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Danger in the Dark
By Mignon G. Eberhart
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1936 Mignon G. Eberhart
All rights reserved.
The day before the wedding Dennis Haviland returned.
No one expected him. The letter, written in Amelia's spidery handwriting, in which she made brief and rather bitter mention of the wedding, was gathering dust in an unclaimed-letters file in the Buenos Aires post office. He knew nothing of the wedding until he landed in New York, bought a Chicago Tribune and looked at it—hungrily, after his year's absence, and hunting for familiar names.
He found them in plenty.
But it was the picture he saw first.
It looked out of the page straight at him. Daphne in a fashionably simple tailored suit, with a hat below which her eyes were level and remote. She wore gloves, so he couldn't see the huge sapphire on her left hand, and a sable skin crossed softly under her uplifted chin. And she didn't look at all like Daphne.
He stopped abruptly, letting people jostle past him.
No, it wasn't like Daphne. Of course, it was a posed photograph, made for that purpose. And she looked very handsome, very poised, and a little unfriendly. There was no hint of gaiety in her eyes, no faint tremor of a smile about her closed lips. Her chin was lifted a little, the fine bones of her face a bit more clearly defined than he remembered. Fine bones, he thought absently; family, though she isn't really a Haviland. Good God, how like Amelia that sounded! And it was queer how a man could think in two layers; one on the top of his mind, superficial and articulate—one deep down and wordless.
It was her mouth that looked natural and like Daphne, and that was all. It was so—so resolute. That was it. He could remember her in her childhood, holding her mouth just in that unsmiling, resolute line when she was determined to undertake some feat of derring-do which the boys—himself and Rowley—had themselves accomplished, boastfully and with swaggers. She was younger than they, and they teased her and ordered her about, but they were proud of her, too.
A baggage truck trundled by; a porter shouted, and somebody jostled his elbow, said, "What the hell, did you rent this space?" and Dennis looked up, lifted his slender, peaked black eyebrows and moved good-naturedly to one side and returned to the paper.
It was then that he read the paragraph below the picture.
It was a brief paragraph. It said that Daphne Haviland was being married the next day. At Miss Amelia Haviland's place in St Germain. The immediate family and a few of their closest friends would be present. Rowley Shore was to be best man. The immediate family were Mrs Archie Shore, her son, Rowley Haviland Shore and Miss Amelia Haviland; John Haviland would give his daughter in marriage. And she was to be married to Benjamin Brewer.
That was as far as Dennis read.
There were some additional notes. A Bermuda honeymoon, an apartment at a good address; a reference to the late Rowley Haviland, the bride's grandfather, and to the fact that Benjamin Brewer was president of the Haviland Bridge Company; a mention of schools, clubs, the Haviland name—all of it words that were like threads making a background. Dennis, however, saw nothing of it, for he was hailing his porter.
He took the eleven-o'clock plane for Chicago.
Later, when the weather was important, he remembered that trip above and through opaque gray-white clouds, the glimpses of snow-covered hills and ribbons of black that were paved roads; the lights of Gary twinkling through the curtain of falling snow, and the red blast furnaces. Somewhere below there were the Haviland furnaces. The Haviland plant where steel was made for Haviland girders and Haviland rails and sent out over the world.
He thought of it briefly: the Haviland Bridge Company. Once a small business: owned and controlled by one man. Now a great steel-fabricating company whose products went all over the world. In Shanghai, in Rio, in Cape Town, he had seen that well-known, poignantly familiar mark: "The Haviland Bridge Company." They had built, long ago, only bridges; small jobs with old Rowley Haviland himself acting as construction superintendent. He wasn't old then, and he was a great engineer and a great opportunist. The small jobs leaped to big jobs. It was a period of expansion and building, and the Haviland Bridge Company grew overnight. And in 1914 it became actually the Haviland Steel Company, although it was incorporated as the Haviland Bridge Company and the name was never changed. Steel was needed: steel was needed perhaps more than anything else in a war-mad world. So Rowley Haviland made his own steel: made it and sold it: undertook and delivered huge contracts. By the time the war was over he had established a great steel-fabricating company and had founded a private fortune for himself and his family.
Had, in fact, not only accumulated a private fortune but had provided—thoughtfully, after long and anxious consideration—for its preservation. His entire fortune was invested in the bridge company, and he willed all that stock, justly and fairly, to his children, with the exception of various small cash bequests. And he provided, as fully as he was able to do, for the future and safety of the company.
Or, at any rate, felt he had done so.
