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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 18450

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Mystery

In the panic-stricken moments that followed the realization of the double tragedy, the natural characteristics of all those present showed themselves. Eve Carnforth, strong and calm, suddenly became self-appointed dictator.

"Lay Mr. Bruce flat on his back," she called out, as she darted upstairs for her room, and returned with smelling salts, ammonia and such things.

Tracy, also capable and self-possessed, took a vial from her and held it before the face of the stricken child, while others strove to bring back to consciousness the motionless figure of Gifford Bruce, now stretched on the floor.

"It's no use," declared Landon, flinging the beads of sweat from his forehead, "they are dead,-both of them. Oh, what does it mean?"

Norma sat in a big chair, her hands clutching its carved arms, and her face stony white. She was using all her will power to keep from utter collapse, and she couldn't understand how Eve could be so natural and self-possessed.

"Brace up, Norma," Eve admonished her; "here, take this salts-bottle. Now is no time to make more trouble!"

The brusque words had the effect of rousing Norma, and she forced herself to rise.

"What can I do?" she whispered.

"Do!" cried Eve, "there's everything to do! Some one telephone for a doctor!"

"I-can't," Norma moaned. "You do that, Professor,-won't you?"

"Oh, I can't!" and Hardwick fell limply into a chair. "I-I'm all upset--"

"Of course you are, Professor," said Tracy, kindly. "I'll telephone, Miss Carnforth. Do you know the village doctor's name? Of course,-it's too late--" he glanced at the two still forms, "but a physician must be summoned."

"No, I don't know any name,-call Thorpe, or Hester."

Tracy rang a bell and Thorpe came shuffling in.

At sight of the tragedy, he turned and ran, screaming. Hester came, and proved the more useful of the two. Her stolidity was helpful, and she told the doctor's name and number.

"Dead, ain't they?" she said, with a grieved intonation that robbed her words of curtness. "What happened to 'em?"

The simple question roused them all. What had happened? What had killed two strong, well, able-bodied people at the same moment, and that the very moment said to be fatal in that dread house?

"I believe," said the Professor, dropping his face in his hands, "I believe now in the supernatural. Nothing else can explain this thing."

"Of course not," and Eve solemnly acquiesced. "There is no possibility of anything else. What could kill them, like this, at once, and at four o'clock exactly, except a supernormal agent?"

"But that seems so impossible!" and Tracy's practical, matter-of-fact voice did indeed make it seem so.

"What else is possible?" broke in Landon. "It isn't suicide, it isn't murder. It isn't death from natural causes,-at least, it can't be in Vernie's case,-I suppose Mr. Bruce might have died from heart disease."

"That's why we want a doctor," said Eve. "We can judge nothing until we know the immediate cause of death."

"I wish we were in the city," Tracy said; "the doctor will be nearly an hour getting here, I suppose."

"Did you tell him all?" asked Eve.

"No, I didn't. It didn't seem wise to spread the news in that way. I told him to get here as soon as he possibly could,-that it was a matter of life and death."

"Which it certainly is," murmured Norma. "Oh, Eve, what do you really think?"

Eve Carnforth looked at the other girl. Eve, so poised and collected, strength and will power written in every line of her face,-Norma so fragile, and shaken by the awful scenes about her.

"I don't know what to think," Eve replied, slowly. "There's only one thing certain, Vernie received a warning of death,-and Vernie is dead. Mr. Bruce received no definite warning, that I know of, but he may have had one. You know, he said he was visited by the phantom, but we wouldn't believe him."

"That's so!" and Tracy looked up in surprise. "We never quite believed Mr. Bruce's statements, because he scorned all talk of spirit manifestations. If he really did see the ghost that night that he said he did--"

"Of course he did," declared Eve. "I believed him all the time. I can always tell when any one is speaking the truth. It's part of my sensitive nature."

Wynne Landon stalked about the hall like a man in torment. "What shall I do with Milly?" he groaned. "She and Braye will be back soon,-any minute now. She mustn't see these--"

"They ought to be placed in some other room," said Eve, gently.

