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Mrs. Peixada written by Henry Harland who was an American novelist and editor. This book was published in 1886. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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CHAPTER I—A CASE IS STATED.
CHAPTER II.—“A VOICE, A MYSTERY.”
CHAPTER IV.—“THAT NOT IMPOSSIBLE SHE.”
CHAPTER V.—“A NOTHING STARTS THE SPRING.”
CHAPTER VI.—“THE WOMAN WHO HESITATES.”
CHAPTER VII.—ENTER MRS. PEIXADA.
CHAPTER VIII.—“WHAT REST TO-NIGHT?”
CHAPTER IX.—AN ORDEAL.
CHAPTER X.—“SICK OF A FEVER.”
CHAPTER XI.—“HOW SHE ENDEAVORED TO EXPLAIN HER LIFE.”
CHAPTER XII.—“THE FINAL STATE O’ THE STORY.”
ON more than one account the 25th of April will always be a notable anniversary in the calendar of Mr. Arthur Ripley. To begin with, on that day he pocketed his first serious retainer as a lawyer.
He got down-town a little late that morning. The weather was superb—blue sky and summer temperature. Central Park was within easy walking distance. His own engagements, alas, were not pressing. So he had treated himself to an afterbreakfast ramble across the common.
On entering his office, toward eleven o’clock, he was surprised to find the usually empty chairs already tenanted. Mr. Mendel, the brewer, was established there, in company with two other gentlemen whom Arthur did not recognize. The sight of these visitors caused the young man a palpitation. Could it be—? He dared not complete the thought. That a client had at last sought him out, was too agreeable an hypothesis to be entertained.
Mr. Mendel greeted him with the effusiveness for which he is distinguished, and introduced his companions respectively as Mr. Peixada and Mr. Rimo. Of old time, when Arthur’s father was still alive, and when Arthur himself had trotted about in knee-breeches and short jackets, Mr. Mendel had been their next door neighbor. Now he made the lawyer feel undignified by asking a string of personal questions: “Vail, how iss mamma?” and “Not married yet, eh?” and “Lieber Gott! You must be five-and-twenty—so tall, and with dot long mustache—yes?” And so forth; smiling the while with such benevolence that Arthur could not help answering politely, though he did hope that a desire for family statistics was not the sole motive of the brewer’s visit.
But by and by Mendel cleared his throat, and assumed a look of importance. His voice modulated into a graver key, as he announced, “The fact is that we—or rather, my friends, Mr. Peixada and Mr. Rimo—want to consult you about a little matter of business.” He leaned back in his chair, drawing a deep breath, as though the speech had exhausted him; mopped his brow with his handkerchief, and flourished his thumb toward Peixada.
“Ah,” replied Arthur, bowing to the latter, “I am happy to be at your service, sir.”
“Yes,” said Peixada, in a voice several sizes larger than the situation required, “Mr. Mendel recommends you to us as a young man who is smart, and who, at the same time, is not so busy but that he can bestow upon our affairs the attention we wish them to have.”
Notwithstanding Arthur’s delight at the prospect of something to do, Peixada’s tone, a mixture as it was of condescension and imperiousness, jarred a little. Arthur did not like the gratuitous assumption that he was “not so busy,” etc., true though it might be; nor did he like the critical way in which Peixada eyed him. “Indeed,” he said, speaking of it afterward, “it gave me very much such a sensation as a fellow must experience when put up for sale in the Turkish slave market—a feeling that my ’points’ were being noted, and my money value computed. I half expected him to continue, ’Open your mouth, show your teeth!’.rdquo; Peixada was a tall, portly individual of fifty-odd, with a swarthy skin, brown, beady eyes, a black coat upon his back, and a fat gold ring around his middle finger. The top of his head was as bald as a Capuchin’s, and shone like a disk of varnished box-wood. It was surrounded by a circlet of crisp, dark, curly hair. He had a solemn manner that proclaimed him to be a person of consequence. It turned out that he was president of a one-horse insurance company. Mr. Rimo appeared to be but slightly in advance of Arthur’s own age—a tiny strip of a body, wearing a resplendent cravat, a dotted waistcoat, pointed patent-leather gaiters, and finger-nails trimmed talon-shape—a thoroughbred New York dandy, of the least effeminate type.
“I suppose the name, Peixada,” the elder of the pair went on, “is not wholly unfamiliar to you.”
“Oh, no—by no means,” Arthur assented, wondering whether he had ever heard it before.
“I suppose the circumstances of my brother’s death are still fresh in your mind.”
Arthur put on an intelligent expression, and inwardly deplored his ignorance. Yet—Peixada?
Peixada? the name did have a familiar ring, of a truth. But where and in what connection had he heard it?
“Let me see,” he ventured, “that was in—?”
“In July, ’seventy-nine—recollect?”
