Cynthia Wakeham’s Money - Anna Katharine Green - ebook

Cynthia Wakeham’s Money ebook

Anna Katharine Green

0,0

Opis

A melodramatic mystery, in which a young lawyer is called to the house of a dying woman to draw up her will. While searching for her legal heirs, meets a beautiful woman with a mysterious scar. The lawyer soon finds that his search for the heirs leads to some very unusual occurrences. Events then take a very sinister turn... As ever, with Anna Katherine Green, this early novel features love-struck young men; high-minded ladies with a propensity to faint, and whose reticence is essential to the plot; plus detailed legal knowledge. This one also has a particularly melodramatic villain. Green’s stories are full of mystery and written in an elegant manner, true to the time period in which the story is set.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 403

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



Contents

BOOK I

A VILLAGE MYSTERY

I. A Woman's Face

II. A Lawyer's Adventure

III. Continuation of a Lawyer's Adventure

IV. Flint and Steel

V. Difficulties

VI. Young Men's Fancies

VII. The Way Opens

VIII. A Search and Its Results

IX. The Two Sisters

X. Doris

XI. Love

XII. How Much did It Mean?

XIII. Fresh Doubts

XIV. In the Night Watches

BOOK II

THE SECRET OF THE LABORATORY

XV. The Beginning of Changes

XVI. A Strange Visitor

XVII. Two Conversations

XVIII. Suspense

XIX. A Discovery

XX. The Devil's Cauldron

XXI. In the Laboratory

XXII. Steel Meets Steel

XXIII. A Growing Horror

XXIV. Father and Child

XXV. Edgar and Frank

BOOK III

UNCLE AND NIECE

XXVI. The White Powder

XXVII. The Hand of Huckins

XXVIII. In Extremity

XXIX. In the Poplar Walk

XXX. The Final Terror

XXXI. An Eventful Quarter of an Hour

XXXII. The Spectre of the Laboratory

BOOK I

A VILLAGE MYSTERY

I

A WOMAN’S FACE

It was verging towards seven o’clock. The train had just left Marston station, and two young men stood on the platform surveying with very different eyes the stretch of country landscape lying before them. Frank Etheridge wore an eager aspect, the aspect of the bright, hopeful, energetic lawyer which he was, and his quick searching gaze flashed rapidly from point to point as if in one of the scattered homes within his view he sought an answer to some problem at present agitating his mind. He was a stranger in Marston.

His companion, Edgar Sellick, wore a quieter air, or at least one more restrained. He was a native of the place, and was returning to it after a short and fruitless absence in the west, to resume his career of physician amid the scenes of his earliest associations. Both were tall, well-made, and handsome, and, to draw at once a distinction between them which will effectually separate their personalities, Frank Etheridge was a man to attract the attention of men, and Edgar Sellick that of women; the former betraying at first glance all his good qualities in the keenness of his eye and the frankness of his smile, and the latter hiding his best impulses under an air of cynicism so allied to melancholy that imagination was allowed free play in his behalf. They had attended the same college and had met on the train by chance.

“I am expecting old Jerry, with a buggy,” announced Edgar, looking indifferently down the road. The train was on time but Jerry was not, both of which facts were to be expected. “Ah, here he comes. You will ride to the tavern with me?”

“With pleasure,” was Frank’s cheerful reply; “but what will you do with Jerry? He’s a mile too large, as you see yourself, to be a third party in a buggy ride.”

“No doubt about that, but Jerry can walk; it will help to rob him of a little of his avoirdupois. As his future physician I shall prescribe it. I cannot have you miss the supper I have telegraphed for at Henly’s.”

And being a determined man, he carried this scheme through, to Jerry’s manifest but cheerfully accepted discomfort. As they were riding off, Edgar leaned from the buggy, and Frank heard him say to his panting follower:

“Is it known in town that I am coming to-night?” To which that panting follower shrilly replied: “Ay, sir, and Tim Jones has lit a bond-fire and Jack Skelton hoisted a flag, so glad they be to have you back. Old Dudgeon was too intimate with the undertaker, sir. We hopes as you will turn a cold shoulder to him–the undertaker, I mean.”

At which Frank observed his friend give one of his peculiar smiles which might mean so little and might mean so much, but whatever it meant had that touch of bittersweet in it which at once hurts and attracts.

“You like your profession?” Frank abruptly asked.

Edgar turned, surveyed the other questioningly for a moment, then remarked:

“Not as you like yours. Law seems to be a passion with you.”