"One mustn't touch a dead body before--" began Professor Hardwick, but Tracy interrupted him. "That's in case of murder, Professor," he said; "this is a different matter. Whatever caused these deaths, it wasn't by the hand of another human being. If it was fright or nervous apprehension, Those are to be classed among natural causes. I think we are wholly justified in moving the bodies."

After some discussion, Landon and the Professor agreed with Tracy, and with the help of Thorpe and Hester, the stricken forms were carried out of the hall, where the group so often forgathered.

"It is better," said Eve, "for we need this hall continually, and if we don't move them at once, the doctor may forbid it, when he comes."

By common consent, the body of Gifford Bruce was laid in the drawing room, on a large sofa, and Vernie's slender figure was reverently placed on the bed in the Room with the Tassels.

"No spirit shape can frighten her now," said Norma, weeping bitterly, as Thorpe and Hester carried the dead girl in. Then both doors were closed, shutting off the silent figures, and those who were left felt a vague sense of relief.

"Now we can break it to Milly more gently," said Eve. "Clear away that broken cup, Hester, and make some fresh tea, I'm sure we all need it."

On the great rug the damp spot remained where the spilled tea had fallen, and Eve ordered a smaller rug placed over it.

Braye and Milly came in laughing.

"We've bought out the whole of East Dryden!" Milly exclaimed, "and what do you think? We found some fresh lobsters, still alive and kicking,-and we commandeered them at once. What's the matter with you people? You look solemn as owls!"

"Come up to your room, Milly, to take off your wraps," and Landon took her arm to lead her away.

"Nonsense, Wynne, I'll throw them off down here. I'm thirsty for tea."

"No; come on, dear. Come with me."

Awed at his tone, Milly went with him, and they disappeared up the staircase.

Then Professor Hardwick told Braye what had happened. The others had begged the Professor to do this, and in a very few words the tale was told.

"It can't be!" and Braye rose and walked up and down the hall. "I wish I had been here! Oh, forgive me, all of you, I know you did all you could,-but-restoratives--"

"We did," said Eve, "I ran for sal volatile and such things, but you don't understand,-it was instantaneous,-wasn't it, Mr. Tracy?"

"It was," replied Tracy, gravely. "Mr. Bruce was speaking, naturally and normally. He paused when the clock struck,-we 'most always do, you know, it's a sort of habit."

"We have to, really," said Norma. "That clock strikes so loudly, one can't go on talking."

"And then," began the Professor, "he was talking to me, you know, and I was looking straight at him, his face changed in an instant, his fingers spread, as if galvanized, his teacup fell from his hand, and in a moment, he was gone! Yes, dead in a second, I should say."

"And-Vernie?" Braye spoke with difficulty.

"I chanced to be looking at Vernie," said Mr. Tracy. "The outcry concerning Mr. Bruce made us all look toward him, and then, a sudden sound from Vernie drew my attention to her. She gasped, and her face looked queer,-sort of drawn and gray,-so I sprang to her side, and held her up, lest she fall. She was standing, looking at Mr. Bruce, of course. I felt her sway, her head fell back, and then Miss Carnforth came to my assistance, and we laid her quickly down on the sofa. In an instant, the child was dead. It is incredible that it should have been a case of sudden fright that proved fatal, and yet, what other theory is there? It couldn't be heart disease in a child of sixteen!"

"No," mused Braye, "and yet, what could it have been? I won't subscribe to any supernatural theory now! It's too absurd!"

"It's the only thing that isn't absurd!" contradicted Eve. "Remember, Rudolph, Vernie had the warning--"

"Warning be hanged!" cried Braye, explosively.

"But think," went on Eve, gently, "the phantom told Vernie she would die at four o'clock--"

"Four o'clock in the morning, Vernie said! If I had thought of four in the afternoon, I wouldn't have gone out!"

"Nobody knows that the message said four in the morning. Vernie told me about it many times, and she only said four. You know, the phantom spoke no word, it merely designated by its fingers,-one, two, three, four! Also, Vernie said it carried two glasses of poison."

"But they weren't poisoned!"

"No; that was merely the symbol of death. Also, Rudolph, remember the Ouija board said two would die at four. You can't get away from these things!"

