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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 19210

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

At Four o'Clock

The game grew more absorbing. Most of the party managed to store up enough courage by day to last well into the darker and more mysterious hours. It was at four in the morning that manifestations were oftenest noticed. At that hour vague moanings and rustlings were reported by one or another of the interested investigators, but no human agency was found to account for these.

Many plans were tried for discovering the secret of the Room with the Tassels, but all scrutiny failed to show any secret panel or concealed entrance. Indeed, their measurings and soundings proved there could not possibly be any entrance to that room save the door from the hall.

Eve and Norma believed thoroughly in the actual haunt of the woman who had poisoned her husband. They had no difficulty in swallowing whole all the strange noises or sights and attributing them to supernatural causes.

Not so Gifford Bruce. He still held that it was all trickery, cleverly done by some of the party, but as this was so clearly impossible, his opinion carried no weight.

Professor Hardwick was open-minded, but exceedingly alert of observation and ready to suspect anybody who would give him the slightest reason to do so. Nobody did, however, and the weird sounds continued at intervals. The other men were noncommittal, saying they hadn't yet sufficient data to base conclusions on.

Milly was nervous and hysterical, but controlled her feelings at Landon's plea, and awaited developments with the rest. Vernie was merely an excited child, gay with youthful spirits and ready to believe or disbelieve whatever the others did.

Soon after Eve's experience, which no one, unless Gifford Bruce, doubted, Professor Hardwick slept in the haunted room. He had no results of interest to report. He said he had lain awake for a few hours and then fell asleep not to waken until daylight. If the Shawled Woman prowled about, he did not see or hear her. This was disappointing, but Tracy tried with little better success. In the morning, after a wakeful but uneventful night, the clergyman found the old battered brass candlestick in the room.

It had not been there the night before, and he had locked the door as the others had done. This was inexplicable, but of slight interest compared to a real haunting.

"You might have made up a ghost story," Braye reproached him, "as Uncle Gifford did, and as Miss Carnforth-didn't!"

The last word was distinctly teasing and Eve frowned gaily at him, but did not defend herself. She knew her experience had occurred just as she had told it, and, deeply mystified, she was earnestly and eagerly awaiting more light.

One day Braye found it necessary to go down to New York for a couple of days on some business matters. Before leaving, he made Vernie promise she would not sleep alone in the haunted room while he was gone.

"I forbid it, child," he said. "Uncle Gif is so easy-going that I've no doubt you could wheedle permission out of him, but I beg of you not to. You're too young to risk a nerve shock of that sort. If you want to try it with Miss Carnforth or Miss Cameron, all right, but not alone. Promise me, Flapper, and I'll bring you a pretty present from town day after to-morrow."

Vernie laughingly gave the required promise, but it did not weigh heavily on her conscience, for no sooner had Braye really gone, than she confided to Mr. Tracy her indecision regarding the keeping of her word.

"Of course you'll keep your promise," and Tracy regarded her seriously. "Nice people consider a spoken word inviolable. I know you, Vernie; you like to talk at random, but I think you've an honourable nature."

So Vernie said nothing more to him, but she confided in Eve Carnforth her intention of sleeping in the Tasseled Room that very night.

Eve did not discourage her, and promised to tell no one.

The plan was easily carried out. As it was understood no one was sleeping in the haunted room, no special precautions were taken, save the usual locking up against outside intruders. And after the great locks and bolts were fastened on doors and windows, it would have been a clever burglar indeed who could have effected an entrance to Black Aspens.

The evening had been pleasantly spent. Some trials of the Ouija board, a favourite diversion, had produced no interesting results, and rather early they all retired.

At midnight, Vernie softly rose, and went downstairs alone in the darkness. A night lamp in the upper hall gave a faint glimmer below stairs, but after the girl turned into the great hall the dark was almost impenetrable.

Feeling her way, she came to the door of the room, softly entered it and walked in. Passing her hands along the walls and the familiar furnishings she found the bed and lay down upon it. Her heart beat fast with excitement but not with fear. She felt thrills of hope that the ghost would appear and thrills of apprehension lest it should!