Frank laughed. “Why not? I have no other love, why not give all my heart to that?”

Edgar did not answer; he was looking straight before him at the lights in the village they were now rapidly approaching.

“How strange it is we should have met in this way,” exclaimed the young lawyer. “It is mighty fortunate for me, whatever it may be for you. You know all the people in town, and perhaps can tell me what will shorten my stay into hours.”

“Do you call that fortunate?” interrogated the other with one of his quiet smiles.

“Well, no, only from a business view. But you see, Edgar, it is so short a time since I have thought of anything but business, that I have hardly got used to the situation. I should be sorry, now I come to think of it, to say good-by to you before I heard how you had enjoyed life since we parted on a certain Commencement day. You look older, while I––”

He laughed. How merry the sound, and how the growing twilight seemed to brighten at it! Edgar looked for a moment as if he envied him that laugh, then he said:

“You are not tripped up by petty obstacles. You have wings to your feet and soar above small disappointments. My soles cling to the ground and encounter there difficulty after difficulty. Hence the weariness with which I gain anything. But your business here,–what is it? You say I can aid you. How?”

“Oh, it is a long story which will help to enliven our evening meal. Let us wait till then. At present I am interested in what I see before me. Snug homes, Edgar, and an exquisite landscape.”

The other, whose face for the last few minutes had been gradually settling into sterner and sterner lines, nodded automatically but did not look up from the horse he was driving.

“Who lives in these houses? Old friends of yours?” Frank continued.

Edgar nodded again, whipped his horse and for an instant allowed his eyes to wander up and down the road.

“I used to know them all,” he acknowledged, “but I suppose there have been changes.”

His tone had altered, his very frame had stiffened. Frank looked at him curiously.

“You seem to be in a hurry,” he remarked. “I enjoy this twilight drive, and–haloo! this is an odd old place we are coming to. Suppose you pull up and let me look at it.”

His companion, with a strange glance and an awkward air of dissatisfaction, did as he was bid, and Frank leaning from the buggy gazed long and earnestly at the quaint old house and grounds which had attracted his attention. Edgar did not follow his example but sat unmoved, looking fixedly at the last narrow strip of orange light that separated night from day on the distant horizon.

“I feel as if I had come upon something uncanny,” murmured Frank. “Look at that double row of poplars stretching away almost as far as we can see? Is it not an ideal Ghost’s Walk, especially in this hour of falling shadows. I never saw anything so suggestive in a country landscape before. Each tree looks like a spectre hob-nobbing with its neighbor. Tell me that this is a haunted house which guards this avenue. Nothing less weird should dominate a spot so peculiar.”

“Frank, I did not know you were so fanciful,” exclaimed the other, lashing his horse with a stinging whip.

“Wait, wait! I am not fanciful, it is the place that is curious. If you were not in a hurry for your supper you would see it too. Come, give it a look. You may have observed it a hundred times before, but by this light you must acknowledge that it looks like a place with a history. Come, now, don’t it?”

Edgar drew in his horse for the second time and impatiently allowed his glance to follow in the direction indicated by his friend. What he saw has already been partially described. But details will not be amiss here, as the house and its surroundings were really unique, and bespoke an antiquity of which few dwellings can now boast even in the most historic parts of Connecticut.

The avenue of poplars which had first attracted Frank’s attention had this notable peculiarity, that it led from nowhere to nowhere. That is, it was not, as is usual in such cases, made the means of approach to the house, but on the contrary ran along its side from road to rear, thick, compact, and gruesome. The house itself was of timber, and was both gray and weather-beaten. It was one of the remnants of that old time when a family homestead rambled in all directions under a huge roof which accommodated itself to each new projection, like the bark to its tree. In this case the roof sloped nearly to the ground on one side, while on the other it beetled over a vine-clad piazza. In front of the house and on both sides of it rose a brick wall that, including the two rows of trees within its jealous cordon, shut off the entire premises from those of the adjoining neighbors, and gave to the whole place an air of desolation and remoteness which the smoke rising from its one tall chimney did not seem to soften or relieve. Yet old as it all was, there was no air of decay about the spot, nor was the garden neglected or the vines left untrimmed.

