About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
The snow was falling heavily in great blankety flakes as the cars wallowed back from the cemetery. Janice sat staring out the window into the impenetrable whiteness, hearing but not listening to the low-toned, guarded speech of Herbert, her brother-in-law, and Mr. Travillion, the old family lawyer. She was too weary even to think of what might be in the life that was ahead for her.
Then the car turned into their drive and stopped before the door, and the girl shuddered and half drew back as Herbert offered to help her out.
"Good night, Miss Whitmore. Good night, Mr. Stuart," said the old lawyer, with an all-too-apparent hand on the latch of the car door. "I'll be seeing you about that matter we spoke of in a few days!" She must not linger. The old man was in a hurry, and Herbert was standing out in the snow. He would be angry.
Out in the walk Herbert grasped her arm as if to steady her steps, but a rush of dislike for him overcame her fear of slipping, and she rushed up the steps regardless of the snow, which had covered several inches deep all traces of the feet that had carried her sister's casket out of the house a little while before. The thought of it came to the girl as she hurried up to the porch, almost falling, and tried to open the door.
But someone had put the night latch on, and by the time the servant arrived her brother-in-law was beside her, his hand on her arm again with a proprietary air.
"What are you in such a rush about?" he asked her gruffly. "Anybody would think you might be a little more decorous, at least until you get into the house."
She shrank away from him into the hall, her handkerchief at her eyes, and hastened toward the stairs. How she dreaded to look about the familiar rooms in their prim, funeral order. It seemed so horribly empty in the space where the casket had stood. And there were still flowers everywhere, on the mantel and tables and window ledges. There had been too many to take to the cemetery. Her breath caught in a quick sob as she stumbled forward to the stairs.
Then suddenly Herbert's voice broke on the silence of the so-called empty house.
"That's enough sniveling, Janice! We're done with all that foolishness now. I've stood in this gloom for six weeks, but I won't stand it another hour! Louise is out of it all, and there's no call for any sentimental bawling. I want a little cheer in my house, and I'm going to have it. You go upstairs and take off those black rags that make you look like a death's head, and come down to dinner in something bright and cheerful! It's high time things were done to please me. And no long faces, mind you! Get a little color into your face, and be prepared to make me have a pleasant evening. I've ordered a good dinner, and we're going to have a little enjoyment in life after all the gloom!"
Janice turned in dismay, her face ashen white against the blackness of her garments.
"Oh Herbert! I couldn't! Not tonight!"
Herbert glared at her, a threatening light in his eyes.
"Don't you say 'couldn't' to me, young lady!" he roared, and took an unsteady step toward her, recalling to her mind that he had had a number of drinks that morning before the funeral. Her experience through the years she had lived in this household had taught her that when Herbert did much drinking, she and her sister might look for trouble.
"A little decent treatment is what I deserve after all I've suffered, and I'm going to have it," he went on in a high-pitched voice. "Your sister lay down on her job and died, but you've got to do as I say, understand?"
Janice began to tremble. Well, she knew that it was of no use to protest when he was in that mood. She turned to hide the quivering of her lips, the falling of her tears, but she was too tired even to try to stop.
"Put on one of your fancy evening dresses. The coral one, or the turquoise. I guess you look best in that. Put rouge on your face, and lipstick, and try to be attractive for once. I'm sick of your washed-out, sniveling looks. I want something cheerful around me. And hurry down soon. I don't want to be kept waiting. Go, I say, and be quick about it."
He was speaking to her with the tone he had used to her sister Louise so often during those last two awful years before her death, trying to force her to get up and be lively when she was too weak to stand on her feet.
He had never used that tone with Janice before, for she had always kept out of his way when he was in this mood. Louise had seen to that. Though of late, his manner with Janice had been admiring and affectionate as if she were a little child, growing constantly too affectionate, till her dislike for him had deepened into first dread and then fear. This had made her many times contemplate the possibility of going away permanently from the shelter of her sister's luxurious but unhappy home. The sister's certain distress and unhappiness without her had been the only thing that held her.
But the final weeks of Louise's illness had, of course, separated Janice much from her brother-in-law, as she had been almost constantly beside the sickbed and had not come down to meals at all while he was in the house.
The past four days of deep sorrow had made her forget for the first time her fear, and as yet she had not looked into the immediate future.
