Face Cards - Carolyn Wells - ebook

Face Cards ebook

Carolyn Wells

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A house party at a country house in Connecticut, reputedly a house under a curse. The owner dies mysteriously, and one of the house party vanishes. The characters of the wealthy murdered man, his young wife and his daughter, as well as those of the servants and detectives are more than usually convincing and the story altogether adapted for effortless fireside reading. While the reader is prevented from divining the solution too easily, a proper number of clues are conscientiously given and the events, nicely dovetailed together. „Face Cards”, written by an American author and poet Carolyn Wells, is a locked-room mystery in which crime and a family curse are interwoven, with plenty of creepy supernatural events thrown in, relating to exotic masks.

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Liczba stron: 341

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER I

THE KING OF CLUBS

The constructor and interior decorator had done their work; such scars to the grounds as piles of unused building material had been removed; and today, with the new addition and appointments complete and in order, a few week-end guests were expected at Clearman Court by way of celebration.

These guests were few, and not entirely easy in mind. House guests had not been usual at Clearman Court since the master’s astounding second marriage. For one thing Stephen Clearman and his wife rarely cared for the same people, and just as rarely did the guests at Clearman Court desire to go again.

They might pretend to be amused at the legend of the Curse of Clearman Court, yet there was an undeniable spell of Oriental exoticism saturating the place. One felt it even in the Clearman limousine that called at the station for one; although it bespoke Detroit or Indianapolis in every glint of its body, every thrum of its motor, within it the guest thought of bamboo, teak wood, gongs, idols.

Perhaps the car had a strangely sweet perfume in it. It would not have been beyond Stephen Clearman to have put some curious scent in the upholstery just to foster respect for the legend of the Curse. There was no amusement in the legend for him.

What an extraordinary composite the man was! His cultured side was evident to the world at large. He was wealthy, educated, basically intelligent. A cosmopolitan, having traveled and lived in many countries, he had the poise anywhere he found himself of a notable man-about-town. In short, like his exclusive kind, he was well-bred, well-fed, well-read.

He belonged to a great number of clubs, some of which he had himself organized and most of which had at one time or another called him President. Worthwhile clubs they were, the great city clubs, the exclusive country clubs, clubs of a special sport or game and the wiseacre clubs devoted to lore and research.

To so many of these had he given assistance, both in the way of prestige and financial support, that he had come to be known by the title of the King of Clubs. This pleased him and he had his note paper engraved with a miniature King of Clubs copied from a playing card.

Now the other side of Stephen Clearman, the bizarre side, was known only to the few house guests who came up from the city to Clearman Court for week-ends–and to his family and servants, of course.

It was a side of him that scorned civilization, that reveled in the savage, the barbaric, the primitive.

He claimed, himself, that this odd deflection of his personality was a birthright, that he inherited it from his forebears. For since the time long ago when an ancestor of his had traveled in far distant lands, and had come home with many strange tales and fancies, there had always been a member of the family who had followed the lead.

It was nearly two centuries since old Dathan Clearman had fared forth and his wanderings had taken him to islands near New Guinea, where strange rites and ceremonies prevailed then, even as they do now in such far lands.

Dathan Clearman had come home, the legend ran, to find that his son had added to the Connecticut homestead, building a wing here and raising a roof there, until the house had lost its original symmetry and type. The stern old New Englander, seething with white rage, cursed his son in many terrible blasts, disowned him, and sent him away.

As a guardian of the Clearman homestead against further alteration, Dathan formally and solemnly set up on the manteltree of the great hall a hideous mask which he had brought home, and which was known in the savage tribe from whom he obtained it, as the Duk-Duk.

In its native home, the Duk-Duk is the great arbiter of morals, and is a supreme power, who accuses and punishes at will. So, argued Dathan Clearman, who was a convert to the heathen religions, the mask of Duk-Duk will protect my home from further despoiling.

For with the mask went a great curse, a malediction on any descendant of Dathan, who should add to or take from the building as it stood. Even so much as the cutting of a window or the addition of an ell, would be punished by speedy and violent death to the offender.

