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By Carolyn Wells
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
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THE VAN NORMANS
THE OLD VAN NORMAN mansion was the finest house in Mapleton. Well back from the road, it sat proudly among its finely kept lawns and gardens, as if with a dignified sense of its own importance, and its white, Colonial columns gleamed through the trees, like sentinels guarding the entrance to the stately hall.
All Mapleton was proud of the picturesque old place, and it was shown to visiting strangers with the same pride that the native villagers pointed out the Memorial Library and the new church.
More than a half-century old, the patrician white house seemed to glance coldly on the upstart cottages, whose inadequate pillars supported beetling second stories, and whose spacious, filigreed verandas left woefully small area for rooms inside the house.
The Van Norman mansion was not like that. It was a long rectangle, and each of its four stories was a series of commodious, well-shaped apartments.
And its owner, the beautiful Madeleine Van Norman, was the most envied as well as the most admired young woman in the town.
Magnificent Madeleine, as she was sometimes called, was of the haughty, imperious type which inspires admiration and respect rather than love. An orphan and an heiress, she had lived all of her twenty-two years of life in the old house, and since the death of her uncle, two years before, had continued as mistress of the place, ably assisted by a pleasant, motherly chaperon, a clever social secretary, and a corps of capable servants.
The mansion itself and an income amply sufficient to maintain it were already legally her own, but by the terms of her uncle's will she was soon to come into possession of the bulk of the great fortune he had left.
Madeleine was the only living descendant of old Richard Van Norman, save for one distant cousin, a young man of a scapegrace and ne'er-do-well sort, who of late years had lived abroad.
This young man's early life had been spent in Mapleton, but, his fiery temper having brought about a serious quarrel with his uncle, he had wisely concluded to take himself out of the way.
And yet Tom Willard was not of a quarrelsome disposition. His bad temper was of the impulsive sort, roused suddenly, and as quickly suppressed. Nor was it often in evidence. Good-natured, easy-going Tom would put up with his uncle's criticism and fault-finding for weeks at a time, and then, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he would fly into a rage and express himself in fluent if rather vigorous English.
For Richard Van Norman had been by no means an easy man to live with. And it was Tom's general amiability that had made him the usual scapegoat for his uncle's ill temper. Miss Madeleine would have none of it. Quite as dictatorial as the old man himself she allowed no interference with her own plans and no criticism of her own actions.
This had proved the right way to manage Mr. Van Norman, and he had always acceded to Madeleine's requests or submitted to her decrees without objection, though there had never been any demonstration of affection between the two.
But demonstration was quite foreign to the nature of both uncle and niece, and in truth they were really fond of each other in their quiet, reserved way. Tom Willard was different. His affection was of the honest and outspoken sort, and he made friends easily, though he often lost them with equal rapidity.
On account, then, of his devotion to Madeleine, and his enmity toward young Tom Willard, Richard Van Norman had willed the old place to his niece, and had further directed that the whole of his large fortune should be unrestrictedly bestowed upon her on her wedding-day, or on her twenty-third birthday, should she reach that age unmarried. In event of her death before her marriage, and also before her twenty-third birthday, the whole estate would go to Tom Willard.
It was with the greatest reluctance that Richard Van Norman decreed this, but a provision had to be made in case of Madeleine's early death, and Willard was the only other natural heir. And now, at twenty-two, Madeleine was on the eve of marriage to Schuyler Carleton, a member of one of the oldest and best families of Mapleton.
The village gossips were pleased to commend this union, as Mr. Carleton was a man of irreproachable habits, and handsome enough to appear well beside the magnificent Madeleine.
He was not a rich man, but, as her marriage would bring her inheritance, they could rank among the millionaires of the day. Yet there were those who feared for the future happiness of this apparently ideal couple.
Mrs. Markham, who was both housekeeper and chaperon to her young charge, mourned in secret over the attitude of the betrothed pair.
"He adores her, I'm sure," she said to herself, "but he is too courtly and polished in his manner. I'd rather he would impulsively caress her, or involuntarily call her by some endearing name than to be always so exquisitely deferential and polite. And Madeleine must love him, or why should she marry him? Yet she is so haughty and formal, she might be a very duchess instead of a young American girl. But that's Madeleine all over. I've never seen her exhibit any real emotion over anything. Ah, well, I'm an old-fashioned fool. Doubtless, they're cooing doves when alone together, but their high-bred notions won't allow any sentiment shown before other people. But I almost wish she were going to marry Tom. He has sentiment and enthusiasm enough for two, and the relationship is so distant it's not worth thinking about. Dear old Tom! He's the only one who ever stirs Madeleine out of that dignified calm of hers."
