Both of us had the feeling about Gale, though I had said nothing to Beckweth and Beckweth had said nothing to me till we paused on an out-curve of the crazy wheel-track which served the Footstool as a road, and stood for a moment gazing down into the blighted hollow. I think the feeling was general in the club. Gale did everything well that one should do well in men's society: put up a corking cue at pool, squeezed more out of a poor hand at cards than his neighbor, knew what was good in the dining-room, and talked with ease and always inoffensively. He was never a bore---one never felt responsible for Gale. He was every man's man. It was surprising, when notes were compared, how little any one knew about Gale. It amounted in the aggregate to precisely nothing, A tall, willowy, darkish person with eyes large and rather sunken, close black hair that might have been slightly oily, an impenetrable graciousness, and invariable green-rubber soles that came soundlessly to the beck of any one and every one, from Beckweth of the Bank, to "Tub" Tusby, who was in a chronic state of being posted — that was Gale.
Gale had been on both our minds, naturally, since we left the station at Three Brooks that afternoon, for the climb into the Footstool. It was Beckweth who broke the ice.
"Do you know, Sands, he would be capable of anything."
"I wish to Heaven," I announced, "that I was out of this."
"Why?" Beckweth's gray eyes came to me. "Getting jumpy?"
"No. But it's all so confoundedly silly. Look at us!"
I meant him to look at himself, standing there in his idiotic knickerbockers and cap and corduroy hunting-coat—Beckweth, the Director!
A spot more forsaken of God than that depression in the hills I have never seen; Gale must have counted on that when he made us do it on foot. There had been people here once, for there were still ruinous signs of them: a barn directly beneath us with its roof smashed in, as if by a huge fist; a solitary, naked chimney spiring on a spur of the farther side; a vague scar where a field had once been tilled.
"Splendid week-end," I resumed, with a deeper rancor. "Capital! Togged out in queer duds and footing it into the devil's own mountain to sit up all night with an alleged ghost — on a bet. By gracious! why am I cast for the innocent bystander — always? If there's an argument within a mile I'm dragged in, somehow or other. What in the name of Heaven do I care, Beckweth, whether ghosts are or aren't?"
Beckweth's big head sank between his shoulders and he made a jaw at me.
"He got my goat," he croaked.
"Well, it's no robbery. You got his. I'd never supposed he had one."
"That's the queer part."
"What's the queer part?"
"Why, hang take it! Sands, he led us up to it — if you'll look back at the conversation — led us up to it, by Hector! like a couple of lambs to the slaughter. I tell you, Sands, he'd be capable of anything. Anything!"
"Except that he's well on his way to Chicago by this time."
"Are you sure he's well on his way to Chicago ?" Beckweth glared at me from under his ragged eyebrows. To the uninitiate, Beckweth's most casual query was an insult.
"I am," I said, "because I happened to see him settled on the Limited this forenoon — from behind a pillar in the station. You see, I was just a little suspicious of this sudden call to the West. It sounded just a hint— well — reassuring— to us."
"Yes. Just a hint like an — alibi." Beckweth thrust his hands deep in his pockets and brooded at the blasted roof below, chewing; his cigar in a savage mood. Shaking himself out of it after a moment, he glanced at the westering sun.
"Where is the damned dump? It's getting late and it's going to rain."
Gale had told us to go as far as the road did. We turned and went on, the uncertain track carrying us down a declivity and through a company of shivering aspens before it struck up again across the stark, red-lit ribs of the gorge. A lean cow with a dried-up udder looked down at us over a snake fence. A little farther we were surprised by a human being — a woman, leaning on the bars where a branch track led up through the snake fence toward a lank, sour-looking barn, a dwelling-house constructed of afterthoughts, and a hay-cock as hard and shining and gray as the granite of the Footstool. She gave us no time to speak.
"I come from Wyoming," she told us. "We lived in a street-car from Denver; seven windows to the side. It was pretty."
I looked at Beckweth, and he at me. He removed his cap uncertainly.
"Can you tell me," he inquired, "if there's a place around here called the Mansion House?"
The woman shook her head mechanically, sapping our strength with her large, starved eyes.
"No. I ain't from here. We had a nice home in Wyoming, and a nice field of sugar-beets, and there was a bunch of cottonwoods by the ditch, a piece down the road, where the Consumptives' Home come to have their picnics. It wasn't me wanted to come East; 'twas Oscar."
