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   Chapter 21 CHRISTMAS EVE

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9055

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The dawn of the day before Christmas arrived and with it, in Grace Krowl's tiny parlor, came the hoarse whisper of the mysterious one:

"Tonight," it insisted, "you will not fail me. It is for the good of all. You owe us more than you know. It is we who beautified your living quarters. Your coming disturbed our plans. But if you do this thing for us you shall be forgiven."

"Plans." It was her turn to whisper. "What plans?" She wanted to know.

A half hour later, when she descended to the street she found Drew Lane standing by the store door.

"Saw a small leather bag through the window," he explained. "Think I'd like it."

With some irrelevance Grace said quickly:

"Drew Lane, how could anyone see you a mile away?"

"Powerful telescope, perhaps." He gave her a strange look.

"But in your room, with the shade half drawn?"

"No, not possible. Television, possibly that." His voice dropped to a near whisper. "They do strange things with that, I'm told.

"What is it?" He looked her squarely in the eye. "That Whisperer again?"


"And does he claim to see you as well as talk to you?"

"He does see me. I'm sure of it."

"That's strange!" Drew Lane did not appear to be shamming.

"Can it be," she asked herself, "that this young man is not the Whisperer, and that he knows nothing about it?"

As for Drew, he stood there considering the advisability of inviting this girl to the Captain's Christmas party. He left without having arrived at a definite decision. Some hours later he was to be devoutly thankful that he had not given the invitation.

Christmas Eve came. By nine o'clock the tracks of two large automobiles might have been seen winding through the freshly fallen snow before the Captain's boyhood home, and from there away to the shed serving as a garage at the right of the house.

From the windows there stole a mellow light. Caught and flung high, curls of blue wood smoke rose from the chimneys.

The guests were seated in the tiny parlor of their beloved Captain's old home. There were two young detectives, Drew Lane and Tom Howe, with their youthful understudies, Johnny Thompson and Spider. Madame LeClare was there too with Alice, her daughter, and Joyce Mills. Quite a jolly party they were on this Christmas Eve. Only one thought marred their pleasure-the Captain was not with them.

"It's tough," he had said to them at the last moment. "Something big just broke. I've got to get on the trail while it's hot. But you folks go right along out. Hang your stockings up behind the old stove like good little children, and maybe you'll catch me filling them when you get up in the morning. And if you don't-may that Christmas turkey be tender!"

Those had been his words. Now, as Johnny sat dreaming beside the cracked stove that, despite its age, sent forth a cheering glow, he imagined the Captain skulking down some dark alley in quest of those who would disturb the tranquillity of Christmas Eve.

"Almost wish I were with him," he thought. "And yet-"

There was a sharp wind blowing. The snow was drifting. Outside, close to the road, a windmill stood on its tall, steel tower. From time to time the wind, giving this mill a twist, caused it to send forth a sharp, grating scream that seemed a human cry of pain.

"Boo!" Johnny whispered. "There's something spooky about a lonely country place at night."

A moment more and his thoughts were back with the Captain. "The wind," he thought, "will be whistling about the corners of skyscrapers tonight. The snow will go scooting and whirling away and away just as it does among the crags of the Rockies. Cities are like that. Wonder where the Captain is now?"

Then again he seemed to hear the Captain's rumbling voice as in this very room he told of his boyhood days.

"That is the very stove-" He spoke aloud now. Pretty Alice LeClare turned her shining black eyes upon him. "It's the very stove that burned here many years ago when the Captain was a boy. He found it in the barn loft.

"And these chairs," he went on, "are the very chairs on which he hung his stockings so long ago. He found them in the attic, bottoms gone, some broken. He had them restored. Seems-" His voice went husky. "Seems almost a sacred place."

"It is sacred," Alice whispered back. "The boyhood home of a good man, the things he loved, are always sacred."

Johnny could have loved the little French Canadian for that speech.