Ah, yes; to be sure; he recollected. So this man was a brother of the Peixada who, rather less than half a dozen years ago, had been murdered, and whose murder had set New York agog. In a general way Arthur recalled the glaring accounts of the matter that had appeared in the newspapers at the time. “Yes,” he said, feeling that it behooved him to say something, “it was very sad.”
“Fearful!” put in Mr. Mendel.
“Of course,” Peixada resumed, in his pompous style, “of course you followed the trial as it was reported in the public prints; but perhaps you have forgotten the particulars. Had I better refresh your memory?”
“That would be a good idea,” said Arthur.—To what was the way being paved?
With the air of performing a ceremony, Peixada rose, unbuttoned his coat, extracted a bulky envelope from the inner pocket, re-seated himself, and handed the envelope to Arthur. It proved to contain newspaper clippings. “Please glance them through,” said Peixada.
The Peixada murder had been a sensational and peculiarly revolting affair. One July night, 1879, Mr. Bernard Peixada, “a retired Jewish merchant,” had died at the hands of his wife. Edward Bolen, coachman, in the attempt to protect his employer, had sustained a death-wound for himself. Mrs. Peixada, “the perpetrator of these atrocities,” as Arthur gathered from the records now beneath his eye, “was a young and handsome woman, of a respectable Hebrew family, who must have been actuated by a depraved desire to possess herself of her husband’s wealth.” They had “surprised her all but red-handed in the commission of the crime,” though “too late to avert its dire results.” Eventually she was tried in the Court of General Sessions, and acquitted on the plea of insanity. Arthur remembered—as, perhaps, the reader does—that her acquittal had been the subject of much popular indignation. “She is no more insane than you or I,” every body had said; “she is simply lacking in the moral sense. Another evidence that you can’t get a jury to be impartial when a pretty woman is concerned.”
“She was bad,” continued Peixada, as Arthur returned the papers, “bad through and through. I warned my brother against her before his marriage.
“‘What,’ said I, ’what do you suppose she would marry an old man like you for, except your money?’ He said, ’Never mind.’ She was young and showy, and Bernard lost his head.”
“She was doocedly handsome, a sooperb creature to look at, you know,” cried Mr. Rimo, with the accent of a connoisseur.
“Hainsome is as hainsome does,” quoth Mr. Mendel, sententiously.
“She was as cold as ice, as hard as alabaster,” said Peixada, perhaps meaning adamant. “The point is that after her release from prison she took out letters of administration upon my brother’s estate.”
“Why, I thought she was insane,” said Arthur. “A mad woman would not be a competent administratrix.”
“Exactly. I interposed objections on that ground. But she answered that she had recovered; that although insane a few months before—at the time of the murder—she was all right again now. The surrogate decided in her favor. A convenient form of insanity, eh?”
“Were there children?” Arthur inquired.
“No—none. My nephew, Mr. Rimo, son of my sister who is dead, and I myself, were the only next of kin. She paid us our shares right away.” Then what could he be driving at now? Arthur waited for enlightenment.
“But now,” Peixada presently went on, “now I have discovered that my brother left a will.”
“Ah, I understand. You wish to have it admitted to probate?”
“Precisely. But first I wish to find Mrs. Peixada. The will isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, unless we can get hold of her. You see, she has about half the property in her possession.”
“There was no real estate?”
“Not an acre; but the personalty amounted to a good many thousands of dollars.”
“And you don’t know where she is?”
“I haven’t an idea.”
“Have you made any efforts to find out?”
“Well, I should say I had—made every effort in my power. That’s what brings me here. I want you to carry on the search.”
“I shouldn’t imagine it would be hard work. A woman—a widow—of wealth is always a conspicuous object—trebly so, when she is handsome too, and has been tried for murder. But tell me, what, have you done?”
“You’ll be surprised when you hear. I myself supposed it would be plain sailing. But listen.” Peixada donned a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, opened a red leather memorandum-book, and read aloud from its pages. The substance of what he read was this. He had begun by visiting Mrs. Peixada’s attorneys, Messrs. Short and Sondheim, the firm that had defended her at her trial. With them he got his labor for his pains. They had held no communication with the lady in question since early in January, 1881, at which date they had settled her accounts before the surrogate. She was then traveling from place to place in Europe. Her last letter, postmarked Vienna, had said that for the next two months her address would be poste restante at the same city. From the office of Short and Sondheim Mr. Peixada went to the office of his sister-in-law’s surety, the Eagle and Phoenix Trust Company, No.—Broadway. There he was referred to the secretary, Mr. Oxford. Mr. Oxford told him that the Company had never had any personal dealings with the administratrix, she having acted throughout by her attorneys. The Company had required the entire assets of the estate to be deposited in its vaults, and had honored drafts only on the advice of counsel. Thus protected, the Company had had no object in keeping the administratrix in view. Our inquirer next bethought him of Mrs. Peixada’s personal friends—people who would be likely still to maintain relations with her—and saw such of these as he could get at. One and all professed ignorance of her whereabouts—had not heard of her or from her since the winter of ’80—’81. Finally it occurred to him that as his brother’s estate had consisted solely of stocks and bonds, he could by properly directed investigations learn to what corner of the world Mrs. Peixada’s dividends were sent. But this last resort also proved a failure. The stocks and bonds, specified in the surrogate’s inventory, had been sold out. He could find no clew to the reinvestments made of the money realized.
