The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware

The Mystery of the Red Deeps

Chapter 1: The Thin Edge of the Wedge

    Well, if you want me to tell you a story out of my own experience, I will tell you of the first case I was ever engaged upon. In some respects, as you will be able to judge by the sequel, it was the most remarkable case I ever had on my hands, and I think fully the most interesting. I had gone into a private Detective Bureau because I loved a mystery, and the solution of one, and I had taken the step against the wishes of my family, particularly of my uncle the Bishop, who fancied that I should have taken holy orders. I had been about as idle for the first three months as it is possible for a fellow to be, and then I suddenly found myself in harness. It was a morning in July, and I was looking over the paper with slack interest, when my chief, who was similarly employed, brought his open hand down on his desk with a bang that made me jump. “At last,” he exclaimed. I sat up, expecting to hear something, but he rose, went to a cabinet, and brought out a file of papers. He turned them over for so long that I lost interest, and began to dawdle with the news again. A moment after he spoke: “Arahill, look here.” I read the advertisement which he pointed out to me. “Wanted, a Tutor for a Young Girl, clergyman preferred. Apply, stating terms, to Mrs. Margherita Skene, Red Deeps, Denham.” “Well,” I said, “we don’t supply clergymen as tutors.” “We do for cases of this kind,” he said, meaningly. “Twenty years or so ago,” he continued, “I haunted that little village, and was much interested in Mrs. Skene, but I could make nothing out of the case, so that if you are anxious to win your spurs this is your chance.” I was eager for a chance, as he knew, and I waited for him to explain. “About twenty years ago,” he said, “but no . . . here are all the papers; they will tell you as well as I can everything that there is to know, and as you will have to read them you may do so now. If you decide to take up the case, go ahead.”
    I read and studied those documents all morning; I was oblivious of everything, and I found myself at two o’clock with luncheon missed, but [Page 57] with a full command of all the facts in the case, which I have called, “The Mystery of the Red Deeps.” These facts were briefly as follows:
    Mr. Alexander Skene was a retired officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who had spent thirty years of his life in Canada. He retired when he was forty-eight, with his life somewhat broken by exposure and hardship. He had collected a considerable fortune, and considering the life he had led he was a man of culture and taste. He did not find his leisure much to his liking, and he was restless, moving about hither and thither, first in Scotland, then in Sweden, then in Hungary. He was unmarried, and although he had relatives in Scotland he had no ties. In the spring of 1848 he went to Italy, and for a year there was no record of his movements, but in the next year he landed in New York and went on to Canada. He was accompanied by his wife and child, his wife’s sister, and a little lad, who was a sort of attendant. During his sojourn in Italy he had married an Italian girl, Margherita Corramboni. He may have spent a day or two in Montreal, but he did not visit any of his former acquaintances, and, after a short time, went to a house he owned in the village of Denham, in Mississiquoi County, called The Red Deeps. The party arrived on the evening of September 16th, 1848. The house had been opened, and a little set to rights by a former servant of Skene’s, Alberta Westwick.
    The same night Skene was taken violently ill, and died before the doctor could reach him. When he came he pronounced death to be due to a sudden collapse of the heart. He was buried in the village churchyard. Everything was done decently and in order. He was not well known in the village, but there was much sympathy expressed for the young wife in her great trial, a trial which she bore with becoming resignation. She settled her husband’s estate, and decided to remain in Denham, although she had an ample fortune, and could have returned to her home if she had been so minded. From that day to the day I read the documents in the case, the life at Red Deeps seemed to have gone on without variation. Only once had that life attracted any attention from the world, and this was quite unknown to the inmates of the Denham mansion. They would have been unpleasantly surprised to know that their history was being compiled in a Detective Bureau, and that for more than a year one of the cleverest men in the profession had endeavoured in vain to penetrate the circle of their family life. About a year after Mr. Skene’s death our bureau had received a letter from a gentleman in Scotland, a cousin of the deceased, Nicholas Thompson by name, which set forth that on the morning of September 17th, 18[48], he had been visited by a vision of such distinctness in some particulars that he had been constrained, when he heard of his cousin’s death, to [Page 58] take more serious notice of it than he would otherwise. When it was repeated in all its main features three times in as many months he could not fail to consider the warning.
    He had been for some time confined to his bed from an attack of sciatica, and on the morning in question he had fallen into a light doze, when he heard some one call him twice. He seemed to recognize the voice as that of his favorite cousin, Alexander Skene, but it was so changed that he could not arrive at a certain conclusion. After a moment’s pause, and the dream always unfolded itself in this sequence, he heard a confusion of talk in the voices of women, nothing of which could he comprehend. Then he saw the picture of a room, half illuminated by a flickering night light and the rays of the moon. On a low pallet in the middle of the floor lay his cousin Alexander Skene. He endeavoured to raise himself, and fell back again and again. At the foot of the bed sat a lad with the proportions of a dwarf, who seemed to preside over the scene, and who never made a movement to assist the sufferer. But at last, when his exhaustion seemed to be complete, and he only had strength for a moan and a weak fling of the hand, the lad called, “Alberta!” There was a hurried footstep at the door, and the woman entered; in a moment she was down at the bedside; with a struggle, and with her assistance, he raised himself on his elbow. He had the strength to say, “Ugo. Call my wife, Margherita.” The lad left the room. There was a silence. Skene supported himself, clinging to the kneeling woman for a moment.
    Then his hand relaxed and slipped on her shoulder, and slipped further, and fell nerveless on the coverlet. His shoulder gave with his weight; his head fell, and the strong arm around him laid him back—dead. His hand, as it slipped from its hold on the woman’s shoulder, had left a slip of paper there, which fell over her breast, and lay on the bed beside the hand which had held it. The woman Alberta picked it up, and slipped it between the buttons of her waist. There was a pause, then the sound of swift feet in the hall, and a terrible cry, “Alexander, Alexander!” it rang; and then, as a figure with a wild movement, flung itself along the floor by the bed, and took the dead in its arms, again the cry, “Alexander, Alexander! My God, have pity, . . . they have murdered my husband!” Then there was a confusion of lights and sounds, without form, that broke in upon the vision. But after a while the dreamer saw the room again, very clearly. The pallet bed was there, empty; the walls were hung with bundles that looked like dresses covered with linen bags; the night light was still on the mantel-shelf; beside it was a blue cup. A small rocking chair was at the foot of the bed, where the lad had been. Beside the bed lay a slip of paper which had fallen [Page 59] from the woman’s dress. There was not a soul in the room. Then the woman who had answered to the name Alberta came in hurriedly, hid the paper in her bosom, and went away.
    This was the vision which had occurred with such persistency, and although in many particulars it was as clear cut as a cameo, in others it was confused and obscure. For instance, while the figures of his cousin and the boy were perfectly clear, those of the women were shadowy and indistinct. He was fully convinced that his cousin had been murdered, but after a careful investigation there seemed to be no foundation for such a belief. It may have been that our officer had a half-hearted interest in his case, but he never succeeded in penetrating the house. In fact very little seemed to have been known of the family life in the village of that day. It may have been that Nicholas Thompson’s infrequent and somewhat unwilling remittances tended to dampen our faith in his perfect belief in the vision. However it might have been, nothing came of the investigation. But, granted that there was a reason for failure, and that it had been the impossibility of reaching the inner recesses of the family life of the Skenes, here at last was an opportunity of overcoming that difficulty. Disguised as a young curate, I could have perfect knowledge of everything that went on in the house.
    It was a quixotic enterprise to set about uncovering a murder upon the wild dream of a Scotchman, dead twenty years; but there was something about the dream which stirred me, and there was just sufficient mystery over the whole affair to make me even eager to see the interior of the Red Deeps. I had resolved. The next step was to gain the appointment. I bethought myself of my uncle, the Bishop; a word from him would surely be powerful. But I found it easier to imagine his aid secured than to get it. I laid the case before him, but he stormed: that having chosen my calling against his wishes he was not going to assist me . . . was not going to put a mock cassock on my back when I had refused a real one. But at last, by proving to him that he was probably retarding justice he gave me a reluctant recommendation. Reluctant or not, it was efficacious. The Bishop certifying to the character of his nephew was all powerful. The word curate was not mentioned, but I presented the letter in person, and my meek face, and my clerical garb pronounced it aloud. After a half-hour’s interview with Mrs. Skene I obtained the appointment. I had no great preparations to make, and in four days, accompanied by my professional wardrobe and a few books, devotional and otherwise, I found myself the single passenger in the stage for Denham. The driver had been over the road for twenty years, and knew the whole country side, but he knew nothing of the Skenes. I plied him with questions vigorously. “The’re almighty well off, [Page 60] I guess, but there’s no mixing with them, . . . the furrin blood, maybe. They have a hired boy there knows a thing or two about horses. Are you agoing there?”
    To an affirmative he remarked inconsequently, “He’s about the strongest boy I ever clapped eyes on.”
    The boy seemed to oppress his mind. Certainly he seemed to me a strong “boy,” for he threw my trunk, heavy with books, across his broad shoulders, and walked with it upstairs as if it had been a bundle of hay. He dropped it lightly, too, and stood grinning before me, a squat, square figure, with arms too short even for his short body, with a round rugged looking head, shaggy with a fell of hair. But in that head there rolled two eyes that I thought then and still think were lit with a devilish and malevolent cunning.

