my hand refused to form the letters. My attorney was in despair. I had outlived everyone and there was only one person to whom I could bequeath much, my young godson, and he was not yet twenty-one.
I am putting all this down more to explain the course of events to myself than to leave this as a document to posterity, for as I say, outside of my godson, Clyde Furness, even my lifelong servants have departed this life.
The reason I could not sign my name then is simply this: piece by piece my family jewels have been disappearing over the last few years, and today as I near my one hundred years all of these precious heirlooms one by one have vanished into thin air.
I blamed myself at first, for even as a young girl I used to misplace articles, to the great sorrow of my mother. My great grandmother’s gold thimble is an example. You would lose your head if it wasn’t tied on, Mother would joke rather sourly. I lost my graduation watch, I lost my diamond engagement ring, and, if I had not taken the vow never to remove it, my wedding ring to Will Mattlock would have also taken flight. I will never remove it and will go to my grave wearing it.
But to return to the jewels. They go back in my family over two hundred years, and yes, piece by piece, as I say, they have been disappearing. Take my emerald necklace—its loss nearly finished me. But what of my diamond earrings, the lavaliere over a century old, my ruby earrings—oh, why mention them? For to mention them is like a stab in the heart.
I could tell no one for fear they would think I had lost my wits, and then they would blame the servants, who were I knew blameless, such perfect, even holy, caretakers of me and mine.
But there came the day when I felt I must at least hint to my godson that my jewels were all by now unaccounted for. I hesitated weeks, months before telling him.
About Clyde now. His Uncle Enos told me many times that it was his heartbroken conviction that Clyde was somewhat retarded. “Spends all his time in the forest,” Enos went on, “failed every grade in school, couldn’t add up a column of figures or do his multiplication tables.”
“Utter rot and nonsense,” I told Enos. “Clyde is bright as a silver dollar. I have taught him all he needs to know, and I never had to teach him twice because he has a splendid memory. In fact, Enos, he is becoming my memory.”
Then of course Enos had to die. Only sixty, went off like a puff of smoke while reading the weekly racing news.
So then there was only Clyde and me. We played cards, chess, and then one day he caught sight of my old Ouija board.
I went over to where he was looking at it. That was when I knew I would tell him—of the jewels vanishing, of course.
Who else was there? Yet Clyde is a boy, I thought, forgetting he was now twenty, for he looked only fourteen to my eyes.
“Put the Ouija board down for a while,” I asked him. “I have something to tell you, Clyde.”
He sat down and looked at me out of his handsome hazel eyes.
I think he already knew what I was to say.
But I got out the words.
“My heirloom jewels, Clyde, have been taken.” My voice sounded far away and more like Uncle Enos’s than mine.
“All, Delia?” Clyde whispered, staring still sideways at the Ouija board.
“All, all. One by one over the past three years they have been slipping away. I have almost wondered sometimes if there are spirits, Clyde.”
He shook his head.
That was the beginning of even greater closeness between us.
I had given out, at last, my secret. He had accepted it; we were, I saw, like confederates, though we were innocent, of course, of wrongdoing ourselves. We shared secretly the wrongdoing of someone else.
Or was it wrongdoing, I wondered. Perhaps the disappearance of the jewels could be understood as the work of some blind power.
But what kind?
My grandfather had a great wine cellar. I had never cared for wine, but in the long winter evenings I finally suggested to Clyde we might try one of the cellar wines.
He did not seem very taken with the idea, for which I was glad, but he obeyed docilely, went down the interminable steps of the cellar and brought back a dusty bottle.
It was a red wine.
We neither of us relished it, though I had had it chilled in a bucket of ice, but you see it was the ceremony we both liked. We had to be doing something as we shared the secret.
There were cards, dominoes, pachisi and finally, alas, the Ouija board, with which we had no luck at all. It sat wordless and morose under our touch.
Often as we sat at cards, I would blurt out some thoughtless remark: once I said, “If we only knew what was before us!”
Either Clyde did not hear or he pretended I had not spoken.
There was only one subject between us. The missing jewels. And yet I always felt it was wrong to burden a young man with such a loss. But then I gradually saw that we were close, very close. I realized that he had something for me that could only be called love. Uncle Enos was gone, Clyde had never known either mother or father. I was his all, he was my all. The jewels in the end meant nothing to me. A topic for us—no more.
I had been the despair of my mother because, as she said, I cared little for real property, farmlands, mansions, not even dresses. Certainly not jewels.
“You will be a wealthy woman one day,” mother said, “and yet look at you, you care evidently for nothing this world has to offer.” My two husbands must have felt this also. Poring over their ledgers at night, they would often look up and say, “Delia, you don’t care if the store keeps or not, do you?”
“You will be a wealthy woman in time, if only by reason of your jewels,” my mother’s words of long ago began to echo in my mind when I no longer had them.
My real wealth was in Clyde. At times when I would put my hand through his long chestnut hair a shiver would run through his entire body.
He suffered from a peculiar kind of headache followed by partial deafness, and he told me the only thing that helped the pain was when I would pull tightly on his curls.
“Pull away, Delia,” he would encourage me. How it quickened the pulse when he called me by my first name.
Yes, we came to share everything after I told him without warning that bitter cold afternoon.
“Clyde, listen patiently. I have only my wedding ring now to my name.”
