Sharing Her Crime. A Novel - May Agnes Fleming - ebook

Sharing Her Crime. A Novel ebook

May Agnes Fleming

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Opis

It began as a dark crime story. It was Christmas Eve, and most people celebrated except Madge Oranmore. She and the good doctor Wiseman were planning to kill a daughter-in-law and her young child. That night before Christmas, two children remained on the beach.

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Liczba stron: 537

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER I

THE PLOTTERS

'Tis a woman hard of feature, Old, and void of all good nature. ‘Tis an ugly, envious shrew, Railing forever at me and you.”–Pope.

It was Christmas Eve. All day long crowds of gayly dressed people had walked the streets, basking in the bright wintry sunshine. Sleigh after sleigh went dashing past, with merrily jingling bells, freighted with rosy cheeks, and bright eyes, and youthful faces, all aglow with happiness.

But the sun must set on Christmas Eve, as on all other days; and redly, threateningly, angrily, he sank down in the far west. Dark, sullen clouds came rolling ominously over the heavens; the wind blew piercingly cold, accompanied with a thin, drizzling rain that froze ere it fell.

Gradually the streets were deserted as the storm increased in fury; but the Yule logs were piled high, the curtains drawn, and every house, save one, in the handsome street to which my story leads me, was all aglow, all ablaze with light.

In a lull of the storm the sounds of music and merry-making would rise and swell on the air, as light feet tripped merrily amid the mazes of the dance; or a silvery peal of laughter would break easily on the wayfarer’s ear. The reflection of the light through the crimson curtains shed a warm, rosy glow over the snowy ground, brightening the gloom of that stormy winter’s night.

But rising dark, grim, and gloomy amid those gayly lighted mansions, stood a large, quaint building of dark-red sandstone. It stood by itself, spectral, shadowy, and grand. No ray of light came from the gloomy windows that seemed to be hermetically sealed. All around was stern, black, and forbidding.

And yet–yes, from one solitary window there did stream a long, thin line of light. But even this did not look bright and cheerful like the rest; it had a cold, yellowish glare, making the utter blackness of the rest of the mansion blacker still by contrast.

The room from which the light issued was high and lofty. The uncarpeted floor was of black polished oak, as also were the wainscoting and mantel. The walls were covered with landscape paper, representing the hideous Dance of Death, in all its variety of frightful forms. The high windows were hung with heavy green damask, now black with dirt and age. A large circular table of black marble stood in one shadowy corner, and a dark, hard sofa, so long and black that it resembled a coffin, stood in the other.

A smoldering sea-coal fire, the only cheerful thing in that gloomy room, struggled for life in the wide, yawning chimney. Now it would die away, enveloping the apartment in gloom, and anon flame fitfully up, until the ghostly shadows on the wall would seem like a train of ghastly specters flitting by in the darkness. The elm trees in front of the house trailed their long arms against the window with a sound inexpressibly dreary; and the driving hail beat clamorously, as if for admittance.

On either side of the fire-place stood two large easy-chairs, cushioned with deep crimson velvet. In these, facing each other, sat two persons–a man and a woman–the only occupants of the room.

The woman was tall, straight, and stiff, and seemingly about fifty years of age. Her dress was a rustling black satin, with a small crape handkerchief fastened on her bosom with a magnificent diamond pin. Her hands, still small and white, were flashing with jewels as they lay quietly folded in her lap. A widow’s cap rested on her head, which was alternately streaked with gray and jet. But her face–so stern, so rigid, no one could look upon it without a feeling of fear. The lips–so thin that she seemed to have no lips at all–were compressed with a look of unswerving determination. Her forehead was low and retreating, with thick black eyebrows meeting across the long, sharp nose, with a look at once haughty and sinister. And from under those midnight brows glittered and gleamed a pair of eyes so small, so sharp and keen–with such a look of cold, searching, steely brightness–that the boldest gaze might well quail before them. On that grim, hard face no trace of womanly feeling seemed ever to have lingered–all was stern, harsh, and freezingly cold. She sat rigidly erect in her chair, with her needle-like eyes riveted immovably on the face of her companion, who shifted with evident uneasiness beneath her uncompromising stare.

He was a man of forty, or thereabouts, so small ofstature that, standing side by side, he could scarcely have reached the woman’s shoulder. But, notwithstanding his diminutive size, his limbs were disproportionately large for his body, giving him the appearance of being all legs and arms. His little, round bullet-head was set on a prodigiously thick, bull-like neck; and his hair, short, and bristling up over his head, gave him very much the look of the sun, as pictured in the almanacs.

