Ernestine Baily was killed at dusk on a cold fall day as fog and darkness rolled over Hollow Hill. Five months later, her husband, Jed, whom she accused of the crime, stands trial. But in the small Virginia town of Bedford, many question his culpability, among them the murder’s lone witness: Sue Poore. Sue’s testimony ensures Jed’s freedom—something the local paper quickly seizes on as evidence of a scandalous romance. But beyond causing her to suffer this indignity, Sue’s avowal makes her a marked woman, targeted by a local policeman as the next best suspect, and by a mysterious gunman whose second bullet may not miss.
In a town like Bedford, almost anyone can look guilty, and when Sue becomes caught between three men—two vying for her heart and one for her imprisonment—she knows that the real murderer sits quietly in their midst.
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About the Author
Before Agatha Christie ever published a Miss Marple novel, Eberhart wrote romantic crime fiction with female leads. Eight of her books, including While the Patient Slept and Hasty Wedding (1938), were adapted for film. Elected a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master in 1971, Eberhart continued publishing roughly a book a year until the 1980s. Her final novel, Three Days for Emeralds, was published in 1988.
Read an Excerpt
Hunt with the Hounds
By Mignon G. Eberhart
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1950 Mignon G. Eberhart
All rights reserved.
There had been, as Ruby said later, no other kill that day. That was Wednesday, the ninth of October, an unseasonably cold and rainy day, the day of the Dobberly meet, the day Ernestine was murdered. She was murdered about twilight with the shadows of fog and coming night blurring trees and shrubbery together in an amorphous mass that seemed to advance and watch and then retreat, like unwilling witnesses who would not come forward.
It had not been a good hunting day; a small gray fox had eventually given them a thirty-minute run and gone to earth on the far side of Hollow Hill; so Ruby had been characteristically literal and accurate.
The day Jed Baily's trial ended was much the same kind of day, except it was in the spring, in March. There was red bud and white dogwood along the misty blue hills, and the meadows were vividly green; it was, however, again unseasonably cold and rainy. By chance also it was again the day of the Dobberly meet but probably never in its many years of existence had that particular meet had so sparse a field. The trial took place in the Bedford county courthouse; it was a narrow, cramped white clapboard building with a clock tower.
The aspect of the little town of Bedford was changed very little by the trial; there were more cars along the street; the two garages charged, for the short period, three dollars a day instead of fifty cents for parking, but that was for strangers, people brought there by the trial, not for natives. The courtroom itself was full but it was a small room. Two extra telephones were rigged up, temporarily, in a coat room. The inn, whose low, red-brick walls had once sheltered General Lee, had a short period of unaccustomed activity. None of the hunts was well attended, but it was near the end of the season; the fields were thinning out as those who came for the winter, merely to hunt, were beginning to leave again. The difference was not remarkable except in the case of the Dobberly meet, with which Ernestine had hunted since she was a child, tagging the field along with her sister Camilla, Sue Poore, Ruby Luddington, on ponies. It was the hunt to which Jed Baily subscribed, the hunt which was the breath of life to Caroline Poore, who, in fact, had been M.F.H. for some years—to all of the little, closely knit circle of intimates whose fathers and grandfathers had also been intimates, who had also followed the Dobberly packs over the green meadows and blue hills and woodlands of the lovely Piedmont country.
Most of these people attended the trial mainly to show their sympathy for Jed Baily; some of them would have attended whether they wished to or not, as they were witnesses, not of the murder—there was only one witness of that—but of a network of small facts that in the end only served, however, to corroborate a very few main and salient facts.
The state rested its case on those facts; the defense had, however, convincingly refuted their significance. At least so everyone felt; whatever else was emerging slowly but with accumulating power, from that trial, there was certainly a growing conviction that Jed Baily had not murdered his wife. Even the judge in summing up did not overlook any just claim but seemed to lean toward the side of the defense. But then the jury retired and did not come back.
The trial had lasted only three days, a short time for a man on trial for murder, on trial for his life; it had seemed much longer and probably it would have lasted longer had the process of selecting a jury lasted longer. In the whole county probably there was not a person who had not heard of, discussed and formed an opinion of the murder, so the point of previous prejudice was not much stressed. The county was comparatively a small one; it was a land and county where feelings ran rather high, a land of complicated family relationships, of old-time friendships which were as strong as blood bonds. There was also a feeling of loyalty to old residents. Jed Baily was not an old resident; he had come to live in the county only three years before, but married Ernestine Duval. He had bought Duval Hall, with its three hundred (rather impoverished) acres and restored the home of her ancestors to Ernestine; he had farmed after a fashion, he had bred horses, he had hunted and by his marriage to Ernestine he had become automatically one of that small world and thus automatically it rose to his support.
