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   Chapter 4 AN INTERVIEW WITH HERCULES

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 10599

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Among the furniture stored in the study was one piece which Nyoda had pounced upon with an exclamation of joy the night before when she opened the room to please the Winnebagos. That was an invalid's wheel chair.

"Just the thing for Sylvia!" she exclaimed delightedly. "She can get around the house by herself in this. It's a good thing you got curious about this room, Sahwah dear; I'm afraid I wouldn't have thought of opening it until spring. I remember now, Uncle Jasper had a paralytic stroke some months before he died which left him lame, and he went about in a wheel chair during his last days. This certainly comes in handy now."

The morning after Sahwah had discovered the iron shutter Sylvia was set in the wheel chair and rolled into the study, and the rest came flocking up to watch Sherry and the boys remove the shutter. It was no easy job, taking that shutter off, for the screws had rusted in so that it was almost impossible to turn them. Nyoda gave an exclamation of dismay at the holes left in the mahogany casement. The Winnebagos were too much absorbed in the window which was revealed by the removal of the shutter to pay any attention to the damaged casement. Unlike the other windows in the room, which were of clear glass, this one was composed of tiny leaded panes in colors. It was so dirty on the outside that it was impossible to see what it really was like. Sahwah hastened out and got cleaning rags and washed it inside and out, standing on the roof of the side porch to get at it on the outside, because it did not open. When it was clean, and the bright sun shone through it, the beauty of the window struck them dumb.

The leaded panes were wrought into a design of climbing roses, growing over a little arched gateway, the rich red and green tints of the flowers and leaves glowing splendid in the mellow light that streamed through it.

After a moment of breathless silence the Winnebagos found their voices and broke into admiring cries. Hinpoha promptly went into raptures.

"Why, you can almost smell those roses, they're so natural! Oh, the darling archway! Did you ever see anything so beautiful? Don't you just long to go through it? O why did your uncle ever have that horrible old shutter put over it?"

"Maybe he was afraid it would get broken," suggested Gladys.

"But why would he put the shutter on the inside?" asked Sahwah shrewdly. "There would be more danger of the window's getting broken from the outside than from the inside, I should think."

"There wouldn't be with Slim around," said the captain, and prudently barricaded himself behind a bookcase in the corner. Slim gave him a withering glance, but did not deign to follow him and open an attack. He could not have squeezed in behind the bookcase, so he ignored the thrust.

"I wonder why he didn't put shutters on the other windows also," said Katherine.

"Mercy, I'm glad he didn't!" said Nyoda with a shiver, eyeing the ugly screw holes in the smooth mahogany casement with housewifely horror at such marring of beauty. "One set of holes like that is enough. Isn't it just like a man, though, to put screws into that woodwork! It's time a woman owned this house. A few more generations of eccentric bachelors and the place would be ruined."

"But," said Sahwah musingly, "didn't you tell us once that this house was the pride of your uncle's heart, and he never would let any children in for fear they would scratch the floors and furniture?"

"That's so, too," replied Nyoda. "Uncle Jasper was so fond of this house that it was a byword among the relations. He loved it as though it were his own child. How he ever allowed anyone to put screws into that mahogany casement is a mystery."

"Don't you think," said Sahwah shrewdly, "that there must have been some great and important reason for putting up that shutter? A reason that made him forget all about the holes he was making in the woodwork?"

A little thrill went through the group; all at once they seemed to feel that they were standing in the shadow of some mystery.

"What kind of a man was your uncle Jasper?" asked Sahwah.

"He was a queer, silent man," replied Nyoda, sitting down on the edge of a table and rubbing her forehead to aid her recollection. "He was an author-wrote historical works. I confess I don't know a great deal about him. I only saw him twice; once when I was a very little girl and once a few years ago. He never corresponded with any of his relations and never visited them nor had them come to visit him. Most everybody was afraid of him; he was so grim and stern looking. He couldn't have been very sociable here either, for none of the people of Oakwood seemed to have been in the habit of calling on him. None of those that called on me had ever been inside the house before. The old man didn't mix with the neighbors, they said. He seldom went outside the house. No one seems to know much about him. Of course," she added, "living up here on the hill he was sort of by himself; there are no near neighbors."

"Maybe he put up that shutter for protection," suggested Hinpoha.

"With all the other windows in the house unshuttered?" asked the captain derisively. "A lot of protection that would be! Besides, do you think the neighbors were in the habit of s

hooting pop guns at him?"

"Well, can you think of any other reason?" retorted Hinpoha.

"Why don't you ask old Hercules?" suggested Sahwah. "He might know."

