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Midnight In Beauchamp Row-by Anna Katharine Green-Novel and Ebooks

Novel Name:Midnight In Beauchamp Row

Written by: Anna Katharine Green

Category:Adventure,Horror

Page 1:

It was the last house in Beauchamp Row, and it stood several rods away from its nearest neighbor. It was a pretty house in the daytime, but owing to its deep, sloping roof and small bediamonded windows it had a lonesome look at night, notwithstanding the crimson hall-light which shone through the leaves of its vine-covered doorway.

Ned Chivers lived in it with his six months’ married bride, and as he was both a busy fellow and a gay one there were many evenings when pretty Letty Chivers sat alone until near midnight.

She was of an uncomplaining spirit, however, and said little, though there were times when; both the day and evening seemed very long and married life not altogether the paradise she had expected.

On this evening–a memorable evening for her, the twenty-fourth of December, 1894–she had expected her husband to remain with her, for it was not only Christmas eve, but the night when, as manager of a large manufacturing concern, he brought up from New York the money with which to pay off the men on the next working day, and he never left her when there was any unusual amount of money in the house. But from the first glimpse she had of him coming up the road she knew she was to be disappointed in this hope, and, indignant, alarmed almost, at the prospect of a lonesome evening under these circumstances, she ran hastily down to the gate to meet him, crying:

“Oh, Ned, you look so troubled I know you have only come home for a hurried supper. But you cannot leave me to-night. Tennie” (their only maid) “has gone for a holiday, and I never can stay in this house alone with all that.” She pointed to the small bag he carried, which, as she knew, was filled to bursting with bank notes.

He certainly looked troubled. It is hard to resist the entreaty in a young bride’s uplifted face. But this time he could not help himself, and he said:

“I am dreadful sorry, but I must ride over to Fairbanks to-night. Mr. Pierson has given me an imperative order to conclude a matter of business there, and it is very important that it should be done. I should lose my position if I neglected the matter, and no one but Hasbrouck and Suffern knows that we keep the money in the house. I have always given out that I intrusted it to Hale’s safe over night.”

“But I cannot stand it,” she persisted. “You have never left me on these nights. That is why I let Tennie go. I will spend the evening at The Larches, or, better still, call in Mr. and Mrs. Talcott to keep me company.”

But her husband did not approve of her going out or of her having company. The Larches was too far away, and as for Mr. and Mrs. Talcott, they were meddlesome people, whom he had never liked; besides, Mrs. Talcott was delicate, and the night threatened storm. It seemed hard to subject her to this ordeal, and he showed that he thought so by his manner, but, as circumstances were, she would have to stay alone, and he only hoped she would be brave and go to bed like a good girl, and think nothing about the money, which he would take care to put away in a very safe place.

“Or,” said he, kissing her downcast face, “perhaps you would rather hide it yourself; women always have curious ideas about such things.”

“Yes, let me hide it,” she murmured. “The money, I mean, not the bag. Every one knows the bag. I should never dare to leave it in that.” And begging him to unlock it, she began to empty it with a feverish haste that rather alarmed him, for he surveyed her anxiously and shook his head as if he dreaded the effects of this excitement upon her.

But as he saw no way of averting it he confined himself to using such soothing words as were at his command, and then, humoring her weakness, helped her to arrange the bills in the place she had chosen, and restuffing the bag with old receipts till it acquired its former dimensions, he put a few bills on top to make the whole look natural, and, laughing at her white face, relocked the bag and put the key back in his pocket.

“There, dear; a notable scheme and one that should relieve your mind entirely!” he cried. “If any one should attempt burglary in my absence and should succeed in getting into a house as safely locked as this will be when I leave it, then trust to their being satisfied when they see this booty, which I shall hide where I always hide it–in the cupboard over my desk.”

“And when will you be back?” she murmured, trembling in spite of herself at these preparations.

“By one o’clock if possible. Certainly by two.”

“And our neighbors go to bed at ten,” she murmured. But the words were low, and she was glad he did not hear them, for if it was his duty to obey the orders he had received, then it was her duty to meet the position in which it left her as bravely as she could.

At supper she was so natural that his face rapidly brightened, and it was with quite an air of cheerfulness that he rose at last to lock up the house and make such preparations as were necessary for his dismal ride over the mountains to Fairbanks. She had the supper dishes to wash up in Tennie’s absence, and as she was a busy little housewife she found herself singing a snatch of song as she passed back and forth from dining-room to kitchen. He heard it, too, and smiled to himself as he bolted the windows on the ground floor and examined the locks of the three lower doors, and when he finally came into the kitchen with his greatcoat on to give her his final kiss, he had but one parting injunction to urge, and that was that she should lock the front door after him and then forget the whole matter till she heard his double knock at midnight.

She smiled and held up her ingenuous face.

“Be careful of yourself,” she murmured. “I hate this dark ride for you, and on such a night too.” And she ran with him to the door to look out.

“It is certainly very dark,” he responded, “but I’m to have one of Brown’s safest horses. Do not worry about me. I shall do well enough, and so will you, too, or you are not the plucky little woman I have always thought you.”

She laughed, but there was a choking sound in her voice that made him look at her again. But at sight of his anxiety she recovered herself, and pointing to the clouds said earnestly:

“It is going to snow. Be careful as you ride by the gorge, Ned; it is very deceptive there in a snowstorm.”

