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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 19523

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Eve's Experience

The investigators had investigated for a week. They were now having tea in the great hall, to whose shadowy distances and shabby appointments they had become somewhat accustomed.

Kept up to the mark by the Landons, old Jed Thorpe had developed positive talents as a butler, and with plenty of lamps and candles, and a couple of willing, if ignorant maids, the household machinery ran fairly smoothly. Supplies were procured in East Dryden or sent up from New York markets and by day the party was usually a gay-hearted, merry-mannered country house group.

Every day at tea-time, they recounted any individual experiences that might seem mysterious, and discussed them.

"It's this way," Professor Hardwick summed up; "the determining factor is the dark. Ghosts and haunted houses are all very well at night, but daylight dispels them as a sound breaks silence."

"What about my experience when I slept in the Room with the Tassels," growled Gifford Bruce.

Braye laughed. "You queered yourself, Uncle Gif, when you announced before we started, that you were not bound to good faith. Your ghost stories are discounted before you tell 'em!"

"But I did see a shape,-a shadowy form, like a tall woman with a shawl over her head--"

"You dreamed it," said Milly, smiling at him. "Or else--"

"Milly daren't say it," laughed Eve, "but I will. Or else, you invented the yarn."

"If I'm to be called a--"

"Tut, tut, Mr. Bruce," intervened Tracy, "nobody called you one! Playful prevarication is all right, especially as you warned us you'd fool us if you could. Now I can tell an experience and justly expect to be believed."

"But you haven't had any," and Eve's translucent eyes turned to him.

"I have," began Tracy, slowly, "but they've been a bit indefinite. It's unsatisfactory to present only an impression or a suggestion, where facts are wanted. And the Professor says truly that hints and haunts are convincing at night, but repeated, at a pleasant, comfortable tea hour, they sound flimsy and unconvincing."

"What did you think you saw or heard?" asked Norma, with a reminiscent, far-off look in her eyes.

"Every morning, or almost every morning, at four o'clock, I seem to hear the trailing robes of a presence of some sort. I seem to hear a faint moaning sound, that is like nothing human."

"That's imagination," said Braye, promptly.

"It is, doubtless," agreed Hardwick, "but it is due to what may be called 'expectant attention.' If we had not connected four o'clock with the story of this house, Mr. Tracy would not have those hallucinations at that time."

"Perhaps so," the clergyman looked thoughtful. "But it seems vivid and real at the time. Then, in the later morning, it is merely a hazy memory."

"You know Mr. Stebbins said that every one who died in this house always died at four o'clock."

"I know he said so," and Braye looked quizzical.

"Oh, come now, don't doubt honest old Stebbins!" and Eve frowned. "We must believe his tales or we'll never get anywhere. I'm going over to East Dryden to see him to-morrow, I want a few more details. And, it seems to me, we're getting nowhere,-with our imaginations and hallucinations. Now, to-night, I'm going to sleep in the Room with the Tassels. I've no fear of it, and I have a deep and great curiosity."

"Oh, let me sleep there with you! Mayn't I, Eve? Oh, please let me!" Vernie danced about in her eagerness, and knelt before Eve, pleading.

"No, Vernie, I forbid it," said her uncle, decidedly. "If Miss Carnforth wants to do this thing, I have nothing to say, but you must not, my child. I know you people don't believe me, but I surely saw an apparition the night I slept there, and it was no human trickster. Neither was it hallucination. I was as wideawake as I am now--"

"We know the rest, Uncle Gif," and Braye laughingly interrupted the recital. "Stalking ghost, hollow groans, and-were there clanking chains?"

"There were not, but in its shrouded hand the spectre held a glass--"

"Of prussic acid, of which you smelt the strong odour! Yes, I know,-but it won't go down, old chap--"

"The prussic acid won't?" and Landon chuckled.

"Nor the tale either," said the Professor. "It's too true. The shawled woman filled the specifications too accurately to seem convincing."

"You're a nice crowd," grumbled Mr. Bruce. "Come up here for experiences and then hoot at the first real thing that happens."

"All your own fault," retorted Norma. "If you hadn't advertised your propensity for fooling us, your word would have carried weight."

"All right, let somebody else sleep in that room, then. But not Miss Carnforth. Let one of the men try it."

