The Clue - Carolyn Wells - ebook

The Clue ebook

Carolyn Wells

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On the eve of her wedding day, Madeleine Van Norman, a beautiful young lady who is soon to come into her family fortune is found dead, apparently stabbed with an ominous blood-stained letter opener found nearby. Who killed her – the cousin who loved her but had been rejected; her fiancé, who was in love with another woman; her secretary, who loved the fiancé; the eccentric spinster who stood to inherit her property? „The Clue”, published in 1909, is the first book in the Detective Fleming Stone series. It falls squarely in the tradition of two favorite mystery sub-genres – the Big House Mystery and the Locked Room Mystery. Detective Fleming Stone is cool and methodical, not unlike his more famous fictional contemporaries, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. The twist is that he doesn’t appear until the second half of the story.

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Liczba stron: 314

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Contents

I. The Van Normans

II. Miss Morton Arrives

III. A Cry in the Night

IV. Suicide or ——?

V. A Case for the Coroner

VI. Fessenden Comes

VII. Mr. Benson’s Questions

VIII. A Soft Lead Pencil

IX. The Will

X. Some Testimony

XI. “I Decline to Say”

XII. Dorothy Burt

XIII. An Interview With Cicely

XIV. The Carleton Household

XV. Fessenden’s Detective Work

XVI. Searching for Clues

XVII. Miss Morton’s Statements

XVIII. Carleton is Frank

XIX. The Truth About Miss Burt

XX. Cicely’s Flight

XXI. A Successful Pursuit

XXII. A Talk With Miss Morton

XXIII. Fleming Stone

XXIV. A Confession

I

THE VAN NORMANS

The old Van Norman mansion was the finest house in Mapleton. Well back from the road, it sat proudly among its finely kept lawns and gardens, as if with a dignified sense of its own importance, and its white, Colonial columns gleamed through the trees, like sentinels guarding the entrance to the stately hall.

All Mapleton was proud of the picturesque old place, and it was shown to visiting strangers with the same pride that the native villagers pointed out the Memorial Library and the new church.

More than a half-century old, the patrician white house seemed to glance coldly on the upstart cottages, whose inadequate pillars supported beetling second stories, and whose spacious, filigreed verandas left wofully small area for rooms inside the house.

The Van Norman mansion was not like that. It was a long rectangle, and each of its four stories was a series of commodious, well-shaped apartments.

And its owner, the beautiful Madeleine Van Norman, was the most envied as well as the most admired young woman in the town.

Magnificent Madeleine, as she was sometimes called, was of the haughty, imperious type which inspires admiration and respect rather than love. An orphan and an heiress, she had lived all of her twenty-two years of life in the old house, and since the death of her uncle, two years before, had continued as mistress of the place, ably assisted by a pleasant, motherly chaperon, a clever social secretary, and a corps of capable servants.

The mansion itself and an income amply sufficient to maintain it were already legally her own, but by the terms of her uncle’s will she was soon to come into possession of the bulk of the great fortune he had left.

Madeleine was the only living descendant of old Richard Van Norman, save for one distant cousin, a young man of a scapegrace and ne’er-do-weel sort, who of late years had lived abroad.

This young man’s early life had been spent in Mapleton, but, his fiery temper having brought about a serious quarrel with his uncle, he had wisely concluded to take himself out of the way.

And yet Tom Willard was not of a quarrelsome disposition. His bad temper was of the impulsive sort, roused suddenly, and as quickly suppressed. Nor was it often in evidence. Good-natured, easy-going Tom would put up with his uncle’s criticism and fault-finding for weeks at a time, and then, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he would fly into a rage and express himself in fluent if rather vigorous English.

For Richard Van Norman had been by no means an easy man to live with. And it was Tom’s general amiability that had made him the usual scapegoat for his uncle’s ill temper. Miss Madeleine would have none of it. Quite as dictatorial as the old man himself she allowed no interference with her own plans and no criticism of her own actions.

This had proved the right way to manage Mr. Van Norman, and he had always acceded to Madeleine’s requests or submitted to her decrees without objection, though there had never been any demonstration of affection between the two.

But demonstration was quite foreign to the nature of both uncle and niece, and in truth they were really fond of each other in their quiet, reserved way. Tom Willard was different. His affection was of the honest and outspoken sort, and he made friends easily, though he often lost them with equal rapidity.

On account, then, of his devotion to Madeleine, and his enmity toward young Tom Willard, Richard Van Norman had willed the old place to his niece, and had further directed that the whole of his large fortune should be unrestrictedly bestowed upon her on her wedding-day, or on her twenty-third birthday, should she reach that age unmarried. In event of her death before her marriage, and also before her twenty-third birthday, the whole estate would go to Tom Willard.

It was with the greatest reluctance that Richard Van Norman decreed this, but a provision had to be made in case of Madeleine’s early death, and Willard was the only other natural heir. And now, at twenty-two, Madeleine was on the eve of marriage to Schuyler Carleton, a member of one of the oldest and best families of Mapleton.

The village gossips were pleased to commend this union, as Mr. Carleton was a man of irreproachable habits, and handsome enough to appear well beside the magnificent Madeleine.

He was not a rich man, but, as her marriage would bring her inheritance, they could rank among the millionaires of the day. Yet there were those who feared for the future happiness of this apparently ideal couple.

Mrs. Markham, who was both housekeeper and chaperon to her young charge, mourned in secret over the attitude of the betrothed pair.

