The Master of Mysteries/The Fanshawe Ghost
THE FANSHAWE GHOST
AS it was nearly time for his first client of the day to arrive, Astro the Palmist ended the little lesson in optical anatomy he had been giving to Valeska. He closed the transparent doors of the huge model of the human eye about which he had been talking, and replaced it on a shelf in his laboratory, where it remained, a large livid ball of glass and porcelain, veined with red.
"It's simply wonderful!" Valeska said, staring at it hard.
Astro laughed, and passed into the great studio for his morning consultations. "And yet," he remarked, "Helmholtz says, 'Nature seems to have packed this organ with mistakes.' I'll explain that sometime. Most people do think that the body of man is the consummation of the Maker's skill and wisdom. In point of fact, it is far from being perfect.
"Think of the ants and bees," he went on thoughtfully. "Think of their strength and adaptability! By a mere change of diet a neuter can become a perfect female."
"Do you mean to say that men's bodies are not so good as some of the animals' bodies?" Valeska asked.
"I mean to say that the human machine is imperfect. It contains much that is unnecessary, much that is not well adapted to the struggle for existence."
Astro, now assuming his red silken robe and turban, in preparation for his astral readings, seated himself cross-legged on the divan, and took up the stem of his narghile.
"Wiedersheim," he continued, "has counted one hundred and seven so-called 'vestigial organs'; the remains, that is, of similar but more developed organs that fulfilled a useful function in our simian ancestors. Some of them are still able to perform their physiological functions in a more or less incomplete manner; some survive merely as ancestral relics; and some are actually harmful to the body. Take, for instance, superfluous hairs; they are no longer capable of protecting the body from cold and often do serious harm. Wisdom-teeth are unnecessary to man; their powers of mastication are feeble, and they often cause tumors and diffused suppuration and dental caries. We all know how unnecessary and how dangerous to health the vermiform appendix is.
"Then there are other organs whose powers are almost completely lost. The little tail disappears from the embryo before birth; but there remain the useless muscles of the ear, the unnecessary thirteenth pair of ribs, the weak and imperfect eleventh and twelfth pairs of ribs, which serve no useful purpose, the muscles of the toes, and so on. Why, the colon, or large intestine, the seat of most diseases of the alimentary tract and the nursery of arterial sclerosis, has been pronounced practically useless by Metchnikoff, and in London hospitals the entire colon is often removed."
Valeska stared. "But what are they all there for?" she inquired.
"I suppose their chief use is to shame our vanity. They are undoubted proof of our animal origin, our descent from the anthropoid apes."
Valeska frowned. "I never like to be reminded of that."
"Well, then, of our descent from birds, or reptiles. You have beautiful eyes, my dear; but you can't conceal that little part near the nose which is called the 'semilunar fold'. That is but the remains of the third eyelid you possessed as a bird, the transparent membrane that eagles draw over the cornea."
The bell rang outside. Astro the Philosopher became, on the instant, Astro the Seer, and dropped into his professional poise, calm, inert, picturesque, oriental. Valeska retired to another room and began her work of looking carefully over the papers for news of anything that might be of use to the Seer in his conferences. It was her duty to keep in touch with the doings of the day.
For some time she read without interest, making notes occasionally, and from time to time consulting her card catalogue to look up the condensed biographies of persons prominent in society, politics, or finance, adding to the data there collected. She cut clippings, too, and pasted them in a blank book for Astro to look over at his leisure. In the last of the morning papers, her eyes fell on the following paragraph, and she read it with attention:
No small amount of gossip has been occasioned during the last week or so in the little village of Vandyke, by the rumors of supernatural visitations at the well-known Fanshawe farm, now the residence of Miss Mildred Fanshawe, the last living representative of a prominent old family in the county. While all the servants at the farm deny the sensational reports, and Miss Fanshawe abso- lutely refuses to be interviewed, the stories afloat make the place famous in the vicinity. According to what can be learned, at least three of the servants at the farm have seen the "Fanshawe ghost," purported to be the spirit of Sally Towers, who was a well-known belle of New York in the 1830's. Sally appears, so it is said, in the walled garden side of the old house, usually with a baby in her arms. Occasionally she is seen on the roof of the dwelling. The Society for Psychical Research is said to be interested, and has asked the privilege of investigating the apparition; but Miss Fanshawe has persistently refused them admittance to the premises, which are now well guarded from intrusion.
Of Miss Fanshawe, Valeska could find no information in her catalogue. But as soon as Astro was free she gave him the clipping, and was not disappointed in his interest.
"It's a case I'd like to handle," he said, when he had read the story. "If Miss Fanshawe does not apply to me for a solution of the mystery, I shall certainly volunteer my services. Perhaps you had better send her a note, anyway."
This Valeska did forthwith, with the result that Miss Fanshawe appeared a few days later at the studio. She confessed herself worried about the stories that had been circulated, because of the unpleasant notoriety she had gained, and the fact that they might depreciate the value of the property, which she wished to sell as soon as possible. The rumors were, she confessed, based on tales which some of her servants had been indiscreet enough to relate. There seemed to be something at the bottom of the affair, and she would be much relieved to have the mystery cleared up.
Miss Mildred Fanshawe was an aristocratic but anemic-looking woman of perhaps thirty years. She was a brunette, with dark hair and eyes, with a lean narrow face, full of nervous energy. Her hands were long and slim; her upper lip was nearly covered with fine hair, almost a mustache, which gave her a distinctly Italian aspect. She talked freely with Astro and Valeska, using gestures like a foreigner.
When she had gone, Astro turned to his assistant. "Well," he said, "I'm curious to know just what you noticed about that woman."
"There is something strange about her—I hardly know what it is," said Valeska. "I noticed, though, for one thing, that she wiggled her ears. I knew a boy once who could do that. I've often tried to; but I can't. Then, her mustache was a great blemish, wasn't it? It's a pity for a woman to have to suffer that. Then, her eyes were queer. What was the matter with them?"
Astro smiled. "And I have been lecturing you upon the eye for a fortnight! It was the 'semilunar fold' I spoke to you about a while ago. It was extraordinarily large."
"So it was, now I recall it. That was funny about her being able to pick up a fork with her toes, like Stevenson at Vailima, wasn't it? I always wanted to live in a country where I could go barefooted. We don't half use our feet, do we?"
"Well—and the ghost? Have you no theory?" Astro asked.
"Already? Of course not! How can we tell any thing till we investigate the premises and see the apparition?"
"Oh, we'll go down, of course; but it's scarcely necessary, I consider."
Valeska's hands fell into her lap with a hopeless gesture. "Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "I'll never learn anything! How in the world could you learn the secret of the ghost story, just by talking to her?"
"And watching her?" he hinted. "But take her talk, even. What did she say that might be significant?"
"Do you mean about that operation she had for appendicitis?" Valeska considered it thoughtfully. "Let's see. She mentioned the fact that she had her vermiform appendix removed, and it proved to be abnormally large. But that doesn't prove anything to me."
"Think it over. See if you can't put it with what I have told you, and, more important still, read Metchnikoff! I recommend to you his Prolongation of Life; but I won't tell you what chapter especially. There you'll find the missing link in the argument. You have already half of my theory, in the doctrine of 'vestigial organs', which you can apply to Miss Fanshawe's case. The other half I prefer you to work out for yourself. It's the simplest kind of deduction, and needs only corroboration at Fanshawe Farm. Let's see; she asked us to come down next Friday. That gives you three days in which to think it over."
He rose and yawned. "I wish you'd buy me some blue paint and a brush," he added. "Now I must put in a little time on that new somnoform experiment. I think I'm getting at it."
But Valeska had no time to read Metchnikoff that week. Astro's absences from the studio were long and often, and Valeska, who had been preparing herself in palmistry, gave readings to all those clients who did not insist on a personal interview with the Master of Mysteries. It need scarcely be said that most such clients were men. Every moment of her time was occupied until Friday afternoon.
On that day, at four o'clock, she met Astro at the Grand Central Station, and together they took the train for Vandyke village to keep their appointment with Miss Fanshawe.
"How little I know of you, Valeska," Astro said, on the journey down. "Do you realize that it is almost nothing? You applied in answer to my advertisement for an assistant, and you know that it is not my habit to ask personal questions unless it is absolutely necessary. But, to me, you are as mysterious as this Fanshawe ghost we are hunting down. I have always had a queer feeling about you,—that I didn't want to know too much about your history; that it was a prettier situation to be ignorant of everything except this very happy present when we are working together."
