THE HOUSE OF INNISFAIL

C. W. STEPHENS December 15 1921

THE HOUSE OF INNISFAIL

C. W. STEPHENS December 15 1921

THE HOUSE OF INNISFAIL

C. W. STEPHENS

"DO you believe in ghosts, Mr. Vincent?” Of all the people who sat in the semi-circle of intimate friends round the fire at the country house party, the one

least likely to be superstitious or to accept what could not be proved with legal precision was Vincent. Middle-aged, shrewdly keen, he sat puffing silently at his briar while others related, this Christmas Eve, their hairraising experiences. Sir Oliver Lodge and Conan Doyle had been summoned to give expert backing to the ghostbelievers, and both had been spurned by the materialists. Vincent was the only person who had not contributed to the spooky discussion. Then the question was flung across the hearth at him. One expected prompt disavowal from the good-naturedly satirical lawyer, but moments elapsed before he replied.

“I never have seen a ghost,” he said presently.

Something in the reply drew attention.

“Then you do believe in them?” asked an enthusiastic

“I never have seen a ghost,” repeated Vincent.

“Whether I have heard or felt one—absurd as the latter may seem—I cannot be quite certain about.”

“Oo-oo-oo-ooh!”

It was only little Bettie Pringle expressing her agitated emotions but in the eerie stillness it sounded rather ghostly.

“Don’t do that, Bettie,” said a shivering, plump lady.

“It makes me feel all creepy.

Hadn’t we better turn on the lights.”

Indignant protests greeted the suggestion from wallflowers in the grim unseen, and the plump lady subsided into the depths of her chair after a scared peep into the shadows behind her.

“Oh, Mr. Vincent, you must tell us about it,” urged our hostess, and her request was echoed by others of the party.

And so Vincent sat there in the gloom, pipe in fingers, and told the story of another Christmas Eve.

T SAW Innisfail for the * first time in the dusk of a December afternoon. Its owner, Gordon Merchiston, was driving me from the railway station, a dozen miles from Innisfail—his home—and suddenly, at a sharp turn of the snow-piled road, I saw the ancient house, one of the oldest in the Eastern Townships of Quebec province.

It lay on the upper shore of a white-sheeted lakemassive, frowning, remote, as seen in the intervals of the gauntly-stark trees that belted it about, and against the whiteness of the hillside.

More like frontier fortress than home it seemed, built of stone that age and weather had darkened, and it looked across the level sheet of the lake to the far hills with a dogged, indomitable aggressiveness—c h a 11 enge and guarded reserve in its eyes.

'TPHERE it had stood a *■ full century and a half, since the day when the first Canadian Merchiston,

ghost-up-holder, who had been giving recollections of her former incarnations which frank unbelievers brutally declared were due to the retributive qualities of dinners she had eaten. who had fought under Wolfe at Quebec, had passed within its newly-built walls and made it the abiding place of his line.

And for these hundred and fifty years Merchistons had lived in it, father and son—son and son’s son—six generations reaching to the time of my friend and client. Gordon Merchiston.

There had been Merchiston soldiers and sailors among its men, for there had ever been fighting quality in the blood, and whenever the flag of England streamed in the sky in face öf foe there had come the tingle in the blood of the breed that pulsed ringingly as note of bugle’s summons.

They came of a moss-trooping family of Border Scots, a tall lean breed, some—in the course of the generations—quaintly sedate, others spectacular rakes, none money-makers; the only replenishing of the family fortune coming from an occasional introduction of an heiress by

marriage. Of the great landed estate, but the house and a hundred or so acres were left when Gordon succeeded his father.

When he invited me to Innisfail for Christmas he frankly told me that he had little to offer ih way of entertainment—it would be bachelor hospitality to bachelor guest—and that there was business of urgency he desired to discuss with me. I knew that matters had not' been going well with him financially.

Driving from the station Merchiston told me the gênerai situation. It was not in his kind to hold back in the pioneer mining ventures he had entered, and he had plunged head-under, taking with him all he owned, mortgaging his property to the limit, and payment of the note

“And so,” he ended the dismal recital, “you have the story. I guess I am just about at the end of my tether.”

It was at this moment that the house of Innisfail came into view and -I caught Gordon’s glance as he silently regarded it. It was the look of one who is parting with the thing most precious in life to him.

