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Title: Mr. Jones
Author: Edith Wharton
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language:   English
Date first posted: February 2002
Date most recently updated: February 2002

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Mr. Jones
Edith Wharton.




1.

Lady Jane Lynke was unlike other people: when she heard that she had
inherited Bells, the beautiful old place which had belonged to the Lynkes
of Thudeney for something like six hundred years, the fancy took her to
go and see it unannounced. She was staying at a friend's near by, in
Kent, and the next morning she borrowed a motor and slipped away alone to
Thudeney-Blazes, the adjacent village.

It was a lustrous motionless day. Autumn bloom lay on the Sussex downs,
on the heavy trees of the weald, on streams moving indolently, far off
across the marshes. Farther still, Dungeness, a fitful streak, floated on
an immaterial sky which was perhaps, after all, only sky.

In the softness Thudeney-Blazes slept: a few aged houses bowed about a
duck-pond, a silvery spire, orchards thick with dew. Did Thudeney-Blazes
ever wake?

Lady Jane left the motor to the care of the geese on a miniature common,
pushed open a white gate into a field (the griffoned portals being
padlocked), and struck across the park toward a group of carved
chimney-stacks. No one seemed aware of her.

In a dip of the land, the long low house, its ripe brick masonry
overhanging a moat deeply sunk about its roots, resembled an aged cedar
spreading immemorial red branches. Lady Jane held her breath and gazed.

A silence distilled from years of solitude lay on lawns and gardens. No
one had lived at Bells since the last Lord Thudeney, then a penniless
younger son, had forsaken it sixty years before to seek his fortune in
Canada. And before that, he and his widowed mother, distant poor
relations, were housed in one of the lodges, and the great place, even in
their day, had been as mute and solitary as the family vault.

Lady Jane, daughter of another branch, to which an earldom and
considerable possessions had accrued, had never seen Bells, hardly heard
its name. A succession of deaths, and the whim of an old man she had
never known, now made her heir to all this beauty; and as she stood and
looked she was glad she had come to it from so far, from impressions so
remote and different. "It would be dreadful to be used to it--to be
thinking already about the state of the roof, or the cost of a heating
system."

Till this her thirty-fifth year, Lady Jane had led an active, independent
and decided life. One of several daughters, moderately but sufficiently
provided for, she had gone early from home, lived in London lodgings,
travelled in tropic lands, spent studious summers in Spain and Italy, and
written two or three brisk business-like little books about cities
usually dealt with sentimentally. And now, just back from a summer in the
south of France, she stood ankle deep in wet bracken, and gazed at Bells
lying there under a September sun that looked like moonlight.

"I shall never leave it!" she ejaculated, her heart swelling as if she
had taken the vow to a lover.

She ran down the last slope of the park and entered the faded formality
of gardens with clipped yews as ornate as architecture, and holly hedges
as solid as walls. Adjoining the house rose a low deep-buttressed chapel.
Its door was ajar, and she thought this of good augury: her forebears
were waiting for her. In the porch she remarked fly-blown notices of
services, an umbrella stand, a dishevelled door-mat: no doubt the chapel
served as the village church. The thought gave her a sense of warmth and
neighbourliness. Across the damp flags of the chancel, monuments and
brasses showed through a traceried screen. She examined them curiously.
Some hailed her with vocal memories, others whispered out of the remote
and the unknown: it was a shame to know so little about her own family.
But neither Crofts nor Lynkes had ever greatly distinguished themselves;
they had gathered substance simply by holding on to what they had, and
slowly accumulating privileges and acres. "Mostly by clever marriages,"
Lady Jane thought with a faint contempt.

At that moment her eyes lit on one of the less ornate monuments: a plain
sarcophagus of gray marble niched in the wall and surmounted by the bust
of a young man with a fine arrogant head, a Byronic throat and
tossed-back curls.

"Peregrine Vincent Theobald Lynke, Baron Clouds, fifteenth Viscount
Thudeney of Bells, Lord of the Manors of Thudeney, Thudeney-Blazes, Upper
Lynke, Lynke-Linnet--" so it ran, with the usual tedious enumeration of
honours, titles, court and county offices, ending with; "Born on May 1st,
1790, perished of the plague at Aleppo in 1828." And underneath, in small
cramped characters, as if crowded as an afterthought into an insufficient
space: "Also His Wife."

That was all. No name, dates, honours, epithets, for the Viscountess
Thudeney. Did she too die of the plague at Aleppo? Or did the "also"
imply her actual presence in the sarcophagus which her husband's pride
had no doubt prepared for his own last sleep, little guessing that some
Syrian drain was to receive him? Lady Jane racked her memory in vain. All
she knew was that the death without issue of this Lord Thudeney had
caused the property to revert to the Croft-Lynkes, and so, in the end,
brought her to the chancel step where, shyly, she knelt a moment, vowing
to the dead to carry on their trust.

She passed on to the entrance court, and stood at last at the door of her
new home, a blunt tweed figure in heavy mud-stained shoes. She felt as
intrusive as a tripper, and her hand hesitated on the door-bell. "I ought
to have brought some one with me," she thought; an odd admission on the
part of a young woman who, when she was doing her books of travel, had
prided herself on forcing single-handed the most closely guarded doors.
But those other places, as she looked back, seemed easy and accessible
compared to Bells.

She rang, and a tinkle answered, carried on by a flurried echo which
seemed to ask what in the world was happening. Lady Jane, through the
nearest window, caught the spectral vista of a long room with shrouded
furniture. She could not see its farther end, but she had the feeling
that someone stationed there might very well be seeing her.

"Just at first," she thought, "I shall have to invite people here--to
take the chill off."

She rang again, and the tinkle again prolonged itself; but no one came.

At last she reflected that the care-takers probably lived at the back of
the house, and pushing open a door in the court-yard wall she worked her
way around to what seemed a stable-yard. Against the purple brick
sprawled a neglected magnolia, bearing one late flower as big as a
planet. Lady Jane rang at a door marked "Service." This bell, though also
languid, had a wakefuller sound, as if it were more used to being rung,
and still knew what was likely to follow; and after a delay during which
Lady Jane again had the sense of being peered at--from above, through a
lowered blind--a bolt shot, and a woman looked out. She was youngish,
unhealthy, respectable and frightened; and she blinked at Lady Jane like
someone waking out of sleep.

