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- Quill's Window - 6/55 -
Twenty years passed. Windom came at last to the end of his days. He had fulfilled his promises to Alix. He had taken good care of her daughter, he had given her everything in his power to give, and he had worshipped her because she was like both of the Alixes he had loved. She was Alix Crown,--Alix the Third, he called her.
On the day of his death, Windom confessed the crime of that far off night in March. In the presence of his lawyer, his doctor, his granddaughter and the prosecuting attorney of the county, he revealed the secret he had kept for a score of years. The mystery of Edward Crown's disappearance was cleared up, and for the first time in her young life Alix was shorn of the romantic notion that one day her missing father would appear in the flesh, out of the silences, to claim her as his own. From earliest childhood, her imagination had dealt with all manner of dramatic situations; she had existed in the glamour of uncertainty; she had looked upon herself as a character worthy of a place in some gripping tale of romance. The mound of rocks on the crest of Quill's Window, surrounded by a tall iron paling fence with its padlocked gate, covered only the body of the mother she had never seen. She did not know until this enlightening hour that her father was also there and had been throughout all the years in which fancy played so important a part.
Like all the rest of the world, she was given to understand that her father had cruelly abandoned her mother. In her soul she had always cherished the hope that this heartless monster might one day stand before her, pleading and penitent, only to be turned away with the scorn he so richly deserved. She even pictured him as rich and powerful, possessed of everything except the one great boon which she alone could give him,--a daughter's love. And she would point to the top of Quill's Window and tell him that he must first look there for forgiveness,--under the rocks where his broken-hearted victim slept.
The truth stunned her. She was a long time in realizing that her grandfather, whom she both loved and feared,--this grim, adoring old giant,--not only had murdered her father but undoubtedly had killed her mother as well. The story that David Windom had written out and signed at the certain approach of death, read aloud in his presence by the shocked and incredulous lawyer, and afterwards printed word for word in the newspapers at the old man's command, changed the whole course of life for her. In fact, her nature underwent a sharp but subtle change. There was nothing left to her of the old life, no thought, no purpose, no fancy; all had been swept up in a heap and destroyed in the short space of half an hour. Everything in her life had to be reconstructed, made-over to suit the new order. She could no longer harbour vengeful thoughts concerning her father, she could no longer charge him with the wanton destruction of her mother's happiness.
The grandfather she had loved all her life assumed another shape entirely; he was no longer the same, and never again could be the same. She did not hate him. That was impossible. She had never seen her parents, so she had not known the love of either. They did not belong in her life except through the sheerest imagination. Her grandfather was the only real thing she had had in life, and she had adored him. He had killed two people who were as nothing to her, but he had taken the place of both. How could she bring herself to hate this man who had destroyed what were no more than names to her? Father,--Mother! Two words,--that was all. And for twenty long years he had been paying,--Oh, how he must have paid!
She recalled his reason for taking her to England when she was less than eight years old and leaving her there until she was twelve. She remembered that he had said he wanted her to be like her grandmother, to grow up among her people, to absorb from them all that had made the first Alix so strong and fine and true. And then he had come to take her from them, back to the land of her birth, because, he said, he wanted her to be like her mother, the second Alix,--an American woman. She recalled his bitter antipathy to co-educational institutions and his unyielding resolve that she should complete her schooling in a Sacred Heart Convent. She remembered the commotion this decision created among his neighbours. In her presence they had assailed him with the charge that he was turning the girl over, body and soul, to the Catholic Church, and he had uttered in reply the never to be forgotten words:
"If I never do anything worse than that for her, I'll be damned well satisfied with my chance of getting into heaven as soon as the rest of you."
When David's will was read, it was found that except for a few small bequests, his entire estate, real and personal, was left to his granddaughter, Alix Crown, to have and to hold in perpetuity without condition or restriction of any sort or character.
The first thing she did was to have a strong picket fence constructed around the base of the hill leading up to Quill's Window, shutting off all accessible avenues of approach to the summit. Following close upon the publication of David Windom's confession, large numbers of people were urged by morbid curiosity to visit the strange burial-place of Edward and Alix Crown. The top of Quill's Window became the most interesting spot in the county. Alix the Third was likewise an object of vast interest, and the old, deserted farmhouse on the ridge came in for its share of curiosity.
