MoboReader > Literature > Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye


Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 14104

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

On the following morning at dawn the whisper returned to Grace Krowl's little parlor on Maxwell Street. She had just wakened and lay on her comfortable bed staring at the faint tracings of beautiful forms on her unusual walls, when she heard it.

"A pleasant day to you! Here I am again, talking to you down a beam of light."

Springing to her feet, she threw on a dressing gown and dashed into her parlor. She would trap the intruder. But she did not. As before, the room was empty.

She took a seat by her table. "Ah! There you are!" There was a glad note in the whisper. "How beautiful is youth!" She flushed.

"I have no message of importance for you today," the whisper went on steadily. "But tomorrow-who knows?

"One request: do not disturb any object in your room. To do so may destroy the charm. And, in the end, you would regret it.

"Let me assure you I am an honorable person. I am for the law-not against it. My motives are good. You may trust me. And you may believe me when I tell you I am more than a mile away."

The girl started. There it was again. "More than a mile away. How could anyone be seen through a mile of space-much less send a whisper over that great distance?

"A radio," she thought. A careful search revealed no sign of a radio. Only one object in her room was strange, the two foot reflector against the wall.

"Dawn is passing," came once again in a whisper. "Like the fairies, I must be on my way. Cheerio, and a good day to you!" The room went suddenly silent. It was silence such as Grace Krowl had seldom experienced.

Strangely enough, at the "House of Magic" in quite another section of the city, Johnny Thompson heard that same whisper. What was stranger still, the words were not the same. From this it might surely be learned that this was, at least, not a radio broadcast.

He had fallen asleep staring at that magic ceiling that had a way of falling silently. He awoke at dawn, still staring at that ceiling. To his vast surprise, he found it now fully twenty feet above his head. "Was that way when I went to bed," he assured himself. "Must have dreamed it-must-"

He broke short off to listen with all his ears. In a clear, distinct whisper had come a greeting:

"Good morning, Johnny Thompson!"

"Good-good morning," he faltered. He was conscious of a feeling that he was not heard. In this he was right.

"We are glad you are back in the city, Johnny. You will tell your friend Drew Lane that we will soon have a definite message for him-one that has to do with his present mission. We will whisper it to you some day at dawn. That is your room. You must keep it. No harm will befall you there. And now, may your day be a busy and profitable one." The whisper ended.

We might say that, though Johnny failed to notice it at that time, there was on the far side of his room a circular mirror or reflector, such as we have seen in Grace Krowl's room, and that his window was open toward the east.

"A good day to you." Grace Krowl, the girl from Kansas, recalled these words, whispered to her "down a beam of light" many times during the trying hours of that day.

"Whispers," she repeated to herself, "whispers at dawn. What does it mean? And this whisperer? Is it a man or a woman? Could one tell by the quality of tone?"

The Whisperer had given her little intimation of his purpose. She had been assured that the purpose was honorable and kind. She had been requested to leave her room just as it was. This request had caused her to look at the strange oval reflector on the wall.

At times she thought of telling her uncle all about it. "But no," she decided in the end, "this shall be my own small secret. What harm can come from a whisper? The Whisperer said that he would return. Well then, let him!" With that, for the time, she set the matter aside.

After a hasty breakfast served by her uncle's aged housekeeper, she went down into the "store." "Look!" Her uncle pointed to a number of trunks standing on end just inside the door. "Yesterday was express auction day. It comes always on Tuesday. I have bought these trunks. What is there in them? How should I know? Probably wrags." Nicholas Fischer was very German in his speech.

"But you will be surprised." His faded eyes brightened. "We have very swell customers on Wednesday. They come from the north side and from out by the University. They are curious. They want to see what they can buy cheap. And they buy, right from the trunks. You shall see.

"You will be very helpful," he went on. "You are young. They will like a bright face. You shall wait on them. You will know them by their fine clothes, fur coats, all that. And I-" He looked over his cheap garments. "I shall wait on the poor ones, the ones who buy a few towels or some very poor dishes.

