The Inn at the Red Oak
Part 4 out of 4
and the great figure fell back and sank out of sight.
With that Dan sprang forward, reckless of danger, and ran to the window.
He heard without the confused sounds as of persons scurrying to cover,
saw their forms dash across the moonlit courtyard, into the shadows of
the trees and outhouses. Beneath him on the floor of the gallery was
something horrible and still.
Almost instantly Claire de la Fontaine was by his side, and as
regardless of danger as he, she was calling sharply, calling men by their
names. Her hair had been loosened and fell over her shoulders in black
waves, her dark eyes flashed with excitement and passion, and her face,
strangely pale, in the silver moonlight, was set in stern harsh lines.
Even then this vision of her tragic beauty thrilled the man at her side.
But she was as unconscious of him as she was of her danger. With hand
uplifted she called by name the desperados, who had taken shelter in the
darkness and to those who now came running from front and rear where
their attacks had been unsuccessful.
Appalled, spell-bound by the vision, even as Dan was, they stopped, and
stood listening mutely to the torrent of words that she poured
forth,--vehement French of which Dan had no understanding.
At last, ending the frightful tension of the scene, two of the men came
forward, crept up to the lifeless body of Bonhomme, and grasping it by
head and feet, carried it away, across the courtyard, into the darkness
of the avenue of maples. One by one, still mysteriously silent, the
others of the gang followed, till at length the last one had disappeared
into the gloom. Weird silence fell once more upon the Inn.
It was only then that Madame de la Fontaine turned to Dan. "They will
come no more," she said in a strained unnatural voice. "We are saved,
safe.... I have proved, is it not so?--my honour, my love."
With the words she sank at his feet, just as Tom, candle in hand,
appeared in the doorway.
Owing doubtless to the death of Bonhomme and to the orders given in no
uncertain tones by Madame de la Fontaine, the bandits from the schooner
in the cove did not make a further effort to attack the Inn that night.
There was no rest, however, for Madame de la Fontaine, after her heroic
exploit in the Oak Parlour, had swooned completely away. They carried her
to the couch in Mrs. Frost's parlour, and, awkwardly enough, did what
could be done for her by men. It was over an hour before they succeeded
in restoring her to consciousness, and when they did so, she awoke to
delirium and fever. Distracted by anxiety and by their helplessness, at
the first streak of dawn, Dan started for town to get a doctor, and Ezra
Manners volunteered to go to the Red Farm and bring back Mrs. Frost,
Nancy, and the maids.
About six o'clock in the morning the women folk returned to the Inn. But
the briefest account of the attack was given them, though they were told
in no uncertain terms of Madame de la Fontaine's heroic action in coming
to warn them and of her courageous shot at the leader. Then Mrs. Frost
and Nancy turned all their attention to the sick woman, caring for her as
tenderly and devotedly as if she were their own. Half-an-hour later Dan
returned from Monday Port with the family doctor, a grave silent old
gentleman, in whose skill and discretion they trusted. After making an
examination of his patient, he nodded his head encouragingly; gave a few
directions to Mrs. Frost, and then left, promising to return later in the
morning with medicines and supplies.
At last, utterly worn out, the four men threw themselves on their beds
and slept from sheer exhaustion. The sun was high in the sky when they
came down stairs again and found Nancy waiting for them, and a smoking
breakfast ready on the table. After greeting them, she pointed to the
window, across the fields, almost bare of snow now and gleaming in the
morning sunlight, to the bright waters of the cove. "See!" she cried,
"the schooner has disappeared."
They both looked. "By Jove, it has!" exclaimed Tom, rushing to the other
side of the room, and peering out at the shipless sea. "Heigho! that's a
relief. Pray God we've seen the last of her. The Marquis gone, the
schooner gone,--we three together once more! Perhaps we shall begin to
live again. Ah!" he added more softly, glancing with sudden sympathy at
Dan's white drawn face, "I forgot the poor woman across the hall."
Dan turned aside to hide his emotion, for though a load of anxiety had
been lifted from his heart by the vanishing of _The Southern Cross_, he
was sick with fear for the issue of the illness that had stricken down
the woman he loved,--the woman who had proved her love for him by so
terrible and so tragic a deed.
As though aware that for the moment they were best left together alone,
Nancy slipped away into the kitchen.
"You love her, Dan?" asked Tom simply.
"Yes, Tom, with all my heart and soul. I staked my honour, my life, on
her sincerity. And how she has proved that we were right to trust her! It
can't be--she mustn't die--I couldn't bear it!"
"She'll be all right, old fellow, don't worry; trust to your mother and
Nance. It is only the shock of the terrible things she went through last
night. Come on, we must take something to eat. Here is Nancy back again."
