Prillilgirl - Carolyn Wells - ebook

Prillilgirl ebook

Carolyn Wells

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From that famous foundry of fiction, fact and frivolity, author Carolyn Wells, comes another Fleming Stone detective story. When a popular playwright is found stabbed with his own pen made from a medieval dagger, suspicion fall on Mrs. Guy Thorndike, wife of a prominent actor. Fleming Stone finally turns up to solve the case. In the room, unheeded by police and sleuths, is a clue upon which Fleming Stone constructs a daring solution. The yarn is skillfully woven and splendidly told. „The Fleming Stone Mysteries” is a collection of 17 baffling detective novels in which Fleming Stone, the great American Detective, displays his remarkable ingenuity for unravelling mysteries.

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Liczba stron: 328

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Contents

CHAPTER I. SOME PROPOSITION

CHAPTER II. MRS. GUY THORNDIKE

CHAPTER III. GUY’S CROWD

CHAPTER IV. THE AGGRESSIVENESS OF AGATHA

CHAPTER V. THE PLAY’S THE THING

CHAPTER VI. WHAT WAS THE TRUTH?

CHAPTER VII. PETE’S PROCEEDINGS

CHAPTER VIII. POLICE INVESTIGATION

CHAPTER IX. MCGEE GETS VERY BUSY

CHAPTER X. MORE INQUIRY

CHAPTER XI. AN IMPORTANT INTERVIEW

CHAPTER XII. LOOSE SCREWS

CHAPTER XIII. THE THORNDIKES

CHAPTER XIV. CORINNE’S STORY

CHAPTER XV. SIR ANDREW BAINE

CHAPTER XVI. THE TRUTH

CHAPTER XVII. STRANGE DOINGS

CHAPTER XVIII. GUY’S DECISION

CHAPTER I. SOME PROPOSITION

Guy Thorndike was the owner of a rather beautiful house in a correct section of New York City, that no stretch of imagination could call a home.

Aristocratic and conventional of outward appearance and decorated interiorly by a professional, it was harmonious in atmosphere, but pretty unlivable.

Wherefore, Thorndike, being a bachelor, spent much of his time at his club.

But one day in June he sat under his own roof, giving an excellent imitation of a popular society man making his summer plans. It was only an imitation, though, and from the pile of letters before him he ran over and threw aside one cream-laid offer of hospitality after another, with smiles or frowns of dissent. He hated country house parties and week-end junketings, except among a very small and well chosen few.

In fact, he hated most things in this world that were not directly conducive to his own physical comfort or mental entertainment.

Though not a collector, Thorndike possessed three fine and valuable pieces of antique furniture–a highboy, a lowboy and a butler.

The last named and most valuable now stood in the doorway, and gave voice to a well modulated, “Mr. Thorndike,” which he followed up with a less confident, “a young lady to see you, sir.”

“What?–Oh, I beg your pardon–pray come in.”

The butler faded, and in the doorway stood a girl–a very young girl–whose beauty was of the sort that makes you believe in fairies.

Moreover, she was frightened out of her wits and trying hard not to show it.

Now, Guy Thorndike was a petted and pampered darling of Fortune, but among the fine traits and lavish gifts with which the goddess had endowed him, was not included savoir faire.

In fact, to be frank, Thorndike was shy–fearfully, painfully shy–especially in the presence of strange ladies. This was one reason, though unadmitted to himself, that he couldn’t achieve any enthusiasm over those cream-laid invitations. This was why he avoided, evaded and eluded hopeful Mammas with tentative daughters.

And so, when he saw this exquisite and terror-shaken young thing, right in his own library, he was seized with a frantic desire to run away.

But of course he couldn’t do that.

“W-won’t you sit down?” he said, and she did. Timidly, fearfully, even tremblingly, she sat on the edge of a small chair.

She wore the daintiest sort of gown, of soft, drapy white, fashioned with a filmy berthé of lace over her soft little shoulders. A modish white hat had its brim lined with a faint shell pink, which haloed the lovely flower face.

