Carried by Storm. A Novel - May Agnes Fleming - ebook

Carried by Storm. A Novel ebook

May Agnes Fleming

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A mystical and a little detective story. A dark and terrible tragedy occurred within the walls of this gloomy red farmhouse. In this room a man was killed – stabbed to death. A riddle for a real detective. Only an attentive reader will understand everything in advance.

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Liczba stron: 551

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Contents

PART FIRST

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

PART SECOND

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

PART THIRD

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

PART FIRST

CHAPTER I

WHICH IS HIGHLY SENSATIONAL

Wook at it well,” says Miss Ventnor, “it is what you have never seen before–what you may never see again–a Haunted House!

One slim, gloved hand, looking like a perfect hand in dark gray marble, points the dramatic speech. Miss Ventnor is given to dramatic and epigrammatic little speeches at all times, but as she is not given to talking nonsense at any time, I know there is “method in the madness” of this assertion now. And yet–a haunted house! I laugh a little, as I lean out from the carriage to look.

“Do not laugh,” says Miss Ventnor, austerely; “there is nothing to laugh at. A dark and direful tragedy was enacted within the walls of that gloomy red farm-house–let me see–four–yes, nearly five years ago. Do you see that third window to the right, in the attic story? Well, a man was murdered–stabbed to death in that room."

“Ugh! how horrid!” I say, with a shudder. If she had told me he had drowned himself, or poisoned himself, or charcoaled himself, a la Français, or even hanged himself, or gone out of time into eternity by any one of those other violent but unbloody gates, her tragedy would have lost its most grisly element. But the average female mind shrinks in repulsion from the thought of a severed jugular or a pool of blood.

“And ever since the house has been haunted, of course,” says Miss Ventnor, folding one gray kid calmly over the other. “It is a good house and a fine farm, and since Sleaford’s time–Sleaford was the victim–the rent has been merely nominal. All in vain. Sleaford ‘walks,’ and in the ‘dead waste and middle of the night’ the struggle is re-enacted, and panic-stricken, belated wayfarers fly. It is all nonsense, of course,” says Miss Ventnor, changing suddenly from a Siddons’ voice to a practical, every-day one. “Sleaford, poor wretch, lies over yonder in Potter’s Field and troubles nobody. But the fact remains that people will not live in the place, and the most audacious tramp and thief will give the peach trees and melon patches of Sleaford’s a wide berth, be he never so hungry. And–I do not mind admitting that even I would go half a dozen miles roundabout rather than pass it alone after nightfall. So take a good look at it, my dear, a bona fide haunted house is a sight to be respected and remembered, if only for its rarity in this degenerate age. And this evening, after dinner, I will tell you all about it.”

I do not need the injunction–I am taking a good look at Sleaford’s! Even without Miss Ventnor’s ghastly legend the place could hardly fail to impressone in a weird and dismal way. But just now the mise en scene is in keeping with the story. A gray, fast-drifting autumnal sky, lying low, and threatening rain; a chill, complaining, fitful wind, rising and falling over the rich rank marshes; a long stretch of flat farm land, sear and brown, corn-stalks rattling their melancholy dry bones, the orchard trees stripped and forlorn. In the midst the house, long, low, a dull brick-color, broken panes in the windows, broken fences around, no dog at the gate, no face at the casement, no smoke from the chimneys, no voice to welcome or warn away. Desolation has lain her lean brown hand upon it, and marked her own. Anything more forlorn, more “ramshackle,” more forbidding, no fancy can picture. And from being a deserted house, no matter what the cause, from ghosts to bedbugs, to being a haunted house, there is but a step.

“There it stands,” says Miss Ventnor, musingly, her elbow on her knee, her pretty chin in her hand,

” ‘Under some prodigious ban, Of excommunication–’

and yet I can remember when Sleaford’s was the rendezvous of all that was youngest, loudest, merriest, in a radius of twenty miles–the ‘jolliest old roost going,’ as poor Frank Livingston used to tell me. The Sleaford girls were the handsomest, reddest-cheeked, blackest-eyed, loudest-laughing gypsies to be seen for a mile. There were two of them, as much alike as peas in a pod, as round and rosy as twin tomatoes. There were the two Sleaford boys, tall, strapping fellows, with more of the wild gypsy strain even than their sisters, the best dancers, wrestlers,rowers, singers, fighters, everything but the best farmers–they never worked. There was Giles Sleaford himself, who went up to that attic room one moonlight night, a strong, stalwart man, and was carried down next morning–an awful spectacle. And last of all there was–Joanna.”

Miss Ventnor’s voice takes a sudden change as it slowly–reluctantly, it seems–pronounces this name, a touch of strong repulsion it has not had even when telling the story of Sleaford’s grisly death. She sits suddenly erect as she utters it, and gathers up the reins.

“Let us go,” she says, with a shiver; “it is a horrible place, haunted by evil memories if by nothing more tangible. It is growing cold, too. Do not look at it any more–it is uncanny. You will dream of Sleaford’s to-night.”

“Wait!” I say; “look there!”

I speak in a whisper, and lay my hand on her arm. Miss Ventnor bends forward. Over the broken pickets of the fence the solitary figure of a man leans, his arms folded across the top, his eyes fixed steadfastly on the house. A moment ago he was not there; we have not seen him approach; the apparition could not have been more unexpected if he had risen from the ground.

“Ah!” Miss Ventnor says, a half-startled look coming into her eyes, “I did not know he was here. That is the one man of all the men on earth who could throw light on part of the Sleaford mystery–if he chose.”

“And he does not choose?”

“He does not choose–I doubt if he ever willchoose. I wonder–I wonder what he has done with her!”

“With her? with whom? One of the black-eyed, tomato-cheeked Misses Sleaford?”

“Misses Sleaford?” contemptuously. “No, Joanna. That is her window he is looking at–the attic room next to the chamber of horrors. I wonder what he has done with her,” says Miss Ventnor, speaking to herself; “it must have been worse than having a white elephant on his hands. That is George Blake.”

“George Blake! H-m! a commonplace cognomen enough for the hero of a melodrama. Do I understand you to say this Mr. Blake eloped with Mlle. Joanna?”

“No; Joanna eloped with him. He was the victim. Never mind now. I am cold, and I want my dinner. I am going home. Get along, Frisky.”

Frisky pricks up his ears, tosses his brown mane, and gets along. The sound pierces through Mr. Blake’s brown study; he turns sharply and sees Miss Ventnor. She inclines her head, he lifts his hat–a moment, and we are out of sight. In that moment I have caught a glimpse of a sallow and rather handsome face, a slight and medium-sized figure, two dark eyes, and a brown mustache.

“A very commonplace young man to be the first lover in a melodrama,” I reiterate. “Is–ah–your Mr. Blake a gentleman, Olga?”

“My Mr. Blake!” repeats Miss Ventnor, laughing; “well, you wouldn’t know much difference. He is a newspaper man, a journalist, a penny-a-liner, works on daily papers–is clever, they say, and has goodmanners. A thousand times too good to have his life spoiled by a woman.”

“My dear, that is the only thing of interest about him, the leaven that lightens the whole man. There is always the element of the heroic in a man whose life has been spoiled by a woman–if there is anything in him it is sure to force it out. And men bear it so well, too! I dare say Mr. George Blake eats his three meals per diem with as Christian a relish, and writes twice as pungent paragraphs as before. Was Joanna pretty? Quaint little ugly name, by-the-bye–Joanna.”

Olga Ventnor does not reply. At last she lowers the reins and looks at me.

“Do you believe,” she asks, “in people being possessed?”

“Good gracious!” I cry, aghast.

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