Just before the dinner hour I met
Slatterly on the lower floor, and we had a moment’s
talk together. “You’ve been in on
most everything that’s happened around here,”
he said. “You might as well be with us to-night.
We’re going to watch the lagoon.”
The truth was I had made other plans
for this evening plans that included Edith
Nealman so I made no immediate answer.
The official noticed my hesitancy, and of course misunderstood.
“Speak right up, if you don’t
want to do it,” he said, not unkindly. The
sheriff was a man of human sympathies, after all.
“I wouldn’t hold it against any man living
if he didn’t want to sit out there in the dark
watching after what’s happened the
last three nights. I don’t know that I’d
do it myself if it wasn’t in line of duty.”
“I don’t think I’d be afraid,”
I told him.
“It isn’t a question of
being afraid. It’s simply a matter of human
make-up. To tell the truth, I’m afraid myself and
I’m not ashamed of it. More than once I’ve
had to conquer fear in my work. A man who ain’t
afraid, one time or another, hasn’t any imagination.
Some men are cold as ice, I’ve had deputies
that were and they wouldn’t mind this
a bit. I know, Killdare, that you’d come
in a pinch. Any man here, I think any
white man would be down there with me to-night
if something vital some one’s life
or something depended on it. But I
don’t want to take any one that it will be hard
for, that that is any one to whom it would
be a real ordeal. I’m picking my bunch
with some care.”
“Who is going?”
“Weldon, Nopp, you and myself if
you want to come. If not, don’t mind saying
“I want to come!” We smiled
at each other, in the hall. After all, no other
decision could be made. The high plans I had made
for an evening with Edith would have to be given over.
In the first place the night might solve the mystery
into which I had been drawn. In the second it
was the kind of offer that most men, over the earth,
find it impossible to refuse. Human beings, as
a whole, are not particularly brave. They are
still too close to the caves and the witch-doctors
of the young world. They are inordinately, incredibly
shy, also, and like little children, sometimes, in
their dreads and superstitions. Yet through some
blessing they have a high-born capacity to conquer
the fear that emburdens them.
No white man in the manor house would
have refused Slatterly’s offer. Mostly,
when men see that they are up against a certain hard
deal, some proposition that stirs the deep-buried,
inherent instinct that is nothing more or less than
a sense of duty that deep-lying sense of
obligation that makes the whole world beautiful and
justifiable they simply stand up and face
it. No normal young man likes war. Yet they
all go. And of course this work to-night promised
excitement and the love of excitement is
a siren that has drawn many a good man to his doom.
“Good,” the sheriff told
me simply, not in the least surprised. “What
kind of a gun can you scare up?”
“I can get a gun, all right.
I’ve got a pistol of my own.”
Nopp came up then, and he and the
sheriff exchanged significant glances. And the
northern man suddenly turned to me, about to speak.
Until that instant I hadn’t
observed the record that the events of the past three
nights had written in his face. Nopp had nerves
of steel; but the house and its mystery had got to
him, just the same. The sunset rays slanted in
over the veranda, poured through the big windows, and
showed his face in startling detail. The inroads
that had been made upon it struck me with a sudden
sense of shock.
The man looked older. The lines
of his face seemed more deeply graven, the flesh-sacks
were swollen under his eyes, he was some way shaken
and haggard. Yet you didn’t get the idea
of impotence. The hands at his side had a man’s
grasp in them. Nopp was still able to handle most
of the problems that confronted him.
Slatterly, too, had not escaped unscathed.
The danger and his own failure to solve the mystery
had killed some of the man’s conceit, and he
was more tolerant and sympathetic. There was a
peculiar, excited sparkle in his eyes, too.
Slatterly turned to Nopp. “He says he’s
got a pistol.”
The second that ensued had an unmistakable
quality of drama. Nopp turned to me, exhaling
heavily. “Killdare, we’ve beat the
devil around the stump all along and it’s
time to stop,” he said. “I don’t
like to talk like a crazy man, but we’ve got
to look this infernal matter in the face. When
you come out to-night come armed with the biggest gun
you can find a high-powered rifle.”
No man argued with another, at a time
like this. “I don’t know where I
can get a rifle,” I told him.
“Every man in the house has
got some kind or another. I’m going to be
frank and tell you what I’m carrying a
big .405, the biggest quick-shooting arm I could get
hold of. Whatever comes to-night we’ve
got to stop.”
We gathered again at the big mahogany
table, dined quietly, and the four of us excused ourselves
just before dessert. The twilight was already
falling like gray shadows of wings over
land and sea and we wanted to be at our
post. We didn’t desire that the peril of
the lagoon should strike in our absence. And
we left a more hopeful spirit among the other occupants
of the manor house.
They were all glad that armed men
would guard the lagoon shore that night. I suppose
it gave them some sense of security otherwise not
known. The four of us procured our rifles, and
walked, a grim company, down to the shore of the lagoon.
“We want to guard as much of
the shore line as we can, and still keep each other
in sight,” Slatterly said. “And there’s
no getting away from it that we want to be in easy
rifle range of each other.”