“And so,” he repeated, more to himself than to me, “Innisfail and the -Merchistons part at last—and forever.”

The ensuing silence lasted until we reached the house and were walking from the stables to the iron-studded front door, then, standing on the terrace; Gordon paused to point out the raiding property on the fár hill’s upper slopes that had compassed his ruin. The trees had been shorn a . ay and one could see against the whiteness the dark gashes where men and machinery had burrowed for wealth. In the distance the gashes shaped themselves as a huge black octopus that, with long, feeling tentacles, was crawling down the snowy slopes to clutch and devour this ancient house.

HAD never been in Innisfail before, and if its massive exterior had impressed, its interior fascinated—the spacious hall, panelled and caled in inkyblack oak, its walls ornamented with weapons, armor, trophies of the chase— the dining room in which dinner was laid for the two of us immediately after our arrival, an apartment furnished with sombrely solid magnificence. But most of all the library, to which we withdrew after dinner, struck the intimate note of the wonderful home that Innisfail was. It was spacious, yet not too much so for cosy comfort. Upon the wide, handsomely-tiled hearth a great fire burned; against the walls stood elaborately-carved cases filled with books—tall folios, calfbound tomes of an earlier day, specimens of elegant bindings, together with volurnes that were, obviously, the productions of a more modern press; between and above the cases were fine prints, mostly sporting sketches and engravings; guns and fishing rods on racks; statuary; and all the interesting and valuable odds and ends that men of leisured wealth and taste gather from all over the world in the course of generation.s

for twenty-five thousand had been demanded. He did not know where he could raise even twenty-five hundred.

I commented upon the charm of the house and Merchiston took me over it on a tour of inspection.

"What a place to own! What a place to lose!" I inwardly reflected.

I had no conception of the size of the place until we went over it—suites of apartments, bedrooms, boudoirs, parlors, drawing-rooms, each elaborately furnished, suggesting the different periods of the house’s life, some of the appointments solidly plain, others delicately elegant, their furniture, even to my inexperienced eye, the work of no ordinary Canadian craftsman—silken hangings and coverlets, rare rugs and carpets, inlaid tables, great mirrored wardrobes, ornaments in cunningly wrought silver and jade. In one suite I noted suggestions of the tropics, corals and great delicately-hued shells, and, on the walls, water-

“Relics of the West Indian phase of the family history,’’ explained Merchiston. “O n e might say that this is the cupboard in which reposes the family skeleton.”

“The family skeleton?’ '

I repeated inquiringly.

color sketches of tropical scenes; I commented them.

“Yes—and, at this distance, I am quite proud of him,” he grinned.

“We’re Scotch, as you know, but half English from the time when the Stuarts ascended the throne of England. Some of us took to seafaring, in the navy, privateering on our own hook, and—well, as you know, the line between privateering and piracy was a rather thin one at times, and one Merchiston found it convenient to forget that there was a line at all. He is the , real black sheep of the bunch—no neutral tones, but the real inky stuff.

If tales are true, as they doubtless are, he flew the Jolly Roger in the

Caribbean—Hispaniola, Porto Bello, and many another spot bordering West Indian waters knew him to their sorrow. Later he linked up with Henry Morgan, was with him on the great buccaneer’s famous adventure up the Chagres River and descent upon Panama. By all rights he should have ended his career suspended from the gate of London Docks, but, like Morgan, he managed to make his peace with the Merrie Monarch, who could always see the point of a joke, and, with his chief, who was made Governor of Jamaica, ended his days in the atmosphere of great respectability and some affluence in the West Indies.

“What became of the treasure looted from Panama and other cities no one ever knew positively; that Morgan and one or two of his leaders fleeced their associates is matter of history, and, as the tale goes, my worthy forbear was in on the skinning, Morgan and he being hand in glove.

“There probably was truth in this because there arose a quarrel about this time that had results so persistent that a feud emerged from them that for some time was quite lively. Another notorious ruffian, who was also high in the counsels of Morgan and one of his active lieutenants, was a Dutchman named Ruysdael; when the three abandoned the rank and file and for prudential reasons turned to comparatively virtuous lives, they were supposed to share the plunder between them; however Ruysdael was euchred out of his share; Morgan was a Welshman and Merchiston a Scot, and what Dutchman ever lived who could hold his own with Taffy and Sandy in league? Ruysdael and Merchiston had been friends, and had married sisters, but between them sprang up a furious and deadly quarrel, over these same spoils, a quarrel that is a kind of crimson thread in the Merchiston fabric.