Peixada closed his note-book with a snap.
“You see,” he said, “I’ve been pretty thorough and pretty unsuccessful. Can you think of any stone that I have left unturned?”
“How about relatives? Have you questioned her relatives?” asked Arthur.
“Of relatives—in America, at least—Mrs. P. has none. Her father died shortly after her marriage. Her mother died during the trial.”
“But uncles, aunts, sister, brothers?”
“None to my knowledge. She was an only child.”
“Her maiden-name was—?”
“Karon—Judith Karon. Her father, Michael Karon, used to keep a jewelry store on Second Avenue.”
“About what is her age?”
“She was twenty-one at the time of the murder. That would make her twenty-five or six now.”
“So young, indeed? Have you a photograph of her?”
“A photograph? No. I don’t know that she ever sat for one. But I have these.”
Peixada produced a couple of rough wood-engravings, apparently cuttings from illustrated papers, and submitted them for examination.
“They don’t look any thing like each other,” said Arthur. “Does either of them look like her?”
“Not much,” Peixada answered. “In fact, the resemblance is so slight that they wouldn’t assist at all in identifying her. On the contrary, I think they’d lead you quite astray.”
Said Mr. Rimo, “Bah! They give you no more idea of her than they do of Queen Victoria. They’d answer for any other woman just as well.”
Arthur said, “That’s too bad. But I suppose you have brought a copy of the will?”
“Oh, yes, here’s the original. It is in my brother’s handwriting, dated a month before his death, and witnessed by two gentlemen of high standing. I have spoken to each of them. They acknowledge their signatures, and remember the circumstances. I made a search for a will right after Bernard died, but could find none. This I unearthed most unexpectedly. I was turning over the leaves of my poor brother’s prayer-book, when, there it was, lying between the pages.”
The will was brief and vigorous. In the name of God, amen, (on a half-sheet of legal-cap), it devised and bequeathed all the property, real or personal, of which testator should die seized or possessed, to his dearly beloved brother, Benjamin Peixada, and his dearly beloved nephew, Maurice Rimo, for them to hold and enjoy the same, in fee simple, share and share alike, absolutely and forever, provided that they should pay annually to testator’s widow, (until such time as she should re-marry, or depart this life), the sum of three hundred dollars. It was attested by a well-known Jewish physician and by a well-known Jewish banker.
“It would seem from this,” said Arthur, “that your brother got bravely over his illusions concerning his wife. It’s lucky he had no real estate. She would be entitled to her dower, you know, as a matter of course.”
“Yes, I know; and I guess that was the reason why my brother converted all his real estate into personalty shortly after his marriage—so that he could dispose of it as he chose. The reference to real estate here in the will is doubtless an inadvertence. He was probably following a form. He couldn’t trust his wife. She made his life wretched.”
“Well,” Arthur began—but Peixada interrupted.
“I want you,” he said in his dictatorial way, “to name a sum for which you will undertake to continue this investigation and bring it to a successful issue; that is, find Mrs. P., have the will proved, and compel her to refund the property—upwards of one hundred thousand dollars, unless she has squandered it—that remains subject to her control.”
“Oh, I can’t name a lump sum off-hand,” replied Arthur, “neither can I guarantee success. I would of course do my utmost to succeed, but there is always the chance of failure. The amount of my compensation would be determined by the time I should have to spend, and the difficulties I should have to encounter.”
“That sounds reasonable. Then suppose I should agree to defray all expenses by the way, pay a fee, as you suggest, proportionate to your service at the end, and now at the outset give you a retainer of—say two hundred and fifty dollars; would you be satisfied?”
Arthur’s heart leaped. But to exhibit his true emotions would be unprofessional. He constrained himself to answer quietly, “Yes, I should be satisfied.” It was, however, with a glow of genuine enthusiasm for his client that he folded up a check for the tidy sum of two hundred and fifty dollars, and tucked it into his pocket.
Said Peixada, “I shall trust the entire management of this business to your discretion. Only one thing I shall suggest. I think an adroitly worded advertisement in the principal newspapers of this country and Europe—an advertisement that would lead the reader to suppose that we felt friendly toward Mrs. P.—would be a wise measure. For instance, a notice to the effect that she could learn something to her advantage by communicating with you.”
“Oh, that would be scarcely honorable, would it?”
