Oct. 2, 1850.
How good it was to step into the cold, draughty hall here at
Chapelwaite, every bone in an ache from that abominable coach, in need
of instant relief from my distended bladder—and to see a letter
addressed in your own inimitable scrawl propped on the obscene little
cherry-wood table beside the door! Be assured that I set to deciphering
it as soon as the needs of the body were attended to (in a coldly ornate
downstairs bathroom where I could see my breath rising before my eyes).
I'm glad to hear that you are recovered from the miasma that has
so long set in your lungs, although I assure you that I do sympathize
with the moral dilemma the cure has affected you with. An ailing
abolitionist healed by the sunny climes of slave-struck Florida! Still
and all, Bones, I ask you as a friend who has also walked in the valley
of the shadow, to take all care of yourself and venture not back
to Massachusetts until your body gives you leave. Your fine mind and
incisive pen cannot serve us if you are clay, and if the Southern zone
is a healing one, is there not poetic justice in that?
Yes, the house is quite as fine as I had been led to believe by my
cousin's executors, but rather more sinister. It sits atop a huge and
jutting point of land perhaps three miles north of Falmouth and nine
miles north of Portland. Behind it are some four acres of grounds, gone
back to the wild in the most formidable manner
imaginable—junipers, scrub vines, bushes, and various forms of
creeper climb wildly over the picturesque stone walls that separate the
estate from the town domain. Awful imitations of Greek statuary peer
blindly through the wrack from atop various hillocks—they seem, in
most cases, about to lunge at the passer-by. My cousin Stephen's tastes
seem to have run the gamut from the unacceptable to the downright
horrific. There is an odd little summer house which has been nearly
buried in scarlet sumac and a grotesque sundial in the midst of what
must once have been a garden. It adds the final lunatic touch.
But the view from the parlour more than excuses this; I command a
dizzying view of the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite Head and the
Atlantic itself. A huge, bellied bay window looks out on this, and a
huge, toadlike secretary stands beside it. It will do nicely for the
start of that novel which I have talked of so long [and no doubt
To-day has been gray with occasional splatters of rain. As I look out
all seems to be a study in slate—the rocks, old and worn as Time
itself, the sky, and of course the sea, which crashes against the
granite fangs below with a sound which is not precisely sound but
vibration—I can feel the waves with my feet even as I write. The
sensation is not a wholly unpleasant one.
I know you disapprove my solitary habits, dear Bones, but I assure you
that I am fine and happy. Calvin is with me, as practical, silent, and
as dependable as ever, and by midweek I am sure that between the two of
us we shall have straightened our affairs and made arrangement for
necessary deliveries from town—and a company of cleaning women to
begin blowing the dust from this place!
I will close—there are so many things as yet to be seen, rooms to
explore, and doubtless a thousand pieces of execrable furniture to be
viewed by these tender eyes. Once again, my thanks for the touch of
familiar brought by your letter, and for your continuing regard.
Give my love to your wife, as you both have mine.
Oct. 6, 1850.
Such a place this is!
It continues to amaze me—as do the reactions of the townfolk in
the closest village to my occupancy. That is a queer little place with
the picturesque name of Preacher's Corners. It was there that Calvin
contracted for the weekly provisions. The other errand, that of securing
a sufficient supply of cordwood for the winter, was likewise taken care
of. But Cal returned with gloomy countenance, and when I asked him what
the trouble was, he replied grimly enough:
"They think you mad, Mr. Boone!"
I laughed and said that perhaps they had heard of the brain fever I
suffered after my Sarah died—certainly I spoke madly enough at
that time, as you could attest.
But Cal protested that no-one knew anything of me except through my
cousin Stephen, who contracted for the same services as I have now made
provision for. "What was said, sir, was that anyone who would live in
Chapelwaite must be either a lunatic or run the risk of becoming one."
This left me utterly perplexed, as you may imagine, and I asked who had
given him this amazing communication. He told me that he had been
referred to a sullen and rather besotted pulp-logger named Thompson, who
owns four hundred acres of pine, birch, and spruce, and who logs it with
the help of his five sons, for sale to the mills in Portland and to
householders in the immediate area.