But he vowed that it would not snow before morning, and giving her one final embrace he dashed down the path toward Brown’s livery stable. “Oh, what is the matter with me?” she murmured to herself as his steps died out in the distance. “I never knew I was such a coward.” And she paused for a moment, looking up and down the road, as if in despite of her husband’s command she had the desperate idea of running away to some neighbor.

But she was too loyal for that, and smothering a sigh she retreated into the house. As she did so the first flakes fell of the storm that was not to have come till morning.

It took her an hour to get her kitchen in order, and nine o’clock struck before she was ready to sit down. She had been so busy she had not noticed how the wind had increased or how rapidly the snow was falling. But when she went to the front door for another glance up and down the road she started back, appalled at the fierceness of the gale and at the great pile of snow that had already accumulated on the doorstep.

Too delicate to breast such a wind, she saw herself robbed of her last hope of any companionship, and sighing heavily she locked and bolted the door for the night and went back into her little sitting-room, where a great fire was burning. Here she sat down, and determined, now that she must pass the evening alone, to do it as cheerfully as possible, and so began to sew. “Oh, what a Christmas eve!” she thought, and a picture of other homes rose before her eyes, homes in which husbands sat by wives and brothers by sisters, and a great wave of regret poured over her and a longing for something, she hardly dared say what, lest her unhappiness should acquire a sting that would leave traces beyond the passing moment. The room in which she sat was the only one on the ground floor except the dining-room and kitchen. It therefore was used both as parlor and sitting-room, and held not only her piano, but her husband’s desk.

Communicating with it was the tiny dining-room. Between the two, however, was an entry leading to a side entrance. A lamp was in this entry, and she had left it burning, as well as the one in the kitchen, that the house might look cheerful and as if all the family were at home.

She was looking toward this entry and wondering whether it was the mist made by her tears that made it look so dismally dark to her when there came a faint sound from the door at its further end.

Knowing that her husband must have taken peculiar pains with the fastenings of this door, as it was the one toward the woods and therefore most accessible to wayfarers, she sat where she was, with all her faculties strained to listen. But no further sound came from that direction, and after a few minutes of silent terror she was allowing herself to believe that she had been deceived by her fears when she suddenly heard the same sound at the kitchen door, followed by a muffled knock.

Frightened now in good earnest, but still alive to the fact that the intruder was as likely to be a friend as a foe, she stepped to the door, and with her hand on the lock stooped and asked boldly enough who was there. But she received no answer, and more affected by this unexpected silence than by the knock she had heard she recoiled farther and farther till not only the width of the kitchen, but the dining-room also, lay between her and the scene of her alarm, when to her utter confusion the noise shifted again to the side of the house, and the door she thought so securely fastened, swung violently open as if blown in by a fierce gust, and she saw precipitated into the entry the burly figure of a man covered with snow and shaking with the violence of the storm that seemed at once to fill the house.

Her first thought was that it was her husband come back, but before she could clear her eyes from the cloud of snow which had entered with him he had thrown off his outer covering and she found herself face to face with a man in whose powerful frame and cynical visage she saw little to comfort her and much to surprise and alarm.

“Ugh!” was his coarse and rather familiar greeting. “A hard night, missus! Enough to drive any man indoors. Pardon the liberty, but I couldn’t wait for you to lift the latch; the wind drove me right in.”

“Was–was not the door locked?” she feebly asked, thinking he must have staved it in with his foot, that looked only too well fitted for such a task.

“Not much,” he chuckled. “I s’pose you’re too hospitable for that.” And his eyes passed from her face to the comfortable firelight shining through the sitting-room.

“Is it refuge you want?” she demanded, suppressing as much as possible all signs of fear.

“Sure, missus–what else! A man can’t live in a gale like that, specially after a tramp of twenty miles or more. Shall I shut the door for you?” he asked, with a mixture of bravado and good nature that frightened her more and more.

“I will shut it,” she replied, with a half notion of escaping this sinister stranger by a flight through the night.

But one glance into the swirling snow-storm deterred her, and making the best of the alarming situation, she closed the door, but did not lock it, being more afraid now of what was inside the house than of anything left to threaten her from without.

The man, whose clothes were dripping with water, watched her with a cynical smile, and then, without any invitation, entered the dining-room, crossed it and moved toward the kitchen fire.

“Ugh! ugh! But it is warm here!” he cried, his nostrils dilating with an animal-like enjoyment that in itself was repugnant to her womanly delicacy. “Do you know, missus, I shall have to stay here all night? Can’t go out in that gale again; not such a fool.” Then with a sly look at her trembling form and white face he insinuatingly added, “All alone, missus?”

The suddenness with which this was put, together with the leer that accompanied it, made her start. Alone? Yes, but should she acknowledge it? Would it not be better to say that her husband was up-stairs. The man evidently saw the struggle going on in her mind, for he chuckled to himself and called out quite boldly:

“Never mind, missus; it’s all right. Just give me a bit of cold meat and a cup of tea or something, and we’ll be very comfortable together. You’re a slender slip of a woman to be minding a house like this. I’ll keep you company if you don’t mind, leastwise until the storm lets up a bit, which ain’t likely for some hours to come. Rough night, missus, rough night.”

Filed in: Adventure, Horror

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