“Honorable? In dealing with a murderess—with a woman, moreover, who is enjoying wealth not rightly hers—talk about honorable! All means are fair by which to catch a thief.”
“But even so, she would be too shrewd to take the bait. An advertisement would merely put her on her guard. Mustn’t bell the cat, you know.”
“That’s one way of considering it. On the other hand—However, I simply offer the suggestion; you’re the pilot and can take whatever course you please.”
“Well, then, we’ll reserve our advertisement till other expedients have failed. The first thing to do is—” But Arthur stopped himself. He did not clearly know what the first thing to do was. “I’ll think about it,” he added.
“Good,” said Peixada, rising; “there’s nothing further for me to detain you with to-day.”
“Give my regards to mamma, when you write, Arthur,” said Mr. Mendel.
“I leave you my memoranda,” said Peixada, laying his note-book upon Arthur’s desk.
“Take care of yourself,” enjoined Mr. Rimo, smiling and waving his hand.
The three gentlemen filed out. Arthur remained seated in his arm-chair a long while after their departure, his eyes fixed upon the wall, his fingers busily twirling his mustache. For three years he had been enrolled among the members of the bar. This was the first case he had received that seemed really worthy of his talents.
ARTHUR RIPLEY—good-natured, impressionable, unpractical Arthur Ripley, as his familiars called him—dwelt in Beekman Place. Beek-man Place, as the reader may not know, is a short, chocolate-colored, unpretentious thoroughfare, perched on the eastern brink of Manhattan Island, and commanding a fine view of the river, of the penitentiary, and of the oil factories at Hunter’s Point. Arthur and a friend of his, Mr. Julian Hetzel, kept house in the two upper stories of No. 43, an old German woman named Josephine acting as their maid-of-all-work. They had a kitchen, a dining-room, a parlor, two airy dormitories, a light closet which did duty for a guest-chamber; and over and above all, they had the roof. Upon the roof Hetzel had swung a hammock, and in earthen pots round about had ranged an assortment of flowering shrubs; so that by courtesy the roof was commonly styled the loggia. Here, toward sundown on that summery April day mentioned in the last chapter, the chums were seated, sipping their after-dinner coffee and smoking their after-dinner cigarettes. They could not have wished for a pleasanter spot for their pleasant occupation. By fits and starts a sweet breeze puffed up from the south. Westward the sun was sinking into a crimson fury. Eastward the horizon glowed with a delicate pink light. Below them, on one side, stretched the river—tinted like mother-o’-pearl by the ruddy sky overhead—-up which a procession of Sound steamboats was sweeping in stately single file. On the other side lay the street, clamorous with the voices of many children at sport. Around the corner, an itinerant band was playing selections from Trovatore. Blatant and faulty though the music was, softened by distance, it had a quite agreeable effect. Of course, the topic of conversation was Arthur’s case.
Hetzel said, “It will be slow work, and tedious.”
“On the contrary,” retorted Arthur, “it seems to me to furnish an opportunity for brilliant strategy. I must get a clew, you know, and then clinch the business with a few quick strokes.”
“Just so; after the manner of Monsieur Lecoq. Well, where do you propose to strike your clew?”
“Oh, I haven’t started in yet. I suppose I shall hit upon one soon enough.”
“I doubt it. In my opinion you’re booked for a sequence of wearisome details. The quality you’ll require most of, is patience. Besides, if the lady should sniff danger, she’ll be able to elude you at every turn. You want to make it a still hunt.”
“I am aware of that.”
“What’s the first step you mean to take?”
“I haven’t made up my mind. I need time for deliberation.”
“There’s only a single thing to do, and that’s not the least Lecoq-like. Write to the place where she was last known to be—Vienna, did you say?—to the consul or postmaster or prefect of police, or better yet all three, and ask whither she went when she left there. Then, provided you get an answer, write to the next place, and so on down. This will take about a hundred years. So, practically, you see, Peixada has supplied you with permanent employment. The likelihood that it will ultimately succeed is extremely slim. There is danger of a slip-up at every point. However, far be it from me to discourage you.”
“What do you think of Peixada’s plan—an advertisement?”
“Gammon! You don’t fancy she would march with open eyes into a palpable trap like that, do you? I suspect the matter will end by your making a trip to Europe. If Peixada knows what’s what, he’ll bundle you off next week. You could trace her much more effectively in person than by letters.”
“Wouldn’t that be jolly? Only it would involve my neglecting the other business that might turn up if I should stick here.”
“What of it? What other business? What ground have you for believing that any other business will turn up? Has the past been so prolific? Besides, isn’t the summer coming? And isn’t the summer a lawyer’s dull season? You might lose a couple of two-penny district-court cases; but suppose you did. See of what advantage it would be to your reputation. Somebody calls at your office. ’Is Mr. Ripley in?’ ’No,’ replies your clerk, ’Mr. Ripley is abroad on important business.’ ’Ah,’ thinks the caller, ’this Ripley is a flourishing young practitioner.’ And mark my words, nothing hastens success like a reputation for success.”
