To the Minute. Scarlet and Black. Two Tales of Life’s Perplexities - Anna Katharine Green - ebook

To the Minute. Scarlet and Black. Two Tales of Life’s Perplexities ebook

Anna Katharine Green

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Looking for a satisfying, meticulously plotted mystery with which to while away an afternoon? Look no further than „To the Minute. Scarlet and Black. Two Tales of Life’s Perplexities”, a short story from one of the most influential early writers in the genre, Anna Katherine Green. Her remarkable skill in leading readers to the unexpected but fascinating solution to this puzzle mystery makes this story an eminently worthwhile read. Written in the 1916s, this story is chock full of twists and turns, lies, love and honor, and compelling characters acting for good or ill. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 198

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Contents

To The Minute

Chapter 1. I Set The Clock

Chapter 2. Seth Fullerton Wants To Buy

Chapter 3. Judith Loses A Key

Chapter 4. The Closet of Long Ago

Chapter 5. I Watch

Chapter 6. I Attack

Chapter 7. A Hunt And—

Chapter 8. A Question

Chapter 9. The Question Answered

Scarlet and Black

Chapter 1. The White Cloth And What Lay On It

Chapter 2. The Victor And The Vanquished

Chapter 3. My Romance Receives A Shock

Chapter 4. Krov

Chapter 5. Walls Should Be Thicker Or Voices Less Penetrating

Chapter 6. What Are The Stakes?

Chapter 7. In My Own Vestibule

Chapter 8. We Shall Meet Once Again

Chapter 9. Still The Scarlet Countess

Chapter 10. I Have But One Duty

To The Minute

Chapter 1

I Set The Clock

There are some things so out of the pale of common experience–intuitions so compelling, coincidences so startling, that the mind, accustomed as it is to the usual, refuses to accept them as real, and for one unreasoning instant, if no more, feels the oppression of forces hitherto unknown and possibly hitherto denied. Of such a coincidence I write, one trifling in itself, but perhaps for that very reason the more disturbing.

I had come into town on the four o’clock train. Though a native of the village, I had no interest in it and so made not a single stop between the station and the old homestead in which I had been born. I had been a rebellious boy and had run away from home before I was fifteen. By home, I mean the house where my grandfather held full sway. Orphaned in infancy, I had been brought up under the harsh tyranny of a man who had but one thought–to live on as little as possible and make everyone about him do the same. Had I been of a more patient disposition, I should probably have inherited such property as he had to leave, but being the boy I was, and a runaway to boot, I awoke one fine day to find the little pittance due me willed to my cousin Judith, an orphan like myself and like myself much in need (or so I had understood) of any and all good fortune which might come her way.

It was on her behalf I was making this return visit to Granville. Though grandfather had been dead two months,–having committed suicide one fine evening in his chagrin, as some said, at finding he could no longer support himself on ten cents a day,–she had never made the first move to profit by his bequest, refusing even to change her very humble abode for the more commodious one to which she had fallen heir. Why she had acted in a fashion so inimical to her own interests I had never heard explained. But I expected to hear all her reasons for the same, and much more, in the interview which had been arranged between us.

Once I paused on the hot highway to take out and carefully reread the letter which was hastening me to her side. It ran:

Dear Cousin:     I think you ought to know that Grandfather’s house is in the market. I may be mistaken in thinking you have any interest in its fate, but if from any family feeling you should care to purchase it for yourself, allow me to say that the only person I know likely to compete with you for its ownership is Seth Fullerton, whose property adjoins it on two sides.            Yours very truly,                      Judith Mann

I knew this Fullerton. I had often met him in Boston, where he spent much time. Indeed, we were members of the same club, and had it not been for a dislike I have for an evasive eye and a lip more adapted for sneers than smiles, I might have found him attractive in person and of an agreeable wit. But his eye prejudiced me, and half my errand in Granville was to defeat him in any wish he might have for the acquisition of our family homestead. That was before I saw it. But when at a turn of the road I caught my first glimpse of its once familiar walls and closely huddled outhouses, I had an instinct of revulsion which almost sent me back on the next train.