Chapter II: A Dream Out of the Ivory Gate

    As I lay in bed the first morning of my stay in Denham, after a refreshing slumber, I revolved the matter in my mind. Ostensibly I was a curate with the clergyman’s sore throat, who was willing to act as tutor to a young girl while he was awaiting his voice; really I harboured the dark suspicion that in this house was a mysterious room in which, years ago, one Alexander Skene was murdered. And upon what were my suspicions founded? Upon the dream of a man I had never seen, and who had long ago ceased to dream dreams, which coincided in some particulars with facts. There was the name of the attendant, Alberta, there was the boy Ugo. That was all I had that was tangible. What else had I? I had the slip of paper which might be somewhere in existence: I had the description of the room which I might discover; I had those terrible words, “My God, have pity, they have murdered my husband!” which had been heard by at least two persons. This was supposing the dream to be a true revelation. It was not much to go upon, and if events did not help me out, I could soon cut short my career as tutor.
    I was assigned a room in one corner of the spacious old house. It looked into the broad yard or drive-way at the side, and out upon the main road. The land fell away into a miniature valley, and beyond that a maple grove rose on the ridge. It was a charming landscape. The house was ample, and was furnished in a comfortable, though homely, style; deep chairs, ancient-looking sofas, which seemed, after years of practice, to have mastered the art of accommodating themselves to every curve of the figure. There was [Page 61] much native Indian work, which Skene had had ample opportunity to collect, and this was companioned by Italian ware from Naples, and curious pottery from Cairo and the far East. Altogether the apartments with their furnishings gave an impression of comfort, with a touch of strangeness in decoration which was distinctive.
    There was also a strangeness in the domestic life which I remarked before I had spent one day in the house, but which may have arisen in great part from the peculiarities of the members of the family. Mrs. Skene would have been a study for any painter, and a subject for any novelist. A master in either art would have delighted in the splendid vigour of her face and form, and the inflexible courage which looked from her eyes. Her hair was as black as night, and her color was yet as fresh as a young girl’s. She had a will of iron; if there was any current coin of metaphor to describe a harder, a more inflexible thing I would use it. That house was ruled by her with absolute command; there was no escaping from her decision.
    Her sister was her complete and perfect opposite. She seemed as willless as an infant; her every movement shewed her perfect subservience to the strong nature of Mrs. Skene. Hypnotism was not a fashion in those days. If it had been, I would have said that she was hypnotized. Miss Skene, whose guide and preceptor I had engaged to be, was a brown-eyed, sweet-faced girl without much character, I at first thought. I changed this opinion later on, but I should not overleap events.
    Ugo I have already partially described. He seemed to be at once the menial and the factotum of Mrs. Skene. He appeared to be omnipresent; wherever I went, in the house or out of it, he was there. I soon came to the conclusion that he was carefully watching me. There was only one servant in the house, Sarah Westwick. She was a half-witted creature of enormous size, with a moustache like a man, and a voice of great power. Still there was something human about her, and she was open to be touched by kindness, as I soon found out. Ugo spent a great deal of his time in teasing her; by striking and pinching he had reduced her to a state of extreme terror.
    One morning about a week after my arrival, I was coming from the garden through the back hall when I saw Ugo steal behind Sarah, who was leaving the dairy with a pan of cream. He caught both her arms and pinched them, but she still held the cream. Then he darted about, snatched the dish from her, and began to drink from it. I had entered the hall unnoticed by either, and as I passed Ugo, whose face was in the pan, I gave it a tilt with my elbow, and sent the contents streaming over his neck and shoulders. The poor girl could hardly believe her eyes when she saw her enemy covered [Page 62] with the cream, but she soon broke into her hoarse, roaring laugh, and after that she would have suffered for me, as her every action shewed.
    The morning was usually occupied by lessons, and I found my pupil so intelligent that I had difficulty in keeping pace with her. I had a call very early in my stay from the rector, who gave me an uncomfortable quarter of an hour by insisting that I should preach for him the next Sunday, but my chronic sore throat was a sufficient excuse for my refusal.
    I was constantly on the watch for a chance to trap Master Ugo, for without some power over him I could not go about unobserved. He watched me incessantly, and, I thought, sometimes came to my door at night. He had been hanging about more than usual one afternoon, and, to my great relief, he disappeared after dinner. As it was a fine evening I took my stick and hat and went for a stroll through the fields. Denham consisted of only one street, so that the garden at the rear of the house adjoined the field.
    As I was returning home by starlight, intending to reach the house by this rear garden, I saw a curious wavering light upon the leaves of a rose tree that grew upon the banks of the ravine, through which a brook ran in spring, but which was then quite dry. I made my way as cautiously as possible to the edge of the little gorge, and looked down. There was a brilliant fire, evidently made of hardwood chips, and a little kettle over it. I could see no one in the circle of the fire, but by some intuition I thought of Ugo. If he had built the fire he was not far off, whatever he might be doing. It was mere curiosity which made me wish to know what was in the pot. I threw myself face downward, and reaching with my walking-stick, I found that I could hook it into the handle, and I carefully pulled it up. I had hardly landed it when I heard some one coming up the ravine, and peeping through the trees I saw Ugo. I did not wait to see what he did or said. I snatched my prize and ran to the house.
    When I reached my room I found that I had caught my man. He had been melting the silver spoons. Here was a whip that I could hold over his shoulders, which would force him to play the spy less eagerly, for he feared his mistress only, and I had caught him deliberately robbing her. I put the pot in my trunk and locked it securely. Then I found that in my hurry I had dropped by cane.
    It may have been about midnight when I was awakened by a tapping at my window. I leaped out of bed. There was Master Ugo hanging by his fingers. Under his arm he held my cane.
    “Something of yours,” he said.
    I took it from him. [Page 63]
    “I have something of yours,” I said, “which I will not give up, . . . unless I give it to Mrs. Skene.”