I loved the beautiful expression in his hazel eyes and in the large, almost fierce black pupils as he stared at me.
“Do you miss Uncle Enos?” I wondered later that day when we were together.
“No,” he said in a sharp loud voice.
I was both glad and sad because of the remark. Why I felt both things I don’t exactly know. I guess it was his honesty.
He was honest like a pane of the finest window glass. I loved his openness. Oh, how I trusted him. And that trust was never betrayed.
I saw at last there was someone I loved. And my love was as pure as his honesty was perfect.
My secret had given us a bond one to the other.
In those long winter evenings on the edge of the Canadian wildlands, there was little to do but doze, then come awake and talk, sip our wine so sparingly (I would not allow him to have more than half a glass an evening), and there was our talk. We talked about the same things over and over again, but we never wearied one another. We were always talking at length on every subject—except the main one. And I knew he was waiting to hear me on that very one.
“How long has it been now, Delia?” His voice sounded as if it were coming from a room away.
At first I was tempted to reply, “How long has it been from what?” Instead I answered, “Three years more or less.”
“And you told no one in all this time?”
“I could not tell anyone because for a while I thought maybe I had mislaid them, but even as I offered this excuse, Clyde, I knew I could not be mistaken. I knew something, yes let that word be the right one, something was taking my jewels. Oh, why do I say ‘my’? They never belonged to me, dear boy. I never affected jewels. I did not like the feel of them against my skin or clothes. Perhaps they reminded me of the dead.”
“So that is all you know, then,” he spoke after minutes of silence.
I had to laugh almost uproariously at his tone. “I am laughing, dear Clyde, because you spoke so like an old judge just then. Addressing me as a dubious witness! And dubious witness I am to myself! I accuse myself—of not knowing anything!”
“Could we go to the room where you kept them?” he wondered.
“No?” he said in a forthright, almost ill-humored way.
“It’s a long way up the stairs, and I have never liked that big room where I kept them. Then there are the keys. Many many keys to bother and fumble with.”
“Then we won’t go,” he muttered.
“No, we will, Clyde. We will go.”
Ah, I had forgotten indeed what a long way up to the big room it was. Even Clyde got a bit tired. Four or five or more flights.
“Well it’s a real castle we live in, my dear,” I encouraged him as we toiled upward.
“You must have a good heart and strong lungs,” he said, and he smiled and brought his face very close to mine.
Then I pulled out my flashlight, or, as my grandfather would have called it, my torch.
“Now the next flight,” I explained, “has poor illumination.”
As we approached that terrible door, I brought out the heavy bunch of keys.
“Put this long key, Clyde, in the upper lock. Then this smaller key when you’ve unlocked the top one, place it in the lower one here.”
He did it well, and we went through the door, where, of course, another bigger door awaited us.
“Now, Clyde, here is the second bunch of keys. Put the upper key to the large keyhole above, give the door a good shove and we can go in.”
He fumbled a little and I believe I heard him swear for the first time. (Well, his Uncle Enos was a profane old cuss.)
We entered. There were fewer cobwebs now than when I had come in so many months before.
“See all those red velvet cases spread out over the oak table there?” I said. “In the cases were the jewels. Their jewels.”
He looked around and I gave him my torch. But then I remembered there was an upper light and I turned it on.
He shut off the torch. He seemed in charge of it all, and much older than his twenty years then. I felt safe, comfortable, almost sleepy from my trust in him.
“Look there, will you!” he exclaimed.
I put on my long-distance glasses and looked where he pointed.
He bent down to touch something on the floor under the red velvet cases.
I took off my glasses and stared.
“What is it, Clyde?” I said.
“Don’t you see?” he replied in a hushed way. “It’s a white feather. A white bird’s feather. Very pretty, isn’t it?” He raised up the feather toward my trembling hand.
A strange calm descended on us both after Clyde found the white feather. At first I was afraid to touch it. Clyde coaxed me to take it in my hand, and only after repeated urgings on his part did I do so.
At that moment the calm descended on me as it had many years ago when, during one of my few serious illnesses, old sharp-eyed Doctor Noddy had insisted I take a tincture of opium.
Why, I wondered, did the glimpse of a white bird’s feather confer upon both me and Clyde this unusual calm? As if we had found the jewels, or at least had come to understand by what means the jewels had been taken. I say “us” advisedly, for by now Clyde and I were as close as mother and son, even husband and wife. We were so close that sometimes at night I would shudder in my bed and words I was unaware from where they came filled my mouth.
Clyde, more than the jewels, then—let me repeat—was my all, but the jewels were important, I realized dimly, only because they were the bond holding us together.
That evening I allowed Clyde a little more than half a glass of red wine.
“The only pleasure, Clyde,” I addressed him, “is in sipping. Gulping, swallowing, spoils all the real delicate pleasure.”
I saw his mind was on the white feather.
He had put it on the same table the Ouija board rested on.
“We should see it in a safe place,” Clyde said, gazing at the feather.
His statement filled me with puzzlement. I wanted to say, Why ever should we? But I was silent. I spilled some wine on my fresh white dress. He rose at once and went to the back kitchen and came forward with a little basin filled with water. He carefully and painstakingly wiped away the red stain.
“There,” Clyde said, looking at where the stain had been.
When he had taken back the basin he sat very quietly for a while, his eyes half-closed, and then:
“I say we should put it in a safe place.”