THE Merchiston ruffian died, in 1721, his on’y son having predeceased him though he left a young male heir who grew up to be the old boy who was with Wolfe at Quebec. He appears to have been a rare bird in the family aviäry, so much so that he left the reputation of a thrifty tightwad; he must have been wellheeled, since he built this place and lived in something like style,making frequent trips to England. A Merchiston never had much money until this chap and his grandfather came across it, and the explanation is that when the old ruffian went to his reward the grandson came into a hoarded pile, bringing it with him when he left the Indies and decided to establish himself in England’s new possession—Canada. Perhaps the desire to get outside the range

of the Ruysdael feud had something to do with the shift, for the Dutchman’s descendants still remained in Jamaica, and if tales be true the feud did not die out with the originators of it.”

“What is supposed to have come ofthe treasure?” I asked.

“If you knew the intimate history of the Merchistons you would never need to ask what became of money that got into their hands,” laughed Gordon. “The weakness of the breed has been in finger-grip, where their own purses were concerned; money was made to spend, and they did their best to see that it fulfilled its mission. If they had it, they blew it in. There are indications that they really did have it. In the picture gallery here are portraits of the early Canadian Merchiston women, and they are decked in much jewelled magnificence; you shall see them presently.

“That is one suggestion regarding the treasure’s existence. The second is that in the family history and traditions are tales of efforts being made by Ruysdaels to gain possession of this mysterious treasure; down in the village the old folk tell of some mysterious ‘black rider’ that is supposed to be a sort of Merchiston bogey; he appears from time to time and his appearance always portends trouble. Among the habitant folk legends of mystery and tragedy live long; they are handed down from father to son and told over and over again on winter evenings around the stove. They will tell you of ‘The Dutchman,’ the lean black rider who gallops at a furious pace through the drive here and down the lake road skirting the village every Christmas Eve. There is not one of them who would walk the road this night for a king’s ransom. The first time he appeared, so the legends say, was in 1798, then he came to the house, interviewed the Merchiston who was the son of thé founder of the house; there was some furious quarrel and after the rider left, galloping down the drive and past the village at full speed, Merchiston was found in the library with a sword thrust through his heart. There had been a fight, for my ancestor had died sword in hand. Since that time the Dutchman has reappeared frequently, so the tales run, but not in ghostly fashion as the results testify; several times the house has been raided by someone who has been

no common burglar, for while valuables lying about have not been touched, floors have been torn up in places and wall panellings smashed in. Of course you could not make the villagers believe that the havoc wrought was done by other than ghostly agency.”

“Have these, things happened in your time?” I asked “No,” laughed Gordon, “I’ve sat up at all hours thinking that the ghostly or material enemy might take a notion to visit me, and I

me, and I have walked the drive and road every Christmas Eve, I think, since I was more than a slip of a lad, but no Dutchman or ghostly rider have I ever seen, and as for damages to the house by raiders, the place has been as free of superstitious suggestion or burglarious adventure as the cottage of the village constable.” “Why do the villagers call him the Dutchman?” I asked

“The killing was attributed to the Ruysdael feud of which something seems to have been known; you know how it is—servants, doctors, supposedly confidential advisers, some of them leaky; no doubt there was quite a fuss at the time of the killing, and something of the family history oozed out; then the man was seen racing away, and with this to build upon the superstitious part of the tradition soon established itself. The Merchiston who was killed had married a Frenchwoman of fine family, and had a child who became my great-grandfather. She was killed two or three years later, being thrown from her horse in the drive, and of course the superstition mongers laid that to the dark rider, though there was nothing to

“E'ROM her time forward the Merchiston women have * no more jewelled adornment than an average farmer’s wife would own. Come into the gallery and I will show the portraits to you; you must see Denise Merchiston— she is the Frenchwoman who was killed by the fall from her horse. She herself is the rare jewel among my possessions—a wonderful woman she must have been, rarely beautiful, strangely consoling. I have always been head over ears in love with her—fancy one being in love with one’s great-great-grandmother! You will understand, however, when you see her. I’ve spent hours upon hours, when things have not been going well with me and the old house, there in the gallery before her picture, looking at her and talking with her.

was nothing to connect the two; this, however, there is in the family annals—the day after her death the house was broken into, and great damage done by the undiscovered raiders. It is suggested that if there was hidden treasure it was then looted since from that time there has been no trace of any such jewels as the wife of the slain Merchiston owned when the portrait of her that hangs in the gallery was painted, being in the family possession.