    To my perfect surprise he let go his hold, and dropped into the garden, which must have been twenty feet below, and slipped around the corner of the house. I went back to bed with curious thoughts.
    So soon as I had become acquainted with the house I had made a plan of it, and as I found out the uses to which each room was put, I carefully plotted it on the drawing. I had gradually accounted for all the room[s] in the main body of the house. There was a wing, however, and to the rooms in the second story of this wing I could not gain access. There was only one main stairway, and the entrance to this wing in the second story would have been to the left of the landing. I examined the wall carefully one day, and came to the conclusion that it had been built long after the main house was erected. A beam appeared in the hall below, which could have been needed for no other purpose than to support the extra weight of this wall. How then was entrance had to this new wing? If it was used at all there must be some way to reach it.
    My fair pupil and I had formed the habit of a little polite conversation outside the range of our studies, which was all the more agreeable to me as I found her an entertaining companion. So one day, turning the talk upon the subject of the house, and expressing a great liking for it and its arrangement, I asked her, as innocently as I could, how access was obtained to the rooms over the wing.
    “I do not know,” she answered, simply, “I am never allowed to go there.”
    Now a child will ramble over a house from cellar to attic, and know every nook and corner, and it was strange that this girl had never discovered how to reach these rooms. I passed her answer without remark, but I set myself assiduously to solve the mystery.
    The main part of the house was much higher than the wing, and the attic was built with dormer windows. Mrs. Skene had dropped the remark one day that there were some old maps and charts in this attic, and on the pretext that I was interested in such things, I obtained access to it. It covered the whole extent of the main part of the house; from the dormer windows I could look down on the flat roof of the wing. I saw that this roof was pierced by a man-hole covered in the usual way. One of the windows was directly over the roof, and to reach the man-hole I would have to creep out on the eave from the dormer and drop to the roof of the wing. I formed a plan of action, and only waited a favourable opportunity to carry it out. [Page 64]
    At length, one dark, still night, when rain threatened, I left my room at midnight and crept up to the attic. I had provided myself with a stout rope, and a heavy steel poker which I found in the attic, which took the place of a crowbar; I also had my revolver and my dark lantern. Fixing the rope securely to a beam of the roofing I let myself down cautiously. To my surprise and relief I found that the cap on the man-hole could be partly raised, and with a good, steady pull the hook which held it gave way. By feeling about I found that the eye of the other hook was missing. A ladder led down into the darkness. I followed it rung by rung. When I reached the floor I paused a moment for breath. Then I slipped the slide of my lantern. I was in the low attic over the wing. The head of the stair was at my hand. I carefully went down, and I found myself in a long hall, with rooms on one side only. The passage terminated at the blank wall which separated the wing from the main body of the house.
    Now for the rooms. The first one was empty. The door of the second had been removed; there was nothing in it. The last one remained. The door was ajar; I pushed it open and entered. There was a low pallet bed in the centre; hanging upon the walls were bundles that looked like dresses protected by linen coverings; at the foot of the bed was a small rocking-chair; on the mantel was a blue cup and a night light. I made my way back as quickly as I could, but not too quickly to notice the stair that came from the flat below. I replaced the cap, hand over hand climbed the rope, and soon found myself in my own room.
    I went to bed and reflected upon my discovery, checking it against the vision of the Scotchman, and recalling all the particulars with a vividness almost unbearable in my excited condition. If I was to have success, certainly I had taken the first step.