A phrase from the famous will floated into Dennis' memory: "... with the knowledge that in case of future ..." Need, was it, that came next? Economic pressure? The exact wording of it escaped him, but the intent was clear enough. In case of future need the Haviland Bridge Company (and thus the Haviland fortune) was amply provided for and safeguarded. Well founded. Well provisioned.
The self-satisfaction, the more than tinge of complacence about it, was justified.
It was a great, far-reaching business.
But it seemed to Dennis just then as unreal, as remote as that changing red glow of furnaces had been. For Daphne's picture came before him again, and he could think of nothing else.
The plane circled into the wind and dropped downward into lights which streamed sharply into the early December twilight. Later, too, he remembered the cold, wet air on his face as he stepped from the plane. But at the time he kept thinking of the look about Daphne's mouth.
A lot would depend, of course, upon Daphne. But he could tell when he saw her. He was sure of that.
He reached St Germain an hour later, and since there was no one to meet him, walked through the snow in the chill, purple twilight, with thickets of firs and shrubs black and still along the road. He knew every foot of the way. Away below as he turned was the river; frozen over and white with the new snow. How often they'd skated there; Daphne with her cheeks as red as her cap and her eyes like stars. And Rowley and he. Here was the corner of the high limestone wall.
Yes, a lot would depend upon Daphne.
He turned into the winding drive. As the lights from the low, sprawled bulk that was the house began to glimmer through the bare trees, he had his first qualm. After all, it took something to face down the combined resistance of the Havilands.
He paused, staring through the heavy dusk at those lights. In the pause a light car suddenly turned from the public road into the drive, and as its bright lights fell upon him he moved out of its path. It chugged briskly past him; it was the station truck, laden with his own luggage and with a multitude of packages and boxes which loomed up dimly above him. Packages and boxes that had to do with the wedding, he supposed.
It would take some thinking over, this thing he was going to do. But he was going to do it. There was no other possible way.
He turned aside from the drive and plunged upward on a little path through shrubs that raked and stung his face. He looked at that moment remarkably like ruthless old Rowley Haviland—nose and chin jutting out and eyes that seemed to withdraw and consider, under the sweep of those black eyebrows. At the end of the path was the little old springhouse, hideous in the daytime for its fancy peaked roof and its encircling windows of many-colored glass, in the twilight a black shape that again, and in the top of his mind, aroused memories of childhood.
It was unlocked; it was cold and dark and musty inside, but there was a bench and a place to sit. He lit a match or two, discovered an old steamer chair and sat down and lighted a cigarette.
It would take some thinking.
Calm and deliberate thinking, as he hadn't been able to do in the plane. He must make no mistakes; it must be swift and certain and well planned, not impulsive,
He turned his coat collar up and pulled his hat lower, and in the little recurrent glow from his cigarette his brown face looked lean and grim.
The cigarette spent itself in ashes and a small charred end, and he lighted another. But he made the greatest mistake when, because it pressed against the chair and thus rather sharply into his ribs, he took a small, cold steel thing from his pocket and sat there turning it absently in his hands, watching the reflections of the tiny red circle which was his cigarette.
Almost exactly six hours later, Daphne Haviland let herself quietly out the front door of the dark and silent house and paused for an instant on the step. It was very dark and snowing again and very still. It was cold, too, and she pulled the collar of the fur coat she'd hastily flung around her up about her ears, and the coat itself tighter around her body. She thought vaguely that she ought to have changed; she hadn't realized it was snowing again or that it was so cold. She hadn't, in fact, thought of anything but the thing she had to do. Gold kid slippers and the thinnest of hose and a yellow velvet train. How still it was, she thought suddenly. How very black except for the faintly luminous look of the snow nearest her.
Dennis would be waiting. Had been waiting, probably, for some time.
She listened and tried to look about her. But the snow struck against her face and made a moving, obscuring veil, and she could see nothing beyond it.
Well, she knew the path to the springhouse.
She went on down the steps, conscious of the coldness of the snow through those thin gold slippers. But the snow wasn't heavy on the drive; it had been cleaned late that evening. Where was the path? Gradually black firs and shrubs began to show themselves dimly. She still heard no sound, and the driveway was fairly open.
She found the path, a shadowy break in that veil of snow-laden firs, and turned upward into it. It was steep in places, and the snow was heavier there, and she slipped a time or two; again she thought vaguely of her yellow velvet train. It was a Jacques gown, one of her trousseau, and the snow would stain it forever; she wondered if, when all of that terrifically complete trousseau was worn out, used up, gone and out of her sight, the pain in her heart would be gone, too.
Well, that was hysterical.