We fled, leaving her alone there on the mountainside, to dream of the sumptuous lost excitements of the desert.
"Lord!" I heard Beckweth muttering. "Good Lord in heaven!"
Blue shadows welled up in all the crannies of the hills. The air on the upper levels was brilliant, unstirring, and heavy with an electric burden. A thunder-head rolled across the southern hemisphere.
The. road came to an end in a pocket of mountain-willows populous with dogs and pigs. The dogs barked and the pigs didn't; otherwise they were much alike. A man sat in the doorway of a slab house, smoking a pipe and braiding his yellow-white beard. He got up when he saw us, and came forward through the unnatural dusk of the pocket, kicking dogs and pigs out of his way.
Yes, his name was Barway. He had curious, lackluster eyes which shifted from one to the other of us without perceptible motion. Yes, Barway. How did we come to know it? Gale? Oh - Gale! Yes, the Mansion was just a piece up the hill. Why? Were we looking to buy? Eh? Spend the night ? We didn't mean — spend the night!
He backed off among the animals and, retiring to the doorway, squatted there, a figure of stubborn silence, braiding his beard. Without saying a word he gave us to understand we had better go on back to Three Brooks before it got too dark for the road.
What was wrong with the Mansion House? He seemed angry at the question. He was visibly shaken, however, by Beckweth's offering of a gold piece, and got it into his pocket with a spider's quickness.
"Gale?" he barked back. "Gale's friends, eh ? I want it should be understood it's none o' my doin'. They was a couple once before."
"What happened to them?"
He got to his feet and studied me a moment with his ground-glass eyes. Then, tossing his shoulders and muttering, "Nawthin' p'ticular," he turned and started off among the willow boles at a tremendous pace. He was an old man, but, all the same, we had to run to keep sight of him through the trees.
The arch of a stone lodge-gate, lichen-bitten and half buried in the foliage, passed over our heads, and for the first time I realized that the weeds and bramble underfoot covered the gravel of an old driveway.
Beckweth was grunting in my ear, "What sort of a layout is this, anyway?"
"Don't ask me. Good Lord, Beckweth, you seem to think I know everything! . . . Now where' s the beggar gone?"
Coming out above the trees, it was like another dawn, after the false twilight of the pocket. Our guide awaited us, sitting on a boulder in the flat radiance of the sunset, combing out the braids of his beard. An orchard of twisted and fruitless apple-trees ran up beyond him; our driveway, emerging from the brambles, wound skyward across the benches, a pink ribbon fretted with the skeleton shadows of the trees; at the top, stark against the purple of the coming storm, the Mansion greeted us with the fires of a hundred panes.
It belonged to that period, not too far back, when they painted things a chocolate brown. It had all the points of the breed — haphazard bays and dormers, futile towerettes, round, square, octagonal; an immense confusion of scroll-work and lattice — suggestive of something German and Christmas. There it reared above us, the pomp and festival of decay, flaming with the death-fires of evening, and ruin sweeping up the sky beyond.
I wondered how Beckweth was taking it. Beckweth was good and mad. One could tell it by the deliberate way in which he searched for a cigar and by the flicker of his cheek muscles. Beckweth wasn't used to being made a fool. It gave me a moment of glee.
"I suppose," I prodded Barway, "that there are plenty of ghosts around these parts."
He favored me with his vacant regard. "Not s' many 's folks say."
"Why, how's that?"
"Some says any man'll ha'nt, I don't hold with 'em. I hold a man won't ha'nt 'less he figgers to, and if he figgers to ha'nt, why, nawthin's goin' to stop his ha'ntin'. There was a man in these here hills once killed hisself for the special pu'pose o' ha'ntin', and he'll ha'nt till hell freezes over, you mind me."
Beckweth was scowling savagely at me.
"Why'd he want to haunt?" I urged,
"Why? Eh? Well, he went to work an' built him and his wife a house, and his wife went to work an' died before they'd moved in, hardly; and this man, he says, nobody else is goin' to live in that house, says he, and up and hangs hisself in the entry, 'Twan't known for a couple o' weeks; then the sheriff went up an' let the rest of him down--- "
Beckweth overrode me with an unnecessary violence. "Clever! Damned clever! Stay here, if you want to, Sands, I'm going up."