"Oh, let's be sure of that, and enjoy it!" she breathed, turning her eyes away. "I am perfectly happy! I only hope that we both shall remain so!"
If Astro had intended by his remarks to give her an opening for a confession, she did not accept it, and he did not insist. Their talk changed to the business that occupied their immediate attention. Astro carefully reread the newspaper clipping.
"The first thing is, of course, to get the accounts of the servants, and then to see the ghost for ourselves. Finally, we must lay the specter forever."
"I have thought that the phantom might have been impersonated by one of the servants," Valeska suggested.
"With that hypothesis we should seek a motive," he replied.
"I admit that's what has baffled me."
"Well, we must follow every clue, that's all."
Miss Fanshawe's man met them at the station with an open carriage, and Astro, seating himself beside the driver, immediately began to draw him out on the subject of the ghost. The man was Irish, and willing to talk. He himself, however, had not seen the spirit, though he believed implicitly in its existence. John, the stableman, had seen it, however, and Genevieve, Miss Fanshawe's maid. The third witness, an old woman who had been cook, had left the place, refusing to remain in a haunted house.
Miss Fanshawe greeted them hospitably and had them shown to their rooms by Genevieve. Before dressing for dinner Astro and Valeska had the story from her. She took them herself into the garden and pointed out the scene of the visitation.
A high brick wall screened the place from the street and enclosed it on three sides. The garden was laid out formally, with brick walks along the two axes of the rectangular space, and a circular pool with a fountain in the middle. The fourth side was shut off by the brick wall of the house itself, which there rose two stories in height. Along the south wall was planted a thicket of high bushes, interspersed with trees. This wall ran into the side of the house just below Miss Fanshawe's own chamber, whose window showed some nine feet above. The maid's room was next. The northern wall was flush with the front of the house, which was decorated with a portico two stories in height. Above that was the sloping roof.
"I've seen it walking up and down many a time, from my window over there," said Genevieve. "It always disappears in the bushes over there," and she pointed to the southern wall. "Once I saw it on the very top of the roof, waving its arms. Yes, it almost always carries a baby, and it's always in white, shroudlike. It always scares me stiff; but I won't leave Miss Fanshawe for it nor anything like it."
"It's a queer thing that you and John are the only ones here who have ever seen it," said Valeska, looking at her fixedly.
"Oh, the cook has seen it, many's the time," said Genevieve.
"But the cook left."
"Yes, and good reason why, too! It came at her with a run once, and like to scratch her eyes out."
"It's queer that Miss Fanshawe has never seen it."
"Ah, and I hope she never will, the poor dear! It'll be for no good if she does. It comes to warn her, I'm thinking."
John the stableman's tale was almost the same. He, too, had seen the ghost on the roof of the house, and running swiftly along the garden walk, and often with the baby. In the year he had been employed at Fanshawe Farm he had seen it, he thought, at least a dozen times. He appeared to share Genevieve's superstitious terrors and had never dared to pursue the specter.
All this, of course, Miss Fanshawe had heard before, and with Astro and Valeska she discussed the probability of her servants possibly having conspired to give the house a bad name. But no motive for that was apparent, and Genevieve's devotion seemed sincere. The talk had already begun to wear on her. She showed many signs of nervousness, becoming at times almost hysterical. Seeing this, Astro changed the subject, and nothing more was said of his purpose there.
That night he took his place with Valeska at the end of the garden, away from the house, to watch. He had come prepared to spend several days; for the chances were against their seeing anything the first time, though the appearances had, according to John, become much more frequent of late. So, bundled in wraps, the two took their seats on a bench at the end of the path. From here, most of the house windows were screened from them; but a clear vista up the center of the garden was illuminated by a moon beyond its first quarter. Miss Fanshawe, pleading indisposition, had retired to her room early.
Beyond the seat there was a small door in the wall, opening on a path leading to the stable. Directly in front of where they sat was an old-fashioned sun-dial. It was altogether a romantic spot, one well fitted for a tryst, natural or supernatural. Perhaps Valeska thought it too romantic, for after sitting with Astro for a while she rose and paced impatiently up and down. He did not try to keep her with him. Her nearness seemed dangerous to his concentration of mind, to his watchfulness.
At ten o'clock a sound behind him attracted his attention. Valeska was some distance away, and he did not call her, but stole to the small door in the wall and looked out. What he saw made him smile. He returned and, with a low whistle, called his assistant.
