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   Chapter 1 A WOMAN'S FACE.

Cynthia Wakeham's Money By Anna Katharine Green Characters: 11132

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

It was verging towards seven o'clock. The train had just left Marston station, and two young men stood on the platform surveying with very different eyes the stretch of country landscape lying before them. Frank Etheridge wore an eager aspect, the aspect of the bright, hopeful, energetic lawyer which he was, and his quick searching gaze flashed rapidly from point to point as if in one of the scattered homes within his view he sought an answer to some problem at present agitating his mind. He was a stranger in Marston.

His companion, Edgar Sellick, wore a quieter air, or at least one more restrained. He was a native of the place, and was returning to it after a short and fruitless absence in the west, to resume his career of physician amid the scenes of his earliest associations. Both were tall, well-made, and handsome, and, to draw at once a distinction between them which will effectually separate their personalities, Frank Etheridge was a man to attract the attention of men, and Edgar Sellick that of women; the former betraying at first glance all his good qualities in the keenness of his eye and the frankness of his smile, and the latter hiding his best impulses under an air of cynicism so allied to melancholy that imagination was allowed free play in his behalf. They had attended the same college and had met on the train by chance.

"I am expecting old Jerry, with a buggy," announced Edgar, looking indifferently down the road. The train was on time but Jerry was not, both of which facts were to be expected. "Ah, here he comes. You will ride to the tavern with me?"

"With pleasure," was Frank's cheerful reply; "but what will you do with Jerry? He's a mile too large, as you see yourself, to be a third party in a buggy ride."

"No doubt about that, but Jerry can walk; it will help to rob him of a little of his avoirdupois. As his future physician I shall prescribe it. I cannot have you miss the supper I have telegraphed for at Henly's."

And being a determined man, he carried this scheme through, to Jerry's manifest but cheerfully accepted discomfort. As they were riding off, Edgar leaned from the buggy, and Frank heard him say to his panting follower:

"Is it known in town that I am coming to-night?" To which that panting follower shrilly replied: "Ay, sir, and Tim Jones has lit a bond-fire and Jack Skelton hoisted a flag, so glad they be to have you back. Old Dudgeon was too intimate with the undertaker, sir. We hopes as you will turn a cold shoulder to him-the undertaker, I mean."

At which Frank observed his friend give one of his peculiar smiles which might mean so little and might mean so much, but whatever it meant had that touch of bittersweet in it which at once hurts and attracts.

"You like your profession?" Frank abruptly asked.

Edgar turned, surveyed the other questioningly for a moment, then remarked:

"Not as you like yours. Law seems to be a passion with you."

Frank laughed. "Why not? I have no other love, why not give all my heart to that?"

Edgar did not answer; he was looking straight before him at the lights in the village they were now rapidly approaching.

"How strange it is we should have met in this way," exclaimed the young lawyer. "It is mighty fortunate for me, whatever it may be for you. You know all the people in town, and perhaps can tell me what will shorten my stay into hours."

"Do you call that fortunate?" interrogated the other with one of his quiet smiles.

"Well, no, only from a business view. But you see, Edgar, it is so short a time since I have thought of anything but business, that I have hardly got used to the situation. I should be sorry, now I come to think of it, to say good-by to you before I heard how you had enjoyed life since we parted on a certain Commencement day. You look older, while I--"

He laughed. How merry the sound, and how the growing twilight seemed to brighten at it! Edgar looked for a moment as if he envied him that laugh, then he said:

"You are not tripped up by petty obstacles. You have wings to your feet and soar above small disappointments. My soles cling to the ground and encounter there difficulty after difficulty. Hence the weariness with which I gain anything. But your business here,-what is it? You say I can aid you. How?"

"Oh, it is a long story which will help to enliven our evening meal. Let us wait till then. At present I am interested in what I see before me. Snug homes, Edgar, and an exquisite landscape."

The other, whose face for the last few minutes had been gradually settling into sterner and sterner lines, nodded automatically but did not look up from the horse he was driving.

"Who lives in these houses? Old friends of yours?" Frank continued.

Edgar nodded again, whipped his horse and for an instant allowed his eyes to wander up and down the road.

"I used to know them all," he acknowledged, "but I suppose there have been changes."

His tone had altered, his very frame had stiffened. Frank looked at him curiously.

"You seem to be in a hurry," he remarked. "I enjoy this twilight drive, and-haloo! this is an odd old place we are coming to. Suppose you pull up and let me look at it."

His companion, with a strange glance and an awkward air of dissatisfaction, did as he was bid, and Frank leaning from the buggy gazed long and earnestly at the quaint old house and grounds which had attracted his attention. Edgar did not follow his example but sat unmoved, looking fixedly at the last narrow strip of orange light that separated ni

ght from day on the distant horizon.