“She has the most wonderful eyes; they actually change their expression queerly; sometimes they are keen and piercing, at others merry with laughter; like the sea they are never twice the same, but always wise and true and strangely comforting. Then she always seems to be on the verge of saying something of great importance to me. She was very young when she died, little more than a girlI like to think of her as the woman whose blood runs in my veins, who never became old, never lost her beauty, whose charm never failed; because of this she seems alive and really as young to me today as at the close of the eighteenth century when the picture was painted. Come, I will show her to you.”

Through corridors and passages Gordon led me until we came to the gallery. So crowded were the walls with pictures that there did not seem room for another canvas. From one to another we passed, Gordon now and again giving nu* some historical detail regarding this or that one, until we came to a tall canvas upon which was the full-length picture of a very gracious woman.

There was no need to tell me, after my host’s description, that this was Madame Denise Merchiston. I am no expert judge of portrait painting, but I knew that this was the picture of a noble woman, painted by an artist of consummate skill, ff he stood there before us in entrancing youthful beauty and dignified young matronliness, looking down upon the man in whom she lived again and my humble self. She was gowned after the somewhat extravagant fashion of the ladies of the Court of Marie Antoinette, but it became her brilliance exquisitely. On her long, white, shapely fingers were magnificently gemmed rings; about her neck flashed a necklace of diamonds from which hung a wondrous pendant -a great ruby of glorious glowing color framed in a circlet of fine diamonds; upon her fair hair was a jewelled tiara, its gold intricately and marvellously fashioned so that it became fit ornament for so exquisite a head.

But it was not the grace of her figure, the charming dignity of her pose, the splendor of her dress, or the brilliance of her jewels that attracted me; it was the sheer loveliness of the face that fascinated. She was infinitely sweet, tender, womanly.

SHE seemed to regard me rather than I her—was I worthy? Could I be trusted? Then, as Gordon had told me, there seemed to be a change in the glance of her eyes, and a strange, satisfied warmth crept over me— the look was kindly, friendly, and I felt that I had this rare woman’s approval. It was as if she had graciously extended to me her hand and given me the name of friend. Merchiston’s laughing words roused me.

“You, too, have fallen under her spell,” _ he said, thrusting his hand within my arm as if another link bound us together. “Do you wonder that I am proud of my lovely Denise?” Then he paused for some moments, regarding her. “Whatever goes down in the wreck, she will remain with me—even if I have to steal her. I bear the name she gave her boy—Gordon—and that seems to bring me still closer to her.”

There was little to interest one in the other Merchistons, but this I did note—that on no other of the women, coming after her, were there these marvellous jewels; contrasted with her the later Merchiston women looked like sober doves or barnyard fowl compared with a Bird of Paradise.

We were turning away to descend the stairs to the hall when another picture caught my eye; it was a rather crudely painted canvas on which two men in naval costume of a byegone time were depicted standing on the deck of a ship; I paused before it.

“I had almost forgotten,” said Merchiston, “that is rather a curiosity with more than cursory interest. Those two men are the buccaneers—Merchiston and Ruysdael—painted in their reformed days, before the quarrel.”

The men were uniformed alike, tight-fitting breeches, long coats cut away to narrow tails, with big buttons on them that looked like queer gold coins, elaborate vests and high, most respectable stocks about their throats.

There was no mistaking the Merchiston, sandy-haired, ample-shouldered, tall; there was something in him, coarsened ruffian as he looked, of Gordon at my side— a man of grit and power—the game, battling strain unchastened, with its cruelty in his eyes and on his lips— a stark fighting man to whom life was a game, death an unusual adventure, and withal a keenly shrewd man whom none would defy or thwart with impunity.

The man at his side was tall and lean, with high cheek bones, hawk beak and eyes, thin lips that were a straight line across the face—dark, ruthless, more primitive than Merchiston and lacking the other’s intellectual power. One could picture him boarding some hapless merchantman, the lust of killing in him, fighting like a demon possessed, furious and pitiless.