He was off ahead of us, stiff-backed. 1 followed with Barway. The old fellow gave no evidence of rancor at being shut off so; indeed, from first sight, except for his prodigious powers of locomotion, the man seeded more dead than alive.
I had faken into his pit, though. When we had climbed to the crest and stood on the unkempt turf by the house I edged my question in again.
"The rest of him, Barway?"
"Yeh. The rats 'd let part of him down before they got there. There was a shelf sticking out from the wall, about halfway up — far enough for the varmints to reach out."
"But not this house, Barway. Not —You don't mean this house?"
There was a perceptible motion in his eyeballs this time as they came to dwell on me. Now I'm not Beckweth. Beckweth has convictions. I had to get my eyes away from the singular fellow, out across the writhing orchards and the darkling folds of the Footstool. I heard Beckweth laughing, behind me, in a rasping bass.
"Naw," murmured Barway, "I wouldn't go s' far 's to say 'twas this p'ticular house, but 'twas in these same hills here."
I left him and followed Beckweth, who was prowling up the steps of the blistered piazza, still making sour fun of me.
"Not that door," the old man's voice pursued us. "Round t'other side is the front door. That one's locked, mister. Take care!"
Beckweth shook his head at me. His face was the color of bricks.
"Don't pay any attention to him," he advised me, bitterly. "Gale's filled him so full of second-hand lies to spout that he can't see straight. Come on!"
Putting his big, soft shoulder to the door, he pushed. The thing was wormeaten to the core and went down like cardboard. Beckweth sprawled with it, and I, unbalanced, went over on top of him. We seemed to have opened the whole side of the place; the last flare in the west, red as blood and shot through with the dust of our catastrophe, illuminated the bare old plaster on the walls, and a shelf and a rat-hole and a ring in the ceiling, with three strands of hemp hacked off short near the iron,
Beckweth got up out of the debris and shook himself.
"Barway!" he bawled, in a choking voice. "Barway! Damn you!"
Getting my legs free of the crumpled panels, I followed him back to the piazza. He looked fit to eat nails. Barway had vanished.
The world went dark as we stood there. The great hulk fell to moaning, of a sudden, and then the orchards beneath us felt the wind and turned gray cheeks. Rain was on the wind's heels; it smote us in a driving sheet, rumbled across the cunning roofs and towers, and channeled in the gutters. Lightning showed us to each other. We crept back into the entry way, stupefied by thunder.
"Confound it all!" I protested, dismally. "It was between you and Gale. I didn't say anything either way." I lifted my voice, stung by his inconsiderate silence, "Beckweth! What's the matter?"
He was fumbling darkly around the edges of the narrow place.
"By gum!" he growled, "they've gone to work and walled the thing up. There's no inner door. We'll have to stick here till the squall lets up a bit, and then pad around and get in by the front door."
"I'm going now," I told him.
I was out already on the beaten gallery, my head ducked under my collar and my fingers following the clapboards. Beckweth came, too, for all his sarcastic gruntings, stamping his feet on the hollow planks. I overran the door and he found it; his voice came, drowned by the rain:
"Here it is, old man."
A flash of lightning showed him, streaming with rain-drops, one finger resting on his chin. I called, asking why he didn't go in. Darkness came again, and thunder, and after that BeckwetfTs voice, slightly muffled, from within.
"Sands, come here'"
I groped my way in beside him. If I had thought it dark out of doors, what was it here ?
"Look," he growled near my ear. "Damn their souls!"
A doorway hung in the blackness ahead of us, flickering with a dim and lurid light. The air of the unknown chamber where we stood lay lifeless and unstirring on our heads, struck through with the faint, dry decay of clean things.
"Beckweth," I whispered, "I'm through. 1 don't care enough."
He left my side and walked toward the feeble glow, a thick, grim silhouette. His voice was like a sudden gun-shot in the silence.
"Barway! I say! Barway!"
I hadn't thought of Barway. I was immensely relieved.
The hillman greeted us with a listless stare from beside an open fire in what must have been intended for the Mansion's dining-room. One arm was full of wood; the other hand had hold of the end of his beard.
"What are you up to?" Beckweth quizzed him, sharply, from the door.
The old man watched us for a moment with his unblinking eyes, then bent deliberately and deposited his fire-wood on the hearth, as if washing his hands of it, and started toward us. Beckweth faced him.
"Where you going now?"