"Yes, you wait on the fine ladies. Only-" he held up a finger, "always I make the price."

An artist looking in upon this bewhiskered, shabbily dressed keeper of a second-hand store and his niece all pink and fresh in her spotless smock, would have found contrast to suit his taste.

"See!" Nicholas Fischer spoke again, "I will break open the locks and lift the lids, but you must not unpack the trunks. Leave that to the fine ladies. They will tell you they are 'exploring.'"

"But supposing they find something truly valuable-a-a diamond or something!" Grace protested.

"If they find a diamond, then I drop dead. What will it matter?" Nicholas Fischer laughed hoarsely.

"But you keep watch." His shrewd eyes gleamed. "If you find a diamond, then you and I will buy us a Christmas present."

"Good!" It was the girl's turn to laugh. "Christmas will soon be here. I'll find the diamond, you'll see, and a few stocks and bonds for good measure."

"Yes. Stocks and bonds." Seizing a hammer and chisel, Nicholas Fischer pried off the lock of a large, round-topped trunk. "The round-topped ones," he commented, "they come from the country. Sometimes there are very fine wool blankets in these. Then we make a few dollars."

While her uncle was prying away at the locks, the girl had an opportunity to study the trunks that, standing as they did, huddled in a group and tipped this way and that, reminded her of a picture she had seen of six very tipsy men awaiting the police wagon.

"Trunks," she told herself, "are like people. They have character. There is a big wardrobe-a trifle shabby to be sure, but still standing on its dignity. And there are three canvas covered ones, huddled together. Never been anybody in particular and never will be. There's that one with bright orange stripes running around it, like a delicate lady. There's that good solid citizen, oak ribs and stout metal edges. And there-"

Having moved a little, she had caught sight of a tiny brown trunk that appeared to hide behind the "solid citizen."

"Horsehair trunk," she whispered to herself. "Old as the hills. What must it contain?"

And then her uncle, chisel in hand, approached.

"Please!" Her cry was one almost of pain.

"Are there not enough others? This little one must not have much in it. Let me look at it-alone tonight."

Nicholas Fischer, looking into her pleading eyes, shook his head. "I am afraid you will wreck my business. You are too soft." Nevertheless, he spared the little trunk.

Dropping his chisel in the corner, he threw a ragged blanket over it as he muttered, "Tomorrow will be time enough. But mind you, it must be tomorrow."

The "ladies" came, just as her uncle had promised they would. They came dressed in furs-mink, marten and Hudson seal-for it was a bleak, blustery day. They picked their way daintily between piles of used bedding and soiled dresses, to pause at last before the open trunks.

As they looked into the slim trunk with orange stripes about it, Grace was reminded of a picture she had seen of three vultures sitting on a rock peering into the distance.

"Snoopers! How I hate them! Yet, I must serve them." Next moment she was wondering whether or not she was being quite fair to them. They had come where things were sold and had a right to inspect the wares.

"But everything in that trunk belonged to a person who treasured it," she told herself. "Why must such rude hands unpack it, after it was packed with such care? Why must each one carry away the one treasure she most desires, while the rightful owner goes empty-handed?" To this question she could find no answer save one haunting verse she remembered from a very old book: "The destruction of the poor is their poverty."

She summoned a friendly smile and assisted the "ladies" in emptying this trunk which had belonged to a young lady. When, however, Grace came to a drawer of photographs, letters and personal papers, she dumped them all into a card-board box and shoved them under the ragged quilt where the little horsehair trunk seemed to peek at her through the holes.

The "ladies" turned from the next three trunks in disgust. Two men's, and one family trunk, they offered little more than dirty rags.

"Why must people be so filthy," a fat "lady" in a mink coat complained. "If they must lose their things you'd think they might at least wash them before packing."

The wardrobe trunk offered gaudy finery that did not interest the "ladies" overmuch. But the big square trunk Grace had named the "substantial citizen"-this one it was that brought a fresh ache to the girl's heart.