"We might learn some things from Genevieve and John," he said a little sadly, "even if we don't learn much about the ghost from them."
"Have you seen them?" she exclaimed.
"They were bidding each other good night at the stable door."
"Then," said Valeska, "it's my opinion that we'll see the ghost within a quarter of an hour. Let's sit down now and watch."
They took their places on the bench again, and her hand stole into his. Was it the suggestion she had received from the servants' love-making, or did she begin to fear the specter? With all his cleverness, Astro could not decide.
But suddenly she sprang up, and now there was no doubt of her alarm.
"There it is!" she exclaimed in a harsh whisper, pointing toward the shrubbery at the south wall.
There it was at last, indeed,—a seemingly sheeted form, bearing something that looked like a little child in its arms, stealing down the path! It approached them noiselessly. In the shadow of the trees it showed too indistinct for identification at that distance. Astro rose abruptly and took a step toward the house, when immediately the thing sped rapidly away. Astro broke into a run; but when he came to the house nothing was to be seen.
He went back to reassure Valeska, who stood, staring, trembling with excitement, but without fear. Hardly had he reached her, however, when her voice rang out again.
"There! On the roof!" she cried.
Astro looked and beheld the figure gliding swiftly along the top of the building. The vision lasted only a moment, then disappeared.
He spoke sharply. "Valeska, run up to Miss Fanshawe's room and awaken her! Tell her I want her to see this!"
Valeska ran up the brick walk, passed through a door in the middle of the south wall, and entered the house. The halls had been left lighted, and she found her way easily to Miss Fanshawe's room. Here she knocked on the door, at first softly, then with increasing vehemence. Trying the door, she found it locked. No one answered.
She flew down-stairs again, and was about to go for Astro, when a sound attracted her attention. Down the hall, toward the back stairs, she saw something or some one pass and disappear. Her thoughts flew to Genevieve, and, with a new desire to awaken Miss Fanshawe, she went up-stairs again and knocked.
This time there was a noise inside the chamber,—a rattle, a chair being moved,—and in a few moments the door was partly opened and Miss Fanshawe looked out. At the same moment Genevieve appeared in the upper hall.
For a moment Valeska could not decide what to say. If, as she suspected, Genevieve had been, in some strange way, impersonating the phantom, she dared not tell of it before her. She slipped inside Miss Fanshawe's room, which was not lighted.
"We have seen the ghost, and Astro wished you to come out; but it is undoubtedly too late now. I wish your door had been unlocked, so I might have awakened you without making so much noise."
Miss Fanshawe wrung her hands. Her long black hair streamed over her white night-dress; the costume and her aspect of extreme disarray made her figure almost grotesque.
"It's terrible, terrible!" she moaned. "I don't see why I should be tortured so. I don't want to see it! I couldn't bear it!"" She broke into a violent fit of sobbing.
Genevieve knocked at the door and entered. "I'll attend to her, miss," she said to Valeska. "I'm used to her when she has the hysterics, and I can calm her down if you'll only leave us."
There seemed nothing better to do, and Valeska went down-stairs and passed into the garden again. Astro strode up to her, a lighted cigar in his mouth.
Valeska narrated what had happened.
"We mustn't be caught that way again. I'll ask her to leave the door unlocked to-morrow night. Well, there's nothing further to do to-night. I propose that we turn in."
"But have you found out who or what it is?" Valeska asked, still trembling with the excitement.
Astro smiled. "I'll have a trap for the ghost tomorrow, and if she appears you'll see. It's only a question of how to do it delicately and safely. But it's most amusing. I think I was never so entertained."
"Why, did you see it after I left?"she asked.
"I should say I did! It was as good as a circus. But you must go to bed. Good night."
As they went out into the garden the next night, Astro showed Valeska a nickeled brass cylinder he had concealed in his inside pocket.
"Here's what an automobilist calls an oil gun," he explained. "It works like a large syringe, and is loaded with blue paint. I might also mention that the lightning-rod running up and down the house wall side of those windows is already painted bright blue. If I don't succeed in shooting our extremely lively little friend the spook with this gun, I expect the lightning-rod to streak her up with blue stripes sufficient for identification."