"Home." He spoke without the slightest color of emotion. "I was thinkin' ye'd like a fire."
Beckweth didn't budge from the doorway.
"I thought you were afraid of the ghost here, Barway."
"Ghost?" The old man paused and tilted his hairy head ever so little to one side. "Ghost?" he murmured, vacantly. "Ghost?"
Beckweth stepped into the room and sat down on a plush sofa, a new one, for all its years. It parted under his weight and let him down to the floor, where he remained, squatting, in the impalpable cloud of its destruction, peering after Barway's retreating form. When the front door banged he began to laugh, not ironically, but in a deep and healthy bass. Beckweth had a good girth for laughter. I'd rather tell a good story to Beckweth than to any other man in the club; the reward is better in quantity and in quality,
Just now, though, it was a little startling. I studied his crinkled face for a moment, and then took a chair facing him. 1 fetched up, as he had, on the floor. The thing was like a berry-box. There was nothing solid in the place.
"Beckweth," I challenged, patiently, "would you mind telling me?"
"Gale is a wonder," he chuckled. "He ought to be in business. A marvel at organization. Do you realize, Sands, how near he came to having us on the run? Right at the start ? Awful close, now, 1 tell you, 1 put up a front, maybe — but darn near, darn near."
"You seem to be feeling better now," I murmured, without enthusiasm.
"Now? Oh, fine! Once you break through and see how funny it all is. Look! Even the squall's passed. It's licked."
I had forgotten the storm and the storm had forgotten us, I went and looked out into a courtyard, flagged and hedged, and open on the farther side, giving upon a company of outbuildings, all with gaping black doors and one digesting its own roof. The moonlight bathed everything with a suave clarity. The room was already growing close with the fire. The window-sash was stuck; I broke a pane, and the cool air flowed in, bringing the scent of new-wet earth.
"You can hardly lay the thunderstorm to Gale," I argued, with a gently caustic flavor.
"No," he agreed. "Nor that horrible woman from the Garden of Wyoming, probably. That's why I say he's a marvel. He's covered with horse-shoes. Lord! how I hate that chap all of a sudden ! I wouldn't let him win now for a bucket of diamonds."
"I'm afraid he has already," I reflected, in gloom. "We weren't to go out after we once stepped in, and we did, remember? Out of that entryway?"
"A technicality! A damned technicality, Sands'"
"He put us on our honor."
"The lowest form of blackmail and extortion in the book. It ought to be actionable.. Put a man on his honor, and you can bleed him four ways from Sunday. Not me! . . . And don't think,'' he went on, with some violence — "don't think for a minute he's really figuring to take us at our word. Gale? Not in a thousand years. Not Gale . . . By the way, how far is the Western electrified? Eh?"
"Hanberg," I told him. Seeing him nursing his chin, I protested. "Oh, come; I've thought of that, too. The Limited has to change engines there; Gale could hop off, and all that. But, good land, Beckweth, Hanberg's a good forty miles across-country from here."
"With a good car, though — "
"On these roads? Man, use your head. And the worst of it, after dark? And the rain? He's not that much of a crazy fellow."
Beckweth studied me with his shrewdest office manner, quite intolerable.
"Gale needs the money," he pronounced. "He needs that thousand, at one to ten, and he needs it very, very bad."
"Would you mind letting me know where you got the details?"
"Nowhere. I'm making them up as I go along."
"Ah!" It failed to move him.
"Wait. Just wait." He made calculations on his thumbs. "Soon after midnight, I should say. He could make it quicker, but what's the use? Small hours for ghosts. In the mean time let's have a bite."
"Kind of a picnic — what?" He was quite the clubby fellow as we sat cross-legged before Barway's fire, discussing the sandwiches M'sieur Emile had charged us with.
It was a big room, all plaster and soft wood varnished to look like hard, and the blackest sort of doorways opening out into farther darkness. A fat thing emerged from one of them and examined us. I got my feet under me.
"Beckweth," I stammered. "Will y-y-you look at that?"
"Rats, eh? Nice fellow!" He turned a mocking eye on me. "By the by, you keep right on at it and they'll give you the vote in the end. No question about it. It's the coming thing."
"Oh, all right," I yawned, "Only, what do they feed on? And why has this house been standing empty?"
"I don't know."
We munched for a while. The doors were rather fascinating.
"I wonder," 1 mused, "how many rooms there are."