“Is there any such, Clyde, now that the jewels have been taken?”
“Just the same, I think we should keep the feather out where it is visible, don’t you?”
“It is certainly a beautiful one,” I remarked.
He nodded faintly and then raising his voice said, “It’s a clue.” My calm all at once disappeared. I put the wineglass down for fear I might spill more.
“Had you never seen the feather before, Delia?” he inquired.
The way he said my name revealed to me that we were confederates, though I would never have used this word to his face. It might have pained him. But we were what the word really meant.
“I think it will lead us to find your jewels,” he finished, and he drank, thank heavens, still so sparingly of the wine.
I dared not ask him what he meant.
“I think the place for the feather,” I spoke rather loudly, “is in that large collection of cases over there where Cousin Berty kept her assortment of rare South American butterflies.”
“I don’t think so,” Clyde said after a bit.
“Then where would you want it?” I said.
“On your music stand by your piano where it’s in full view.”
“Full view?” I spoke almost crossly.
“Yes, for it’s the clue,” he almost shouted. “The feather is our clue. Don’t you see?”
He sounded almost angry, certainly jarring if not unkind.
I dared not raise my wineglass, for I would have surely at that moment spilled nearly all of it, and I could not have stood for his cleaning my white dress again that evening. It was too great a ceremony for ruffled nerves.
“There it shall be put, Clyde,” I said at last, and he smiled.
Have I forgotten to tell how else we whiled away the very long evenings? Near the music stand where we had placed the feather stood the unused old grand piano, by some miracle still fairly in tune.
Clyde Furness had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. In my youth I had attended the opera. In my day I heard all the great tenors, but it was Clyde’s voice which moved me almost to a swoon. We played what is known as parlor songs, ancient, ageless songs. My hands surprised him when he saw how nimble and quick they still were on the keys. My hands surprised me, as a matter of fact. When he sang my fingers moved like a young woman’s. When I played the piano alone they were stiff and hit many wrong keys.
But I saw then what he meant. As I played the parlor songs my eyes rested not only on him but on the feather. What he called the clue.
I had suggested one or two times that now that Uncle Enos had departed, Clyde should move in with me. “There’s lots of room here; you can choose what part of the house you like and make yourself at home, godson.”
Whenever I’d mentioned his moving in up till then he had always pouted like a small boy. The day we found the feather I felt not only that something had changed in me, in the house, in the very air we breathed, but that something had changed in him.
As I went up to kiss him goodnight that evening I noticed that over his upper lip there was beginning to grow ever so softly traces of his beard.
“What is it?” I inquired when he hesitated at the door. He touched the place on his cheek where I had kissed him.
“Are you sure as sure can be you still want me to move my things here?” Clyde asked.
“I want you to, of course. You know that. Why should you walk two miles every day to Uncle Enos’s and back when it’s here the welcome mat is out?”
“You certainly have the room, don’t you?” he joked. “How many rooms have you got?” he grinned.
“Oh, I’ve almost forgotten, Clyde.”
“Forty?” he wondered.
I smiled. I kissed him again.
The feather had changed everything. I must have looked at it every time I went near the piano. I touched it occasionally. It seemed to move when I picked it up as if it had breath. It was both warm and cool and so soft except for its strong shaft. I once touched it to my lips and some tears formed in my eyes.
“To think that Clyde is going to be under my roof,” I spoke aloud and put the feather back on the music stand.
Dr. Noddy paid his monthly visit shortly after Clyde had come to stay with me.
Dr. Noddy was an extremely tall man but, as if apologetic for his height, he stooped and was beginning to be terribly bent so that his head was never held high but always leaned over like he was everlastingly writing prescriptions.
This visit was remarkable for the fact that he acted unsurprised to see Clyde Furness in my company. One would have thought from the doctor’s attitude that Clyde had always lived with me.
He began his cursory examination of me, pulse, listening to my lungs and heart, rolling back my eyelids, having me stick out my tongue.
“The tongue and the whites of the eyes tell everything,” he once said.
Then he gave me another box of the little purple pills to be taken on rising and on getting into bed.
“And shan’t we examine the young man then?” Dr. Noddy spoke as if to himself.
He had Clyde remove his shirt and undershirt much to the poor boy’s embarrassment. I went into an adjoining closet and brought out one of my grandfather’s imported dressing gowns and insisted Clyde put this on to avoid further humiliation.
Dr. Noddy examined Clyde’s ears carefully, but his attention seemed to wander over to the music stand. After staring at it for some time and changing his eyeglasses, he then looked at Clyde’s hair and scalp and finally took out a pocket comb of his own and combed the boy’s hair meticulously.
“Delia, he has parted his hair wrong. Come over here and see for yourself.”
I took my time coming to where the doctor was examining my godson, and my deliberateness annoyed him. But all the time nonetheless he kept looking over at the music stand.
“I want you to part his hair on his left side, not on his right. His hair is growing all wrong as a result. And another thing, look in his right ear. See all that wax?”
Dr. Noddy now went over to his little doctor’s bag and drew out a small silver instrument of some kind.
“I will give you this for his ear. Clean out the wax daily, just as I am doing now.” Clyde gave out a little cry, more of surprise than of pain, as the doctor cleaned his ear of the wax.
“Now then, we should be fine.” But Dr. Noddy was no longer paying any attention to us. He was staring at the music stand and finally he went over to it. He straightened up as much as age and rheumatism would permit.
It was the feather, of course, he had been staring at so intently, so continuously!
He picked the feather up and came over to where I was studying the instrument he had recommended for Clyde’s ear.
“Where did this come from?” he spoke in almost angry, certainly accusatory tones.
“Oh, that,” I said and I stuttered for the first time since I was a girl.
“Where did it come from?” he now addressed Clyde in a tone of rage.
Well, sir,” Clyde began, but failed to continue.
“Clyde and I found it the other day when we went to the fourth story, Dr. Noddy.”
“You climbed all the way up there, did you?” the old man mumbled, but all his attention was on the feather.
“May I keep this for the time being?” he said, turning brusquely to me.
“If you wish, doctor, of course,” I told him when I saw his usual bad temper was asserting itself.
“Unless, Delia, you have some use for it.”
Before I could think I said, “Only as a clue, Dr. Noddy.”
“What?” Dr. Noddy almost roared.
Taking advantage of his deafness, I soothed him by saying, “We thought it rather queer, didn’t we, Clyde, that there was a feather in the room where I used to keep my grandmother’s jewels.”
Whether Dr. Noddy heard this last statement or not I do not know. He put the feather in his huge leather wallet and returned the wallet inside his outer coat with unusual and irritable vigor.
“I will be back then, in a month. Have Clyde here drink more well water during the day.” Then, staring at me he added, “I take it he’s good company for you, Delia Mattlock.”
Before I could even say yes, he was gone, slamming the big front door behind him.
Dr. Noddy’s visit had spoiled something. I do not know exactly how to describe it otherwise. A kind of gloom settled over everything.
Clyde kept holding his ear and touching his beautiful hair and his scalp.
“Does your ear pain you, Clyde?” I finally broke the silence.
“No,” he said after a very long pause. “But the funny thing is I hear better now.”
“We always called earwax beeswax when I was a girl,” I said. Clyde snickered a little but only, I believe, to be polite.
“He took the feather, didn’t he?” Clyde said, coming out of his reverie.
“And I wonder why, Clyde. Of course Dr. Noddy is, among other things, a kind of outdoor man. A naturalist, they call it. Studies animals and birds.”
“Oh, that could explain it then, maybe.”
“Not quite,” I disagreed. “Did you see how he kept staring at the feather on the music stand?”
“I did. That’s about all he did while he was here.”
I nodded. “I never take his pills. Oh, I did at the beginning, but they did nothing for me that I could appreciate. Probably they are made of sugar. I’ve heard doctors often give some of their patients sugar pills.”
“He certainly changed the part in my hair. Excuse me while I look in the mirror over there now, Delia.”
Clyde went over to the fifteen-foot-high mirror brought from England so many years gone by. He made little cries of surprise or perhaps dismay as he looked at himself in the glass.
“I don’t look like me,” he said gruffly and closed his eyes.
“If you don’t like the new part in your hair we can just comb it back the way it was.”
“No, I think maybe I like the new way it’s parted. Have to get used to it I suppose, that’s all.”
“Your hair would look fine with any kind of a part you choose. You have beautiful hair.”
He mumbled a thank-you and blushed.
“I had a close girl chum at school, Irma Stairs. She had the most beautiful hair in the world. The color they call Titian. She let it grow until it fell clear to below her knees. When she would let it all down sometimes just to show me, I could not believe my eyes. It made me a little uneasy. I like your hair, though, Clyde, even better.”
“What do you think he wants to keep the white feather for?” Clyde wondered.
We walked toward the piano just then as if from a signal.
I opened the book of parlor songs and we began our singing and playing hour.
He sang “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming.” It made the tears come. Then he sang a rollicking sailor’s song.
But things were not right after the doctor’s visit.
“It’s time for our glass of wine,” I said rising from the piano. “We need it after old Dr. Noddy.”
A great uneasiness, even sadness now came over both of us.
I have for many years had the bad habit of talking to myself or, what was considered worse, talking out my own thoughts aloud even in front of company.
Dr. Noddy’s having walked off with the feather Clyde and I had found in the jewel room was the source of our discontent.
Thinking Clyde was dozing after sipping his wine, I found myself speaking aloud of my discomfiture and even alarm.
“He is making us feel like the accused,” I said, and then I added more similar thoughts.
To my surprise I heard Clyde answering me, which was very unlike him.
I felt we were in some ancient Italian opera singing back to one another, echoing one another’s thoughts.
“I didn’t like the way he stared at us, holding the feather like it was proof of something,” Clyde started up.
“Exactly, godson. The very words I was trying to express when I thought you were dozing.”
“What does he aim to do with it?” Clyde raised his voice.
“And what does he mean to do with it regarding us?” I took up his point. “He acts more like a policeman or detective than a doctor where the feather is concerned.”
“You take the words right out of my mouth,” he spoke loudly.
“Oh Clyde, Clyde whatever would I do without you?”
“You’d do all right, Delia. You know you would.” He picked up the empty wineglass and to my considerable shock he spat into it. “It’s me,” he said, “who wouldn’t know where to turn if I wasn’t here with you. I would be the one who didn’t know up from down.”
“With all your talents, dear boy!” I cried, almost angry he had spoken so against himself. “Never!”