And the man looked the part of the free-booter to perfection. It seemed to my imaginative mind that he was fixedly staring across the dimness of the gallery toward the splendid Denise who faced him and met his glance with a high defiance that made him seem still more threatening and saturnine.

AS WE descended the stairs Martin, Gordon’s manservant. came into the hall with word that the delayed mail-driver had just arrived at the post-office with his load of Christmas mail—there was no boy round to send along with the Innisfail post-bag, so the post-mistress had telephoned, would Mr. Merchiston call for it.

“All right, I’ll see about it,” replied Gordon. Then, as Martin withdrew, he grinned at me. “Usually it is a much-competed for job, with the quarter tip it brings, but not tonight—Christmas Eve, with chances of meeting the Black Rider on the road. Will you come along with me? It would be more than a pity to miss the Dutchman.”

The night was inky black. Though the trees lining the drive were bare of leaves they seemed to increase the thick darkness. Gordon linked his arm in mine that he might guide me. The wind was rising blusteringly— now whining like a peevish, complaining woman, then gustily storming as in her fitful rage.

“A suitable night for the Dutchman,” laughed Merchiston as we ploughed through the deep snow.

We presently passed the unoccupied cottage at the drive’s end and reached the main road that here ran through a belt of trees in twisting fashion; the darkness was Egyptian. Merchiston began to talk of his mortgage troubles, and it occurred to me for the first time to enquire who his creditor was; possibility of negotiation with the mortgagee was in my mind.

“I don’t know,” he answered to my surprise. “The man who advanced the money to me is our local notary,

Enter The Golden Y ear

ONLY a few short years ago the Christmas season brought with it more of grief than gladness. It was a time of absent faces and of aching hearts. And if those bitter days still remain with us as an unavailing regret there ismingled with them a heartening sense of obligation bravely born and the hallowed memory of a high achievement. But to-day we are entering on a golden year, a year when men’s hearts have been turned to pity ind unselfishness and justice. Such ends must come hardly, but we see the dawning in the eager effort to minister to the sick and suffering and the afflicted,; in the end of that bitter red strife in Ireland, and in the presence of those sober statesmen at Washington, gathered together\ that men may learn war no more. Surely this Christmas season should find us with glad hearts for no other Christmas has borne to us such a full measure of the Christmas spirit as has come this golden year.

who dabbles in this kind of business. It is trust money of some kind that he handles, but the mortgage stands in his name, and, with the note, is in custody of the Bank in Albertville. Some trick, I suppose, to dodge tax payment in the States—it is American money, I understand. Anyway, I have to deal with the notary and the bank.”

“And you’ve discussed the matter of extension?”

“Of course,” he replied. “And both say they are helpless in the face of positive insistence by their principals or principal, and I believe them, for Champlain, the notary, is a decent sort of chap, while the bank has no interest in the matter either way. “Odd that American investors should take up such a loan and for such an amount on what is practically house property.” I suggested.

“But Innisfail is not a mere house,” he answered, a bit touched.

“Of course,” I agreed. “But the wonder is that a Yank should be interested, or, if interested, should keep himself in the background. I’d have expected to see him poking round in order to see just what was the surety for his money.”

“No doubt he is satisfied to take careful old Champlain’s assurance; the old boy would be sure to crack up

Innisfail, and........” Then he suddenly dragged me

out of the beaten track into the heaped snow by the roadside; the jerk was so sudden that I half sprawled in the snow; but we were just in time to escape a horseman who came gallopingr oundthe corner at top speed. Gordon roared a crisp uncomplimentary observation after the fellow, but the only response he got was a blow in thç face from the hard snow cast back by the feet of the horse.

“The drunken lout,” snapped Merchiston, as we waded back into the road. “Some Frenchman with enough gin in him to make him heedless of his neck and the necks of other people.”

We got the mail at the little office, the post-mistress being politely apologetic because we had been troubled to come down for it.

“But it is Christmas Eve,” she added, leaving us to interpret the remark as we would.

“Scared of the Rider,” laughed Gordon, then suddenly he became grave. When we were outside he was silent for a while, then broke into speech.

“It was a coincidence, wasn’t it?” he said abruptly. “If one of the villagers had been on the road and seen that flying horseman nothing in the world would ever have persuaded him that it wasn’t the Dutchman abroad.”