“The home of a hermit,” quoth Frank. “You know who lives there of course, but if you did not I would wager that it is some old scion of the past––”

Suddenly he stopped, suddenly his hand was laid on the horse’s rein falling somewhat slack in the grasp of his companion. A lamp had at that instant been brought into one of the front rooms of the house he was contemplating, and the glimpse he thus caught of the interior attracted his eyes and even arrested the gaze of the impatient Edgar. For the woman who held the lamp was no common one, and the face which showed above it was one to stop any man who had an eye for the beautiful, the inscrutable, and the tragic. As Frank noted it and marked its exquisite lines, its faultless coloring, and that air of profound and mysterious melancholy which made it stand out distinctly in the well-lighted space about it, he tightened his grip on the reins he had snatched, till the horse stood still in the road, and Edgar impatiently watching him, perceived that the gay look had crept from his face, leaving there an expression of indefinable yearning which at once transfigured and ennobled it.

“What beauty! What unexpected beauty!” Frank whispered at last. “Did you ever see its like, Edgar?”

The answer came with Edgar’s most cynical smile:

“Wait till she turns her head.”

And at that moment she did turn it. On the instant Frank drew in his breath and Edgar expected to see him drop his hand from the reins and sink back disillusionized and indifferent. But he did not. On the contrary, his attitude betrayed a still deeper interest and longing, and murmuring, “How sad! poor girl!” he continued to gaze till Edgar, with one strange, almost shrinking look in the direction of the unconscious girl now moving abstractedly across the room, tore the reins from his hands and started the horse again towards their place of destination.

Frank, whom the sudden movement seemed to awaken as from a dream, glanced for a moment almost angrily at his companion, then he settled back in his seat, saying nothing till the lights of the tavern became visible, when he roused himself and inquired:

“Who is that girl, Edgar, and how did she become so disfigured?”

“I don’t know,” was the short reply; “she has always been so, I believe, at least since I remember seeing her. It looks like the scar of a wound, but I have never heard any explanation given of it.”

“Her name, Edgar?”

“Hermione Cavanagh.”

“You know her?”

“Somewhat.”

“Are you”–the words came with a pant, shortly, intensely, and as if forced from him–“in love–with her?”

“No.” Edgar’s passion seemed for the moment to be as great as that of the other. “How came you to think of such a thing?”

“Because–because,” Frank whispered almost humbly, “you seemed so short in your replies, and because, I might as well avow it, she seems to me one to command the love of all men.”

“Well, sirs, here I be as quick as you,” shouted a voice in their rear, and old Jerry came lumbering forward, just in time to hold their horse as they alighted at the tavern.

II

A LAWYER’S ADVENTURE

Supper that night did not bring to these two friends all the enjoyment which they had evidently anticipated. In the first place it was continually interrupted by greetings to the young physician whose unexpected return to his native town had awakened in all classes a decided enthusiasm. Then Frank was moody, he who was usually gaiety itself. He wanted to talk about the beautiful and unfortunate Miss Cavanagh, and Edgar did not, and this created embarrassment between them, an embarrassment all the more marked that there seemed to be some undefined reason for Edgar’s reticence not to be explained by any obvious cause. At length Frank broke out impetuously:

“If you won’t tell me anything about this girl, I must look up some one who will. Those cruel marks on her face have completed the charm of her beauty, and not till I know something of their history and of her, will I go to sleep to-night. So much for the impression which a woman’s face can make upon an unsusceptible man.”

“Frank,” observed the other, coldly, “I should say that your time might be much better employed in relating to me the cause for your being in Marston.”

The young lawyer started, shook himself, and laughed.

“Oh, true, I had forgotten,” said he, and supper being now over he got up and began pacing the floor. “Do you know any one here by the name of Harriet Smith?”

“No,” returned the other, “but I have been away a year, and many persons may have come into town in that time.”

“But I mean an old resident,” Frank explained, “a lady of years, possibly a widow.”

“I never heard of such a person,” rejoined Edgar. “Are you sure there is such a woman in town? I should be apt to know it if there were.”

“I am not sure she is here now, or for that matter that she is living, but if she is not and I learn the names and whereabouts of any heirs she may have left behind her, I shall be satisfied with the results of my journey. Harriet Smith! Surely you have heard of her.”

“No,” Edgar protested, “I have not.”

“It is odd,” remarked Frank, wrinkling his brows in some perplexity. “I thought I should have no trouble in tracing her. Not that I care,” he avowed with brightening countenance. “On the contrary, I can scarcely quarrel with a fact that promises to detain me in your company for a few days.”

“No? Then your mind has suddenly changed in that regard,” Edgar dryly insinuated.