Chapter III: The Ghost of Memory

    I had been at the Red Deeps for a month, and my researches had perhaps been comparatively fruitless, but I had established the existence of the mysterious room described by Nicholas Thompson, and this to me was a matter of first importance. It gave me added faith in the dream, and the dream was the most substantial evidence I had. Now, I had something positive to confirm and enforce it. In the meantime I had spent a most enjoyable month, for I did not allow my secret suspicion to interfere with either my duties or my pleasure. My pupil, Janet Skene, had a very pretty voice, and a Scotch way of singing Scotch songs, and I know of nothing so [Page 65] charming as that. I could manage in those days to make a tolerable accompaniment, and frequently of an evening we got together and made music, which seemed to be acceptable to the girl’s mother and her aunt. They enjoyed it, each in her own way, Mrs. Skene sitting bolt upright in her chair, with her glittering eyes fixed upon us, and giving no sign of pleasure, and her sister hidden somewhere in the shadow, effacing herself as usual, and sometimes, I believed, weeping a little over “Auld Robin Grey”; although it was oftener the stirring songs we sang, “There was a lad was born in Kyle,” or “The Rover of Loch Ryan.”
    The more I saw of the relationship of these sisters the more I was puzzled, and the feeling culminated one night when Mrs. Skene offered to sing a Neapolitan song for us, which was surprising enough in itself, but the result of which was still more so[.] She had a hard voice, and I had to force praise of her performance, but the effort was cut short by a strange noise from the corner where Miss Vittoria sat. We found she had fainted dead away, and she had to be carried to her room. She made a remark to me the next day to excuse herself, but I got it into my head that the singing of that song had more to do with her faint than the closeness of the room.
    Two or three nights after that something occurred that gave me food for reflection. I remember that night well; it was wild with wind and alive with lightning, but the storms were aloof, and no rain had fallen in the village. I had gone to bed, and had fallen into my first slumber when I was awakened by a thunderous hammering on some door, followed by a shriek, and words yelled out in a most agonized voice. I leaped out of bed and went to the window. The shrieks continued, growing in fury, and were mixed with indescribable sounds which seemed like the maledictions of some distressed fiend. I lifted my window and opened the blind. It was so dark that I could see nothing, but I found that the noise was coming from the yard, and the hammering was upon the side door. Suddenly a flash of lightning gave me sight of the figure of a woman standing there. She was clothed in a motley of rags, and when the flash came she had raised a club for another assault on the door. The darkness came back, and the club fell on the panels with a force which would have broken them had they not been of solid oak.
    She had hardly time for another blow when the door was thrown open, and Ugo appeared with the lantern. He roared and swore, and there was a high war of words; then, as the woman tried to strike him, he parried her stroke, and made a thrust at her with a red-hot iron that some one seemed to hand him from behind. There was a horrid screech of pain, and the lightning shewed me the woman retreating from the doorstep. But she was back again in a moment, only to be burned once more with the iron. Then Ugo [Page 66] made an advance from the door, and the woman gave way before him. I noticed that some one was holding the lantern, and a moment later, as the light advanced with Ugo, I saw that it was Miss Vittoria. She looked like a ghost as the light from the lantern, which she held high above her head, fell over her features. I never before saw a face of such abject terror. Ugo was driving the intruder from the yard, and she finally withdrew down the road, cursing and screaming. I shut the blind softly and the window, but even then I could hear those terrible sounds.
    The next morning Mrs. Skene asked me if I had been disturbed during the night, but I assured her I had slept soundly, “despite the storm,” I added. Later in the morning, when Janet and I were at our work, she looked up at me with frightened eyes, and asked, “Did you really not hear any noise in the night? It was that crazy woman, Alberta Westwick, Sarah’s mother, you know. She used to be a servant of Mamma’s, and she is sometimes very violent. Once or twice she has had to go the Asylum, and I am afraid that Mamma will have to send her there again.” I asked where she lived. “In a little house behind the sugar-bush.” This was all I wanted to know, so I proceeded with the lesson. But I made up my mind to see Alberta Westwick before Mrs. Skene had had a chance to send her to the Asylum.
    The next afternoon a favorable opportunity offered, and I set out to find the unfortunate creature. Ugo had driven his mistress over the hills to take the air, so I was sure that he would not trouble me. I walked through the fields and into the sugar-bush, a pleasant place in the summer, with its well separated trees, and the cleanness of the spaces covered with dead leaves. There was a gradual rise of the ground on which the bush grew, and I was surprised to find that instead of descending similarly on the other side it fell away abruptly, and I had to search for a safe path. I soon found one. When I had reached the level ground the whole aspect of nature was so changed that a less acute observer could hardly have passed it over. The ground was lumpy, uneven, and destitute of trees; before I had gone fifty feet I noticed water between the hummocks. It was evidently the beginning of the swamp where the tamaracks, which I could see some distance off, grew. I had to be careful of my footing, and I skirted close to the miniature precipice down which I had clambered. I had not gone very far before I came to a little hut built beside a detached rock. There was an iron spring not far off, and the red oxidation had spread along the course of the stream, leaving a grewsome stain on the grassy hummock.
    I knocked at the door of the shanty, and a moment later it was thrown open. The figure which stood in the light was the same I had last seen by [Page 67] the flash of lightning. The face was haggard with pain; one hand was bound up in a dirty cloth. Her dress was indescribable; she seemed to be a bunch of clothes, of varied colors. She stood a moment looking at me. I called her by name. She would not let me within the door, but came out and sat upon a stone. I asked her how she had hurt her hand, but she at once became sulky, and a reference to Mrs. Skene made her more so. Then, without more ado, I pronounced words which, if there was to be a continuation of truth in the vision, would have a strange power over her. “My God, have pity, they have murdered my husband.”
    I have since seen the change wrought by many a momentous sentence, on many a face, but that was the strangest of all. She looked at me as if I was one of the demons that had haunted her madness. Then a cunning look overspread her face; then she made a low sound of fear, and covered her face with her hands.
    “She said it,” she cried, “she said it.”
    “Who said it?” I asked.
    “I don’t know now. She said it—my mistress. But now everything is changed.”
    “Tell me, Alberta. I am your friend, and Sarah’s friend.”
    “He was sick—sick—and he died, and that’s what she said—but I would not give it up—Alberta would not—for she could read once—then Sarah came, and I was dead for years, and they killed me, but I would not give it up.”
    “You mean the little slip of paper; it was on your shoulder, and it slipped to the bed, and you put it in your dress, and when you found you had lost it you came back and picked it up.”
    She looked at me vaguely. “Were you there?” she said.
    “No, but I have heard about it. Tell me more.”
    “I have forgotten only what you tell me.”
    “Well, there was the little blue cup, what was in it?”
    “The cup, —yes—it had the medicine.”
    “And Ugo had a little chair by the bed—little Ugo, not big Ugo.”
    “You were there—you tell me, who gave him the medicine.”
    I was surprised at her question, “You must show me the paper first,” I said. I had obtained complete control over her[.] She went into the hovel, and I followed. There she dug in the earth, and uncovered a little jar. In this was an old leather purse, and from the purse she produced a slip of paper. My hand trembled as I unfolded it. The words written there were faint, and scrawled with a failing hand. [Page 68]
    “It was Vittoria who gave him the poison,” I said quickly. She shook her head. “Well, it was Ugo?”
    “Everything is changed,” she said, “I could read once, but not now.”
    I read her the words written on the paper: “Ugo—the blue cup—Vittoria— poisoned.”
    “That is it,” she said, “that is what it says, I remember. But who is Vittoria?”
    “Why you know, Alberta, Mrs. Skene’s sister. You know Miss Vittoria?”
    “No,” she cried out, confusedly. “Everything is dark because I went mad; but you were there, although I did not see you.”
    She went on raving for a while, but she would not let me take the paper from her. As I knew she had guarded it for twenty years, and that it would be safe, I contented myself with taking a careful copy of it.
    On my way home I noticed that the field on the other side of the bush was full of blue violets, and I picked a handful to present to Miss Janet.
    That night I sat in the room with those two women, listening to Miss Janet sing, and I had strange thoughts. One of them was a murderess. Of that I was now convinced; and the other, for some strange reason known only to herself, had aided in concealing the crime. “I will solve this mystery,” I said to myself, but I had hardly formed the resolve when I thought of Janet—the shame and disgrace my success would bring upon her, and I shuddered. For a moment I faltered, but instead of resolving to go away and never see the Red Deeps again, I commenced to dream of how I could aid her if she had to face a trouble of my bringing.