Now, however, she was suddenly face-to-face with her unnamed fear, and with no frail, sweet sister to protect her. What should she do? She must go away at once, of course, but not tonight in this terrible storm. And she was in no state of mind either to get ready or to know how to plan and where to go. Besides, there were servants and neighbors to be considered. What would they say? What would they think? For Louise's sake she must plan so that there would be no scandal, no gossip. Louise had endured everything so that no breath of scandal should be spoken about her broken hopes of life. She must for Louise's sake get away quietly and naturally if possible, so that no one would think it strange for her to leave so abruptly the home where she had been for the past five years, an apparently loved and honored member of the household.
Gathering all her forces she faced the angry man, her own sweet conquering expression on her face, the look her dead sister used so many times to wear under such circumstances.
"Herbert, really, I'm almost worn out with all I've been through. Couldn't you excuse me this evening? I do need the rest."
She was very young and sweet. The dark shadows that sorrow had etched under her eyes only served to bring out her loveliness in spite of her pallor. She spoke pleasantly, coaxing, as one tries to explain to an unreasonable child.
Usually her gentle tones had a quieting effect upon him, but tonight he was not himself. He had kept up nerve and brain all day by his many visits to that costly decanter in his library. It was not that he loved his wife so much, for it was long since he had even pretended to do so, but his conscience perhaps—if he had any left—must have set up a rebuking clamor when he saw her lying white and still, a lovely waxen shadow of what she used to be when he married her, before he broke her heart. Death had renewed her youth and set a seal of something more upon her exquisite face, which spoke of immortality and condemned his own weakness. He dared not to face it, so he had tried to drown his conscience into drunkenness. Janice, as she faced him, suddenly realized that she had never seen him in quite this state before, and her spirit quailed within her.
Then his voice thundered out so it could be heard all over the house.
"You'll do what I say, do you understand? I'm not going to have any more nonsense about it either. I'm master in my own house, and you're not going to dictate to me the way your nitwit of a sister tried to do. Perhaps you don't know that you're entirely dependent upon me now. Your own money was all invested in a stock company that failed a year ago, and you're absolutely penniless! Your fool sister wouldn't have told you about it, but it's all true. So, you see, I've been keeping you in luxury all this time, and I guess you can see something is due to me. I'm not going to throw you out as long as you obey me, but I want you to understand once and for all that you are dependent on me, and when I express a wish for anything, it's up to you to grant it."
She stood wide-eyed, with anger flashing in her eyes. The blackguard! To dare to take the sacred name of his sweet wife upon his lips in such a way! She was weak with the horror of it! She longed to strike him, to wither him with words. Yet she knew it would be useless to answer him. Louise had never been able to silence him, though she had tried it in many ways. What should she do? Could she possibly hope that if she went upstairs and dressed in brighter garments he would subside and forget some of the things he had said, be more reasonable?
A great fear seized upon her. Dare she stay here overnight? Yet how could she go out in this storm and darkness?
Then she caught a vision of the maid's frightened, curious gaze peering from behind the heavy curtain of the dining room door. She must somehow quiet this maniac and keep the servants from hearing what was going on if possible.
Her face froze into sudden haughtiness, and her voice was low and controlled, although the effort it took was almost more than she could endure.
"Very well," she said coldy, and turning, hurried up the stairs. Her mind was in a tumult. Somehow she must quiet this fiend, and afterward she would get out of the house as quickly as possible, no matter how bad the storm.
Hastily she removed her black garments and went to the wardrobe where hung the pretty dresses that her loving sister had provided for her. But she could not bring herself to put them on. The sight of them sent the tears stinging into her eyes. Frantically she reached for a little white crepe de Chine, simply made, that had been her graduating dress the year before. She dashed cold water into her face to repair the damages sorrow had made, and hurried into the dress. Her eyes grew dangerously bright with the excitement of her hurry, and the deadly pallor of her face was heightened by a vivid spot of color that flew into her cheeks. But she did not stop to look at herself. She was too anxious about what was before her to care how she looked. She did not know how beautiful she was as she came down the stairs. But the man at the foot of the stairs knew, and came toward her.
Herbert had taken off his overcoat and hung it in the hall closet, paused to take a deep draught from a bottle he had hidden on a shelf behind the door, and then as he heard her descending the stairs, he hastily corked the almost empty bottle and slid it back on the shelf. Leaving the door carelessly swinging open behind him, he hurried out and waited for her at the foot of the stairs, a maudlin delight in his drunken face that filled her with a frenzy of fear. Yet she did her best to come on calmly, not to let him see that she was frightened.