And it was no good letting herself go, when she still had to tell Dennis. Tell him that those mad moments in his arms, there in the hot little library, were truly mad. Tell him it was too late. Tell him that, after all, there was no escape.
Tell him that, in only a few hours now, she was to be Ben Brewer's wife.
Snow clung to her eyelashes and mingled with tears, but she was not crying. She wished Dennis had not come home; she wished the events of those six crowded hours had never taken place. Her heart was sore already with the memory of them.
It had been difficult enough before he came back. And she hadn't known until that short, ugly interview with Ben after dinner how she hated the man whose wife she was so soon to be.
She caught herself again as she slipped, catching hold of a branch of some shrub, which shook little showers of snow on her cold bare hands. Around this turn—
She stopped abruptly, panting a little, to listen. It had sounded very like a movement—a footstep, or someone brushing against shrubs somewhere near her. Dennis?
But there was no further sound, and the darkness in the little path was deep.
It was confusing, too—it and the snow against her face—and she reached the springhouse before she expected to. It loomed only a little darker than the surrounding gloom, only half visible through the obscuring, bewildering veils of snow.
Contrary to her expectations Dennis was not waiting for her. And after she'd waited a moment or two and her breathing, quickened by that climb along the twisting, difficult path, quieted and with it her pulses, she thought of entering the springhouse. It would afford shelter from the snow, and she was very cold.
She heard no movement at all now anywhere about her in that confusing darkness. If Dennis had been on the path or anywhere near, she was sure she would have heard.
She turned toward the door of the springhouse—fumbling a little for it, finding suddenly the latch.
She was faintly surprised to find the door was slightly ajar. She pushed it farther open; it was damp and cold and musty inside and very dark. But it would be dry. She entered.
Built before the days of electricity, and in the days when there had been great faith in the physical benefits derived from artesian wells and sun rays falling through stained glass, the place had never been wired for lights. But she knew every inch of it and had, upon entering, no sense of un-familiarity.
Except that it began to seem, as she waited, listening for Dennis, very dark. And very still.
But why not? Besides, a heavy night fall of snow has its own peculiar silence—a silence that holds secret motion. Dennis should come soon.
She was very cold, and her slippers were damp with snow.
No sense in getting pneumonia, plus a broken heart. A broken heart—odd how apt some of those silly phrases were. It was exactly the way it felt—as if something very deep and vital had been shattered—and the shattering of it hurt. Terribly.
Someone was in the springhouse.
The thought leaped suddenly and unexpectedly into her mind and was oddly sharp and clear, as if someone had spoken it.
Someone—but there was no one. It was completely dark—utterly still. If anyone in that small dark space had so much as breathed, she would have heard it. No one was there.
No one was there. It was cold and dark and empty and—and, queerly, there was a rose.
She rejected the thought at once and with it the small fragrance that seemed to creep out of the darkness around her.
Her thoughts shifted back again to the dinner just past. The bridal dinner. Herself in the handsome yellow gown, sitting beside Ben, conscious of his heavy presence, his possessive look, and once his hand on her own beneath the lace cloth. Of the candles, wavering so that the whole overheated room, the long table, the flash of silver and crystal, the faces began to seem unreal and nightmarish. So that only Dennis' brown, lean face watching her from the end of the table, over that lake of crimson roses, with the candles wavering between, was real.
Those roses—it was as if one were there, too, in the chill, unfathomable darkness surrounding her so closely.
Following her—accusing her. That was fanciful, too; hysterical. She must be cool and very convincing. She must make Dennis understand.
But there was certainly someone in the springhouse.
Again the sharp, queer conviction thrust its way into her thoughts. Made itself keen and predominant, so that, quite suddenly, she was uneasy and listening. It was as if the tangible, instinctive knowledge of a presence near her persisted so strongly that at last it forced her to recognize it. She moved uneasily, trying to search the darkness around her. She said a little unevenly, "Is—is anyone here?"
No one answered, of course. There could be no one there.
But somewhere in the darkness there was certainly a rose.
Well, there was nothing about a rose to frighten anyone. Nothing wrong in that still, familiar little springhouse.
But it wasn't familiar. Not any more. And there was something, somewhere that was wrong.
It was strange and dark and—she was fumbling into the blackness for the open door when she heard Dennis on the path.
Heard him, and immediately he came, a dark, tall figure in the gloom, carrying something—oh, his bag, of course; his face above her became a white, faintly discernible oval, and he cried, "Daphne!" and entered the springhouse, pushing the door wide.
"There's—someone here, Dennis."
Excerpted from Danger in the Dark by Mignon G. Eberhart. Copyright © 1936 Mignon G. Eberhart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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