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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 6. Gossip
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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 6. Gossip Post by :Wayne_A. Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :3112

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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 6. Gossip

BOOK I. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM
CHAPTER VI. GOSSIP

Next morning the city was in a blaze of excitement. All the burning questions of the hour--the rapid mobilization of the army and the prospect of a speedy advance on Cuba--were forgotten in the one engrossing topic of young Mrs. Jeffrey's death and the awful circumstances surrounding it. Nothing else was in any one's mouth and but little else in any one's heart. Her youth, her prominence, her union with a man of such marked attractions as Mr. Jeffrey, the tragedy connected with her marriage, thrown now into shadow by the still more poignant tragedy which had so suddenly terminated her own life, gave to the affair an interest which for those first twenty-four hours did not call for any further heightening by a premature suggestion of murder.

Though I was the hero of the hour and, as such, subjected to an infinite number of questions, I followed the lead of my superiors in this regard and carefully refrained from advancing any theories beyond the obvious one of suicide. The moment for self-exploitation was not ripe; I did not stand high enough in the confidence of the major, or, I may say, of the lieutenant of my own precinct, to risk the triumph I anticipated ultimately by a premature expression of opinion.

I had an enemy at headquarters; or, rather, one of the men there had always appeared peculiarly interested in showing me up in the worst light. The name of this man was Durbin, and it was he who had uttered something like a slighting remark when on that first night I endeavored to call the captain's attention to some of the small matters which had offered themselves to me in the light of clues. Perhaps it was the prospect of surprising him some day which made me so wary now as well as so alert to fill my mind with all known facts concerning the Jeffreys. One of my first acts was to turn over the files of the Star and reread the following account of the great wedding. As it is a sensational description of a sensational event, I shall make no apology for the headlines which startled all Washington the night they appeared.


"STARTLING TERMINATION OF THE JEFFREY-MOORE WEDDING.

THE TRADITIONAL DOOM FOLLOWS THE OPENING OF THE OLD HOUSE ON WAVERLEY AVENUE.

ONE OF THE GUESTS FOUND LYING DEAD ON THE LIBRARY HEARTHSTONE.

LETTERS IN HIS POCKET SHOW HIM TO HAVE BEEN ONE W. PFEIFFER OF DENVER.

NO INTERRUPTION TO THE CEREMONY FOLLOWS THIS GHASTLY DISCOVERY, BUT THE GUESTS FLY IN ALL DIRECTIONS AS SOON AS THE NUPTIAL KNOT IS TIED.


"The festivities attendant upon the wedding of Miss Veronica Moore to Mr. Francis Jeffrey of this city met with a startling check to-day. As most of our readers know, the long-closed house on Waverley Avenue, which for nearly a century has been in possession of the bride's family, was opened for the occasion at the express wish of the bride. For a week the preparations for this great function have been going on. When at an early hour this morning a line of carriages drew up in front of the historic mansion and the bridal party entered under its once gloomy but now seemingly triumphant portal, the crowds, which blocked the street from curb to curb, testified to the interest felt by the citizens of Washington in this daring attempt to brave the traditions which have marked this house out as solitary, and by a scene of joyous festivity make the past forgotten and restore again to usefulness the decayed grandeurs of an earlier time. As Miss Moore is one of Washington's most charming women, and as this romantic effort naturally lent an extraordinary interest to the ceremony of her marriage, a large number of our representative people assembled to witness it, and by high noon the scene was one of unusual brilliancy.

"Halls which had moldered away in an unbroken silence for years echoed again with laughter and palpitated to the choicest strains of the Marine Band. All doors were open save those of the library--an exception which added a pleasing excitement to the occasion--and when by chance some of the more youthful guests were caught peering behind the two Corinthian pillars guarding these forbidden precincts the memories thus evoked were momentary and the shadow soon passed.

"The wedding had been set for high noon, and as the clock in the drawing-room struck the hour every head was craned to catch the first glimpse of the bride coming down the old-fashioned staircase. But five minutes, ten minutes, a half-hour, passed without this expectation being gratified. The crowd above and below was growing restless, when suddenly a cry was heard from beyond the gilded pillars framing the library door, and a young lady was seen rushing from the forbidden quarter, trembling with dismay and white with horror. It was Miss Abbott of Stratford Circle, who in the interim of waiting had allowed her curiosity to master her dread, and by one peep into the room, which seemed to exercise over her the fascination of a Bluebeard's chamber, discovered the outstretched form of a man lying senseless and apparently dead on the edge of the hearthstone. The terror which instantly spread amongst the guests shows the hold which superstition has upon all classes of humanity. Happily, however, an unseemly panic was averted, by the necessity which all felt of preserving some sort of composure till the ceremony for which they had assembled had been performed. For simultaneously with this discovery of death in the library there had come from above the sound of the approaching bridal procession, and cries were hushed, and beating hearts restrained, as Miss Moore's charming face and exquisite figure appeared between the rows of flowering plants with which the staircase was lined. No need for the murmur to go about, 'Spare the bride! Let nothing but cheer surround her till she is Jeffrey's wife!' The look of joy which irradiated her countenance, and gave a fairy-like aspect to her whole exquisite person would have deterred the most careless and self-centered person there from casting a shadow across her pathway one minute sooner than necessity demanded. The richness of the ancestral veil which covered her features and the natural timidity which prevents a bride from lifting her eyes from the floor she traverses saved her from observing the strange looks by which her presence was hailed. She was consequently enabled to go through the ceremony in happy unconsciousness of the forced restraint which held that surging mass together.

