Murder Runs in the Family - Hulbert Footner - ebook

Murder Runs in the Family ebook

Hulbert Footner

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Opis

Lance McCrea lived in a boarding house. There he met a girl he fell in love with. But their relationship is hampered by a powerful person. Lance tries to find out why this powerful man has some kind of hold over her. When he faces the man down, he finds he has been murdered. Of course, he is not the murderer but is a prime suspect anyway.

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Liczba stron: 351

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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 I

LANCE MCCREA set his door open an inch and listened. She was always the first of the lodgers to come home in the afternoon. At this hour there was nobody in the house except the servants at work in the basement, and Professor Sempill, buried in his study in the extension.

When Lance heard her firm light step on the first flight of stairs, a curious breathlessness took possession of him. He had known the girl only a week, but she had done things to him. Most inconvenient to fall in love when you were out of a job. He knew her name–Freda Rollin–and that was all.

He timed his exit from the room so that they came face to face at the top of the stairs. Both started with surprise. Freda’s start was genuine; Lance’s made to order. The girl’s face lighted up at the sight of him, but instantly became grave again. Lance’s eyes dwelt on her with a kind of hungry pleasure. Without appearing to, he blocked the way to her room.

“You’re earlier than usual,” he said, just to be saying something.

“No,” she answered. “Just the same as usual.”

“Is your work far from here?” he asked.

“Not very.”

His face fell. He was always trying to lead her into telling him something about herself, but she always evaded it.

He tried again. “You’re lucky to have a job in times like these.”

She sighed. “I suppose so.”

“Don’t you consider yourself lucky?” he asked, in surprise.

“Oh yes,” she answered, listlessly. “But you get a kind of yen for freedom. You can’t help longing to see the world.”

“I know,” said Lance, quickly. “What a good time we could have in the world if we had a little money!”

She looked away without answering. Lance’s eyes ate her up. She used neither lip-stick nor rouge, and her brown hair was drawn straight back and twisted in a bun at the nape of her neck. She seemed determined to make herself look as plain as possible, but it only had the effect of emphasizing her clear beautiful features and her steady eyes, Lance thought. It was the blue eyes that had plunged him in a maze. They were full of sadness. This girl could both think and feel. The silence lasted so long that she became uneasy.

“Were you going out?” she asked.

“No, just looking for ink,” he said. “So that I could answer a couple of dozen more ads.”

“I have some ink,” she said. “No need to go all the way downstairs.”

“No hurry,” said Lance, blocking her way. However, she quietly pushed past him and went into her room, leaving the door open. She occupied the top floor rear in Mrs. Peale’s lodging-house, and Lance had the hall room adjoining. He looked wistfully through the door of her room. It was just an ordinary lodging-house room, but the little things of her own that she had spread around lent it a wonderful grace in his eyes. He was trying to spy out whether there were any photographs of young men displayed.

“Can I come in?” he asked, diffidently.

“No,” she said, calmly.

Lance blushed and looked a little foolish. She was always turning him down like this, nevertheless his instinct told him that she liked him. There was that quick blush when she had met him unexpectedly on the stairs.

She brought the bottle of ink to the door, but Lance would not take it right away, for then she would have closed the door. “This house is like a tomb in the day-time,” he said. “All day I am waiting for you to come home.”

She smiled at his impulsiveness, but there was not much fun in it. “Surely you don’t stay in your room all day.”

“No,” he said. “But I’ve pretty well canvassed the local situation by now. There’s nothing to do but wait for some-thing to turn up.”

“Why do you stay in Lounsbery?” she asked. “Wouldn’t you have a better chance in Boston or New York?”

He shook his head. “Things are worse in the big cities. It is only in Lounsbery that business is stirring a little.”

She extended the ink-bottle and he had to take it. “I wish you the best of luck,” she said, making as if to close the door.

It had a horribly final sound, and Lance put his foot against the door. “All day I am waiting for you,” he said, and you shut yourself up as soon as you come home.”

“I have work to do at home.”

“You can’t work all the time. You are young like me.”

A frankly bitter smile twisted her lips. “I must forget all that,” she murmured.

“Why?” he demanded.

“It is not polite to ask questions,” she said, gently pressing the door against his foot as a hint.

Lance began to feel desperate. “Won’t you come out with me tonight?” he blurted out. “To the pictures. Or anywhere?”

For an instant her set face relaxed enchantingly, and the blue eyes sought his in a soft warm glance. But she got her grip immediately. “You can’t afford it,” she said.

“Yes, I can,” he said, eagerly. “I’m not broke yet.”

Her face was like marble now. “It is useless for you to ask me,” she said, firmly. “I can’t come, ever.”

“But why? why?” he pleaded. “At least tell me that.”

She released the pressure on the door. “All right. It is better to be frank and open. It will save trouble later. I cannot be friends with you.”

Lance scowled blackly. He had as good a conceit of himself as most young men. He was perfectly well aware that he was good-looking and well formed. Most girls fell for him. “What’s the matter with me?” he demanded, sorely.

“Nothing,” she said. “But I am not free. There are circumstances that I don’t care to explain. It would be much better for you if you passed me as a stranger when we meet after this. And kinder to me.”

“I couldn’t do that,” he mumbled, wretchedly.

“Then you should find another lodging-house,” she said, relentlessly.

He removed his foot from the door, and she closed it. He went back to his room and flung himself down on his bed. He had never met a girl like this before. He felt humiliated. He raged against her in his mind, but that didn’t make him feel any better.

Her bed was on the other side of the wall from his. Evidently she had forgotten how thin the walls were. He heard a sound that caused him to spring up with a face of dismay. She was lying on her bed, crying. He distinctly heard the soft catch of her breath on the little strangled sobs.

