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Chapter XXI--S. K. forces My Confidence
 It was a lovely Christmas Eve, and a lovely Christmas. Everyone was so happy that it seemed like a new family. Even Uncle Archie talked! . . . The day after Christmas, S. K. made me tell him about the letter. I never knew he could be so firm, and for the first and last time I felt the difference in our ages. “Something is worrying you,” he said, “and if you don’t tell me I shall go to your aunt and tell her to investigate. And if I know that lady, she can.”
“S. K.,” I begged, “please.”
But he was not softened. “Come on, Nat. No foolishness,” he said, and almost sternly. “Something worrying you about the bracelet?”
I nodded, and then, somehow, the story came out.
I gave him the letter, the little bit of cloth that had been left on my window-sill, and the notes that were signed E. J. He felt badly that I had borne it alone and called himself all sorts of names for taking it so lightly.
“Dear child,” he said, “why didn’t you show me these things before?”
“You said I was foolish, that there were no such things as ghosts,” I answered.
“There aren’t. Someone’s playing a joke on you. . . . And it will stop. I will see that it is stopped, and the person shall be punished.”
I told him his chin stuck out two inches farther when he was fierce, but he didn’t laugh at my joke.
“And you weren’t imagining when you told me that someone had felt for your bracelet when you fell from your horse on Riverside Drive?”
I said, “Of course not,” and quite indignantly. Then I began to see that they had all thought I was hysterical and silly and made up these tales from the creakings of floors and lost flashlights.
“I haven’t told them anything recently,” I said, “because they laughed. But the trap did catch someone, S. K. I did not mislay it afterward; I heard it snap, and that was the night this piece of cloth was torn from his or her clothes. And sometimes the bracelet comes back. It slides in----”
“How?” he asked.
I told him.
“Why didn’t you tell them, here?” he questioned.
I said it had annoyed aunt and that she had asked me not to think of it, since it was clearly impossible and a half-dream of mine, and not to mention it to Amy.
“And you didn’t believe me either,” I said. “Not that I blame you; it did sound crazy, but there simply wasn’t anyone to tell.”
“I shall never forgive myself for this,” he said, “never. . . . That I should fail you----” Then he shook his shoulders, frowned, and went on with: “There must be some explanation, and we will have it. That bracelet walking in by itself is clearly impossible, and its leaving the same way too----”
“But the ghost that Mademoiselle Nitschke heard?” I questioned.
“My dear,” he said, “there were three quarrelling families under one roof. Don’t you think it natural that one, if he could disturb the other, would try to do so? Why Will Chase, or the other one, could have thought of a thousand ways to make rappings and so frighten the Pérys out of their wits. And if he or the other one--frightened them so that they would leave the old place, so much to the good. One less family to disagree with, more room. Can’t you see it? . . . We’ll say that one of the Chase men went out at twelve and threw a ball against the wall of the Pérys’ room, then say he crept inside, took a heavy cane on which he tied a pad, so that the ceiling wouldn’t be marred, stepped up on a chair, and whanged that. . . . Then--Mr. Péry leaps from his chair in fright. Mr. Chase goes on pounding as a smile gradually widens on his face; someone above speaks, the Chase individual can hear the voice since the doors are open, and, although it was a mansion for that day, it is not a great house for to-day. The sounds easily carry, and especially since it is night and a ‘calm September one, in which hardly a leaf stirred.’ He pounds three times, and up above three quaking people think a question is answered and that a ghost walks and thumps. . . . Why, there would be countless ways for him to make noises that would frighten the Pérys into hysteria, and as for Madam Jumel clothed in white coming to anyone’s bedside--well, anyone can wear a long white robe, and faces cannot be seen in the dark.”
“Do you think that that was it?” I asked, a good deal relieved.
“I certainly do, Nat,” he replied. “Usually things of that sort have the most simple explanations. And this matter must have too. Now to-night you are going to bring that bracelet down to me.”
I said: “Oh no!”
“Or let me take it now,” he went on. “I have a wall safe, you know, and I imagine it won’t be bothered there.”
I protested for several minutes, but at length I had to give in.
“I’ll bring it down to you later,” I temporized.
“Honestly?” he said.
I said, “Honestly,” and I meant to, since S. K. wanted me to. Then, because he had come in for only a second after the matinée (Amy, Uncle Frank, and I had gone with him and had a beautiful time), he went, and we sat down before the living-room fire and talked.
At six the bell rang and Ito admitted that man to whom I had talked on the diner. He made a great deal of noise in the hall, and I heard him tell Ito that the “little lady” had told him to look her up. And then he asked Ito if I wasn’t “some looker” and added that the apartment was “a spiffy roost,” and I began to worry, because I knew aunt would not like him. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and I didn’t want to annoy her.
Ito showed him in, and he settled before the fire. He talked a great deal and in a carrying tone, while Amy put her chin higher and higher in the air, and uncle looked over his glasses. Then aunt came in, talked to Mr. Bilkins, for such was his name, and told him that she was sorry I must be excused, but that I was going out, and so--she stood up after that, and he did too, and then Ito took possession of him and he was shunted out.
I felt sorry for him, sorry for myself; and for Aunt Penelope, for she felt that I had disgraced her. I knew that her standards were wrong when she thought that loud voices and too much slang made a person “impossible”--that is, that they would be wrong, if the person’s spirit was splendid and only the trimmings were off--but I did not know about this man’s spirit. I only knew that I had asked him to my aunt’s house before I knew much about the world’s ways of doing things, and that it was not wise or sensible to do. I said I was very sorry, but she couldn’t get over it, and Ito had to bring her smelling-salts, and a fan, although the room was not over warm.
“Some toney joint,” she kept muttering between sniffs of her salts, which was a quotation from Mr. Bilkins. Then she asked me never, never, never to do such a thing again, and I said I wouldn’t. After which I went to my room, for the atmosphere was not congenial. I noticed Uncle Frank as I left the room. He was deep in that book he had given me, and I envied him, and I wished I could forget myself through bugs, or anything. Someone--I don’t know who--said, “Collect something, it doesn’t matter what,” and I think that someone was thinking of the forgetting possibilities which come through a hobby. F............
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