ferocity. From every part of the State the gentlemen planters
Nor was this the only sign in the room of a bygone presence that had possessed a taste for something beyond the mere necessities of life. On the grim coarsely papered wall hung more than one picture; cut from pictorial newspapers to be sure, but each and every one, if I may be called a judge of such matters, possessing some quality of expression to commend it to a certain order of taste. They were all strong pictures. Vivid faces of men and women in daring positions; a hunter holding back a jaguar from his throat; a soldier protecting his comrade from the stroke; and most striking of all, a woman lissome as she was powerful, starting aghast and horror stricken from--what? I could not tell; a rough hand had stripped the remainder of the picture from the wall.
A bit of candle and a half sheet of a newspaper lay on the floor. I picked up the paper. It was a Rutland Herald and bore the date of two days before. As I read I realized what I had done. If these daring robbers were not at this very moment in the house, they had been there, and that within two or three days. The broken panes of glass in the garret above were now explained. I was not the first one who had climbed that creaking pine tree this fall.
Something like a sensible dread of a very possible danger now seized hold of me. If I had stumbled upon these strangly subtile, yet devilishly bold creatures in their secret lair, the pistol I carried was not going to save me. Shut in like a fox in a hole, I had little to hope for, if they once made their appearance at the stairhead or came upon me from any of the dim halls of the crazy old dwelling, which I now began to find altogether too large for my comfort. Stealing cautiously forth from the room in which I had found so much to disconcert me, I crept towards the front staircase and listened. All was deathly quiet. The old pine tree moaned and twisted without, and from time to time the wind came sweeping down the chimney with an unearthly shrieking sound that was weirdly in keeping with the place. But within and below all was still as the tomb, and though in no ways reassured, I determined to descend and have the suspense over at once. I did so, pistol in hand and ears stretched to their utmost to catch the slightest rustle, but no sound came to disturb me, nor did I meet on this lower floor the sign of any other presence in the house but my own. Passing hastily through what appeared to be a sort of rude parlor, I stepped into the kitchen and tried one of the windows. Finding I could easily lift it from the inside, I drew my breath with ease for the first time since I had alighted among the broken glass above, and turning back, deliberately opened the door of the kitchen stove, and looked in. As I half expected, I found a pile of partly charred rags, showing where the wretches had burned their prison clothing, and proceeding further, picked up from the ashes a ring which whether or not they were conscious of having attempted to destroy in this way I cannot say, but which I thankfully put in my pocket against the day it might be required as proof.
Discerning nothing more in that quarter inviting interest, I asked myself if I had nerve to descend into the cellar. Finally concluding that that was more than could be expected from any man in my position, I gave one look of farewell to the damp and desolate walls about me, then with a breath of relief jumped from the kitchen window again into the light and air of day. As I did so I could swear I heard a door within that old house swing on its hinges and softly close. With a thrill I recognized the fact that it came from the cellar.
My thoughts on the road back to Melville were many and conflicting. Chief above them all, however, rose the comfortable conclusion that in the pursuit of one mysterious affair, I had stumbled, as is often the case, upon the clue to another of yet greater importance, and by so doing got a start that might yet redound greatly to my advantage. For the reward offered for the recapture of the Schoenmakers was large, and the possibility of my being the one to put the authorities upon their track, certainly appeared after this day's developements, open at least to a very reasonable hope. At all events I determined not to let the grass grow under my feet till I had informed the Superintendent of what I had seen and heard that day in the old haunt of these two escaped convicts.
Arrived at the public house in Melville, and learning that Mr. Blake had safely returned there an hour before, I drew the landlord to one side and asked what he could tell me about that old house of the two noted robbers Schoenmaker, I had passed on my way back among the hills.
"Wa'al now," replied he, "this is curious. Here I've just been answering the gentleman up stairs a heap of questions concerning that self same old place, and now you come along with another batch of them; just as if that rickety old den was the only spot of interest we had in these parts."
"Perhaps that may be the truth," I laughed. "Just now when the papers are full of these rogues, anything concerning them must be of superior interest of course." And I pressed him again to give me a history of the house and the two thieves who had inhabited it.
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