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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 9. Hunter's Inn
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The Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 9. Hunter's Inn Post by :Triffid Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :1600

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The Chief Legatee - Part 1. A Woman Of Mystery - Chapter 9. Hunter's Inn

PART I. A WOMAN OF MYSTERY
CHAPTER IX. HUNTER'S INN

When Mr. Ransom re-entered the hotel, which he did under a swoop of wind which turned his umbrella inside out and drenched him through in an instant, it was to find the house in renewed turmoil, happily explained by the landlady, whom he ran across on the stairs.

"Oh, Mr. Johnston!" she cried as she edged by him with a pile of bed-linen on her arm. "Please excuse all this fuss. Another guest is coming--I have just got a telegram. A famous lawyer from New York. Our house will be full to-night."

"Where will you put him?" inquired Mr. Ransom with a good-natured air. "There seem to be no unoccupied rooms on this hall."

"More's the pity," she sighed, with a half-inquiring, half deprecatory look at this fortunate first comer. "I shall have to put him below, poor man. I'm afraid he won't like it, but--" Mr. Ransom remained silent. "But," she went on with sudden cheerfulness, "I will make it up in the supper. That shall be as good a one as our kitchen will provide. Four city guests all in one day! That's a good many for this quiet hotel."

"Four!" retorted Mr. Ransom as he turned towards his own door. "The number has grown by two since I went out."

"Oh, I didn't tell you. The lady--her name's Mrs. Ransom--brings her sister with her. The little girl who--yes, I am coming." This latter to some perplexed domestic down the hall, who had already called her twice. "I mustn't stand talking here," she apologized as she hurried away. "But do take care of yourself. You are dreadful wet. How I wish the weather would clear up!"

Mr. Ransom wished the same. To say nothing of his own inconvenience, it was a source of anxiety to him that she should have to ride these inevitable ten miles in such a chilling downpour. Besides, a storm of this kind complicated matters; gave him less sense of freedom, shut him in, as it were, with the mystery he was there to unravel, but which for some reason, hardly explainable to himself, filled him with such a sense of foreboding that he had moments in which he thought only of escape. But his part must be played and he prepared himself to play it well. Having changed his clothes and warmed himself with a draft of whisky, he sat down at his table and was busy writing when the maid came in to ask if he would wait for his supper till the coach came, or have it earlier and served in his own room.

With an air of petulance, he looked up, rapped on the table, and replied:

"Here! here! I'm too busy to meet strangers. An early supper and an early bed. That's the way I get through _my work."

The girl stared and went softly out. Work!--that? Sitting at a table and just putting words on paper. If it was beds he had to drag around now, or a dozen hungry, clamoring men to feed all at once, and all with the best cuts, or stairs to run up fifty times a day, or--but I need not fill out her thought. It made her voluble in the kitchen and secured him the privacy which his incognito demanded.

His supper over, he waited feverishly for the coach, which ordinarily was due at seven in the evening. To-night it bade fair to be late, owing to the bad condition of the roads and the early darkness. The wind had gone down, but it still rained. Not quite so tempestuously as when he roamed the cemetery, but steadily enough to keep eaves and branches dripping. The sound of this ceaseless drip was eerie enough to his strained senses, waiting as he was for an event which might determine the happiness or the misery of his life. He tried to forget it and wrote diligently, putting down words whose meaning he did not stop to consider, so that he had something to show to prying eyes if such should ever glance through his papers. But the sound had got on his brain, and presently became so insistent that he rose again and flung his window up to see if he were deceived in thinking he heard a deep roar mingling with the incessant patter, a roar which the wind had hitherto prevented him from separating from the general turmoil, but which now was apparent enough to call for some explanation.

He had made no mistake; a steady sound of rushing water filled the outside air. A fall was near, a fall by means of which, no doubt, the factories were run.

Why had he not thought of this? Why had its sound held a note of menace for him, awakening feelings he did not understand and from which he sought to escape? A factory fall swollen by the rain! What was there in this to make his hand shake and cause the deepening night to seem positively hateful to him? With a bang he closed the window; then he softly threw it up again. Surely he had heard the noise of wheels splashing through the pools of the highway. The coach was coming! and with it--what?

His room was in the gable end facing the road. From it he could look directly down on the porch of entrance, a fact which he had thankfully noted at his first look. As he heard the bustle which now broke out below, and caught the gleam of a lantern coming round the corner of the house, he softly stepped to his lamp and put it out, then took his stand at the window. The coach was now very near; he could hear the straining of the harness and the shouts of the driver. In another moment it drew lumberingly up. A man from the hotel advanced with an umbrella; a young lady was helped out who, standing one moment in the full glare of the lights thrown upon her from the open door, showed him the face and form he knew so well and loved--yes, loved for all her mystery, as he knew by the wild beating of his heart, and the irresistible impulse he felt to rush down and receive her in his arms, to her great terror doubtless, but to his own boundless satisfaction and delight. But strong as the temptation was, he did not yield to it. Something in her attitude, as she stood there, talking earnestly to the driver, held him spellbound and alert. All was not right; there was passion in her movements and in her voice. What she said drew the heads of landlady and maid from the open door and caused the man with the lantern to peer past her into the coach and backward along the road. What had happened? Nothing that concerned the lawyer. Mr. Ransom could see him disentangling himself from the coverings in front where he had ridden with the driver, but the sister was not there. No other lady got out of the coach even after his young wife had finished her conversation with the driver and disappeared into the house.

