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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Rust - Chapter 13. At Deans Folly
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The Green Rust - Chapter 13. At Deans Folly Post by :qazqaz Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2222

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The Green Rust - Chapter 13. At Deans Folly

CHAPTER XIII. AT DEANS FOLLY

With her elbows resting on the broad window-ledge and her cheeks against the cold steel bars which covered the window, Oliva Cresswell watched the mists slowly dissipate in the gentle warmth of the morning sun. She had spent the night dozing in a rocking-chair and at the first light of day she had bathed and redressed ready for any emergency. She had not heard any sound during the night and she guessed that van Heerden had returned to London.

The room in which she was imprisoned was on the first floor at the back of the house and the view she had of the grounds was restricted to a glimpse between two big lilac bushes which were planted almost on a level with her room.

The house had been built on the slope of a gentle rise so that you might walk from the first-floor window on to the grassy lawn at the back of the house but for two important obstacles, the first being represented by the bars which protected the window and the second by a deep area, concrete-lined, which formed a trench too wide to jump.

She could see, however, that the grounds were extensive. The high wall which, apparently, separated the garden from the road was a hundred yards away. She knew it must be the road because of a little brown gate which from time to time she saw between the swaying bushes. She turned wearily from the window and sat on the edge of the bed. She was not afraid--irritated would be a better word to describe her emotion. She was mystified, too, and that was an added irritation.

Why should this man, van Heerden, who admittedly did not love her, who indeed loved her so little that he could strike her and show no signs of remorse--why did this man want to marry her? If he wanted to marry her, why did he kidnap her?

There was another question, too, which she had debated that night. Why did his reference to the American detective, Beale, so greatly embarrass her?

She had reached the point where even such tremendous subjects of debate had become less interesting than the answer to that question which was furnished, when a knock came to her door and a gruff voice said:

"Breakfast!"

She unlocked the door and pulled it open. The man called Gregory was standing on the landing. He jerked his thumb to the room opposite.

"You can use both these rooms," he said, "but you can't come downstairs. I have put your breakfast in there."

She followed the thumb across the landing and found herself in a plainly furnished sitting-room. The table had been laid with a respectable breakfast, and until she had appeased her healthy young appetite she took very little stock of her surroundings.

The man came up in half an hour to clear away the table.

"Will you be kind enough to tell me where I am?" asked Oliva.

"I am not going to tell you anything," said Gregory.

"I suppose you know that by detaining me here you are committing a very serious crime?"

"Tell it to the doctor," said the man, with a queer little smile.

She followed him out to the landing. She wanted to see what sort of guard was kept and what possibilities there were of escape. Somehow it seemed easier to make a reconnaissance now under his very eyes than it had been in the night, when in every shadow had lurked a menace.

She did not follow him far, however. He put down the tray at the head of the stairs and reaching out both his hands drew two sliding doors from the wall and snapped them in her face. She heard the click of a door and knew that any chance of escape from this direction was hopeless. The doors had slid noiselessly on their oiled runners and had formed for her a little lobby of the landing. She guessed that the sliding doors had been closed after van Heerden's departure. She had exhausted all the possibilities of her bedroom and now began an inspection of the other.

Like its fellow, the windows were barred. There was a bookshelf, crowded with old volumes, mostly on matters ecclesiastical or theological. She looked at it thoughtfully.

"Now, if I were clever like Mr. Beale," she said aloud, "I could deduce quite a lot from this room."

A distant church bell began to clang and she realized with a start that the day was Sunday. She looked at her watch and was amazed to see it was nearly eleven. She must have slept longer than she had thought.

This window afforded her no better view than did that of the bedroom, except that she could see the gate more plainly and what looked to be the end of a low-roofed brick building which had been erected against the wall. She craned her neck, looking left and right, but the bushes had been carefully planted to give the previous occupants of these two rooms greater privacy.

Presently the bell stopped and she addressed herself again to an examination of the room. In an old-fashioned sloping desk she found a few sheets of paper, a pen and a bottle half-filled with thick ink. There were also two telegraph forms, and these gave her an idea. She went back to the table in the middle of the room. With paper before her she began to note the contents of the apartment.

"I am trying to be Bealish," she admitted.

She might also have confessed that she was trying to keep her mind off her possibly perilous position and that though she was not afraid she had a fear of fear.

"A case full of very dull good books. That means that the person who lived here before was very serious-minded."

She walked over and examined the titles, pulled out a few books and looked at their title pages. They all bore the same name, "L. T. B. Stringer." She uttered an exclamation. Wasn't there some directory of clergymen's names?--she was sure this was a clergyman, nobody else would have a library of such weighty volumes.

Her fingers ran along the shelves and presently she found what she wanted--Crocker's Clergy List of 1879. She opened the book and presently found, "Stringer, Laurence Thomas Benjamin, Vicar of Upper Staines, Deans Folly, Upper Reach Village, near Staines."

Her eyes sparkled. Instinctively she knew that she had located her prison. Van Heerden had certainly hired the house furnished, probably from the clergyman or his widow. She began to search the room with feverish haste. Near the window was a cupboard built out. She opened it and found that it was a small service lift, apparently communicating with the kitchen. In a corner of the room was an invalid chair on wheels.

She sat down at the table and reconstructed the character of its occupant. She saw an invalid clergyman who had lived permanently in this part of the house. He was probably wheeled from his bedroom to his sitting-room, and in this cheerless chamber had spent the last years of his life. And this place was Deans Folly? She took up the telegraph form and after a few minutes' deliberation wrote:

"To Beale, Krooman Mansions."