She had left the door to the hall open, and though it could scarcely be called light, there was a mitigation of the darkness near the door. A not unpleasant drowsiness overcame her, and she half slept, waking every time the clock struck in the hall.

At three, she smiled to herself, realizing that she was there, in the Room with the Tassels, and felt no fear. "I hope something comes at four,--" she thought sleepily, and closed her eyes again.

One-two-three-four-boomed the hall clock.

Vernie opened her eyes, only half conscious, and yet able to discern a strange chill in the air. Between her and the open door stood a tall gaunt shape, merely a shadow, for it was too dark to discern details. Her calm forsook her; she shivered violently, unable to control her muscles. Her teeth chattered, her knees knocked together, and her hair seemed to rise from her head.

Yet she could make no sound. Vainly she tried to scream, to shriek,-but her dry throat was constricted as with an iron band.

Her eyes burned in their sockets, yet she was powerless to shut them. They seemed suddenly to possess an uncanny ability to pierce the darkness, and she saw the shape draw slowly nearer to her.

Clutching the bedclothing, she tried to draw it over her head, but her paralyzed arms refused to move. Nearer, slowly nearer, the thing came, and horror reached its climax at sight of the face beneath the sheltering shawl. It was the face of a skull! The hollow eye-sockets glared at her, and lifting a deathlike hand, with long white fingers, the spectre told off one, two, three, four! on the digits. There was no sound, but a final pointing of the fearsome index finger at the stricken girl, seemed a death warrant for herself.

The thing disappeared. Slowly, silently, as it had come, so it went. From nowhere to nowhere,-it evolved from the darkness and to the darkness returned.

Vernie didn't faint, but she suffered excruciatingly; her head was on fire, her flesh crept and quivered, she was bathed in a cold perspiration, and her heart beat madly, wildly, as if it would burst.

The vision, though gone, remained etched on her brain, and she knew that until that faded she could not move or speak.

It seemed to her hours, but at last the tension lessened a little. The first move was agony, but by degrees she changed her position a trifle and moistened her dry lips.

With the first faint glimmer of dawn, she dragged herself upstairs and crept into bed beside Eve Carnforth.

"Tell me," begged Eve, and Vernie told her.

"It was a warning," said the child, solemnly. "It means I shall die at four o'clock some morning."

"Nonsense, Kiddie! Now you've come through so bravely, and have such an experience to tell, don't spoil it all by such croaking."

"But it's true, Eve. I could see that awful thing's face, and it counted four, and then beckoned,-sort of shook its finger, you know, and pointed at me. And-oh, I hardly noticed at the time, but it carried a glass in its hand-it seemed to have two glasses--"

"Oh, come now, dearie, you're romancing. How could it have two glasses, when it was shaking its hand at you?"

"But it did, Eve. It had two little glasses, both in the same hand. I remember distinctly. Oh, every bit of it is printed on my brain forever! I wish I hadn't done it! Rudolph told me not to!"

A flood of tears came and Vernie gave way to great racking sobs, as she buried her face in the pillow.

"Yes, he was right, too, Vernie; but you know, he only wanted you not to try it because he feared it would upset your nerves. Now if you're going to square yourself with Mr. Braye, you can only do it, by not letting your nerves be upset. So brace up and control them. Cry, dear, cry all you can. That's a relief, and will do you a heap of good. Then we'll talk it over, and by breakfast time you'll be ready to tell them all about it, and you'll be the heroine of the whole crowd. It's wonderful, Vernie, what you've got to tell, and you must be careful to tell it truly and not exaggerate or forget anything. Cry away, honey, here's a fresh handkerchief."

Eve's calm voice and matter-of-fact manner did much to restore Vernie's nerves, and as she looked around the rational, familiar room, bright with sunlight, her spirits revived, and she began to appreciate her r?le of heroine.

Her story was received with grave consideration. It was impossible to believe the honest, earnest child capable of falsehood or deceit. Her description was too realistic, her straightforward narrative too unshakable, her manner too impressively true, to be doubted in the least degree o

r detail.

Gifford Bruce laughed and complimented her on her pluck. Mr. Tracy reproved her for breaking her word to her cousin, but as he was in no way responsible for Vernie's behaviour, he said very little.

Landon scolded her roundly, while Milly said nothing at all.

