The Haunted Lady

The Haunted Lady

by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Overview

A dowager is being scared to death in this classic whodunit by a #1 New York Times–bestselling master who “helped the mystery series grow up” (The New York Times).
 
It’s enough to stop Eliza Fairbanks’s heart. At least that’s what the elderly widow claims is being done to her. First, someone unleashes a cloud of bats in her locked bedroom. When that doesn’t do the trick, next comes a pack of rats to claw at her toes. Special duty nurse Hilda Adams, aka “Miss Pinkerton” to the Homicide Bureau, believes Eliza’s every rattled fear is true. She may be frail—but she’s not batty.
 
What Eliza is, is very, very rich. Out of the shady and oddball assortment of relatives swarming the mansion, someone clearly has an eye on the Fairbanks fortune. Now it’s Hilda’s job to keep an eye on Eliza before a potential killer resorts to more definitive means. And considering all the bad blood running through the heart of the Fairbanks family, it might already be too late to save her charge.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504058247
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Series: The Hilda Adams Mysteries , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 271
Sales rank: 405,465
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876–1958) was one of the United States’s most popular early mystery authors. Born in Pittsburgh to a clerk at a sewing machine agency, Rinehart trained as a nurse and married a doctor after her graduation from nursing school. She wrote fiction in her spare time until a stock market crash sent her and her young husband into debt, forcing her to lean on her writing to pay the bills. Her first two novels, The Circular Staircase (1908) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909), established her as a bright young talent, and it wasn’t long before she was one of the nation’s most popular mystery novelists.
Among her dozens of novels are The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six-book series, and The Bat (originally published in 1920 as a play), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it,” Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie, and was much more popular during her heyday.
Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876–1958) was one of the United States’s most popular early mystery authors. Born in Pittsburgh to a clerk at a sewing machine agency, Rinehart trained as a nurse and married a doctor after her graduation from nursing school. She wrote fiction in her spare time until a stock market crash sent her and her young husband into debt, forcing her to lean on her writing to pay the bills. Her first two novels, The Circular Staircase (1908) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909), established her as a bright young talent, and it wasn’t long before she was one of the nation’s most popular mystery novelists.
Among her dozens of novels are The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six-book series, and The Bat (originally published in 1920 as a play), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it,” Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie, and was much more popular during her heyday. 

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Hilda Adams was going through her usual routine after coming off a case. She had taken a long bath, using plenty of bath salts, shampooed her short, slightly graying hair, examined her feet and cut her toenails, and was now carefully rubbing hand lotion into her small but capable hands.

Sitting there in her nightgown she looked rather like a thirty-eight-year-old cherub. Her skin was rosy, her eyes clear, almost childish. That appearance of hers was her stock in trade, as Inspector Fuller had said to the new commissioner that same day.

"She looks as though she still thought the stork brought babies," he said. "That's something for a woman who has been a trained nurse for fifteen years. But she can see more with those blue eyes of hers than most of us could with a microscope. What's more, people confide in her. She's not the talking sort, so they think she's safe. She sits and knits and tells them about her canary bird at home, and pretty soon they're pouring out all they know. It's a gift."

"Pretty useful, eh?"

"Useful! I'll say. What's the first thing the first families think of when there's trouble? A trained nurse. Somebody cracks, and there you are. Or there she is."

"I shouldn't think the first families would have that kind of trouble."

The inspector looked at the new commissioner with a faintly patronizing smile.

"You'd be surprised," he said. "They have money, and money breeds trouble. Not only that. Sometimes they have bats."

He grinned. The new commissioner stared at him suspiciously.

"Fact," said the inspector. "Had an old woman in this afternoon who says she gets bats in her bedroom. Everything closed up, but bats just the same. Also a rat now and then, and a sparrow or two."

The commissioner raised his eyebrows.

"No giant panda?" he inquired. "No elephants?"

"Not so far. Hears queer noises, too."

"Sounds haunted," said the commissioner. "Old women get funny sometimes. My wife's mother used to think she saw her dead husband. She'd never liked him. Threw things at him."

The inspector smiled politely.

"Maybe. Maybe not. She had her granddaughter with her. The girl said it was true. I gathered that the granddaughter made her come."

"What was the general idea?"

