Powers of Darkness - Fred M. White - ebook

Powers of Darkness ebook

Fred M White

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Frederick White, mostly known for mysteries. Martin Faber has long been dead. However, Alice seems that he is back from the dead. This thought does not give her peace of mind. Is it all an illusion or the truth?

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Liczba stron: 351

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Contents

I. A Matter Of Nerves

II. The Unexpected

III. At The Warder’s Cottage

IV. A Tacit Understanding

V. Flesh And Blood

VI. A Startling Discrepancy

VII. The Martyr’s Crown

VIII. “Dr. Gordon Blaydes”

IX. The Cigarette Case

X. “To Be Or Not To Be!”

XI. The Prison Door

XII. A Shock For Copping

XIII. Confessions

XIV. The Pocket-Book

XV. The Penny Stamp

XVI. “Oscar Lee”

XVII. A Moral Force

XVIII. Turning The Screw

XIX. In The Garden

XX. Whose Hand?

XXI. “Our Mr. Hillditch”

XXII. The Flesh-Colored Glove

XXIII. Volume Fifteen

XXIV. A Lady In The Case

XXV. A Lesson In Surgery

XXVI. The Right Man

I. A MATTER OF NERVES

As the girl drew back from the window, the soft silk curtains fell from her hand. A thick, white fog rose from the valley, blotting out the landscape; here and there a great elm stood out of it, like a ship becalmed on a moonlit sea. The warmth of the atmosphere chilled suddenly, and the girl in her thin evening dress shuddered. Probably there was a fire in the drawing-room; at any rate, she hoped so. An hour earlier she had been sitting in the garden amidst the full glow of summer roses. But it was often like thus on Dartdale.

How gloomy and depressing it had become all at once, and yet how characteristic of the atmosphere of the place! Time had been when Rawmouth Park was a house of love and sunshine, but that was before the death of Mrs. Martin Faber and her husband, who had followed her into the Silent Land less than six months afterwards. And now the girl was here as the ward and guest of Raymond Draycott, who had succeeded to the property.

From the bottom of her heart Alice Kearns hated Raymond Draycott. It counted for nothing that he was more or less kind to her, that he insisted upon giving her a home until she came into her property some time hence. She was in his hands, for under Martin Faber’s will Draycott became her legal guardian. It was absurd that a stranger should have such power over her future; but the fact remained.

Up to a year ago she had never heard of the man except through Mr. Faber’s casual references. Draycott had been his great chum in the old days before the former set out for the Argentine to make a fortune, and after Faber had been found cut to pieces on the railway it appeared that he had left everything–Alice included–to Raymond. There was very little, so it seemed, beyond the lovely old house and the grounds round it, but it was discovered that Faber had been insured for a large amount, so that Draycott found himself master of nearly a hundred thousand pounds.

He offered a home at Rawmouth to Alice, expressing a desire to have her near him. He would not hear of any other arrangement. From the first she was afraid of him. He was dark, so dark as to suggest Spanish blood in his veins, his hair and moustache were black, though his eyes were blue. This latter fact was only apparent when he removed his glasses. He disliked any allusion to the subject.

There was something mysterious about him. He was furtive and watchful, and apparently found it always necessary to keep a guard upon his tongue. Yet, reserved as he was, he had an extraordinary knowledge of things and places in the locality. Episodes that had happened years ago were perfectly familiar to him. He was a rigid teetotaller, moreover, though he spoke learnedly in unguarded moments on the subject of wine. Deep down in her heart in a blind, unreasoning way, Alice detested him; loathed him more than anything else in the world–with the sole exception of Carl Moler.

On the whole, this clever, silent, watchful German doctor was the worse man of the two. Alice knew by instinct that Draycott hated him more than she did. That being so, what was he doing at Rawmouth? Draycott was boisterously friendly, outwardly pleased with Moler’s society; but there were times when, unthinkingly he regarded him with a glance absolutely murderous. He was like a cat waiting to spring and yet pausing to pounce. Moler had come at first on a chance visit, protesting he had found Draycott quite by accident. Now he was settled at Rawmouth as if the place belonged to him.

There was something amiss here, some mystery that troubled Alice. Nor was she the only one that was under its influence. Jane Mason, the old housekeeper, could unfold a tale if she liked–Alice was sure of that. But when sounded, Jane merely turned white and anxious and changed the subject. “It was no business of hers,” she said.

“We’ve all got our troubles, and I have got my share, miss,” she would remark. “Let sleeping dogs lie. And if anything happens, you’ve got a friend in me. It would be different if we had Mr. Hugh back again, poor innocent dear!”