Chapter IV: The Advance in Shadow

I had succeeded in verifying the strange vision of Nicholas Thompson. But how was I to bring that to bear upon the solution of the mystery? I might arrest Ugo and the two women, but how could I bring any evidence to bear against them? I had the words of a mad woman, whose memory was broken by her malady, and I had a scrap of paper which might have been written by anyone able to write. No, it would never do for me to risk such a move.
    One thing which gave me cause for much reflection was the relationship which existed between these two women. Vittoria was moved by Margherita as a queen is moved by the hand of a master chess-player. Was it that the wife had taken this means of punishing her husband’s murderess, [Page 69] and for her revenge was slowly torturing her with fear of exposure? I was thinking such thoughts one evening, as I was lost in one of the great chairs in the parlor. I had been listening while Miss Janet was playing. That evening she had dressed herself in an old-fashioned gown of her aunt’s, had done her hair in the manner of a by-gone time and had made herself a very picture of quaintness. Mrs. Skene had not made her appearance, and this was intended as a surprise for her. Miss Vittoria seemed hugely pleased by the disguise, and took more interest in it than in anything which had occurred since my arrival. I had given way to my own thoughts for a moment, when Mrs. Skene came in. The scene had a wonderful effect upon her. As she entered Janet turned and gave a demure courtesy; the light fell upon her. Now, whatever she saw in that pretty figure I know not, but she turned the color of ashes, and clung to the side of the door for support. I was about to go to her assistance when she recovered herself and tried to speak. Her voice was broken with rage. “Janet, how dare you!” she cried. “Without my permission—go to your room this instant.” The poor girl was dashed by this outbreak, and as quickly as she could she passed her mother and disappeared. I saw that there was to be a scene between the sisters, so I remained quiet. I was amazed at what occurred. Mrs. Skene continued to advance slowly, without speaking, her eyes fixed upon Miss Vittoria. She approached her gradually, almost leisurely, with a sort of malevolent movement, gazing all the time as a snake transfixes its victim. She reached her at last, and laid her hand on her arm. Miss Vittoria shrank as if the touch had been hot iron. Neither of them spoke, but they began to move slowly toward the door. When they reached it Miss Vittoria gave a shriek that made me cold, but they went on slowly as before and disappeared.
    I did not see Miss Vittoria again for days, but I was always on the watch for her, and always endeavoring to find her hiding place. I argued that if she was ill in the house she would have to take her meals in her room, and so I watched as carefully as I could without arousing suspicion. I could vouch that nothing had been brought into the main part of the house, and she was evidently not hidden there. Lingering, one day, in the dining-room, I saw Ugo, carrying a tray, go into Mrs. Skene’s room, which was on the ground floor. I reached two conclusions at once. The stairway that I had noticed the night that I had discovered the room, led up to Mrs. Skene’s chamber, and Miss Vittoria was hidden in the disused wing.
    I was now thoroughly perplexed, and my confusion was complete when I found out that Ugo had broken into my trunk and escaped with the smelting pot. I had noticed that for a day or two previously, he had appeared highly elated, and when he knew by my demeanor that I had found out his [Page 70] success he broke all bounds. He followed me about and mocked me, and seemed bent upon paying me what I had escaped during the interval of my supremacy. In vain I threatened him. He only put his tongue in his cheek and squinted. He evidently felt sure of his ground, and I was not certain of mine, unfortunately. I was afraid to denounce him to his mistress for fear that I might be the one dismissed, and, if I left the house, I would have small hope of entering it again. In my desperation I resolved to take a step which might lead to further developments. I traced upon a slip of paper the words that had been pencilled by the dying man. I gave it to Sarah, and told her to place it at lunch under the claret jug which stood at Mrs. Skene’s right hand. I had observed that her first action at lunch was to pour out a glass of claret.
    After grace, which I always pronounced, Mrs. Skene lifted the claret jug. I tried to watch her without being noticed, but her suppressed exclamation of surprise at seeing the bit of paper under the jug gave me sufficient excuse for watching her closely. Janet also looked up. Mrs. Skene drew the paper toward her and read it. I saw her face set hardly as she clenched her teeth. The effort for control was past in a moment, and she let the paper fall into her lap; but before luncheon was over she turned deadly pale, and went to the window overlooking the garden. I did not see her face again until dinner-time, and then every trace of her emotion had vanished. I was aware that she had never seen the words before, and did not know who had originally written them, but I was confident she was too shrewd not to have a suspicion that they were written by her husband. It was not to be wondered at that she should have a keen emotion, when the scene was recalled to her in this mysterious way. She did not seem to have any suspicion that I was the person who had given her the shock, but I wished her to betray her knowledge of the crime more plainly before I threw off my disguise and told her that she could not longer keep her sister’s guilt concealed. Accordingly, the next day, I had a favorable moment with Sarah, and instructed her that as she was removing the soup plates at dinner, she should say, just as she laid the first plate upon the waiter, “My God, have pity, they have murdered my husband.” She did it well, and even I was startled by the hollow sound of it. As for Mrs. Skene, she reeled in her chair, and would have fallen if I had not caught her. Janet and I assisted her to the sofa, and she gasped and looked fearfully at us, as if she was half beside herself, and it was an hour before she regained her composure. Dinner was spoiled, and Mrs. Skene had to be helped to bed. I assisted at this function and gave the poor lady my arm, for I was keen to see the stairway which led to the disused wing. But when I reached the door, my arm was disengaged, [Page 71] and I was thanked for my services; at which I was mightily disappointed.