Nothing I had seen in the whole length of my walk from the station had prepared me for the sight of such dilapidation, and in the first heat of my disappointment–for there was nothing to be seen here which would warrant any sacrifice on my part–I was conscious of an unseemly anger against Judith for her neglect of a property once esteemed valuable. If she had not wished to occupy the house herself, why had she not rented it? And then I remembered that it had not been in her power to do so; that the property had been left her under the proviso that she should allow no one but herself to sleep in the house for two months on pain of forfeiture to the next of kin. As I was the next of kin, and as Judith had no reason for regarding me with favour, I could well understand why she had accepted the alternative of leaving the old place to itself. She was a girl of strong character (or so I had been told), and what was equally important, of face and figure to match this character–with the result that, notwithstanding her poverty, she easily held her place as the most notable person in town.

While at the station, I had been given a key to the house, with the injunction that I was to admit nobody till she came. Amused at her caution but quite resolved to respect it, I locked the door on entering; then I began to look about me.

How well I remembered the little hall! A row of pegs beneath the climb of the staircase, and nothing more. Yes, there was something more–a blotch of dirt on the whitewash underneath one of the pegs. It had been made a dozen years before by my hat, hung up dripping with mud from the ditch where it had fallen. There was something uncanny in that ring of dirt in a place bare of everything else. Hastily I entered what had once been the sitting-room. The darkness I encountered gave me time to marshal my memories, but they soon vanished before the stark reality made visible by the opening of one of the shutters. The room was bare–no furniture in it but a forlorn wooden rocker and a table pushed up against a wall on which hung a shelf holding an old-fashioned timepiece.

I had never stepped into a place more desolate; yet here I had been bidden to stay. Why didn’t she come? Why should she keep me waiting in a spot so uninviting? Impatient by nature, and none too well pleased with my present position, I began pacing the floor. When wearied of that, I sat down and looked at the clock. I wondered if it was as dead as my grandfather; whether, in fact, it could be made to go!

Jumping up, I cast a glance from the window I had managed to open, and seeing nobody in the road, approached the clock with a laugh which, in that dim and stuffy atmosphere, sounded far from cheerful. I had little trouble in setting it going. The key was in its place in the little cubbyhole where the pendulum swung; and soon the silence which I had found so irksome yielded to the steady tick which was one of the strongest memories of my miserable childhood.

Tick-tick! What a relief from the monotonous quiet! But I was not satisfied with the suggestion of renewed life. Now that I had started up the clock, the next thing was to set it. Taking out my watch, I found that an hour had passed since I consulted it last at the station. It was now just twenty-three minutes to five. Whether in my abstraction I muttered these figures aloud I cannot say. Afterwards I thought I did, but I cannot be sure. That I made no mistake as to the exact minute I am convinced.

Twenty-three minutes to five!

Gratified at the success of this piece of boyish folly, I shut the door of the clock and turned back again to the window. The road was still empty. Breaking into a loud whistle, I began pacing to and fro between the window and the table, when my eye suddenly lighted on a wad of paper lying on the table, which had been as bare as my hand a moment before. Lifting it, I opened it out and saw that it held one line of writing. As I read this line, I vow that I felt the hair stir on my forehead, The words–there were five–were the exact words I had just made use of, if not aloud, then with definite distinctness in my mind.

Twenty-three minutes to five.

It was, as I have already said, a trivial coincidence, but it was so inexplicable in its precision that I should hardly have been more startled if the haunting sense of my grandfather’s vanished presence in this room had suddenly materialized itself into a shadow of his form upon the wall. Indeed, if I had seen an actual hand reaching from nowhere to draw back into the invisible and unknown this slip of paper it had a moment before let fall before my eyes, it would have added but little to the instant’s impression of some supernatural presence.

Nevertheless I was man enough to take this scrap of writing which had not been drawn from my grasp, and carry it outside into the blazing light of the afternoon sun. This only showed it to be as real as it had seemed fantastical. The paper was cream-laid, the writing masculine–my grandfather’s, no doubt; and the words the precise five I have already repeated: Twenty-three minutes to five.