Ah, if Hugh Grenfell were only here once more! Alice’s heart throbbed with pain as she thought of him. It was the full weight of her own hopeless misery. She was thinking of nothing else as she finished her toilet and went down to dinner. The cold, white fog that lay over Rawmouth enshrouded Hugh Grenfell’s quarters, too. The truth as to that sad story would be told some day, if there were any justice left; it must––

Alice always dressed early, especially at this time of year, when the weather was warm and it was possible to go into the gardens before the others came down. There were happy occasions when Draycott and Moler were absent from the meal altogether, but Alice did not very often have such a lucky interlude, which mostly happened only when Draycott was ill. Still, his attacks did not grow less frequent. Indeed, Alice thought that they were more regular now than they had been before Moler arrived. What was Moler doing here? Why had he come? The girl asked herself these questions over and over again. Alice remembered his arrival quite well. He had not been expected. Draycott had been moody all through dinner; had changed his mind a dozen times whether he would drink or not. He passed for a teetotaller, and boasted that he drank little or nothing save under the doctor’s orders. Sometimes when attacks of fever were imminent he indulged himself, but then he professed to take the liquor as a medicine and against his will.

He had been very moody and shaky that night. Anybody but Alice would have refused to believe Draycott’s protestations; a man of the world would have said bluntly that he was suffering from the very thing that he affected to despise. The bloodshot, watery eyes, shaking lips, and trembling hand proclaimed it as if from the housetops. It was Draycott’s fancy to call it ague, and Alice was constrained to humor him. He had passed many years in foreign parts, and it might have been malaria.

Still, it was very unfortunate, the girl concluded, to have to live under the same roof with him after her experience with Martin Faber, whose drinking having recurred at intervals of about six weeks, and lasted for a few days. At such times he was more or less dangerous and one of the men servants had to keep a close eye on him. Then the fit would pass away. Faber would come down sullen and shaky, and in a short time be himself again.

Was history repeating itself? It mattered little what Draycott called it, seeing that the effect was practically the same. How strange that Martin Faber should have gone out of his way to make this man rich! Poor as he was, he had insured his life for a prodigious sum, only that Draycott might have a good time of it. It must have cost him a serious struggle to pay the premium, and he must have known that it would be impossible to discharge a second premium, in which case the policy would have been forfeited, and Faber have literally wasted his money. Perhaps he had committed suicide in the most cold-blooded and deliberate manner? Had Draycott compelled him to do it? Alice had read of diabolical crimes of that kind.

But Faber’s will was dated some years before. For a long time he had meant, it was clear, to leave everything to Draycott. Alice wondered what the relationship between them was. They were alike, and yet there was a wonderful difference. Though Draycott was much stouter, and his features and expression were different, there was a queer, subtle likeness. Draycott vaguely gave Alice the impression that he was afraid of something, that he expected something to happen. The sight of a stranger made him restless and uneasy. He was just like that the day Moler came.

They were seated at lunch, and Draycott was unusually amiable. A servant brought in a visiting-card, which he laid by Draycott’s plate. The latter glanced at it and started instantly. His face paled, his lips trembled, and Alice could see that his eyes had a wicked gleam in them. Whoever the newcomer was, Draycott had no liking for him. Alice never forgot the singular sense that overtook her of a spirit of tragedy in the air. A second later Draycott burst into a torrent of profanity. He pulled himself up suddenly.

“I beg your pardon, my dear,” he stammered. “An old friend of mine. I–I never expected to meet him again. He reminded me of a most unpleasant time in my earlier career. But I am glad to see him, though I wish he had given me notice he was coming.”

Alice felt that Draycott meant this by the expression in his eyes. He wished this man had arrived quietly, without anybody knowing; in which case–Alice fairly shuddered at the suspicions that crowded her mind.

“Don’t you think you had better ask the gentleman in?” she suggested.

“Oh, yes, of course,” Draycott said with feigned ease. “Ask Mr. Moler in. My dear fellow, I am delighted to see you again. It was a shock at the moment––”

“I guessed it would be,” the other said drily. “There was not time to write. Pray present me.”

He bowed low to Alice and held out his hand. He was not a big man, though he gave a suggestion of strength; he was not handsome, yet his face was attractive in a way. It was a fine, intellectual head, with high forehead and flowing hair, and clear eyes, set a little too closely together. Nevertheless, this man was a mental force, beyond question, a being born to have his own way. The glance of open admiration which he turned on Alice made her hot and uncomfortable.

“I am pleased to meet you,” she said coldly. “Are you staying here?”

“I have come for a few days,” Moler explained, “on business. Quite by accident, I discovered that my dear old friend Raymond Draycott was living in the neighborhood. I am a doctor, Miss Kearns. I have a series of most delicate experiments going on, and I want quiet for them. I am going to ask Mr. Draycott to put me up for a while.”

Once more the singular gleam lit up Draycott’s eyes.

“Miss Kearns is mistress here?” he suggested.

“I–I am sure there can be no possible objection,” Alice stammered. “We have plenty of spare room.”

Alice fancied that Draycott expected her to make a reply like this. It seemed to her that Moler took the answer as a matter of course. He laughed quietly.