This was an asset, an inadmissible but extremely powerful argument in his favor, the more powerful in that it was Ernestine Duval—his wife then for three years, Ernestine Baily—who had been murdered, and, dying, had accused him of her murder. For her oldest, closest friends to rally to his support was a very potent, if off-the-record, blow in his defense.
In rallying to Jed Baily's defense, that close little, tight little world rallied to the defense of Sue Poore; even if they had accepted the prosecution's stand that Sue Poore and Jed Baily had been acknowledged lovers, they did not believe that Sue Poore could have been the motive, the impetus for murder. As the trial progressed, however, a question, an unspoken implication, began to float in the air. It had no basis exactly; it was like rumor that, really, was not so much as whispered. In fact it was perhaps a kind of private theorem, worked out privately in the minds of those attending the trial; it was based on a simple and incontrovertible fact; Ernestine Baily had been murdered: therefore somebody had murdered her.
The outer world, the world of police and the process of law—and of reporters and photographers and newspapers—was more positive about it; that was the world that was in control and had to be satisfied.
As the jury did not return, it began to look as though there was some kind of hitch; it had all seemed fairly certain. "What has gone wrong?" Sue Poore thought. "Can anything have gone wrong?"
There was a clock, too, on the wall, a round clock fastened on the white plaster just below an arched, old-fashioned window which almost touched the ceiling. During the three days that were so short and yet so long, as if every moment were freighted with a greater weight of living than it could swiftly carry, Sue had learned the face and aspect of the clock; she would be able to see it in her memory all the rest of her life. It had also been a refuge; it gave her a focal point, it enabled her to lift her head with pride and yet reject the avid eyes of all those strangers.
There were phrases, too, which she would never be able to forget. Headlines: The Other Woman. The Woman in the Case. The woman who was herself, Sue Poore.
Words of the prosecuting attorney: "I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, did not these lovers conspire to end the life of Ernestine Duval—wife of the accused, intimate and girlhood friend of the woman he so wrongly wished to put in his wife's place...."
There was an objection, quick and hasty; it was sustained. The prosecuting attorney rephrased the same question.
"I ask you then, can you believe the testimony of a woman who admittedly came forward with her story because she knew its importance, because she admittedly believed that it would clear a man who, admittedly again, she met clandestinely, with whom she talked of marriage, the very evening of his wife's murder—within, it has been proved, within a few minutes of his wife's murder? This, remember, at a time when such a marriage would have been impossible, because at that moment, while these two people met in a deserted, lonely cabaña, met secretly, Ernestine Baily still lived. Within the hour, in less than half an hour, Ernestine Baily, this outraged and innocent wife was murdered, in cold blood and in cowardly, despicable fashion. I ask you...." They were scar memories; they would never heal.
She looked at the poignantly familiar face of the clock and the jury had been out for nearly forty-five minutes; the courtroom was restless.
There was an increasing amount of motion, people coming and going, a frank buzz of conversation. Camilla Duval, looking like Ernestine now that Ernestine was dead, rose, her elegant figure slim and erect, and walked out of the courtroom toward the back; probably she intended to try to send a message to Jed whom she, too, along with everyone, supported. Ruby and Wat Luddington, who had sat with Camilla, rose and followed her. Old Dr. Luddington, who had brought Sue into the world—and Ernestine, too, and Camilla, as well as many others of the men and women in the little, crowded room, sat now with his white head in his hands, weary and slumped down in the golden-oak armchair. The trial had been difficult for him; he had showed it in many ways. But his testimony in Jed's defense had been as important as Sue's testimony and there had been no question of prejudice or perjury; if Jed were freed—as he must be freed—it would be due largely, also, to Dr. Luddington.
Caroline Poore sat beside Sue; Woody, five years younger than Sue, had wired frantically on his delayed way, on leave, from San Diego; he was arriving too late for the trial but he did not believe the headlines, and he was coming. Caroline pushed upward her slipping heavy knot of gray hair and a little wave of the scent of violet sachet floated out toward Sue, a delicate fragrance above the courtroom scents of stale air and old floors and, rather curiously, apples. Someone came along the aisle and leaned over to speak to Caroline; it was Fitz Wilson, his brown face kind as always when he spoke to Caroline, but very serious; his crisp, graying hair came near Caroline's as he spoke low in her ear. Had some rumor floated out to him from the locked jury room?
Aunt Caroline's hands, battered and strong and more likely to smell of saddle soap than of the violet that perfumed her white blouse, moved anxiously in her lap as she listened; she nodded and looked at Sue encouragingly. Fitz Wilson bent over Sue. "They've sent out for coffee and sandwiches; the rumor is that they'll be out for a while. Nothing to worry about, but come out with me and get a breath of fresh air. We can slip out the side door. Most of the reporters and photographers went over to Casey's to get something to eat, too."
Sue's lips moved rather stiffly, "I thought—I expected a verdict by now...."
Caroline's blue eyes were comforting and loving. "You'd better go along with Fitz. I'll stay here."
