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A Chain of Evidence
By Carolyn Wells
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2015 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE GIRL ACROSS THE HALL
I DO HATE CHANGES, BUT when my sister Laura, who keeps house for me, determined to move further uptown, I really had no choice in the matter but to acquiesce. I am a bachelor of long standing, and it's my opinion that the way to manage women is simply to humor their whims, and since Laura's husband died I've been rather more indulgent to her than before. Any way, the chief thing to have in one's household is peace, and I found I secured that easily enough by letting Laura do just as she liked; and as in return she kept my home comfortable and pleasant for me, I considered that honors were even. Therefore, when she decided we would move, I made no serious objection.
At least, not in advance. Had I known what apartment-hunting meant I should have refused to leave our Gramercy Park home.
But "Uptown" and "West Side" represented to Laura the Mecca of her desires, and I unsuspectingly agreed to her plans.
Then the campaign began.
Early every morning Laura scanned the papers for new advertisements. Later every morning she visited agents, and then spent the rest of the day inspecting apartments.
Then evenings were devoted to summing up the experiences of the day and preparing to start afresh on the morrow.
She was untiring in her efforts; always hopeful, and indeed positive that she would yet find the one apartment that combined all possible advantages and possessed no objectionable features.
At first I went with her on her expeditions, but I soon saw the futility of this, and, in a sudden access of independence, I declared I would have no more to do with the search. She might hunt as long as she chose; she might decide upon whatever home she chose; but it must be without my advice or assistance. I expressed myself as perfectly willing to live in the home she selected, but I refused to trail round in search of it.
Being convinced of my determination, my sister accepted the situation and continued the search by herself.
But evenings I was called upon as an advisory board, to hear the result of the day's work and to express an opinion. According to Laura it required a careful balancing of location and conveniences, of neighborhood and modern improvements before the momentous question should be decided.
Does an extra bathroom equal one block further west? Is an onyx-lined entrance greater than a buttoned hall-boy? Are palms in the hall worth more than a red velvet hand-rail with tassels?
These were the questions that racked her soul, and, sympathetically, mine.
Then the name. Laura declared that the name was perhaps the most important factor after all. A name that could stand alone at the top of one's letter paper, without the support of a street number, was indeed an achievement. But, strangely enough, such a name proved to be a very expensive proposition, and Laura put it aside with a resigned sigh.
Who does name the things, anyway? Not the man who invents the names of the Pullman cars, for they are of quite a different sort.
Well, it all made conversation, if nothing more.
"I wish you would express a preference, Otis," Laura would say, and then I would obligingly do so, being careful to prefer the one I knew was not her choice. I did this from the kindest of motives, in order to give the dear girl the opportunity which I knew she wanted, to argue against my selection, and in favor of her own.
Then I ended by being persuaded to her way of thinking, and that settled the matter for that time.
"Of course," she would say, "if you're never going to marry, but always live with me, you ought to have some say in the selection of our home."
"I don't expect to marry," I returned; "that is, I have no intention of such a thing at present. But you never can tell. The only reason I'm not married is because I've never seen the woman I wanted to make my wife. But I may yet do so. I rather fancy that if I ever fall in love, it will be at first sight, and very desperately. Then I shall marry, and hunt an apartment of my own."
"H'm," said my sister, "you seem to have a sublime assurance that the lady will accept you at first sight."
"If she doesn't, I have confidence in my powers of persuasion. But as I haven't seen her yet, you may as well go ahead with your plans for the continuation of the happy and comfortable home you make for me."
Whereupon she patted me on the shoulder, and remarked that I was a dear old goose, and that some young woman was missing the chance of her life in not acquiring me for a husband!
At last Laura decided, regarding our home, that location was the thing after all, and she gave up much in the way of red velvet and buttons, for the sake of living on one of the blocks sanctioned by those who know.
She decided on the Hammersleigh; in the early sixties, and not too far from the river.
Though not large, the Hammersleigh was one of the most attractive of the moderate-priced apartment houses in New York City. It had a dignified, almost an imposing entrance, and though the hall porter was elevator boy as well, the service was rarely complained of.
Of course dwellers in an apartment house are not supposed to know their fellow-tenants on the same floor, any more than occupants of a brown-stone front are supposed to be acquainted with their next-door neighbors. But even so, I couldn't help feeling an interest which almost amounted to curiosity concerning the young lady who lived in the apartment across the hall from our own in the Hammersleigh.
I had seen her only at a few chance meetings in the elevator or in the entrance hall, and in certain respects her demeanor was peculiar.
