Fiction

GOLD MINE IN THE HOUSE

You won’t like Morgan, no one does, but you’ll get a kick out of reading what happened to him

J. N. HARRIS March 1 1948
Fiction

GOLD MINE IN THE HOUSE

You won’t like Morgan, no one does, but you’ll get a kick out of reading what happened to him

J. N. HARRIS March 1 1948

GOLD MINE IN THE HOUSE

You won’t like Morgan, no one does, but you’ll get a kick out of reading what happened to him

J. N. HARRIS

MONSIEUR CHARBONNEAU, who presides over the Chateau St. Christophe, in the Laurentians, brought two new guests over to my table. His racing-bike handle bars quivered as he introduced them—Meester Anderson and Meester Morgan, they are just arr-r-rive—and then he waddled off to the kitchen—nay, the studio — where Madame Charbonneau did wonderful things to trout and partridges and steaks.

Monsieur Charbonneau knew I liked to eat alone, but St. Christophe attracts so many fishermen, artists and people reducing their blood pressure that every table has to be filled to capacity whenever the weather is good.

Right away I knew that Morgan was a racketeer. He was large and loud and he wore diamonds and I’d have bet that nobody so repulsive-looking could get to be that prosperous by honest means. Then it struck me that this was the Morgan who owned half of the Singed Cat, a night spot, and whose used-car lot was selling cars that had been driven there almost straight from the factory.

Anderson, the other man, was just the opposite: neat and quiet and so self-effacing that he would do without salt rather than ask you to pass it. Morgan took an early lead in the conversational field and held it easily because he didn’t mind talking with his mouth full.

For several days I listened to Morgan at mealtime but didn’t hear a word from Anderson, except that his name was Doctor Anderson and that he didn’t want to join Mr. Morgan in a game of stud poker.

Neither of them showed any interest in fishing, nor did they lug easels out on the rocks to prepare Christmas cards in four colors. I decided that Morgan was dodging a writ and Anderson was there for his health. Morgan tried to pump the Doctor but he couldn’t get anything out of him other than the two items already mentioned.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, when I barged into the lounge one evening to find my two tablemates side by side on a settee, chattering away like old cronies. It was a chilly evening and young Telesphore Charbonneau had lighted a fire.

“Hey, you,” Morgan shouted, “come and join

us. Andy, here, the old oyster, has opened up and he can really talk. He says he’s a psy—come again, Doc—what was the word?”

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Gold Mine in the House

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"A psychiatrist. A specialist in mental and nervous disorders.”

“Yeah, see?” Morgan went on, “just, get a load of this. The guy claims that he can tell, from the kind of heebie jeebies you’ve got, just how many times you fell off your kiddy car when you were three.”

I SAT down and listened and I must admit that Anderson was interesting when he got started. He told us about complexes and reflexes, and neuroses and psychoses, and about the subconscious and the id and a lot of other things, and he made them sound as simple as the works of a toy train.

That wasn’t enough foi Morgan, though; he kept asking every now and then just what Dr. Anderson had come to St. Christophe for. Was it business or pleasure?

Anderson was a little cagey at first; he didn’t seem to want to discuss it,

J but Morgan wouldn’t let him alone, j “Oh well, where’s the harm?”

I Anderson said finally. “After all, my j deal is through. I have only to close it tomorrow and then I’m returning to the city. Gentlemen”—and he stared at us impressively—“1 came here to buy a gold mine.”

Morgan’s mouth fiew open and the crafty look of the hardened sceptic came over his face.

“Yeah?” was all he could say.

“Yes,” said the doctor, “and it was psychiatry that led me to this mine, psychiatry and nothing else. Oh, I j don’t mean a gold mine in the literal Í sense. It’s a house, actually. But let ! me tell you, gentlemen, the house is a gold mine.”

“No kiddin’?” said Morgan, “tell us ; more. We want to hear all about it.” “It’s a long story,” the Doctor said,

; “and I see that the fire has gone out. Come to my room—there’s a portable oilstove there, and we can be warm.” In the Doctor’s room, Morgan and I collapsed in wicker chairs and Anderson sat. on the edge of the bed. He loosened his collar, lighted a cigarette and, after j staring owlishly from one to the other ; of us, began his story.