"The girl wanted an officer in the grounds at night. It's the Fairbanks place. Maybe you know it. She seemed to think somebody gets in the house at night and lets in the menagerie. The old lady said that was nonsense; that the trouble was in the house itself."

The commissioner looked astounded.

"You're not talking about Eliza Fairbanks?"

"We're not on first-name terms yet. It's Mrs. Fairbanks, relict of one Henry Fairbanks, if that means anything to you."

"Good God," said the commissioner feebly. "What about it? What did you tell her?"

The inspector got up and shook down the legs of his trousers.

"I suggested a good reliable companion; a woman to keep her comfortable as well as safe." He smiled. "Preferably a trained nurse. The old lady said she'd talk to her doctor. I'm waiting to hear from him."

"And you'll send the Adams woman?"

"I'll send Miss Adams, if she's free," said the inspector, with a slight emphasis on the "Miss." "And if Hilda Adams says the house is haunted, or that the entire city zoo has moved into the Fairbanks place, I'll believe her."

He went out then, grinning, and the commissioner leaned back in the chair behind his big desk and grunted. He had enough to do without worrying about senile old women, even if the woman was Eliza Fairbanks. Or was the word "anile"? He wasn't sure.

The message did not reach the inspector until eight o'clock that night. Then it was not the doctor who called. It was the granddaughter.

"Is that Inspector Fuller?" she said.

"It is."

The girl seemed slightly breathless.

"I'm calling for my grandmother. She said to tell you she has caught another bat."

"Has she?"

"Has she what?"

"Caught another bat."

"Yes. She has it in a towel. I slipped out to telephone. She doesn't trust the servants or any of us. She wants you to send somebody. You spoke about a nurse today. I think she should have someone tonight. She's pretty nervous."

The inspector considered that.

"What about the doctor?"

"I've told him. He'll call you soon. Doctor Brooke. Courtney Brooke."

"Fine," said the inspector, and hung up.

Which was why, as Hilda Adams finished rubbing in the hand lotion that night, covered her canary, and was about to crawl into her tidy bed, her telephone rang.

She looked at it with distaste. She liked an interval between her cases, to go over her uniforms and caps, to darn her stockings — although the way stockings went today they were usually beyond darning — and to see a movie or two. For a moment she was tempted to let it ring. Then she lifted the receiver.

"Hello," she said.

"Fuller speaking. That Miss Pinkerton?"

"This is Hilda Adams," she said coldly. "I wish you'd stop that nonsense."

"Gone to bed?"

"Yes."

"Well, that's too bad. I've got a case for you."

"Not tonight you haven't," said Hilda flatly.

"This will interest you, Hilda. Old lady has just caught a bat in her room. Has it in a towel."

"Really? Not in her hair? Or a butterfly net?"

"When I say towel I mean towel," said the inspector firmly. "She seems to have visits from a sort of traveling menagerie — birds, bats, and rats."

"I don't take mental cases, and you know it, inspector. Besides, I've just come off duty."

The inspector was exasperated.

"See here, Hilda," he said. "This may be something or it may be nothing. But it looks damned queer to me. Her granddaughter was with her, and she says it's true. She'll call you pretty soon. I want you to take the case. Be a sport."

Hilda looked desperately about her, at the covered birdcage, at her soft bed, and through the door to her small sitting-room with its chintz-covered chairs, its soft blue curtains, and its piles of unread magazines. She even felt her hair, which was still slightly damp.

"There are plenty of bats around this time of year," she said. "Why shouldn't she catch one?"

"Because there is no possible way for it to get in," said the inspector. "Be a good girl, Hilda, and keep those blue eyes of yours open."

She agreed finally, but without enthusiasm, and when a few minutes later a young and troubled voice called her over the telephone, she was already packing her suitcase. The girl was evidently following instructions.

"I'm telephoning for Doctor Brooke," she said. "My grandmother isn't well. I'm terribly sorry to call you so late, but I don't think she ought to be alone tonight. Can you possibly come?"

"Is this the case Inspector Fuller telephoned about?"

The girl's voice sounded constrained.

"Yes," she said.

"All right. I'll be there in an hour. Maybe less."

Hilda thought she heard a sigh of relief.

"That's splendid. It's Mrs. Henry Fairbanks. The address is Ten Grove Avenue. I'll be waiting for you."