"How can I stand this?" thought Mr. Ransom as the coach finally rattled and swished away towards the stable. "I must hear, I must see, I must _know what is going on down there."

This because he heard voices in the open hall. Crossing to his own doorway, he listened. His wife and Mr. Harper had stepped into the office close by the front door. He could hear now and then a word of what they said, but not all. Venturing a step further, he leaned over the balustrade which extended almost up to his own door. This was better; he could now catch most of the words and sometimes a sentence. They all referred to the sister. "Temper--her own way--deaf--_would walk in all the rain and slush.--A strange character--you can't imagine," and other similar phrases, uttered in a passionate and half-angry voice. Then ejaculations from Mrs. Deo, and a word or two of caution or injunction in the polished tones of the lawyer, followed by a sudden rush towards the staircase, over which he was leaning.

"Show me my room," rang up in Georgian's bell-like tones; "then I'll tell you what to do about _her_. She isn't easily managed."

"But she'll get her death!" expostulated Mrs. Deo; "to say nothing of her losing her way in this dreadful darkness. Let me send--"

"Not yet," broke in his young wife's voice, with just the hint of asperity in it. "She must trudge out her tantrum first. I think her idea was to show that she remembered the old place and the lane where she used to pick blackberries. You needn't worry about her getting cold. She's lived a gipsy life too many years to mind wind and wet. But it's different with _me_. I'm all in a shiver. Which is my room, please?"

She was now at the head of the stairs. Mr. Ransom had closed his door, but not latched it, and as she turned to go down the hall, followed by the chattering landlady, he swung it open for an instant and so caught one full glimpse of her beloved figure. She was dressed in a long rain-coat and had some sort of modish hat on her head, which, in spite of its simplicity, gave her a highly fashionable air. A woman to draw all eyes, but such a mystery to her husband! Such a mystery to all who knew her story, or rather her actions, for no one seemed to know her story.

Events did not halt. He heard her give this and that order, open a door and look in; say a word of commendation, ask if the key was on her side of the partition, then shut the door again and open another.

"Ah, this looks comfortable," she exclaimed in great satisfaction. "Is that my bag? Put it down, please. I'll open it. Now, if you'll leave me a moment alone, I'll soon be ready. But you mustn't expect me to eat till Anitra comes. I couldn't do that. Oh, she's a dreadful trial, Mrs. Deo; you have a motherly face, and I can tell you that the girl is just eating up my life. If she weren't my very self, deafened by hard usage, and rendered coarse and wilful by years of a miserable and half-starved life, I couldn't bear it, especially after what I've sacrificed for her. I've parted with my husband--but I can't talk, I can't. I would not have said so much if you hadn't looked so kind."

All this her husband heard, followed by a sob or two, quickly checked, however, by a high strained laugh and the gay remark:

"I'm wet enough, but she'll be dripping. I'm afraid she'll have to have her supper in her room. She got out at the new schoolhouse and started to come through the lane. It must be a weltering pool. If I'm dressed in time I'll come down and meet her at the door. Meanwhile don't wait for us; give Mr. Harper his supper."

Her door closed, then suddenly opened again. "If she don't come in ten minutes, let some one go to the head of the lane. But be sure it's a careful person who won't startle her. I've got to put on another dress, so don't bother me. I'll hear her when she enters her own room and will speak to her then--if I dare; I'm not sure that I shall." And the door shut to again, this time with a snap of the lock. Quiet reigned once more in the hall save for Mrs. Deo's muttered exclamations as she made her laborious way down-stairs. Had this good woman been less disturbed and not in so much of a hurry, she might have noted that the door of her literary guest's room was ajar, and stopped to ask why the lamp remained unlit.

For five minutes, for ten minutes, he watched and listened, passing continually to and fro from door to window. But his vigilance remained unrewarded by any further movement in the hall, or by the sight of an approaching figure up the road. He began to feel odd, and was asking himself what sort of fool-work this was, when a clatter of voices rose below, followed by heavy steps on the veranda. One or two men were going out, and as it seemed to him the landlady too, for he heard her say just as the door closed:

"Let me on ahead; she must see a woman's kind face first, poor child, or we shall not succeed in getting her in. I know all about these wild ones."

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