"But the bridesmaids were not so happy. Miss Tuttle especially held herself upright simply by the exercise of her will; and though resplendent in 'beauty, suffered so much in her anxiety for the bride that it was a matter of small surprise when she fainted at the conclusion of the ceremony.

"Mr. Jeffrey showed more composure, but the inward excitement under which he was laboring made him trip more than once in his responses, as many there noted whose minds were not fixed too strongly on flight.

"Only Doctor Auchincloss was quite himself, and by means of the solemnity with which he invested his words kept the hubbub down, which was already making itself heard on the outskirts of the crowd. But even his influence did not prevail beyond the moment devoted to the benediction. Once the sacred words were said, such a stampede followed that the bride showed much alarm, and it was left for Mr. Jeffrey to explain to her the cause of this astonishing conduct on the part of her guests. She bore the disclosure well, all things considered, and once she was fully assured that the unhappy man whose sudden death had thus interrupted the festivities was an intruder upon the scene, and quite unknown, not only to herself but to her newly-made husband, she brightened perceptibly, though, like every one around her, she seemed anxious to leave the house, and, indeed, did so as soon as Miss Tuttle's condition warranted it.

"The fact that the bride went through the ceremony without her bridal bouquet is looked upon by many as an unfavorable omen. In her anxiety not to impose any longer upon the patience of her guests, she had descended without it.

"As to the deceased, but little is known of him. Letters found on his person prove his name to be W. Pfeiffer, and his residence Denver. His presence in Miss Moores house at a time so inopportune is unexplained. No such name is on the list of wedding guests, nor was he recognized as one of Miss Moore's friends either by Mr. Jeffrey or by such of her relatives and acquaintances as had the courage to enter the library to see him.

"With the exception of the discolored mark on his temple, showing where his head had come in contact with the hearthstone, his body presents an appearance of natural robustness, which makes his sudden end seem all the more shocking.

"His name has been found registered at the National Hotel."

Turning over the files, I next came upon the following despatch from Denver:

"The sudden death in Washington of Wallace Pfeiffer, one of our best known and most respected citizens, is deeply deplored by all who knew him and his unfortunate mother. He is the last of her three sons, all of whom have died within the year. The demise of Wallace leaves her entirely unprovided for. It was not known here that Mr. Pfeiffer intended to visit Washington. He was supposed to go in quite the opposite direction, having said to more than one that he had business in San Francisco. His intrusion into the house of Miss Moore during the celebration of a marriage in which he could have taken no personal interest is explained in the following manner by such as knew his mental peculiarities: Though a merchant by trade and latterly a miner in the Klondike, he had great interest in the occult and was a strong believer in all kinds of supernatural manifestations. He may have heard of the unhappy reputation attaching to the Moore house in Washington and, fascinated by the mystery involved, embraced the opportunity afforded by open doors and the general confusion incident to so large a gathering to enter the interesting old place and investigate for himself the fatal library. The fact of his having been found secluded in this very room, at a moment when every other person in the house was pushing forward to see the bride, lends color to this supposition; and his sudden death under circumstances tending to rouse the imagination shows the extreme sensitiveness of his nature.

"He will be buried here."

The next paragraph was short. Fresher events were already crowding this three-days-old wonder to the wall.

"Verdict in the case of Wallace Pfeiffer, found lying dead on the hearthstone of the old Moore house library.

"Concussion of the brain, preceded by mental shock or heart failure.

"The body went on to Denver to=day."

And below, separated by the narrowest of spaces:

"Mr. and Mrs. Francis Jeffrey have decided to give up their wedding tour and spend their honeymoon in Washington. They will occupy the Ransome house on K Street."

The last paragraph brought me back to the question then troubling my mind. Was it in the household of this newly married pair and in the possible secret passions underlying their union that one should look for the cause of the murderous crime I secretly imagined to be hidden behind this seeming suicide? Or were these parties innocent and old David Moore the one motive power in precipitating a tragedy, the result of which had been to enrich him and impoverish them? Certainly, a most serious and important question, and one which any man might be pardoned for attempting to answer, especially if that man was a young detective lamenting his obscurity and dreaming of a recognition which would yield him fame and the wherewithal to marry a certain clever but mischievous little minx of whom you are destined to hear more.

