Citadel of Fear, by Francis Stevens

Chapter XIII

The Bungalow Sold

“MR. O’HARA, is it really true that you are going down into South America to find a gold-mine?”

The speaker’s sister, a tall, dignified girl, frowned slightly and wished again that she had left Alberta, better known as “Bert”, at home. The child was nearly fifteen, but her frank curiosity was a trait for which her sorrowing family had yet to find means of restraint.

Colin, however, rather liked “Bert” Fanning, and he smiled upon her pleasantly enough.

“That’s my intention. Though,” he added whimsically “if I don’t find it, ’twill not be the first mine I’ve dropped the gold into instead of taking it out.”

“How could you drop it in a mine you couldn’t find?” inquired Bert, the matter-of-fact.

“Ah, the mine you don’t find is an Irish mine — a bit of a bull like that never troubles it at all!”

Everyone laughed, and O’Hara beamed, amiably at their appreciation.

Again he was seated on a stone bench in Cliona’s garden. But the luxuriant growth of Virginia rambler that covered the arbor above him was blossomless and with reddening leaves, for the season was mid-September. Nor was this the hilltop garden at Carpentier.

A short distance off rose the gray walls and moss-colored roofs of Green Gables, the new home purchased by Rhodes when it became evident that his wife should be removed to other surroundings than the unlucky bungalow.

By the time that Cliona’s condition permitted her to be moved, he had acquired this house in a suburb many miles from Carpentier and working together, he and Colin had labored to furnish it in as different a style from the bungalow as be could.

On this day, which heralded her return to the freedom of the outer world, Cliona was holding a sort of miniature court in the rose garden. Her throne, a great invalid’s chair, gave her more than ever the look of a little girl, and the day being cool though sunny she was half buried in a fluffy tumble of blue-and-white wool wraps.

Comfortably cuddled on the foot-rest sound asleep, lay the only memento of her terrible experience for which she had ever expressed a desire — the bull-pup, Snookums.

For some minutes Cliona had been sunk in silent reflections. At last, breaking into her brother’s conversation with Bert Fanning, she inquired irrelevantly:

“Have you heard anything lately from Mr. MacClellan, Colin?”

“I have not.” He shrugged a trifle contemptuously.

“Has he dropped the case, then?”

“It’s still in his hands.”

“Those chaps are not an overly brilliant lot, are they?” put in young Stockton Repplier. He was a fresh-faced, intelligent-looking boy, a distant relative of old Elbert Marcus, another guest. “As I understand it, they simply ignored your story, Mrs. Rhodes, and went off on a blind lead. Now any reasonable person must concede that the thing was some sort of wild beast and not —— ”

The young man suddenly broke off and subsided, with a scared glance at his hostess. Rhodes had caught his eye.

But the invalid only laughed.

“Come round here, Tony — and don’t alarm poor Mr. Repplier like that! I know the doctor has told you that I am not to talk of that night, but really, I’m long past the hysterical stage. I was foolish about it for a while, but not any more. Are you perfectly sure, Tony, that this Mr. Brandon is going to buy the bungalow?”

“Perfectly. I am to meet him tomorrow at the office of his lawyers to conclude the deal. In another twenty-four hours the last thread of connection will be severed between ourselves and poor Cousin Roberts’ bungalow. Are you glad, Cliona?”

She pondered, as if not sure of her reply, then said slowly:

“Yes, I am glad. Forgive me, people, for bringing up so unpleasant a subject, but — you don’t know how I think and think about it! And whenever the picture of the place rises in my mind, it is as if a horrible red shadow had been laid on the house.

“Don’t laugh — had you been there that night you’d not even smile, Tony dear! I tell you there’s a red, red shadow hangs over it — and there’s a thing that waits and hides watching for us three to come back there. I couldn’t bear that any one of us should walk under the edge of that red shadow again!”

She was sitting straight up in her chair, her eyes shining and her lately pale face burning with a dangerous color.

“I am sure,” said old Mr. Marcus earnestly, “that it would be far better if you could put the whole affair out of your mind, Mrs. Rhodes.”

“Yes,” agreed Colin with elaborate carelessness, “the place is sold now, so Tony will have no business there. And for myself, there’ll soon be a few thousand miles’ curve of the earth betwixt me and Carpentier. You’ve no cause to fret any more, Cliona.”

His sister regarded him with puzzled, troubled eyes. Slowly the color faded and she sank back wearily, still with her gaze fixed on him.

“You said you’d not leave till I was well again,” she reminded, in the tone of one renewing some former discussion.

“Nor do I— the doctor himself told me yesterday that all danger is past and gone.”