"I don't know. I don't care a hang, what's more. Too comfortable." Beckweth stretched out his legs. "You see, Gale's probably had the whole place planted with objects to lure the eye, like that entry, and I'm going to fool him by not looking."
"I'm going to look one place," he admitted, by and by, getting up and throwing open a door on the side opposite the fire. It was a closet stacked with more furniture.
Beckweth nodded his head. "Made to order," he said.
"What's the idea?" I queried.
"Gale would be wild if he came here to do a piece of 'ha'ntin',' and couldn't find anybody to 'ha'nt.'"
"If you imagine," I said, "that I'm going to hide in that hole, why, you're mistaken."
"All right, old chap. Stay where you are."
Stepping in, he closed the door to an inch crack, and I heard creakings as he made a cautious nest. I was quite alone in the big room now, except for the rats — tremendously comfortable, good-looking fellows with bright eyes. A breeze had risen, and a draught made the fire flicker abominably. There must have been a hole in the rat corner---toward the wallcd-up entry.
Beckweth's mischievous drawl crept out to me, 'I'm watching you!"
I went and got into the closet with him.
"This sofa," he confided, "is all right if you sit clear out on the end there. Do you get a nice view through the crack? Well, don't go to sleep now, and snore."
Now that I had left, the rats came out and enjoyed the fire. 1 could sec just a section of the door leading into the hall. I stared at it steadily. Sleep? I sleep? I wanted to laugh.
The next thing I knew I was waking up suddenly, quite dazed.
"Wha-what?" I stammered,
"Ssssh!" sounded Beckweth's whisper,
"What do you want?" 1 persisted, "What did you kick me for?"
"I didn't kick you."
"What's the time?"
"I don't know. After midnight, though. And he's just come. I heard the outer door squeak. He's been prowling around. Stood by the door for a while, by the sound. Listen."
I listened. The fire in the room was down to one red eye and the pale moon was in possession. Somewhere a rat was busy in a wall; beyond that — silence. And then a tiny silver note, muffled, rang thrice— Beckweth's repeater in an inner pocket.
"Three o'clock," I whispered.
"Yes. He's later than we looked for."
"But where is he?"
"He'll begin in a minute," Beckweth reassured me.
The air in the closet was foul. I seemed almost to hear the lugubrious mastication of the moths and worms in the upholstery. Then I heard something else in the mysterious regions toward the roof; a faint, slow creaking along the boards, weightless footfalls passing from room to room, pausing, resuming. The footfalls were descending the stairs, out there in the black hall, one slow step at a time. At the bottom they ceased, and the distant rat went on in solo, gnawing the interior of his wall. Beckweth whispered, impatiently:
"Yes? Y-e-s? What did you kick me for?"
There was a moment of silence. Then Beckweth's hand moved across the door crack, and it was drawn shut.
"Watch out," he warned in my ear, "Don't jump!"
There came a rustle and I blinked in the flare of his match and its refraction on his bald spot, as he bent his head to peer under the sofa. He made a grab at something, and missed.
"Gale!" he cried, booming in the narrow space, "Gale! you fool! Come out o' there! Hear?"
The match died. The owner of the kicking feet made no answer.
"Gale," Beckweth growled. "Your game's up, and you'd better come out!"
I didn't say anything, but I flung the door into the dining-room open. Beckweth came after, backward, dragging the crumpled sofa with him.
"Get busy!" he yelled. "Haul out this junk. He's under there."
"How," I protested, "did he get in?'
"How the hell do I know? Come on!"
Under his angry hands the furniture came tumbling out of the closet to vanish in dust and lint on the moonlit boards. I helped him. Our racket echoed and re-echoed through the hollow chambers like an awful desecration.
"All out," he called from the gloomy hole. He lit another match. "Look here," he said. "A door from the other side. So!" He sounded relieved, for all his bluster. "Come on," he called, bursting into the farther room.
It was the kitchen; the moon showed us its virgin and obsolete appointments. We didn't pause. There was only one door out, and we took that at a run, and the chamber beyond, which led us back into the front hall. Here we were on the wrong side of the house for the moon; a vague glamour helped but little. A clear ray showing through some upper window picked out a patch on the landing half-way up. That was all.
"I'm afraid he's got us, Beckweth."
"Like the devil he has!" Beckweth lifted his voice. "Gale! I'm going to wring your damned neck, and you watch!"