This prepossessing gentleman was arrayed in an immaculate suit of black, with a spotless white dickey, bristling with starch and dignity, and a most excruciating cravat. Half a dozen rings garnished his claw-like hands, and a prodigious quantity of watch-chain dangled from his vest. The worthy twain were engaged in deep and earnest conversation.

“Well, doctor,” said the lady, in a cold, measured tone, that was evidently habitual, “no doubt you are wondering why I sent for you in such haste to-night.”

“I never wonder, madam,” said the doctor, in a pompous tone–which, considering his size, was quite imposing. “No doubt you have some excellent reason for sending for me, which, if necessary for me to know, you will explain.”

“You are right, doctor,” said the lady, with a grim sort of smile. “I have an excellent reason for sending for you. You are fond of money, I know.”

“Why, madam, although it is the root of all evil–”

“Tush, man! There is no need for Satan to quote Scripture just now,” she interrupted with a sneer. “Say, doctor, what would you do to earn five hundred dollars to-night?”

“Five hundred dollars?” said the doctor, his small eyes sparkling, while a gleam of satisfaction lighted up his withered face.

“Yes,” said the lady, “and if well done, I may double the sum. What would you do for such a price?”

“Rather ask me what I would not do.”

“Well, the job is an easy one. ’Tis but to–”

She paused, and fixed her eyes on his face with such a wild sort of gleam that, involuntarily, he quailed before her.

“Pray go on, madam. I’m all attention,” he said, almost fearing to break the dismal silence. “‘Tis but to–what?”

“Make away with–a woman and child!”

“Murder them?” said the doctor, involuntarily recoiling.

“Do not use that word!” she said, sharply. “Coward! do you really blanch and draw back! Methought one of your profession would not hesitate to send a patient to heaven.”

“But, madam,” said the startled doctor, “you know the penalty which the law awards for murder.”

“Oh, I perceive,” said the woman, scornfully, “it is not the crime you are thinking of, but your own precious neck. Fear not, my good friend; there is no danger of its ever being discovered.”

“But, my dear madam,” said the doctor, glancing uneasily at the stern, bitter face before him, “I have not the nerve, the strength, nor the–”

“Courage!” she broke in, passionately. “Oh, craven–weak, chicken-hearted, miserable craven! Go, then–leave me, and I will do it myself. You dare not betray me–you could not without bringing your neck to the halter–so I fear you not. Oh, coward! coward! why did not heaven make me a man?”

In her fierce outburst of passion she arose to her feet, and her tall figure loomed up like some unnaturally large, dark shadow. The man quailed in fear before her.

“Go!” she said, fiercely, pointing to the door, “You have refused to share my crime. Go! poor cowardly poltroon! but remember, Madge Oranmore never forgives nor forgets!”

“But, my dear Mrs. Oranmore, just listen to me one moment,” said the doctor, alarmed by this threat. “I have not refused, I only objected. If you will have the goodness to explain–to tell me what I must do, I will–see about it.”

“See about it!” hastily interrupted the lady. “You can do it–it is in your power; and yes, or no, must be your answer, immediately.”

“But–”

“No buts, sir. I will not have them. If you answer yes, one thousand dollars and my future patronage shall be yours. If you say no, yonder is the door; and once you have crossed the threshold, beware! Now, Doctor Wiseman, I await your reply.”

She seated herself again in her chair; and, folding her hands in her lap, fixed her hawk-like eyes on his face, with her keen, searching gaze. His eyes were bent in troubled thought on the floor. Not that the crime appalled him; but if detected–that was the rub. Doctor Wiseman was, as his name implies, a man of sense, with an exceedingly accommodating conscience, that would stretch ad libitum, and never troubled him with any such nonsense as remorse. But if it were discovered! With rather unpleasant vividness, the vision of a hangman and halter arose before him, and he involuntarily loosened his cravat. Still, one thousand dollars were tempting. Doctor Nicholas Wiseman had never been so perplexed in his life.

“Well, doctor, well,” impatiently broke in the lady, “have you decided–yes or no?"

“Yes,” said the doctor, driven to desperation by her sneering tone.

“‘Tis well,” she replied, with a mocking smile, “I knew you were too sensible a man to refuse. After all, ’tis but a moment’s work, and all is over.”

“Will you be good enough to give me the explanation now, madam?” said the doctor, almost shuddering at the cold, unfeeling tone in which she spoke.

“Certainly. You are aware, doctor, that when I married my late husband, Mr. Oranmore, he was a widower with one son, then three years old.”

“I am aware of that fact, madam.”

“Well, you also know that when this child, Alfred, was five years of age, my son, Barry, was born.”

“Yes, madam.”

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