“And — and you said you would not go till you’d got at the true secret of all that happened!”

Sensing a certain strain in the atmosphere, the two Fanning girls and young Repplier drifted off into conversation with Marcus on a different subject.

“I showed you Finn’s letter,” Colin said. “A good man he is, Charley Finn. I learned him well in the Klondike. When he says he’s on the trail of a big find, you may reckon on the weight of his word. And it doesn’t seem we’ll solve our mystery now.”

“And so your foot to the stirrup and off you go!”

“But surely, Cliona, you’d not ask me to live my whole life out like a cat at a rat-hole, and maybe the rat dead or gone on his travels?”

“N-no — oh-no, Colin. If you really feel so about it, and as Mr. Finn is expecting you, in Buenos Aires, then go by all means.”

But as she finished Cliona turned away her face and bit at a trembling lower lip. She was yet very weak, and this was the first time in her life that her big brother had turned from her when her need actually called to him.

A little later, all the guests save Marcus had departed, and the convalescent, complaining of weariness, had been wheeled into the house by the trained nurse still in attendance.

“It’s a darned shame!” ejaculated Marcus, and Colin started guiltily. But as the old man continued he realized that the remark was not intended to apply to him. “If we had any detectives worthy of the name the scoundrel, responsible for that outrage would not go unpunished!”

“What can one do?” inquired Rhodes resignedly. “MacClellan is firmly convinced, I know, that we have withheld some information that would have helped solve the problem. It has seemed to me that in consequence his work was very half-hearted. He believes, too, that Cliona’s memories were confused with subsequent delirium and thereby robbed of value.

“It is true that the analysis showed real blood to have been shed, and that it was the blood of another animal than man. But he contends that it would have been easy to bring the stuff from a slaughter-house. The alarm wires had not been interfered with. The trouble lay in the insulation where a leaking drain had rotted it. I’ll admit the fault as my own, since I had not tested the system for a week.

“But though that does away with one of MacClellan’s objections to the beast theory, nothing will shake his conviction that the affair was one of revenge, and that I know a cause for it. It may be that he hides behind that as an excuse for not solving the problem. I don’t know. I spent some time over it, myself, but every clue I could find ended, like that red-black trail down the hill, in emptiness and air.”

“Well, if a lawyer and a detective can’t find the answer, I suppose it is useless for a layman like myself to attempt it. I hope you will have the best of fortune in Argentina, Mr. O’Hara. Since you are leaving in a few hours, I shall say goodby, now,” said Marcus.

“Thanks. Doubtless I’ll have the fortune I deserve — they say every man gets that in the end. Goodby and good luck to yourself, also.”

But when Marcus had gone, Colin spoke somewhat uneasily.

“Tell me, Tony, do you think Cliona will fret herself at my going — enough to harm her, I mean?”

“Why should she? Don’t worry, old man. I’ll take care of her, and when you return, believe me, you’ll find the warmest welcome a man ever had. By Heaven, I hate to see you go! I shall miss you as I never thought I’d miss the company of any man!”

O’Hara’s freckled face darkened with an embarrassed flood of color.

“That’s a kindly thing to say, Tony, and it’s not just any man I’d have trusted Cliona to in marriage. As for coming back, the trip may not take so long after all. But think little of it if you hear nothing from me in long whiles. I’m a bad correspondent, and where I’m going I may not care to write from, lest the message be traced. This is rather a secret expedition, you must understand!”

Exactly how secret it was, and how easily a message might have led to discovery, Rhodes would have more readily comprehended had he stood at O’Hara’s side two days later.

Colin’s surroundings did not remotely resemble the decks of the passenger steamer on which he was supposed to be then en route for the distant South American republic. In fact, he had just descended from a fussy, self-important little local train, and the sign that stared him in the face above the door of the tiny station would have explained to his sister in one word all the mystery of his seeming indifference to her welfare. That was “Carpentier.”

“No man or beast,” said Colin to himself, “can frighten my little sister out of her five wits, and me to take no proper heed of it! Charley Finn will forward her the letters I have sent him from Buenos Aires, and the place where I am need make no difference, just so she believes me elsewhere.

“Now we’ll see if the job of that poor fool MacClellan cannot be improved on, even though the trail is so old and stale! Cliona has the seeing eye, and I know she felt sure that if any of us three should live here there would be another visitation. One O’Hara gave them the welcome of a few friendly bullets. Now let them call on the other! Maybe he’ll do yet better. ’Tis my own house now, that I’ve paid Tony well for, though of that the lad has no notion, and here I’ll receive whom I please and Cliona be none the wiser or more worried!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30