" Lord!" I cried. "Look!"
A pair of feet, crawling, passed out of the patch on the landing, going up.
Beckweth roared and gave chase, catching the stair-foot wrong in the dark and plowing through the rotten balustrade. The stairs thundered under our feet. We made more noise than Gale. In the upper hall we brought up, because it was dark as the pit. Beckweth lit another match. Gale had said nothing about matches, though lanterns and flashes were considered taboo.
Up here the doors were all closed. There must have been a dozen around the walls of the sizable hall; these and the raw, livid plaster.
"Which one?" Beckweth puffed. His eyes were slightly bloodshot.
"Maybe none. There must be back stairs somewhere there."
The match burned his fingers and he got rid of the ember with a sharp word.
"See here," he announced. "I'm going to open up these doors. You stand where you are and keep an eye out."
I caught his coat.
"Beckweth, old man, what makes you so certain it's Gale, anyhow?"
"Don't be an ass."
"All right, if you feel that way, Beckweth. But we've only seen legs. What's wrong with its being Barway or — or— well — anybody?"
"Does Barway wear rubber soles? Green ones? What?"
"Was it green-rubber soles," I said.
He left me standing there, and began throwing open the doors along the south side of the hall, letting in the dim glow from the moonlit chambers. I could see him pausing at each opened door, thrusting out his thick neck, peering about with an owlish motion. He crossed the hall and did the same for the doors on the dark side, working back toward me. The last, the one nearest to me, was locked. Beckweth rattled the knob for a moment, then pounded a fist on the panels, calling, "Gale! Gale! Gale!"
He soon desisted, and turned to me.
"Let's go down-stairs. We know he's there, so what's the difference?"
"That's right," I agreed, eagerly.
But instead of coming he plucked my sleeve, crossed his lips with a furtive finger, and tiptoed across the hall and into the opposite chamber, beckoning.
"What's the game?" I demanded, in his ear, when 1 had followed.
"We'll watch that door. Get over there out of line — sit on the bed — go easy. Don't want to bust the thing."
Save for the bed, the room was bare as a box and quite radiant after the gloom in the hall. The moon threw shafts of whiteness through the windows. One fell on the bedside, framing Beckweth and me in its cold purity, Beckweth craned his head to peer out of the door; I sat beside him, cursing myself for a witless dupe. Having nothing to do, I picked at the burlap covering of the mattress. The thing had never been unwrapped from the makers. I could have stuck my thumb through it.
Beckweth's head jerked toward me suddenly, his eyes wide with inquiry. My blankness was his answer. As I watched the slow beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, I felt panic taking hold of me. He reached over and took my arm just above the elbow, bruising it.
"You stay here," he said, and it was as casual as a coffee order. "I'm going over to look out of the window."
I watched him go and stand, an inky silhouette, against the square of light. It was several seconds before I began to realize that he was facing the wrong way, not out, but back at me, studying me and the bed. And it was just then that something touched my left ankle — like a gentle kick. Beckweth yelled.
"Get to the door, Sands! Look! he's under the bed! The door, man!"
He started forward, jarring the floor, even as I leaped. It was too much for the crazy room. The place was thick with thunder; something carried me down, stunned, choked, sprawling, and I lay there an instant, half buried in the debris of the falling ceiling.
Beckweth reared before me, gray with plaster. From the corners of my burning eyes I caught a shadowy leg and foot slipping across the threshold toward the black hall, and Beckweth flinging his weight to slam the door to on the thing — a little late.
"All right, Gale! We'll see!"
He jerked the door open and plunged into the hall, bellowing and running blind. His pounding footsteps broke off of a sudden; I heard him yell; there was a sickening sound of something bouncing twice on the lower stairs. After that the silence was disturbed only by the infinitesimal settling of the plaster dust on the floor.
It was utterly beyond me to stir from my plaster nest, to say nothing of venturing out into that sightless hall, but still I went because I had to, and groped my way down the black stairs. Half-way down my fingers touched a huddle of something that was Beckweth.
I wasn't strong enough to carry him, but I had to and I did, down the remaining steps, out the front door, across the piazza, and I was about to lower him over the railing when the crazy thing gave way and flung us both in a heap on the matted turt below. I groaned, with most of the wind knocked out of me, but Beckweth remained singularly silent. I reproached him bitterly.
