As far as Carol Spencer is concerned, the war has spoiled everything. She and Don had been engaged for years and were on the verge of marriage when he was shot down in the South Pacific, leaving Carol on the verge of spinsterhood at twenty-four. She wants to take some kind of job in the war effort, but her invalid mother demands that Carol accompany her to the family’s summer home in Maine. But when they arrive at the faded mansion, they find it completely locked up. The servants are gone, the lights are dark—and there is a body in the closet.
There is a killer on the grounds of the abandoned Spencer estate, and the police believe it is Carol. As war rages across the seas, Carol Spencer fights a private battle of her own—to prove her own innocence, and to save her mother’s life.
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About the Author
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.
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The Yellow Room
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Frederick R. Rinehart and Alan G. Rinehart
All rights reserved.
As she sat in the train that June morning Carol Spencer did not look like a young woman facing anything unusual. She looked merely like an attractive and highly finished product of New York City, who was about to park her mother with her elder sister in Newport for a week or two, and who after said parking would then proceed to Maine, there to open a house which she had never wanted to see again.
Now she was trying to relax. Mrs. Spencer in the next chair was lying back with her eyes closed, as though exhausted. As she had done nothing but get herself into a taxi and out again, Carol felt not unnaturally resentful. Her own arms were still aching from carrying the bags and her brother Greg's golf clubs, which her mother had insisted on bringing.
"I wonder if I ought to take some digitalis," Mrs. Spencer said, without opening her eyes. "I feel rather faint."
"Not unless you have it with you," Carol said. "The other bags are piled at the end of the car, with about a ton of others."
Mrs. Spencer decided that a glass of water would answer, and Carol brought a paper cup of it, trying not to spill it as the car swayed. She did not return the cup. She crumpled it up and put it on the window sill. Her mother raised a pair of finely arched eyebrows in disapproval, and lay back again without comment. Carol eyed her, the handsome profile, the fretful mouth, the carefully tailored clothes, and the leather jewel case in her lap. Since George Spencer's death she had become a peevish semi-invalid, and Carol at twenty-four, her hopes killed by the war, found herself in the position of the unmarried daughter, left more or less to wither on the maternal stem. And now this idiotic idea of reopening the house at Bayside—
She stirred uneasily. She did not want to go back. What she wanted was to join the Wacs or the Waves or be a Nurse's Aide. She was young and strong. She could be useful somewhere. But the mere mention of such activity was enough to bring on what her mother called a heart attack. So here she was, with the newspapers in her lap still filled with the invasion a week before, and Greg's golf clubs digging into her legs. She kicked them away impatiently.
She did not come without protest, of course.
"Why Maine?" she had said. "Greg would much rather be in New York, or with Elinor at Newport. He'll want to be near Virginia. After all, he's engaged to her."
But Mrs. Spencer had set her chin, which was a determined one.
"Virginia can easily come up to Maine," she said. "After that jungle heat Greg needs bracing air. I do think you should be willing to do what you can after what he's been through."
Carol had agreed, although when she called Elinor in Newport her sister had said it was crazy.
"It's completely idiotic," she said. "That huge place and only three servants! Do show some sense, Carol."
"You don't have to live with Mother."
"No, thank God," said Elinor, and rang off after her abrupt fashion without saying good-bye. Elinor was like that.
Carol thought it over, as the train rumbled on. Of course she wanted to do what she could for Greg. After all, he deserved it. At thirty-four—he had been flying his own plane for years—he had become a captain and an ace in the South Pacific. Now he was home on a thirty-day furlough, and was about to be decorated by the President himself. But she was still edgy after the scene at Grand Central, the crowds of people, the masses of uniformed men, the noise and confusion, and the lack of porters.
Her mind, escaping the war, ranged over what had been done and what there was to do. The three servants, all they had left and all women, were finishing the Park Avenue apartment, sprinkling the carpets with moth flakes and covering the lamp shades against the city soot. Carol herself had worked feverishly. With no men to be had she had taken down the heavy hangings and done the meticulous packing away which had always preceded the summer hegira, and as if Mrs. Spencer had read her mind she opened her eyes and spoke.
"Did you ship the motor rugs?" she demanded.
"Yes. They're all right."
"And my furs went to storage?"
"You know they did, mother. I gave you the receipt."
"What about Gregory's clothes?"
"He'll be in uniform, you know. He had left some slacks and sweaters at Crestview. I saw them last year."
The conversation lapsed. Mrs. Spencer dozed, her mouth slightly open, and Carol fought again the uneasiness she had felt ever since the plan had been broached. It had of course to do with Colonel Richardson. Even after more than a year he had never accepted Don's death. It was not normal, of course. All last summer he had come up the hill to see her and to sit watching her with anxious eyes.
"Don will have my cottage some day, Carol. You'll find it very comfortable. I've put in a new oil burner."