“Never what, Delia? You know how I failed in school and disappointed Uncle Enos.”
“Failed him, failed school! Poppycock! Then it was their fault if you did. Uncle Enos adored you. You could do no wrong in his eyes. Oh, if only he were here to tell us about the feather. And about that wretched doctor. He would set us straight.”
“Now, now,” Clyde said, rising, and he came over to my chair and all at once he knelt down and looked up into my troubled face.
“Does old Dr. Noddy know your jewels have disappeared?”
“I think so.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure I told him when I was having an attack of the neuralgia that they had all vanished.”
“And what did he say then?”
“It’s not so much what he said, he never says much, it was the way he stared at me when I said, ‘All my jewels are gone.’”
“As he stared at us today when he held the feather. Stared as if I had done something wrong. As if I had done away with my own jewels.”
“Oh, he couldn’t think that against you, Delia.”
“He thinks against everybody. He feels anybody who needs him and his services has something to be held against them. If we are ailing, then we are to blame. That’s what I gather from old Dr. Noddy.”
“And now, Delia,” he said, rising and standing behind my chair so that I could feel his honey-sweet breath against my hair. “And now,” he went on, “we have to wait like the accused in a court of law.”
“Exactly, exactly. And, oh my stars, what on earth can he do with a feather, anyhow? Make it confess?”
We both laughed.
“I can’t go to bed on all of this we’re facing now,” I told Clyde. “I am going to the kitchen and make us some coffee.”
“Let me make it, Delia.”
“No, no, I am the cook here and the coffee maker. You make it too weak. I must stay alert. And we must put Doc Noddy on trial here tonight before he can put us in the witness box and call us liars to our face.”
With that I went into the kitchen and took down the jar of Arabian coffee, got out the old coffee grinder, and let Clyde (who had followed me without being asked), let him grind the beans.
“What a heavenly aroma,” I said when our chore was finished. “And I made it with well water, of course, for as old Doc Noddy says you must drink well water religiously, dear lad.”
We felt less threatened, less on trial at any rate, drinking the Arabian brew.
Then a great cloud of worry and fear descended upon me. I did all I could to conceal my feelings from my godson.
The source of my fear was, of course, who else but Doctor Noddy. I recalled in the long heavy burden of memory that Dr. Noddy was nearly as old as I, at least he must have been far into his eighties at this time. But it was not his age which weighed upon me. It was the memory of Dr. Noddy having been accused a half century or more ago of practicing hypnotism on his patients. And also being suspected of giving his older patients a good deal of opium. But the opium did not concern me now, has indeed never worried me. He only gave it in any case to those of us who were so advanced in age we could no longer endure the pain or the weight of so many years, so much passed time.
No, what gave me pause was hypnotism, if indeed he ever had practiced it. His taking away the feather had brought back this old charge. But my godson sensed my sorrow. He watched me with his beautiful if almost pitiless hazel eyes.
At last he took a seat on a little hand-carved stool beside me. He took my right hand in his and kissed it.
“You are very troubled, Delia,” he said at last. He seemed to be looking at the gnarled, very blue veins on the hand he had just kissed.
“I am that,” I said after a lengthy silence on my part.
“You don’t need to say more, Delia. We understand one another.”
“I know that, godson, but see here, I want to share with you all that is necessary for me to share. I want you to have everything you deserve.”
“I don’t deserve much.”
“Never say that again. You don’t know how precious you are, Clyde, and that is because you are perfection.”
He turned a furious red and faced away from me.
“Let me think how I am to tell you, Clyde.” I spoke so low he cupped his ear and then he again took my hand in his.
“I can see it’s something you’ve got to share.”
“Unwillingly, Clyde, so unwillingly. Perhaps, though, when I tell you, you won’t think it’s worth troubling about.”
He nodded encouragement.
“Clyde, years ago before even your parents were born, before the days of Uncle Enos, Dr. Noddy was charged with having practiced hypnotism on his patients.
Clyde’s mouth came open and then he closed it tight. I thought his lips had formed a cuss word.
We sat in silence for a lengthy while.
“That is why his taking away the feather has worried me.”
“And worries me now,” he almost gasped.
“My worry over the white feather finally recalled the charge he had hypnotized some of his patients.”
“But what is the connection,” he wondered, “between a bird’s feather and hypnotism?”
“I don’t know myself, Clyde. Only I feel the two have a connection we don’t understand.”
He smiled a strange smile.
“We must be calm and patient. Maybe nothing will happen at all and we will resume our old quiet evenings,” I said.
He released my hand softly.
Looking into his face, yes, I saw what I had feared. My trouble had fallen upon him. And so that long evening drew to its close.
For a whole month we could do nothing but wait in suspense for Dr. Noddy’s return. Now that I come to think of it, how happy I would have been if there had been no Dr. Noddy! Yes, I do think and believe that had he never appeared out of the fog and the snow and the bitter winds, Clyde and I would have been happy and without real sorrow forever. Dr. Noddy, having found the clue, the feather, began to dig and delve, uncover and discover, sift evidence, draw conclusions and then shatter all our peace and love along with our parlor song evenings and Clyde’s solos on the jew’s harp. All was to be spoiled, shattered, brought to nothing.
But then, as someone was to tell me much later (perhaps it was one of the gypsy fortune-tellers who happen by in this part of the world), someone said to me, ”Had it not been Dr. Noddy, there would have been someone else to have brought sorrow and change into your lives.”
“Then call it destiny, why don’t you?” I shouted to this forgotten person, gypsy or preacher or peddler or whoever it was who made the point. Oh well, then, just call it Dr. Noddy and be done with it.
“In our part of the world, nature sometimes is enabled to work out phenomena not observed by ordinary people,” Dr. Noddy began on his next visit, sounding a little like a preacher.
Dr. Noddy had tasted the wine Clyde had brought him from the cellar even more sparingly if possible than was our own custom. (I had felt the physician needed wine to judge by his haggard and weary appearance.)
To my embarrassment he fished out a piece of cork, tiny but, as I saw, very distasteful to him.
“Fetch Doctor a clean glass,” I suggested to Clyde.
Dr. Noddy meanwhile went on talking about nature’s often indulging in her own schemes and experiments, indifferent to man.
“She in the end can only baffle us. Our most indefatigable scholars and scientists finally admit defeat and throw up their hands to acknowledge Her inscrutable puissance.”
I looked into my wineglass as if also searching for pieces of cork. Clyde had meanwhile brought Dr. Noddy a sparkling clean glass. He had opened a new bottle and poured out fresh wine.
“Dr. Noddy was saying, Clyde, whilst you were out of earshot, that Nature is an inscrutable goddess,” I summarized the Doctor’s speech.
“Yes,” Clyde answered and gave me a look inviting instruction. I could only manage a kind of sad sour smile.
“The feather,” Dr. Noddy began again, pulling it out now from his huge wallet, “is one of her pranks.”
Clyde and I exchanged quick glances.
“But we should let Clyde here expatiate on Dame Nature’s hidden ways and purposes. Your godson was known, from the time he came to live with Uncle Enos, as a true son of the wilderness, a boon companion to wild creatures and the migratory fowl.”
Clyde lowered his head down almost to the rim of his wineglass.
“Our young man therefore must have known that nearby there lived a perfect battalion of white crows, or perhaps they were white blackbirds!”
At that moment Clyde gave out a short stifled gasp which may have chilled Dr. Noddy into silence. To my uneasiness I saw Dr. Noddy rise and go over to my godson. He took both Clyde’s hands and held them tightly and then slowly allowed the hands to fall to his sides. Dr. Noddy then touched Clyde’s eyes with both his hands. When the doctor removed his hands, Clyde’s eyes were closed.
“Please tell us now,” Dr. Noddy moved even closer to Clyde, “if you know of the birds I am speaking of.”
“I am not positive,” Clyde said in a stern, even grand tone so unlike the way he usually spoke. He kept his eyes still closed.
“You must have known there were white crows or white blackbirds, what some who delve into their histories call a sport of nature.”
“I often thought,” Clyde spoke musingly and in an almost small-boy voice now, “often would have sworn I saw white birds in the vicinity of the Bell Tower.”
“The Bell Tower!” I could not help but gasp. The Bell Tower was one of the many deserted large buildings which I had long ago sold to Uncle Enos at a very low price.
“You see,” Dr. Noddy turned to me. “We have our witness!”
“But what can it all mean?” I spoke with partial vexation. “It is so late, Dr. Noddy, in time I mean. Must we go round Robin Hood’s barn before you tell us what you have found out?”
“This feather,” Dr. Noddy now held it again and almost shook it in my face, “let Clyde expand upon it.” The old man turned now to my godson. “Open your eyes, Clyde!” He extended the feather to Clyde. “Tell us what you think, now, my boy.”
Clyde shrank back in alarm from the feather. “It could certainly be from a white crow if there is such a bird,” my godson said.
“Or a white blackbird, Clyde?”
Clyde opened his eyes wide and stared at his questioner. “All I know, Delia,” Clyde turned to me, “is, yes, I have seen white birds flying near the Bell Tower, and sometimes …”
“And sometimes,” Dr. Noddy made as if to rise from his chair.
“Sometimes flying into the open or the broken windows of the Bell Tower.”
“And did you ever see a white crow carrying anything in its beak when you saw it making its way to your Bell Tower?” Clyde’s eyes closed again.
“I may have, sir, yes, I may have spied something there, but you see,” and he again turned his eyes now opened to me, “you see I was so startled to glimpse a large white bird against the high green trees and the dark sky, for near the Bell Tower the sky always looks dark. I was startled and I was scared.” Some quick small tears escaped from his right eye.
“And could those things the white bird carried, Clyde, could they have been jewels?”
At that very moment, the wineglass fell from Clyde’s hand and he slipped from his chair and fell prone to the thick carpet below.
Dr. Noddy rushed to his side. I hurried also and bent over my prostrate godson.
“Oh, Dr. Noddy, for pity’s sake, he is not dead, is he!”
Dr. Noddy turned a deprecatory gaze in my direction. “Help me carry him to that big sofa yonder,” he said in reply.
Oh, I was more than opposed by then to Dr. Noddy, seeing my godson lying there as if in his coffin. I blamed it all on the old physician. “You frightened him, Doctor,” I shouted.
I was surprised at my own angry words leveled against him. I would look now to my godson lying there as if passed over and then return my gaze to Noddy. I must have actually sworn, for when I came out of my fit of anger I heard the old man say, as if he was also in a dream, “I never would have thought I would hear you use such language. And against someone who has only your good at heart, Delia. Only your good!”
