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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 7. Rain
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The Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 7. Rain Post by :Triffid Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :1166

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The Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 7. Rain

PART I. A WOMAN OF MYSTERY
CHAPTER VII. RAIN

Mr. Ransom had never heard of Sitford, but upon inquiry learned that it was a small manufacturing town some ten miles from the direct route of travel, to which it was only connected by a stage-coach running once a day, late in the afternoon.

What a spot for a meeting of this kind! Why chosen by her? Why submitted to by this busy New York lawyer? Was this another mystery; or had he misinterpreted Mr. Harper's purpose in passing over to him the address of this small town? He preferred to think the former. He could hardly contemplate now the prospect of failing to see her again which must follow any mistake as to this being the place agreed upon for the signing of her will.

Meantime he had said nothing to Gerridge. This was a hope too personal to confide in a man of his position. He would go to Sitford and endeavor to catch a glimpse of his wife there. If successful, the whole temper of his mind might change towards the situation, if not toward her. He would at least have the satisfaction of seeing her. The detective had enough to do in New York.

April the fifteenth fell on Tuesday. He was not minded to wait so long but took the boat on Monday afternoon. This landed him some time before daylight at the time-worn village from which the coach ran to Sitford. A railway connected this village with New York, necessitating no worse inconvenience than crossing the river on a squat, old-fashioned ferry boat; but he calculated that both the lawyer and Mrs. Ransom would make use of this, and felt the risk would be less for him if he chose the slower and less convenient route.

He had given his name on the boat as Roger Johnston, which was true so far as it went, and he signed this same name at the hotel where he put up till morning. The place was an entirely unknown one to him and he was unknown to it. Both fortuitous facts, he thought, in the light of his own perplexity as to the position in which he really stood towards this mysterious wife of his.

The coach, as I have said, ran late in the afternoon. This was to accommodate the passengers who came by rail. But Mr. Ransom had not planned to go by coach. That would be to risk a premature encounter with his wife, or at least with the lawyer. He preferred to hire a team, and be driven there by some indifferent livery-stable man. Neither prospect was pleasing. It had been raining all night, and bade fair to rain all day. The river was clouded with mist; the hills, which are the glory of the place, were obliterated from the landscape, and the road--he had never seen such a road, all little pools and mud.

However, there was no help for it. The journey must be made, and seeing a livery-stable sign across the road, lost no time in securing the conveyance he needed. At nine o'clock he started out.

The rain drove so fiercely from the northwest,--the very direction in which they were traveling,--that enjoyment of the scenery was impossible. Nor could any pleasure be got out of conversation with the man who drove him. Rain, rain, that was all; and the splash of mud over the wheels which turned all too slowly for his comfort. And there were to be ten miles of this. Naturally he turned to his thoughts and they were all of her.

Why had he not known her better before linking his fate to hers? Why had he never encouraged her to talk to him more about herself and her early life? Had he but done so, he might now have some clew to the mystery devouring him. He might know why so rich and independent a woman had chosen this remote town on an inaccessible road, for the completion of an act which was in itself a mystery. Why could not the will have been signed in New York? But he was not inquisitive in those days. He had taken her for what she seemed--an untrammeled, gay-hearted girl, ready to love and be his happy wife and lifelong companion; and he had been contented to keep all conversation along natural lines and do no probing. And now,--this brother whom all had thought dead, come to life with menace in his acts and conversation! Also a sister,--but this sister he had no belief in. The coincidence was too startlingly out of nature for him to accept a brother and a sister too. A brother or a sister; but not both. Not even Mr. Harper's assurances should influence his credulity to this extent. "Money! money is at the bottom of it all," was his final decision. "She knows it and is making her will, as a possible protection. But why come here?"

Thus every reflection ended.

Suddenly a vanished, half-forgotten memory came back. It brought a gleam of light into the darkness which had hitherto enveloped the whole matter. She had once spoken to him of her early life. She had mentioned a place where she used to play as a child; had mentioned it lovingly, longingly. There were hills, she had said; hills all around. And woods full of chestnut-trees, safe woods where she could wander at will. And the roads--how she loved to walk the roads. No automobiles then, not even bicycles. One could go miles without meeting man or horse. Sometimes a heavily-laden cart would go by drawn by a long string of oxen; but they were picturesque and added to the charm. Oxen were necessary where there was no railroad.

As he repeated these words to himself, he looked up. Through the downpour his eyes could catch a glimpse of the road before him, winding up a long hillside. Down this road was approaching a dozen yoke of oxen dragging a wagon piled with bales of some sort of merchandise. One question in his mind was answered. This spot was not an unknown one to her. It was connected with her childhood days. There was reason back of her choice of it as a place of meeting between her and her lawyer, or if not reason, association, and that of the tenderest kind. He felt himself relieved of the extreme weight of his oppression and ventured upon asking a question or two about Sitford, which he took pains to say he was visiting for the first time.

The information he obtained was but meager, but he did learn that there was a very fair tavern there and that the manufactures of the place were sufficient to account for a stranger's visit. The articles made were mostly novelties.

This knowledge he meant to turn to account, but changed his mind when they finally splashed into town and stopped before the tavern which had been so highly recommended by his driver. The house, dripping though it was from every eave, had such a romantic air that he thought he could venture to cite other reasons for his stay there than the prosaic one of business. That is, if the landlady should give any evidence of being at all in accord with her quaint home and picturesque surroundings.

She showed herself and he at once gave her credit for being all he could wish in the way of credulity and good-nature, and meeting her with the smile which had done good execution in its day, he asked if she had a room for a writer who was finishing a book, and who only asked for quiet and regular meals before his own cosy fire. This to rouse her imagination and make her amenable to his wishes for secrecy.

She was a simple soul and fell easily into the trap. In half an hour Mr. Ransom was ensconced in a pleasant room over the porch, a room which he soon learned possessed many advantages. For it not only overlooked the main entrance, but was so placed as to command a view of all the rooms on his hall. In two of those rooms he bade fair to be greatly interested, Mrs. Deo having remarked that they were being prepared for a lady who was coming that night. As he had no doubt who this lady was, he encouraged the good woman to talk, and presently had the satisfaction of hearing her say that she was very happy over this lady's coming, as she was a Sitford girl, one of the old family of Hazens, and though married now and very rich was much loved by every one in town because she had never forgotten Sitford or Sitford people.

She was coming! He had made no mistake. And this was the place of her birth, just as he had decided when he saw that long line of oxen! He realized how fortunate he was, or rather how indebted he was to Mr. Harper, since in this place only could he hope to gain satisfaction on the mooted point raised by that same gentleman. If she had been born here, so had her twin sister; so had the brother whose claims lay counter to that sister's. Both must have been known to these people, their persons, their history and the circumstances of their supposed deaths. The clews thus afforded must prove invaluable to him. From them he must soon be able to ascertain in which story to place faith and which claimant to believe. He might have interrogated his hostess, but feared to show his interest in the supposed stranger. He preferred to wait a few hours and gather his facts from other lips.

Meantime it rained.

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