“Such a picture sends the blood to my head. I mustn’t look at it. It would make me discontented with the reality.”
“If you’re diplomatic,” Hetzel went on, “you can get a liberal education out of this Peixada case. Just fancy jaunting from town to town in Europe, and having your expenses paid. In your moments of leisure you can study art and languages and the manners, costumes, and superstitions of the hoary east.”
“And all the while, Mrs. Peixada may be living quietly here in New York! Isn’t it exasperating to realize the difficulty of putting your finger upon a given human being, when antecedently it would seem so easy? Nevermind; up-hill work though it be, it’s sure to get interesting. A woman, young, beautiful, totally depraved, a murderess at the age of twenty-one—I wonder what she is like.”
“Oh, probably vulgar to the last degree. Don’t form a sentimental conception of her. Keep your head cool, or else your imagination will get the better of your common sense.”
“No fear of that. But I shall go at the case with all the more zest, because I am anxious to view this novel specimen of womankind.”
“You’ll find she’s a loud, flashy vixen—snapping eyes, strident voice, bediamonded person. Women who resort to powder and shot to get rid of their husbands in this peaceable epoch of divorce, are scarcely worth a respectable man’s curiosity.”
“Hello!” cried Arthur, abruptly. “What’s that?”
“Oh, that,” answered Hetzel, “that’s the corner house—No. 46.”
Hetzel spoke metonymically. “That” was a descending musical scale—fa, mi, re, do, si, la, sol, fa,—which rang out all at once in a clear soprano voice, from someplace near at hand; a wonderfully powerful voice, with a superb bugle-like quality.
“Fa, sol, la, si, do, re, mi, fa,” continued the songstress. .
“By Jove,” exclaimed Arthur, “that’s something like.” Then for a moment he was all ears, and did not speak. At last, “The corner house?” he queried. “Has some one moved in?”
“Yes,” was Hetzel’s answer; “they moved in yesterday. I had this all the morning.”
“Exactly, and a piano to boot. Scales and exercises till I was nearly mad.”
“But this—this is magnificent. You were to be envied.”
“Oh, yes, it’s very fine. But when a man is trying to prepare an examination paper in the integral calculus, it distracts and interferes. She quite broke up my morning’s work.” Hetzel was a tutor of mathematics in a college not a hundred miles from New York.
“Have you seen her?” Arthur asked.
“No, they only took possession yesterday. A singular thing about it is that they appear to confine themselves to one floor. The blinds are closed every where except in the third story, and last night there was no light except in the third story windows. Queer, eh?”
Arthur approached the verge of the roof, and looked over at the corner house across the street. The third story windows were open wide, and out of them proceeded that beautiful soprano voice, now practicing intervals—fa-si, sol-do, and so forth. “Well,” he affirmed, “this is a regular romance. Of course a woman with such a voice is young and beautiful and every thing else that’s lovely. And then, living cooped up on the third floor of that dismal corner house—she must be in needy circumstances; which adds another element of charm and mystery. I suppose she’s in training to become a prima donna. But who are they? Who lives with her?”
“How should I know? I haven’t seen any of them. I take it for granted that she doesn’t live alone, that’s all.”
“Hush-sh!” cried Arthur, motioning with his hand.
The invisible musician had now abandoned her exercises, and was fairly launched upon a song, accompanying herself with a piano. Neither Arthur nor Hetzel recognized the tune, but they greatly enjoyed listening to it, because it was rendered with so much intelligence and delicacy of expression. They could not make out the words, either, but from the languid, sensuous swing of the melody, it was easy to infer that the theme was love. There were several verses; and after each of them, occurred a brilliant interlude upon the piano, in which the refrain was caught up and repeated with variations. Arthur thought he had never heard sweeter music in his life; and very likely he never had. “That woman,” he declared, when silence was restored, “that woman, whoever she is, has a soul—a rare enough piece of property in this materialistic age. Such power of making music betokens a corresponding power of deep feeling, clear thinking, noble acting. I’d give my right hand for a glimpse of her. Why doesn’t some mesmeric influence bring her to the window? Oh, for an Asmodeus to unroof her dwelling, and let me peep in at her—observe her, as she sits before her key-board, unconscious of observation!” Even Hetzel, who was not prone to enthusiasms, who, indeed, derived an expert’s satisfaction from applying the wet blanket, admitted that she sang “like an angel.”
Arthur went on, “Opera? Talk about opera? Why, this beats the opera all hollow. Can you conceive a more exquisite mise en scene? Twilight! Lingering in the west—over there behind the cathedral—a pale, rosy flush! Above, a star or two, twinkling diamond-like on the breast of the coming night! In our faces, the fragrance of the south wind! Below us, the darkling river, alive with multitudinous craft! Can your Opera House, can your Academy of Music boast any thing equal to it? And then, as the flower and perfection of this loveliness, sounding like a clarion from heaven, that glorious woman’s voice. I tell you, man, it’s poetry—it’s Rossetti, Alfred de Musset, Heinrich Heine—it’s—Hello! There she goes again.”