The whole affair cast rather a gloom over them all, for it seemed as if the spectre had at last really manifested itself in earnest. An undoubted appearance to an innocent child was far more convincing than to a grown person of avowed psychic tendencies. Eve Carnforth might have imagined much of the story she told; her 'expectant attention' might have exaggerated the facts; but Vernie's mind was like a page of white paper, on which the scene she passed through had left a clear imprint.

That night Vernie herself got out the Ouija board and asked Eve to help her try it.

"No," was the reply. "I'm too broken up. And, too, the people don't believe me. Get your uncle or Mr. Tracy or some truthful and honourable person to help you."

It embittered Eve that her earnestness and her implicit belief in the supernatural made it more difficult for the others to look upon her as entirely disingenuous. She resented this, and was a little morose in consequence. Norma Cameron, herself an avowed 'sensitive,' had had no spiritistic visitant in the haunted room, and Eve thought Norma had doubted her word.

At last after trying all the others that she wanted, Vernie persuaded good-natured Mr. Tracy to move Ouija with her, and the two sat down with the board between them.

Few and flippant messages were forthcoming, until, just as Vernie had laughingly declared she would throw the old thing out of the window, a startling sentence formed itself from the erratic dartings of the heart-shaped toy, and Vernie turned pale.

"Stop it!" ordered Tracy, "I refuse to touch it again!"

He removed his hands and sat back, but Vernie, glaring at the letters, held it a moment longer. "To-morrow! it says to-morrow!" she cried. "Oh, Eve, I told you so!"

"What, Vernie? What is it, dear?" and Eve Carnforth came over to the excited child.

"Ouija, Eve! Ouija said that to-morrow at four, two of us are to die! Oh, Eve, you know every death in this house has occurred at four o'clock in the morning! Mr. Stebbins said so. And now, two of us are to die to-morrow!"

"Nonsense!" cried Mr. Tracy, "don't listen to that rubbish! The Ouija ran off its track. Maybe Vernie pushed it,-maybe I did."

"Now, Mr. Tracy, I didn't push it, and you needn't try to make anybody think you did! You never'd push it to say a thing like that! Why, it spelled it all out as plain as day! Uncle Gifford, do you hear! Two of us to die to-morrow!" Vernie's voice rose to a hysterical shriek.

"Hush, Vernie! Hush, child. I'll take you away from here to-morrow. We ought never to have brought you," and Gifford Bruce glowered at the others as he clasped the sobbing child in his arms, and took her from the room.

"You're right," agreed Mr. Tracy, "and Braye was right. He said a fright or shock would upset that child's nerves completely. But she must have pushed the board herself. It flew round like lightning, and spelled out the message, just as she said. I tried to steer it off, but she urged against me. I felt her doing so. I don't mean she made up the message to create a sensation, but I think the ghost last night affected her as a warning, and her mind is so full of it, that she unconsciously or subconsciously worked up that 'message.' At any rate, I've had about enough of this, if she's to be here. It isn't right to frighten a child so, and Vernie is little more than a child."

"That's so," said Norma, thoughtfully. "I've had enough, too. If the rest of you want to stay on, I'll go down to New York to-morrow, and take Vernie to stay with me for a while. We'll go to the seashore, and I'll see to it that she has no psychic or supernatural experiences."

"Why, Norma," and Eve looked surprised, "I thought you were so interested in these things."

"So I am, but not to the extent of so affecting the nervous system of a sweet, innocent child, that it may result in permanent injury."

"She's all right," said Gifford Bruce, returning, alone. "It's hysteria. I think I'll take her back to town to-morrow or next day. There's something uncanny up here, that's certain. I didn't take any stock in the experiences of you people, but I can't disbelieve Vernie's story."

The party broke up and all went to their rooms. There was no volunteer to sleep in the haunted room that night, and every one felt a shivering dread of what might happen at four o'clock the next morning.

Not one admitted it, but every one secretly shuddered at thought of Ouija's message.

And when, as the hall clock rung out its four strokes the next morning, and nothing untoward happened, every one drew a long breath and soon went to sleep again, relieved, as of a heavy burden.

Gaily they gathered at breakfast, daylight and good cheer reviving their spirits.

