I am not a susceptible woman. I am objective rather than subjective, and a fairly full
experience of life has taught me that most of my impressions are from within out rather
than the other way about. For instance, obsession at one time a few years ago of a
shadowy figure on my right, just beyond the field of vision, was later exposed as the
result of a defect in my glasses. In the same way Maggie, my old servant, was during one
entire summer haunted by church-bells and considered it a personal summons to eternity
until it was shown to be in her inner ear.
Yet the Benton house undeniably made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because it had
remained unchanged for so long. The old horsehair chairs, with their shiny mahogany
frames, showed by the slightly worn places in the carpet before them that they had not
deviated an inch from their position for many years. The carpets - carpets that reached to
the very baseboards and gave under one's feet with the yielding of heavy padding beneath
- were bright under beds and wardrobes, while in the centers of the rooms they had faded
into the softness of old tapestry.
Maggie, I remember, on our arrival moved a chair from the wall in the library, and
immediately put it back again, with a glance to see if I had observed her.
"It's nice and clean, Miss Agnes," she said. "A - I kind of feel that a little dirt would make
it more homelike."
"I'm sure I don't see why," I replied, rather sharply, "I've lived in a tolerably clean house
most of my life."
Maggie, however, was digging a heel into the padded carpet. She had chosen a sunny
place for the experiment, and a small cloud of dust rose like smoke.
"Germs!" she said. "Just what I expected. We'd better bring the vacuum cleaner out from
the city, Miss Agnes. Them carpets haven't been lifted for years."
But I paid little attention to her. To Maggie any particle of matter not otherwise classified
is a germ, and the prospect of finding dust in that immaculate house was sufficiently
thrilling to tide over the strangeness of our first few hours in it.
Once a year I rent a house in the country. When my nephew and niece were children, I
did it to take them out of the city during school vacations. Later, when they grew up, it
was to be near the country club. But now, with the children married and new families
coming along, we were more concerned with dairies than with clubs, and I inquired more
carefully about the neighborhood cows than about the neighborhood golf-links. I had
really selected the house at Benton Station because there was a most alluring pasture,