"Oh," said Lady Jane--"do you think I might visit the house?"

"The house?"

"I'm staying near here--I'm interested in old houses. Mightn't I take a
look?"

The young woman drew back. "The house isn't shown."

"Oh, but not to--not to--" Jane weighed the case. "You see," she
explained, "I know some of the family: the Northumberland branch."

"You're related, madam?"

"Well--distantly, yes." It was exactly what she had not meant to say; but
there seemed no other way.

The woman twisted her apron-strings in perplexity.

"Come, you know," Lady Jane urged, producing half-a-crown. The woman
turned pale.

"I couldn't, madam; not without asking." It was clear that she was sorely
tempted.

"Well, ask, won't you?" Lady Jane pressed the tip into a hesitating hand.
The young woman shut the door and vanished. She was away so long that the
visitor concluded her half-crown had been pocketed, and there was an end;
and she began to be angry with herself, which was more often her habit
than to be so with others.

"Well, for a fool, Jane, you're a complete one," she grumbled.

A returning footstep, listless, reluctant--the tread of one who was not
going to let her in. It began to be rather comic.

The door opened, and the young woman said in her dull sing-song: "Mr.
Jones says that no one is allowed to visit the house."

She and Lady Jane looked at each other for a moment, and Lady Jane read
the apprehension in the other's eyes.

"Mr. Jones? Oh?--Yes; of course, keep it..." She waved away the woman's
hand.

"Thank you, madam." The door closed again, and Lady Jane stood and gazed
up at the inexorable face of her old home.


2.

"But you didn't get in? You actually came back without so much as a
peep?"

Her story was received, that evening at dinner, with mingled mirth and
incredulity.

"But, my dear! You mean to say you asked to see the house, and they
wouldn't let you? WHO wouldn't?" Lady Jane's hostess insisted.

"Mr. Jones."

"Mr. Jones?"

"He said no one was allowed to visit it."

"Who on earth is Mr. Jones?"

"The care-taker, I suppose. I didn't see him."

"Didn't see him either? But I never heard such nonsense! Why in the world
didn't you insist?"

"Yes; why didn't you?" they all chorused; and she could only answer, a
little lamely: "I think I was afraid."

"Afraid? YOU, darling?" There was fresh hilarity. "Of Mr. Jones?"

"I suppose so." She joined in the laugh, yet she knew it was true: she
had been afraid.

Edward Stramer, the novelist, an old friend of her family, had been
listening with an air of abstraction, his eyes on his empty coffee-cup.
Suddenly, as the mistress of the house pushed back her chair, he looked
across the table at Lady Jane. "It's odd: I've just remembered something.
Once, when I was a youngster, I tried to see Bells; over thirty years ago
it must have been." He glanced at his host. "Your mother drove me over.
And we were not let in."

There was a certain flatness in this conclusion, and someone remarked
that Bells had always been known as harder to get into than any house
thereabouts.

"Yes," said Stramer; "but the point is that we were refused in exactly
the same words. Mr. Jones said no one was allowed to visit the house."

"Ah--he was in possession already? Thirty years ago? Unsociable fellow,
Jones. Well, Jane, you've got a good watch-dog."

They moved to the drawing-room, and the talk drifted to other topics. But
Stramer came and sat down beside Lady Jane. "It is queer, though, that at
such a distance of time we should have been given exactly the same
answer."

She glanced up at him curiously. "Yes; and you didn't try to force your
way in either?"

"Oh no: it was not possible."

"So I felt," she agreed.

"Well, next week, my dear, I hope we shall see it all, in spite of Mr.
Jones," their hostess intervened, catching their last words as she moved
toward the piano.

"I wonder if we shall see Mr. Jones," said Stramer.


3.

Bells was not nearly as large as it looked; like many old houses it was
very narrow, and but one storey high, with servant's rooms in the low
attics, and much space wasted in crooked passages and superfluous stairs.
If she closed the great saloon, Jane thought, she might live there
comfortably with the small staff which was the most she could afford. It
was a relief to find the place less important than she had feared.

For already, in that first hour of arrival, she had decided to give up
everything else for Bells. Her previous plans and ambitions--except such
as might fit in with living there--had fallen from her like a discarded
garment, and things she had hardly thought about, or had shrugged away
with the hasty subversiveness of youth, were already laying quiet hands
on her; all the lives from which her life had issued, with what they bore
of example or admonishment. The very shabbiness of the house moved her
more than splendours, made it, after its long abandonment, seem full of
the careless daily coming and going of people long dead, people to whom
it had not been a museum, or a page of history, but cradle, nursery,
home, and sometimes, no doubt, a prison. If those marble lips in the
chapel could speak! If she could hear some of their comments on the old
house which had spread its silent shelter over their sins and sorrows,
their follies and submissions! A long tale, to which she was about to add
another chapter, subdued and humdrum beside some of those earlier annals,
yet probably freer and more varied than the unchronicled lives of the
great-aunts and great-grandmothers buried there so completely that they
must hardly have known when they passed from their beds to their graves.
"Piled up like dead leaves," Jane thought, "layers and layers of them, to
preserve something forever budding underneath."

Well, all these piled-up lives had at least preserved the old house in
its integrity; and that was worth while. She was satisfied to carry on
such a trust.

She sat in the garden looking up at those rosy walls, iridescent with
damp and age. She decided which windows should be hers, which rooms given
to the friends from Kent who were motoring over, Stramer among them, for
a modest house-warming; then she got up and went in.

The hour had come for domestic questions; for she had arrived alone,
unsupported even by the old family housemaid her mother had offered her.
She preferred to start afresh, convinced that her small household could
be staffed from the neighbourhood. Mrs. Clemm, the rosy-cheeked old
person who had curtsied her across the threshold, would doubtless know.

Mrs. Clemm, summoned to the library, curtsied again. She wore black silk,
gathered and spreading as to skirt, flat and perpendicular as to bodice.
On her glossy false front was a black lace cap with ribbons which had
faded from violet to ash-colour, and a heavy watch-chain descended from
the lava brooch under her crochet collar. Her small round face rested on
the collar like a red apple on a white plate: neat, smooth, circular,
with a pursed-up mouth, eyes like black seeds, and round ruddy cheeks
with the skin so taut that one had to look close to see that it was as
wrinkled as a piece of old crackly.