YEARS ago (the doctor said) a psychiatrist couldn’t make as much money as today, because, although just as many people had mental troubles, not as many knew about them. I was a struggling psychiatrist, working as consultant to a private sanitaiium. All the patients were rich people, oi their relations, but the richest man in the place was Sir Arnold Corbett. You’ve heard of him —everybody has. He made his pile in lumber and pulp and mines and everything going and I guess he pulled a few crude ones while he was making it.

Anyway, Corbett became mentally ! ill. That, means went nuts in the j language of the street. He got scared, j He was afraid he was going to ho robbed and murdered, and he hired bodyguards. Then he got scared of (lie bodyguards. Then he built himself a house that was really a private fortress. Corbett’s Folly they called it. Walls six and eight feet, thick. Slits of windows. Secret passages and all the rest of it. A madman’s dream.

He got more and more scared. He thought there was an international plot, to defraud him. so he liquidated all his holdings and deposited his money in hanks. Finally he even reached the point, where he got frightened of the banks and got the idea they might fail There were stories at the time of armored cais driving up to Corbett’s Folly in the dead of night—carrying gold. Gold to be stowed away where thieves and manipulators couldn’t get at it. Servants were fired and finally the old boy was living in that huge house with only a housekeeper and one elderly manservant. About that time his relatives got him committed to the sanitarium.

That’s where I came into the picture. 1 worked on that man day after day for years. Sometimes he was raving for weeks and sometimes he would lie, emitting low, piteous moans for several days. In his few lucid moments I worked with him patiently, slowly piecing together the story of his life.

The doctor paused, stood up, and passed us each a cigar.

“But why should I bore you with what, after all, are technical details?” he asked.

“You go right ahead, Doc,” Morgan said, “I don’t see no bored faces around this room.”

The doctor took a pull at his cigar and sat down.

THERE is a symbolism and meaning (he went on) in the ravings of a madman, indeed in the subconscious utterances even of a perfectly sane man. We psychiatrists can piece together the, er, double talk of a patient in a trance. In such a state patients will tell us things they are afraid even to think. Things lying deep in the so-called conscience. Deep-laid fears and so on. Thus I found out the del ails of many shady dealsof Corbett’s.

I also found that he had another secret, much more closely guarded.

He kept repeating the word “ivory,” which is synonymous with “money” or gold, in some of the African tongues, and I deduced that his worry was about gold. But he had gold—it was known that he had purchased four million dollars worth—so why was he worried? About losing it?

No, I thought, or otherwise why would he keep repeating “Red fox at the gate,” a symbol group familiar to psychologists which means, roughly, “What have I done with it?”

Then at last dawn broke, and I realized that Corbett had been so worried about the secret hiding place of his hoard of gold that he hadn’t, dared to think of it and had finally forgotten it. That had driven him mad.

Digging deeper and even deeper into his subconscious, 1 pieced together the secret that even he had forgotten—the hiding place.

That night Arnold Corbett sat up and ate his dinner a sane man. Once he had remembered it, through my psychoanalytical method, his mind w'as restored in a manner that was termed miraculous at the time.

“Of course I’m fit again, Anderson, and I’m deeply grateful to you,” he síiid. “My relatives had me shut away here so they could get my money, but I’ll show ’em. I’m going to leave it all to you. Call a medical board at once and have me declared sane.” Quivering with joy, I summoned a number of mental specialists and convened a hoard that very evening. 'They were amazed at Corbett’s recovery and showered me with congratulations. In slightly less than two hours they declared Corbett to be a sane man and left at once.

"Now bring me a pen and paper,” Coihett bellowed, “I want to make a new will at once.”

Although it didn’t seem very tactful, in view of the nature of his recent illness, I provided him with foolscap and a pen and he set out to write like a man who hadn’t much time! 'There were small bequests to faithful servants and one or two to institutions, but the bulk of his fortune went to me.

While he wrote, however, Sir Arnold suddenly grew weak and faint. The mental stress had proved too much for his heart and he began to sink.

“Witnesses,” he cried, “bring me witnesses, at once!”