    When I returned to my room I found a note from Janet. “Will Mr. Arahill come to the arbor at once? J.S.”
    I went and found her waiting; she was highly excited. “Did you hear what Sarah said at dinner, and see how my mother behaved? O, Mr. Arahill, something terrible is going to happen. I feel it. I know it. I have had a presentiment all my life that we were not like other people, and now I am sure of it.”
    I tried to calm her. “Be sure, you can trust me,” I said, “no matter what happens. I will guard you with my life. There may be something behind this, and you must be brave.” I took her hand, and she let me retain it. Just then I heard Ugo whistle in the garden.
    “There’s Ugo,” she said, coming closer to me, and shivering. “How I loathe him!”
    When I felt her so close to me I wanted to tell her that I loved her, but I could not do it honestly so long as I was disguised, so I kept it to myself.
    “You need not fear him,” I said, “he is spying upon us, but we need not care for that now. I want you to promise me to keep your room to-morrow afternoon, from five until I come to you.”
    She gave her promise. “Tell me,” she said, breathlessly, “what is this dreadful mystery? Do you know? Can you tell?”
    “I believe I know,” I answered, “but at present I cannot tell. You must be patient.”
    “It must be something about Aunt Vittoria, for why should she hide away like this? She has done it many times since I can remember. She seems so frightened of something or somebody.”
    “It will all be explained,” I said “—and before long.”
    “I hope,” she said, “it will make her different, for I have always loved her so, and it has been terrible to see her suffer in this way.” My heart sank with its weight of suspicion when I heard this dear girl say these words. I had not time to answer her, for Ugo’s whistle sounded nearer, and she begged me to let her go, which I did reluctantly enough.
    I had a restless night, and was busy with plans and forecastings, but they were all dispersed by a letter from Mrs. Skene, which I found on my dressing table when I woke. She had had time to collect herself, and to think the matter over. Presumably, her line of argument had been that, such disturbing occurrences never having happened before my advent, I must be in some way connected with them, and she accordingly dismissed me. The letter bowed me out courteously. I was alone at breakfast. Not even Janet [Page 72] was there. During the morning I wrote Mrs. Skene a note accepting my dismissal, and requesting an interview. I gave this to Ugo to deliver, and went into the village. I did not return for luncheon, but came back about three o’clock, commenced to pack, and made every show of departure. My plans were perfectly well formed. At five I received a note, almost insolent in its wording, denying me the requested interview, and saying that it would be advisable for me to leave at once. I finished packing, and requested Ugo to leave an order for the stage to call for my baggage, on which errand he departed with alacrity, as he no doubt thought he was doing his mistress a service. Now, I said to myself, as I descended the stairs, you and I, Mrs. Skene, in a moment will be face to face.

Chapter V: The Mill of the Gods

I had expected to find Mrs. Skene in her own chamber, and I was prepared for a sight of the ascent to the disused wing. But I was disappointed again, for I found her seated at the window of the dining-room, which overlooked the garden. She saw me before I perceived her, and her cry for Ugo first attracted my attention.
    “You must pardon my intrusion, Mrs. Skene,” I said. “I have been in your house now for nearly three months, and it would ill requite your kindness were I to leave without an acknowledgment of it.” She glared at me, and continued to call for Ugo. “He is delivering a message for me; in fact, ordering the stage to call this evening.”
    “And in his absence you come to disturb and insult me.”
    “Not at all—“ I began, but she went on fiercely—
    “You do. You talk about requiting kindness, but you have used your time in making love to my daughter, and disgracing your cloth by tampering with my servants, and by ferreting out my family history. All that I ask is that you leave me at once.”

    “I am sorry that I cannot comply,” I answered, “for I have something to ask.” She made a movement in her chair, and called for Ugo again. “I must speak plainly. When I first came to your house my mind had no suspicion. Now, I have more than a suspicion. I am certain. Twenty years ago your husband died in this house; but he was murdered—poisoned.”
    “You lie!” she cried passionately, rising in her chair. “My husband died in his bed, as I hope to die.” [Page 73]
    “I have the death-scene before me, and I could rehearse it if I chose; but I know you have shielded the murderess for years, for your own private and diabolical revenge, and now I demand that you give her up.”
    “Never!” she cried. “You will pass over my dead body and the body of my man Ugo, before you reach her.”
    “You will neither deny the crime nor affirm it, but it is needless to play this game longer. Mrs. Skene, I am not the Rev. Oliver Arahill. I am plain Oliver Arahill, of the detective bureau of Ainsley & Cumming. In twenty minutes the stage will bring three of my men to the door, and the house will be searched.” She dropped back in her chair and made no effort to conceal her fear and rage.
    “Devil—devil!” she hissed. “This is what you call requiting kindness, you spy! But Ugo will reckon with you before you have time to carry out your insult.”