Mrs. Clemm was sure there would be no trouble about servants. She herself
could do a little cooking: though her hand might be a bit out. But there
was her niece to help; and she was quite of her ladyship's opinion, that
there was no need to get in strangers. They were mostly a poor lot; and
besides, they might not take to Bells. There were persons who didn't.
Mrs. Clemm smiled a sharp little smile, like the scratch of a pin, as she
added that she hoped her ladyship wouldn't be one of them.

As for under-servants...well, a boy, perhaps? She had a great-nephew she
might send for. But about women--under-housemaids--if her ladyship
thought they couldn't manage as they were; well, she really didn't know.
Thudeney-Blazes? Oh, she didn't think so... There was more dead than
living at Thudeney-Blazes...everyone was leaving there...or in the
church-yard...one house after another being shut...death was everywhere,
wasn't it, my lady? Mrs. Clemm said it with another of her short sharp
smiles, which provoked the appearance of a frosty dimple.

"But my niece Georgiana is a hard worker, my lady; her that let you in
the other day..."

"That didn't," Lady Jane corrected.

"Oh, my lady, it was too unfortunate. If only your ladyship had have
said...poor Georgiana had ought to have seen; but she never DID have her
wits about her, not for answering the door."

"But she was only obeying orders. She went to ask Mr. Jones."

Mrs. Clemm was silent. Her small hands, wrinkled and resolute, fumbled
with the folds of her apron, and her quick eyes made the circuit of the
room and then came back to Lady Jane's.

"Just so, my lady; but, as I told her, she'd ought to have known--"

"And who is Mr. Jones?"

Mrs. Clemm's smile snapped out again, deprecating, respectful. "Well, my
lady, he's more dead than living, too...if I may say so," was her
surprising answer.

"Is he? I'm sorry to hear that; but who is he?"

"Well, my lady, he's...he's my great-uncle, as it were...my grandmother's
own brother, as you might say."

"Ah; I see." Lady Jane considered her with growing curiosity. "He must
have reached a great age, then."

"Yes, my lady; he has that. Though I'm not," Mrs. Clemm added, the dimple
showing, "as old myself as your ladyship might suppose. Living at Bells
all these years has been ageing to me; it would be to anybody."

"I suppose so. And yet," Lady Jane continued, "Mr. Jones has survived;
has stood it well--as you certainly have?"

"Oh. Not as well as I have," Mrs. Clemm interjected, as if resentful of
the comparison.

"At any rate, he still mounts guard; mounts it as well as he did thirty
years ago."

"Thirty years ago?" Mrs. Clemm echoed, her hands dropping from her apron
to her sides.

"Wasn't he here thirty years ago?"

"Oh, yes, my lady; certainly; he's never once been away that I know of."

"What a wonderful record! And what exactly are his duties?"

Mrs. Clemm paused again, her hands still motionless in the folds of her
skirt. Lady Jane noticed that the fingers were tightly clenched, as if to
check an involuntary gesture.

"He began as pantry-boy; then footman; then butler, my lady; but it's
hard to say, isn't it, what an old servant's duties are, when he's stayed
on in the same house so many years?"

"Yes; and that house always empty."

"Just so, my lady. Everything came to depend on him; one thing after
another. His late lordship thought the world of him."

"His late lordship? But he was never here! He spent all his life in
Canada."

Mrs. Clemm seemed slightly disconcerted. "Certainly, my lady." (Her voice
said: "Who are you, to set me right as to the chronicles of Bells?") "But
by letter, my lady; I can show you the letters. And there was his
lordship before, the sixteenth Viscount. He DID come here once."

"Ah, did he?" Lady Jane was embarrassed to find how little she knew of
them all. She rose from her seat. "They were lucky, all these absentees,
to have some one to watch over their interests so faithfully. I should
like to see Mr. Jones--to thank him. Will you take me to him now?"

"Now?" Mrs. Clemm moved back a step or two; Lady Jane fancied her cheeks
paled a little under their ruddy varnish. "Oh, not today, my lady."

"Why? Isn't he well enough?"

"Not nearly. He's between life and death, as it were," Mrs. Clemm
repeated, as if the phrase were the nearest approach she could find to a
definition of Mr. Jones's state.

"He wouldn't even know who I was?"

Mrs. Clemm considered a moment. "I don't say THAT, my lady;" her tone
implied that to do so might appear disrespectful. "He'd know you, my
lady; but you wouldn't know HIM." She broke off and added hastily: "I
mean, for what he is: he's in no state for you to see him."

"He's so very ill? Poor man! And is everything possible being done?"

"Oh, everything; and more too, my lady. But perhaps," Mrs. Clemm
suggested, with a clink of keys, "this would be a good time for your
ladyship to take a look about the house. If your ladyship has no
objection, I should like to begin with the linen."


4.

"And Mr. Jones?" Stramer queried, a few days later, as they sat, Lady
Jane and the party from Kent, about an improvised tea-table in a recess
of one of the great holly-hedges.

The day was as hushed and warm as that on which she had first come to
Bells, and Lady Jane looked up with a smile of ownership at the old walls
which seemed to smile back, the windows which now looked at her with
friendly eyes.

"Mr. Jones? Who's Mr. Jones?" the others asked; only Stramer recalled
their former talk.

Lady Jane hesitated. "Mr. Jones is my invisible guardian; or rather, the
guardian of Bells."

They remembered then. "Invisible? You don't mean to say you haven't seen
him yet?"

"Not yet; perhaps I never shall. He's very old--and very ill, I'm
afraid."

"And he still rules here?"

"Oh, absolutely. The fact is," Lady Jane added "I believe he's the only
person left who really knows all about Bells."

"Jane, my DEAR! That big shrub over there against the wall! I verily
believe it's Templetonia retusa. It IS! Did any one ever hear of it
standing an English winter?" Gardeners all, they dashed towards the shrub
in its sheltered angle. "I shall certainly try it on a south wall at
Dipway," cried the hostess from Kent.