This time her selection was the familiar but ever beautiful Erl Konig, which she sang with such dramatic spirit that Hetzel himself exclaimed, when she had finished, “It actually made my heart stand still.”
“‘Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir!’” hummed Arthur. “Ah, how persuasively she murmured it! And then, ’Mein Vater, mein Vater, und horest du nicht?’.—wasn’t it blood-curdling? Didn’t it convey the entire horror of the situation? The agony of terror that bound the child’s heart? Beekman Place has had an invaluable acquisition. I’ll wager, she’s as good and as beautiful as St. Cecilia, her patroness. What do you guess, is she dark or fair, big or little?”
“The odds are that she’s old and ugly. Patti herself, you know, is upwards of forty. It isn’t probable that with her marvelous musical accomplishments, this lady is endowed with youth and beauty also. I wouldn’t cherish great expectations of her, if I were you; because then, if you should ever chance to see her, you’ll be so much disappointed. Better make up your mind that her attractions begin and end with her voice. Complexion? Did you ask my opinion of her complexion? Oh, she’s blonde—that goes without saying.”
“Wrong again! She’s a brunette of the first water; dusky skin, red mouth, black, lustrous eyes. You can tell that from the fire she puts into her music. As for her age, you’re doubly mistaken. If you had the least faculty for adding two and two together—arithmetician that you are—you’d know at once that a voice of such freshness, such compass, and such volume, could not pertain to a woman far beyond twenty. On the other hand, no mere school-girl could sing with such intelligent expression. Wherefore, striking an average, I’ll venture she’s in the immediate vicinity of twenty-five. However, conjectures are neither here nor there. Where’s Josephine? Let’s have her up, and interrogate her.”
With this speech, Arthur began to pound his heel upon the roof—the method which these young bachelors employed to make known to their domestic that her attendance was wanted. When the venerable Josephine had emerged waist-high from the scuttle-door, “Josephine,” demanded Arthur, “who is the new tenant of the corner house?”
But Josephine could not tell. Indeed, she was not even aware that the corner house had been taken. Arthur set her right on this score, and, “Now,” he continued, “I wish you would gossip with the divers and sundry servants of the neighborhood until you have found out the most you can about these new-comers, and then report to me. For this purpose, you are allowed an evening’s outing. But as you prize my good-will, be both diligent and discreet.”
As the twilight deepened into darkness, Arthur remained posted at the roof’s edge, looking wistfully over toward the third-story windows of the corner house. By and by a light flashed up behind them; but the next instant an unseen hand drew the shades; and a few moments later the light was extinguished.
“They retire early,” he grumbled.
“By the way, don’t you think it’s getting a little chilly up here?” asked Hetzel.
“Decidedly,” he assented, shivering. “Shall we go below?”
They descended into their sitting-room—a cozy, book-lined apartment, with a permanent savor of tobacco smoke upon its breath—and chatted together till a late hour. The Peixada matter and the mysterious songstress of No. 46 pretty equally divided their attention.
Next morning Hetzel—whose bed-chamber, at the front of the house, overlooked the street; whereas Arthur’s, at the rear, overlooked the river—Hetzel was awakened by a loud rap at his door.
“Eh—er—what? Who is it?” he cried, starting up in bed.
“Can I come in?” Arthur’s voice demanded.
Without waiting for a reply, Arthur entered.
Hetzel’s wits getting out of tangle, “What unheard-of event brings you abroad so early?” he inquired.
“Early? You don’t call this early? It’s halfpast seven.”
“Well, that’s a round half hour earlier than I ever knew you to rise before. ’Is any thing the matter? Are you ill?”
“Bosh! I’m always up at half-past seven,” averred Arthur, with brazen indifference to the truth.
He crossed the floor, and sent the curtains screeching aloft; having done which, he established himself in a rocking-chair, facing the window, and rocked to and fro.
“Ah, I—I understand,” said Hetzel.
“The motive that impelled you to rise with the lark.”
“You’re making much ado about nothing,” said Arthur. But he blushed and fidgeted uncomfortably. “Any body would suppose I was an inveterate sluggard. Grant that I am up a little in advance of my usual hour—is that an occasion for so much talk?”
“The question is, rather,” rejoined Hetzel, with apparent irrelevancy, “are you rewarded?”
For a moment Arthur tried to appear puzzled; but as his eyes met those of his comrade, the corners of his mouth twitched convulsively; and thereupon, with a shrug of the shoulders, he laughed outright.
“Well, I’m not ashamed, anyhow,” he said.