She put the thought away and began going over what was to be done. This was Thursday, June fifteenth. She was to stay at Elinor's in Newport until Sunday. Then, leaving her mother there for a few days, she would meet the three servants in Boston on Sunday and take the night train to Maine. Nothing would be ready, of course. The plan had been too sudden. She had wired Lucy Norton, the caretaker's wife, to drive over and open the house for them. But the place was large. Unless Lucy could get help—She knew that was improbable and abandoned the idea. The grounds too would be hopeless. Only George Smith remained of the gardeners, and as they had not meant to open the house he would hardly have had time to cut the grass.
The usual problems buzzed through her head. George had always refused to care for the coal furnace, or carry coal to the enormous kitchen range. Maybe Maggie would do this herself. She had been with them as cook for twenty years, and she was strong and willing. But the other two were young. She wondered if she could take them to the movies in the village now and then, and so keep them. Only there would be little or no gasoline.
The train went on. It was crowded, and it was hot. A boiling June sun shone through the windows, setting men to mopping their faces and giving to all the passengers a look of resignation that was almost despair. The only cheerful people were the men in uniform, roaming through the car on mysterious errands of their own and eying Carol as they did so.
She tried not to think about them and what they were facing. She went back determinedly to Bayside and the situation there. The heat had started early, so at least a part of the summer colony would have arrived. There had been no time to announce their coming, so she would have a day or two at least. But Colonel Richardson would know. He lived at the bottom of their hill, and he was always in his garden or sitting patiently on his porch watching for the postman.
She felt a little sick when she remembered that. All last summer, and the colonel saying: "When Don comes back." Or: "Don likes the peonies, so I'm keeping them." Puttering around his garden with a determined smile and haggard eyes, and Carol's heart aching for him, rather than for Don. For most of the pain had gone now, although she still wore Don's ring. They had been engaged since she was eighteen and he was twenty, but he had no money, so they had simply waited. Now he was gone. He had crashed in the South Pacific. There was no question about that. The other men of his squadron had seen his fighter go down, and his death had been officially recognized.
Mrs. Spencer opened her eyes.
"I left the Lowestoft tea set at Crestview, didn't I?" she inquired.
"Yes, mother. You were afraid to have it shipped. It's in the pantry."
This promising to reopen a long discussion of what had or had not been left in Maine the year before, Carol took refuge in the women's lavatory. There she lit a cigarette and surveyed herself in the mirror. What she saw was an attractive face, rather smudged at the moment, a pair of candid gray eyes, heavily lashed, and a wide humorous mouth which had somehow lost its gaiety.
"Watch out, my girl," she said to it. "You're beginning to look like the family spinster."
She took off her gloves and used her lipstick. She had broken two fingernails getting ready to move, and she eyed them resentfully. Elinor would spot them at once, she thought. Elinor who was the family beauty, Elinor who had married what was wealth even in these days of heavy taxes, and Elinor who had definitely refused to look after her mother so that Carol could go into some sort of war work.
"One of us would end in a padded cell," had been Elinor's sharp comment. "And Howard would simply go and live at his club. You know Howard."
Yes, Carol reflected, she knew Howard, big and pompous and proud, of his money, of his houses at Palm Beach and Newport, his lodge in South Carolina for quail shooting, his vast apartment in New York, his dinner parties, his name in the Social Register, and of course of his wife. Carol had often wondered whether he loved Elinor, or whether he merely displayed her, as another evidence of his success.
She powdered her damp face and felt more able to face her sister and her entourage. But although the Hilliard limousine met them at Providence, Elinor was not in it. Nor was she at the house when they finally reached it. There were no longer three men in the hall, but the elderly butler was still there. He seemed puzzled.
"I'm sorry," he explained. "Mrs. Hilliard expected to be here. She took her own car and went out some time ago. She—I think she had a long-distance call. Probably from Captain Spencer."
"I can see no reason why that should take her out of her house," said Mrs. Spencer coldly. "Very well, Caswell. We will go to our rooms."
Carol followed her mother. The house always chilled her. It was on too large a scale. And she was puzzled about Elinor too. Whatever her feelings, she kept her appointments. It was part of her social creed. Mrs. Spencer, however, was merely exasperated.
"I have learned not to expect much from my children," she said, "but when I come here so seldom—"
"She'll turn up, mother," Carol said pacifically. "She always does, you know."
But it was a long time before Elinor, so to speak, turned up. She was even in the house almost an hour before they saw her at all. Carol, standing at the window, saw her drive in in the gay foreign car she affected, and smiled at her mother.
"She's here," she said. "Brace yourself, darling."
Only Elinor did not come. Mrs. Spencer's reproaches died on her lips. Her air of dignified injury began to weaken. And when at last the prodigal did appear there was obviously something wrong. Not that she did not give an excellent performance.
"Sorry, my dears," she said in her light voice. "Some awful man here about the blackout. Have you had lunch?"
