The Curved Blades - Carolyn Wells - ebook

The Curved Blades ebook

Carolyn Wells

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If you like Agatha Christie, or Henry James, or simply search for an author whose writing and characters you’ll enjoy, look no farther than Wells’ Fleming Stone Mysteries. In this one, wealthy but ornery heiress Lucy Carrington is found dead in her home following a spat with her niece, one of the two heirs to her fortune. With police baffled, master criminologist Fleming Stone is called in. But in a romantic twist, the great detective loses his heart to the primary suspect. Will she reciprocate? Will he get to close to her to solve the mystery of... The Curved Blades? Will emotion blind him to the facts in this case? Curl up with this classic cozy whodunit from Carolyn Wells, author of „The Clue”.

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Liczba stron: 329

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Contents

I. MISS LUCY CARRINGTON

II. A CLASH OF TONGUES

III. THE TRAGEDY

IV. A PAPER SNAKE

V. A MAN’S GLOVE

VI. A NEIGHBOR’S CALL

VII. THE INQUEST

VIII. ANITA’S STORY

IX. FURTHER TESTIMONY

X. BIZARRE CLUES

XI. FLEMING STONE

XII. ESTELLE’S STORY

XIII. BATES, THE BURGLAR

XIV. WHO GAVE THE POISON?

XV. PAULINE’S PURCHASE

XVI. THE TWO GIRLS

XVII. THE OVERHEARD CONVERSATION

XVIII. FLED!

XIX. LETTERS FROM THE FUGITIVE

XX. IN THE BOUDOIR

XXI. FLEMING STONE’S THEORY

XXII. PAULINE IN CAIRO

XXIII. TWO WILLS

XXIV. CONFESSION

I. MISS LUCY CARRINGTON

“Garden Steps” was one of the show-places of Merivale Park, Long Island. In summer it was an enchanting spot, and the dazzling white marble steps which led to the sunken gardens justified their right to give the place its name. Other stone steps gave on terraces and flower banks, others still led to the Italian landscape gardens, and a few rustic steps of a wooden stile transported one to an old-fashioned garden, whose larkspur and Canterbury bells were the finest of their sort.

The house seemed an integral part of this setting. Its wide verandahs, or more often loggias, were so lavishly furnished with flowering plants, its windows so boxed with them, that the whole effect was that of a marvellously well-planned horticultural exhibition.

But all this was of the summer. In winter–for it was an all-round-the-year home–only the varied and extraordinary collection of evergreens shared with the steps the honor of making picturesque and beautiful the view from the house windows.

And now, in January, one of the all too seldom enjoyed white snow storms had glorified the whole estate. Wind-swept drifts half hid, half disclosed the curving marble balustrades, and turned the steps to snowy fairyland flights.

And, for it was night, a cold, dear, perfect winter night, a supercilious moon looked down, a little haughtily and condescended to illumine the scene in stunning, if a bit theatric, fashion.

“Ripping picture, eh?” said Gray Haviland, as he held back the heavy curtain for the golden-haired young woman at his side to look out.

“Oh, isn’t it a wonderful sight!” And as Anita Frayne took a step forward, toward the casement, Haviland let the curtain fall behind him and the two were alone in the deep embrasure of the wide bay-window.

“Not nearly such a wonderful sight as you are!” Haviland swung her round to face him, and stood gazing at the pretty, doll-like face that half laughed, half frowned into his own.

“Me! I’m not like a moonlit landscape!”

“No, you’re just a golden morsel of summer sunshine–” Haviland’s eulogy was interrupted by a petulant voice calling shrilly:

“Where are you two? I hear you talking; come on. I’m waiting.”

“Oh, Lord! come on,” and, holding the curtain aside, he let Anita pass and then followed her.

“Here we are, Cousin Lucy, all ready for the fray. Good evening, Count.”

Count Charlier bowed Frenchily, and Anita gave him the bright, flashing smile that she kept on hand for mankind in general, and which was quite different from that she used on special occasions or for special friends.

Annoyed at the duration of this delaying smile, Miss Lucy Carrington tapped impatiently on the bridge table, and looked her impatience most unmistakably.

Mistress of Garden Steps, wealthy, well-born, of assured social position, capable and efficient, Miss Carrington lacked the one gift of Fate for which she would have bartered all else. She was not beautiful, and had not even enough pretension to good looks to think herself beautiful. Plain features, graying hair–dyed red–big, prominent light-blue eyes, and a pasty, pudgy complexion left no hope for the miracles worked by beauty doctors to avail in her case. Her figure was short and dumpy, the despair of her staymakers, and her taste in dress ran to the extremes in coloring and fashion.

Passionately fond of all beauty, Miss Carrington felt keenly her own lack of it, and to this lack she attributed the fact that she was a spinster. Those who knew her felt there might be other reasons why her suitors had been few, but, as a matter of fact, the acidity of her disposition was a direct result of her disappointed, loveless life, and even yet, though nearing fifty, Miss Lucy Carrington had by no means laid aside all thoughts of matrimonial adventure.

