Masks Off at Midnight - Valentine Williams - ebook

Masks Off at Midnight ebook

Valentine Williams

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Opis

Trevor Dene and his wife are looking forward to attending a masked ball in Lavra, a Long Island mansion owned by the wealthy Tallifer family. But the problem is brewing in the form of a prolonged feud with local businessman Brent Hordern. Resenting the way Tallifers use their „new money,” and decided to marry their daughter Jenny, Horder swore to attend the ball at all costs.

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Liczba stron: 320

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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 XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER I

Had he but known it, the sandy-haired young man who stood in the shade just inside the open doors of the service station, all the events in Laurel that day were converging on the tragedy of the following night. Not that he could have guessed it from the placid spectacle the main street presented, spread out in the hot morning sunshine. Right and left, under his rather desultory regard, the street lay in the ban of one of those spells of emptiness which occasionally overtake the chief traffic artery of even a town of twenty thousand people. With tail uplifted a thin cat picked its way delicately across the tarmac to a gate opposite, where it paused to contemplate with an attitude of bored indifference the plump robins hopping about on the velvety turf beyond. The air was so still that one could hear the click as the traffic light at the foot of the hill conscientiously changed from green to red. From the shipyard under the bridge, where the Sound poked a long, glittering finger into the heart of the little Long Island town, came the rhythmic sound of hammering.

Across the street the door of the Laurel Real Estate Office opened and two men appeared, one, a heavy, red-faced man in a Palm Beach suit, wearing a hat. Their voices drifted over the stillness to the quiet figure in the garage entrance.

“Well, petition or no petition,’ the red-faced man was saying, “I mean to stop it. And Waverly and the rest of them are with me...’

“Quite, Mr. Tallifer,’ his companion replied–he was a small, thin-faced individual with a very deferential air. “But we’ll need to hurry–from what I hear he’ll lose no time in submitting it to the court...’

“Leave that to me, Denny,’ the other rejoined firmly. “I’m going to the lawyer’s now. Mrs. Tallifer is shopping in town–she said she’d pick me up with the car at Jackson’s.’ He nodded to the other and stepped into the brilliant sunshine.

Catching sight of the figure in the garage doorway he waved his hand. “Good morning, good morning,’ he called across the road. “We’re seeing you and your lady at lunch, don’t forget!’ “Rather!’ the young man called back, and Henry Tallifer, large and rather condescending, with his big head and features clear-cut in a solid way, like a Roman emperor’s, strolled composedly up the street.

The belfry of the Episcopalian Church, thrusting its clean, gray stones above the clump of maples at the top of the hill, began to strike. The walker halted and took out his watch. He liked to hear the belfry sound the hours–it was a Tallifer telling the town the time. Presently, on gaining the crest of the slope, he would stop again and contemplate the stone let into the foot of the tower–”This belfry was presented by Henry Tallifer, in memory of his mother, Edith Parton Tallifer, benefactrix of this town, 1896.’

The clock struck eleven. At the garage entrance the young man, counting the strokes, smothered a yawn. He was bareheaded and the July sunshine struck high lights on his flaming copper hair and the lenses of the large, horn-rimmed spectacles he wore. His blue jacket was irreproachable, his white flannels and shoes, spotless; but he was the sort of young man who looks untidy in whatever he wears. If one had not known him for a stranger to Laurel, it would have been evident from the attitude of a youth in grubby jeans who, propped against the wall just inside the garage doors, jaws moving silently, was eyeing him with an air of rapt absorption.

For the time being the stranger paid no heed to this scrutiny. He was thinking that, although he was three thousand miles from London, Laurel seemed to be as sleepy as any country town at home. There, however, the resemblance ended. Laurel knew no Queen Anne façades, no gabled houses, no thatch. Its shops, for the most part, were replicas of the shops in the cheaper parts of New York. With their garish window displays, their winking electric signs, red and green and blue, their slot-machines and magazine-stands at the doors, they looked grotesquely out of place beside the old colonial houses which still lined the street in places.