Ever since, the monstrous, frightful-looking thing had stood where Dathan had placed it, untouched by any desecrating hands.

Twice in the passing years, however, the curse had been scoffed at, and the consequences braved. Additions and alterations had been made in the old house, and in both instances the originator of the improvements had quickly died–not a natural death. Such was the legend of the Clearman Curse.

At any rate the future heirs were benefited by the ill-fated changes, for now the old home stood, a great and noble structure, symmetrical, harmonious, beautiful–bearing little resemblance to the first Clearman homestead built so many years ago.

It fronted on a wide terrace, of century old flagstones, through whose uneven crevices the grass-blades crowded. The view from this terrace included some of the most picturesque hills and lakes of New England, and below, down a mile or so of winding road, lay the tiny village of Valley Falls, quite evidently named with a careful attention to topographical detail.

The present owner of Clearman Court, the King of Clubs, paced the terrace in the late June afternoon.

“Yes,” he said, as with vigorous step and pocketed hands he strode back and forth, “the place is just about perfect now. I have it all exactly as I want it, and all I shall do, from now on, will be in the way of polishing off and finishing up. Thanks to you, Raynor, for following my instructions so meticulously. Few architects would have been willing to obey implicitly. You are a rare type.”

“Yes,” Jack Raynor grinned, assentingly, “they don’t make ’em like me, often. I’m mighty glad you’re pleased and all that, Mr. Clearman, but I feel I must say that I might have kicked over the traces if I hadn’t agreed with your ideas in my own heart. Now, if you don’t drop dead, we can look upon the whole matter as an overwhelming success.”

“Oh, I shan’t drop dead. We should never have proceeded if I were not sure of circumventing old Duk-Duk. I’m immune.”

“I do hope so,” said a sweet tremulous voice, and Miss Phoebe Clearman looked up with a gaze of troubled apprehension.

The placid little woman was a physical contrast to her big stalwart brother, but there was a similarity of feature, and a decided likeness in their quiet way of speaking, and the never failing correctness of their manner.

“You see, Mr. Raynor,” she turned to the young architect, “Stephen is unafraid, always,–but he has braved the curse,–the family curse–.”

“That’s all right, Phoebe,” her brother broke in, “don’t mull over that any more. I’m sure Raynor is tired hearing about it.”

“No,” the architect returned, “not that, for I admit a certain apprehension. When a curse has made itself felt twice, one can’t scoff at the possibility of a third time.”

“But there’s no possibility, Jack,” his host insisted. “I know more than those ancestors of mine who fell under the ban. I know how to ward off the danger, and I shall never suffer the punishment.”

“So far, so good,” and Raynor shrugged his shoulders. He had no wish to see Stephen Clearman overtaken by the threatened fate, but he had a trace of the almost universal fear of the supernatural.

To be sure, the architect’s knowledge of the occult was largely derived from book lore, but just because he had never before run up against what he called a real, live Curse, he was deeply interested to see how it worked out–or failed to do so.

If Stephen Clearman carried through, if he suffered no inexplicable disaster or stroke, then Raynor was ready to believe the stories of the past were all poppycock. But if Clearman should be mysteriously killed, then–well, it would give food for thought.

It was hard to connect the idea of death with the big, hearty figure striding the terrace. Few men showed more brawn and brain; more energy and vitality than Stephen Clearman. His broad shoulders were square and firm and his coats hung from them as from a well built rack. At sixty-three, his graying hair was the only sign of advancing age, and his impatient will power and hair-trigger intellect were as young as ever they had been.

The architect of course was an important factor at the week-end celebration, and he had been permitted to invite a friend of his own, one Nicky Goring, who was expected on the next train.

Raynor was the son of a college chum of Clearman’s and, besides being a first-rate architect, was an all-round good fellow. If he was a trifle in love with Clearman’s wife, that was merely because she was the only woman around except the elderly Miss Clearman, and Raynor was accustomed to feminine worship.

Called Jack of Hearts by his chaffing friends, he did live up to the title.

He hit it off all right with Stephen Clearman, for in the matter of planning the changes in the house, their ideas were seldom at variance, and readily adjusted. Both were diplomatic, so there had been no friction.