MARTIN met us in the hall, a black frown on his strong, old face.

“There is a——gentleman to see you, Mr. Merchiston,” he said. “He is up in the gallery.”

“In the gallery!” Gordon exclaimed. “Who is he?”' “I don’t know him from the devil,” replied the privileged and peppery old fellow. “Walked up as if he owned the place, without heeding what I said. You may be sure I followed and watched him.”

“Easy, Martin,” Gordon rebuked mildly. “We’ll go and have a look at him, come on, Jim,” the latter to me. •

So we went up to the gallery to see the free-and-easy visitor. The man was standing, back to us, regarding the portrait of Madame Denise Merchiston—it was testimony to his artistic taste. He was tall and lean, and his black hair reached at the back to his collar. If he heard us he gave no immediate sign of it, turning only when Gordonaddressed him.

When he did face round it was with a look of searching deliberateness; he was the coolest fellow I ever saw; he did not speak, neither did we, but we stood, all three, two facing one, regarding each other in the most pregnant silence I have ever known. The man’s appearance was impressive; the long black hair, parted in the middle, framed a sallow, drawn face that seemed neither old nor young; the cheek bones were high and prominent, the nose and eyes hawk-like, the lips a thin firm line across the face.

It was the least human face I have ever seen, coldly ruthless with never a suggestion of kindliness or friendliness in it. Then I turned my glance, almost involuntarily, to look at the Dutchman on the wall; half wondering if he had stepped from the canvas to the floor, for there stood his counterpart in figure and visage. The man spoke first.

“I’ve been looking over your pictures,” he said to Merchiston. “That’s good work.” He pointed to Madame Denise.

“It is generally regarded so,” replied Merchiston. “But my man did not have your card.”

“No, it was unnecessary,” the visitor replied coolly, moving toward the buccaneer’s picture and examining it closely.

“That’s a Merchiston,” he observed pointing to the sandy buccaneer. “Who’s the other?” There was a cunning leer suggested in his glance at Gordon.

“We call him the Dutchman,” replied the master of the house.

' “Ah!” said our visitor, then briskly changed his manner. “I heard from Champlain that the note has not been paid on due demand. The money loaned—twenty-five thousand—was my‘money, and I want it; the note was payable on demand, and you have defaulted. Do you mean to pay your debt?”

The fiery blood rushed into Merchiston’s face, but hé restrained himself.

“I asked Champlain to enquire about an extension—” he began, but the other cut him off sharply.

“Not a day. Tomorrow is a holiday; if some arrangement for payment is not made the following day steps wiß be taken to enforce my lien. I make myself clear?” Already the man was on his way to the stairs. _ He descended the steps looking about him with a domineering, possessive air that was insufferable. I expected Merchiston to burst forth in his furious wrath, but he held histongue, speaking no word. He opened the door with a slight bow and ushered the man out, closing the door after him. A few moments later we heard the sound of a galloping horse outside on the gravelled terrace. Martin was near-by, looking agitated.

“Was the fellow riding?” Gordon asked.

“He was riding,” Martin answered grimly, “the black hellion!”

Merchiston and I passed into the library; Gordon dropped into a chair and packed a pipe meditatively.

Suddenly he looked across at me. “We didn't get his name after all,” he said, and I nodded.

IT WAS not the cheeriest Christmas Eve I had ever spent, though Gordon did his gallant best to liven things up. A deeper gloom seemed to have settled down upon the place since the black visitor had come and gone, and yet it was not a lonely gloom. To me, in the silences, the house this night seemed peopled by the spirits of the dead.

Gordon and I seemed, with Martin and his wile, like the late-lingerers at the graveside of a splendid past. The snow was now beating on the windows; in the great chimney the winds roared. And so the evening wore on. I spoke to Gordon of letters I had to write and he rosefrom his chair ahd knocked the ashes from a cold pipe. “I’m rotten company, old "man,” he said rather sadly. “It was a brutal shame to drag you from the homes of living folk to a graveyard like this. I’ll leave you to your letters and get to bed.”

Continued on page 57

The House of Innisfail

Continued from page 22

I walked upstairs with him, going to my room to fetch my portfolio, and he went off to bed. On my way down, passing through the gallery, I lingered again before the picture of the winsome woman on the tall canvas.