"But Ouija is henceforth taboo," said Mr. Tracy, shaking his finger at the now laughing Vernie.

"For little girls, anyway," supplemented Eve.

"Little girls are taboo, also," declared Gifford Bruce. "I can't get off to-day, for I want to see Rudolph on his return, but to-morrow, I pack up my Vernie child and take her back to our own little old Chicago on the lake. These Aspens are too black for us!"

"Now, Uncle, I don't want to go," and Vernie pouted prettily. "And sumpum tells me I won't go," she added with a roguish glance at her uncle, whom she usually twisted round her rosy little finger.

But he gave her a grave smile in return, and the subject was dropped for the moment.

Soon after noon, Braye came up from the city, and listened, frowning, to the tales that were told him.

"You promised me, Vernie," he said, reproachfully.

"I know it, Cousin Rudolph, but you see, I've never kept a promise in my whole life,-and I didn't want to break my record!"

"Naughty Flapper! I won't give you the present I brought for you."

"Oh, yes you will," and so wheedlesome was the lovely face, and so persuasive the soft voice, that Vernie, after a short argument, seized upon a small jeweller's packet and unwrapped a pretty little ring.

"Angel Cousin," she observed, "you're just about the nicest cousin I possess,-beside being the only one!"

"Doubtful compliment!" laughed Braye. "Any way, you're the prettiest and naughtiest cousin I own! As a punishment for your disobedience I challenge you to a round with old Ouija to-night! I'll bet I can make it say something more cheerful than you wormed out of it last evening."

"All right, we'll try it," and Vernie danced gaily away to tease her uncle not to take her home.

A little later, Milly, as housekeeper, discovered some serious shortage in the commissariat department, and Braye offered to drive her over to East Dryden, marketing.

They started off, Milly calling back to Eve to preside at the tea-table, if she didn't return in time.

"All right," agreed Eve, though Vernie vociferously announced her intention of playing hostess in Milly's absence.

The shoppers had not returned when old Thorpe brought in the tea-tray.

"You can pour, Eve, and I'll pass the cakies," said Vernie, who was in high spirits, for she had partially persuaded her uncle to remain longer at Black Aspens. He was just phrasing certain strong stipulations on which his permission was to be based, when the tea things arrived.

They were, as usual, in the hall, for though they sometimes suggested the plan of having tea out of doors, there was no cheerful terrace, or pleasant porch. The hall, though sombre and vast, had become more or less homelike by virtue of usage, so there they took their tea.

Mr. Tracy, always graceful in social matters, helped pass the cups and plates, for no one liked to have the old Thorpes about unnecessarily.

"No tea for me, please," declared Norma; "I think it upsets my nerves,--"

"And that is not the thing to do in this house," laughed Landon. "This is mighty good tea, though,-didn't know anybody could brew it as well as Milly. Congratulations, Eve."

"Thank you," and Eve's long lashes swept upward as she gave him a coquettish glance.

"Referring to that matter of which we were talking, Hardwick," Gifford Bruce began, "I--"

Even as he spoke, the clock chimed four, and, as always, they paused to count the long, slow strokes.

Then Bruce began again: "I think, myself--"

A strange change passed over his face. His jaw fell, his eyes stared, and then, his teacup fell from his hand, and he slumped down in an awful-a terrifying heap!

Landon sprang to his assistance, Norma ran to him, while Tracy, with a quick glance at Vernie, flew to the child's side.

"What is it?" he cried to her, "what's the matter, Vernie?" He slipped an arm round her, just as, with a wild look and a ringing shriek, the girl's head fell back and her eyes closed.

"Oh," cried Eve, "what has happened?"

"I don't know," and Tracy's voice shook. "Help me, Miss Carnforth-let us lay her on this sofa."

Between them they carried the girl, for she was past muscular effort, and as they placed her gently on the sofa her eyes fluttered, she gave a gasping sigh, and fell back, inert.

"Oh," cried Eve, "she isn't-she isn't-oh, it's just four o'clock!"

Landon ran to Vernie's side and felt of her heart.

"She is dead," he said, solemnly, his face white, his voice shaking; "and Gifford Bruce is dead, too. It is four o'clock!"

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