"We had trays up here," her mother said, the injury returning. "I do think, Elinor—"
But Elinor was not listening. She glanced around the luxurious apartment, a boudoir and two bedrooms, and jerking off her hat, ran a hand over her shining blond hair. Carol, watching her and still puzzled, wondered how she had kept her beauty. Thirty-two, she thought, and she doesn't look as old as I do. Or does she? Certainly Elinor was looking tired and harassed, and perhaps—if such a thing were possible—rather frightened.
"I hope you will be comfortable," she was saying. "It's the most awful rotten luck, but I have to go to New York tomorrow. In this heat too. Isn't it dreadful?"
Mrs. Spencer stared at her.
"I do think, Elinor—" she began again.
"I know, my dear," Elinor said. "It's sickening. But I have to go. We're giving a dinner next week, and my dress has to be fitted on Saturday. I had to have one. I'm in rags."
Carol smiled faintly. Elinor in rags, with a dressing room lined with closets filled with exquisite clothes, was not even a figure of speech.
"Where will you stay?" she asked. "Your apartment's closed, isn't it? I thought Howard was at his club."
"I'll find some place," Elinor said, still airily. "Maybe the Colony Club. Howard's not coming out this weekend. He's playing golf on Saturday at Piping Rock."
Mrs. Spencer had lapsed into indignant silence. Elinor did not look at her. She was really not looking at anyone.
"I have a shocking headache," she said, putting her hand with its huge square-cut diamond to her head. "Do you mind if I lie down for a while? Do what you like, of course."
"Just what would you propose," Carol said, amused. "I can curl up with a book, but what about Mother?"
Once more, however, she realized that her words had not penetrated Elinor's mind. Behind her lovely face something was happening. It was as if her speech was following a pattern, already cut and prepared when she entered the room.
"Dinner's at eight," she said abruptly. "I'll see you then."
"I do think—" Mrs. Spencer began again. But Elinor had already gone, the door closing behind her. In spite of her bewilderment Carol laughed. Then, feeling repentant, she went over and kissed her mother's cheek.
"Well, we're here," she said cheerfully. "Don't bother about Elinor. Maybe she has something on her mind."
Mrs. Spencer caught her arm almost wildly.
"Carol, do you think Howard is being unfaithful?"
"He may have a pretty lady somewhere," Carol said. "But Elinor wouldn't mind, of course, unless it got out."
This picture of modern marriage proving too much for her, Mrs. Spencer closed her eyes.
"I think I'll have some digitalis," she said faintly.
Elinor left the next day, looking as though she had not slept, and piling her car with the numberless bags without which she never moved. She had not appeared at dinner the night before, sending word she still had a headache, and as she left shortly after lunch her mother's grievance continued.
Elinor's plan, it appeared, was to drive herself to Providence, leave her car there and take a train to New York.
"That leaves the limousine for you," she explained. "You can use it all you like. Howard laid in plenty of gas."
Mrs. Spencer said nothing resentfully, but Elinor did not notice. She talked on feverishly during lunch: Greg's citation, the probability of his marriage to Virginia Demarest before he went back, the dress for which she was to be fitted. And—which was unlike her—she smoked fairly steadily through the meal. Carol was uneasy, and when Elinor went upstairs for her coat and hat, she followed her.
Elinor was at the safe in her bedroom. She started somewhat.
"Money for the trip," she said lightly. "What's the matter with you, Carol? You look ghastly."
"I thought you did," Carol said bluntly.
"Nonsense. I'm all right. See here, Carol, why not stay here for a while? Greg won't go to Maine. He has other things on his mind, and it only reminds you of things you'd better forget."
"I can manage," Carol said rather dryly. "I can't change the plans now. It's too late."
"Let the servants go up alone. Lucy Norton will be there, won't she?" There seemed a certain insistence in Elinor's voice.
"I'm leaving Sunday," she said. "It's too late to change."
She watched Elinor at her dressing table, laden with the gold toilet things, the jars and perfume bottles which were as much a part of her as her carefully darkened eyebrows. She was running a brush over the eyebrows now, but the line was not too even.
Elinor's hands were shaking.CHAPTER 2
The trip to Boston was a nightmare. The train was jammed with a Sunday crowd, and stopped frequently with a jerk that almost broke her neck. It was still hot and her mind was filled with the events of the past three days.
Any attempt to locate Greg in Washington had met with failure, and Mrs. Spencer had taken refuge in her bedroom and a dignified silence. Then on Sunday she had openly rebelled.
"I think I'll go with you, Carol," she said. "I might as well. If all Elinor provides me with is a place to sleep and food to eat, I see no reason for staying."
It had taken Carol a half hour to persuade her to stay. June was often cold in Maine, and the house would be damp anyhow, she said. Also the girls would have all they could do. Her mother would certainly be uncomfortable. Better to wait a few days. At least she was well housed and well fed where she was.
Excerpted from The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Copyright © 1973 Frederick R. Rinehart and Alan G. Rinehart. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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I am a fan of Mary Roberts Rinehart and was pleased that this book was available on my Nook.