It didn’t take long to pack
my few belongings. At nine o’clock the
following morning I broke camp and walked down the
long trail to Kastle Krags.
No wonder the sportsmen liked to gather
at this old manor house by the sea. It represented
the best type of southern homes low and
rambling, old gardens and courts, wide verandas and
stately pillars. It was an immense structure,
yet perfectly framed by the shore and the lagoon and
the glimpse of forest opposite, and it presented an
entirely cheerful aspect as I emerged from the dark
confinement of the timber.
It was a surprising thing that a house
could be cheerful in such surroundings: forest
and gray shore and dark blue-green water. The
house itself was gray in hue, the columns snowy white,
the roof dark green and blending wonderfully with
the emerald water. Flowers made a riot of color
between the structure and the formal lawns.
But more interesting than the house
itself was the peculiar physical formation of its
setting. The structure had been erected overlooking
a long inlet that was in reality nothing less than
a shallow lagoon. A natural sea-wall stretched
completely across the neck of the inlet, cutting off
the lagoon from the open sea. There are many natural
sea-walls along the Floridan coast, built mostly of
limestone or coraline rock, but I had never seen one
so perfect and unbroken. Stretching across the
mouth of the lagoon it made a formidable barrier that
not even the smallest boat could pass.
It was a long wall of white crags
and jagged rocks, and I thought it likely that it
had suggested the name of the estate. It was plain,
however, that the wall did not withstand the march
of the tides. The tide was running in as I drew
near, and the waves broke fiercely over and against
the barrier, and little rivulets and streams of water
were evidently pouring through its miniature crevices.
The house was built two hundred yards from the shore
of the lagoon, perhaps three hundred yards from the
wall, and the green lawns went down half-way to it.
Beyond this except of course for the space
occupied by the lagoon itself stretched
the gray, desolate sand.
Beyond the wall the inlet widened
rapidly, and the rolling waves gave the impression
of considerable depth. I had never seen a more
favorable place for a sportsman’s home.
Besides the deep-sea fishing beyond the rock wall,
it was easy to believe that the lagoon itself was the
home of countless schools of such hard-fighting game-fish
as loved such craggy seas. The lagoon was fretful
and rough from the flowing tide at that moment, offering
no inducements to a boatman, but I surmised at once
that it would be still as a lake in the hours that
the tide ebbed. The shore was a favorable place
for the swift-winged shorebirds that all sportsmen
love plover and curlew and their fellows.
And the mossy, darkling forest, teeming with turkey
and partridge, stretched just behind.
Yet the whole effect was not only
of beauty. I stood still, and tried to puzzle
it out. The atmosphere talked of in great country
houses is more often imagined than really discerned;
but if such a thing exists, Kastle Krags was literally
steeped in it. Like Macbeth’s, the castle
has a pleasant seat and yet it moved you,
in queer ways, under the skin.
I am not, unfortunately, a particularly
sensitive man. Working from the ground up, I
have been so busy preserving the keen edges of my senses
that I have quite neglected my sensibilities.
I couldn’t put my finger on the source of the
strange, mental image that the place invoked; and
the thing irritated and disturbed me. The subject
wasn’t worth a busy man’s time, yet I
couldn’t leave it alone.
The house was not different from a
hundred houses scattered through the south. It
was larger than most of the larger colonial homes,
and constructed with greater artistry. If it
had any atmosphere at all, other than comfort and
beauty, it was of cheer. Yet I didn’t feel
cheerful, and I didn’t know why. I felt
even more sobered than when the moss of the cypress
trees swept over my head. But soon I thought I
saw the explanation.
The image of desolation and eery bleakness
had its source in the wide-stretching sands, the unforgettable
sea beyond, and particularly the inlet, or lagoon,
up above the natural dam of stone. The rocks that
enclosed the lagoon would have been of real interest
to a geologist to me they were merely bleak
and forbidding, craggy and gray and cold. Unquestionably
they contained many caverns and crevices that would
be worth exploring. And I was a little amazed
at the fury with which the incoming waves beat against
and over the rocky barrier. They came with a
veritable ferocity, and the sea beyond seemed hardly
rough enough to justify them.
