The Casual Murderer and Other Stories - Hulbert Footner - ebook

The Casual Murderer and Other Stories ebook

Hulbert Footner

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Opis

Narrated by the character for whom the title is named and set in the late 1600’s, Micah Clarke describes the battle of peasants against the existing king of England in the hopes that they can replace the monarch with his brother who feels he has been unjustly denied the throne. Micah Clarke, a young, innocent peasant joins forces with other peasants, among the Puritans, to fight for this pathetic duke’s cause. It was attempt by Conan Doyle to present the story of the Puritans in a more favorable light than generally thought of in England at the time the book was written – a historical romance about the Monmouth rebellion and ’Hanging Judge’ Jeffries told by a humble adherent of the Duke of Monmouth – the whole story of the rising in Somerset, the triumphant advance towards Bristol and Bath, and the tragic rout at Sedgemoor (1685).

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Liczba stron: 736

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Contents

I. THE CASUAL MURDERER

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

II. THE BLIND FRONT

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

III. THE ALMOST PERFECT MURDER

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

IV. MURDER IN MASQUERADE

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

V. THE DEATH NOTICE

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

VI. TAKEN FOR A RIDE

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VII. IT NEVER GOT INTO THE PAPERS

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

I. THE CASUAL MURDERER

I

I WAS crossing Union Square on my way to the office thinking about nothing at all, when I received one of those curious physical shocks that the sight of an unknown face will sometimes give one. This was a young man sitting on a bench with his long legs stretched before him, and his hands thrust deep into his overcoat pockets. He was out of luck–well, all the benchers in November are out of luck; this one bore it with a difference. His chin was not sunk on his breast, but held level, and his gentian-blue eyes were staring straight before him with an expression of complete despair.

My impulse was to speak to him. I suppressed it, of course, and kept on. How quickly one learns to suppress one’s natural impulses in town! But this one was not going to be so easily suppressed. It set up a painful agitation in my breast. Coward! Coward! a still small voice whispered to me. How about the Good Samaritan? Here is a fellow-creature suffering some wound infinitely more dreadful than wounds of the flesh, and you pass by on the other side!

Before I got to the Seventeenth street corner I was forced to turn around and go back again. A new terror attacked me. What was I to say to a strange man? I was so flustered I walked right past him again. Shame! the voice whispered to me; you’re nearly thirty years old and red-haired and your own mistress! What is there to be afraid off? Don’t think about what you’re going to say; but say the natural thing that springs to your lips.

So I turned around, and marched up to him and said:

“What is the matter?”

He raised the blue eyes to my face, hard with scorn; his tight lips writhed with pain and rage. “That’s my affair,” he said.

Well! I flew. My face was crimson, I expect, Never again! Never again! Never again! I said to myself. The worldly sense which teaches us to restrain our impulses is right!

But before I got back to the Seventeenth Street corner I heard rapid steps coming after me–I would have died sooner than look around; and the resonant, pain-sharp voice at my ear saying quickly:

“I’m sorry. What must you think of me? I didn’t want to hurt you. The fact is I’m nearly out of my mind, and I lashed out blindly…”

I could look at him then. The blue eyes had become human and appealing, and of course, I was instantly melted.

“I understand,” I said. “It was quite natural. I was too abrupt. That was because I was embarrassed.”

“No,” he insisted. “I am a fool. If there was ever anybody who needed a friend in this city it is I…Why, at the moment you spoke to me, and yet I…I was thinking what a God-forsaken, soulless city this is, and yet when you offered me a kindness…”

We were then abreast of the last bench in the Square. “Let us sit down a moment,” I said.

“We did so.

“I suppose you live here,” he said with a painful eagerness; “Do you know the city well?”

“Pretty well,” I said.

“Then tell me, how do you set about finding a person who has disappeared?”

“The police?” I suggested.

An inexpressibly painful smile twisted his lips.

“Yes, I’ve been to police headquarters,” he said. “They advised me to go home and forget about it.”

“If you cared to tell me the circumstances…” I suggested.

“Yes, indeed,” he said–he was humble enough now; “if you’ll only listen. How thankful I am to have somebody to talk to! I should have gone clean out of my senses otherwise!”

His name was Edward Swanley. He was the public librarian of Ancaster, a small town up-state. He had one assistant in the library, a girl Aline Elder. They had fallen in love among the book-shelves, and were engaged to be married. He, Swanley, had gone to Ancaster from college to take the job, but Aline had lived there all her life. Her father and mother were dead and she lived with a large family of cousins. He described her as an old-fashioned sort of girl; that is to say, simple, unaffected and good. She was very pretty. It was clear that he loved her better than his life.