Tea over, they moved on to inspect the house. The short autumn day was
drawing to a close; but the party had been able to come only for an
afternoon, instead of staying over the week-end, and having lingered so
long in the gardens they had only time, indoors, to puzzle out what they
could through the shadows. Perhaps, Lady Jane thought, it was the best
hour to see a house like Bells, so long abandoned, and not yet warmed
into new life.

The fire she had had lit in the saloon sent its radiance to meet them,
giving the great room an air of expectancy and welcome. The portraits,
the Italian cabinets, the shabby armchairs and rugs, all looked as if
life had but lately left them; and Lady Jane said to herself: "Perhaps
Mrs. Clemm is right in advising me to live here and close the blue
parlour."

"My dear, what a fine room! Pity it faces north. Of course you'll have to
shut it in winter. It would cost a fortune to heat."

Lady Jane hesitated. "I don't know: I HAD meant to. But there seems to be
no other..."

"No other? In all this house?" They laughed; and one of the visitors,
going ahead and crossing a panelled anteroom, cried out: "But here! A
delicious room; windows south--yes, and west. The warmest of the house.
This is perfect."

They followed, and the blue room echoed with exclamations. "Those
charming curtains with the parrots...and the blue of that petit point
fire-screen! But, Jane, of course you must live here. Look at this
citron-wood desk!"

Lady Jane stood on the threshold. "It seems that the chimney smokes
hopelessly."

"Hopelessly? Nonsense! Have you consulted anybody? I'll send you a
wonderful man..."

"Besides, if you put in one of those one-pipe heaters...At Dipway..."

Stramer was looking over Lady Jane's shoulder. "What does Mr. Jones say
about it?"

"He says no one has ever been able to use this room; not for ages. It was
the housekeeper who told me. She's his great-niece, and seems simply to
transmit his oracles."

Stramer shrugged. "Well, he's lived at Bells longer than you have.
Perhaps he's right."

"How absurd!" one of the ladies cried. "The housekeeper and Mr. Jones
probably spend their evenings here, and don't want to be disturbed.
Look--ashes on the hearth! What did I tell you?"

Lady Jane echoed the laugh as they turned away. They had still to see the
library, damp and dilapidated, the panelled dining-room, the
breakfast-parlour, and such bedrooms as had any old furniture left; not
many, for the late lords of Bells, at one time or another, had evidently
sold most of its removable treasures.

When the visitors came down their motors were waiting. A lamp had been
placed in the hall, but the rooms beyond were lit only by the broad clear
band of western sky showing through uncurtained casements. On the
doorstep one of the ladies exclaimed that she had lost her hand-bag--no,
she remembered; she had laid it on the desk in the blue room. Which way
was the blue room?

"I'll get it," Jane said, turning back. She heard Stramer following. He
asked if he should bring the lamp.

"Oh, no; I can see."

She crossed the threshold of the blue room, guided by the light from its
western window; then she stopped. Some one was in the room already; she
felt rather than saw another presence. Stramer, behind her, paused also;
he did not speak or move. What she saw, or thought she saw, was simply an
old man with bent shoulders turning away from the citron-wood desk.
Almost before she had received the impression there was no one there;
only the slightest stir of the needlework curtain over the farther door.
She heard no step or other sound.

"There's the bag," she said, as if the act of speaking, and saying
something obvious were a relief.

In the hall her glance crossed Stramer's, but failed to find there the
reflection of what her own had registered.

He shook hands, smiling. "Well, goodbye. I commit you to Mr. Jones's
care; only don't let him say that YOU'RE not shown to visitors."

She smiled: "Come back and try," and then shivered a little as the lights
of the last motor vanished beyond the great black hedges.


5.

Lady Jane had exulted in her resolve to keep Bells to herself till she
and the old house should have had time to make friends. But after a few
days she recalled the uneasy felling which had come over her as she stood
on the threshold after her first tentative ring. Yes; she had been right
in thinking she would have to have people about her to take the chill
off. The house was too old, too mysterious, too much withdrawn into its
own secret past, for her poor little present to fit into it without
uneasiness.

But it was not a time of year when, among Lady Jane's friends, it was
easy to find people free. Her own family were all in the north, and
impossible to dislodge. One of her sisters, when invited, simply sent her
back a list of shooting-dates; and her mother wrote: "Why not come to us?
What can you have to do all alone in that empty house at this time of
year? Next summer we're all coming."

Having tried one or two friends with the same result, Lady Jane bethought
her of Stramer. He was finishing a novel, she knew, and at such times he
liked to settle down somewhere in the country where he could be sure of
not being disturbed. Bells was a perfect asylum, and though it was
probable that some other friend had anticipated her, and provided the
requisite seclusion, Lady Jane decided to invite him. "Do bring your work
and stay till it's finished--and don't be in a hurry to finish. I promise
that no one shall bother you--" and she added, half-nervously: "Not even
Mr. Jones." As she wrote she felt an absurd impulse to blot the words
out. "He might not like it," she thought; and the "he" did not refer to
Stramer.

Was the solitude already making her superstitious? She thrust the letter
into an envelope, and carried it herself to the post-office at
Thudeney-Blazes. Two days later a wire from Stramer announced his
arrival.

He came on a cold stormy afternoon, just before dinner, and as they went
up to dress Lady Jane called after him: "We shall sit in the blue parlour
this evening." The housemaid Georgiana was crossing the passage with hot
water for the visitor. She stopped and cast a vacant glance at Lady Jane.
The latter met it, and said carelessly: "You hear Georgiana? The fire in
the blue parlour."

While Lady Jane was dressing she heard a knock, and saw Mrs. Clemm's
round face just inside the door, like a red apple on a garden wall.

"Is there anything wrong about the saloon, my lady? Georgiana
understood--"

"That I want the fire in the blue parlour. Yes. What's wrong with the
saloon is that one freezes there."

"But the chimney smokes in the blue parlour."

"Well, we'll give it a trial, and if it does I'll send for some one to
arrange it."

"Nothing can be done, my lady. Everything has been tried, and--"

Lady Jane swung about suddenly. She had heard Stramer singing a cheerful
hunting-song in a cracked voice, in his dressing-room at the other end of
the corridor.