There was no doubt of the fact, _The Southern Cross_ had sailed away,
vanished in the night as mysteriously as a week before she had appeared
in the Strathsey and found moorings in the Cove. They did not count on
the certainty of her not reappearing, however; and that night and for
many nights thereafter the Inn was securely barricaded and a watch was
kept, but neither then nor ever did _The Southern Cross_ spread her sails
in those waters again. She and her crew disappeared from their lives as
completely as from the seas that stretched around the coast of Deal.
Tom at once was for making a search in the Oak Parlour for the hidden
treasure, but for the time Dan had no heart for the undertaking. He urged
delay at least until Madame de la Fontaine had recovered; and as for
Nancy she would not hear of it.
"I can't bear to think of it,--of the trouble, the crime, the suffering
of which it has been the cause. When our poor lady recovers, she will
tell us all we need to know. I dread the Oak Parlour. I would not go into
that room for anything in the world. Nor, believe me, Tom, could Dan do
so now. You have guessed, haven't you, that he loves Madame de la
"Of course, dearest; poor fellow! he betrays his love by every word and
act. But good heaven, Nance, he couldn't marry her!"
"No--I don't know. I suppose not. But Dan will do as he will. To oppose
him now would only make him the more wretched."
"Does your mother know?"
"No, and it is best she should not. I don't think she has the faintest
"Well, I suppose we had better let things rest awhile;" Tom assented,
"but I swear I would like to get at the Oak Parlour and tear the secret
out of it."
"We must wait a bit, Tom dear. Let's just be glad now of what we
have and are."
And with that he drew her toward him and pressed for a definite answer to
the question which so deeply concerned their future.
"When Madame has recovered, when we know all and the mystery is solved,"
she replied; then she added inconsequently, "I wonder if we shall ever
hear of the old Marquis again."
"I wonder too," Tom exclaimed. "Though he has sailed away on _The
Southern Cross_, I doubt if he will willingly leave the treasure
"That dreadful treasure, Tom," cried Nancy. "I wish to goodness that the
Marquis had it and might keep it always. We have each other."
The evening of the second day after the terrible night of the attack, as
Dan was entering the Inn from his work outside, he saw Madame de la
Fontaine standing on the gallery under the Red Oak. It was the dusk of a
mild pleasant day. She was clad still in her soft grey gown with furs
about her waists and neck, and a grey scarf over her head. But there was
something infinitely pathetic to him in the listlessness of her attitude,
in the expression of a deep and melancholy that had come into her face.
He stole swiftly to her side, and taking her hand in his pressed it to
his lips, with a gesture that was as reverent as it was tender. For a
moment something of the old brightness returned to her face as she bent
her clear gaze upon his bowed head.
"You love me, Dan?" she murmured.
"You know I love you," he whispered passionately.
"Yes, I believe that you do," she said simply. "I shall always be
thankful that I have won a good man's love." But suddenly she withdrew
her hand, as the door of the bar opened. "See, here is Mademoiselle
Nancy. She is coming for me: she is to be with me to-night. There is
much for me to do."
His heart surged within him; for he knew that in her simple words there
was the tragic note of farewell; but he could not speak, he could not
plead from that sad and broken woman for a passion that he knew but too
well she could never give. He knew that she would leave him on the
morrow, that his protests would be vain;--nay,--he would not even utter
them! With the gathering of the darkness about the old Inn, he felt that
the light in his heart was being obscured forever.
The evening passed, the night. Morning came, and Madame de la Fontaine,
accompanied by Nancy, left the Inn at the Red Oak for Coventry. There
remained to Dan of his brief and tragic passion but one letter, which Tom
handed to him that morning, and which, with despairing heart, he read and
re-read a hundred times.
"_Mon cher ami_:
"You would forgive that I do not know well how to express myself as I
desire, if you could read my heart. I bade you good-bye to-night under
the Red Oak, tree for me of such tragic and such beautiful memories. I
could not say farewell otherwise, dear friend, nor could you. We have
loved sincerely, have we not? We will remember that in days to come; you
will remember it even in the happier days to come that I pray God to
grant you. I know all that you would say, my friend, but it cannot be. I
must vanish from your life, be gone as completely as though I had never
entered it. I love you deeply, tenderly, but I could not be to you what I
know that now you wish. All the past forbids. The very tragedy that
proved to you that I was worthy of your trust forbids. It is my only
justification that I saved your lives, dear friend; but oh how bitterly I
ask pardon of God for what has been done! Then also, dearest friend, my
heart is no longer capable to bear passion, but only to feel great
tenderness. I could not say these things, and yet they must be written. I
cannot go with them unsaid. Certain other things must be told you in
justice to all.