“Did you want to see me?” and Thorndike’s voice shook a little, by reason of his absurd but uncontrollable shyness.

“Yes–oh–yes!” and as the voice trembled breathlessly, two little hands fluttered to her breast like homing doves.

And then he knew! This was someone who adored him as a Matinée Idol. There were so many of them, though they seldom had the nerve to invade his dwelling. For Thorndike was an actor, one of the big, worth while actors, with a goodly line of successes in the past, and vague dreams of playing Shakespeare in the future.

So he knew. This was a hero worshipper, than which, in his bashful opinion, there was no more fearful wildfowl. You’d think experience would have blunted the edge of his shyness, but the contrary was true. The longer he lived the more he found it impossible to conquer his fear of the Eternal Feminine.

He didn’t mind actresses. They were not real people. But society ladies, young, old or middle-aged, always and completely flabbergasted him.

The vision looked at him earnestly–not staring–simply gazing. She was little and slim and lithe, yet softly rounded as a baby.

She had enormous brown eyes, with heavy, curling dark lashes, and, surprisingly, hair of true gold color. This hair rippled curlingly round her bonny face and shone out from under the pink lined hat.

Her nose was bewitching and her mouth was a quivering scarlet blossom.

But all of these definite beauties were blended into something finer and sweeter by a gentle charm that was simply that of youth and innocence.

Spring, April, dawn, dew, lark’s notes, crocuses, pussy-willows–all such thoughts as these raced through Thorndike’s brain at the sight of her exquisite youthfulness.

Her whole face was vibrant, as with some great excitement, and her smile was the kind that came off, and, after an exasperating delay, came on again.

“What do you want?” and Thorndike picked up a fountain pen, “my autograph?”

“No,” the tone was quietly amused, but still frightened.

“Oh, my photograph,” with a sigh. The more daring always asked for that and it included the autograph. He hated to spread his likeness broadcast, but he was always too shy to refuse; and so, many complacent maidens boasted possession of a signed portrait of the great actor.

The girl’s glance was taking in the room. The only intrusion on its really good taste was the presence of many beautiful photographs of apparently beautiful actresses. They hung on the walls, they stood on tables and bookcases, and even congregated on Thorndike’s big desk.

But, as has been said, his shyness did not include the ladies of his own profession and he had become able to accept these proffered favors with almost no embarrassment.

The girl visitor drew a little sigh. “Don’t you get tired of looking at beautiful women?” she said.

“Not when they aren’t alive,” he returned.

Her flashing smile of appreciation brought him back to the realization that he was still in the presence of a very gentle specimen of the gentle sex, and he nervously opened the drawer where his photographs were kept.

“Is this what you want?” he asked, drawing one from its tissue sheath.

“N-no, sir. Mr. Thorndike, I–I–” she surveyed him with an appraising glance, and cast another quickly about the room–“I’ve decided to marry you.”

“Beg pardon?”

“I s-said, I’ve quite decided to marry you.”

“Bless my soul! There–there, now. Run home, little girl. Where did you come from?”

“I ran away from home. I can’t run back, can I? Did you ever run away from home?”

“That’s exactly what I did do–many years ago.”

“And did you run back again?”

“I did not!”

“Well,” and she folded her hands. A dimple appeared for a fleeting instant and then vanished, leaving the flower face a little sad. “I’ve run away. I can’t run back. I can’t face the world alone, and so somebody must marry me. Will you, please? Oh, please!”

“Are you crazy?”

“No, sir,” and a flash of dignity straightened up the drooping little figure. “I’m not crazy. Oh, Mr. Thorndike, please! can’t you understand? You haven’t any wife, have you?”

“No.”

“Then, don’t you see? I might as well be it. I don’t mean a real wife, who would be your helpmeet and your soulmate, and your equal. Not a regular wife, you know, just a near-wife. I just want to be Mrs. Guy Thorndike and have a wedding ring and a home. You needn’t even speak to me after we’re married, if you don’t want to.”

“Where are your people?”

