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- Quill's Window - 10/55 -


by the Misses Dowd," as well as a paragraph congratulating the readers of the Sun on the "scoop" that paper had obtained over the "alleged" newspapers up at the county seat. "If you want the news, read the Sun," was the slogan at the top of the editorial column on the second page, followed by a line in parenthesis: ("If you want the Sun, don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Price Three Dollars a Year in Advance.")

All of the boarders sat at the same table in the dining-room. Punctuality at meals was obligatory. Miss Jennie Dowd was the cook. She was assisted by Miss Margaret Slattery, daughter of Martin Slattery, the grocer. Miss Mary Dowd had charge of the dining-room. She was likewise assisted by Miss Slattery. Between meals Miss Slattery did the dish-washing, chamber-work, light cleaning and "straightening," and still found room for her daily exercise, which consisted of half a dozen turns up and down Main Street in her best frock. Old Jim House did the outside chores about the place. He had worked at Dowd's Tavern for thirty-seven years, and it was his proud boast that he had never missed a day's work,--drunk or sober.

The new guest was given the seat of honour at table. He was placed between Mrs. Pollock and Miss Flora Grady, supplanting Doctor Simpson, who had held the honour ever since Charlie Webster's unfortunate miscalculation as to the durability of an unfamiliar brand of bourbon to which he had been introduced late one Sunday evening. It was a brand that wore extremely well,--so well, in fact, that when he appeared for dinner at noon on Monday he was still in a lachrymose condition over the death of his mother, an event which took place when he was barely six years old. Doctor Simpson relinquished the seat cheerfully. He had held it a year and he had grown extremely tired of having to lean back as far as possible in his chair so that Mrs. Pollock and Miss Grady could converse unobstructedly in front of him, a position that called for the utmost skill and deliberation on his part, especially when it came to conveying soup and "floating island" to such an altitude. (He had once resorted to the expedient of bending over until his nose was almost in the plate, so that they might talk across his back, but gave it up when Miss Molly Dowd acridly inquired if he smelt anything wrong with the soup.)

Mr. Hatch invited Courtney down to the studio to have his photograph taken, free of charge; Mr. Pollock subjected him to a long interview about the War; Mr. Webster notified him that he had laid in a small stock just prior to July the first and that all he had to do was to "say the word,"--or wink if it wasn't convenient to speak; Miss Grady told him, at great length, of her trip to New York in 1895, and inquired about certain landmarks in the Metropolis,--such as the aquarium, the Hoffman House, Madison Square, Stewart's Drygoods Store, Tiffany's place,--revealing a sort of lofty nonchalance in being able to speak of things she had seen while the others had merely read about them; Mrs. Pollock had him write in her autograph album, and wondered if he would not consent to give a talk before the Literary Society at its next meeting; and Margaret Slattery made a point of passing things to him first at meals, going so far as to indicate the choicest bits of "white meat," or the "second joint," if he preferred the dark, whenever they had chicken for dinner,--which was quite often.

Old Mr. Nichols, (the indigent father), remembered Courtney's grandfather very well, and, being apt to repeat himself, told and retold the story of a horse-trade in which he got the better of Silas Thane. Mrs. Nichols, living likewise in the remote past, remembered being in his grandmother's Sunday-school class, and how people used to pity the poor thing because Silas ran around considerable after other women,--'specially a lively-stableman's wife up in the city,--and what a terrible time she had when John Robinson's Circus came to town a little while before her first child was born and the biggest boa-constrictor in captivity escaped and eat up two lambs on Silas's farm before it went to sleep and was shot out in the apple orchard by Jake Billings. She often wondered whether her worrying about that snake had had any effect on the baby, who, it appears, ultimately grew up and became Courtney's father. The young man smilingly sought to reassure her, but after twice repeating his remark, looked so embarrassed that Mr. Hatch gloomily announced from the foot of the table:

"She's deef."

Now, as to Mr. Courtney Thane. He was a tall, spare young man, very erect and soldierly, with an almost unnoticeable limp. He explained this limp by confessing that he had got into the habit of favouring his left leg, which had been injured when his machine came down in flames a short distance back of the lines during a vicious gas attack by the enemy--(it was on this occasion that he was "gassed" while dragging a badly wounded comrade to a place of safety)--but that the member was quite as sound as ever and it was silly of him to go on being so confounded timid about it, especially as it hadn't been anything to speak of in the beginning,--nothing more, in fact, than a cracked knee joint and a trifling fracture of the ankle.