Hastily I summoned two of the attendants and the rapidly failing man scrawled his name on the document. 'The attendants witnessed the signature. I folded the will, placed it in my coat pocket, and turned to w'atch Sir Arnold draw his last breath.

Gentlemen, so unnerved was I by my sudden fortune that I never looked at that will again until it came up for probate in court. Naturally his family fought to have the thing quashed. When I produced the will in court., I was horrified to notice that the witnesses had signed themselves “Bonaparte” and “Oliver Cromwell.” Only then did I remember that the two attendants were harmless patients.

Of course the will was set aside and I had to resign from the sanitarium staff. The relatives got. all of Corbett’s property—all they could find. One person alore knew the hiding place of the gold and I was that person.

For twenty years I have waited and for twenty years the relatives have ransacked every corner of Corbett’s Folly. It is a gigantic network of stone and masonry, and they have pulled out walls, dug up the cellar, and torn out chimneys, to no avail.

Several have gone bankrupt and many have died in the interval. Today the property is owned by an old woman, a Mrs. Reeves, who is a niece of the late owner. She has at last despaired and is ready to sell the house for what it will fetch, but alas, she knows that I know something, so she has held out for a lot of money. Sixty-five thousand dollars, in fact, much more than a heap of ruins in the Laurentians is worth, hut I have raised the money, and tomorrow Corbett’s Folly becomes mine—mine.

Gentlemen, that house is a gold mine.

MORGAN’S eyes were nearly bulging out of his head. He ground out his cigar and we left together, as the doctor prepared to go to bed.

In the corridor Morgan shook me by the arm and kept repeating, “A goldmine! Boy! A gold mine!”

We were all late for breakfast next morning and got a frosty look from Madame Charbonneau, who likes to see her guests come in on time for meals.

Morgan was there when I arrived, just starting to W'ork on a grapefruit.

“Say listen, Jake,” he said at once (I never told him my first name so he tried a different one every time), “do you think that story the old guy wras spinning us was just a come-on act? Does he turn around and offer to let us buy in now? What’s his game?”

“Ask him,” I said, “ask him if you can huy a share.”

“Sure, that’s a swell scheme,” Morgan said. “If it’s on the level he says no.”

He ate for a minute or so, with a worried expression.

“But supposing it is on the level,” he said, “How can we figure to cut in?” At that moment Anderson came in, so I didn’t answer.. Morgan wasted no time.

Doc," he said, "this house you were talking about-you know the one you mentioned earlier. Is it near here?" "About two miles and a bite" said the doctor, "you can go through St. Christophe, or there’s a shorter way by the river road. Really, I must have been a bit excited last night to tell you all about it. I hope you won’t say too much just yet.”

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“Not a yelp out of me, Doc,” Morgan replied, “but just tell me one thing. Could a guy buy a little piece of this venture?”

The Doctor smiled and shook his head.

“Perhaps Pm greedy,” he said, “I’ve waited a long time though. My certified cheque is in the lawyer’s hands for the full amount. Title has been searched and Mr. Bouchard has agreed to get the deed for me this morning. How would you like to go along with me and see the place?”

An hour later the three of us were looking at the weirdest heap of ruins I have seen on this continent. The motif of Corbett’s Folly seemed to have been borrowed from the Terminal Warehouse in Toronto, with just a touch of grain elevator. Stone and brick and concrete had all been used, and for the lover of the archaic there were touches of the Gothic dungeon and the Aztec cliff dwelling.

"We found that the cellar had been excavated in fifty places. Walls and fireplaces had been torn down and opened and pried into, and the floors had been pulled up in many places.

“It’s difficult to see how they missed it,” Anderson said, “and yet, look here. The floor in this room is higher than the floor in that, yet the ceilings below are the same level. Pull those three steps out, and you come to a solid stone wall. Pull that out, and you are in a narrow passage that leads right around the next room, mortised right into the outer wall. The relatives never did go to the expense of having the whole place dismantled—that would have cost a fortune, you know, but it’s a wonder to me they missed an obvious thing like this. Well, I must cut back to the Chateau, because I have to be at the lawyer’s at one.”

The doctor and I were going back by the direct road, but Morgan said he had to go through the village to buy some liniment. We hadn’t parted long when a thought occurred to me.