    “I fear neither your threat nor your servant. I am simply here to do my duty, come what may.” With that, I went to my room.
    In a few moments I saw Ugo come down the street, and I secured my door. It was yet ten minutes from stage time, and I felt some apprehension, lest my morning’s telegram had gone astray, and my expected strength would not arrive. The moments passed, and Ugo made no attempt on my door; evidently, I thought, Mrs. Skene has changed her plans. Then I heard the rattle of wheels, and, looking out, I saw my men, Smith, Apthorpe, and Newdale, in the stage. I was just on the point of opening the door when the suspicion seized me that Ugo might be in ambush. So I raised the window, and let myself drop into the garden. A moment later I rapped at Mrs. Skene’s door and entered, followed by Smith. Apthorpe I had left in the garden, Newdale I had posted to watch the front of the house.
    Mrs. Skene was seated in a large chair, and had summoned all her resolution to meet this trial.
    “And to what am I indebted for this visit?” she said, drawing herself up, and looking a very queen.
    “I must apologize,” I said, “I would not have entered your room, had it not been the only entrance to the rooms above.” As I spoke, I turned to where I expected to find the stairway, but it was not there. The room was wainscoted with oak, and the wood was solid and continuous on the four walls. “Smith,” I said, “there must be a stairway here somewhere.” And, with that, I proceeded to rap the wainscoting. One panel gave a hollow sound, but we could not move it.
    “Will you tell us how to open this panel?” I said, turning to Mrs. Skene. [Page 74]
    “You are so sure of everything, you should be sure of that,” she said, deliberately. “You have made ill use of your time not to have discovered it.”
    “Smith, keep watch here, and I will approach from the other side.”

    I had formed a sudden plan of repeating my visit through the man-hole on the roof. I was taking a risk, I knew, as Ugo might face me in the dusk, but then I had everything to gain. I made my descent to the roof in the same manner as before. I had my pistol and the iron poker, in case I should have to use it in prying up the cover. It had not been fastened, however, and I found myself in the attic, where it was perfectly dark. I groped for the stairhead, and stumbled on the first step, making noise enough to arouse the Seven Sleepers, but I recovered myself and went on. When I was half way down I heard hurried steps below, and when I reached the bottom I saw Ugo ascending the secret stairs. He came up with a tumble and a rush, evidently surprised at an attack from above. I knew I had not a chance with him in strength, and, as his shoulders appeared above the floor, I fired down at him. I did not know whether I had hit him, and I had not time to fire again before he was upon me. I struck him in the face with my pistol, but he hit me somewhere in the arm and grappled with me. He had me about the waist and lifted me from the floor. All this was done from the impetus of his rush up the stairs, and I was borne back against the wall with terrific force. The breath was nearly out of my body, but I wound my hand in his hair, and tried to force his head back. At the same time I curled my leg inside his, so I was at least grappled to him, although I felt I had no power when he wanted to move. Suddenly he lifted me, and commenced to climb the stair to the attic. Every inch of the way I struggled, but I found I had no power in my right arm, and he rose step after step. I was almost across his shoulder now, like a sack of flour, and had no control over him. When he came to the ladder which led out upon the roof I pushed my leg through and hung on, but he forced my hold there, and the only advantage it gave me was to throw me off his shoulder. I took him by the hair so suddenly and fiercely that I forced his head back for a moment, but he went on crowding me up the ladder and forcing me through the man-hole. I knew now that he intended to hurl me off the roof, and I clutched him with the strength of despair. We rose slowly until he stood clear on the roof. Then he tried to shake me free, but I had him by the hair and held on. Then he dropped me for a moment, and twisted my arm until I was compelled to let go. Then with a sudden dart he seized me by the waist and brandished me over his head. I thought it was all up with me, and shut my eyes, but suddenly there was a loud cry, and I felt that we were jerked back from the [Page 75] edge of the roof, and with such force that I fell in a heap. I was half dazed with the shock, but I saw Sarah towering over me, muttering and growling in her language of hatred and rage. Then she grappled with her old enemy, and with terrible strength she forced him to the edge of the roof, and shaking him free, she hurled him off. He went down with a fearful cry, but no sound followed the shock with which he struck the earth.
    A moment later Smith appeared above the man-hole, and when I had recovered myself sufficiently to discover that my right arm was broken between the shoulder and the elbow, we all went down. In the dusk I found Miss Vittoria, who had been concealed in the second room of the wing; she was in a dead faint, and I left Smith to guard her and Sarah to bring her to. Descending the secret stair I found myself in Mrs. Skene’s room. She was sitting by the window in the last light. She did not move as I came in, and did not answer me when I spoke to her. I thought the strain had been too great for her, and that she had fainted. I looked at her face, which seemed to gather all the light there was in the room. I started. Was that pallor natural? I reached her side and took her lax wrist. It was stone. She was dead. I soon had a lamp, and Apthorpe discovered a glass phial on the floor beneath her chair, where it had rolled from her hand. Here was a mystery indeed. Just as I had caught the murderess, and just as I was about to succeed in forcing her sister to throw off the mask, I found her dead by her own hand. My one thought now was to prevent Miss Vittoria from slipping through my fingers in the same way. I had her brought downstairs and taken to her own room, and I put a double guard over her. Then I began to think of my arm, and, although I was wild to release Janet, and bring to her the terrible and inexplicable news of her mother’s death, I was constrained to have the doctor attend to my fracture. While we were waiting for him I sent Smith to look for Ugo’s body, for I was sure he was dead. He found him in a heap on the stones of the garden path, with his neck broken. While the doctor was setting my arm I learned that Sarah, seeing me disappear down the man-hole, had known my danger, and had rushed into Mrs. Skene’s room, had struggled with her mistress, who had attempted to oppose her, and had finally opened the panel, the secret spring of which she well knew, and had rushed to my rescue, followed by Smith. Mrs. Skene must have taken the poison when she saw Ugo fall in a heap on the garden walk.
    Janet had kept her promise, and had never left her room. Her momentary anxiety over my hurt gave me a cruel pleasure, but I went to my work without flinching. She stood the shock better than I had expected.
    “Tell me, tell me, what does it all mean?” she cried. [Page 76]
    “There is only person who knows,” I replied, “and she will soon have an opportunity of telling.”
    “Aunt Vittoria?”