Of course I knew the young lady's name. She was Miss Janet Pembroke, and she lived with an old uncle whom I had never seen. Although we had been in the Hammersleigh but two weeks, Laura had learned a few facts concerning the old gentleman. It seems he was Miss Pembroke's great-uncle, and, although very wealthy, was of a miserly disposition and a fierce temper. He was an invalid of some sort, and never left the apartment; but it was said that his ugly disposition and tyrannical ways made his niece's life a burden to her. Indeed, I myself, as I passed their door, often heard the old ogre's voice raised in tones of vituperation and abuse; and my sister declared that she was not surprised that the previous tenants had vacated our apartment, for the old man's shrill voice sometimes even penetrated the thick walls. However, Laura, too, felt an interest in Miss Pembroke, and hoped that after a time she might make her acquaintance.
The girl was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two, of a brunette type, and, though slender, was not at all fragile-looking. Her large, dark eyes had a pathetic expression, but except for this her appearance was haughty, proud, and exceedingly reserved. She had never so much as glanced at Mrs. Mulford or myself with the least hint of personal interest. To be sure, I had no reason to expect such a thing, but the truth is, I felt sorry for the girl, who must certainly lead a hard life with that dreadful old man.
Laura informed me that there was no one else in the Pembroke household except one servant, a young colored woman.
I had seen Miss Pembroke perhaps not more than a half-dozen times, and I had already observed this: if I chanced to see her as she came out of her own door or descended in the elevator, she was apparently nervously excited. Her cheeks were flushed and her expression was one of utter exasperation, as if she had been tried almost beyond endurance. If, on the other hand, I saw her as she was returning from a walk or an errand, her face was calm and serene — not smiling, but with a patient, resigned look, as of one who had her emotions under control. At either time she was beautiful. Indeed, I scarcely know which aspect seemed to me more attractive: the quivering glow of righteous indignation or the brave calm of enforced cheerfulness.
Nor had I any right to consider her attractive in either case. It is not for a man to think too personally about a woman he has never met.
But I had never before seen a face that so plainly, yet so unconsciously, showed passing emotions, and it fascinated me.
Aside from Miss Pembroke's beauty, she must be, I decided, possessed of great strength of character and great depth of feeling.
But beyond all doubt the girl was not happy, and though this was not my affair, it vaguely troubled me.
I admitted to myself, I even admitted to Laura, that I felt compassion for this young woman who seemed to be so ill-treated; but my sister advised me not to waste my sympathy too easily, for it was her opinion that the young woman was quite capable of taking care of herself, and that in all probability she held her own against her poor old uncle.
"I don't see why you assume a poor old uncle," I said, "when you know how he berates her."
"Yes, but how do I know what she may do to deserve it? Those dark eyes show a smouldering fire that seems to me quite capable of breaking into flame. I rather fancy Miss Pembroke can hold her own against any verbal onslaught of her uncle."
"Then I'm glad she can," I declared; "as she has to stand such unjust tyranny, I hope she has sufficient self-assertion to resent it. I'd rather like to see that girl in a towering rage; she must look stunning!"
"Otis," said my sister, smiling, "you're becoming altogether too deeply interested in Miss Pembroke's appearance. She is a good-looking girl, but not at all the kind we want to know."
"And why not, pray?" I inquired, suddenly irritated at my sister's tone. "I think she is quite of our own class."
"Oh, gracious, yes! I didn't mean that. But she is so haughty and moody, and I'm sure she's of a most intractable disposition. Otis, that girl is deceitful, take my word for it. I've seen her oftener than you have, and I've heard her talk."
"You have! Where?"
"Oh, just a few words now and then — in the elevator perhaps; and one day she was talking to the agent who lives on the first floor of the apartment. Tumultuous is the only word to describe her."
"H'm; she must be of a tumultuous nature if she can't control it when talking to an elevator boy or a house agent."
"Oh, I don't mean she was then; but she gave me the impression of a desperate nature, held in check by a strong will."
"Sounds interesting," I said, smiling at my sister's vehemence.
"But that's just what I don't want!" declared Laura, emphatically. "You're not to get interested in that Pembroke girl; I won't have it! If you're going to fall in love at first sight, it must be with some one more gentle and more pleasing of demeanor than our mysterious neighbor."
"But you see, I've already had my first sight of Miss Pembroke, and so —" I looked at my sister, teasingly.
"And you've already fallen in love? Oh, don't tell me that!"
"Nonsense! Of course I haven't done anything of the sort! I've seen Miss Pembroke two or three times. I admire her beauty, and I can't help thinking that she is terribly treated by that cruel uncle. She may be a termagant herself — I've no means of knowing — but as a casual observer my sympathies are with her, and I can't help feeling hard toward the old man."