“Then that is settled,” he said. “A light luncheon, if you please; a little of that delicious fruit. I rarely touch meat. After luncheon I shall enjoy a talk with Draycott. My dear friend, you will give me an hour or so?” It was not a question, it was a command. With a sullen air, Draycott rose and followed Moler into the library. Alice sat at the table with a curious sinking at her heart.

How long had this state of things lasted? She asked herself the question as she came down to dinner. Had Moler been dominating the house for months or years, making covert love to her? He was going to marry her one of these days–he had told her that plainly and calmly. He had fallen in love with her; and hoped to use her money in completing his wonderful experiments. He had Draycott under his thumb absolutely.

What would it all mean, and where would it end? How much longer would this menacing air of mystery hang like a cloud over Rawmouth? Did onlookers notice, or were they blind to what was going on?

There was no suggestion of mystery or crime.

The great hall was flooded with electric light under pink shades. There were ferns and flowers, pictures, and carpets, everywhere a fine combination of good taste and refinement. In the dining-room, dinner had been laid for three. A flood of light fell on the table, leaving the rest of the room in shadow. A feathery spray of pink orchids adorned the centre, and piles of the famous Rawmouth peaches were ranged on either side. Draycott and Moler were already seated. The latter smiled and rose as Alice entered. His glittering eyes gloated over her figure; the fair hair was brushed back from her forehead, and her white arms gleamed between the meshs of her black dress. The man always made her uncomfortable.

“You are rather late, my dear,” Draycott said.

Alice almost started. There were times when Draycott’s voice reminded her of Martin Faber. It was only now and then, but to-night the resemblance was marked. It gave her a strange, odd feeling that she had been through all this before. It is a sensation that comes to everyone at times. Draycott had a little gesture with his hands, too, that Faber had also used. Strange she had never noticed it before! It was a night of small surprises and coincidences, for Draycott actually had a glass of champagne before him. Faber had been partial to champagne–too partial; for there were frequent intervals when he suffered from ‘nervous headaches’ in the seclusion of his room! Draycott suffered from ‘muscular neuralgia,’ accompanied by intense pain. He also had to lie up from time to time, at tended by Moler. For the first occasion it flashed across Alice’s mind that these periods of suffering coincided as to their intervals with the bouts that Faber had indulged in. She wondered this had not struck her before. Was it possible, that Draycott was a relative of Faber’s–a relationship kept in the background for prudent reasons? A brother perhaps––

“I am trying a new remedy,” Draycott said, as if reading the girl’s thoughts. “I am afraid another of my attacks is coming on. Moler permits me a glass of champagne.”

The German said nothing, though Alice imagined there was something sinister in his smile. How dark and mysterious he looked, in keeping with the fog and the gloom and the air of mystery that always seemed to brood over the old house now! The dinner dragged on with frequent pauses, and little or nothing in the way of conversation for Alice. She dreaded this long ceremonious hour, and looked forward eagerly to the moment when she could escape. She sat with downcast eyes, taking little besides fish and fruit. She slowly peeled and ate a peach. Draycott was talking faster than usual, and said something presently that attracted Alice’s attention.

She looked up quietly. The servants had gone. Draycott was pouring out the last glass of champagne. Obviously he had finished the bottle. It must have been so, for Moler never touched anything. Draycott tossed off the glass and reached for the liqueur brandy. There was a peculiar, uneasy gleam behind his spectacles.

“How long is it since old Toolman met with that fatal accident?” he asked. “I mean––”

“That was before your time,” Alice said. “It must have been four years ago.”

Moler rose to his feet. The smile was no longer on his face; obviously something had happened to disturb him. He crept quietly behind Draycott’s chair and gripped him by the shoulders.

“You are overdoing my instructions,” he said. “It is time to take your medicine. You will come with me to your room at once, if you please.”

It was not a polite request, so much as an imperative order. Just for the moment the wild murderous expression that Alice had seen before crossed Draycott’s face. She could see his hand gripping the dessert knife till the knuckles stood out white and hard.

“Perhaps you are right,” he stammered. “I have had one or two of those infernal twinges during dinner. I’ll ask you to excuse me, my dear. Excellent fellow, Moler. A little too arbitrary for my taste, but very anxious for his patient. When you are married to him, you will learn to appreciate his good qualities.”

Alice flushed scarlet. This was by no means the first time this hateful topic had been mentioned. As she stood in her turn she noticed that Draycott lurched as he moved towards the door. He burst into song as he staggered into the hall–the same song that Faber had indulged in on many a similar occasion. It was as if Martin Faber had come back from the dead–the ghastliness of the idea made Alice shudder. A sudden fear set her trembling from head to foot. She seemed to see the whole mystery laid bare as one sees things in a dream, only to lose sight of them again. Yet Martin Faber was in his grave. It was impossible in the circumstances––

Jane Mason was standing there, white and horrified as was Alice herself.

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