"That will do, Mrs. Clemm. I want the fire in the blue parlour."

"Yes, my lady." The door closed on the housekeeper.

"So you decided on the saloon after all?" Stramer said, as Lady Jane led
the way there after their brief repast.

"Yes, I hope you won't be frozen. Mr. Jones swears that the chimney in
the blue parlour isn't safe; so, until I can fetch the mason over from
Strawbridge--"

"Oh, I see." Stramer drew up to the blaze in the great fire-place. "We're
very well off here; though heating this room is going to be ruinous.
Meanwhile, I note that Mr. Jones still rules."

Lady Jane gave a slight laugh.

"Tell me," Stramer continued, as she bent over the mixing of the Turkish
coffee, "what is there about him? I'm getting curious."

Lady Jane laughed again, and heard the embarrassment in her laugh. "So am
I."

"Why--you don't mean to say you haven't seen him yet?"

"No. He's still too ill."

"What's the matter with him? What does the doctor say?"

"He won't see the doctor."

"But, look here--if things take a worse turn--I don't know; but mightn't
you be held to have been negligent?"

"What can I do? Mrs. Clemm says he has a doctor who treats him by
correspondence. I don't see that I can interfere."

"Isn't there some one beside Mrs. Clemm whom you can consult?"

She considered: certainly, as yet, she had not made much effort to get
into relation with her neighbours. "I expected the vicar to call. But
I've enquired: there's no vicar any longer at Thudeney-Blazes. A curate
comes from Strawbridge every other Sunday. And the one who comes now is
new: nobody about the place seems to know him."

"But I thought the chapel here was in use? It looked so when you showed
it to us the other day."

"I thought so too. It used to be the parish church of Lynke-Linnet and
Lower-Lynke; but it seems that was years ago. The parishioners objected
to coming so far; and there weren't enough of them. Mrs. Clemm says that
nearly everybody has died off or left. It's the same at Thudeney-Blazes."

Stramer glanced about the great room, with its circle of warmth and light
by the hearth, and the sullen shadows huddled at its farther end, as if
hungrily listening. "With this emptiness at the centre, life was bound to
cease gradually on the outskirts."

Lady Jane followed his glance. "Yes; it's all wrong. I must try to wake
the place up."

"Why not open it to the public? Have a visitors' day?"

She thought a moment. In itself the suggestion was distasteful; she could
imagine few things that would bore her more. Yet to do so might be a
duty, a first step toward reestablishing relations between the lifeless
house and its neighbourhood. Secretly, she felt that even the coming and
going of indifferent unknown people would help to take the chill from
those rooms, to brush from their walls the dust of too-heavy memories.

"Who's that?" asked Stramer. Lady Jane started in spite of herself, and
glanced over her shoulder; but he was only looking past her at a portrait
which a dart of flame from the hearth had momentarily called from its
obscurity.

"That's a Lady Thudeney." She got up and went toward the picture with a
lamp. "Might be an Opie, don't you think? It's a strange face, under the
smirk of the period."

Stramer took the lamp and held it up. The portrait was that of a young
woman in a short-waisted muslin gown caught beneath the breast by a
cameo. Between clusters of beribboned curls a long fair oval looked out
dumbly, inexpressively, in a stare of frozen beauty. "It's as if the
house had been too empty even then," Lady Jane murmured. "I wonder which
she was?  Oh, I know: it must be 'Also His Wife'."

Stramer stared.

"It's the only name on her monument. The wife of Peregrine Vincent
Theobald, who perished of the plague at Aleppo in 1828. Perhaps she was
very fond of him, and this was painted when she was an inconsolable
widow."

"They didn't dress like that as late as 1828." Stramer holding the lamp
closer, deciphered the inscription on the border of the lady's India
scarf; "Juliana, Viscountess Thudeney, 1818". "She must have been
inconsolable before his death, then."

Lady Jane smiled. "Let's hope she grew less so after it."

Stramer passed the lamp across the canvas. "Do you see where she was
painted? In the blue parlour. Look: the old panelling; and she's leaning
on the citron-wood desk. They evidently used the room in winter then."
The lamp paused on the background of the picture: a window framing
snow-laden paths and hedges in icy perspective.

"Curious," Stramer said--"and rather melancholy: to be painted against
that wintry desolation. I wish you could find out more about her. Have
you dipped into your archives?"

"No. Mr. Jones--"

"He won't allow that either?"

"Yes; but he's lost the key of the muniment-room. Mrs. Clemm has been
trying to get a locksmith."

"Surely the neighbourhood can still produce one?"

"There WAS one at Thudeney-Blazes; but he died the week before I came."

"Of course!"

"Of course?"

"Well, in Mrs. Clemm's hands keys get lost, chimneys smoke, locksmith's
die..." Stramer stood, light in hand, looking down the shadowy length of
the saloon. "I say, let's go and see what's happening now in the blue
parlour."

Lady Jane laughed: a laugh seemed easy with another voice nearby to echo
it. "Let's--"

She followed him out of the saloon, across the hall in which a single
candle burned on a far-off table, and past the stairway yawning like a
black funnel above them. In the doorway of the blue parlour Stramer
paused. "Now, then, Mr. Jones!"

It was stupid, but Lady Jane's heart gave a jerk: she hoped the challenge
would not evoke the shadowy figure she had half seen that other day.

"Lord, it's cold!" Stramer stood looking about him. "Those ashes are
still on the hearth. Well, it's all very queer." He crossed over to the
citron-wood desk. "There's where she sat for her picture--and in this
very arm-chair--look!"

"Oh, don't!" Lady Jane exclaimed. The words slipped out unawares.

"Don't--what?"

"Try those drawers--" she wanted to reply; for his hand was stretched
toward the desk.

"I'm frozen; I think I'm starting a cold. Do come away," she grumbled,
backing toward the door.

Stramer lighted her out without comment. As the lamplight slid along the
walls Lady Jane fancied that the needle-work curtain over the farther
door stirred as it had that other day. But it may have been the wind
rising outside...

The saloon seemed like home when they got back to it.

"There IS no Mr. Jones!"