But how was that same young detective, hampered as he was, and held in thrall by a fear of ridicule and a total lack of record, to get the chance to push an inquiry requiring opportunities which could only come by special favor? This was what I continually asked myself, and always without result.

True, I might approach the captain or the major with my story of the tell-tale marks I had discovered in the dust covering the southwest chamber mantel-shelf, and, if fortunate enough to find that these had been passed over by the other detectives, seek to gain a hearing thereby and secure for myself the privileges I so earnestly desired. But my egotism was such that I wished to be sure of the hand which had made these marks before I parted with a secret which, once told, would make or mar me. Yet to obtain the slight concession of an interview with any of the principals connected with this crime would be difficult without the aid of one or both of my superiors. Even to enter the house again where but a few hours before I had made myself so thoroughly at home would require a certain amount of pluck; for Durbin had been installed there, and Durbin was a watch-dog whose bite as well as his bark I regarded with considerable respect. Yet into that house I must sooner or later go, if only to determine whether or not I had been alone in my recognition of certain clues pointing plainly toward murder. Should I trust my lucky star and remain for the nonce quiescent? This seemed a wise suggestion and I decided to adopt it, comforting myself with the thought that if after a day or two of modest waiting I failed in obtaining what I wished, I could then appeal to the lieutenant of my own precinct. He, I had sometimes felt assured, did not regard me with an altogether unfavorable eye.

Meantime I spent all my available time in loitering around newspaper offices and picking up such stray bits of gossip as were offered. As no question had yet been raised of any more serious crime than suicide, these mostly related to the idiosyncrasies of the Moore family and the solitary position into which Miss Tuttle had been plunged by this sudden death of her only relative. As this beautiful and distinguished young woman had been and still was a great belle in her special circle, her present homeless, if not penniless, position led to many surmises. Would she marry, and, if so, to which of the many wealthy or prominent men who had openly courted her would she accord her hand? In the present egotistic state of my mind I secretly flattered myself that I was right in concluding that she would say yes to no man's entreaty till a certain newly-made widower's year of mourning had expired.

But this opinion received something of a check when in a quiet talk with a reporter I learned that it was openly stated by those who had courage to speak that the tie which had certainly existed at one time between Mr. Jeffrey and the handsome Miss Tuttle had been entirely of her own weaving, and that the person of Veronica Moore, rather than the large income she commanded, had been the attractive power which had led him away from the older sister. This seemed improbable; for the charms of the poor little bride were not to be compared with those of her maturer sister. Yet, as we all know, there are other attractions than those offered by beauty. I have since heard it broadly stated that the peculiar twitch of the lip observable in all the Moores had proved an irresistible charm in the unfortunate Veronica, making her a radiant image when she laughed. This was by no means a rare occurrence, so they said, before the fancy took her to be married in the ill-starred home of her ancestors.

The few lines of attempted explanation which she had left behind for her husband seemed to impose on no one. To those who knew the young couple well it was an open proof of her insanity; to those who knew them slightly, as well as to the public at large, it was a woman's way of expressing the disappointment she felt in her husband.

That I might the more readily determine which of these two theories had the firmest basis in fact, I took advantage of an afternoon off and slipped away to Alexandria, where, I had been told, Mr. Jeffrey had courted his bride. I wanted a taste of local gossip, you see, and I got it. The air was fully charged with it, and being careful not to rouse antagonism by announcing myself a detective, I readily picked up many small facts. Brought into shape and arranged in the form of a narrative, the result was as follows:

John Judson Moore, the father of Veronica, had fewer oddities than the other members of this eccentric family. It was thought, however, that he had shown some strain of the peculiar independence of his race when, in selecting a wife, he let his choice fall on a widow who was not only encumbered with a child, but who was generally regarded as the plainest woman in Virginia--he who might have had the pick of Southern beauty. But when in the course of time this despised woman proved to be the possessor of those virtues and social graces which eminently fitted her to conduct the large establishment of which she had been made mistress, he was forgiven his lack of taste. Little more was said of his peculiarities until, his wife having died and his child proved weakly, he made the will in his brother's favor which has since given that gentleman such deep satisfaction.

Why this proceeding should have been so displeasing to their friends report says not; but that it was so, is evident from the fact that great rejoicing took place on all sides when Veronica suddenly developed into a healthy child and the probability of David Moore's inheriting the coveted estate decreased to a minimum. It was not a long rejoicing, however, for John Judson followed his wife to the grave before Veronica had reached her tenth year, leaving her and her half-sister, Cora, to the guardianship of a crabbed old bachelor who had been his father's lawyer. This lawyer was morose and peevish, but he was never positively unkind. For two years the sisters seemed happy enough when, suddenly and somewhat peremptorily, they were separated, Veronica being sent to a western school, where she remained, seemingly without a single visit east, till she was seventeen. During this long absence Miss Tuttle resided in Washington, developing under masters into an accomplished woman. Veronica's guardian, severe in his treatment of the youthful owner of the large fortune of which he had been made sole executor, was unexpectedly generous to the penniless sister, hoping, perhaps, in his close, peevish old heart, that the charms and acquired graces of this lovely woman would soon win for her a husband in the brilliant set in which she naturally found herself.

But Cora Tuttle was not easy to please, and the first men of Washington came and went before her eyes without awakening in her any special interest till she met Francis Jeffrey, who stole her heart with a look.

Those who remember her that winter say that under his influence she developed from a handsome woman into a lovely one. Yet no engagement was announced, and society was wondering what held Francis Jeffrey back from so great a prize, when Veronica Moore came home, and the question was forever answered.

Veronica was now nearly eighteen, and during her absence had blossomed into womanhood. She was not as beautiful as her sister, but she had a bright and pleasing expression with enough spice in her temperament to rob her girlish features of insipidity and make her conversation witty, if not brilliant. Yet when Francis Jeffrey turned his attentions from Miss Tuttle and fixed them without reserve, or seeming shame, upon this pretty butterfly, but one term could be found to characterize the proceeding, and that was, fortune hunting. Of small but settled income, he had hitherto shown a certain contentment with his condition calculated to inspire respect and make his attentions to Miss Tuttle seem both consistent and appropriate. But no sooner did Veronica's bright eyes appear than he fell at the young heiress' feet and pressed his suit so close and fast that in two months they were engaged and at the end of the half-year, married--with the disastrous consequences just made known.

So much for the general gossip of the town. Now for the special.

A certain gentleman, whom it is unnecessary to name, had been present at one critical instant in the lives of these three persons. He was not a scandalmonger, and if everything had gone on happily, if Veronica had lived and Cora settled down into matrimony, he would never have mentioned what he heard and saw one night in the great drawing-room of a hotel in Atlantic City.

It was at the time when the engagement was first announced between Jeffrey and the young heiress. This and his previous attentions to Cora had made much talk, both in Washington and elsewhere, and there were not lacking those who had openly twitted him for his seeming inconstancy. This had been over the cups of course, and Jeffrey had borne it well enough from his so-called friends and intimates. But when, on a certain evening in the parlor of one of the large hotels in Atlantic City, a fellow whom nobody knew and nobody liked accused him of knowing on which side his bread was buttered, and that certainly it was not on the side of beauty and superior attainments, Jeffrey got angry. Heedless of who might be within hearing, he spoke up very plainly in these words: "You are all of a kind, rank money-worshipers and self-seeker, or you would not be so ready to see greed in my admiration for Miss Moore. Disagreeable as I find it to air my sentiments in this public manner, yet since you provoke me to it, I will say once and for all, that I am deeply in love with Miss Moore, and that it is for this reason only I am going to marry her. Were she the penniless girl her sister is, and Miss Tuttle the proud possessor of the wealth which, in your eyes, confers such distinction upon Miss Moore, you would still see me at the latter's feet, and at hers only. Miss Tuttle's charms are not potent enough to hold the heart which has once been fixed by her sister's smile."

This was pointed enough, certainly, but when at the conclusion of his words a tall figure rose from a year corner and Cora Tuttle passed the amazed group with a bow, I dare warrant that not one of the men composing it but wished himself a hundred miles away.

Jeffrey himself was chagrined, and made a move to follow the woman he had so publicly scorned, but the look she cast back at him was one to remember, and he hesitated. What was there left for him to say, or even to do? The avowal had been made in all its bald frankness and nothing could alter it. As for her, she behaved beautifully, and by no word or look, so far as the world knew, ever showed that her woman's pride, if not her heart, had been cut to the quick, by the one man she adored.

With this incident filling my mind, I returned to Washington. I had acquainted myself with the open facts of this family's history; but what of its inner life? Who knew it? Did any one? Even the man who confided to me the contretemps in the hotel parlor could not be sure what underlay Mr. Jeffrey's warm advocacy of the woman he had elected to marry. He could not even be certain that he had really understood the feeling shown by Cora Tuttle when she heard the man, who had once lavished attentions on her, express in this public manner a preference for her sister. A woman has great aptness in concealing a mortal hurt, and, from what I had seen of this one, I thought it highly improbable that all was quiet in her passionate breast because she had turned an impassive front to the world.

I was becoming confused in the maze of my own imaginings. To escape the results of this confusion, I determined to drop theory and confine myself to facts.

And thus passed the first few days succeeding the tragic discovery in the Moore house.

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