It turned out to be a household trunk filled with bedding, linen and all sorts of fancy articles done by hand. Everything was scrupulously clean. And the bits of hand embroidery, the touches of lace, the glints of color all done with the finest thread, seemed to say, "I belong to a home. We all belong together. We rested beneath the lamp, above the fireplace in a room some people called home."

She tried to picture that home. There was a man, a woman, and their children, a brother and a sister. The man read. The woman's fingers were busy with thread and needle. The children played with the cat before the fire.

Her eyes filled with tears as she thought, "All this is being destroyed. All that is best in our good, brave land, a home, has become a wreck."

But the "ladies"! How they babbled and screamed. "Oh Clara! Look! Isn't this a scream? Only look at this piece! Isn't it exquisite?" "Mary, just take a peek at this buffet runner. Two yards long! And all done by hand! It's a treasure. I'll offer the old man a half dollar for it. He'll take it. What does he know?"

Grace listened and set her lips tight. Life, she could see, was going to be hard, but she would certainly see it through.

She experienced a sense of contentment as she recalled the little horsehair trunk. Tonight she would spirit that away up to her room and there she would find adventure looking inside it. There would be letters, she told herself, and photographs-and-and perhaps some real treasure.

At that moment her eyes caught a second box of keepsakes. These too she shoved away under the ragged quilt.

"Tonight in my parlor," she told herself. She was rapidly coming to know that each trunk told the story of the owner. In her room she would read that story.

Her parlor. Her brow wrinkled. What a mysterious room! So perfect, and in such a place. "And there's the concave mirror, and the whisper at dawn." She shuddered in spite of herself.

Then she came out of her revery with a snap. The fat lady in the mink coat was approaching her uncle. She would offer half a dollar for the buffet runner. Gliding swiftly past, Grace whispered in her uncle's ear:

"The price is three dollars."

The "lady" gave her a suspicious glance. But the price was three dollars. And in the end, three dollars the lady paid.

"Is that all the trunks?" The fat lady turned a petulant, spoiled face toward the girl. "Are there no other trunks?" She snatched at the ragged blanket, but Grace was too quick for her, her foot was on its edge.

"There are no other trunks to be opened today."

"Oh-ah!" The "lady" sighed. "This has been such fun!"

Fun? Grace turned away. And in turning she found herself presenting a tearful face to none other than Drew Lane her friend of the bus, who had entered unnoticed.

"Well," he smiled, pretending not to see her tears. "How's the big store in Chicago?"

"Great! Great!" She managed a smile.

"How-how are all the people you look af-after?" she asked a bit unsteadily.

"Oh, they're all right." He laughed a low laugh. "In fact-" His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper-"I've got some of them locked up. Quite a number. You see, I'm a city detective. This is part of my territory. I'll be seeing you often, I hope."

She started and stared. That whisper! When one spoke out loud his voice could be recognized. She knew this. But a whisper? Could one truly recognize a whisper when he heard it the second time? It seemed incredible. And yet, Drew Lane's whisper was so like the one she had heard at dawn.

"Impossible! A mere fancy!" She tried to free herself from this apparently unreasonable suspicion.

"A penny for your thoughts," Drew Lane bantered.

"No! No! Not for a dollar," was her quick reply.

"All right," he laughed. "Anyway, I'll be seeing you. Got to hurry on down the street." He was gone, leaving the girl's head in a whirl.

"Whispers at dawn?" she murmured as she made her way toward the horsehair trunk.

"What about these?" She held the box of keepsakes from the big trunk up for her uncle's inspection.

"What?" He stared.

"These? Letters? Pictures?"

He made a wry face. "Baby books, maybe. Who would buy these? Throw them in the alley. Black children live in the next street. They carry them off."

"But look! Here is the croix de guerre. Some brave fellow fought to win that," she protested.

"Yes! But did he keep it? No! Let some black boy wear it."

"Then I may keep them? All these?"

"If you wish."

She rewarded him with a smile. After the evening meal she would read the stories recorded here and she would explore the little horsehair trunk.

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