Valeska gazed at the moonlit house in wonder. "The lightning-rod!" she exclaimed. "It isn't possible for any one to climb up there! Do you mean to say—"
"Wait, and you'll see some of the prettiest ground and lofty tumbling outside of vaudeville," was his reply.
"But it runs up beside Genevieve's window! It isn't possible for that girl to climb down from there into the garden."
"It also runs beside Miss Fanshawe's window. It may be possible for her. I assure you, she's an athlete."
"But how could any human being get on the roof so quickly?"
"If you'll go round there, you'll see. Once you climb the north wall, you can almost reach the first balcony. Up the column to the second is easy enough.
On the other side there's a stout ivy vine that makes a practical ladder to the very top."
"But why, why, why?" Valeska almost wailed the words.
"Ah, you haven't read Metchnikoff."
Then, suddenly he cried, "Look!" and seized her arm.
They were standing beside the central pool now, and he pointed to Miss Fanshawe's window, clearly visible from this part of the garden. The moonlight struck the glass as the sash was raised. A form looked out, climbed rapidly across the sill, lowered itself till it hung by the hands, and then dropped lightly to the top of the garden wall. Quick as had been its appearance and disappearance, something was visible, tucked under one arm. While they stood fascinated, a white object appeared on the grass of the garden plot, the figure of a woman with hair streaming about her shoulders, apparently carrying a child. She came a few steps toward them, then retreated swiftly and made for the bushes by the north wall. In another instant she appeared atop the wall, and swung up to the first balcony of the portico, still bearing her burden. A few minutes more, and she reappeared on the roof.
"Quick, now!" cried Astro. "Run up to Miss Fanshawe's room and go in and wait for her to return. I'll hide in the bushes by the south wall and pop her full of blue paint. If I miss, there's the lightning-rod, her only way to enter the room."
"But what shall I say—how can I accuse her of it?"
Astro stopped suddenly and looked at her. "Why, my dear, I forgot. Is it possible you haven't guessed it yet? Miss Fanshawe is asleep. It's somnambulism, that's all. But hurry! Make any excuse if she's awake; if she's not, don't awaken her. Let her go to bed herself."
Valeska flew into the house and up-stairs. Miss Fanshawe had kept her promise and had left her door unlocked. Valeska entered.
The window was still up. There was no one in the bed. One pillow was missing. On the instant Valeska understood the secret of the baby that the specter was supposed to carry.
She slipped into the corner and waited. In a few moments a form appeared in the window, blocking out the light. A wriggle and a twist, and it sprang lightly in, and Miss Fanshawe stood revealed in the moonlight, in her night-dress, now streaked and spattered with blue stains. In her arms she still held the pillow, as a mother holds her babe. Her eyes stared straight before her without power of sight.
Valeska, more moved by this uncanny vision than if it had been a supernatural visitation, stole silently away and rejoined the Master.
"I don't see how it was possible, even though I saw it with my own eyes!" she said, as they sat down on the bench to talk it over before sleeping. "A frail woman like that to climb to the second story up a rod, to the roof even! I've heard stories of somnambulists before, but this is miraculous!""If you had read Metchnikoff," said Astro, smoking calmly, "you would have found that such a case as this is not rare; and you would have discovered the explanation. The fact is that in somnambulism and in hysteria persons often revert atavistically to the
The white form sped down the garden wall.
"But why the blue paint?" said Valeska. "If you knew the secret of the Fanshawe ghost, why didn't you tell her at first?"
"Would you have believed it possible?" he asked smiling.
Valeska confessed she would not.
"Neither would Miss Fanshawe. And besides, it would have been necessary to explain the origin of my suspicions. No woman would care to be told that she resembled an ape, and I don't intend to explain Metchnikoff's theory to her or to point out her vestigial organs which are not quite vestigial. No, I'll merely tell her she walks in her sleep, as is proved by the blue paint on her night-dress, and advise her either to lock the window when she retires or to have a companion to watch her. I don't think any one will see the ghost again.
"I wonder," he added thoughtfully, as they walked toward the house, "if, after all, I hadn't better begin to investigate the ghost of your past, little girl!" He took her hand affectionately.
"Well, you won't find any vestigial signs in that, anyway," she answered, gently drawing away her hand. "And," she added, "I'm glad I can't wiggle my ears or pick up things with my toes. I'd rather be a lady even while asleep. I'm quite satisfied with my body, thank you, just as it is."