She scratched that out, remembering that he had a telegraphic address and substituted:

"Belocity, London." She thought a moment, then wrote: "Am imprisoned at Deans Folly, Upper Reach Village, near Staines. Oliva." That looked too bold, and she added "Cresswell."

She took a florin from her bag and wrapped it up in the telegraph form. She had no exact idea as to how she should get the message sent to the telegraph office, and it was Sunday, when all telegraph offices would be closed. Nor was there any immediate prospect of her finding a messenger. She supposed that tradesmen came to the house and that the kitchen door was somewhere under her window, but tradesmen do not call on Sundays. She held the little package irresolutely in her hand. She must take her chance to-day. To-morrow would be Monday and it was certain somebody would call.

With this assurance she tucked the message into her blouse. She was in no mood to continue her inspection of the room, and it was only because in looking again from the window she pulled it from its hook that she saw the strange-looking instrument which hung between the window and the service lift. She picked it up, a dusty-looking thing. It consisted of a short vulcanite handle, from which extended two flat steel supports, terminating in vulcanite ear-plates. The handle was connected by a green cord with a plug in the wall.

Oliva recognized it. It was an electrophone. One of those instruments by which stay-at-home people can listen to an opera, a theatrical entertainment or--a sermon. Of course it was a church. It was a very common practice for invalids to be connected up with their favourite pulpit, and doubtless the Rev. Mr. Stringer had derived considerable comfort from this invention.

She dusted the receiver and put them to her ears. She heard nothing. Beneath the plug was a little switch. She turned this over and instantly her ears were filled with a strange hollow sound--the sound which a bad gramophone record makes.

Then she realized that she was listening to a congregation singing. This ceased after awhile and she heard a cough, so surprisingly near and loud that she started. Of course, the transmitter would be in the pulpit, she thought. Then a voice spoke, clear and distinct, yet with that drawl which is the peculiar property of ministers of the Established Church. She smiled as the first words came to her.

"I publish the banns of marriage between Henry Colebrook, and Jane Maria Smith both of this parish. This is the second time of asking." A pause, then: "Also between Henry Victor Vanden and Oliva Cresswell Predeaux, both of this parish. This is the third time of asking. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it."

She dropped the instrument with a crash and stood staring down at it. She had been listening to the publication of her own wedding-notice.

"Vanden" was van Heerden. "Oliva Cresswell Predeaux" was herself. The strangeness of the names meant nothing. She guessed rather than knew that the false name would not be any insuperable bar to the ceremony. She must get away. For the first time she had a horrible sense of being trapped, and for a few seconds she must have lost her head, for she tugged at the iron bars, dashed wildly out and hammered at the sliding door. Presently her reason took charge. She heard the heavy step of Gregory on the stairs and recovered her calm by the time he had unlocked the bar and pulled the doors apart.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"I want you to let me out of here."

"Oh, is that all?" he said sarcastically, and for the second time that day slammed the door in her face.

She waited until he was out of hearing, then she went back noiselessly to the sitting-room. She pushed open the door of the service lift and tested the ropes. There were two, one which supported the lift and one by which it was hauled up, and she gathered that these with the lift itself formed an endless chain.

Gripping both ropes firmly she crept into the confined space of the cupboard and let herself down hand over hand. She had about twelve feet to descend before she reached the kitchen entrance of the elevator. She squeezed through the narrow opening and found herself in a stone-flagged kitchen. It was empty. A small fire glowed in the grate. Her own tray with all the crockery unwashed was on the dresser, and there were the remnants of a meal at one end of the plain table. She tiptoed across the kitchen to the door. It was bolted top and bottom and locked. Fortunately the key was in the lock, and in two minutes she was outside in a small courtyard beneath the level of the ground.

One end of the courtyard led past another window, and that she could not risk. To her right was a flight of stone steps, and that was obviously the safer way. She found herself in a little park which fortunately for her was plentifully sprinkled with clumps of rhododendrons, and she crept from bush to bush, taking care to keep out of sight of the house. She had the telegram and the money in her hand, and her first object was to get this outside. It took her twenty minutes to reach the wall. It was too high to scale and there was no sign of a ladder. The only way out was the little brown door she had seen from her bedroom window, and cautiously she made her way back, flitting from bush to bush until she came to the place where a clear view of the door and the building to its left could be obtained.

The low-roofed shed she had seen was much longer than she had expected and evidently had recently been built. Its black face was punctured at intervals with square windows, and a roughly painted door to the left of the brown garden gate was the only entrance she could see. She looked for a key but without hope of finding one. She must take her chance, she thought, and a quick run brought her from the cover of the bushes to the brown portal which stood between her and liberty.

With trembling hands she slid back the bolts and turned the handle. Her heart leapt as it gave a little. Evidently it had not been used for years and she found it was only held fast by the gravel which had accumulated beneath it.

Eagerly she scraped the gravel aside with her foot and her hand was on the knob when she heard a muffled voice behind her. She turned and then with a gasp of horror fell back. Standing in the doorway of the shed was a thing which was neither man nor beast. It was covered in a wrap which had once been white but was now dappled with green. The face and head were covered with rubber, two green staring eyes surveyed her, and a great snout-like nose was uplifted as in amazement. She was paralysed for a moment. For the beastliness of the figure was appalling.

Then realizing that it was merely a man whose face was hidden by a hideous mask, she sprang again for the door, but a hand gripped her arm and pulled her back. She heard a cheerful whistle from the road without and remembering the package in her hand she flung it high over the wall and heard its soft thud, and the whistle stop.

Then as the hideous figure slipped his arm about her and pressed a musty hand over her mouth she fainted.

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