Frank blushed. “I think not,” was his laughing reply. “But let me tell my story. It may interest you in a pursuit that I begin to see is likely to possess difficulties.” And lighting a cigar, he sat down with his friend by the open window. “I do not suppose you know much about Brooklyn, or, if you do, that you are acquainted with that portion of it which is called Flatbush. I will therefore explain that this outlying village is a very old one, antedating the Revolution. Though within a short car-drive from the great city, it has not yet given up its life to it, but preserves in its one main street at least, a certain individuality which still connects it with the past. My office, as you know, is in New York, but I have several clients in Brooklyn and one or two in Flatbush, so I was not at all surprised, though considerably put out, when one evening, just as I was about to start for the theatre, a telegram was handed me by the janitor, enjoining me to come without delay to Flatbush prepared to draw up the will of one, Cynthia Wakeham, lying, as the sender of the telegram declared, at the point of death. Though I knew neither this name, nor that of the man who signed it, which was Hiram Huckins, and had no particular desire to change the place of my destination at that hour, I had really no good reason for declining the business thus offered me. So making a virtue of necessity, I gave up the theatre and started instead for Flatbush, which, from the house where I lodge in upper New York, is a good hour and a half’s ride even by the way of the bridge and the elevated roads. It was therefore well on towards ten o’clock before I arrived in the shaded street which in the daylight and in the full brightness of a summer’s sun I had usually found so attractive, but which at night and under the circumstances which had brought me there looked both sombre and forbidding. However I had not come upon an errand of pleasure, so I did not spend much time in contemplating my surroundings, but beckoning to the conductor of the street-car on which I was riding, I asked him if he knew Mrs. Wakeham’s house, and when he nodded, asked him to set me down before it. I thought he gave me a queer look, but as his attention was at that moment diverted, I could not be sure of it, and before he came my way again the car had stopped and he was motioning to me to alight.

“‘That is the house,’ said he, pointing to two huge gate-posts glimmering whitely in the light of a street-lamp opposite, and I was on the sidewalk and in front of the two posts before I remembered that a man on the rear platform of the car had muttered as I stepped by him: ‘A visitor for Widow Wakeham, eh; she must be sick, then!’

“The house stood back a short distance from the street, and as I entered the gate, which by the way looked as if it would tumble down if I touched it, I could see nothing but a gray mass with one twinkling light in it. But as I drew nearer I became aware that it was not a well-kept and hospitable mansion towards which I was tending, however imposing might be its size and general structure. If only from the tangled growth of the shrubbery about me and the long dank stalks of the weeds that lay as if undisturbed by mortal feet upon the walk, I could gather that whatever fortune Mrs. Wakeham might have to leave she had not expended much in the keeping of her home. But it was upon reaching the house I experienced the greatest surprise. There were walls before me, no doubt, and a huge portico, but the latter was hanging as it were by faith to supports so dilapidated that even the darkness of that late hour could not hide their ruin or the impending fall of the whole structure. So old, so uncared-for, and so utterly out of keeping with the errand upon which I had come looked the whole place that I instinctively drew back, assured that the conductor had made some mistake in directing me thither. But no sooner had I turned my back upon the house, than a window was thrown up over my head and I heard the strangely eager voice of a man say:

“‘This is the place, sir. Wait, and I will open the door for you.’

“I did as he bade me, though not without some reluctance. The voice, for all its tone of anxiety, sounded at once false and harsh, and I instinctively associated with it a harsh and false face. The house, too, did not improve in appearance upon approach. The steps shook under my tread, and I could not but notice by the faint light sifting through the bushes from the lamp on the other side of the way, that the balustrades had been pulled from their places, leaving only gaping holes to mark where they had once been. The door was intact, but in running my hand over it I discovered that the mouldings had been stripped from its face, and that the knocker, hanging as it did by one nail, was ready to fall at the first provocation. If Cynthia Wakeham lived here, it would be interesting to know the extent of her wealth. As there seemed to be some delay in the opening of the door, I had time to note that the grounds (all of these houses have grounds about them) were of some extent, but, as I have said, in a manifest condition of overgrowth and neglect. As I mused upon the contrast they must afford in the bright daylight to the wide and well-kept lawns of the more ambitious owners on either side, a footstep sounded on the loose boards which had evidently been flung down at one side of the house as a sort of protection to the foot from the darkness and mud of the neglected path, and a woman’s form swung dimly into view, laden with a great pile of what looked to me like brushwood. As she passed she seemed to become conscious of my presence, and, looking up, she let the huge bundle slip slowly from her shoulders till it lay in the darkness at her feet.