“If I don’t find her,” he said simply, “well…that is the end, for me.”

Six days before Aline had said that she must go to New York for a day’s shopping. The announcement, while unexpected, was not an unnatural one, because all the women in Ancaster allowed themselves a day in New York once or twice a year. But they usually went in parties, or at least in couples, whereas Aline departed alone. Swanley couldn’t accompany her, because they couldn’t both leave the library at the same time. She left Ancaster at noon on the following day, Wednesday, meaning to spend the night in New York, and the whole of Thursday, getting home on the last train Thursday night.

Swanley had met the train, and she was not on it. He was surprised but not greatly put about, expecting a telegram in the morning. There was no telegram, and he began to get anxious. He telegraphed to Aline at her hotel, and got no reply. Later in the day his landlady came to him, saying that she felt it her duty to inform him what they were saying about town, and that was that Aline had received a letter from New York the day before she went, in a man’s handwriting. It had come from an assistant in the post office.

Swanley was enraged, but to doubt Aline was the last thing that occurred to him. Why, her simplicity and goodness of heart were proverbial in Ancaster; her life had been as open as the day; Swanley felt that he knew her heart better than his own. He visited the post office, but the terrified girl stuck to her story; Aline Elder had received a letter with the New York post-mark and addressed in a man’s hand, the day before she went away. The envelope had no lettering on it, but there was a little picture raised in the paper of the flap.

After a night of torment, Swanley set off for town on Saturday morning. He went to a certain woman’s hotel, where Aline had said she would stop, and was informed that she had not been there. He then told his story to the police. When the Inspector was told of the letter Aline had received, he smiled sympathetically at Swanley, and advised him to go back to Ancaster and forget her. That brought the unfortunate young man to the end of his resources. Since then he had been wandering blindly about the streets. It was Monday morning when I found him.

Now I had no right to speak for my busy, famous mistress, but I knew her kind heart, and I took a chance.

“Did you ever hear of Madame Rosika Storey?” I asked Swanley.

He shook his head.

“Everybody in New York knows her,” I said. “She’s a famous psychologist. I’m her secretary, Bella Brickley.”

“What do you mean by psychologist?” he asked.

“Her profession is solving human problems,” I said. “She works through her knowledge of the human heart.”

“Crimes?” he said.

“Crimes and other problems. When there is more time I will tell you of the wonderful things she has done. Come along with me now, and talk to her.”

“I have no money,” he said dejectedly.

“Never mind that,” I said. “She will listen to you. If you succeed in interesting her, the money will not matter.”

“Ah,” he said, “she will just think like everybody else that Aline has gone with some man.”

“Madame Storey never thinks like everybody else,” I said. “She is unique.”

II

Our offices face Gramercy Park, that delightful and still aristocratic little back-water of the town. We are on the second floor of a magnificent old residence which has been sub-divided. My room, the outer office, was I suppose, originally a library or music-room. Through it you enter Mme. Storey’s own room, which was the drawing-room. We have a third room to the rear of that, which we call the middle room, and which Mme. Storey uses as a dressing-room, or for any miscellaneous purposes that may be required.

Swanley had accompanied me, but it was clear he had no great hopes of Mme. Storey. Having told me his story, he had relapsed into himself. While we waited for my mistress, he sat in my room stony with despair.

The door from the hall opened, and Mme. Storey came in. Swanley looked at her in astonishment, and involuntarily rose to his feet. Have I mentioned that he was very tall and well-proportioned? His expression of amazement was almost comical. What he had expected to see I don’t know; some beetle-browed, bespectacled old wise-woman, I suppose. Certainly not this glorious apparition of loveliness. She was wearing a little red hat, I remember–she is the one woman in a thousand who is pretty enough to wear a red hat; and a coat of chipmunk fur with its delicate black stripes; great fluffy collar and cuffs of fox. She had walked down, for her cheeks were as red as her hat, her dark eyes sparkling, and her lips parted to reveal gleaming teeth.

She gave Swanley a comprehensive glance, and I began to be assured that I had made no mistake in bringing him to her. With her insight she must see at once that he was neither a trifler nor a fool. She bowed to him slightly, smiled at me, and went into her room. Swanley stood looking after her with his mouth open.

“But why…why didn’t you tell me…?” he stammered.

“I did tell you she was unique,” I said, and went after Mme. Storey.

“Who is he, Bella?” she asked.

“I picked him up in Union Square,” I said breathlessly. “He’s in trouble. Oh, I know you have a hundred important things to do this morning; but give him ten minutes. Let him talk for himself. He’s terribly eloquent.”

“Bring him in,” she said.

Swanley sat partly to the right of her desk facing her, and I at my little desk over in the corner. He repeated his story as I have already given it to you.

