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قراءة كتاب Miss Mehetabel's Son

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‏اللغة: English
Miss Mehetabel's Son

Miss Mehetabel's Son

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

sweeping down the side of Mount Agamenticus, bowled across the open country, and struck the ancient hostelry point-blank.

Mr. Jaffrey did not appear at supper. I knew that he was expecting me to come to his room as usual, and I turned over in my mind a dozen plans to evade seeing him that night. The landlord sat at the opposite side of the chimney-place, with his eye upon me. I fancy he was aware of the effect of this storm on his other boarder, for at intervals, as the wind hurled itself against the exposed gable, threatening to burst in the windows, Mr. Sewell tipped me an atrocious wink, and displayed his gums in a way he had not done since the morning after my arrival at Greenton. I wondered if he suspected anything about Andy. There had been odd times during the past week when I felt convinced that the existence of Miss Mehetabel's son was no secret to Mr. Sewell.

In deference to the gale, the landlord sat up half an hour later than was his custom. At half-past eight he went to bed, remarking that he thought the old pile would stand till morning.

He had been absent only a few minutes when I heard a rustling at the door. I looked up, and beheld Mr. Jaffrey standing on the threshold, with his dress in disorder, his scant hair flying, and the wildest expression on his face.

"He's gone!" cried Mr. Jaffrey.

"Who? Sewell? Yes, he just went to bed."

"No, not Tobias—the boy!"

"What, run away?"

"No—he is dead! He has fallen from a step-ladder in the red chamber and broken his neck!"

Mr. Jaffrey threw up his hands with a gesture of despair, and disappeared. I followed him through the hall, saw him go into his own apartment, and heard the bolt of the door drawn to. Then I returned to the bar-room, and sat for an hour or two in the ruddy glow of the fire, brooding over the strange experience of the last fortnight.

On my way to bed I paused at Mr. Jaf-frey's door, and, in a lull of the storm, the measured respiration within told me that the old gentleman was sleeping peacefully.

Slumber was coy with me that night. I lay listening to the soughing of the wind, and thinking of Mr. Jaffrey's illusion. It had amused me at first with its grotesqueness; but now the poor little phantom was dead, I was conscious that there had been something pathetic in it all along. Shortly after midnight the wind sunk down, coming and going fainter and fainter, floating around the eaves of the tavern with an undulating, murmurous sound, as if it were turning itself into soft wings to bear away the spirit of a little child.

Perhaps nothing that happened during my stay at Bayley's Four-Corners took me so completely by surprise as Mr. Jaffrey's radiant countenance the next morning. The morning itself was not fresher or sunnier. His round face literally shone with geniality and happiness. His eyes twinkled like diamonds, and the magnetic light of his hair was turned on full. He came into my room while I was packing my valise. He chirped, and prattled, and carolled, and was sorry I was going away—but never a word about Andy. However, the boy had probably been dead several years then!

The open wagon that was to carry me to the station stood at the door; Mr. Sewell was placing my case of instruments under the seat, and Mr. Jaffrey had gone up to his room to get me a certain newspaper containing an account of a remarkable shipwreck on the Auckland Islands. I took the opportunity to thank Mr. Sewell for his courtesies to me, and to express my regret at leaving him and Mr. Jaffrey.

"I have become very much attached to Mr. Jaffrey," I said; "he is a most interesting person; but that hypothetical boy of his, that son of Miss Mehetabel's"—

"Yes, I know!" interrupted Mr. Sewell, testily. "Fell off a step-ladder and broke his dratted neck. Eleven year old, was n't he? Always does, jest at that point. Next week Silas will begin the whole thing over again, if he can get anybody to listen to him."

"I see. Our amiable friend is a little queer on that subject."

Mr. Sewell glanced cautiously over his shoulder, and, tapping himself significantly on the forehead, said in a low voice,

"Room To Let—Unfurnished!"

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