Almost immediately after the double tragedy and the birth of little Alix, David Windom moved out of the house and took up his residence in the riverside village of Windomville, a mile to the south. The old house was closed, the window shutters nailed up, the doors barred, and all signs of occupancy removed. It was said that he never put foot inside the yard after his hasty, inexplicable departure. The place went to rack and ruin. In course of time he built a new and modern house nearer the village, and this was now one of the show places of the district.
The influence of Alix the First was expressed in the modelling of house and grounds, the result being a picturesque place with a distinctly English atmosphere, set well back from the highway in the heart of a grove of oaks,--a substantial house of brick with a steep red tile roof, white window casements, and a wide brick terrace guarded by a low ivy-draped wall. English ivy swathed the two corners of the house facing the road, mounting high upon the tall red chimneys at the ends. There were flower-beds below the terrace, and off to the right there was an old-fashioned garden. The stables were at the foot of the hill some distance to the rear of the house.
The village of Windomville lay below, hugging the river, a relic of the days when steamboats plied up and down the stream and railways were remote, a sleepy, insignificant, intensely rural hamlet of less than six hundred inhabitants. Its one claim to distinction was the venerable but still active ferry that laboured back and forth across the river. Of secondary importance was the ancient dock, once upon a time the stopping place of steamboats, but now a rotten, rickety obstruction upon which the downstream drift lodged in an unsightly mass.
In the solid red-brick house among the oaks Alix the Third had spent her childhood days. She was taken to England when she was eight by her haunted grandfather, not only to receive the bringing-up of an English child, but because David Windom's courage was breaking down. As she grew older, the resemblance to Edward Crown became more and more startling. She had his dark, smiling eyes; his wavy brown hair; her very manner of speech was like his. To David Windom, she was the re-incarnation of the youth he had slain. Out of her eyes seemed to look the soul of Edward Crown. He could not stand it. She became an obsession, a curious source of fascination. He could not bear her out of his sight, and yet when she was with him, smiling up into his eyes,--he was deathly afraid of her. There were times when he was almost overcome by the impulse to drop to his knees and plead for forgiveness as he looked into the clear, friendly, questioning eyes of Edward Crown.
And her voice, her speech,--therein lay the true cause of his taking her to England. When she came home to him, after four years, there was no trace of Edward Crown in her voice or manner of speaking. She was almost as English as Alix the First. But her eyes had not changed; he was still a haunted man.
In the little graveyard on the outskirts of the village more than a score of Windoms lie. With them lies all that was mortal of fair Alix the First, and beside her is David Windom, the murderer.
"And what has become of Alix the Third?" inquired the young man, squinting at his wristwatch and making out in the semi-darkness that it was nearly half-past nine.
He had listened somewhat indulgently to the story of the three Alixes. The old man, prompted and sometimes disputed by other members of the family, had narrated in his own simple way the foregoing tale, arriving at the end in a far more expeditious and certainly in a less studied manner than the present chronicler employs in putting the facts before his readers. The night was hot. He was occasionally interrupted by various members of the little group on the front porch of the big old farmhouse, the interruption invariably taking the form of a conjecture concerning the significance of certain signs ordinarily infallible in denoting the approach of rain. Heat lightning had been playing for an hour or more in the gloomy west; a tree-toad in a nearby elm was prophesying thunder in unmelodious song: night-birds fluttered restlessly among the lofty branches; widely separated whiffs of a freshening wind came around the corner of the house. All of these had a barometric meaning to the wistful group. There was a thunderstorm on the way. It was sure to come before morning. The prayers inaugurated a month ago were at last to be answered.
As old man Brown drily remarked: "There's one satisfaction about prayin' for rain. If you keep at it long enough, you're bound to get what you're askin' for. Works the same way when you're prayin' for it to stop rainin'. My grandfather once prayed for a solid two months before he got rain, and then, by gosh, he had to pray for nearly three weeks to get it to quit."
Supper over, the young man had reminded his venerable angling companion of his promise to relate the history of Quill's Window. Old Caleb Brown was the father of Mrs. Vick,--Lucinda Vick, wife of the farmer in whose house the young man was spending a month as a boarder.
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