"That confounded Oui

ja performance was on one of the nights I was in New York! I wish I hadn't gone! But Vernie promised me she wouldn't sleep in that room. I was a fool to believe her. You see, Eve, I feel a sort of responsibility for the child. Uncle Gif was so easy-going and indulgent,-he was no sort of a guardian for her, now she was growing up. I planned to have her put under the care of some right kind of a woman this fall, and brought up properly."

"I know it, Rudolph; you were very fond of her."

"Not only that, but I appreciated what she needed, and I meant to see that she got it. Oh, Eve, I can't realize this thing."

Doctor Wayburn came in. It was plain to be seen the man was scared. In his years of country practice he had never run up against anything tragic or thrilling before, and he was overwhelmed. With trembling step he entered the room of death, and first made examination of the body of Gifford Bruce. It did not take long. There was no apparent cause for death. No symptoms were present of any fatal disease, nor, so far as he could see, of any poison or wound of any sort.

"I cannot say what an autopsy may divulge," declared the frightened practitioner, "but from this superficial examination, I find no cause of dissolution."

Then he crossed the hall, to the Room with the Tassels.

Braye followed him in, Eve also. The Professor and Tracy stood in the doorway, but Norma remained in the hall, her face buried in some sofa cushions.

"No apparent cause," the Doctor repeated. "This child was in perfect health; I should say fright might have killed her, but it doesn't seem credible. I know of no cause of any sort, that could bring about death in an instant of time, as you report."

"Maybe not an instant," corrected the Professor, carefully. "As I look back, I should judge there was at least a half a minute between Mr. Bruce's first symptom of unease, and his falling to the floor."

"So with Vernie," said Eve, thoughtfully. "I saw Mr. Tracy go quickly toward her; I followed immediately, and I'm sure there was nearly a half minute, but not more, before she gasped and died."

"It's hard to judge time on such occasions," said the Doctor, looking sharply at Eve.

"I know it, but I was very conscious of it all, almost clairvoyantly so, and I can assure you it was not longer than a half minute in either case, between the state of usual health and death itself. Is there any cause or agent that will work as quickly as that?"

"I know of none," replied Doctor Wayburn, positively.

"There is none," Eve assured him. "These deaths were caused by supernatural means, they were the vengeance of certain Powers of Darkness."

"Oh, come now, Eve," expostulated Braye, "don't get off that stuff to the Doctor. Keep that for our own circle. You know these fatalities couldn't have been caused by a ghost!"

"What, then?"

"I don't know. Fright, perhaps, or over-apprehension because of the warnings. Auto-suggestion, if you like, and so indirectly the result of the spooks, but not the direct work of a disembodied spirit."

"It was, all the same!" and Eve left the room and went to sit by Norma.

But the girls were not in sympathy. Their conversation resulted in disagreement, and, at last, in Norma's bursting into tears and running upstairs.

She sought Milly, and found her prostrated by Landon's news. But she was trying to be brave, and earnestly endeavouring to preserve her self-control.

"I know every one thinks I'll go to pieces," she said, pathetically, "and make more trouble for you all,-but I won't. I've promised Wynne I'll be brave and if I can't keep quiet and composed, I'll stay in my room, and not upset the crowd."

"You're all right, Milly," Norma reassured her, "you let yourself go all you want to. Don't overdo your restraint. I'll look after you."

"Yes, do, Norma. Don't let Eve come near me. I can't stand her!"

"Why? You mustn't be unjust to Eve. She behaved splendidly at that awful time."

"Yes, I know. But if it hadn't been for Eve we never would have come up here at all."

"Oh, Milly, that isn't fair! We all agreed to come here. It wasn't Eve's doing any more than mine!"

"Yes, it was. But, look here, Norma, tell me truly. What do you think killed Mr. Bruce and Vernie?"

"I don't know, Milly, dear. You know I do believe in psychics and in spiritism and in the return to earth of the souls of people who have died, but-I can't believe that any such spirit would kill an innocent child, or a fine old man. I can't believe it!"