"The story I told you on the schooner that day was largely truth. The
General Pointelle, who was at the Inn at the Red Oak in 1814, was in
reality the Maréchal de Boisdhyver, the father of your foster-sister
Nancy. She is truly Eloise de Boisdhyver. The Maréchal returned to France
to support the Emperor, as he wrote to madame your good mother; and he
fell, as I told you, on the field of Waterloo. Admitting the importance
of his mission, admitting my ambiguous relation to him (indefensible as
it was), to have left the child as he did was an act of kindness. In
truth the treasure concealed in the Oak Parlour is considerable, and it
was always my purpose to return, but the necessary directions for finding
it were not entrusted to me, but to the Marquis Marie-Anne, whom I didn't
meet until many years after Waterloo. Then I was induced by the
Marquis,--your old Marquis--to provide the money for the miserable
enterprise, of which we know the tragic result. From the first I was
uncertain about the method we adopted; and then soon after our arrival
here, from a hundred little indications, I became convinced that Bonhomme
was prepared to betray us, once we secured the treasure. As for the
Marquis, I suppose that he sailed away on the schooner. You need fear him
no longer. It was he, I am convinced, that conveyed to them the
information of the loosened casement in the Oak Parlour, and unwittingly
arranged for his own undoing and our salvation. At all events he will
have realized now that he has hopelessly lost the fight. As for the
treasure, by right it belongs to Eloise, who should not disdain to use
it. I enclose a transcription of the other half of the torn scrap of
paper, which will supplement the directions in your possession.
"And as for me, my friend, I shall seek a shelter in my own country apart
from the world in which I have lived so to little purpose and for the
most part so unhappily. Believe me, so it is best. My heart is too full
for me to express all that I feel for you.
"Dear, dear friend, do not render me the more unhappy to know that my
brief friendship with you shall have harmed your life. Your place is in
the world, to take part in the life of your own country, not, dear Dan,
to waste youth and energy in the fruitless desolation of this beautiful
Deal, not above all to grieve for a woman who was unworthy.
"I commend you to God, and I shall never forget you.
"CLAIRE DE LA FONTAINE."
It was with a heavy heart that Dan consented later in the morning to
Tom's proposal that they force at last the secret of the Oak Parlour. He
got the torn scrap of paper which he had found,--such ages ago it seemed,
though it was scarcely a week,--in the old cabinet, and gave it to Tom,
with the copy of the other half which Madame de la Fontaine had enclosed
in her letter of farewell. The copy in Madame de la Fontaine's
handwriting did not dovetail exactly into the jagged edges of the
original portion, so that it was some time before they could get it into
position for reading. But at last it was pasted together on a large bit
of cardboard, and Tom, with the aid of a dictionary, succeeded in making
a translation, which Dan took down.
"Learning of the attempt of my Emperor to regain his glorious throne, I
leave these hospitable shores to offer my sword to his cause. In case I
do not return, the person having instructions for the discovery of this
paper, which I tear in two parts, will find herein the necessary
directions for the finding of my hidden treasure. This treasure, bullion,
jewels, and coins, is concealed in a secret chamber in this Inn at the
Red Oak. This secret chamber will be entered from the Oak Parlour. The
hidden door is released by a spring beneath the hand of the lady in the
picture nearest the fireplace on the north side of the room. A panel
slides back revealing the entrance. Instructions as to the deposition of
the treasure will be found in the golden casket therewith.
"FRANÇOIS DE BOISDHYVER."
"Well?" said Tom, "the instructions are definite enough. Now we can put
them to the test. Let's get to work at once. Wait a second till I get
some wood, and well make a fire in the Oak Parlour." He filled his arms
with logs from the bin under the settle in the bar, while Dan got the key
for the north wing.
Soon they were at the end of the old hall. It was with an effort that Dan
brought himself to enter the room, for there flashed into his mind the
vision of the last time he was there,--the cold silver moonlight, the
dark burly form at the casement, the white drawn face of Claire de la
Fontaine, and then the sharp flash and crack of the pistol.
But with an impatient gesture, as if to thrust aside these tragic
memories, he stepped across the threshold, and kneeling at the hearth,
took the wood from Tom's arms and began to lay a fire. In the meantime
his friend fumbled at the window casements, opened them, and let in the
light of day and the pure air of out-of-doors. Soon the fire was
crackling cheerily on the great andirons and casting its bright
reflection on the dark oak panelling of the walls. Nothing had been
disturbed--the old cabinet with the lions' heads stood opposite the
window; the little _escritoire_, behind which he had crouched on the
fatal night, was pushed back against the wall; the chairs, the tables,
thick with dust, stood just as they had been standing for many years.
"Do you realize, Tom," Dan said, as they stood side by side watching the
blazing logs, "that it is sixteen years since General Pointelle stayed at
the Inn and used this room? And the treasure, if there is any treasure,
has been mouldering here all that time."