He posted us at fifty-yard intervals
along the craggy margin. I was placed near the
approach of the rock wall, overlooking a wide stretch
of the shore, Weldon’s post was fifty yards
above mine, the sheriff’s next, and Nopp’s
most distant of all. Then we were left to watch
the tides and the night and the stars probing through
the darkening mantle of the sky.
We had no definite orders. We
were simply to watch, to fire at will in case of an
emergency, to guard the occupants of the manor house
against any danger that might emerge from the depths
of the lagoon. The tide, at the lowest ebb at
the hour of our arrival, began soon to flow again.
The glassy surface was fretted by the beat and crash
of oncoming waves against the rocky barrier.
We saw the little rivulets splash through; the water’s
edge crept slowly up the craggy shore. The dusk
deepened, and soon it was deep night.
We were none too close together.
I could barely make out the tall figure of Weldon,
standing statuesque on a great, gray crag beside the
lagoon. His figure was so dim that it was hard
to believe in its reality, the gun at his shoulder
was but a fine penciled line, and with the growing
darkness, it was hard to make him out at all.
Soon it took a certain measure of imagination to conceive
of that darker spot in the mist of darkness as the
form of a fellow man.
The sense of isolation increased.
We heard no sound from each other, but the night itself
was full of little, hushed noises. From my camp
fire beside Manatee Marsh I had often heard the same
sounds, but they were more compelling now, they held
the attention with unswerving constancy, and they
seemed to penetrate further into the spirit. Also
I found it harder to identify them at least
to believe steadfastly the identifications that I
We hadn’t heard a beginning
of the sounds when we had listened from the verandas.
They had been muffled there, dim and hushed, but here
they seemed to speak just in your ear. Sea-birds
called and shrieked, owls uttered their mournful complaints,
brush cracked and rustled as little, eager-eyed furry
things crept through. Once I started and the gun
leaped upward in my arms as some great sea-fish, likely
a tarpon, leaped and splashed just beyond the rock
“What is it, Killdare?”
Weldon called. His voice was sharp and urgent.
“Some fish jumped, that was
all,” I answered. And again the silence
The tide-waves burst with ever-increasing
fury. The stars were ever brighter, and their
companies ever larger, in the deep, violet spaces of
the sky. The hours passed. The lights in
the great colonial house behind us winked out, one
There was no consolation in glancing
at my watch. It served to make the time pass
more slowly. The hour drew to midnight, after
a hundred years or so of waiting; the night had passed
its apex and had begun its swift descent to dawn.
And all at once the thickets rustled and stirred behind
No man can be blamed for whipping
about, startled in the last, little nerve, in such
a moment as this. Some one was hastening down
to the shore of the lagoon some one that
walked lightly, yet with eagerness. I could even
hear the long, wet grass lashing against her ankles.
“Who is it?” I asked quietly.
“Edith,” some one answered from the gloom.
Many important things in life are
forgotten, and small ones kept; and my memory will
harbor always the sound of that girlish voice, so clear
and full in the darkness. Though she spoke softly
her whole self was reflected in the tone. It
was sweet, tender, perhaps even a little startled
and fearful. In a moment she was at my side.
“What do you mean by coming here alone?”
“The phone rang in
the upper corridor,” she told me almost breathlessly.
“The negroes were afraid to answer it. I
went and it was a telegram for you.
I thought I’d better bring it it was
only two hundred yards, and four men here. You’re
not angry, are you?”
No man could be angry at such a time;
and she handed me a written copy of the message she
had received over the wire. I scratched a match,
saw her pretty, sober face in its light and read:
Am sending picture of
George Florey, brother of murdered
man. Watch him
closely. Am writing.
It wasn’t an urgent message.
The picture would have reached me, just the same,
and I had every intention of watching closely the man
I believed was the dead butler’s brother.
Yet I was glad enough she had seen fit to bring it
to me. We would have our moment together, after
What was said beside that craggy,
mysterious margin, what words were all but obscured
by the sound of the tide-waves breaking against the
natural wall of rock, what oaths were given, and what
breathless, incredible happiness came upon us as if
from the far stars, has little part in the working
out of the mystery of Kastle Krags. Certain moments
passed, indescribably fleet, and certain age-old miracles
were reënacted. Life doesn’t yield many
such moments. But then not many are
needed to pay for life.
After a while we told each other good-night,
and I scratched a match to look again into her face.
Some way, I had expected the miraculous softening
of every tender line and the unspeakable luster in
her blue eyes that the flaring light revealed.
They were merely part of the night and its magic,
and the joy I had in the sight was incomparable with
any other earthly thing. But what surprised me
was a curious look of intentness and determination,
almost a zealot’s enthusiasm in her face, that
the match-light showed and the darkness concealed again.
She went away, as quietly as she had
come. Whether Weldon had seen her I did not know.
There was something else I didn’t know, either,
and the thought of it was a delight through all the
long hours of my watch. Edith Nealman had worlds
of common sense. I wondered how she had been
able to convince herself that the message was of such
importance that she needs must carry it through the
darkness of the gardens to me at once.