Taking me gently by the hand he ushered me into a seldom-used little sitting room. The word hypnotism seemed at that moment to be not a word but a being, perhaps it was a bird flying about the room.
“What I want to impart to you, Delia,” the old physician began, “is simply this. I must now take action. I and I alone must pay a visit to the Bell Tower. For in its ruined masonry there lies the final explanation of the mystery.”
The very mention of the Bell Tower had always filled me with a palsylike terror, so when Dr. Noddy announced that he must go there I could not find a word to say to him.
“Did you hear me, Delia?” he finally spoke in a querulous but soft tone.
“If you think you must, dear friend,” I managed to reply. “If there is no other way.”
“But now we must look in on Clyde,” he said after a pause. At the same time he failed to make a motion to rise. A heavy long silence ensued on both our parts when unexpectedly my godson himself entered our private sitting room. We both stared without greeting him.
Clyde looked refreshed after his slumber. His faced had resumed its high coloring, and he smiled at us as he took a seat next to Dr. Noddy.
“I have been telling Delia, Clyde, that I must make a special visit to the Bell Tower.”
Clyde’s face fell and a slight paleness again spread over his features.
“Unless you object, Clyde,” the doctor added.
As I say, the very mention of the Bell Tower had always filled me with dread and loathing. But I had never told Clyde or Dr. Noddy the partial reason for my aversion. I did not tell them now what it was which troubled me. My great uncle had committed suicide in the Tower over a hundred years ago, and then later my cousin Keith had fallen from the top of the edifice to his death.
These deaths had been all but forgotten in our village, and perhaps even I no longer remembered them until Dr. Noddy announced he was about to pay a visit there.
While I was lost in these musings I suddenly came to myself in time to see Noddy buttoning up his great coat preparatory to leaving.
“But you can’t be paying your visit there now!” I cautioned him. “What with a bad storm coming on and with the freezing cold and snow what it is.”
“This is one visit that should not be postponed, Delia! So stop once and for all your fussing.”
He actually blew a kiss to me, and raised his hand to Clyde in farewell.
I watched him go from the big front window. The wind had changed and was blowing from a northeast direction. The sycamore trees were bending almost to the ground in a fashion such as I could not ever recall.
I came back to my seat.
“Are you warm enough, Delia?” Clyde asked with smiling concern.
“Clyde, listen,” I began, gazing at him intently.
“Yes, Delia, speak your mind,” he said gaily, almost as if we were again partaking of the jollity of our evenings.
“We must be prepared, Clyde, for whatever our good doctor will discover in the Bell Tower,” I said in a lackluster manner.
Clyde gazed down at the carpet under his feet.
I felt then that if I were not who I was I would be afraid to be alone that night with Clyde Furness. But I had gone beyond fear.
“Shan’t we have our evening wine, Delia?” he said, and as he spoke fresh disquietude began again.
“Please, dear boy, let’s have our wine.”
We drank if possible even more sparingly. I believe indeed we barely touched the wineglasses to our lips. Time passed in a churchlike silence as we sat waiting for the doctor’s return. I more than Clyde could visualize the many steps the old man must climb before he reached the top floor of the Tower. And I wondered indeed if he would be able to summon the strength to make it. Perhaps the visit thither would be too much for his old bones.
It was the longest evening I can recall. And what made it even more painful was that as I studied my godson I realized he was no longer the Clyde Furness I had been so happy with. No, he had changed. I studied his face for a sign, but there was no sign-his face was closed to me. Then began a current of words which will remain with me to the end of my days:
“It’s hard for me to believe, Clyde, our good doctor’s theory that it is a bird which has taken my ancestors’ jewels.”
Clyde straightened up to gaze at me intently.
“Ah, but, Delia, do you understand how hard it has been for me over and again these many weeks to have to listen to your doubts and suspicions!”
“But doubts and suspicions, Clyde, have no claim upon you where I am concerned.”
“No claim,” he spoke, in a bitterness which took me totally by surprise. “Perhaps, Delia, not in your mind, but what about mine?”
“But Clyde, for God in heaven’s sake you can’t believe that I regard you as …” But I could not finish the sentence. Clyde finished it for me.
“That I am the white blackbird, Delia? For that is what you think in your inmost being.”
Then I cried out, “Never, never has such a thought crossed my mind!”
“Perhaps not in your waking hours, Delia. But in your deepest being, in your troubled sleeping hours, Delia, I feel you think I am the white blackbird.”
I could think of no response to make then to his dreadful avalanche of words launched against me. Nothing, I came to see, could dispel his thought that I considered him the thief, the white blackbird himself. My mouth was dry. My heart itself was stilled. My godson was lost to me, I all at once realized. He would never again be the young and faithful evening companion who had given my life its greatest happiness. As he returned my gaze I saw that he understood what I felt and he looked away not only in sadness but in grief. I knew then he would leave me.
Yet we had to sit on like sentinels, our worry growing as the minutes and the hours slipped by.
It was long past midnight and we sat on. We neither of us wanted more wine. But at last Clyde insisted he make some coffee, and I was too troubled and weak to offer to make it myself.
As we were sipping our second cup of the Arabian brew we heard footsteps, and then banging on the door with a heavy walking stick.