"But why not, Norma? If you believe in the return to earth of good spirits, why not bad spirits, as well? And if so, why couldn't they kill people, if they want to?"

"You sound logical, Milly, but it's absurd."

"No, it isn't. You and Eve believe in good spirits and in their power to do good. Why not, then, in bad spirits and their power to do evil?"

"Let up, Milly," begged Landon, who stood near by. "She's been going on like that, Norma, ever since I told her. Can't you explain to her--"

"Explain what?"

"Lord! I don't know! But make her see how impossible it is that the ghost of that woman who killed her husband here so long ago, should have any reason to do away with two modern present-day people!"

"But I want to think so, Wynne," and Milly's eyes stared with a peculiar light. "I'd rather think they were killed by that ghost than by a person,-wouldn't you?"

"What do you mean, Milly? Murdered?"

"Yes, Eve. That's what it must have been, if not spirits. They had no mortal disease, either of them."

"Don't mention that before any one else," admonished Eve, very seriously. "There are other explanations, Milly. Many deaths have been brought about by sudden fright or by continuous apprehension of imaginary danger. Vernie had been warned twice. True, I didn't think of four in the afternoon, but doubtless she did, and maybe, seeing the sudden attack of Mr. Bruce, so startled her that she thought of the four o'clock doom and gave way herself."

"She might give way to the extent of fainting, or a fit of hysterics," admitted Milly, "but not to the extent of dropping dead! It's unthinkable,-it's unbelievable--"

"It's almost unbelievable that they should be dead," Eve said, softly, "but as to how they died, let's not speculate, dear. I suppose we must have a doctor up from New York,-what do you think, Mr. Landon?"

"Eh?-oh, I don't know,-I'm sure I don't know."

"But you'll have to take charge, won't you?" asked Eve. "You two are really the heads of this house--"

"All I want is to get away," moaned Milly. "When can we go, Wynne?"

"I don't know, dear. Say, Eve, won't you take Milly down to-night? I can't leave, of course, but I daren't keep her here, lest she go to pieces. You take her home,-there's a train in about an hour."

"Oh, I can't. I want to stay here. Send Norma,-no, she's no good,-perhaps Mr. Tracy will take Milly down. He's awfully kind, and ready to do anything."

As Milly declared herself now willing, the three went downstairs. They found the others in the hall, the Doctor still there, and the tea things still about. Eve gave Milly some tea, and took some herself.

"I'll have to call in the coroner," Doctor Wayburn was saying; "it isn't apparently a murder, and yet it's a mysterious death,-they both are. Yes, the county physician must be summoned."

The Doctor had gotten over the first panic of surprise, and began to feel a sense of importance. Such a case had never come near him before, and the whole affair gave him a pleasant feeling of responsibility and foreshadowed his prominence in the public eye.

The suggestion of a coroner was resented by all who listened, but the Doctor's word was law in the case, so they unwillingly consented.

"I think I'd better go down to New York to-night," said Braye. "There are so many things to see to, so many people to notify, the reporters to look after, and-undertaking arrangements to be made. Unless you want to go, Wynne?"

"No," said Landon, "it's better for you, Rudolph. But I wish you'd take Milly. Take her to her mother's and let her get out of this atmosphere. Will you go, Milly?"

"I did want to, Wynne, when I was upstairs. But, now, with people all about,-if Norma will stay here, too, I'd rather stay with you. When are you going down, Wynne?"

"I don't know, dear. We'll have to see how things turn out. Well, you go ahead, Rudolph, you'll have to hustle to get over to the train. And there are a few matters I wish you'd look after for me."

The two men went off to discuss these matters, and then Doctor Wayburn, who had been telephoning, announced that the coroner could not come until the next day, as he was in another township attending to some duties.

"And I'm glad of it," said Eve, "for we've had enough excitement for one day."

And so, by ten or eleven o'clock, the house was locked up and the members of the household gone to bed, all except old Thorpe, who sat in the great hall, with the two doors open into the rooms where the still, tragic figures lay. Before him, on a table, Hester had placed coffee and sandwiches, and the old man sat, brooding on the awful events of the afternoon.

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