Heiress to immense wealth, there had been fortune-seekers who asked her hand, but Lucy Carrington would none of these. Aristocratic and high-minded, she had unerring perception of motives, and the men who had been willing to marry her face as well as her fortune had been of such unworth that the lady scorned them.

But now, looming on her hopes’ horizon was a welcome possibility. Count Henri Charlier, a visitor of a neighbor, seemingly admired the mistress of Garden Steps and had fallen into the habit of frequent calling. Courteous and polished of manner, he flattered Miss Carrington in such wise that his attitude was acceptable if not indubitably sincere. Her closest scrutiny and most challenging provocation failed to surprise any admission of her lack of perfection in his eyes, and his splendid physique and brilliant mind commanded her complete approval and admiration. There had been hints that his title could not be read entirely clear, but this was not sufficient to condemn him in Miss Carrington’s eyes.

To be sure, the Count had as yet said no word that could be construed as of definite intention, but there had been certain signs, deemed portentous by the willing mind of the lady in question.

Bridge was Miss Carrington’s favorite diversion, and, as the Count also enjoyed it, frequent evenings were devoted to the game.

It was, perhaps, a mistake that Miss Carrington should have allowed this, for her temper, always uncertain, lost all restraint when she suffered ill-luck at cards. A poor hand always brought down violent objurgation on the head of her partner and sarcastic comment or criticism on her adversaries. These exhibitions of wrath were not good policy if she wished to charm the French visitor, but, as he invariably kept his own temper, his irate hostess made little effort to curb hers.

“What are you doing, Anita?” cried Miss Carrington, petulantly, as they settled themselves at the table. “You know I always play with the blue cards, and you are dealing them!”

“Sure enough! Pardon me, Lady Lucy, I will take the red ones.”

“Then, pray, wait till I make them up. There. No, let the Count cut them! Have you no notion of bridge rules? You are quite the most inattentive player! Will you kindly concentrate on the game?”

“Yes, indeed,” and Anita Frayne smiled as she deftly dealt the red cards. “I hope you have a good hand.”

“You hope I have a good hand! A strange idea for an adversary!”

“But I know you like to win,” and Miss Frayne hastily gathered up her own cards.

“I do not like to have you want me to win! That’s babyish. I like to win by superior skill, not merely by lucky cards!”

This was an awful whopper, and all at the table knew it, but it was ignored and the game began.

Miss Carrington–Lady Lucy, as she liked to be called–did not hold good hands. On the contrary, she had a run of bad luck that made her more and more irate with each hand dealt. Miss Frayne, who was her protégée and social secretary, watched with growing apprehension the red spots that appeared in Miss Carrington’s cheeks, infallible danger signals of an impending outbreak.

It came.

“Another handful of blanks!” Miss Carrington exclaimed, angrily, and flung the offending thirteen cards across the wide room.

“There now, Cousin Lucy,” said Gray Haviland, determined to keep the peace if possible, “that was a clever idea! It will certainly change your luck! I’ll collect the pasteboards, and we’ll start fresh.”

Easily, the big, good-looking young chap sauntered across the room and gathered up the cards, chatting meanwhile. “You don’t lose your deal, you know; so try again, Cousin Lucy, and good luck to you!”

In angry silence Miss Carrington dealt again, and examined her hand. “Nothing above a nine spot!” she declared, throwing them, backs up, on the table.

“Too bad!” murmured Miss Frayne, carelessly picking up the hand. “Why, you didn’t look closely! Here’s an ace and two queens and–”

“They’re nothing! How dare you dispute my word? I say the hand is worthless!” She fairly snatched the cards from the girl and turned them face down again.

“But mad’moiselle,” began the Count, “if you have an ace and two queens, I could have played a no-trump hand grand,–ah, splendid!”

“Yes, you could have played it! You want to play all the open hands! You want me to sit here a dummy, a figure-head, every time!”

“Now, now, Lady Lucy–” and Anita Frayne laughed pleasantly.

“Be quiet! You’re worse yet! You want to deal me good hands to humor me! I believe you would cheat to do it! I don’t want good cards that way!”

“Ah,” begged the Count, seeing Anita flush, “do not tell the young lady she cheats! Do not do that!”

“I’ll tell her what I choose! Gray, say something! You sit there like a mummy, while these people are insulting me right and left! Tell Anita that I am right in not wishing her to deal me good cards purposely.”

“But she didn’t,” declared Haviland; “you know she didn’t. Why, she couldn’t, even if she wanted to!”

“Oh, yes, she could!” and Miss Carrington gave a disagreeable sneer. “She’s quite clever enough for any deceit or treachery.”

“Stop, Cousin Lucy! I can’t let you talk so about Miss Frayne in my presence!”

“Oh, you can’t, can’t you? And, pray, what right have you to defend her? Go away, both of you! I’ll play with you no longer. Go away and send Pauline and Mr. Illsley in here. They, at least, will play fair.”