"I feel as if I had come upon something uncanny," murmured Frank. "Look at that double row of poplars stretching away almost as far as we can see? Is it not an ideal Ghost's Walk, especially in this hour of falling shadows. I never saw anything so suggestive in a country landscape before. Each tree looks like a spectre hob-nobbing with its neighbor. Tell me that this is a haunted house which guards this avenue. Nothing less weird should dominate a spot so peculiar."

"Frank, I did not know you were so fanciful," exclaimed the other, lashing his horse with a stinging whip.

"Wait, wait! I am not fanciful, it is the place that is curious. If you were not in a hurry for your supper you would see it too. Come, give it a look. You may have observed it a hundred times before, but by this light you must acknowledge that it looks like a place with a history. Come, now, don't it?"

Edgar drew in his horse for the second time and impatiently allowed his glance to follow in the direction indicated by his friend. What he saw has already been partially described. But details will not be amiss here, as the house and its surroundings were really unique, and bespoke an antiquity of which few dwellings can now boast even in the most historic parts of Connecticut.

The avenue of poplars which had first attracted Frank's attention had this notable peculiarity, that it led from nowhere to nowhere. That is, it was not, as is usual in such cases, made the means of approach to the house, but on the contrary ran along its side from road to rear, thick, compact, and gruesome. The house itself was of timber, and was both gray and weather-beaten. It was one of the remnants of that old time when a family homestead rambled in all directions under a huge roof which accommodated itself to each new projection, like the bark to its tree. In this case the roof sloped nearly to the ground on one side, while on the other it beetled over a vine-clad piazza. In front of the house and on both sides of it rose a brick wall that, including the two rows of trees within its jealous cordon, shut off the entire premises from those of the adjoining neighbors, and gave to the whole place an air of desolation and remoteness which the smoke rising from its one tall chimney did not seem to soften or relieve. Yet old as it all was, there was no air of decay about the spot, nor was the garden neglected or the vines left untrimmed.

"The home of a hermit," quoth Frank. "You know who lives there of course, but if you did not I would wager that it is some old scion of the past--"

Suddenly he stopped, suddenly his hand was laid on the horse's rein falling somewhat slack in the grasp of his companion. A lamp had at that instant been brought into one of the front rooms of the house he was contemplating, and the glimpse he thus caught of the interior attracted his eyes and even arrested the gaze of the impatient Edgar. For the woman who held the lamp was no common one, and the face which showed above it was one to stop any man who had an eye for the beautiful, the inscrutable, and the tragic. As Frank noted it and marked its exquisite lines, its faultless coloring, and that air of profound and mysterious melancholy which made it stand out distinctly in the well-lighted space about it, he tightened his grip on the reins he had snatched, till the horse stood still in the road, and Edgar impatiently watching him, perceived that the gay look had crept from his face, leaving there an expression of indefinable yearning which at once transfigured and ennobled it.

"What beauty! What unexpected beauty!" Frank whispered at last. "Did you ever see its like, Edgar?"

The answer came with Edgar's most cynical smile:

"Wait till she turns her head."

And at that moment she did turn it. On the instant Frank drew in his breath and Edgar expected to see him drop his hand from the reins and sink back disillusionized and indifferent. But he did not. On the contrary, his attitude betrayed a still deeper interest and longing, and murmuring, "How sad! poor girl!" he continued to gaze till Edgar, with one strange, almost shrinking look in the direction of the unconscious girl now moving abstractedly across the room, tore the reins from his hands and started the horse again towards their place of destination.

Frank, whom the sudden movement seemed to awaken as from a dream, glanced for a moment almost angrily at his companion, then he settled back in his seat, saying nothing till the lights of the tavern became visible, when he roused himself and inquired:

"Who is that girl, Edgar, and how did she become so disfigured?"

"I don't know," was the short reply; "she has always been so, I believe, at least since I remember seeing her. It looks like the scar of a wound, but I have never heard any explanation given of it."

"Her name, Edgar?"

"Hermione Cavanagh."

"You know her?"


"Are you"-the words came with a pant, shortly, intensely, and as if forced from him-"in love-with her?"

"No." Edgar's passion seemed for the moment to be as great as that of the other. "How came you to think of such a thing?"

"Because-because," Frank whispered almost humbly, "you seemed so short in your replies, and because, I might as well avow it, she seems to me one to command the love of all men."

"Well, sirs, here I be as quick as you," shouted a voice in their rear, and old Jerry came lumbering forward, just in time to hold their horse as they alighted at the tavern.

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