Her eyes seemed to shine with an even brighter light, tha sweet, parted lips had greeting upon them; one could fancy she was about to speak some word that would chase the gloom from the great house.

Again in the library, I laid the portfolio on the table, and turned to the fire, all inclination to write gone. I piled fresh logs on the fire, then lay back in the low, deep-cushioned chair and gave myself up to the fascination of place and hour. Beginning with thought of the dark problem of Merchiston’s affairs, my mind traversed the remoter past—the history of the House, Denise Merchiston, the dark rider, the lurid deeds of the buccaneers. In the half-doze I was away in the Caribbean, sailing on sunlit seas that had the vivid tints of gold and blood; I saw dark, evil-visaged men, belted about with crimson sashes, kerchiefs of brilliant hues twisted across their brows, hairv chests brown and bared, dripping cutlasses in hands, daggers and pistols thrust into beds—lust, crueltv, murder in their eyes.

Then all this changed, and I saw the smiling woman, Denise Merchiston, and ever was on her lips the unspoken word, and in her eyes the assurance of protectiveness. She stood as the conquering spirit of good over against the eVil that menaced the ancient house of Innisfail.

WHAT roused me I did not immediately realise, but I awakened with a start, listening with every nerve tense; the fire was dying down; a profound stillness rested upon the house, broken by the sound of the tall grandfather clock in the hall striking, slowly and solemnly -One! Two! Three! until twelve had sounded. Christmas morning had come.

And then, in a lull of the wind, I heard the footsteps on the floor of the gallery above, slow and measured; now it was orTtbe stairs and I counted the footfalls. They did not sound like the quick, decisive ones of Merehiston. Now they sounded from the hall—they were approaching the half-open door of the room in which I now stood facing the door. At this very moment the great lamp over the tablebegan to burn low, its oil probably exhausted; then came a gust of icy wind and the flickering flame went out. And nearer and nearer came the steps, slowly, stealthily—as they seemed—hesitantly. Papers on the table fluttered mysteriously; a tinv flame spurted up on the hearth, and the door was pushed slowly and creakingly open but I saw no one enter, but I fancied I heard—no, I did hear—the soft swish and rustle as of a woman’s silken dress. There was a presence in the room of which I was as acutely conscious as if I could see the figure of a tall gracious woman—the figure of Denise Merehiston —; it moved toward me and then seemed to pause. Then there was the step again and Gordon Merehiston entered the room, very slowly.

He was clad in pyjamas, as though just risen from bed, and his feet were bare; his eyes were open but he did not see me; then he spoke in a far-away voice.

“Yes, Denise, I am coming, but it is dark—dark,” he said. “You must guide me—yes, I can see better now,” and slowly he crossed the floor, halting near me but unconscious of my presence. Then he moved toward the farther side of the hearth and stopped there.

“Yes—yes,” he said, placing his hands on the upper part of the thick marble pillar that was one of the twin supports of the broad marble mantel over the hearth; the ornamentation was an elaborately carved, grotesque face, gargoylefashioned. Merehiston gripped each side of the head by the projecting ears and tugged and tugged again, apparently putting forth all his great strength. For minutes he wrestled with his grinning adversary, at last abandoning the unsuccessful struggle in manifest dejection.

He turned away, retraced his stepspat—pat—pat across the room.

I heard him walk down the hall, ascend the stairs, cross the gallery and enter his bedroom; then all was still again in the great house.

The fire by this time was almost extinct, so I struck several matches and examined the head of the pillar. In the darkness I, too, tugged as Merehiston had done, and as fruitlessly. Then I left the room and walked up the staircase. There was a single lamp burning dimly in the galleiy and in its light I paused before the picture of the smiling woman. She looked down upon me as one who has accomplished a great task; then I turned to regard the Dutchman and in the dimness his black scowl was more grim than ever.

They were to me the Spirit of Good and the Spirit of Evil, the one victorious, the other vanquished, and, as I regarded them, again came the chime of the Christmas bells.

I slept little the rest of the night.

\/fERCHISTON was in the dining ■L** room when I entered it in the morning, and though he gave me cheery welcome I noticed about his eyes the suggestion of unusual tiredness.

“One would think, from the look of you, Gordon, that you had been having a real Christmas Eve celebration," I remarked.

He paused reflectively before making any reply. “And so I had," he answered, “in dreams.”

“Unpleasant ones?”