"Thank you, none for me," said Braye. "I detest shawled women waking me up at four o'clock, to take my poison!"

"I'll beg off, too," said Tracy. "I wake at four every morning anyway, with those aspen boughs shivering against my windows. I'd trim them off, but that doesn't seem like playing the game."

"Wynne shan't sleep there, and that settles that," and Milly's grasp on her husband's coat sleeve was evidently sufficiently detaining.

"That leaves only me, of the men," asserted the Professor. "I'm quite willing to sleep in that room. Indeed, I want to. I've only been waiting till I felt sure of the house, the servants and-excuse me, the members of our own party! Now, I've discovered that the servants' quarters can be securely locked off, so that they cannot get in this part of the house; I've found that the outside doors and the windows can be fastened against all possibility of outside intrusion; and, I shall stipulate that our party shall so congregate in a few rooms, that no one can-ahem,-haunt my slumbers without some one else knowing it. I'll ask you three young ladies to sleep in one room and allow me to lock you in. Or two adjoining rooms, to which I may hold all keys. Mr. Tracy, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Braye, I shall arrange similarly, while the Landons must also consent to be imprisoned by me. This is the only way I can make a fair test. Will you all agree?"

"Splendid!" cried Eve, "of course we will. But, Professor, let me try it first. If you should have a weird experience, it might scare me off, but now I am brave enough. Oh, please, do that! Let me lock you all in your rooms, and let me sleep in the Room with the Tassels to-night! Oh, please say yes, all of you! I must, I must try it!" The girl looked like a seeress, as, with glittering eyes and flushed cheeks she plead her cause.

"Why, of course, if you want to, Miss Carnforth," said the Professor, looking at her admiringly. "I'll be glad to have the benefit of your experience before testing myself. And there is positively no danger. As I've said, the locks, bolts, and bars are absolutely safe against outside intrusion, or visits from the servants. Though we know they are not to be suspected. And as you are not afraid of the supernatural, I can see no argument against your plan."

"Suppose I go with you," suggested Norma, her large blue eyes questioning Eve Carnforth's excited face.

"No, Norma, not this time. I prefer to be alone. I'll lock you and Vernie in your room; I'll lock Milly and Wynne in their room; I'll lock you four men in two rooms, and then, I'll know-I'll know that whatever I see or hear is not a fraud or trick of anybody. And I think you can trust me to tell you the truth in the morning."

"If there's anything to tell," supplemented Braye. "I think, Eve, as to ghosts, you're cutting off your source of supply."

"Then we'll merely prove nothing. But I'm determined to try."

Again Vernie begged to be allowed to share Eve's experiences, but neither Mr. Bruce, nor Eve herself would consider the child's request.

"Every one of us," the Professor said, musingly, "has told of hearing mysterious sounds and of seeing mysterious shadows, but,-except for Bruce's graphic details!-all our observations have been vague and uncertain. They may well have been merely imagination. But Miss Carnforth is not imaginative, I mean, not so, to the exclusion of a fair judgment of what her senses experience. Therefore I shall feel, if she sees nothing to-night, that I shall see nothing when I sleep in that room to-morrow night."

"I am especially well adapted for the test," Eve said, though in no way proudly, "for I have a premonition that the phantasm will appear to me more readily than to some others. Remember, I knew that was the haunted room before we had been told. I knew it before we entered the house that first night. It was revealed to me, as other things have been even during our stay here. You must realize that I am a sensitive, and so better fitted for these visitations than a more phlegmatic or practical person."

"What else has been revealed to you, Eve?" asked Braye.

"Perhaps revealed isn't just the word, Rudolph, but I've seen more than most of you, I've heard voices, rustling as of wings, and other inexplicable sounds, that I know were audible only to me."

"Lord, Eve, you give me the creeps! Finished your tea? Come out for a walk then. Let's get off these subjects, if only for half an hour."

That night, Eve Carnforth carried out her plans to the letter.

Gifford Bruce, and his nephew Braye in one room; the Professor and Tracy in another, were locked in by Eve, amid much gaiety of ceremony.

"Set a thief to catch a thief," Braye declared. "Tracy, look after the Professor, that he doesn't jump out of the window, and you, Professor, watch Tracy!"

"They can't jump out the windows," said Eve, practically, "they're too high. And if they could, they couldn't get in the tasseled room. Those windows won't open. And, too, I know the Professor won't let Mr.