“I haven’t any. You see, I’ve lived all my life with my uncle and aunt in Spriggville.”

“Spriggville?”

“Yes; it’s a very small place, oh, very small. Just a post-office and two shops and a church and schoolhouse. Then a few houses at the four corners and a few farms out around.”

“How attractive it sounds. And you live in one of the houses?”

“On one of the farms. My uncle, Mr. Sprigg, was quite rich, though a farmer. Well, you see, a few months ago, he died, and my aunt has all his money. Well, she’s going to be–what do you think? You’d never guess! A missionary to China! And she says I must go with her and be a missionary, too. A girl of my type a missionary!”

“Yes, very nice, very nice. And when do you start?”

“I’m not going to start at all.” The dark eyes looked straight into his. “But you see, I have no money, and if I don’t go with Aunt Maria, she won’t give me any. And I won’t go with her, I just simply won’t. So, of course, I can’t stay here all alone. So, of course, I must marry somebody. Please, Mr. Thorndike.”

The girl could not have been more pleasantly pleading if she had been asking for a photograph instead of the original. And as there is a certain kind of coward who is brave in the face of a great danger, so Guy Thorndike’s bashfulness faded before this astonishing situation.

“And you have no other people, no relatives, beside this missionary aunt?”

“None.”

“And you have no money?”

“My face is my fortune.”

Though the words might seem pert, the serious tone and the pathetic little sigh that accompanied them gave only the effect of a simple truth.

“And so you propose to marry to avoid being a missionary to China?”

“Yes, sir. However hard married life may be, it can’t be as hard as missionarying in China.”

“What do you know of married life?”

“Nothing, except as I have observed my aunt and uncle. They lived in a rut–I know that, because auntie has said so since uncle died. But surely, a rut in this country would be better than any of those Chinese places.”

“And may I ask why you singled me out for this honor?”

The gentle brown eyes looked at him reproachfully. “You may ask me anything you like, if you won’t be sarcastic. I never could stand sarcasm. I’m perfectly serious. I came to you first, but I have two other men in view.”

“You have? Who are they?”

“They’re good enough men, but they are not like you. You see, I know a great deal about you from reading the papers. I know you are noble and upright in all your ways. I know you don’t like ladies, and so I thought, perhaps, if you married me, you needn’t be bothered by any more seekers.”

“Seekers?”

“Yes; society girls who want to marry you.”

“You flatter me.”

“No, you know it’s true. But I wouldn’t trouble you at all. This house is so big, you could have a few rooms, and I could have the rest.”

“And what would you contribute toward the general welfare of our household? Are you a capable housekeeper?”

“I’m a very good housekeeper of the old-fashioned sort. Aunt Maria brought me up to her own manners and customs. But I learn very quickly and I can soon adapt myself to your ways.”

“Can you cook?”

“Oh, yes, sir; but I didn’t suppose you’d want me to do that. I thought you were rich. But I can cook, if you desire it.”

“And might I inquire your name?”

“I am called Prillilgirl.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, Prillilgirl. My uncle always called me that.”

“It is descriptive. But you have another name?”

“Yes; Uncle used to call me, “Sweet o’ the Year.’ He also called me “The Person of Moonshine.’”

“Your uncle was poetic.”

“He read a great deal and he was very fond of me.”

“He had a fine taste in names. Well, Miss Prillilgirl, I’m afraid you won’t do. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but, quite aside from your proposition being a little unusual, I may say I don’t need a wife at present. In fact, I’m quite positive I don’t need a wife at all.”

“Oh, yes, you do. You need the kind of wife I’d be. Why, I’d keep all to myself, in two or three rooms, if you want me to. And I’d keep as still as a mouse–why, I wouldn’t even sing while you’re in the house, if you prefer that I shouldn’t.”

“But, my dear child, what you suggest is wrong.”

The little creature sighed. Then she lifted very serious eyes to his. “If anything is pleasant, it is likely to be wrong,” she said. “But this isn’t, Mr. Thorndike. What could be wrong about your marrying me? And I am very amiable.”