    “Yes,” I said, “and you must be strong to bear what you have to learn.”

Chapter VI: The Wheel of Fire

What Janet had to learn was as much a revelation to me as it was to her, and we heard the story together, related in broken fragments, as the strength of the narrator permitted. Shorn of the constant digression which she allowed herself, this is her story as she spoke it.
    “My sister and myself were the only children of Tomasso Accoromboni, who kept a small print and image shop in Milan. Our mother died when we were quite young, and our father was killed in a street brawl. This left us defenceless, but we continued the shop, and added to our small income by furnishing rooms for travellers, for we had a pleasant apartment over the store. My sister managed everything; she was wonderful to me in all that she did, but she chafed at our poverty. In the winter of 1846, a gentleman by the name of Alexander Skene secured our rooms. He seemed a lonely man, without any tics. He had plenty of money, and could have had much better lodgings if he had so desired. My sister fell in love with him, and confided in me, and when I knew that her happiness depended on a return of her affection, I tried to crush out my own regard for him. But I found I had failed when he asked me to be his wife. It was a bitterness for us both, but my sister nobly refused to allow me to suffer. Her sacrifice, however, only sowed a desperate hate in her heart. So we were married.
    “But,” I interrupted, “Alexander Skene married Margherita?”
    “Yes, and I am Margherita.”
    “And my mother,” said Janet, falling on her knees beside the bed.

    “The only condition that I made was that Vittoria should live with us, and my husband readily consented to that. So we travelled, the three of us, and Ugo, a little boy who had served in the shop, to whom Mr. Skene had taken a fancy. In Vienna you were born, my dear, and we called you after your father’s mother. I think I was perfectly happy in those days, and every one seemed to be, but I know now that Vittoria was only feigning, and that she had a blackness at her heart that was to ruin us all. When I was strong and well again, Alexander proposed that we should visit Canada, where he had so long made his home, and I was eager to see the country which I had heard so much about. Our arrangements were made, and we landed in New [Page 77] York, having come in a vessel from Genoa. From New York we went to Montreal, and we had only been there a week when my husband took a sudden notion to visit a country house he owned, in a place called Denham. So he wrote to have it made ready. He had shaved all the hair from his face, and was enjoying seeing the people he had known well—some of whom were his correspondents—without revealing his identity, and all the time we were in Montreal we remained unknown. On the 14th of September we started out to drive to Denham, and the journey took us two days. There was something about my sister’s manner on this journey which I did not like, and my thoughts were almost presentiments. But I shook them off easily, and blamed my timid nature for something which was so ill-formed and unfounded. We arrived here on the evening of the 16th September, a little before dusk. Alberta Westwick had opened the house, lighted fires, and prepared the supper. We had brought a box of supplies with us, and from this store Vittoria insisted on extracting some macaroni, and making a dish of it for supper. Shortly after, my husband was taken strangely ill. I remember that Vittoria had not partaken of her dish, and my husband had been the only one who had eaten of it. He grew much worse so rapidly that I was fairly paralyzed with terror, and from that moment Vittoria took complete control of everything. The woman Westwick had not the keys of the linen closets, so the beds were not prepared. Vittoria had a couch quickly ready in one of the rooms of the wing. Everything was so hurried and confused that I could never remember exactly what occurred. I think we sent for the doctor, and found he was not at home. He did not come until afterwards, and I never saw him at all. I did not see Alexander alone; Ugo or Vittoria were always there.
    “There must have been poison,” he said, once, but Vittoria made such an outcry and confusion that I could not hear anything more. I left the room for a moment, and when I returned he was worse. In my despair I rushed away to get something—I don’t know what, now—but they called me back, and he was dead, and could not speak to me. I don’t remember anything that occurred for months. I know now Vittoria must have kept me drugged, and when I woke the world was all changed. As soon as I tried to take my place in the house, I saw the terrible trap I was in. Vittoria had usurped me; to the servants and the villagers she had announced herself as Mrs. Skene. No one knew us there. We had only been in the village a few hours, and nothing had occurred to shew Alberta Westwick plainly that I was the wife, although she must have had a suspicion, for after she went mad she always confused us, and Vittoria had her taken away to an asylum. I struggled at first, but Ugo, in my presence, swore that I had given my husband [Page 78] the poison, and I saw that I was in their power. At first, if I had broken away from them, I might have conquered, but I was watched night and day, and after I had an illness of years, as it seemed to me, my will gave out, and ever after that I obeyed. If I shewed any sign of rebellion I was locked up in the wing, which was constructed as a sort of prison for me, and every detail of that terrible night was brought vividly before me. One of Vittoria’s fears was that some one would notice the likeness between Janet and I, and when she saw it so plainly that night when Janet had put on one of my gowns, and looked just as I did when I was a girl, her fury was visited upon me again. The night I fainted, when she sang that song, my whole life was brought back to me, and I saw the streets of Milan once more. In every way she strengthened her diabolical revenge, and in the end I did not suffer. If I had died, it would have been better, but in the end she defeated her own purpose. I became a creature who had no will, no feelings, and it was only something like the old song, or Janet in my youthful dress, that brought back the past, and gave me pain. Then I seemed to awaken from some horrible dream, and for a day I would suffer what I can never describe. But my nerves would soon give out. I could bear no more, and I was willing again to forget. She was afraid to let one of us out of her sight, and so she determined to get a tutor for Janet, instead of sending her away to school, and so everything was found out. You were the first person from the world who had entered our life, and twice I thought of you as a deliverer; once, when I explained why I fainted, I thought the look in your eyes was in some way a salvation for me; and again, when you played and Janet sang I seemed to feel that you would find out that all our relations had been perverted.”
    This was the end of her story. I was pained when I thought of how I had suspected her, but my suspicions had led to a happy result. Ugo had only received his deserts, and the woman who had a heart wicked enough, and a will strong enough to plot and carry out this fiend’s work had died by her own act, being constantly ready, as I supposed, to slip away and play the coward should she ever be discovered.
    Many times have I talked it over with my wife, and we tried to make amends for those years of suffering and darkness which filled her mother’s life, and the Red Deeps was full of brightness and sunshine, and is yet, for that matter, for although she has passed away, our children remember her, and, not knowing her tragedy, recall her only by the affections of her broken heart, and the winning power of her gentleness. [Page 79]