"You take a perfectly ridiculous attitude," Laura responded. "Like all men you are bewitched by a pair of big dark eyes and a pathetic mouth. I tell you, in all probability that poor old man is more entitled to sympathy than that melodramatic-looking girl!"
As I have said, I always humor Laura, even in her opinions; so I only responded: "Very likely you are right, my dear," and let the subject drop. I'm a lawyer, and I'm thirty-two years old, both of which conditions have led me to the conclusion that in dealing with women acquiescence in unimportant matters is always expedient.
But we were destined to become intimately acquainted with the Pembroke household, and to have opportunities to judge for ourselves whether Miss Janet deserved our sympathy or not.
The hall boy usually brought the first morning mail to our door at about eight o'clock, and when he rang the bell it was my habit to open the door and take the letters from him myself.
One morning I did this, as usual, and stood a moment looking carelessly over the letters before I closed the door. I may as well own up that I did this partly in the hope that Miss Pembroke would appear at the opposite door, where the boy was already ringing the bell. But my hope was unfulfilled, for, with a little click, the door was pulled open, then suddenly stopped with a sharp snap by reason of a night-chain.
"Laws!" exclaimed what was unmistakably a negro girl's voice, "I nebber can 'member dat chain!"
The door was clicked shut again, and I could hear the chain slid back and released; then the door opened and the grinning face of the colored girl appeared, and the boy gave her the letters. As there was no further hope of catching a glimpse of Miss Pembroke, I went back to my breakfast.CHAPTER 2
IT WAS PERHAPS HALF AN hour later when I again opened my front door, to start for my downtown office. Laura accompanied me into the hall, as she often does and chattered a few parting inanities as we stood by the elevator. The car was rising, and as we are only on the third floor I had a half-formed intention of walking down the stairs, when the door of the other apartment flew open and Miss Pembroke ran out to meet the elevator. She was greatly excited, but not with anger, for her face was white and her eyes looked big and frightened.
Surely the word tumultuous applied to the girl now. But, it was plain to be seen that whatever caused her excitement it was something of importance. She had received a shock of some kind, and though she had herself well in hand, yet she was fairly trembling with almost uncontrollable emotion. She paid not the slightest attention to Laura or me, but clutched at the coat of an elderly gentleman who stepped out of the elevator.
"Oh, Doctor Masterson," she cried, "come in quickly, and see what is the matter with Uncle Robert! He looks so strange, and I'm afraid he's —"
She seemed suddenly to realize our presence, or perhaps she noticed the staring face of the elevator boy, for she left unfinished whatever she had been about to say, and, still clutching the doctor's coat, urged him toward her own door.
I did not presume to speak to Miss Pembroke, but I could not resist an impulse that made me say to the doctor: "If I can be of any assistance, pray call upon me."
There was no time for response — I was not even sure that the doctor heard me — but I turned back with Laura into our own apartment.
"Something has happened," I said to her, "and I think I'll wait a bit."
"Do," said my sister. "It may be that we can be of assistance to that poor girl; for if her uncle has a serious attack of any kind she will certainly want help."
I looked at Laura with admiring affection, for I saw at once that she had realized that Miss Pembroke was in serious trouble of some sort, and her true womanly heart went out to the girl, forgetting entirely her previous dislike and suspicion.
Almost immediately our door-bell rang, and, feeling sure that it was a summons in response to my offer, I opened the door myself.
Sure enough, there stood the elderly doctor, looking very much perturbed.
"You kindly offered your assistance, sir," he said, "or I should not intrude. I want immediate help. Mr. Pembroke is dead, Miss Pembroke has fainted, and their servant is so nearly in hysterics that she is of no use whatever."
Laura is always splendid in an emergency, so of course she rose to the occasion at once.
"Let me go to Miss Pembroke," she said, in her quiet, capable way. "I'm Mrs. Mulford, and this is my brother, Otis Landon. We are newcomers here, and do not know Miss Pembroke personally, but we are only too glad to do anything we can for her."
"Thank you," said the old gentleman, looking at Laura with an air of approval. "I'm Doctor Masterson, the Pembroke's family physician. I'm greatly surprised at this sudden death. I'm surprised, too, that Janet should faint away, for I have never known her to do such a thing before."
By this time we had all three crossed the hall, and were inside the Pembrokes' door, which opened into a short cross hall. On the right was the drawing-room, and here we found Miss Pembroke, who had not yet regained consciousness. She lay on a couch, and as the doctor bent over her she gave a convulsive shudder, but did not open her eyes.
Excerpted from A Chain of Evidence by Carolyn Wells. Copyright © 2015 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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