Grover Nealman himself met me when
I turned on to the level, gravel driveway. There
was nothing about him in keeping with that desolate
driveway. A familiar type, he looked the gentleman
and sportsman that he was. Probably the man was
forty-four or forty-five years old, but he was not
the type that yields readily to middle-age. Nealman
unquestionably still considered himself a young man,
and he believed it heartily enough to convince his
friends. Self-reliant, inured to power and influence,
somewhat aristocratic, he could not yield himself to
the admission of the march of the years. He was
of medium height, rather thickly built, with round
face, thick nose, and rather sensual lips; but his
eyes, behind his tortoise-shell glasses, were friendly
and spirited; and his hand-clasp was democratic and
firm. By virtue of his own pride of race and
class he was a good sportsman: likely a crack
shot and an expert fisherman. Probably a man
that drank moderately, was still youthful enough to
enjoy a boyish celebration, a man who lived well, who
had traveled widely and read good books, and who could
carry out the traditions of a distinguished family this
was Grover Nealman, master of Kastle Krags.
I didn’t suppose for a moment
that Nealman had made his own fortune. There
were no fighting lines in his face, nor cold steel
of conflict in his eyes. There was one deep,
perpendicular line between his eyes, but it was born
of worry, not battle. The man was moderately shrewd,
probably able to take care of his investments, yet
he could never have been a builder, a captain of industry.
He dressed like a man born to wealth, well-fitting
white flannels whose English tailoring afforded free
room for arm and shoulder movements; a silk shirt and
soft white collar, panama hat and buckskin shoes.
He was not a southerner. The
first words he uttered proved that fact.
“So you are Mr. Killdare,”
he said easily. He didn’t say it “Killdaih,”
as he would had he been a native of the place.
“Come with me into my study. I can tell
you there what I’ve got lined up. I’m
mighty glad you’ve come.”
We walked through the great, massive
mahogany door, and he paused to introduce me to a
middle-aged man that stood in the doorway. “Florey,”
he said, kindly and easily, “I want you to meet
His tone alone would have identified
the man’s station, even if the dark garb hadn’t
told the story plainly. Florey was unquestionably
Nealman’s butler. Nor could anyone have
mistaken his walk of life, in any street of any English-speaking
city. He was the kind of butler one sees upon
the stage but rarely in a home, the kind one associates
with old, stately English homes but which one rarely
finds in fact almost too good a butler
to be true. He was little and subdued and gray,
gray of hair and face and hands, and his soft voice,
his irreproachable attitude of respect and deference
seemed born in him by twenty generations of butlers.
He said he was glad to know me, and his bony, soft-skinned
hand took mine.
I’m afraid I stared at Florey.
I had lived too long in the forest: the staring
habit, so disconcerting to tenderfeet on their first
acquaintance with the mountain people, was surely upon
me. I think that the school of the forest teaches,
first of all, to look long and sharply while you have
a chance. The naturalist who follows the trail
of wild game, even the sportsman knows this same fact for
the wild creatures are incredibly furtive and give
one only a second’s glimpse. I instinctively
tried to learn all I could of the gray old servant
in the instant that I shook his hand.
He was the butler, now and forever,
and I wondered if, beneath that gray skin, he were
really human at all. Did he know human passion,
human ambition and desires: sheltered in his
master’s house, was he set apart from the lusts
and the madnesses, the calms and the storms, the triumphs
and the defeats that made up the lives of other men?
Yet his gray, rather dim old eyes told me nothing.
There were no fires, visible to me, glowing in their
depths. A human clam better still,
a gray mole that lives out his life in darkness.
From him we passed up the stairs and
to a big, cool study that apparently joined his bedroom.
There were desks and chairs and a letter file.
Edith Nealman was writing at the typewriter.
If I had ever supposed that the girl
had taken the position of her uncle’s secretary
merely as a girlish whim, or in some emergency until
a permanent secretary could be secured, I was swiftly
disillusioned. There was nothing of the amateur
in the way her supple fingers flew over the keys.
She had evidently had training in a business college;
and her attitude towards Nealman was simply that of
a secretary towards her employer. She leaned
back as if waiting for orders.
“You can go, if you like, Edith,”
Nealman told her. “I’m going to talk
awhile with Killdare, here, and you wouldn’t
be able to work anyway.”
She got up; and she threw me a smile
of welcome and friendliness as she walked out the