Stramer proclaimed it triumphantly when they met the next morning. Lady
Jane had motored off early to Strawbridge in quest of a mason and a
locksmith. The quest had taken longer than she had expected, for
everybody in Strawbridge was busy on jobs nearer by, and unaccustomed to
the idea of going to Bells, with which the town seemed to have had no
communication within living memory. The younger workmen did not even know
where the place was, and the best Lady Jane could do was to coax a
locksmith's apprentice to come with her, on the understanding that he
would be driven back to the nearest station as soon as his job was over.
As for the mason, he had merely taken note of her request, and promised
half-heartedly to send somebody when he could. "Rather off our beat,
though."

She returned, discouraged and somewhat weary, as Stramer was coming
downstairs after his morning's work.

"No Mr. Jones?" she echoed.

"Not a trace! I've been trying the old Glamis experiment--situating his
room by its window. Luckily the house is smaller..."

Lady Jane smiled. "Is this what you call locking yourself up with your
work?"

"I can't work: that's the trouble. Not till this is settled. Bells is a
fidgety place."

"Yes," she agreed.

"Well, I wasn't going to be beaten; so I went to try to find the
head-gardener."

"But there isn't--"

"No. Mrs. Clemm told me. The head-gardener died last year. That woman
positively glows with life whenever she announces a death. Have you
noticed?"

Yes: Lady Jane had.

"Well--I said to myself that if there wasn't a head-gardener there must
be an underling; at least one. I'd seen somebody in the distance, raking
leaves, and I ran him down. Of course he'd never seen Mr. Jones."

"You mean that poor old half-blind Jacob? He couldn't see anybody."

"Perhaps not. At any rate, he told me that Mr. Jones wouldn't let the
leaves be buried for leaf-mould--I forget why. Mr. Jones's authority
extends even to the gardens."

"Yet you say he doesn't exist!"

"Wait. Jacob is half-blind, but he's been here for years, and knows more
about the place than you'd think. I got him talking about the house, and
I pointed to one window after another, and he told me each time whose the
room was, or had been. But he couldn't situate Mr. Jones."

"I beg your ladyship's pardon--" Mrs. Clemm was on the threshold, cheeks
shining, skirt rustling, her eyes like drills. "The locksmith your
ladyship brought back; I understand it was for the lock of the
muniment-room--"

"Well?"

"He's lost one of his tools, and can't do anything without it. So he's
gone. The butcher's boy gave him a lift back."

Lady Jane caught Stramer's faint chuckle. She stood and stared at Mrs.
Clemm, and Mrs. Clemm stared back, deferential but unflinching.

"Gone? Very well; I'll motor after him."

"Oh, my lady, it's too late. The butcher's boy had his motor-cycle...
Besides, what could he do?"

"Break the lock," exclaimed Lady Jane, exasperated.

"Oh, my lady--" Mrs. Clemm's intonation marked the most respectful
incredulity. She waited another moment, and then withdrew, while Lady
Jane and Stramer considered each other.

"But this is absurd," Lady Jane declared when they had lunched, waited
on, as usual, by the flustered Georgiana. "I'll break in that door
myself, if I have to.--Be careful please, Georgiana," she added; "I was
speaking of doors, not dishes." For Georgiana had let fall with a crash
the dish she was removing from the table. She gathered up the pieces in
her tremulous fingers, and vanished. Jane and Stramer returned to the
saloon.

"Queer!" the novelist commented.

"Yes." Lady Jane, facing the door, started slightly. Mrs. Clemm was there
again; but this time subdued, unrustling, bathed in that odd pallour
which enclosed but seemed unable to penetrate the solid crimson of her
cheeks.

"I beg pardon, my lady. The key is found." Her hand, as she held it out,
trembled like Georgiana's.


7.

"It's not here," Stramer announced a couple of hours later.

"What isn't?" Lady Jane queried, looking up from a heap of disordered
papers. Her eyes blinked at him through the fog of yellow dust raised by
her manipulations.

"The clue.--I've got all the 1800 to 1840 papers here; and there's a
gap."

She moved over to the table above which he was bending. "A gap?"

"A big one. Nothing between 1815 and 1835. No mention of Peregrine or
Juliana."

They looked at each other across the tossed papers, and suddenly Stramer
exclaimed: "Some one has been here before us--just lately."

Lady Jane stared, incredulous, and then followed the direction of his
downward pointing hand.

"Do you wear flat heelless shoes?" he questioned.

"And of that size? Even my feet are too small to fit into those
foot-prints. Luckily there wasn't time to sweep the floor!"

Lady Jane felt a slight chill, a chill of a different and more inward
quality than the shock of stuffy coldness which had met them as they
entered the unaired attic set apart for the storing of the Thudeney
archives.

"But how absurd! Of course when Mrs. Clemm found we were coming up she
came--or sent some one--to open the shutters."

"That's not Mrs. Clemm's foot, or the other woman's. She must have sent a
man--an old man with a shaky uncertain step. Look how it wanders."

"Mr. Jones, then!" said Lady Jane, half impatiently.

"Mr. Jones. And he got what he wanted, and put it--where?"

"Ah, THAT--! I'm freezing, you know; let's give this up for the present."
She rose, and Stramer followed her without protest; the muniment-room was
really untenable.

"I must catalogue all this stuff some day, I suppose," Lady Jane
continued, as they went down the stairs. "But meanwhile, what do you say
to a good tramp, to get the dust out of our lungs?"

He agreed, and turned back to his room to get some letters he wanted to
post at Thudeney-Blazes.

Lady Jane went down alone. It was a fine afternoon, and the sun, which
had made the dust-clouds of the muniment-room so dazzling, sent a long
shaft through the west window of the blue parlour, and across the floor
of the hall.

Certainly Georgiana kept the oak floors remarkably well; considering how
much else she had to do, it was surp--

Lady Jane stopped as if an unseen hand had jerked her violently back. On
the smooth parquet before her she had caught the trace of dusty
foot-prints--the prints of broad-soled heelless shoes--making for the
blue parlour and crossing its threshold. She stood still with the same
inward shiver that she had felt upstairs; then, avoiding the foot-prints,
she too stole very softly toward the blue parlour, pushed the door wider,
and saw, in the long dazzle of autumn light, as if translucid, edged with
the glitter, an old man at the desk.