Clyde and I both cried out with relief when Dr. Noddy, covered with wet snow and carrying three parcels, stomped in, his white breath covering his face like a mask.
“Help me, my boy,” Dr. Noddy scolded. He was handing Clyde three packages wrapped in cloth of old cramoisie velvet.
“And be careful, put them over there on that big oak table, why don’t you, where they used to feed the threshers in summers gone by.”
As Clyde was carrying the parcels to the oak table, I saw with surprise Dr. Noddy pick up Clyde’s second cup of Arabian coffee and gulp it all down at one swallow. He wiped his mustache on a stray napkin near the cup!
“Help me off with my great coat, Delia, for I’m frozen to the bone and my hands are cakes of ice.”
As soon as I had helped him off with his coat and Clyde had hung it on a hall tree, Dr. Noddy collapsed on one of the larger settees. He took off his spectacles and wiped them and muttered something inaudible.
Because he kept his eyes closed, I thought for a while the doctor had fallen into one of those slumbers I had observed in him before. My own eyes felt heavy as lead.
Then I heard him speaking in louder than usual volume:
“I have fetched back everything, Delia, that was missing or lost to you. And I have wrapped what I’ve found in scraps and shreds from the crimson hanging curtains of the Bell Tower.” His voice had an unaccustomed ring of jubilee to it.
“Bring out the first package, Clyde,” he shouted the order, and as he spoke he waved both his arms like the conductor of a band.
Clyde carried the first bundle morosely and placed it on the coffee table before us.
“Now, Delia, let us begin!” Noddy snapped one of the cords with his bone pocket knife and began undoing the bundle of its coverings with a ferocious swiftness.
I felt weak as water as he exposed to view, one after the other, my diamond necklace, my emerald brooch, my ruby rings, my pearl necklace and, last of all, my sapphire earrings!
“Tell me they are yours, Delia,” Noddy roared as only a deaf man can.
“And don’t weep,” he cautioned me. “We’ll have no bawling here tonight after the trouble I’ve been to in the Tower!
At a signal from the doctor, Clyde fetched to the table even more doggedly the second package, and this time my godson watched as the doctor undid the wrappings.
“Tell us what you see,” Dr. Noddy scolded and glowered.
“My gold necklace,” I answered, “and yes, my diamond choker, and those are my amethyst rings and that priceless lavaliere and—oh see—my long-forgotten gold bracelet.”
I went on and on. But my eyes were swimming with the tears he had forbidden me to shed.
Then the third bundle was produced, unwrapped and displayed before us as if I were presiding at Judgment Day itself.
“They are all mine, doctor,” I testified, avoiding his direful stare. I touched the gems softly and looked away.
“What treasures,” Clyde kept mumbling and shaking his head.
My eyes were all on Clyde rather than the treasures, for I took note again that it was not so much perhaps Dr. Noddy who had taken him away from me, it was the power of the treasures themselves which had separated my godson and me forever.
And so the jewels which I had never wanted in my possession from the beginning were returned again to be mine. Their theft or disappearance had plagued me, of course, over the years as a puzzle will tease and torment one, but now seeing them again in my possession all I could think of was the fact that their restoration was the cause of Clyde’s no longer being mine, no longer loving me! I was unable to explain this belief even to myself but I knew it was the truth.
The next day Clyde, holding his few belongings in a kind of sailor’s duffel bag, his eyes desperately looking away from my face, managed to get out the words:
“Delia, my dear friend, now that the weather is beginning to clear, I do feel I must be returning to Uncle Enos’s so I can look after his property as I promised him in his last hours.”
Had he stabbed me with one of my servants’ hunting knives his words could not have struck me deeper. I could barely hold out my hand to him.
“I have, you know too, a bounden duty to see that his property is kept as he wanted me to keep it,” he could barely whisper. “But should you need me you have only to call, and I will respond.”
I am sure a hundred things came to both our lips as we stood facing one another in our farewell. Instead, all we could do was gaze for a last time into each other’s eyes.
With Clyde’s return “in bounden duty” to his Uncle Enos’s, there went our evenings of wine sipping and parlor songs and all the other things that had made for me complete happiness.
I was left then with only the stolen jewels, stolen, according to our Dr. Noddy, by a breed of white blackbird known as far back as remote antiquity as creatures irresistibly attracted to steal anything which was shining bright and dazzling.
Shortly after Clyde had departed for his uncle’s, I had called some world-famous jewel merchants for a final appraisal of the treasures. The appraisers came on the heels of my godson’s departure. The men reminded me of London policemen or detectives, impeccable gentlemen, formal and with a stultifying politeness. As they appraised my jewels, however, even they would pause from time to time and briefly stare at me with something like incomprehension. They would break the silence then to say in their dry clear voices:
“Is nothing missing, ma’am?”
“Nothing at all,” I would reply to the same question put to me again and again.
I had by then taken such a horror to the jewels and to their beauty which everyone had always spoken of with bated breath that even to draw near them brought on me a kind of fit of shuddering.
After I had signed countless pages of documents, the appraisers hauled the whole collection off to a famous safety vault in Montreal.
Then for the first time in years I felt a kind of relief that would have been, if not happiness, a kind of benediction or thanksgiving, had I not been so aware I had lost forever my evenings with my godson.