Hilda hung up and sat back on the edge of her bed. The name had startled her. So old Eliza Fairbanks was catching bats in towels, after years of dominating the social life of the city. Lady Fairbanks, they had called her in Hilda's childhood, when the Henry Fairbanks place still had the last iron deer on its front lawn, and an iron fence around it to keep out hoi polloi. The deer was gone now, and so was Henry. Even the neighborhood had changed. It was filled with bleak boardinghouses, and a neighborhood market was on the opposite corner. But the big square house still stood in its own grounds surrounded by its fence, as though defiant of a changing neighborhood and a changing world.

She got up and began to dress. Perhaps in deference to her memories she put on her best suit and a new hat. Then, canary cage in one hand and suitcase in the other, she went down the stairs. At her landlady's door she uncovered the cage. The bird was excited. He was hopping from perch to perch, but when he saw her he was quiet, looking at her with sharp, beadlike eyes.

"Be good, Dicky," she said. "And mind you take your bath every day."

The bird chirped and she re-covered him. She thought rather drearily that she lived vicariously a good many lives, but very little of her own, including Dicky's. She left the cage, after her usual custom, with a card saying where she had gone. Then, letting herself quietly out of the house, she walked to the taxi stand at the corner. Jim Smith, who often drove her, touched his cap and took her suitcase.

"Thought you just came in," he said conversationally.

"So I did, Jim. Take me to Ten Grove Avenue, will you?"

He looked at her quickly.

"Somebody sick at the Fairbanks?"

"Old Mrs. Fairbanks isn't well."

Jim laughed.

"Been seeing more bats, has she?"

"Bats? Where did you hear that?"

"Things get around," said Jim cheerfully.

Hilda sat forward on the edge of the seat. Without her nightgown and with her short hair covered she had lost the look of a thirty-eighty-year-old cherub and become a calm and efficient spinster, the sort who could knit and talk about her canary at home, while people poured out their secrets to her. She stared at Jim's back.

"What is all this talk about Mrs. Fairbanks, Jim?"

"Well, she's had a lot of trouble, the old lady. And she ain't so young nowadays. The talk is that she's got softening of the brain; thinks she's haunted. Sees bats in her room, and all sorts of things. What I say is if she wants to see bats, let her see them. I've known 'em to see worse."

He turned neatly into the Fairbanks driveway and stopped with a flourish under the porte-cochere at the side of the house. Hilda glanced about her. The building looked quiet and normal; just a big red brick block with a light in the side hall and one or two scattered above. Jim carried her suitcase up to the door and put it down there.

"Well, good luck to you," he said. "Don't let that talk bother you any. It sounds screwy to me."

"I'm not easy to scare," said Hilda grimly.

She paid him and saw him off before she rang the bell, but she felt rather lonely as the taxi disappeared. There was something wrong if the inspector wanted her on the case. And he definitely did not believe in ghosts. Standing there in the darkness she remembered the day Mrs. Fairbanks's daughter Marian had been married almost twenty years ago. She had been a probationer at the hospital then, and she had walked past the place on her off-duty. There had been a red carpet over these steps then, and a crowd kept outside the iron fence by a policeman was looking in excitedly. She had stopped and looked, too.

The cars were coming back from the church, and press photographers were waiting. When the bride and groom arrived they had stopped on the steps, and now, years later, Hilda still remembered that picture — Marian in white satin and veil, with a long train caught up in one hand, while the other held her bouquet of white orchids; and the groom, tall and handsome, a gardenia in the lapel of his morning coat, smiling down at her.

To the little probationer outside on the pavement it had been pure romance, Marian and Frank Garrison, clad in youth and beauty that day. And it had ended in a divorce.

She turned abruptly and rang the doorbell.

CHAPTER 2

She was surprised when a girl opened the door. She had expected a butler, or at least a parlormaid. It was the girl who had telephoned her, as she knew when she spoke.

"I suppose you are Miss Adams?"

Hilda was aware that the girl was inspecting her. She smiled reassuringly.

"Yes."

"I'm Janice Garrison. I'm so glad you came." She looked around, as if she was afraid of being overheard. "I've been frightfully worried."