Tracy out of his sight, or vice versa. Rudolph, you tie your uncle, if he shows signs of roving."

Eve's strong nerves gave no sign of tension as she completed all her precautionary arrangements. She locked the doors that shut off the servants' quarters; she locked the Landons in their room, she locked the door of the room that Norma and Vernie occupied, and at last, with various gay messages shouted at her through the closed portals, she went downstairs to keep her lonely vigil.

She did not undress, for she had no intention of sleeping that night. A kimono, and her hair comfortably in a long braid were her only concessions to relaxation.

She lay down on the hard old bed, and gazed about her. A single lamp lit the room, and she had a candle also, in case she desired to use it.

The light made strange shadows, the heavy, faded hangings seemed to sway and move, but whether they really did so or not, Eve couldn't determine. She got up and went to examine them. The feel of them was damp and unpleasant, they seemed to squirm under her hand, and she hastily dropped them and returned to the bed.

There was an uncanny, creepy atmosphere that disturbed her, in spite of her strong nerves and indomitable will.

She had locked the door, now she arose and took the key out and laid it on a table. She had heard that a key in a lock could be turned from the other side.

Then, on a sudden impulse, she put out the lamp, feeling utter darkness preferable to those weird shadows. But the darkness was too horrible, so she lighted the candle. It was not in the historic old brass candlestick, but in a gay affair of red china, and the homely, cheap thing somewhat reassured her, as a bit of modernity and real life.

She listened for a long time, imagining sighs or sounds, which she could not be sure she really heard. The whispering aspens outside were audible, and their continued soughing was monotonously annoying, but not frightful, because she had accustomed herself to it.

At last, her over-wrought nerves wearied, her physical nature refused further strain, and Eve slept. A light, fitful sleep, interspersed with waking moments and with sudden swift dreams. But she kept fast hold of her perceptive faculties. If she slept and woke, she knew it. She heard the aspens' sounds, the hours struck by the great hall clock, and the sound of her own quick, short breathing.

Nothing else.

Until, just as the clock tolled the last stroke of four, she heard a low grating sound. Was some one at the door? She was glad she had taken out the key.

The candle still burned, but its tiny light rather accentuated than lifted the gloom of the shadowy room.

Slowly and noiselessly the door swung open, inward, into the room. Eve tried to sit up in bed, but could not. She felt paralyzed, not so much frightened, as numbed with physical dread.

And then, with a slow gliding motion, something entered,-something tall, gaunt and robed in long, pale-coloured draperies. It was unreal, shadowy in its aspect, it was only dimly visible in the gloom, but it gave the impression of a frightened, furtive personality that hesitated to move, yet was impelled to. A soft moan, as of despair, came from the figure, and it put out a long white hand and pinched out the candle flame. Then, with another sigh, Eve could feel, in the utter black darkness that the thing was coming to her side.

With all her might she tried to cry out, but her vocal cords were dumb, she made no sound. But she felt,-with all her senses, she felt the apparition draw nearer. At her bedside it paused, she knew this, by a sort of sixth sense, for she heard or saw nothing.

Then, she was conscious of a faint odour of prussic acid, its pungent bitterness unmistakable, though slight.

And then, a tiny flame, as of a wick without a candle, flashed for a second, disappeared, and Eve almost fainted. She did not entirely lose consciousness, but her brain reeled, her head seemed to spin round and her ears rang with a strange buzzing, for in the instant's gleam of that weird light, she had seen the face of the phantom, and-it was the face of a skull! It was the ghastly countenance of a death's head!

Half conscious, but listening with abnormal sense, she thought she descried the closing of the door, but could hear no key turn.

The knowledge that she was alone, gave her new life. She sprang up, lighted the candle, lighted the lamp, and looked about. All was as she had arranged it. The door was locked, the key, untouched, upon the table. Nothing was disturbed, but Eve Carnforth knew that her experience, whatever its explanation, had not been a dream.

When her senses had reeled, she had not lost entire control of them through her physical fear, she had kept her mental balance, and she knew that what her brain had registered had actually occurred.

Alert, she lay for a long time thinking it over. She felt sure there would be no return of the spectre,-she felt sure it had been a spectre,-and she was conscious of a feeling of curiosity rather than fright.