"Mr. Jones!"

A step came up behind her: Mrs. Clemm with the post-bag. "You called, my
lady?"

"I...yes..."

When she turned back to the desk there was no one there.

She faced about on the housekeeper. "Who was that?"

"Where, my lady?"

Lady Jane, without answering, moved toward the needlework curtain, in
which she had detected the same faint tremor as before. "Where does that
door go to--behind the curtain?"

"Nowhere, my lady. I mean; there is no door."

Mrs. Clemm had followed; her step sounded quick and assured. She lifted
up the curtain with a firm hand. Behind it was a rectangle of roughly
plastered wall, where an opening had visibly been bricked up.

"When was that done?"

"The wall built up? I couldn't say. I've never known it otherwise,"
replied the housekeeper.

The two women stood for an instant measuring each other with level eyes;
then the housekeeper's were slowly lowered, and she let the curtain fall
from her hand. "There are a great many things in old houses that nobody
knows about," she said.

"There shall be as few as possible in mine," said Lady Jane.

"My lady!" The housekeeper stepped quickly in front of her. "My lady,
what are you doing?" she gasped.

Lady Jane had turned back to the desk at which she had just seen--or
fancied she had seen--the bending figure of Mr. Jones.

"I am going to look through these drawers," she said.

The housekeeper still stood in pale immobility between her and the desk.
"No, my lady--no. You won't do that."

"Because--?"

Mrs. Clemm crumpled up her black silk apron with a despairing gesture.
"Because--if you WILL have it--that's where Mr. Jones keeps his private
papers. I know he'd oughtn't to..."

"Ah--then it was Mr. Jones I saw here?"

The housekeeper's arms sank to her sides and her mouth hung open on an
unspoken word. "You SAW him." The question came out in a confused
whisper; and before Lady Jane could answer, Mrs. Clemm's arms rose again,
stretched before her face as if to fend off a blaze of intolerable light,
or some forbidden sight she had long since disciplined herself not to
see. Thus screening her eyes she hurried across the hall to the door of
the servant's wing.

Lady Jane stood for a moment looking after her; then, with a slightly
shaking hand, she opened the desk and hurriedly took out from it all the
papers--a small bundle--that it contained. With them she passed back into
the saloon.

As she entered it her eye was caught by the portrait of the melancholy
lady in the short-waisted gown, whom she and Stramer had christened "Also
His Wife." The lady's eyes, usually so empty of all awareness save of her
own frozen beauty, seemed suddenly waking to an anguished participation
in the scene.

"Fudge!" muttered Lady Jane, shaking off the spectral suggestion as she
turned to meet Stramer on the threshold.


8.

The missing papers were all there. Stramer and she spread them out
hurriedly on a table and at once proceeded to gloat over their find.  Not
a particularly important one, indeed; in the long history of the Lynkes
and Crofts it took up hardly more space than the little handful of
documents did, in actual bulk, among the stacks of the muniment room. But
the fact that these papers filled a gap in the chronicles of the house,
and situated the sad-faced beauty as veritably the wife of the Peregrine
Vincent Theobald Lynke who had "perished of the plague at Aleppo in
1828"--this was a discovery sufficiently exciting to whet amateur
appetites, and to put out of Lady Jane's mind the strange incident which
had attended the opening of the cabinet.

For a while she and Stramer sat silently and methodically going through
their respective piles of correspondence; but presently Lady Jane, after
glancing over one of the yellowing pages, uttered a startled exclamation.

"How strange! Mr. Jones again--always Mr. Jones!"

Stramer looked up from the papers he was sorting. "You too? I've got a
lot of letters here addressed to a Mr. Jones by Peregrine Vincent, who
seems to have been always disporting himself abroad, and chronically in
want of money. Gambling debts, apparently...ah and women...a dirty record
altogether..."

"Yes? My letter is not written to a Mr. Jones; but it's about one.
Listen." Lady Jane began to read. "'Bells, February 20th, 1826...' (It's
from poor 'Also His Wife' to her husband.) 'My dear Lord, Acknowledging
as I ever do the burden of the sad impediment which denies me the
happiness of being more frequently in your company, I yet fail to
conceive how anything in my state obliges that close seclusion in which
Mr. Jones persists--and by your express orders, so he declares--in
confining me. Surely, my lord, had you found it possible to spend more
time with me since the day of our marriage, you would yourself have seen
it to be unnecessary to put this restraint upon me. It is true, alas,
that my unhappy infirmity denies me the happiness to speak with you, or
to hear the accents of the voice I should love above all others could it
but reach me; but, my dear husband, I would have you consider that my
mind is in no way affected by this obstacle, but goes out to you, as my
heart does, in a perpetual eagerness of attention, and that to sit in
this great house alone, day after day, month after month, deprived of
your company, and debarred also from any intercourse but that of the
servants you have chosen to put about me, is a fate more cruel than I
deserve and more painful than I can bear. I have entreated Mr. Jones,
since he seems all-powerful with you, to represent this to you, and to
transmit this my last request--for should I fail I am resolved to make no
other--that you should consent to my making the acquaintance of a few of
your friends and neighbours, among whom I cannot but think there must be
some kind hearts that would take pity on my unhappy situation, and afford
me such companionship as would give me more courage to bear your
continual absence..."

Lady Jane folded up the letter. "Deaf and dumb--ah, poor creature! That
explains the look--"

"And this explains the marriage," Stramer continued, unfolding a stiff
parchment document. "Here are the Viscountess Thudeney's marriage
settlements. She appears to have been a Miss Portallo, daughter of
Obadiah Portallo Esquire, of Purflew Castle, Caermarthenshire, and Bombay
House, Twickenham, East India merchant, senior member of the banking
house of Portallo and Prest--and so on and so on. And the figures run up
into hundreds of thousands."

"It's rather ghastly--putting the two things together. All the millions
and--imprisonment in the blue parlour. I suppose her Viscount had to have
the money, and was ashamed to have it known how he had got it..." Lady
Jane shivered. "Think of it--day after day, winter after winter, year
after year...speechless, soundless, alone...under Mr. Jones's
guardianship. Let me see: what year were they married?"