When Cal, all unknowing of his queer prejudice, gave him the location to
which the wood was to be brought, this Thompson stared at him with his
mouth ajaw and said that he would send his sons with the wood, in the
good light of the day, and by the sea road.
Calvin, apparently misreading my bemusement for distress, hastened to
say that the man reeked of cheap whiskey and that he had then lapsed
into some kind of nonsense about a deserted village and cousin Stephen's
relations—and worms! Calvin finished his business with one of
Thompson's boys, who, I take it, was rather surly and none too sober or
freshly-scented himself. I take it there has been some of this reaction
in Preacher's Corners itself, at the general store where Cal spoke with
the shop-keeper, although this was more of the gossipy, behind-the-hand
None of this has bothered me much; we know how rustics dearly love to
enrich their lives with the smell of scandal and myth, and I suppose
poor Stephen and his side of the family are fair game. As I told Cal, a
man who has fallen to his death almost from his own front porch is more
than likely to stir talk.
The house itself is a constant amazement. Twenty-three rooms, Bones! The
wainscotting which panels the upper floors and the portrait gallery is
mildewed but still stout. While I stood in my late cousin's upstairs
bedroom I could hear the rats scuttering behind it, and big ones they
must be, from the sound they make—almost like people walking
there. I should hate to encounter one in the dark; or even in the light,
for that matter. Still, I have noted neither holes nor droppings. Odd.
The upper gallery is lined with bad portraits in frames which must be
worth a fortune. Some bear a resemblance to Stephen as I remember him. I
believe I have correctly identified my Uncle Henry Boone and his wife
Judith; the others are unfamiliar. I suppose one of them may be my own
notorious grandfather, Robert. But Stephen's side of the family is all
but unknown to me, for which I am heartily sorry. The same good humour
that shone in Stephen's letters to Sarah and me, the same light of high
intellect, shines in these portraits, bad as they are. For what foolish
reasons families fall out! A rifled escritoire, hard words
between brothers now dead three generations, and blameless descendants
are needlessly estranged. I cannot help reflecting upon how fortunate it
was that you and John Petty succeeded in contacting Stephen when it
seemed I might follow my Sarah through the Gates—and upon how
unfortunate it was that chance should have robbed us of a face-to-face
meeting. How I would have loved to hear him defend the ancestral
statuary and furnishings!
But do not let me denigrate the place to an extreme. Stephen's taste was
not my own, true, but beneath the veneer of his additions there are
pieces [a number of them shrouded by dust-covers in the upper chambers]
which are true masterworks. There are beds, tables, and heavy, dark
scrollings done in teak and mahogany, and many of the bedrooms and
receiving chambers, the upper study and small parlour, hold a somber
charm. The floors are rich pine that glow with an inner and secret
light. There is dignity here; dignity and the weight of years. I cannot
yet say I like it, but I do respect it. I am eager to watch it change as
we revolve through the changes of this northern clime.
Lord, I run on! Write soon, Bones. Tell me what progress you make, and
what news you hear from Petty and the rest. And please do not make the
mistake of trying to persuade any new Southern acquaintances as to your
views too forcibly—I understand that not all are content to
answer merely with their mouths, as is our long-winded friend,
Yr. affectionate friend,
Oct. 16, 1850.
Hello, and how are you? I have thought about you often since I have
taken up residence here at Chapelwaite, and had half-expected to hear
from you—and now I receive a letter from Bones telling me that I'd
forgotten to leave my address at the club! Rest assured that I would
have written eventually anyway, as it sometimes seems that my true and
loyal friends are all I have left in the world that is sure and
completely normal. And, Lord, how spread we've become! You in Boston,
writing faithfully for The Liberator [to which I have also sent
my address, incidentally], Hanson in England on another of his
confounded jaunts, and poor old Bones in the very lions'
lair, recovering his lungs.