“I’d give a good deal for a glimpse of her; and if I can catch one before I go down-town, why shouldn’t I?”
“Of course,” replied Hetzel, sympathetically.
“But don’t be secretive. Let’s have the results of your observation.”
“Oh, as yet the results are scanty. The household seems to be asleep—blinds down, and every thing as still as a mouse.—No, there, the blinds are raised—but whoever raises them knows how to keep out of sight. Not even a hand comes in view.—Now, all’s quiet again.—Ah, speaking of mice, they have a cat. A black cat sallies forth upon the stone ledge outside the window, and performs its ablutions with tongue and paw.—Another! Two cats. This one is of the tiger sort, striped black and gray. Isn’t it odd—two cats? What on earth, do you suppose, possesses them to keep two cats?—One of them, the black one, returns indoors. Number two whets his claws upon the wood of the window frame—gazes hungrily at the sparrows flitting round about—yawns—curls himself up—prepares for a nap there on the stone in the sun.—Why doesn’t she come to the window? She ought to want a breath of the morning air. This is exasperating.”
The above monologue had been delivered piecemeal, at intervals of a minute or so in duration. At its finish, Hetzel got out of bed.
“Well,” he cried, stretching himself, “maintain your vigil, while I go for a bath. Perhaps on my return you may have something more salient to communicate.”
But when he came back, Arthur said, “Not a sign of life since you left, except that in response to a summons from within the tiger-cat has reentered the house; probably is discussing his breakfast at this moment. Hurry up—dress—and let us do likewise.”
At the breakfast table, “Well, Josephine,” said Arthur, “tell us of the night.”
Josephine replied that she had subjected all the available maid-servants of the block to a pumping process, but that the most she had been able to extract from them was—what her employers already knew. On Thursday, the 24th, some person or persons to the deponents unknown, had moved into No. 46. But two cart-loads of furniture, besides a piano, had been delivered there; and the new occupants appeared to have taken only one floor: whence it was generally assumed that they were not people of very great consequence. Arthur directed her to keep her eyes and ears open, and to inform him from time to time of any further particulars that she might glean. This she promised to do. Then he lingered about the front of the house till Hetzel began to twit him, demanding sarcastically whether he wasn’t going downtown at all that morning. “Oh, well, I suppose I must,” he sighed, and reluctantly took himself off.
Down-town he stopped at the surrogate’s office, and verified the statements Peixada had made about the administration of his brother’s estate. Mrs. Peixada had taken the oath to her accounting before the United States consul at Vienna, January 11, 1881, Short and Sondheim appearing for her here. It was decidedly against the woman—added, if any thing could add, to the blackness of her offense—the fact that she was represented by such disreputable attorneys as Short and Sondheim.
From the court house, Arthur proceeded to Peixada’s establishment in Reade Street near Broadway. He had concluded that the search for Mrs. Peixada would have to be very much such an inch by inch process as Hetzel had predicted. He could not rid his mind of a feeling that on general principles it ought to be no hard task to determine the whereabouts of a rich, handsome, and notorious widow: but when he came down to the circumstances of this particular case, he had to acknowledge that it was an undertaking fraught with difficulties and with uncertainties. He wanted to consult his client, and tell him the upshot of his own deliberations. The more he considered it, the more persuaded he became that he had better cross the ocean and follow in person the trail that Mrs. Peixada had doubtless left behind her. Probably the wish fostered the thought. As Hetzel had said, he would not run the risk of losing much by his absence. A summer in Europe had been the fondest dream of his youth. The very occupation of itself, moreover, was inviting. He would be a huntsman—his game, a beautiful woman! And then, to conduct the enterprise by letters would not merely consume an eternity of time, but ten chances to one, it would end in failure. It did not strike him that this was properly a detective’s employment, rather than a lawyer’s; and even had it done so, I don’t know that it would have dampened his ardor.—Meanwhile, he had turned into Reade Street, and reached Peixada’s place. He was surprised to find it closed, until he remembered that to-day was Saturday and that Peixada was an orthodox Jew. So he saw nothing for it but to remain inactive till Monday. He returned to his office, and spent the remainder of the day reading a small, canary-colored volume in the French language—presumably a treatise upon French jurisprudence.
He dined with a couple of professional brethren at a restaurant that evening, and did not get home till after dark. Ascending his stoop, he stopped to glance over at the corner house. A light shone at the edges of the curtains in the third story; but even as he stood there, looking toward it, and wishing that by some necromancy his gaze might be empowered to penetrate beyond, the light went out. Immediately afterward, however, he heard the shades fly clattering upward; and then, all at once, the silence was cloven by the same beautiful soprano voice that had interested him so much the night before. At first it was very low and soft, a mere liquid murmur; but gradually it waxed stronger and more resonant; and Arthur recognized the melody as that of Schubert’s Wohin. The dreamy, plaintive phrases, tremulous with doubt and tense with yearning, gushed in a mellow stream from out the darkness. No wonder they set Arthur’s curiosity on edge. The exquisite quality of the voice, and the perfect understanding with which the song was interpreted, were enough to prompt a myriad visions of feminine loveliness in any man’s brain. That a woman could sing in this wise, and yet not be pure and bright and beautiful, seemed a self-contradictory proposition. Arthur seated himself comfortably upon the broad stone balustrade of his door-step, and made up his mind that he would retain that posture until the musical entertainment across the way should be concluded.