And that was true enough. Madeleine had inherited the Van Norman traits of dignity and reserve to such an extent that it was difficult for any one to be a really close friend.
She had, too, a strange little air of preoccupation, and even when interested in a conversation would appear to look through or beyond her companion in a way that was discouraging to the average caller.
So Miss Van Norman was by no means a favorite with the Mapleton young people in a personal sense, but socially she was their leader, and to be on her invitation list was the highest aspiration of the village "climbers."
And now that she was about to marry Schuyler Carleton, the event of the wedding was the only thing talked of, thought of, or dreamed of by Mapleton society.
Madeleine, who always kept in touch with Tom Willard by correspondence, had written him of her approaching marriage, and he had responded by coming at once to America to attend the ceremony.
Relieved from the embarrassment of his uncle's presence, Tom was his jovial self, and showed forth all the reprehensible attractiveness which so often belongs to the scapegrace nature. He sometimes quarreled with Madeleine over trifles, then, making up the next minute, he would caress and pet her with the privileged air of a relative.
He was glad to be back among the familiar scenes of Mapleton, and he went about the town renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, and charming all by his winning personality.
In less than a week he had more friends in the village than Schuyler Carleton had ever made.
Carleton, though handsome and distinguished-looking, was absolutely without personal magnetism or charm, which traits were found in abundance in Tom Willard.
The friends of Schuyler Carleton attributed his reserved, almost repellent demeanor to shyness, and this was partly true. His acquaintances said it was indifference, and this again, was partly true. Then his enemies, of whom he had some, vowed that his cold, curt manner of speech was merely snobbishness, and this was not true at all.
His manner toward his fiancée was all that the most exacting could require in the matter of courtesy and punctilious politeness. He was markedly undemonstrative in public, and if this were true of his behavior when the two were alone, it was probably because Madeleine herself neither inspired nor desired terms or acts of endearment.
Tom's attitude toward Madeleine angered Carleton extremely, but when he spoke to her on the subject he was gaily informed that the matter of cousinly affection was outside the jurisdiction of a fiancée.
Tom, on his part, was desperately in love with Madeleine, and had been for years. Repeatedly he had begged her to marry him, and she knew in her heart that his plea was prompted by his love for herself and not by any consideration of her fortune.
And yet, should she marry another, all hope of his uncle's money would be forever lost to Tom Willard.
But prodigal and spendthrift that he was, if Tom felt any regret at his vanishing fortunes, he showed no sign of it. Save for sudden and often easily provoked bursts of temper, he was infectiously gay and merry, and was the life of the house party already gathered under Madeleine's roof.
The fact that Tom was staying at the Van Norman house, which of course Carleton could not do, gave Willard an advantage over the prospective bridegroom, of which he was by no means unconscious. Partly to tease the imperturbable but jealous Carleton, and partly because of his own affection for his cousin, Tom devoted himself assiduously to Madeleine, especially when Carleton was present.
"You see, Maddy," Tom would say, "there are only a few days left of our boy and girl chumminess. I fancy that after you are married, Schuyler won't let me speak to you, save in most formal terms, so I must see all I can of you now."
Then he would tuck her arm through his own, and take her for a stroll in the grounds, and Carleton, coming to search for her, would find them cosily chatting in a secluded arbor, or drifting lazily in a canoe on the tiny, lily-padded lake.
These things greatly annoyed Schuyler Carleton, but remonstrance was never an easy task for him, nor did it ever affect Madeleine pleasantly.
"I wish, Madeleine," he had said one day, when he had waited two hours for her to return from a drive with Tom, "that you would have a little regard for appearances, if you have none for my wishes. It is not seemly for my betrothed wife to be driving all over the country with another man."
Magnificent Madeleine looked straight at him, tilting her head back slightly to look beneath her half-closed lids.
"It is not seemly," she said, "for my betrothed husband to imply that I could be at fault in a matter of propriety or punctilio. That is not possible."
"You are right," he said, and his eyes gleamed with admiration of her glorious beauty and imperious manner. "Forgive me,—you are indeed right."
Though Schuyler Carleton may not have been lavish of affection, he begrudged no admiration to the splendid woman he had won.
And yet, had he but known it, the apparently scornful and haughty girl was craving a more tender and gentle love, and would gladly have foregone his admiration to have received more affection.
"But it will come," Madeleine thought to herself. "I am not of the 'clinging vine' type, I know; but after we are married, surely Schuyler will be less formally polite, and more,—well,—chummy."
Yet Madeleine herself was chummy with nobody save Tom.
They two were always chatting and laughing together, and though they differed sometimes, and even quarreled, it was quickly made up, and forgotten in a new subject of merry discussion.
