'ntin'. I s'pose she can't rest quiet in her grave for remorse and that. She came nearer and-and I saw her face-and--"

"Well?"

"And it was a skull! A grinning skull. And her long bony hand held a glass-a glass of poison-for me."

"Er-did you take it?" This from Bruce.

"No, sir. I swooned away, or whatever you may call it. I lost all consciousness, and when I come to, the thing was gone."

"Ever see her again?" inquired Mr. Bruce, conversationally.

"No, sir," and Stebbins eyed him uninterestedly. It was impossible to annoy the story teller. "No, I never seen her."

"Heard her?" asked Braye.

"Yes; many's the time. But-I ain't never slept in that room since."

"I should say not!" cried Eve. "But I will! I'll brave the phantasm. I'd be glad to see her. I'm not afraid."

"You needn't be," said Mr. Bruce, with a short laugh. "You won't see anything, Miss Carnforth. I'd be willing to try it, too."

"What other manifestations have you experienced?" asked Braye. "What have you heard?"

"Mostly groans--"

"And hollow laughter," interrupted Bruce. "Those are the regulation sounds, I believe."

"Oh, hush!" cried Eve. "Mr. Bruce, you drive me frantic! I wish you hadn't come!"

"I don't," declared Bruce. "I think it's most interesting. And do I understand, Mr. Stebbins, that this charming lady of large size and hard heart, carried usually that candlestick that I made use of last night?"

At last Stebbins resented Bruce's chaff.

"So the story goes, sir," he said, curtly. "And many's the time I've known that candlestick to be moved during the night, by no mortal hand."

"Look here, Uncle Gif," said Braye, good-naturedly, "you don't want to get yourself disliked, do you? Now, let up on your quizzing, and let's get down to business. We set out for a haunted house. I, for one, think we've got all we came after, and then some! If the ha'nt began moving her candlestick around the first night, what may she not do next? You didn't do it, did you, Uncle?"

"I've told you I didn't, Rudolph, and I again repeat my word. But it was scarcely necessary for me to do it, when such a capable spook,-I mean, phantasm is regularly in attendance."

"Now, I've told you the tale," and Stebbins rose, and shook himself as if he had done his duty. "I ain't nowise responsible for your believin' it. What I've told you is true, so far's my own experience goes; and what I've told you hearsay, is the old story that's been told up in these parts by one generation after another, since old Montgomery's day. Now do you want to see the room with the tassels?"

"I don't!" cried Milly, "I can't stand any more."

"You needn't, dear," said Landon; "suppose you go out on the terrace and walk about in the sunlight. You go with her, Vernie, you can see the room, later on."

"I'll go too," and Tracy tactfully offered his escort. "The tassels will keep. Come on, Braye?"

"No; I'll see the show through. You can look after the ladies, Tracy."

So the others crowded round Stebbins, as he prepared to unlock the door of the fatal room.

"'Tain't no great sight," he said, almost apologetically. "But it's the ha'nted room."

Slowly he turned the key and they all filed in.

The room was dark, save for what light came in from the hall. All blinds were closed, and over the windows hung heavy curtains of rep that had once been red but was now a dull, nondescript colour. There were more of these heavy, long curtains, evidently concealing alcoves or cupboards, and over each curtain was a "lambrequin" edged with thick twisted woolen fringe, and at intervals, tassels,-enormous, weighty tassels, such as were once used in church pulpits and other old-fashioned upholstery. Such quantities of these there were, that it is small wonder the room received its name.

And the tassels had a sinister air. Motionless they hung, dingy, faded, but still of an individuality that seemed to say, "we have seen unholy deed,-we cry out mutely for vengeance!"

"It was them tassels that scared me most," Stebbins said, in an awed tone. "I mean before-she come. They sort of swayed,-when they wasn't no draught nor anything."

"I don't wonder!" said Braye, "they're the ghostliest things I ever saw! But the whole room is awful! It-oh I say! put up a window!"

"I can't," said Stebbins simply. "These here windows ain't been up for years and years. The springs is all rusted and won't work."

"There's something in the room!" cried Eve, hysterically, "I mean-something-besides us-something alive!"

"No, ma'am," said Stebbins, solemnly, "what's in here ain't alive, ma'am. I ain't been in here myself, since that night I slep' here, and I wouldn't be now, only to show you folks the room. I sort of feel 's if I'd shifted the responsibility to you folks now. I don't seem to feel the same fear of the ha'nt, like I was here alone."

"Don't say ha'nt! Stop it!" and Eve almost shrieked at him.

"Yes, ma'am. Ghost, ma'am. But ha'nt it is, and ha'nt it will be, till the crack o' doom. Air ye all satisfied with your bargain?"

No one answered, for every one was conscious of a subtle presence and each glanced fearfully, furtively about, nerves shaken, wills enfeebled, vitality low.

"What is it?" whispered Eve.

"Imagination!" declared Mr. Bruce, but he shook his shoulders as he spoke, as if ridding himself of an incubus.

There was a chilliness that was not like honest cold, there was a stillness that was not an ordinary silence, and there was an impelling desire in every heart to get out of that room and never return.

But all were game, and when at last Stebbins said, "Seen enough?" they almost tumbled over one another in a burst of relief at the thought of exit.

The great hall seemed cheerful by contrast, and Landon, in a voice he strove to make matter-of-fact, said, "Thank you, Stebbins, you have certainly given us what we asked for."

"Yes, sir. Did you notice it, sir?"

"What?"

"The smell-the odour-in that room?"

"I did," said Eve, "I noticed the odour of prussic acid."

"Yes, ma'am," said Stebbins, "that's what I meant."

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