Lance turned red in the face and ran out of his room. He was beyond all thinking of what he was doing. Conventions and proprieties didn’t mean a thing in the world to him then. He threw open the door of her room and ran in.

“Freda! What is the matter?” he cried with all his heart in his voice.

She jumped up, blushing with shame and anger. “How dare you!...How dare you come into my room?” she gasped.

Lance stopped, half abashed. “I couldn’t help myself,” he said, simply. “I couldn’t bear to hear you crying. It was like little knives hacking at my breast.”

“Go!” she said, pointing to the door like an offended queen. “You have nothing to do with me.”

A healthy anger came to Lance’s support, and instead of turning tail he went nearer to her. “I don’t know about that,” he said, stubbornly. “Something tells me that you were crying because it hurt you to turn me down, and I mean to find out.”

She laughed cuttingly. “That’s just your vanity. All men are the same.”

“Why do you want to fight me?” he asked, wondering at her bitterness. “I’m your best friend. I love you.”

“No!” she cried out, as if in pain. “That’s ridiculous. You have known me only for a week.”

“A week is long enough,” said Lance. “A man knows in one moment when he has found the right woman.”

“Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” she cried, covering her ears like a child.

“Why not?” he asked. “I may as well tell you now as any time. I shall never change. No woman has ever got me like you have. We are down to rock-bottom things now. For me it is you or no one.”

Freda was all hunched up on the edge of her bed. “This is madness! This is madness!” she was whispering.

He went closer to her. “Don’t you feel it, too?” he asked.

She stood up. Her face was working painfully. “No! No! No!” she cried, wringing her hands. “You are hateful to me! You are ridiculous! You make me laugh!”

“I don’t believe you,” said Lance. “You make too much fuss about it!” He went closer to her.

“Go away! Go away!” she cried, fending him off with her hands.

But he flung his arms around her and drew her close. With a shiver her body relaxed. Her head fell back and he pressed his lips to hers. For an instant she lay quiet and happy in his arms; her lips responded to his. Then recollection seemed to return to her. She stiffened, and thrust him away.

“Go!” she cried. “You are torturing me.”

Lance had left the door wide open when he entered the room, and they had forgotten about it. At this moment a new voice made itself heard; a man’s voice snarling and hateful: “Who the hell is this fellow?”

Freda clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry, and went staggering back. Lance whirled around. In the door-way he saw a big man, middle-aged, a commanding figure, vaguely familiar; obviously a man of wealth and position. Normally dark and swarthy, his face had now turned almost black with rage.

Lance stiffened. “If it comes to that, who are you?” he asked, coolly.

“I have a right to ask that question, and you have none!” shouted the big man. “Get out of here!”

“Try and put me out!” said Lance.

The girl sank down on the edge of the bed. “Oh, don’t fight!” she gasped.

No power on earth could have kept them from fighting. They had reverted to first principles. They glared at each other. They asked no questions; neither had any desire except to get at the other.

The big man rushed at Lance, swinging his arms like flails. He was as strong as a bull, but he had no science. Lance side-stepped, and sent in a right-arm blow to the cheekbone that jarred him badly. He backed off, scowling at his opponent with a new respect.

The immemorial fighting look was fixed in Lance’s face. He smiled. “Well, come on!” he said.

With a snarl of rage, the other man lowered his head and charged again. His head collided with Lance’s fist, but it didn’t stop him. He was extraordinarily quick for his weight. Foreseeing Lance’s side-step, he turned and flung his arms around the slenderer man. His hot foul breath was in Lance’s face. All the younger man could do was to jab at him ineffectually with half-arm blows.

The big man lifted Lance from the floor and flung him down. He aimed a brutal kick at him, but Lance, as quick as a cat, rolled out of the way and, gaining his feet, came back and jarred him before he recovered from his own impetus.

He ran at Lance again, and the latter gave ground. The older man was already sobbing for breath, and Lance coolly allowed himself to be chased around the room. As the big man clawed at his shoulders, Lance slung a light chair behind him. The other tripped over it and rolled on the floor. The fall partly knocked the wind out of him, and he was in no hurry to get up.

“Have you had enough?” asked Lance, contemptuously.

The other man got to his feet blind and insane with rage. No one would have thought of calling him a distinguished figure then. His fine clothes were soiled with dust, his face almost dehumanized. With the object of making him angrier still, Lance drawled:

“Your arteries are bad, old man. You drink too much for this sort of work!”

With a hoarse cry the man snatched up the chair and aimed a blow at Lance that would have killed him had it met its mark. Lance evaded it and the chair was smashed to pieces on the floor.

The man kicked the pieces aside and came at Lance with his head down, only to be met by a hard right and left full in the face. Lance continually gave ground, but only enough to escape the embrace of the powerful arms, getting in a blow when he could.

The room was too small and too much obstructed with furniture to permit of free movement. Lance’s retreat was blocked by an easy-chair. Instantly the big man sprang, forced Lance back into the chair, knelt on his body, and gripped his throat in his powerful hands. The fight appeared to be over. The girl moaned and covered her face.

But Lance’s body, threshing wildly in the chair, contrived to overturn it. As they struck the floor, Lance broke free and, scrambling away on hands and knees, put a table between him and his adversary.

“Not quite good enough,” he said, grinning, as he rose. The big man got up slowly, and stood lowering and swaying. He was sobbing hoarsely; his eyes were bloodshot. He felt his strength ebbing, and his eyes darted instinctively this way and that in search of a weapon.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” he muttered.

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