When he came to the end Mme. Storey said at once: “Well, I agree with you, there can be no question of a vulgar love affair here.”

The young man betrayed his first sign of weakness. He hung his head; his face broke up. “Oh, Madame! Oh, Madame!” he murmured brokenly. “Thank you!…I hardly expected…Nobody else…”

He was unable to go on.

Mme. Storey made haste to help him over the difficult place. “Oh, people don’t change their natures over night,” she said briskly. “You have described Miss Elder so that I see her quite clearly. Now, let’s see what we have to start on. The letter. We may assume that there was a letter. Nothing discreditable in that. But Miss Elder was hardly the person to have responded to a summons out of the blue, so to speak. There must have been something in her life to prepare her to receive such a letter, or she wouldn’t have gone.”

“Why didn’t she tell me?” groaned the poor young fellow.

“I don’t know,” said Mme. Storey. “The psychology text-books attempt to classify human motives, but there are mixed motives that defy classification. We’ll find out before we’re through…What was there in her life…”

“Nothing! Nothing!” he cried. “I have told you all.”

“That can hardly be true,” said Mme. Storey. “Let’s go into it. Take her parents, for instance; you said they were both dead. How long?”

“The mother, only two years,” he said. “I knew her. I was strongly attached to her. She was the librarian at Ancaster and I went there as assistant. When she died they promoted me to be librarian, and gave me Aline as assistant.”

“What sort of woman was Mrs. Elder?”

“She had a noble nature, Madame. She was universally respected and loved. Her people have been known in Ancaster since the village was settled.”

“And the father?”

“He did not belong to Ancaster. He died when Aline was a baby. I know very little about him, but I know all that Aline knew. Aline told me that the mention of her father’s name was the only thing that could make her mother’s face harden. Once when Aline was a child, she put it up to her mother frankly: ‘Tell me about my father.’ All her mother would say was that he had treated them both very badly, and the best thing they could do was to put him out of their minds.”

“He was not buried in Ancaster,” said Mme. Storey. “You would have known, I suppose, if his grave was there.”

“It was not there, Madame. He died in Chicago, where the Elders lived during their brief married life. Aline was born in Chicago. After her husband died, Mrs. Elder returned to her native village with the baby.”

“Ha!” said Mme. Storey. “I suspect that Elder did not die at all.”

The young man’s eyes opened wide. “What reason have you to suppose that?” he asked.

“A woman like Mrs. Elder does not cherish rancor,” said Mme. Storey. “Particularly beyond the grave, not in speaking to a child. It was likely the knowledge that he was alive and misbehaving himself that kept her bitter. Why the very form of the words she, used–if you have correctly repeated them, ‘put him out of our minds’ suggests that he was still a person to be reckoned with.”

“Why, of course!” said Swanley.

“Did Aline share her mother’s feelings towards the father?” asked Mme. Storey.

“Not exactly, Madame. Much as she loved her mother, the mere fact that everything had been kept from her, inclined Aline to think that her mother might have been a little unjust.”

“Naturally. Well, there we have the beginning of a clue already.”

“You think that letter was from Aline’s father!” he said excitedly.

“Oh, not so fast!” said Mme. Storey. “I said a beginning.”

“Wait!” cried Swanley. “Here is something. Aline had a little photograph of her father. After her mother’s death she had it framed, and hung it on the wall of her room. I visited her room on Friday; to see if there was any clue. The picture was gone; my attention was called to it by the faded spot on the wallpaper.”

“Well, let us say that her visit to New York had something to do with her father. That’s that…Now, the fact that she never turned up at her hotel and has never sent you a line suggests that she has met with an accident of some sort.”

The young man turned pale.

“Do not lose heart!” said Mme. Storey. “All accidents are not fatal…One feels somehow, that she has an enemy.”

“How could she?”

“That is for us to find out. Suppose there is somebody who wishes her ill; who was plotting against her; that person would be likely to spy on her first. Now, Ancaster is a small place; any stranger whose business could not be accounted for would be conspicuous there. Has there been any such person there lately?”

The young man looked blank, and at first he slowly shook his head. Then a recollection arrested him. “There has been somebody,” he said, “just lately, too, but no one would ever suppose…”

“What are the particulars?” asked Mme. Storey.

“This man turned up late Monday night. Touring in a big car; handsome imported car.”

“Alone?” asked Mme. Storey.

“Well, he had his chauffeur. He put up at the local hotel, and stayed on. Said he was attracted by the beauty of the village.”

“In November!” remarked Mme. Storey.

“Well, nobody thought anything about that. An agreeable sort of man; willing to talk to anybody.”

“What name did he give?”

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