He ignored me. I shook him cruelly and tried to make him sit up, propped against the lattice. But he would stay there only so long as I held him, and his mouth kept dropping open.
"Beckweth!" I bawled. "Wake up! For God's sake, say something!"
The night was fine and cool out there, after the horrible stagnation of the house. The early mists were beginning to smoke the grass-tops, and the moon, low in the west, threw the shadow of the roof across a mile-wide valley to lose itself in the dusk of the farther mountainside. A very faint rose-spot glowed for a moment in the zenith. In a clump of lilac bush a bird rustled and twittered.
We were in the shadow, but the lilac-bush was in the moonlight. I was quite certain the legs were there, at first glance, but the grass was so thick that it took my eyes a moment to untangle them from the wiry shadows. They were very peaceful legs. I could see them up to the thighs; beyond that they were hidden in the blackness under the bush. One of them was bent the wrong way at the knee, but it didn't seem to matter. They rested serenely there in the blue-misted turf— quite as still and careless as Beckweth's.
I didn't want to look at them, but I had to. The bird in the branches above them had gone to sleep again,
"Gale," I protested, "it's a poor joke. You've gone and killed Beckweth." My voice sounded like a stranger's.
The legs ignored me. The moon was sliding down the sky at an appalling rate. Odd notions began to enter my head and, getting up, I walked toward the bush on tiptoe. When I was nearly there the legs quivered a little and dragged into the leaves, lazily, the bent one slightly behind the other.
I was at a loss. Gale was acting the blackguard, and gratuitously, too, since he had won his game and got us out. I developed an idiotic bitterness.
"All right for you!" I bleated into the bush, and was in the act of turning back to silent Beckweth when I observed the legs again, rather ostentatious this time, scuttling around a corner of the piazza to the right. How they got there so quickly I couldn't say. But they were going somewhere, and they wanted me to come and look. I felt very queer. I felt queerer when I got to the corner and found myself face to face with the black hole we had smashed in the entry way — the one with the shelf and so forth,
1 stood there for some time, gawking. I began to perspire.
"Nothing's gone in lately," 1 told myself. "Otherwise the rat sitting on the threshold, there, would be scared."
The hush which precedes the dawn was disturbed by a sound of groaning, long-drawn, curiously insensate. The thing came from behind me.
I turned and walked back to Beckweth. His eyes were open and fixed on me with a lusterless stare, almost like Barway's. I bent to touch his shoulder, and his hanging mouth groaned again.
"Beckweth, get up!"
"I fell," he announced, in a thick voice.
"Yes, yes, I know; but you've got to get up and come now."
He moved his hands heavily to his stomach. "I'm sick," he mumbled. "What makes me so sick?"
My knees were knocking together, but I had to speak to a child. "You'll be all right in a second. I'm Sands, you know. Sands!"
"I fell," he went back, blankly.
"Come, come!" I began to be sharp. "We've got to go, Beckweth."
"Will Gale take me in the car, do you think?"
"Car? There's no — Why, yes, of course, old chap, if you'll get up."
"It's so far down there," he complained. He was on the point of tears. I couldn't help following the direction of his eyes, he seemed so certain. I straightened up.
There was no doubt about it, it looked like a car. It stood in the shadow of a thicket half-way down the hill where the orchards left off. The mists were too thick now to be sure of anything, however.
I made him get on his feet, and, once there, he followed me down the winding drive, lurching like a tub in a cross-sea. My own shadow was none too steady. He wasn't himself at all. His voice was queer.
"Shut up!" I yelled back at him. "Shut up and come along faster."
"Gale!" he began calling, in a dismal voice. "Gale, Gale, be a good fellow and wait for me. I don't feel well."
"For God's sake, quit it!" I bellowed. "He'll wait, all right."
"Gale's a good fellow," he mumbled, and then, growing still more maudlin, "Gale cap' ble anything." With that he fell flat on the gravel. I got him up, pummeling him without mercy.
"Look! Look!" he wailed. "Gale's going."
The roadster, distorted and huge in the mists, slipped out from behind the thicket ahead, and began to slide downhill, slowly at first, picking up fast on the heavy grade. I pulled up, appalled by the utter and diabolical senselessness of the thing. It was low, unspeakably low; the sort of trick no grown-up man would think of playing. What kind was this fellow Gale?