The new building was practically self-contained, being a large wing that should house only Clearman and his wife. It included bedroom, bath and living room for each, but these, with their attendant dressing rooms, halls, balconies and sun porches, made up what almost equalled a good-sized house.

The plans being perfected and settled upon, the Clearmans had gone off for a long trip to Eastern lands, and Raynor had pushed the work through as expeditiously as possible.

He had had occasional slight misgivings whether the curse might not fall vicariously on him, but nothing untoward had happened, and now the owner was back to resume the command–and the danger.

Yet who could look for trouble, this lovely, soft June afternoon, the distant hills quivering under the passing purple shadows, the glistening lakes coquetting with the darting rays of the setting sun.

And then Carlotta Clearman trailed out from the house. Long, slender and pointed were all her effects.

Her exquisite face was long and delicate, with a pointed chin and her long dark eyes were full of hinted possibilities of passion and sorrow.

Yet Carlotta was a merry thing and often kept a whole company amused with her drolleries.

Her gown, of trailing black tulle, was long and pointed, and on the points of its draperies dangled jet tassels. Her long jet earrings did not dangle, but, for the most part, hung quietly, a frame for her pale, perfect face.

Though she was more than thirty years her husband’s junior, they were congenial in many ways and compatible in all ways,–or, all but one.

He had married her for her beauty, she had married him for his money. Not a unique instance, but one which had turned out rather better than might have been expected.

As his passion was for rare antiquities of certain sorts, so hers was for diamonds. No other gem did she care for; diamonds she adored. And he had showered them upon her. In all cuttings, of all sizes, but of only the rarest quality, he had given her the jewels, until she well deserved the title that so naturally ensued, and was called the Queen of Diamonds.

Now, her black gown was caught here and there with a few diamond buckles and a slender string of perfectly matched stones hung round her throat.

Never did she overdo her ornamentation. Never did she wear too many or too large ones for the occasion.

Yet they were so much a part of her, that it would have seemed strange to see her without them. As one of her friends observed, “Carly could wear a tiara to breakfast, and get away with it!”

She trailed across the terrace and sat herself on a low balustrade, drawing one knee up and clasping it in her arms with a careless grace.

Her husband came toward her, and she looked up into his face and smiled, as she asked, “When the old Duk-Duk gets you, will he get me, too?”

Her air was half serious, half whimsical, and Clearman looked down on her, his eyes full of admiration.

“I hope to Heaven he will!” he said fervently, “I’ll never depart this life and leave you behind. You’re too beautiful!” He lifted her pointed chin with one forefinger, kissed her lightly on her wistful lips, and turned away, as his ear caught the advent of a newcomer.

It was Nicky Goring, the friend of Raynor’s, an alert, wide-awake young man, who had caught sight of the marital caress and was faintly smiling.

Clearman’s greeting was hearty and unembarrassed. It would take much to disturb his poise.

Raynor introduced the visitor, and then tea came, and they all felt acquainted and friendly at once.

Stephen told briefly of their wanderings in strange countries and among quaint primitive peoples, and narrated a few instances of tragic or humorous interest.

“And did you enjoy it all, Mrs. Clearman?” Goring asked.

“Not all,” and the long pointed eyes smiled as she turned them to her husband for an instant. “There were so many places not–well, not so clean, you see.”

“Yes, my wife’s housekeeping instincts were sadly shocked by Oriental squalor,” Stephen chuckled. “I’m sure she wanted, more than anything else, to show those poor, benighted heathen how to use a vacuum cleaner.”

“Indeed, I should,” returned Carlotta, with spirit, “but it would have been wasted on them. The heathen in his blindness, kneels down to wood and stone, but he wants that wood and stone properly dirty. He wouldn’t worship clean wood and stone.”

“My goodness, Carly, is it as bad as that!” exclaimed Phoebe, “I’m glad I didn’t go with you two. How did you ever stand it?”

“It was awful,” Carlotta shuddered at the remembrance; “and, incidentally, it’s the dirt that’s largely responsible for the heathen’s blindness.”

“Oh, child, the hymn doesn’t mean that kind of blindness–”

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