At last she rose, and unlocking the door, went out into the great hall. By the light of her lamp, she looked it over. The carved bronze doors between the enormous bronze columns, were so elaborately locked and bolted as to give almost the effect of a fortress.

The windows were fastened and some were barred. But all these details had been looked after in advance; Eve gazed at them now, in an idle quest for some hint of hitherto unsuspected ingress.

But there was none, and now the clock was striking five.

She went slowly upstairs, unlocked the various doors, without opening them, and then went to her own bedroom.

"What about it?" cried Norma, eagerly, running to Eve's room.

"A big story," Eve returned, wearily. "But I'll tell it to you all at once. I'm going to get some sleep. Wake me at eight, will you, Norma?"

Disappointed, but helpless, as Eve closed her door upon the would-be visitor, Norma went back and told Milly, who was waiting and listening.

"I don't like it," Norma said, "for by eight o'clock she can cook up a story to scare us all! I think two ought to sleep in that room at once."

"Go to bed," said Milly, sleepily. "And don't you suspect Eve Carnforth of making up a yarn or even dressing up the truth! She isn't that sort."

As to Eve's veracity, opinions were divided.

She told the whole story, directly after breakfast, to the whole group, the servants being well out of earshot.

She told it simply and straightforwardly, just as it had happened to her. Her sincerity and accurate statements stood a fire of questions, a volley of sarcastic comments and a few assertions of unbelief.

Professor Hardwick believed implicitly all she said, and encouraged her to dilate upon her experiences. But in nowise did she add to them, she merely repeated or emphasized the various points without deviation from her first narrative.

Norma and Braye went for a walk, and frankly discussed it.

"Of course, Eve colours it without meaning to," declared Braye; "it couldn't have happened, you know. We were all locked in, and Lord knows none of us could have put that stunt over even if we had wanted to."

"Of course not; that locking in business was unnecessary, but it does prove that no human agency was at work. That leaves only Eve's imagination-or-the real thing."

"It wasn't the real thing," and Braye shook his head. "There ain't no such animal! But Eve's imagination is--"

"No. Mr. Braye, you're on the wrong tack. Eve's imagination is not the sort that conjures up phantoms. Vernie's might do that, or Mrs. Landon's,-but not Miss Carnforth's. She is psychic,-I know, because I am myself--"

"Miss Cameron,-Norma,--" and Braye became suddenly insistent, "don't you sleep in that infernal room, will you? Promise me you won't."

"Why?" and the big blue eyes looked at him in surprise. "As Sentimental Tommy used to say, 'I would fell like to!' Why shouldn't I?"

"Oh, I don't want you to," and Braye looked really distressed. "Promise me you won't-please."

"Why do you care? 'Fraid I'll be carried off by the Shawled Woman?"

"Ugh!" and Braye shivered. "I can't bear to think of you alone down there. I beg of you not to do it."

"But that's what we came for. We're to investigate, you know."

"Well, then promise you won't try it until after I do."

"Trickster! And if you never try it, I can't!"

"You see through me too well. But, at least, promise this. If you try it, don't go alone. Say, you and Miss Carnforth go together--"

"Hello, people," and Vernie ran round a corner, followed more slowly by Tracy. "We've had a great little old climb! Hundreds of thousands of feet up the mounting side,-wasn't it, Mr. Tracy?"

"Thar or tharabouts," agreed Tracy, smiling at the pretty child.

"And Mr. Tracy is the delightfullest man! He told me all the names of the wild flowers,-weeds, rather,-there weren't any flowers. And oh, isn't it exciting about Eve's ghost! I'm going to ballyrag Uncle Gif till he lets me sleep in that room. He'll have to give in at last!"

"Don't, Vernie," begged Braye. "What possesses all you girls! I wish we'd never started this racket! But you mustn't do it, Kiddie, unless, that is, you go with somebody else. But not alone."

"Why, Cousin Rudolph, what are you afraid of? Are you a mollycoddle?"

"No, child, I'm afraid for you. A shock like that, even an imaginary fright, might upset your reason and--"

"Fiddle-de-dee! my reason is deeper rooted than that! Come on, Mr. Tracy, I'll race you to that big hemlock tree!"

The two started off, Vernie's flying legs gaining ground at first, over Tracy's steady well-trained running step.

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