“H’m. And suppose I require other traits in a wife. Can you preside at a table properly?”

“Oh, yes, of course. But please decide, Mr. Thorndike, because if you really say no, I want to go on to Mr. Balcom’s.”

“What!”

“Yes, Mr. Balcom is my second choice. Of course, he isn’t the same kind of actor you are–his line is broad comedy. According to the papers he makes people laugh like everything. But I’ve read that he’s very rich and kind-hearted.”

“He is, indeed! Now look here, Miss–, tell me your name.”

“Deane–Corinne Deane.”

“Well, Miss Deane, you are fortunate in coming to me first. You’re an ignorant, foolish baby and you might easily have met with great misfortune in this quest of yours. Now, you’re not going to Jo Balcom’s at all, do you hear that? You’re going straight home–”

“Then you refuse to marry me?” and she rose to go, with the air of a disappointed but resigned book agent.

“I do. And I also refuse to let you go to see Balcom or any other man on this errand of yours. What is the matter with you? Don’t you know anything? I forbid you to go to Balcom’s.”

“Mr. Thorndike, you have no right to forbid me to do anything. I asked you to marry me, and you refused. Therefore, I go away, and it is absolutely none of your concern what I do next. I have a perfect right to refuse to go to China if I can arrange to stay in America. And I have a perfect right to manage these matters as I see fit.”

There was no flippancy, no boldness in her manner. The big, soft eyes looked earnest and sincere, the sweet flower face was profoundly innocent and the red mouth quivered, not with embarrassment, but with disappointment at this first failure.

With a gentle dignity she moved toward the door, and Thorndike thundered, “Stop! Come back here!”

She half turned, and as hope dawned in her eyes, a wonderful radiance lighted her whole face.

“I will marry you,” he cried; “I will marry you to save you from yourself. As you suggest, it will not be real marriage, but I offer you the protection of my name and my home that you may not fall into Balcom’s clutches. I don’t want you, Lord knows! but I can’t see an exquisite child like you set adrift on the world. We will go through the ceremony–you shall have a ring and a certificate. You can have this house, the whole house–I hate it, anyway–and you can amuse yourself as you like. I know you are good and sweet and dear, but I can’t be encumbered with a wife–it would bore me to death. And I know, too,” he looked straight in her eyes, “that you are good and true, and will never do anything to make me ashamed of you.”

“Oh, indeed I wouldn’t, when you are so kind as to marry me! Today, Mr. Thorndike? Right now?”

“Yes, as soon as we can put it across. I’ll do some necessary telephoning, and then we’ll have to go together to get a license. I think we’ll be in time.”

“And will this frock do? It’s white.”

“Wear what you choose,” he returned, a little absently and thinking hard.

“Remember,” he said, “you not only asked me to marry you, but you persuaded me against my will and against my judgment. There is to be no romance between us, but, of course, it precludes any romance for either of us. I shall not mind this–for I want no romance; but–will you never regret?”

Miss Deane looked at him. “Maybe you’ll die,” she said, simply.

“Maybe I shall,” Thorndike returned, grimly. “Well, since you are to be my wife, I must tell you of my past romance. Some years ago I fancied myself in love with a lady, and bought this ring, hoping I could persuade her to wear it.”

Prillilgirl gave a rippling laugh. “I know,” and she clapped her hands in glee, “you were too shy to ask her!”

“Yes,” and Thorndike showed a little chagrin. “How did you know that, witch?”

“I’ve read about your shyness–and, I can see it for myself. That’s one reason I like you. But you didn’t have to ask me, did you? It would have been nice to be asked–” the brown eyes looked wistful.

“Well, you never will be, now,” Thorndike spoke almost roughly; “you’ve lost your last chance. But this ring must be for you, now.”

She held out her hand with a gesture of confidence and content.

Bashful Guy Thorndike trembled as he took it, and he nearly fell in a blue funk as he pushed the ring on her finger.