"Do come," Fitz said, and touched Sue's hand; it was a gentle touch, but it had a kind of compulsion; Sue rose. His tall figure offered a kind of protection as she walked along the aisle beside him.
There were strangers, there were friends, in the still crowded courtroom. A woman whose face was familiar and whom Sue associated with hunting, somewhere, lifted a hand to wave at her, although there was something rather reserved in her face. Old Bob Hallock, however, across whose farm land Sue had ridden many times, held out his large red hand to her as she passed and shook her hand silently but with faith and friendship in his blue eyes. Their exit did not seem to attract attention. Bob Hallock's look and his big hand moved her so deeply with gratitude that tears rose suddenly to her eyes. Fitz, guiding her through the entrance hall with its white plastered walls, its knots of people, the printed notices tacked to bulletin boards, saw the tears. He opened a small side door which avoided the front steps, crowded now with clusters of people, and went onto a narrow flight of stairs. But he misunderstood her tears: "I really think he's going to be acquitted."
"It wasn't that."
He didn't question her but led the way again, down the steps to a sidewalk which ran back past the courthouse. "My car's back here."
His car, a long, gray coupe which by now Sue knew very well, stood at the end of the sidewalk, hidden in the alley which they had approached by a fence and the courthouse itself. She saw at once that he had chosen the place purposefully. Neither Jed nor she—nor resolute, lovely Ernestine—were of any importance to anyone except themselves and their friends. But there were certain sensational features of the case; Bedford was not far from Washington and New York and near the fabulous and fashionable hunt country of Warrenton and Middleburg and thus, in a sense, a part of it. So there had been headlines.
"You planned this," she said as he got into the driver's seat beside her.
He started the car and backed out of the niche he had strategically picked and turned into the street toward the outskirts of the little town at a moderate speed so as not to attract attention.
It was foggy and cold with an overcast sky, as it had been on that October day which seemed half a lifetime away. One hand on the wheel, he fumbled in the pocket of his brown tweed coat and pulled out cigarettes, which he held toward her.
"Not now, ..."
"I'd better tell you. I'm taking you to my house."
"Is the verdict ..."
"No, no! There's no verdict yet, and no rumor, except I think, everybody thinks—it can't be anything but an acquittal. But whatever it is, there's going to be commotion. Photographs. Statements asked from you...."
Excitement, flash bulbs, herself a nucleus. The Other Woman. Are you happy, Miss Poore? What are your plans, Miss Poore? Now if you'll just give us a smile and how about a picture with Baily?
Fitz said, "So we're going home. I've got Jason posted at Casey's. I'll phone to him. He'll know as soon as there's a verdict."
The car gathered speed; they had already reached the tree-bordered outskirts of the little village and were climbing the hill that stood protectively above it; she could look down upon the village nestling there and the white, angular clock tower of the courthouse. Fitz said, his brown profile suddenly rather hard, "The courtroom's full of Jed's friends."
They swerved around the hill; the village disappeared. Suddenly it was as if whatever was happening back there, whatever those men and women locked in the bare little jury room were deciding, had really nothing to do with her.
She was obscurely ashamed of that, as if it implied a betrayal. It was always extremely easy to believe anything that Fitz Wilson said. She had known him (as she had known Jed, actually) only since her return to Virginia in the early fall. Fitz (like Jed) was not a native to Bedford county; his mother, however, had been, and when Fitz—who had gone from a professorship in newspaper writing to war correspondent, and then to becoming, in a way, rather an authority on certain phases of international economics—had inherited the old Fitzjames place and come to Virginia to write his articles (near Washington but in peace and quiet) he had fallen naturally into the rhythm and ways of his Virginia neighbors.
She glanced at him now; he was watching the road ahead. He was bareheaded. His black hair was so heavily mixed with gray that it was neither black nor gray but very definitely both and very crisp; she had seen him so often during the winter that even his brown hands, relaxed and easy on the wheel, just hands, had for her identification; she'd have known them anywhere.
He had done things for her and for Caroline that winter that even their kindest, oldest friends had not thought to do. He had ridden with her, coaxing her out on Jeremy, Caroline's old hunter, for long rides that tired Sue so much that, sometimes, she slept; he had dropped in—how many times—at that lonely hour when dusk comes down and two women, living alone, feel the emptiness of even a loved and familiar house, with no man coming home at night. But Fitz had come; he had let Caroline mix for him her famed drink which was mainly good Kentucky Bourbon and pretended to like it better than any drink he had ever tasted; he had sat with his riding boots stretched out before the fire; often as not he had stayed to dinner.
Always he had been there, too—somehow, mysteriously getting wind of it—when the police came to question; when the defense lawyer, Judge Shepson, came to plot the course which he'd hoped would save Jed.
Excerpted from Hunt with the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart. Copyright © 1950 Mignon G. Eberhart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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