I felt, rather than saw, that Beckweth had come up beside me. When he spoke his voice was more nearly rational. Beckweth was a great hand for motoring, and I imagine the sporting appeal got into him as nothing else would have done.
"Dear Lord!" he whispered. "He's going too fast."
The car must have hit a rock just then, for it bounced and careened like a drunken thing, and swung along on two wheels down the broken ground. How it swerved when it came to the drive was a miracle, but it did, catching on to the smooth going and missing a ten-foot stump by inches. My mouth was hanging open. Beckweth crouched beside me, breathing like a buck-saw , A slice of sun peeped over the hills, setting the mists on fire, and through the lurid conflagra- tion we watched that dim, wild plunge into the depths. Beckweth was repeating something under his breath, like a prayer.
" When he hits that tangle at the bottom — that at the bottom — "
My eyes went to the mat of blue-green where the willows choked the dusky pocket below. The car met them and vanished, swallowed up.
I began to run. It seemed miles and miles down that dawn-flushed slope. Beckweth, sick and rasping, overhauled me, and labored on ahead, profiting by superior weight. The willows swallowed us up, too, but we carried on,tearing the weeds and vines in the twilight:
There, of a sudden, was Barway's house, and a slatternly female standing in the doorway, peering down the road beyond. It was an unearthly hour. Her face, like the face of the woman from Wyoming, lighted up at sight of us, eager, almost ecstatic. They were starved for events here in the hills,
"Was he a friend o' yourn?" she screamed, hopefully, as we bolted past.
Beckweth turned his head.
"W-h-e-r-e?" he panted.
"Round the bend," her voice trailed us, "Barway's t-h-e-r-e— "
The Footstool was mysterious in the dawn; populous, too—it was a wonder where they all came from. Vague, pink- misted forms multiplied about the bend where the road ducked around a sharp elbow of the hill. An old man sat in a wagon, staring down into the valley. Barway came toward us, clawing nervously at his beard. Barway was another man this morning.
"O-oh!" he stammered, when he recognized us in the cloud, "It's you!"
He turned and walked back with us, almost appealing;.
"It's too bad. 'Twas all in fun, ye know. He come up to game ye, and look what happens. He was goin' too fast, and what with the rain in the night — oh, dear! An' to think 'twas all in fun — and all that pack o' lies I told ye last night, and that shelf I rigged up, and all."
"Is he — he — badly hurt?"
"Hurt? Good God, if ye could see what it done to 'im. There's his auto-mo-bile---what's left. Somethin' 'r other took 'im in the middle — bad."
He didn't need to point; we could see the machine, thirty feet down the bank, lodged between two boulders. I felt very sick at my stomach, and dizzy, Beckweth was rubbing his bloodshot eyes. The woman from sweet Wyoming was there, sitting on a rock, feasting her vision.
"Where is he?" I asked Barway, in a small voice.
"Sam Ed's took him down to Three Forks."
"Why — why— it can't be much over three or four minutes."
He jerked a suspicious glance at me. There was something clammy in the air. I turned to Beckweth and found him still rubbing his eyes.
"Look at his tracks," he whispered, uncertainly. "For God's sake, Sands, look where the wheel-tracks left off. He was coming the wrong way — up the valley — not down."
I whirled on Barway.
"Tell me," I cried, "when did all this happen? Say?"
"Why — it must've been somewhere after two 'clock this mornin'. Tween that an' three. I— I s' posed ye knew."
"But the car — the other car— the one that came down the hill here about five minutes back?"
The old fellow stared with a blankness not to be questioned, shaking his head slowly. I was getting dizzy.
"You say he was — mangled? At the—th—middle?"
"Cut clean in two, if ye call that mangled. They never found both the legs till jest a piece back."
"And one of them was — was broken — at the knee?"
"Now how 'd ye know that?"
The vacancy of his stare was changing to wonder. I found a hand on my shoulder, and my feet stumbling down the Footstool road. Beckweth was grunting like a stuck pig.
"God, Sands, let's get back to the cityl"
It was a glorious morning in the Footstool. Beckweth walked fast, and I could hear him ahead of me, talking to himself about the state of the market. As for myself, I couldn't keep old man Barway's voice out of my brain:
"If a man figgers to ha'nt, why, he'll ha'nt, an' nothin' in the world's goin' to stop his ha'ntin'…."
We were both glad to get back to the club.