The heavy frown cleared away from Herbert's cruelly handsome face, and something almost gloating took its place, as if he were watching a new possession and delighting in it, a possession whose full value he had not heretofore realized. Trying not to look at him, nor to see the expression of his face, Janice came steadily down till she reached the last step. Then suddenly Herbert stepped forward, lifting her hand from the banister and drawing her close to him. Flinging his arms about her fiercely, he laid his lips on her sweet shrinking ones and strained her to him.
"My darling! My beautiful one," he cried, pressing his face to hers, "you are all mine now! There is no one between us anymore!"
With a wild cry Janice tried to tear herself away from his grasp, those circling arms that were so fierce and strong about her, to turn her face away from those disgusting, clinging lips, gasping and crying out, forgetful of listening servants, of all else save the necessity to get away. But she was held as in a vise, and her face was smothered with loathsome kisses.
At last she wrenched one hand loose and beat wildly against his face, his eyes, his mouth, she could not see where, only to struggle her best and get away.
For an instant he struggled with her, angrily, and then one of her blows must have reached his eye, for he staggered back, his hold about her relaxing, and the girl slid down at his feet.
"You little devil!" he said fiercely. "I'll teach you! You'll learn to take it and like it, do you hear that?" And with one hand to his eye, he staggered toward her again.
But Janice, her terror giving her new strength, sprang to her feet and fled from his outstretched hands down the hall toward the front door. Where she was going she did not stop to think, only to get out and away.
Before her stood the hall closet door, swung wide, as Herbert had carelessly left it, and there on the door hook hung an old evening wrap of her sister's, a long warm circular garment of dull blue. It was richly lined and trimmed with fur, but of a fashion of several years back, and therefore it had fallen into common use. Louise had worn it, she remembered, that last walk they took together around the yard before her final illness and, coming in exhausted, had thrown it down on a hall chair where the maid had found it and hung it in the closet. Such a train of thought to flash across her mind in that moment of stress, but it was her sister's hand held out to help her.
She caught at the cloak now and dashed out the front door, closing it sharply behind her. She knew that Herbert would be following at once. There was no time to pause.
The fierce winter wind met her like a wild beast, breathed its burning-cold breath on her bare arms and throat, searched her shrinking flesh clad in that thin gown. The sleet cut and scratched her face and hands, and the first step of her light slippers from the threshold into the deep carpet of snow that had already drifted up to the very doorway chilled her through and through.
Yet she dared not hesitate an instant. She plunged wildly down the steps and into the deeper snow of the path, struggling frantically while she tried to fling the cloak about her. She finally succeeded in straining it across her shoulders, holding it fast as she fought against fierce wind and snow, down to the street and out on the road, not realizing what direction she was taking.
Something had happened to the streetlights, and the way was very dark as she sped on. Her fingers were fumbling to find the fastenings of the cloak. If she could only get it buttoned about her! And there was a capacious hood that would cover her head.
But she was too much afraid that Herbert would come out after her. She was faintly conscious that she heard the front door open behind her, heard her name called fiercely, angrily, and so she sped on into the darkness. The sound made her forget the cold and wet, and she plunged wildly on in the night. She must get away from Herbert. If he caught her he would bring her back, and she dared not think of what might happen.
When the baffled maniac rallied from the pain in his eyes Janice's blow had given him, he stumbled toward the front door, pausing a moment to look into the hall coatroom, with a vague idea that the girl might be hiding in there, else why should that door be open? His dazed mind utterly forgot that he had left it unlatched when he hung up his hat and coat. But he could not believe that Janice had actually gone into the storm on a night like this.
And then he flung the front door wide, and the light streamed out into the storm, lighting up the snow-filled air till it seemed like a great shaft of gold. Janice, shivering into the shelter of a great hedge, saw it and hurried off, farther and farther from the house.
Herbert had expected to find his young sister-in-law near at hand. Perhaps hiding on the front porch. Or she might have merely gone around to the back door and entered the house again that way. She would likely go up to her room and lock herself in. If she had, he would get her, even if he had to break down the door. She should not elude him. He would find her and bring her down again and conquer her!
Excerpted from Spice Box by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.