"In 1817."

"And only a year later that portrait was painted. And she had the frozen
look already."

Stramer mused: "Yes; it's grim enough. But the strangest figure in the
whole case is still--Mr. Jones."

"Mr. Jones--yes. Her keeper," Lady Jane mused "I suppose he must have
been this one's ancestor. The office seems to have been hereditary at
Bells."

"Well--I don't know."

Stramer's voice was so odd that Lady Jane looked up at him with a stare
of surprise. "What if it were the same one?" suggested Stramer with a
queer smile.

"The same?" Lady Jane laughed. "You're not good at figures are you? If
poor Lady Thudeney's Mr. Jones were alive now he'd be--"

"I didn't say ours was alive now," said Stramer.

"Oh--why, what...?" she faltered.

But Stramer did not answer; his eyes had been arrested by the precipitate
opening of the door behind his hostess, and the entry of Georgiana, a
livid, dishevelled Georgiana, more than usually bereft of her faculties,
and gasping out something inarticulate.

"Oh, my lady--it's my aunt--she won't answer me," Georgiana stammered in
a voice of terror.

Lady Jane uttered an impatient exclamation.  "Answer you? Why--what do
you want her to answer?"

"Only whether she's alive, my lady," said Georgiana with streaming eyes.

Lady Jane continued to look at her severely. "Alive? Alive? Why on earth
shouldn't she be?"

"She might as well be dead--by the way she just lies there."

"Your aunt dead? I saw her alive enough in the blue parlour half an hour
ago," Lady Jane returned. She was growing rather blase with regard to
Georgiana's panics; but suddenly she felt this to be of a different
nature from any of the others. "Where is it your aunt's lying?"

"In her own bedroom, on her bed," the other wailed, "and won't say why."

Lady Jane got to her feet, pushing aside the heaped-up papers, and
hastening to the door with Stramer in her wake.

As they went up the stairs she realized that she had seen the
housekeeper's bedroom only once, on the day of her first obligatory round
of inspection, when she had taken possession of Bells. She did not even
remember very clearly where it was, but followed Georgiana down the
passage and through a door which communicated, rather surprisingly, with
a narrow walled-in staircase that was unfamiliar to her. At its top she
and Stramer found themselves on a small landing upon which two doors
opened. Through the confusion of her mind Lady Jane noticed that these
rooms, with their special staircase leading down to what had always been
called his lordship's suite, must obviously have been occupied by his
lordship's confidential servants. In one of them, presumably, had been
lodged the original Mr. Jones, the Mr. Jones of the yellow letters, the
letters purloined by Lady Jane. As she crossed the threshold, Lady Jane
remembered the housekeeper's attempt to prevent her touching the contents
of the desk.

Mrs. Clemm's room, like herself, was neat, glossy and extremely cold.
Only Mrs. Clemm herself was no longer like Mrs. Clemm. The red-apple
glaze had barely faded from her cheeks, and not a lock was disarranged in
the unnatural lustre of her false front; even her cap ribbons hung
symmetrically along either cheek. But death had happened to her, and had
made her into someone else. At first glance it was impossible to say if
the unspeakable horror in her wide-open eyes were only the reflection of
that change, or of the agent by whom it had come. Lady Jane, shuddering,
paused a moment while Stramer went up to the bed.

"Her hand is warm still--but no pulse." He glanced about the room. "A
glass anywhere?" The cowering Georgiana took a hand-glass from the neat
chest of drawers, and Stramer held it over the housekeeper's drawn-back
lip...

"She's dead," he pronounced.

"Oh, poor thing! But how--?" Lady Jane drew near, and was kneeling down,
taking the inanimate hand in hers, when Stramer touched her on the arm,
then silently raised a finger of warning. Georgiana was crouching in the
farther corner of the room, her face buried in her lifted arms.

"Look here," Stramer whispered. He pointed to Mrs. Clemm's throat, and
Lady Jane, bending over, distinctly saw a circle of red marks on it--the
marks of recent bruises. She looked again into the awful eyes.

"She's been strangled," Stramer whispered.

Lady Jane, with a shiver of fear, drew down the housekeeper's lids.
Goergiana, her face hidden, was still sobbing convulsively in the corner.
There seemed, in the air of the cold orderly room, something that forbade
wonderment and silenced conjecture. Lady Jane and Stramer stood and
looked at each other without speaking. At length Stramer crossed over to
Georgiana, and touched her on the shoulder. She appeared unaware of the
touch, and he grasped her shoulder and shook it. "Where is Mr. Jones?" he
asked.

The girl looked up, her face blurred and distorted with weeping, her eyes
dilated as if with the vision of some latent terror. "Oh, sir, she's not
really dead, is she?"

Stramer repeated his question in a loud authoritative tone; and slowly
she echoed it in a scarce-heard whisper. "Mr. Jones--?"

"Get up, my girl, and send him here to us at once, or tell us where to
find him."

Georgiana, moved by the old habit of obedience, struggled to her feet and
stood unsteadily, her heaving shoulders braced against the wall. Stramer
asked her sharply if she had not heard what he had said.

"Oh, poor thing, she's so upset--" Lady Jane intervened compassionately.
"Tell me, Georgiana: where shall we find Mr. Jones?"

The girl turned to her with eyes as fixed as the dead woman's. "You won't
find him a anywhere," she slowly said.

"Why not?"

"Because he's not here."

"Not here? Where is he, then?" Stramer broke in.

Georgiana did not seem to notice the interruption. She continued to stare
at Lady Jane with Mrs. Clemm's awful eyes. "He's in his grave in the
church-yard--these years and years he is.  Long before ever I was
born...my aunt hadn't ever seen him herself, not since she was a tiny
child... That's the terror of it...that's why she always had to do what
he told her to...because you couldn't ever answer him back..." Her
horrified gaze turned from Lady Jane to the stony face and fast-glazing
pupils of the dead woman. "You hadn't ought to have meddled with his
papers, my lady... That's what he's punished her for... When it came to
those papers he wouldn't ever listen to human reason...he wouldn't..."
Then, flinging her arms above her head, Georgiana straightened herself to
her full height before falling in a swoon at Stramer's feet.



THE END





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