The night of his grandfather’s mysterious death at the Cedars, Bobby Blackburn was, at least until midnight, in New York. He was held there by the unhealthy habits and companionships which recently had angered his grandfather to the point of threatening a disciplinary change in his will. As a consequence he drifted into that strange adventure which later was to surround him with dark shadows and overwhelming doubts.
Before following Bobby through his black experience, however, it is better to know what happened at the Cedars where his cousin, Katherine Perrine was, except for the servants, alone with old Silas Blackburn who seemed apprehensive of some sly approach of disaster.
At twenty Katherine was too young, too light-hearted for this care of her uncle in which she had persisted as an antidote for Bobby’s shortcomings. She was never in harmony with the mouldy house or its surroundings, bleak, deserted, unfriendly to content.
Bobby and she had frequently urged the old man to give it up, to move, as it were, into the light. He had always answered angrily that his ancestors had lived there since before the Revolution, and that what had been good enough for them was good enough for him. So that night Katherine had to hear alone the sly stalking of death in the house. She told it all to Bobby the next day—what happened, her emotions, the impression made on her by the people who came when it was too late to save Silas Blackburn.
She said, then, that the old man had behaved oddly for several days, as if he were afraid. That night he ate practically no dinner. He couldn’t keep still. He wandered from room to room, his tired eyes apparently seeking. Several times she spoke to him.
“What is the matter, Uncle? What worries you?”
He grumbled unintelligibly or failed to answer at all.
She went into the library and tried to read, but the late fall wind swirled mournfully about the house and beat down the chimney, causing the fire to cast disturbing shadows across the walls. Her loneliness, and her nervousness, grew sharper. The restless, shuffling footsteps stimulated her imagination. Perhaps a mental breakdown was responsible for this alteration. She was tempted to ring for Jenkins, the butler, to share her vigil; or for one of the two women servants, now far at the back of the house.
“And Bobby,” she said to herself, “or somebody will have to come out here to-morrow to help.”
But Silas Blackburn shuffled in just then, and she was a trifle ashamed as she studied him standing with his back to the fire, glaring around the room, fumbling with hands that shook in his pocket for his pipe and some loose tobacco. It was unjust to be afraid of him. There was no question. The man himself was afraid—terribly afraid.
His fingers trembled so much that he had difficulty lighting his pipe. His heavy brows, gray like his beard, contracted in a frown. His voice quavered unexpectedly. He spoke of his grandson: