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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 5. Master And Dog
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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 5. Master And Dog Post by :Wayne_A. Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :2211

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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 5. Master And Dog

BOOK I. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM
CHAPTER V. MASTER AND DOG

No further opportunity was afforded me that night for studying the three leading characters in the remarkable drama I saw unfolding before me. A task was assigned me by the captain which took me from the house, and I missed the next scene--the arrival of the coroner. But I repaid myself for this loss in a way I thought justified by the importance of my own theory and the evident necessity there was of collecting each and every point of evidence which could give coloring to the charge, in the event of this crime coming to be looked on at headquarters as one of murder.

Observing that a light was still burning in Uncle David's domicile, I crossed to his door and rang the bell. I was answered by the deep and prolonged howl of a dog, soon cut short by his master's amiable greeting. This latter was a surprise to me. I had heard so often of Mr. Moore's churlishness as a host that I had expected some rebuff. But I encountered no such tokens of hostility. His brow was smooth and his smile cheerfully condescending. Indeed, he appeared anxious to have me enter, and cast an indulgent look at Rudge, whose irrepressible joy at this break in the monotony of his existence was tinged with a very evident dread of offending his master. Interested anew, I followed this man of contradictory impulses into the room toward which he led me.

The time has now come for a more careful description of this peculiar man. Mr. Moore was tall and of that refined spareness of shape which suggests the scholar. Yet he had not the scholar's eye. On the contrary, his regard was quick, if not alert, and while it did not convey actual malice or ill-will, it roused in the spectator an uncomfortable feeling, not altogether easy to analyze. He wore his iron gray locks quite long, and to this distinguishing idiosyncrasy, as well as to his invariable custom of taking his dog with him wherever he went, was due the interest always shown in him by street urchins. On account of his whimsicalities, he had acquired the epithet of Uncle David among them, despite his aristocratic connections and his gentlemanlike bearing. His clothes formed no exception to the general air of individuality which marked him. They were of different cut from those of other men, and in this as in many other ways he was a law to himself; notably so in the following instance: He kept one day of the year religiously, and kept it always in the same way. Long years before, he had been blessed with a wife who both understood and loved him. He had never forgotten this fact, and once a year, presumably on the anniversary of her death, it was his custom to go to the cemetery where she lay and to spend the whole day under the shadow of the stone he had raised to her memory. No matter what the weather, no matter what the condition of his own health, he was always to be seen in this spot, at the hour of seven, leaning against the shaft on which his wife's name was written, eating his supper in the company of his dog. It was a custom he had never omitted. So well known was it to the boys and certain other curious individuals in the neighborhood that he never lacked an audience, though woe betide the daring foot that presumed to invade the precincts of the lot he called his, or the venturesome voice which offered to raise itself in gibe or jeer. He had but to cast a glance at Rudge and an avenging rush scattered the crowd in a twinkling. But he seldom had occasion to resort to this extreme measure for preserving the peace and quiet of his solemn watch. As a rule he was allowed to eat his meal undisturbed, and to pass out unmolested even by ridicule, though his teeth might still be busy over some final tidbit. Often the great tears might be seen hanging undried upon his withered cheeks.

So much for one oddity which may stand as a sample of many others.

One glance at the room into which he ushered me showed why he cherished so marked a dislike for visitors. It was bare to the point of discomfort, and had it not been for a certain quaintness in the shape of the few articles to be seen there, I should have experienced a decided feeling of repulsion, so pronounced was the contrast between this poverty-stricken interior and the polished bearing of its owner. He, I am sure, could have shown no more elevated manners if he had been doing the honors of a palace. The organ, with the marks of home construction upon it, was the only object visible which spoke of luxury or even comfort.

But enough of these possibly uninteresting details. I did not dwell on them myself, except in a vague way and while waiting for him to open the conversation. This he did as soon as he saw that I had no intention of speaking first.

"And did you find any one in the old house?" he asked.

Keeping him well under my eye, I replied with intentional brusqueness:

"She has gone there once too often!"

The stare he gave me was that of an actor who feels that some expression of surprise is expected from him.

"She?" he repeated. "Whom can you possibly mean by she?"

The surprise I expressed at this bold attempt at ingenuousness was better simulated than his, I hope.

"You don't know!" I exclaimed. "Can you live directly opposite a place of such remarkable associations and not interest yourself in who goes in and out of its deserted doors?"

"I don't sit in my front window," he peevishly returned.

I let my eye roam toward a chair standing suspiciously near the very window he had designated.

"But you saw the light?" I suggested.

"I saw that from the door-step when I went out to give Rudge his usual five minutes' breathing spell on the stoop. But you have not answered my question; whom do you mean by she?"

"Veronica Jeffrey," I replied. "She who was Veronica Moore. She has visited this haunted house of hers for the last time."

"Last time!" Either he could not or would not understand me.

"What has happened to my niece?" he cried, rising with an energy that displaced the great dog and sent him, with hanging head and trailing tail, to his own special sleeping-place under the table. "Has she run upon a ghost in those dismal apartments? You interest me greatly. I did not think she would ever have the pluck to visit this house again after what happened at her wedding."

"She has had the pluck," I assured him; "and what is more, she has had enough of it not only to reenter the house, but to reenter it alone. At least, such is the present inference. Had you been blessed with more curiosity and made more frequent use of the chair so conveniently placed for viewing the opposite house, you might have been in a position to correct this inference. It would help the police materially to know positively that she had no companion in her fatal visit."

"Fatal?" he repeated, running his finger inside his neckband, which suddenly seemed to have grown too tight for comfort. "Can it be that my niece has been frightened to death in that old place? You alarm me."

He did not look alarmed, but then he was not of an impressible nature. Yet he was of the same human clay as the rest of us, and, if he knew no more of this occurrence than he tried to make out, could not be altogether impervious to what I had to say next.

"You have a right to be alarmed," I assented. "She was not frightened to death, yet is she lying dead on the library floor." Then, with a glance at the windows about me, I added lightly: "I take it that a pistol-shot delivered over there could not be heard in this room."

He sank rather melodramatically into his seat, yet his face and form did not lose that sudden assumption of dignity which I had observed in him ever since my entrance into the house.

"I am overwhelmed by this news," he remarked. "She has shot herself? Why?"

"I did not say that she had shot herself," I carefully repeated. "Yet the facts point that way and Mr. Jeffrey accepts the suicide theory without question."

"Ah, Mr. Jeffrey is there!"

"Most certainly; he was sent for at once."

"And Miss Tuttle? She came with him of course?"

"She came, but not with him. She is very fond of her sister."

"I must go over at once," he cried, leaping again to his feet and looking about for his hat. "It is my duty to make them feel at home; in short, to--to put the house at their disposal." Here he found his hat and placed it on his head. "The property is mine now, you know," he politely explained, turning, with a keen light in his gray eye, full upon me and overwhelming me with the grand air of a man who has come unexpectedly into his own. "Mrs. Jeffrey's father was my younger brother--the story is an old and long one--and the property, which in all justice should have been divided between us, went entirely to him. But he was a good fellow in the main and saw the injustice of his father's will as clearly as I did, and years ago made one on his own account bequeathing me the whole estate in case he left no issue, or that issue died. Veronica was his only child; Veronica has died; therefore the old house is mine and all that goes with it, all that goes with it."

There was the miser's gloating in this repetition of a phrase sufficiently expressive in itself, or rather the gloating of a man who sees himself suddenly rich after a life of poverty. There was likewise a callousness as regarded his niece's surprising death which I considered myself to have some excuse for noticing.

"You accept her death very calmly," I remarked. "Probably you knew her to be possessed of an erratic mind."

He was about to bestow an admonitory kick on his dog, who had been indiscreet enough to rise at his master's first move, but his foot stopped in mid air, in his anxiety to concentrate all his attention on his answer.

"I am a man of few sentimentalities," he coldly averred. "I have loved but one person in my whole life. Why then should I be expected to mourn over a niece who did not care enough for me to invite me to her wedding? It would be an affectation unworthy the man who has at last come to fill his rightful position in this community as the owner of the great Moore estate. For great it shall be," he emphatically continued. "In three years you will not know the house over yonder. Despite its fancied ghosts and death-dealing fireplace, it will stand A Number One in Washington. I, David Moore, promise you this; and I am not a man to utter fatuous prophecies. But I must be missed over there." Here he gave the mastiff the long delayed kick. "Rudge, stay here! The vestibule opposite is icy. Besides, your howls are not wanted in those old walls tonight even if you would go with me, which I doubt. He has never been willing to cross to that side of the street," the old gentleman went on to complain, with his first show of irritation. "But he'll have to overcome that prejudice soon, even if I have to tear up the old hearthstone and reconstruct the walls. I can't live without Rudge, and I will not live in any other place than in the old home of my ancestors."

I was by this time following him out.

"You have failed to answer the suggestion I made you a minute since," I hazarded. "Will you pardon me if I put it now as a question? Your niece, Mrs. Jeffrey, seemed to have everything in the world to make her happy, yet she took her life. Was there a taint of insanity in her blood, or was her nature so impulsive that her astonishing death in so revolting a place should awaken in you so little wonder?"

A gleam of what had made him more or less feared by the very urchins who dogged his steps and made sport of him at a respectful distance shot from his eye as he glowered back at me from the open door. But he hastily suppressed this sign of displeasure and replied with the faintest tinge of sarcasm:

"There! you are expecting from me feelings which belong to youth or to men of much more heart than understanding. I tell you that I have no feelings. My niece may have developed insanity or she may simply have drunk her cup of pleasure dry at twenty-two and come to its dregs prematurely. I do not know and I do not care. What concerns me is that the responsibility of a large fortune has fallen upon me most unexpectedly and that I have pride enough to wish to show myself capable of sustaining the burden. Besides, they may be tempted to do some mischief to the walls or floors over there. The police respect no man's property. But I am determined they shall respect mine. No rippings up or tearings down will I allow unless I stand by to supervise the job. I am master of the old homestead now and I mean to show it." And with a last glance at the dog, who uttered the most mournful of protests in reply, he shut the front door and betook himself to the other side of the street.

As I noticed his assured bearing as he disappeared within the forbidding portal which, according to his own story, had for so long a time been shut against him, I asked myself if the candle which I had noticed lying on his mantel-shelf was of the same make and size as those I had found in my late investigations in the house he was then entering.

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