It goes as well as can be expected here, Dick, and be assured I will
render you a full account when I am not quite as pressed by certain
events which are extant here—I think your legal mind may be quite
intrigued by certain happenings at Chapelwaite and in the area about it.
But in the meantime I have a favour to ask, if you will entertain it. Do
you remember the historian you introduced me to at Mr. Clary's
fund-raising dinner for the cause? I believe his name was Bigelow. At
any rate, he mentioned that he made a hobby of collecting odd bits of
historical lore which pertained to the very area in which I am now
living. My favour, then, is this: Would you contact him and ask him what
facts, bits of folklore, or general rumour—if any—he
may be conversant with about a small, deserted village called
JERUSALEM'S LOT, near a township called Preacher's Corners, on the Royal
River? The stream itself is a tributary of the Androscoggin, and flows
into that river approximately eleven miles above that river's emptying
place near Chapelwaite. It would gratify me intensely, and, more
important, may be a matter of some moment.
In looking over this letter I feel I have been a bit short with you,
Dick, for which I am heartily sorry. But be assured I will explain
myself shortly, and until that time I send my warmest regards to your
wife, two fine sons, and, of course, to yourself.
Yr. affectionate friend,
Oct. 16, 1850.
I have a tale to tell you which seems a little strange [and even
disquieting] to both Cal and me—see what you think. If nothing
else, it may serve to amuse you while you battle the mosquitoes!
Two days after I mailed my last to you, a group of four young ladies
arrived from the Corners under the supervision of an elderly lady of
intimidatingly-competent visage named Mrs. Cloris, to set the place in
order and to remove some of the dust that had been causing me to sneeze
seemingly at every other step. They all seemed a little nervous as they
went about their chores; indeed, one flighty miss uttered a small
screech when I entered the upstairs parlour as she dusted.
I asked Mrs. Cloris about this [she was dusting the downstairs hall with
grim determination that would have quite amazed you, her hair done up in
an old faded bandanna], and she turned to me and said with an air of
determination: "They don't like the house, and I don't like the house,
sir, because it has always been a bad house."
My jaw dropped at this unexpected bit, and she went on in a kindlier
tone: "I do not mean to say that Stephen Boone was not a fine man, for
he was; I cleaned for him every second Thursday all the time he was
here, as I cleaned for his father, Mr. Randolph Boone, until he and his
wife disappeared in eighteen and sixteen. Mr. Stephen was a good and
kindly man, and so you seem, sir (if you will pardon my bluntness; I
know no other way to speak), but the house is bad and it always
has been, and no Boone has ever been happy here since your
grandfather Robert and his brother Philip fell out over stolen [and here
she paused, almost guiltily] items in seventeen and eighty-nine."
Such memories these folks have, Bones!
Mrs. Cloris continued: "The house was built in unhappiness, has been
lived in with unhappiness, there has been blood spilt on its floors [as
you may or may not know, Bones, my Uncle Randolph was involved in an
accident on the cellar stairs which took the life of his daughter
Marcella; he then took his own life in a fit of remorse. The incident is
related in one of Stephen's letters to me, on the sad occasion of his
dead sister's birthday], there has been disappearance and accident.
"I have worked here, Mr. Boone, and I am neither blind nor deaf. I've
heard awful sounds in the walls, sir, awful sounds—thumpings and
crashings and once a strange wailing that was half-laughter. It fair
made my blood curdle. It's a dark place, sir." And there she halted,
perhaps afraid she had spoken too much.
As for myself, I hardly knew whether to be offended or amused, curious
or merely matter-of-fact. I'm afraid that amusement won the day. "And
what do you suspect, Mrs. Cloris? Ghosts rattling chains?"
But she only looked at me oddly. "Ghosts there may be. But it's not
ghosts in the walls. It's not ghosts that wail and blubber like the
damned and crash and blunder away in the darkness. It's—"
"Come, Mrs. Cloris," I prompted her. "You've come this far. Now can you
finish what you've begun?"
The strangest expression of terror, pique, and-I would swear to
it—religious awe passed over her face. "Some die not," she
whispered. "Some live in the twilight shadows Between to
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