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- Quill's Window - 5/55 -
beside the lounge and prepared to go out into the night once more. Alix had promised not to send her father to the gallows. She was almost in a stupor after the complete physical and mental collapse, but she knew what she was doing, she realized what she was promising in return for the blow that had robbed her of the man she loved.
No one will ever know just what took place in that darkened sitting-room, for the story as afterwards related was significantly lacking in details. The light had been extinguished and the doors silently closed by the slayer. The stiffening body of Edward Crown out in the snow was not more silent than the interior of the old farmhouse, apart from the room in which David Windom pleaded with his stricken daughter.
And all the while he was begging her to save him from the consequences of his crime, his brain was searching for the means to dispose of the body of Edward Crown and to provide an explanation for the return of Alix without her husband.
Circumstances favoured him in a surprising manner. Young Crown and his wife had travelled down from Chicago in a day coach, and they had left the train at a small way station some five miles west of the Windom farm. Crown was penniless. He did not possess the means to engage a vehicle to transport them from the city to the farm, nor the money to secure lodging for the night in the cheapest hotel. Alix's pride stood in the way of an appeal to her husband's father or to any one of his friends for assistance. It was she who insisted that they leave the train at Hawkins station and walk to Windom's house. They had encountered no one who knew them, either on the train or at the station; while on their cold, tortuous journey along the dark highway they did not meet a solitary human being.
No one, therefore, was aware of their return.
Edward Crown's presence in the neighbourhood was unknown. If David Windom's plan succeeded, the fact that Crown had returned with his wife never would be known. To all inquirers both he and his daughter were to return the flat but evasive answer: "It is something I cannot discuss at present," leaving the world to arrive at the obvious conclusion that Alix's husband had abandoned her. And presently people, from sheer delicacy, would cease to inquire. No one would know that Crown had been ill up in the mountains for weeks, had lost his position, and had spent his last penny in getting his wife back to the house in which she was born,--and where her own child was soon to be born.
Windom went about the task of secreting his son-in-law's body in a most systematic, careful manner. He first carried the two "telescopes" into the house and hid them in a closet. Then he put on an old overcoat and cap, his riding boots and gloves. Stealing out to the rear of the house, he found a lantern and secured it to his person by means of a strap. A few minutes later he was ready to start off on his ghastly mission. Alix nodded her head dumbly when he commanded her to remain in the sitting-room and to make no sound that might arouse Maria Bliss. He promised to return in less than an hour.
"Your father's life depends on your silence, my child, from this moment on," he whispered in her ear.
She started up. "And how about my husband's life?" she moaned. "What of him? Why do you put yourself--"
"Sh! Your husband is dead. You cannot bring him to life. It is your duty,--do your hear?--your duty to spare the living. Remember what I said to you awhile ago. Never forget it, my child."
"Yes," she muttered. "'Blood is thicker than water.' I remember."
He went out into the night, closing the door softly behind him. The collie was at his heels. He was afraid to go alone. Grimly, resolutely he lifted the body of Edward Crown from the ground and slung it across his shoulder, the head and arms hanging down his back. Desperation added strength to his powerful frame. As if his burden were a sack of meal, he strode swiftly down the walk, through the gate and across the gravel road. The night was as black as ink, yet he went unerringly to the pasture gate a few rods down the road. Unlatching it, he passed through and struck out across the open, wind-swept meadow. The dog slunk along close behind him, growling softly. Snow was still falling, but the gale from the north was sweeping it into drifts, obliterating his tracks almost as soon as they were made.
Straight ahead lay the towering, invisible rock, a quarter of a mile away. He descended the ridge slope, swung tirelessly across the swales and mounds in the little valley, and then bent his back to the climb up the steep incline to Quill's Window. Picking his way through a fringe of trees, he came to the tortuous path that led to the crest of the great rock. Panting, dogged, straining every ounce of his prodigious strength, he struggled upward, afraid to stop for rest, afraid to lower his burden. The sides and the flat summit of the rock were full of treacherous fissures, but he knew them well. He had climbed the sides of Quill's Window scores of times as a boy, to sit at the top and gaze off over the small world below, there to dream of the great world outside, and of love, adventure, travel. Many a night, after the death of his beloved Alix, he had gone up there to mourn alone, to be nearer to the heaven which she had entered, to be closer to her. He knew well of the narrow fissure at the top,--six feet deep and the length of a grave! Filled only with the leaves of long dead years!
He lowered his burden to the bare surface of the rock. The wind had swept it clean. Under the protecting screen of his overcoat he struck a match and lighted the lantern. Then for the first time he studied closely the grey, still face of the youth he had slain. The skull was crushed. There was frozen blood down the back of the head and neck--He started up in sudden consternation. There would be blood-stains where the body had lain so long,--tell-tale, convicting stains! He must be swift with the work in hand. Those stains must be wiped out before the break of day.
Lowering himself into the opening, he began digging at one end with his hands, scooping back quantities of wet leaves. There was snow down there in the pit,--a foot or more of it. After a few minutes of vigorous clawing, a hole in the side of the fissure was revealed,--an aperture large enough for a man to crawl into. He knew where it led to: down into Quill's cave twenty feet below.
Some one,--perhaps an Indian long before the time of Quill, or it may have been Quill himself,--had chiselled hand and toe niches in the sides of this well and had used the strange shaft as means of getting into and out of the cave. Windom's father had closed this shaft when David was a small boy, after the venturesome youngster had gone down into the cave and, unable to climb out again, had been the cause of an all-day search by his distracted parent and every neighbour for miles around. The elder Windom had blocked the bottom of the hole with a huge boulder, shorn from the side of the cave by some remote wrench of nature. Then he had half filled the cavity from the top by casting in all of the loose stones to be found on the crest of the rock, together with a quantity of earth. The work had never been completed. There still remained a hole some ten feet deep.
David Windom clambered out, leaving his lantern below. Letting the dead man's body slide into the crevice, he followed, bent on at least partially finishing the job. When he climbed out a second time, Edward Crown was at the bottom of the hole and the wet, foul leaves again hid the opening. Tomorrow night, and the night after, he would come again to close the hole entirely with earth and stones, hiding forever the grewsome thing in Quill's "chimney," as the flue-like passage was called.
Extinguishing the lantern, he started down the hill at a reckless, break-neck speed. He had the uncanny feeling that he was being followed, that Edward Crown was dogging his footsteps. Halfway down, he stumbled and fell sprawling. As he started to rise, a sound smote his ears--the sound of footsteps. For many seconds he held his breath, terror clutching his throat. He WAS being followed! Some one was shuffling down the rock behind him. The collie! He had forgotten the dog. But even as he drew in the deep breath of relief, he felt his blood suddenly freeze in his veins. It was not the dog. Something approached that moaned and whimpered and was not mortal. It passed by him as he crouched to the earth,--a shadow blacker than the night itself. Suddenly the truth burst upon him.
"My God! Alix!"
Half an hour later he staggered into his house, bearing the form of his daughter,--tenderly, carefully, not as he had borne the despised dead.
She had followed him to the top of Quill's Window, she had witnessed the ghastly interment, and she had whispered a prayer for the boy who was gone.
The next day her baby was born and that night she died. Coming out of a stupor just before death claimed her, she said to David Windom:
"I am going to Edward. I do not forgive you, father. You must not ask that of me. You say it is my duty to save you from the gallows,--a child's duty to her parent. I have promised. I shall keep my promise. It is not in my heart to send you to the gallows. You are my father. You have always loved me. This is my baby,--mine and Edward's. She may live,--God knows I wish I might have died yesterday and spared her the accursed breath of life,--she may grow up to be a woman, just as I grew up. I do not ask much of you in return for what I have done for you, father. You have killed my Edward. I loved him with all my soul. I do not care to live. But my child must go on living, I suppose. My child and his. She is his daughter. I cannot expect you to love her, but I do expect you to take care of her. You say that blood is thicker than water. You are right. I cannot find it in my heart to betray you. You may tell the world whatever story you like about Edward. He is dead, and I shall soon be dead. You can hurt neither of us, no matter what you do. I ask two things of you. One is that you will be good to my baby as long as you may live, and the other is that you will bury me up there where you put Edward last night. I must lie near him always. Say to people that I have asked you to bury me in that pit at the top of Quill's Window,--that it was my whim, if you like. Close it up after you have placed me there and cover it with great rocks, so that Edward and I may never be disturbed. I want no headstone, no epitaph. Just the stones as they were hewn by God."
David Windom promised. He was alone in the room with her when she died.
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