"And what a privilege," Alice murmured low, "just for one night to li

ve as he lived, so simple, so plain, so true. To hang up our stockings, feeling that they will be filled, not by lavish hands, but by loving ones, with the simple things that only real love can find."

"But listen!" Johnny touched her arm. "How that windmill screams! It seems a-a sort of warning. Perhaps our night will not be so serene after all. Per-"

He broke short off. From the wall where the broad reflector stood facing the open window there had come a sound.

"Like a whisper," Johnny thought. Whisper or not, it made no sense. So again the room fell into silence. Only the crackle of the fire, the racing tick-tock, tick-tock of the little clock on the mantel told that this little gray house was still the habitation of man.

* * * * * * * *

That night, over a cup of tea in Grace Krowl's parlor, with the Whisperer looking on "from his tower a mile away" Nida McFay told her story. It was a strange story filled with smiles and tears.

For three glorious years she had worked in the book department of one of America's most beautiful stores. Surrounded by books, with congenial fellow workers and cultured customers, she had learned what it meant to truly live.

"And then-" The little book seller looked away. "Then a man, a very little, wistful old man who lived in my rooming house, brought me some books from his library; anyway, he said they were from his library. He asked me to sell them for him at a second-hand store.

"They were valuable books. I-I sold them."

She paused to sit for a time staring into her tea cup. It was as if she sensed the fact that someone was looking in upon them from afar, and that she dreaded to go on.

From the reflector in the corner came a strange sound. "Like someone stifling a cough," Grace thought with a shudder.

"The books-they had been stolen from our store," Nida went on after a time. "A detective was put on my trail. The little old man disappeared. A-a house detective, with eyes like steel blades, accused me of stealing the books!"

"I think I know him," Grace broke in. "He looked into Frank Morrow's shop one night."

"Yes-yes, that was the man! He calls himself J. Templeton Semp." Nida's eyes were wild for an instant.

"He made me sign a paper," she went on. "I learned later it was a confession. They discharged me. I went to other places and asked for work, many places. Everywhere the answer was the same:

"'You worked at K--'s. We cannot employ you.'

"You see-" Her voice broke. "I had been put on the black list. I-I wouldn't do that to anyone!

"Well," she sighed at last, "that's all. Good old Frank Morrow took me in spite of the list. And here I am." She forced a smile.

Five minutes later Nida was gone. Grace sat staring at the curious reflector on the wall. "That," she whispered, "is Nida's story. And all the time she was talking someone was looking, listening. I am sure of that. I wonder how? Television? I wonder what that really is?"

Finding herself enshrouded in a cloud of gloom, she drew on her coat and, taking up a basket filled with small boxes, she went out on Maxwell Street.

Moving along from door to door, she made brief Christmas Eve calls on the simple, kindly people she had learned to love. The small boxes contained homemade candy. She left one at every door.

She found Mamma Lebed busy decorating a tiny tree for her two dark-haired little ones. "It's not much we can give them," she beamed. "But the dear ones, how they will dance and prattle when morning comes!" She brushed a tear from her broad cheek.

"Merry Christmas!" Grace whispered.

"Same to you!" Mamma Lebed gripped her hand hard.

Grossmuter Schmalgemeire was filling stockings. There was no fireplace in her tiny home back of the shop, but a straight-backed chair did as well.

"He said a mouse would come in through the hole in the toe, Hans did," she laughed. "But I told him an orange would fill it up. And so it shall. I found one in the street that is not too bad."

And so Grace found them, these friends, on every hand. Poor, but making much of the little they had, and all filled to overflowing with the spirit of Christmas.

When she returned to her rooms, her cheeks were glowing. "Tonight," she whispered, "I am like the moon, filled with light. The light of happiness. It is reflected happiness, but happiness all the same."

And then, into her mind there flashed questions that had grown old, but were ever new: "Who is the Whisperer? Where is he? Why does he want Nida's story?"

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