“No, the waking was the unpleasant part,” he said. “I dreamed of fortune and waked to......life as it is. I dream-

ed Denise came to my room and celled ‘Gordon! Gordon!’ Shp was real tp me as you are, and she bade me not to be troubled, that I should not lose Innisfail, that Christmas should be a day of redemption from bondage. And she led me to the library where sjie bade me tear open some place in the wall. See!” and he showed me his fingers with the nails torn and brokep.” Then he paused as if trying hard to link up the details of his dream.

“I remember!” he said suddenly, “Come, I’ll show you,” and he led me into the library. “Here it was,” he said, touching the gargoyle.

“Yes, I saw you.” I told him.

“You saw me?” he rejoined in astonishment.

“Yes, you were sleep-walking in the library, and had a wrestling match with the gargoyle there. It was that made havoc of your fingers.”

“And Denise?” he asked incredulously. “She was with me.”

“I do not doubt it.”

“You saw her?” he demanded eagerly.

“No, but I heard her—felt her presence.”

“We are both mad together,” he replied dazedly.

“Mad or sane,” I replied. “We are going to tear that grinning face wide open.” I bent to examine the head and found that it was metal, cunningly simulating the marble in appearance, and clamped cleverly to the pillar. “Have you a short steel bar?”

He fetched one, and, placing its end at the back of a projecting ear, lever-like, we both tugged; the result was ludicrous; the thing yielded as if a spring had been touched and we sprawled on the floor. We sprang to our feet and saw that the middle section of the pillar was hollow and gave upon a recess some four or five feet wide and perhaps as many deep. And within were several small wooden boxes. It was the work of a few minutes to have them out upon the table, and opened.

Before us lay the Merehiston treasure— the wondrous jewels that had adorned Denise Merehiston, magnificently gemmed rings, tiaras, necklaces of precious stones—diamonds and .rubies, emeralds and sapphires, some of great barbaric splendor, others set in elegantly fashioned gold ornaments—; there was one box packed with long rouleaux of Georgian golden guineas, and another filled with queer, thick gold coins that were of Spanish minting. And so we unpacked and piled them up until the table was a-glitter with them—veritably a king’s ransom lay there on the table. And in one of the boxes was a letter; it was written in fine delicate penmanship, the ink faded with age; the date of it was 1800. And we read it together; it . ran something like this:

“Thrice since the slaying of my husband by the breed of the Dutchman has this house been ravaged by its deadly enemy. Only by great good fortune was the treasure saved from the Dark Rider. My life may be short or long, but I am ever fearful, so I have decided to lay the treasure in the secret hiding-place of the Merchistons. Since my beloved husband is gone I shall never wear my jewels again.

“My baby, Gordon, is young, and I have none whom I can trust. So here I hide the treasure, that it may be preserved from our enemies. When my son is old enough to guard it, he shall know the hiding place. If I die before that time I will leave the treasure in the keeping of God. Whether the spirits of the dead may return to the places they have loved on earth I do not know, but if they may come back for good I shall again come to this dear house of Innisfail, to see its prosperity if my Divine Lord so wills, or to aid it in adversity if such befall it. So here I leave the treasure, with the humble prayer that the light of God may ever shine upon this house, and His blessing be the portion of its sons and daughters. Denise Merehiston.

“This Eve of Christmas, in the year of Our Blessed Lord and Redeemer, 1800.”

T ACCOMPANIED Gordon to the office *■ of Champlain the notary a few days later. We had a certified cheque, to the little man’s great amazement, and, I am sure, his great delight, and then and there we lifted the burden from the House of Innisfail. The business ended and hands shaken all round, we turned to go, but at the door I turned,

“Now our business is ended may we kpow the name of the real lender of this money 1” I asked.

Champlain thought a moment or so, as if debating a matter of professional etiquette, then he heaved a great sigh of relief.

“I think so,” he replied. “He is a man who has business connections in New York, and the island of Jamaica. He calls himself Risdale, which is, { understand, a modernization of Rqysdael.”

“The breed of the Dutchman!” exclaimed Gordon.

And there the House of Innisfail still stands, the home of the Merchistons, strong sons and fair daughters of Quebec, and the Dark Rider is seen no more. The Dlutchman is but a story told about habitant stoves on winter nights when the cold is bitter and the wind whines at the windowa.