It was the homes with their white-pillared fronts and long, cool verandahs and glimpses of lawn spread out under majestic, hoary trees, which lent Laurel a placid, Old-World atmosphere that defied the challenge of commerce. The shops, the brand-new Doric bank, the luncheon counter baldly announcing “Eats’ in Neon light, the drug-store placarded with “breakfast specials,’ they seemed like upstarts that had crept in by stealth and installed themselves there, impudently, overnight. Notwithstanding the shops, the new bank, and the traffic light, notwithstanding the fact that New York was no more than an hour away by car, Laurel was still what it was when George Washington, as the legend ran, had spent the night at Hazard House there–a drowsy, little country town.

The service station with its row of pumps and concreted forecourt was smart and up to date. Sundry sounds coming from within the large, well-lit interior–the clank of machinery belting, the scream of a lathe–showed that it was mechanically well-equipped. The young man, turning from his contemplation of the quiet street to survey it, found himself under the unyielding gaze of the worker in overalls. He was not embarrassed. With imperturbable mien he made a cursory inspection of himself and his attire and, seemingly satisfied with his scrutiny, gravely devoted himself to the task of staring the other out.

A grubby mechanic, a goblin-like figure of indeterminate age, emerged from the garage.

“Are you Mr. Trevor Dene?’ he said hoarsely to the customer.

With a faintly bored expression the young man shifted his eyes from the youth in overalls. “Yes, indeed,’ he replied.

“You’re wanted on the ‘phone,’ the mechanic announced.

“Is that you, Trevor?’ said a voice when Dene took the call–a girl’s voice, crisp and clear.

“My senses’ idol!’ exclaimed Mr. Dene.

“Are you aware that it’s eleven o’clock, that we promised to take those books over to Aunt Julia at Rosemount before lunch, and that we’re lunching with the Henry Tallifers at the Yacht Club at one?’

“Nancy, sweetness, I...’

“Does it really take an hour and a half to get a tire repaired, even in Laurel?’

“My soul’s delight, I had a blow-out coming here. That makes two tires instead of one...’

“I think it’s too bad of you to keep me waiting...’

“I think we want a brace of new tires. But, hold your horses, honey, I shan’t be long now. The gnome in waiting’s on the job...’

“Please hurry up. You know what Aunt Julia is. We can’t dash in and out as if we were going to a fire...’

“Nancy...’

“What?’

“How long have we been married?’

“Two years, isn’t it?’

“No more, no less. Shall I tell you something extraordinary?’

“No! Chase those garage people instead!’

“I’ve run them ragged. Twice the gnome has knocked off work to have a good cry. He says he envies Uncle Tom who had only Legree to deal with...’

“You’re an idiot!’

“You’re sweet. I was going to tell you, we’ve been married for two years and the sound of your voice still sends shivers up my spine...’

“Anyone would think I was Dracula. It’s odd, Mr. Dene, but I kind of like you, too. But I won’t if you keep me waiting much longer!’

“I fly on the wings of desire!’ said Mr. Dene. And hung up.

Crouched on the garage floor the gnome-like mechanic was dealing flail-like blows at a tire. Outside the youth in overalls had not budged from his position. On Dene’s reappearance he proceeded to resume his prolonged and silent survey of the customer.

At length, shifting his gum, he said, “Stayin’ over to Heathfield, are you?’

“That’s right,’ said Dene.

“For the costoom ball tomorrow, likely?’

“That’s right,’ said Dene again.

The youth’s eye rested on him stolidly. “Didn’t I see Miss Ayleswood as was, that used to live over to Rosemount, ridin’ by with Mrs. Waverly yesterday?’

“It’s quite possible,’ Dene agreed. “She’s staying with the Waverlys at Heathfield, too!’

“Married an Englishman, didn’t she?’

“I believe so!’

The youth nodded impressively. “There was a piece in the paper about it. It said he was a famous detective. From Scotland Yard. Is he staying there, too?’

“I believe so!’

The other removed his gum and dropped it in the road. “I never saw a Scotland Yard man, ‘cept in the movies. What’s he like?’

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