Anita Frayne rose without a word. Haviland rose too, but talking volubly. “Let up, Cousin Lucy,” he said sternly. “You’ve no right to treat Miss Frayne so. You ought to apologize to her for such rudeness.”

“Apologize!” Miss Carrington fairly shrieked; “she’ll do the apologizing, and you, too, my foolish young cousin. You little know what’s going to happen to me! To-morrow you may sing another song!”

Haviland looked at her in astonishment; the Count, thoughtfully. The same idea was in both their minds. Could she mean that she was expecting the Count to propose to her that evening?

“Nothing nice can happen to you unless you learn to control that temper of yours,” and Haviland swung away after Anita.

He found her in the next room, nestled in the corner of a big davenport, weeping into a sympathetic sofa-cushion.

“Go and find the others,” she whispered, as he came near her. “Make them go and play with her!”

Obediently, Haviland went. In the glassed sun-parlor he found Pauline Stuart, Miss Carrington’s niece, and Stephen Illsley, one of the most favored of Pauline’s many suitors.

“For goodness’ sake, people,” he began, “do go and play bridge with the Lady of the Manor! She’s in a peach of a fury, and you’ll have to take your life in your hands, but go!”

“I won’t,” said Pauline, bluntly; “It’s Anita’s turn to-night. She said she’d do it.”

“She did! But she came off second best, and she’s weeping buckets on the best Empire embroidery sofa-cushions! I’m going to comfort her, but you must go and keep the gentle Lucy from pulling the house down about our ears! She’s sure queering herself with his nibs! He can’t admire her sweet, flower-like soul after this night’s exhibition.”

“I don’t want to go a bit, but I suppose we’ll have to,” and Pauline smiled at her guest.

“Oh, go on,” said Haviland, as he turned to leave them; “and, for Heaven’s sake, give her all the good cards. Can you manage that, Illsley?”

“I am afraid not. Her eyes are too sharp.”

“Well, if her luck stays bad, get her to play mumble-peg or something, instead of bridge.”

Haviland disappeared and Pauline rose unwillingly. “I do so hate to play with Aunt Lucy,” she said, “but it must be done. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself?”

“For you? Always!” And the two went to the cardroom.

Pauline Stuart, tall, dark, graceful, was a striking-looking girl. Only twenty-four, she carried herself with the dignity and poise of a duchess, and her heavy, dark brows gave her face an expression of strength and will-power that contrasted forcibly with the delicate Dresden china beauty of Anita Frayne. The two girls were not especially friendly, though never definitely at odds. Anita was envious of the more fortunate Pauline. The latter, Miss Carrington’s niece, would inherit a goodly part of her aunt’s large fortune, while the humble position of the secretary commanded only a liberal, not munificent, salary.

The girls, however, were at one in their dread of Miss Lucy’s ebullitions of temper and their resentment of the biting sarcasms and angry diatribes she flung at them in her frequent spasms of fury.

Illsley, a well-set-up chap of good address, followed Pauline into her aunt’s presence.

“You waited long enough,” grumbled Miss Carrington. “Sit down. It’s your deal now, Pauline.”

Matters went well for a time. Miss Lucy held good cards, and once or twice she triumphed through a mistake of her adversaries, which she fortunately did not discover was made on purpose.

Count Charlier’s little bright black eyes darted inquiringly from aunt to niece, but he made no comment. All four played well, and when at last Miss Carrington made a grand slam her joy was effervescent.

“Good play,” she flattered herself. “You must admit, Count, that it was clever of me to take that difficult finesse just at that critical point.”

“Clever indeed, mademoiselle. You have the analytical mind; you should have been a diplomat. Also, Fortune favors you. You are beloved of the fickle goddess.”

“Let us hope so,” and for a moment Miss Carrington looked grave.

And then, with the perversity of that same goddess, the card luck changed. Pauline and Illsley held all the high cards, Miss Lucy and the Count only the low ones.

Storm signals showed. Whiter grew the stern, set face; tighter drew the thin, wide lips; and rigid muscles set themselves in the angry, swelling throat. Then, as she scanned a hand of cards, all below the ten, again they went in a shower across the room, and she cried, angrily: “A Yarborough!” reverting to the old-fashioned term.

“Never mind, Aunt Lucy,” and Pauline tried to laugh it off; “this is not your lucky night. Let’s give up bridge for to-night. Let’s have some music.”

“Yes! because you love music and hate bridge! It makes no difference what I want. My wishes are never considered. You and Anita are just alike! Selfish, ungrateful, caring for nothing but your own pleasure. Mr. Illsley, don’t you think young girls should pay some slight attention to the wishes of one who does everything for them? Where would either of them be but for me? Are you not sorry for me?”

“Why,–I–you must excuse me, I am not sure I understand–”

“Yes, you understand, perfectly well. You know the girls slight me and snub me every chance they get. But it will not always be thus. To-morrow–”

“Come, Aunt Lucy,” pleaded Pauline, “let us have some music. You know there are some new records, just arrived to-day. Let us hear them.”

“Are there new records? Did you get the ones I wanted?”

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