Corinne Deane looked at the gleaming diamond. Thorndike watched her, waiting for her comment. Surely she had never before owned such a magnificent possession.

“I feel like a Great Jewel Robbery,” she said, at last, and added, smiling, “but it’s a very nice feeling.”

“What will your aunt say to all this?” he inquired, curiously.

The lovely shoulders shrugged a little. “It doesn’t matter what she says. Shall I tell her about it?”

“I think it would be rather decent, don’t you?”

“As you like. I’ll write her tonight.”

As Guy Thorndike was not only an actor, but an actor-manager, he went about his present undertaking with the efficiency that characterized all his work. He telephoned to several people, he gave some directions to his servants, and then he whisked Prillilgirl into his car, and down to the Marriage License Bureau, in time to get there just before that important institution closed.

He said little, making only casual and necessary observations.

Prillilgirl was passive. She merely sat pretty and watched him with the mild gaze of her big brown eyes, her face now and then lighting up, as with some thought of happiness.

He took her to the house of a friend, there was a wedding ceremony, witnesses and good wishes, but nothing of a social or festive nature.

Prillilgirl seemed not to care, and smiled prettily on the small group of people as she left them to go away with Thorndike.

He put her in the car, followed and sat beside her, and then they started home.

And then, for the first time, he realized what he had done. A wave of shy embarrassment engulfed him and he shrank back into his corner as if he had committed a crime, and he was not sure he hadn’t. He stole a glance at the girl beside him. Her beauty was so perfect that not even the sharp rays of the afternoon sun could expose a flaw.

But it was not this beauty that had caused Thorndike to take the step he had. He had done it purely and simply to protect this lovely and innocent child from a wicked world. He did not know whether he regretted it or not, and that did not matter. He simply had to do it. He was appalled at the situation and the very enormity of the case gave him a sort of artificial bravado, which, though difficult to achieve, he sometimes found useful.

Thorndike was, in common with most of his fellow creatures, a mixture of good and bad. Thirty-six years old, he had the wisdom of his years combined with a certain childlike simplicity of spirit that was in part the result of his unconquerable shyness.

As an actor he was among the best; as a manager he was equally successful; but his ambitions were high, and he still had worlds to conquer.

His chief desire was to play a certain sort of character that he had in mind, and which, only recently, he had so described to a playwright that he had at last a hope of securing the play he was looking for.

Mallory Vane was eccentric almost to the verge of madness, but he could write, and he seemed to be the only man who could comprehend the intricate details of the character Thorndike wanted to portray. This was the actor-manager’s life work at present, and had been, in contemplation, for years. His mind and soul were full of it, and he spent hours with Vane going over the hints and shades of meaning in lines, and suggesting changes and improvements in the author’s work.

Though generous in all material things, Thorndike was exceedingly selfish in his ambitions. Self-centered, rather, and ready to bend all to his own histrionic successes.

But he had always a ready and overflowing sympathy for those in distress or trouble, and helped them with unstinted assistance of money, influence or friendship, as might be required.

And now, the most exigent case of need he had ever known had been brought to his attention, and with characteristic readiness, he had given what seemed to him at the moment, the only possible response.

CHAPTER II. MRS. GUY THORNDIKE

Thorndike felt perplexed as he gazed at the girl beside him. It didn’t occur to him that he was a bridegroom, he felt more like a man who had impulsively bought a piece of bric-a-brac that didn’t harmonize with his other furnishings.

Summoning his courage to the point of speaking aloud, he said:

“Now, Prillilgirl–I shall call you that, I think, because it suits you so well–though Sweet o’ the Year is pretty for you, too–you are now Mrs. Thorndike, and you must behave accordingly.”

“Yes, sir;” the lady addressed looked at the gold circlet on her finger and smiled pleasantly.

“First, you mustn’t say “sir’ to me.”

“No, sir.”

“Are you listening?”

“Oh, yes, sir. But you see I’m so busy being married that I’ve not much time for anything else.”

“Pshaw, you’re a baby and a simpleton.”

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