“Doctor,” I said, “Do you think that fellow will try to double-cross you? You haven’t got the deed yet, you know.”

The doctor laughed.

“Why, the whole thing’s settled. Mrs. Reeves has agreed to the terms. She lives in the village, just to be near her uncle’s old place. I’ve given my cheque and, besides, where would a chap like that raise so much money in an hour or so? Bouchard said the thing had to be settled today. He’s sick of it, frankly.”

“Listen,” I said, “that guy Morgan is no good. He’s in all the rackets. I think he’s in the bookmaking ring and I’ll bet he could raise that much dough by telephone in no time. I’m going to follow him to see what he’s up to.” “Very well,” said the doctor, “but don't worry.”

I KNEW just where to look for Mr.

Morgan. The sign, “Etienne Bouchard, Avocat” was a familiar one. There was one middle-aged typist in the outer office, who didn’t look up when I came in. I could hear Morgan’s loud voice arguing with Monsieur Bouchard in the inner office, so I stopped and listened.

There is Mister Anderson’s signed offer,” Bouchard was saying, “and there is his certified cheque, which I go now to deposit. Next I go to Mrs. Reeves and tell her the business is finished.”

“But listen, will ya,” Morgan was shouting, “I’m offering seventy-five G’s, and there’ll be something for you, too, if you can swing it.”

“But today. Today. Aujourd'hui. Today I get rid of this old house. Show me your money and I talk to you, Mr. Morgan.”

As the typist had just deigned to notice my presence, and was coming over to the little counter, I said, “It’s all right,” and left quickly. I slipped into the drugstore and phoned Dr. Anderson at the hotel. He had just arrived.

I blurted cut my story as best I could and suggested that the doctor try to raise more money quickly.

“I suppose it serves me right for talking, after being quiet all these years,” he said. “Still, I have an idea. Don’t say a word. Don’t be too obvious, and see what happens.”

What was happening right then was that Bouchard and Morgan were crossing the road to the bank. I followed at a distance and crowded in among the farmers and hotel people who were doing business there. I could hear Morgan’s voice once more, this time in the manager’s little office. He was excited and shouting.

I stayed while the manager and Mr. Morgan put through several calls to Montreal, then there was a period of silence. The manager then appeared behind the cashier’s desk and picked up a rubber stamp. 1 left.

I felt a little sick about the whole business and I w'as glad I couldn’t find the doctor at the hotel. On an impulse I packed my bags and told Monsieur Charbonneau that I was leaving by the 6.10 train.

Morgan barged into my room wearing a huge grin at about four in the afternoon and waved the deed to Corbett’s Folly in my face.

“You keep your mouth shut about this, Bud,” he said, “and I’ll do right by you. This stuff ought to be clear of income tax if nobody don’t talk, and I guess nobody won’t. You’ll cut in for a nice piece and if the doctor says anything, well, he’s sort of an old guy anyway—” V.

“Get out,” I said.

Telesphore Charbonneau drove me to the train in his father’s Buick. He congratulated me at my luck in fishing and hoped I would ccme up again for the skiing season. I wasn’t interested.

Just as the train was pulling out of the station, though, I sat up a bit. Dr. Anderson had just boarded it at the last moment, with a very attractive brunette of about 25. The rimless specs were gone and he looked very, very happy.

“Hello, there,” he greeted me. “Meet my daughter, Mrs. Reeves. Edna, meet a young man who shared my table at the Chateau and who was very helpful in the recent sale of Morgan’s Folly.”

“How do you do,” said the young lady sweetly.

“Morgan’s Folly?” I exclaimed.

“Oh, Morgan’s and a lot of other people’s,” Anderson said. “I told you that house wras a gold mine. I hope Mr. Morgan doesn’t do too much damage before the place is sold for taxes again.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re quite some psychiatrist.”

“Not actually a psychiatrist—just a psychologist,” Anderson explained. “I hold a degree in advertising and sales psychology from the Kut-Price Koriespondence Kollege of Kansas Cit>, but I must say that the most useful kr.owTledge I ever gained was from a former cell mate of mine, a Bay Street prospector in Toronto.”

“And what was that?” I asked.

“The easiest sheep to fleece is the one that holds the shears.”