“I wonder,” he soliloquized, “why she chooses to sing in the dark. I hope, for reasons of sentiment—because it is in darkness that the effect of music is strongest and most subtle. I wonder whether she is alone, or whether she is singing to somebody—perhaps her lover. I wonder—ah, with what precision she caught that high note! How firmly she held it! How daintily she executed the cadenza! A woman who can sing like this, how she could love! Or rather, how she must have loved already! For such a comprehension of passion as her music reveals, could never have come to be, except through love. I wonder whether I shall ever know her. Heaven help me, if she should turn out, as Hetzel suspects, old and ugly. But that’s not possible. Whatever the style of her features may be, whatever the number of her years, a young and ardent spirit stirs within her. Isn’t it from the spirit that true beauty springs? I mean by the spirit, the capability of inspiring and of experiencing noble emotions. This woman is human. Her music proves that. And just in so far as a woman is deeply, genuinely human, is she lovely and lovable.”
In this platitudinous vein Arthur went on. Meanwhile the lady had wandered away from Schubert’s Wohin, and after a brief excursion up and down the keyboard, had begun a magically sweet and thrilling melody, which her auditor presently identified as Chopin’s Berceuse, so arranged that the performer could re-enforce certain periods with her voice. He listened, captivated, to the supple modulations of the music: and it was with a sensation very like a pang of physical pain that suddenly he heard it come to an abrupt termination-break sharply off in the middle of a bar, as though interrupted by some second person. “If it is her lover to whom she is singing,” he said, “I don’t blame him for stopping her. He could no longer hold himself back—resist the impulse to kiss the lips from which such beautiful sounds take wing.” Then, immediately, he reproached himself for harboring such impertinent fancies. And then he waited on the alert, hoping that the music would recommence. But he waited and hoped in vain. At last, “Well, I suppose there’ll be no more to-night,” he muttered, and turned to enter the house. As he was inserting his latch-key into the lock, somebody below on the sidewalk pronounced a hoarse “G’d evening, Mr. Ripley.”
“Ah, good evening, William,” returned Arthur, affably, looking down at a burly figure at the bottom of the steps.—William was the night-watchman of Beekman Place.
“Oh, I say—by the way—William—” called Arthur, as the watchman was proceeding up the street.
“Yassir?” queried William, facing about.
Arthur ran down the stoop and joined his interlocutor at the foot.
“I say, William, I see No. 46 has found a tenant. You don’t happen to know who it is?”
“Yes,” responded William; “moved in Thursday—old party of the name of Hart.”
“Old party? Indeed! Then I suppose he has a daughter—eh? It was the daughter who was singing a little while ago?”
“I dunno if she’s got a darter. Party’s a woman. I hain’t seen no darter. Mebbe it was the lady herself.”
“Oh, no; that’s not possible.—Hart, do you say the name is?”
“Mrs. G. Hart.”
“What does G. stand for?”
“I dunno. Might be John.”
“Who is Mr. G. Hart?”
“I guess there ain’t none. Folks say she’s a I widder.—Well, Wiggins ought to thank his stars to have that house taken at last. It’s going on four years now, it’s lain there empty.”
Mused Arthur, absently, “An old lady named Hart; and he doesn’t know whether the musician is her daughter or not.”
“Fact is,” put in William, “I dunno much about ’em—only what I’ve heerd. But we’ll know all about them before long. Every body knows every body in this neighborhood.”
“Yes, that’s so.—Well, good night.”
“Good night, sir,” said William, touching his cap.
Upstairs in the sitting-room, Arthur threw himself upon a sofa. Hetzel was away. By and by Arthur picked up a book from the table, and tried to read. He made no great headway, however: indeed, an hour elapsed, and he had not yet turned the page. His thoughts were busy with the fair one of the corner house. He had spun out quite a history for her before he had done. He devoutly trusted that ere long Fate would arrange a meeting between her and himself. He whistled over the melody of Wohin, imitating as nearly as he could the manner in which she had sung it. When his mind reverted to the Peixada business, as it did presently, lo! The prospective trip to Europe had lost half its charm. He felt that there was plenty to keep one interested here in New York.
All day Sunday, despite the fun at his expense in which Hetzel liberally indulged, Arthur haunted the front of the house. But when he went to bed Sunday night, he was no wiser respecting his musical neighbor than he had been four-and-twenty hours before.
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