"Let's get at it," said Tom. "I confess this place gives me the creeps.
Have you got my translation of the directions?"
"Yes, here it is." Dan spread out the bit of paper on one of the tables.
"'The hidden door is released by a spring beneath the hand of the lady in
the picture nearest the fireplace on the north side of the room.' Ah!
that must be it--that old landscape let into the panel there." He walked
nearer and examined it closely.
It was a simple landscape, a garden in the foreground, forest and hills
in the distance; and in the midst a lady in Eighteenth century costume
caressing the head of a greyhound. It was beautifully mellow in tone, and
might well have been a production of Gainsborough, though the Frosts had
preserved no such tradition.
Dan began to fumble, according to the directions, beneath the hand of
the stately lady, pressing vigourously here and there with thumb and
forefinger. "What's that?" he cried suddenly. A faint click, as of a
spring in action, had sounded sharp in the stillness, but apparently with
no other effect. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I believe there is something
behind it. You heard the click? See there! the panel's opened a bit at
the side." Surely enough, there was a long crack on the right--the length
of the picture. "Here, let's push."
Careless of the landscape, they put their hands upon the panel and
pressed with all their force to the left. It yielded slowly, slipping
back side-wise into the wall, and revealed a narrow opening, beyond which
was a little circular stairway, leading apparently to some chamber above.
"Here's the entrance to the secret chamber all right," Dan exclaimed.
"Let's see where it goes to." He climbed in and started up the winding
flight of stairs, Tom close behind him. About half way up the height
of the Oak Parlour he came to a door. "Can't go any farther," he
called to Tom.
"What's the matter?"
"There's a door here; it leads, evidently, into some little room between
the Oak Parlour and the bedroom next. Who would ever have guessed it?"
"Can't you open the door; is it locked?"
Dan fumbled about till he found and turned the knob. "No," he answered.
"I've opened it. But it's pitch dark inside. Get a candle."
He waited anxiously while Tom went below again to get a candle, a
strange feeling of dread creeping over him now that at last he was about
to penetrate the secret which had been of such tragic purport in his
life. In a moment Tom had returned, a candle in either hand, one of
which he handed to Dan, and together they entered the secret chamber. It
was a little room scarcely six feet square, without light, and so far as
they could see without ventilation. As they stood looking about the
candle flickered strangely casting weird shadows over the walls.
Suddenly they saw at their feet a tiny golden casket, and then, in a
corner of the room a row of small cloth bags, several of which had been
ripped open, so that a stream of golden coin flowed out upon the floor.
Nearby stood another little golden chest; and Tom, lifting the lid,
started back astonished. For there sparkling and glowing in the candle
light as though they were living moving things, lay a heap of precious
gems--diamonds, rubies, opals, sapphires, amethysts, that might have
been the ransom of a princess.
"It's a treasure right enough!" cried Dan. "But what's this?" He turned
to the opposite corner where there lay a heap of something covered with a
great black cloth. They approached gingerly, and Dan stooped and picked
up an edge of the covering. "It's a cloak," he exclaimed. Startled, he
paused for a moment; then quickly pulled the cloak away, uncovering, to
their horror, a lifeless body.
"Tom!" Dan cried in a ghastly whisper. "A man has died here."
Tom held the candle over the gruesome heap. "But who?" he asked in a
For reply Dan pointed significantly to the cloak which he had dropped on
"What!" cried Tom. "Good God! the old Marquis! But how? I don't
understand--" he added, staring blankly.
"He must have come here the afternoon he pretended to leave the Inn, must
have learned the secret passage somehow. It was he who loosened the
casement in the Oak Parlour that night, and got his message to Bonhomme.
He was waiting here for him. Can't you see it all--the panel slipped
back; he couldn't open it again; Bonhomme didn't come; he was caught like
a rat in a trap."
"My God, what a fate!"
"We can't leave his body here. We must give it decent burial, you and I,
Tom, for we can't let this be known."
"And the treasure?"
"Ah! there was treasure, wasn't there? Wait, let's see what is in the
little casket." He picked up the golden casket that they had stepped over
as they entered, and raised the lid. A single scrap of paper was inside
on the little velvet cushion, inscribed in the same handwriting as the
paper of directions, "_Pour Eloise de Boisdhyver_."
"But come," Tom whispered, holding back the door, "I can't stand this any
longer. We'll come back again, and do what must be done. Come, Dan."
Dan gave a last look into the strange horrible little room, then he
followed his friend. They closed the door behind them and crept slowly
down the narrow winding stairs to the Oak Parlour, leaving the
treasure in the secret chamber and the Marquis guarding it in the
silence and darkness of death. What had been so basely striven for was
sorrily won at last.
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