As I read them again and again, I could not but ask myself what had happened at the hour thus carefully recorded. Or, if coincidences meant anything, what was due to happen in a future yet unread and unthought of? I was so interested in weighing the one possibility against the other that I was unreasonably surprised when I heard the swishing of approaching skirts and, looking up, saw my cousin advancing upon me through a lane of hollyhocks.

I am not a man of much sentiment, but at this first glimpse of the lithe and incomparable figure of Judith Mann swinging towards me through a bloom which added to rather than detracted from her potent and conspicuous beauty, I marvelled at the change which the sight of a perfect woman made in the aspect of things about me. The sun was no longer scorching and uncomfortable; nor was the landscape now dull and dispiriting. Even the decaying structure at my back had lost its air of supreme desolation, and whatever shadow remained in my mind from the bizarre experience I have just related, vanished in the exhilaration of this new delight.

Chapter 2

Seth Fullerton Wants To Buy

There was some constraint in our meeting, but not much. Though we had not seen each other in a dozen years, we still were cousins and bore the same name. As is natural in such cases, she was the first to speak. It was only to utter my name, but the tone delighted me; and with a smile, I said:

“The years have made some difference, then? We used to quarrel savagely, as children.”

She blushed, and my heart began to dance; but I was careful not to betray my pleasure too openly, for Judith’s eye was one to keep an inconsiderate man in check. Instead, I launched into an immediate discussion of the matter which had brought us together.

“Must this property be sold?” I asked.

“It must.” Her tone was sweet but strangely incisive. “I lack the means to pay the taxes.” My eyes, which had been fixed upon her face, radiant even in this glow of sunshine, fell to her frock, which had given me the impression of simple elegance, but which on closer inspection I found to be quite inexpensive.

“I make enough for my clothes and food,” she smiled, with a quick understanding of my look which made the colour spring into my own cheek, “but nothing beyond. I wish I had been more thoroughly educated.”

What made me think just then of a chance rumour hitherto forgotten? Had there not been some talk last winter about her marrying, and was not the man this very Fullerton who now proposed to buy her house? I was sure that I had once heard their names linked together, and conscious of a certain disagreeable shock at the thought, I said, with what composure I could: “What sort of a man is this Fullerton you wrote me about? I have met him more than once at the club, but I cannot say that I fully understand him. Does he propose to buy this property to please himself or–or for a kinder reason?” Somehow it seemed imperative for me to know then and there his motives and his hopes.

She met the blunt appeal with cool straightforwardness:

“He has always wanted these few acres–wanted them beyond all reason–wanted them more than he wanted me in the few months we were engaged. That is why I refused to marry him. I naturally wished to stand first in his regard.”

“How did he show his preference?” I asked, in doubt of her discrimination, seeing that she was one of the most desirable of women, and these acres, as she called them, of meagre value and no visible attraction. “What has he ever said or done to lead you into crediting him with such poor taste?”

“He has said nothing. He only made me feel that his greatest desire was to own this house and live in it. You see what it is, and you can see what his own is if you will look that way, and yet he wanted to leave his up-to-date dwelling and move in here. He wanted to marry me the week after Grandfather died, and take his place here as master. Not because of any real affection for me,–a woman knows when she is loved,–but because of the house. Why?”

I glanced up at the time-stained walls and in at the open window. Nothing attractive met my eye, nothing fine, nothing picturesque; and secretly wondering, I repeated within myself the simple question. “Why?” Meanwhile Judith went on to say:

“When I was quite sure of what I tell you, I refused to consider his proposal. Assuring him that my mind had changed with my circumstances, I declared that I no longer wished to marry. This angered him, but not for the reason I had a right to expect–or why should he have asked, in that cold-blooded way of his, how soon I expected to move in here and whether I intended to live alone in a house big enough for a large family?”

“And what did you say to that?”

“That I had no intention of moving at present–that I liked my own little cottage best and was going to stay in it.”

“And how did that affect him?”

“He looked grateful, or I thought he did. But he has a face hard to read when he chooses to be mysterious.”

“Mysterious?”

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