"To be sure!" cried Nyoda, springing down from the table. "Why didn't I think of Hercules before? Of course he'd know. He was with Uncle Jasper all his life. I'll call him in and ask him and we'll have the mystery cleared up in a jiffy. Will one of you boys go out and bring him in?"

The captain and Justice sprang up simultaneously in answer to her request and raced for the stable. In a few minutes they were back, bringing old Hercules with them. Hercules had a somewhat forlorn air about him like that of a dog without a master. Nyoda said he was grieving for Uncle Jasper; Sherry said it was the goat he was mourning for. At any rate, he was a pathetic figure as he hobbled painfully up the stairs one step at a time on his shaky, stiff old limbs. His eyes brightened a bit as he saw the door into Uncle Jasper's study standing open, and he looked around the room with an affectionate gaze as the boys piloted him in. Nyoda saw his eyes rest on the window from which the shutter had been removed, and it seemed to her that he gave a start and gazed through the window apprehensively.

"Hercules," said Nyoda briskly, "we've just taken this ugly old shutter off that stained glass window, and we're curious to know why it was put up. It seems such a pity to have put those great screws into that mahogany casement. Why did Uncle Jasper put it up?"

Hercules scratched his head and shifted his corn cob pipe to the other side of his mouth. "Dat shutter's bin up a good many years, Mis' 'Lizbeth," he quavered.

"I see it has, from the way the screws were rusted in," replied Nyoda. "But why was it put up?"

"Dat shutter's bin dere twenty-five years," reiterated the old man solemnly, still looking at it in a half-fascinated, half-apprehensive way.

"Yes, yes," said Nyoda, trying to control her impatience. "But why has it been there all this time? Why did Uncle Jasper put it up?"

Hercules scratched his head again, and replaced his pipe in its original position. "I disremember, Mis' 'Lizbeth," he said deprecatingly. "It's bin so long since. My memry's bin powerful bad lately, Mis' 'Lizbeth. Seems like I caint remember hardly anything. It's de mizry, Mis' 'Lizbeth; it's settled in my memry." He carefully avoided her eyes.

"Please try to remember!" said Nyoda, trying hard to hold on to her patience, but morally certain that Hercules was trying to sidestep her questions. "Think, now. Twenty-five years ago Uncle Jasper put up an iron shutter to cover the most beautiful window in Carver House. Why did he do it?"

Nyoda turned so that she looked right into his face, and her compelling black eyes held his shifty gaze steady. There was something strangely magnetic about Nyoda's eyes. People could avoid answering her questions as long as they did not look into her eyes, but once let her catch your gaze, and things she wanted to know had a habit of coming out of their own accord. Hercules seemed to be on the point of speaking; he cleared his throat nervously and shifted the pipe once more. Nyoda cast a triumphant glance at Sherry. In that instant Hercules shifted his gaze from her face and met another pair of eyes, eyes that seemed to look at him accusingly, and sent a chill running down his spine. These were none other than the eyes of Uncle Jasper, who, hanging in his frame on the study wall, seemed to be looking straight at him, in the way that eyes in pictures have. When Nyoda glanced back at Hercules he was staring uneasily at Uncle Jasper's picture and there was a guilty look about him as if he had been caught in a misdemeanor.

"I 'clare, I cain't remember nothin' 'bout why dat shutter was put up, Mis' 'Lizbeth," he said earnestly. "Come to think on it now, Marse Jasper ain't never told me why he want it put up," he continued triumphantly. "He just say, 'Herc'les, put up dat shutter,' and he ain't ever say why. I axed him, 'Marse Jasper, what for you puttin' up dat shutter over dat window?' and he say, 'Herc'les, you put up dat shutter and mind your business. I ain't tellin' why I wants it put up; I jest wants it put up, dat's all.' No'm, Mis' 'Lizbeth, I's often wondered myself about dat shutter, but I never found out nothin'."

He glanced up at Uncle Jasper's picture as though expecting some token of approval from the stern, grim face.

Nyoda saw it was no use trying to get anything out of Hercules. Either he really did not know anything, or he would not tell.

"You may go, Hercules," she said. "That's all we wanted of you."

Hercules looked unaccountably relieved and started for the door. Half way across the room he turned and looked long through the clear panel of glass underneath the archway of the gate in the stained glass window. He stood still, seemingly lost in reverie, and quite oblivious to the group about him. Finally his lips began to move, and he began to mutter to himself, and Sahwah's sharp ears caught the sound of the words.

"Dey's tings," muttered the old man, "dat folks don't want ter look at, and dey's tings dey dassent look at!"

Still lost in reverie he shuffled out of the room and hobbled painfully downstairs.

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