His hair was light brown, almost straw-coloured, and was brushed straight back from the forehead. A small, jaunty moustache, distinctly English in character, adorned his upper lip. His eyes were brown, set well back under a perfectly level, rather prominent brow. His mouth was wide and faintly satirical; his chin aggressively square; his nose long and straight. His voice was deep and pleasant, and he spoke with what Miss Miller described as a "perfectly fascinating drawl." Mrs. Pollock, who was quite an extensive reader of novels and governed her conversation accordingly went so far as to say that he was "the sort of chap that women fall in love with easily,"--and advised Miss Miller to keep a pretty sharp watch on her heart,--a remark that drew from Miss Miller the confession that she had rejected at least half a dozen offers of marriage and she guessed if there was any watching to be done it would have to be done by the opposite sex. (As Miss Miller had repeatedly alluded to these fruitless masculine manifestations, Mrs. Pollock merely sniffed,--and afterwards confided to Miss Molly Dowd her belief that if any one had ever asked Angie Miller to marry him she'd be a grandmother by this time.) From this, it may be correctly surmised that Miss Miller was no longer in the first bloom of youth.

Whenever Courtney appeared on Main Street, he was the centre not only of observation but of active attention. Nearly every one had some form of greeting for him. Introductions were not necessary. Women as well as men passed the time of day with him, and not a few of the former solicitously paused to inquire how he was feeling. Young girls stared at him and blushed, young boys followed his progress about town with wide, worshipful eyes,--for was he not a hero out of their cherished romance? He had to hear from the lips of ancient men the story of Antietam, of Chancellorsville and of Shiloh; eulogies and criticisms of Grant, McClellan and Meade; praise for the enemy chieftains, Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Johnston; comparisons in the matter of fatalities, marksmanship, generalship, hardships and all such, and with the inevitable conclusion that the Civil War was the greatest war ever fought for the simple reason that it was fought by men and not by machinery.

"And, what's more," declared old Captain House vigorously, "it was fit entirely by Americans, and not by every dodgasted nation on the face of the earth, no two of 'em able to understand a blamed word of what was being said by friend er foe." "And," added ex-Corporal Grimes, stamping the sidewalk with his peg leg, "what's more, there wasn't ary one of them Johnny Rebs that couldn't pick off a squirrel five hundred yards away with a rifle--a RIFLE, mind ye, not a battery of machine guns. Every time they was a fight, big er little, we used to stand out in the open and shoot at each other like soldiers--AND gentlemen--aimin' straight at the feller we'd picked out to kill. They tell me they was more men shot right smack between the eyes in the Civil War than all the other wars put together. Yes-sir-EE! And as fer REE-connoiterin', why it was nothin' for our men,--er the rebs, either, fer that matter,--to crawl up so close to the other side's camps that they could smell the vittels cookin',--and I remember a case when one of our scouts, bein' so overcome by the smell of a fried chicken, snuck right up and grabbed it offen the skillet when the cook's back was turned, and got away with it safe, too, b'gosh!"

CHAPTER V

TRESPASS

Courtney never was without the heavy English walking-stick on which he occasionally leaned for support. He took long strolls in the country, frequently passing the Windom place, and twice he had gone as far as the railed-in base of Quill's Window. From the footpath at the bottom he could look through the trees up to the bare crest of the rock. The gate through the high fence was padlocked, and contained a sign with the curt warning: "No Trespass." On the opposite side of the wide strip of meadow-land, in which cattle grazed placidly, he could see the abandoned house where Alix Crown was born,--a colourless, weather-beaten, two-storey frame building with faded green window shutters and a high-pitched roof blackened by rain and rot. Every shutter was closed; an atmosphere of utter desolation hung over the place.

Across that brown, sunburnt stretch of meadow-land when it was white and cold, old David Windom had carried the stiff body of Edward Crown,--and returning had borne the soft, limp figure of his stricken child. Courtney permitted his fancy to indulge in calculation. He followed with his eye what must have been the path of the slayer on that dreadful night. It led, no doubt, to the spot on which he now was standing, for just behind him was the suggestion of a narrow, weed-lined path that wormed its way through the trees toward the top of the great rock. He decided that one day soon he would disregard that sign on the gate, and climb up to the strange burial place of Edward Crown and Alix the Second.

He had tested his increasing strength and endurance by rowing up the river with Rosabel for a fair view of the hole in the face of the rock--Quill's Window. It was plainly visible from the river, a wide black gash in the almost perpendicular wall that reached well above the fringe of trees and underbrush along the steep bank of the stream.

He tried to picture Quill as he sat in his strange abode, a hundred years ago, cowering over the fire or reading perhaps by the light of a huge old-fashioned lanthorn. He thought of him hanging by the neck back in the dark recess, victim either of his own conscience or the implacable hatred of the enemy "down the river." And then there were the others who had found death in the heart of that mysterious cavern,--ugly death.


Quill's Window - 10/55

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