But, after all, they rarely quarreled except regarding Madeleine's approaching marriage.
"Don't throw yourself away on that iceberg, Maddy," Tom would plead. "He's a truly fine man, I know, but he can't make you happy."
"How absurd you are, Tom! Give me credit, please, for knowing my own mind, at least. I love Schuyler Carleton, and I am proud that he is to be my husband. He is the finest man I have ever known in every way, and I am a fortunate girl to be chosen by such a man."
"Oho, Maddy! Don't do the humble; it doesn't suit you at all. You are the type who ought to have 'kings and crown princes at your feet.' And Carleton is princely enough in his effects, but he's by no means at your feet."
"What do you mean?" exclaimed Madeleine angrily.
"Just what I say. Schuyler Carleton admires you greatly, but he doesn't love you—at least, not as I do!"
"Don't be foolish, Tom. Naturally you know nothing about Mr. Carleton's affection for me—he does not proclaim it from the housetops. And I desire you not to speak of it again."
"Why should I speak of what doesn't exist? Forgive me, Maddy, but I love you so myself, it drives me frantic to see that man treating you so coolly."
"He doesn't treat me coolly. Or, if he does, it's because I don't wish for tender demonstrations before other people. I'm fond of you, Tom, as you know, but I won't allow even you to criticise the man I am about to marry."
"Oh, very well, marry him, then, and a precious unhappy life you'll lead with him,—and I know why."
Madeleine turned on him, her eyes blazing with anger.
"What do you mean? Explain that last remark of yours."
"Small need! You know why as well as I do," and Tom pushed his hands into his pockets and strode away, whistling, well knowing that he had roused his cousin's even temper at last.
In addition to some of her Mapleton friends, Madeleine had invited two girls from New York to be her bridesmaids. Kitty French and Molly Gardner had already come and were staying at the Van Norman house the few days that would intervene before the wedding.
Knowing Madeleine well, as they did, they had not expected confidence from her, nor did they look forward to cosy, romantic boudoir chats, such as many girls would enjoy.
But neither had they expected the peculiar constraint that seemed to hang over all the members of the household.
Mrs. Markham had been so long housekeeper, and even companion, for Madeleine that she was not looked upon as a servant, and to her Kitty French put a few discreet questions regarding the exceeding reserve of Mr. Carleton.
"I don't know, Miss French," said the good woman, looking sadly disturbed. "I love Madeleine as I would my own child. I know she adores Mr. Carleton,—and—yes, I know he greatly admires her,—and yet there is something wrong. I can't express it—it's merely a feeling,—an intuition, but there is something wrong."
"You know Mr. Willard is in love with Maddy," suggested Miss French.
"Oh, it isn't that they've always had a cousinly affection for each other, and,—yes, Tom is in love with her,—but what I mean is aside from all that. The real reason that Madeleine flirts with Tom—for she does flirt with him—is to pique Mr. Carleton. There! I've said more than I meant to, but you're too good a friend to let it make any trouble, and, any way, in a few days they will be married, and then I'm sure it will be all right,—I'm sure of it."
Like many people, Mrs. Markham emphasized by repetition a statement of whose truth she was far from sure.CHAPTER 2
MISS MORTON ARRIVES
THE DAY BEFORE THE wedding the old house was a pleasant scene of bustle and confusion.
Professional decorators were in charge of the great drawing-room, building a canopy of green vines and flowers, beneath which the bridal pair should stand the next day at high noon.
This work was greatly hindered by a bevy of young people who thought they were helping.
At last, noting a look of dumb exasperation on the face of one of the florist's men, Molly Gardner exclaimed, "I don't believe our help is needed here; come on, Kitty, let's go in the library and wait for tea-time."
It was nearly five o'clock, and the girls found most of the house guests already assembled in the library, awaiting the arrival of the tea-tray.
Several other young people were there also, most of them being those who were to be of the wedding cortege next day.
Robert Fessenden, who was to be best man, had just come from New York, and had dropped in to see Miss Van Norman.
Although he was an old friend of Carleton's, Madeleine did not know him very well, and though she made him welcome, it was with that coldly formal air that did not greatly attract the young man, but he could not fail to be impressed by her great beauty.
"Lucky fellow, Carleton," he said to Tom Willard. "Why, that woman would create a sensation in any great city in the world."
"Yes, she is too handsome to live all her life in a small village," agreed Tom. "I think they intend to travel a great deal."
"An heiress, too, I believe."
Excerpted from The Clue by Carolyn Wells. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book moves at a consistant and rapid pace. A good read and keeps you guessing till the end.