“He adores her, I’m sure,” she said to herself, “but he is too courtly and polished in his manner. I’d rather he would impulsively caress her, or involuntarily call her by some endearing name than to be always so exquisitely deferential and polite. And Madeleine must love him, or why should she marry him? Yet she is so haughty and formal, she might be a very duchess instead of a young American girl. But that’s Madeleine all over. I’ve never seen her exhibit any real emotion over anything. Ah, well, I’m an old-fashioned fool. Doubtless, they’re cooing doves when alone together, but their high-bred notions won’t allow any sentiment shown before other people. But I almost wish she were going to marry Tom. He has sentiment and enthusiasm enough for two, and the relationship is so distant it’s not worth thinking about. Dear old Tom! He’s the only one who ever stirs Madeleine out of that dignified calm of hers.”

And that was true enough. Madeleine had inherited the Van Norman traits of dignity and reserve to such an extent that it was difficult for any one to be a really close friend.

She had, too, a strange little air of preoccupation, and even when interested in a conversation would appear to look through or beyond her companion in a way that was discouraging to the average caller.

So Miss Van Norman was by no means a favorite with the Mapleton young people in a personal sense, but socially she was their leader, and to be on her invitation list was the highest aspiration of the village “climbers.”

And now that she was about to marry Schuyler Carleton, the event of the wedding was the only thing talked of, thought of, or dreamed of by Mapleton society.

Madeleine, who always kept in touch with Tom Willard by correspondence, had written him of her approaching marriage, and he had responded by coming at once to America to attend the ceremony.

Relieved from the embarrassment of his uncle’s presence, Tom was his jovial self, and showed forth all the reprehensible attractiveness which so often belongs to the scapegrace nature. He sometimes quarreled with Madeleine over trifles, then, making up the next minute, he would caress and pet her with the privileged air of a relative.

He was glad to be back among the familiar scenes of Mapleton, and he went about the town renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, and charming all by his winning personality.

In less than a week he had more friends in the village than Schuyler Carleton had ever made.

Carleton, though handsome and distinguished-looking, was absolutely without personal magnetism or charm, which traits were found in abundance in Tom Willard.

The friends of Schuyler Carleton attributed his reserved, almost repellent demeanor to shyness, and this was partly true. His acquaintances said it was indifference, and this again, was partly true. Then his enemies, of whom he had some, vowed that his cold, curt manner of speech was merely snobbishness, and this was not true at all.

His manner toward his fiancée was all that the most exacting could require in the matter of courtesy and punctilious politeness. He was markedly undemonstrative in public, and if this were true of his behavior when the two were alone, it was probably because Madeleine herself neither inspired nor desired terms or acts of endearment.

Tom’s attitude toward Madeleine angered Carleton extremely, but when he spoke to her on the subject he was gaily informed that the matter of cousinly affection was outside the jurisdiction of a fiancée.

Tom, on his part, was desperately in love with Madeleine, and had been for years. Repeatedly he had begged her to marry him, and she knew in her heart that his plea was prompted by his love for herself and not by any consideration of her fortune.

And yet, should she marry another, all hope of his uncle’s money would be forever lost to Tom Willard.

But prodigal and spendthrift that he was, if Tom felt any regret at his vanishing fortunes, he showed no sign of it. Save for sudden and often easily provoked bursts of temper, he was infectiously gay and merry, and was the life of the house party already gathered under Madeleine’s roof.

The fact that Tom was staying at the Van Norman house, which of course Carleton could not do, gave Willard an advantage over the prospective bridegroom, of which he was by no means unconscious. Partly to tease the imperturbable but jealous Carleton, and partly because of his own affection for his cousin, Tom devoted himself assiduously to Madeleine, especially when Carleton was present.

“You see, Maddy,” Tom would say, “there are only a few days left of our boy and girl chumminess. I fancy that after you are married, Schuyler won’t let me speak to you, save in most formal terms, so I must see all I can of you now.”

Then he would tuck her arm through his own, and take her for a stroll in the grounds, and Carleton, coming to search for her, would find them cosily chatting in a secluded arbor, or drifting lazily in a canoe on the tiny, lily-padded lake.

These things greatly annoyed Schuyler Carleton, but remonstrance was never an easy task for him, nor did it ever affect Madeleine pleasantly.

“I wish, Madeleine,” he had said one day, when he had waited two hours for her to return from a drive with Tom, “that you would have a little regard for appearances, if you have none for my wishes. It is not seemly for my betrothed wife to be driving all over the country with another man.”

Magnificent Madeleine looked straight at him, tilting her head back slightly to look beneath her half-closed lids.

“It is not seemly,” she said, “for my betrothed husband to imply that I could be at fault in a matter of propriety or punctilio. That is not possible.”

“You are right,” he said, and his eyes gleamed with admiration of her glorious beauty and imperious manner. “Forgive me,–you are indeed right.”

Though Schuyler Carleton may not have been lavish of affection, he begrudged no admiration to the splendid woman he had won.

And yet, had he but known it, the apparently scornful and haughty girl was craving a more tender and gentle love, and would gladly have foregone his admiration to have received more affection.

“But it will come,” Madeleine thought to herself. “I am not of the “clinging vine’ type, I know; but after we are married, surely Schuyler will be less formally polite, and more,–well,–chummy.”

Yet Madeleine herself was chummy with nobody save Tom.

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