“‘Are you,’ she whispered, coming close to the foot of the steps, ‘going in there?’

“‘Yes,’ I returned, struck by the mingled surprise and incredulity in her tone.

“She stood still a minute, then came up a step.

“‘Are you a minister?’ she asked.

“‘No,’ I laughed; ‘why?’

“She seemed to reason with herself before saying: ‘No one ever goes into that house; I thought perhaps you did not know. They won’t have any one. Would you mind telling me,’ she went on, in a hungry whisper almost thrilling to hear, coming as it did through the silence and darkness of the night, ‘what you find in the house? I will be at the gate, sir, and––’

“She paused, probably awed by the force of my exclamation, and picking up her bundle of wet boughs, slunk away, but not without turning more than once before she reached the gate. Scarcely had she disappeared into the street when a window went up in a neighboring house. At the same moment, some one, I could not tell whether it was a man or a woman, came up the path as far as the first trees and there paused, while a shrill voice called out:

“‘They never unlocks that door; visitors ain’t wanted.’

“Evidently, if I were not admitted soon I should have the whole neighborhood about me.

“I lifted the knocker, but it came off in my hand. Angry at the mischance, and perhaps a little moved by the excitement of my position, I raised the broken piece of iron and gave a thundering knock on the rotten panels before me. Instantly the door opened, creaking ominously as it did so, and a man stood in the gap with a wretched old kerosene lamp in his hand. The apologetic leer on his evil countenance did not for a moment deceive me.

“‘I beg your pardon,’ he hurriedly exclaimed, and his voice showed he was a man of education, notwithstanding his forlorn and wretched appearance, ‘but the old woman had a turn just as you came, and I could not leave her.’

“I looked at him, and instinct told me to quit the spot and not enter a house so vilely guarded. For the man was not only uncouth to the last degree in dress and aspect, but sinister in expression and servilely eager in bearing.

“‘Won’t you come in?’ he urged. ‘The old woman is past talking, but she can make signs; perhaps an hour from now she will not be able to do even that.’

“‘Do you allude to the woman who wishes to make her will?’ I asked.

“‘Yes,’ he answered, greedily, ‘Cynthia Wakeham, my sister.’ And he gently pushed the door in a way that forced me to enter or show myself a coward.

“I took heart and went in. What poverty I beheld before me in the light of that solitary smoking lamp! If the exterior of the house bore the marks of devastation, what shall I say of the barren halls and denuded rooms which now opened before me? Not a chair greeted my eyes, though a toppling stool here and there showed that people sat in this place. Nor did I see a table, though somewhere in some remote region beyond the staircase I heard the clatter of plates, as if eating were also known in this home of almost ostentatious penury. Staircase I say, but I should have said steps, for the balustrades were missing here just as they had been missing without, and not even a rail remained to speak of old-time comfort and prosperity.

“‘I am very poor,’ humbly remarked the man, answering my look of perplexity. ‘It is my sister who has the money.’ And moving towards the stairs, he motioned me to ascend.

“Even then I recoiled, not knowing what to make of this adventure; but hearing a hollow groan from above, uttered in tones unmistakably feminine, I remembered my errand and went up, followed so closely by the man, that his breath, mingled with the smell of that vile lamp, seemed to pant on my shoulder. I shall never smell kerosene again without recalling the sensations of that moment.

“Arriving at the top of the stair, up which my distorted shadow had gone before me, I saw an open door and went in. A woman was lying in one corner on a hard and uncomfortable bed, a woman whose eyes drew me to her side before a word had been spoken.

“She was old and in the last gasp of some fatal disease. But it was not this which impressed me most. It was the searching look with which she greeted me,–a piteous, hunted look, like that of some wild animal driven to bay and turning upon her conqueror for some signs of relenting or pity. It made the haggard face eloquent; it assured me without a word that some great wrong had been done or was about to be done, and that I must show myself at once her friend if I would gain her confidence.

“Advancing to her side, I spoke to her kindly, asking if she were Cynthia Wakeham, and if she desired the services of a lawyer.

“She at once nodded painfully but unmistakably, and, lifting her hand, pointed to her lips and shook her head.

“‘She means that she cannot speak’, explained the man, in a pant, over my shoulder.

“Moving a step aside in my disgust, I said to her, not to him:

“‘But you can hear?’

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.