She led the way along the side passage to the main hall, and there paused uncertainly. There were low voices from what Hilda later learned was the library, and after a moment's indecision she threw open the doors across from it into what had once been the front and back parlors of the house. Now they were united into one huge drawing-room, a Victorian room of yellow brocaded furniture, crystal chandeliers, and what looked in the semidarkness to be extremely bad oil paintings. Only one lamp was lit, but it gave Hilda a chance to see the girl clearly.

She was a lovely creature, she thought. Perhaps eighteen; it was hard to tell these days. But certainly young and certainly troubled. She closed the double doors behind her, after a hurried glance into the hall.

"I had to speak to you alone," she said breathlessly. "It's about my grandmother. Don't — please don't think she is queer, or anything like that. If she acts strangely it's because she has reason to."

Hilda felt sorry for the girl. She looked on the verge of tears. But her voice was matter-of-fact.

"I'm accustomed to old ladies who do odd things," she said, smiling. "What do you mean by a reason?"

Janice, however, did not hear her. Across the hall a door had opened, and the girl was listening. She said, "Excuse me for a minute, will you?" and darted out, closing the doors behind her. There followed a low exchange of voices in the hall. Then the doors were opened again, and a man stepped into the room. He was a big man, with a tired face and a mop of heavy dark hair, prematurely gray over the ears. Hilda felt a sudden sense of shock. It was Frank Garrison, but he was far removed from the bridegroom of almost twenty years ago. He was still handsome, but he looked his age, and more. Nevertheless, he had an attractive smile as he took her hand.

"I'm glad you're here," he said. "My daughter told me you were coming. My name is Garrison. I hope you'll see that she gets some rest, Miss Adams. She's been carrying a pretty heavy load."

"That's what I'm here for," said Hilda cheerfully.

"Thank you. I've been worried. Jan is far too thin. She doesn't get enough sleep. Her grandmother —"

He did not finish. He passed a hand over his hair, and Hilda saw that he had not only aged. He looked worn, and his suit could have stood a pressing. As if she realized this the girl slid an arm through his and held it tight. She looked up at him with soft brown eyes.

"You're not to worry, Father. I'll be all right."

"I don't like what's going on, Jan darling."

"Would you like to see Granny?"

He looked at his watch and shook his head.

"I'd better get Eileen out of here. She wanted to come, but — Give Granny my love, Jan, and get some sleep tonight."

As he opened the door Hilda saw a small blond woman in the hall. She was drawing on her gloves and gazing at the door with interest. She had a sort of faded prettiness, and a slightly petulant look. Janice seemed embarrassed.

"This is Miss Adams, Eileen," she said. "Granny is nervous, so she's going to look after her."

Eileen acknowledged Hilda with a nod, and turned to the girl.

"If you want my opinion, Jan," she said coolly, "Granny ought to be in an institution. All this stuff about bats and so on! It's ridiculous."

Janice flushed but said nothing. Frank Garrison opened the front door, his face set.

"I wish you would keep your ideas to yourself, Eileen," he said. "Let's get out of here. 'Night Jan."

With the closing of the door Hilda turned to the girl. To her surprise Jan's eyes were filled with tears.

"I'm sorry," she said, fumbling in her sleeve for a handkerchief. "I never get used to his going away like that. You know they are divorced, my father and mother. Eileen is his second wife." She wiped her eyes and put the handkerchief away. "He can come only when Mother's out She — they're not very friendly."

"I see," said Hilda cautiously.

"I was devoted to my father, but when the court asked me what I wanted to do, I said I would stay here. My grandmother had taken it very hard. The divorce, I mean. She loved my father. Then, too" — she hesitated — "he married Eileen very soon after, and I — well, it seemed best to stay. I thought I'd better tell you," she added. "Eileen doesn't come often, but since you've seen her —"

She broke off, and Hilda saw that she was trembling.

"See here," she said. "You're tired. Suppose you tell me all this tomorrow? Just now you need your bed and a good sleep. Why not take me up to my patient and forget about it until then?"

Janice shook her head. She was quieter now. Evidently the emotional part of her story was over.

"I'm all right," she said. "You have to know before you see my grandmother. I was telling you why I am here, wasn't I? It wasn't only because of Grandmother. My mother was terribly unhappy, too. She's never been the same since. They both seemed to need me. But of course Granny needed me most."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Haunted Lady"
by .
Copyright © 1970 Estate of Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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.

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