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   Chapter 5 DIFFICULTIES.

Cynthia Wakeham's Money By Anna Katharine Green Characters: 12981

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"During the short walk that ensued we talked much of the dead widow and her sinister brother.

"'They belong to an old family,' observed Miss Thompson, 'and I have heard my mother tell how she has danced in their house at many a ball in the olden times. But ever since my day the place has borne evidences of decay, though it is only in the last five years it has looked as if it would fall to pieces. Which of them do you think was the real miser, he or she? Neither of them have had anything to do with their neighbors for ten years at least.'

"'Do not you know?' I asked.

"'No,' said she, 'and yet I have always lived in full view of their house. You see there were years in which no one lived there. Mr. Wakeham, who married this woman about the time father married mother, was a great invalid, and it was not till his death that the widow came back here to live. The father, who was a stern old man, I have heard mother tell, gave his property to her because she was the only one of his children who had not displeased him, but when she was a widow this brother came back to live with her, or on her, we have never been able to determine which. I think from what I have seen to-night it must have been on her, but she was very close too, or why did she live like a hermit when she could have had the friendship of the best?'

"'Perhaps because her brother overruled her; he has evidently had an eye on this property for a long time.'

"'Yes, but they have not even had the comforts. For three years at least no one has seen a butcher's cart stop at their door. How they have lived none of us know; yet there was no lack of money or their neighbors would have felt it their duty to look after them. Mrs. Wakeham has owned very valuable stocks, and as for her dividends, we know by what the postmaster says that they came regularly.'

"'This is very interesting,' said I. 'I thought that fellow's eyes showed a great deal of greed for the little he was likely to inherit. Is there no one who is fully acquainted with their affairs, or have they lived so long out of the pale of society that they possess no friends?'

"'I do not know of any one who has ever been honored with their confidence,' quoth the young lady. 'They have shown so plainly that they did not desire attention that gradually we have all ceased to go to their doors.'

"'And did not sickness make any difference? Did no one go near them when it was learned how ill this poor woman was?'

"'We did not know she was ill till this morning. We had missed her face at the window, but no doctor had been called, and no medicine bought, so we never thought her to be in any danger. When we did find it out we were afraid to invade premises which had been so long shut against us; at least I was; others did go, but they were received so coldly they did not remain; it is hard to stand up against the sullen displeasure of a man like Mr. Huckins.'

"'And do you mean to say that this man and his sister have lived there alone and unvisited for years?'

"'They wished it, Mr. Etheridge. They courted loneliness and rejected friendship. Only one person, Mr. H--, the minister, has persisted in keeping up his old habit of calling once a year, but I have heard him say that he always dreaded the visit, first, because they made him see so plainly that they resented the intrusion, and, secondly, because each year showed him barer floors and greater evidences of poverty or determined avarice. What he will say now, when he hears about the two wills and the brother trying to run away with his sister's savings, before her body was cold, I do not know. There will be some indignation felt in town you may be sure, and considerable excitement. I hope you will come back to-morrow to help me answer questions.'

"'I shall come back as soon as I have been to Marston.'

"'So you are going to hunt up the heirs? I pray you may be successful.'

"'Do you know them? Have you ever heard anything about them?' I asked.

"'Oh, no. It must be forty years since Harriet Huckins ran away from home. To many it will be a revelation that such a person lives.'

"'And we do not even know that she does,' said I.

"'True, true, she may be dead, and then that hateful brother will have the whole. I hope he won't. I hope she is alive and will come here and make amends for the disgrace which that unsightly building has put upon the street.'

"'I hope so too,' said I, feeling my old disgust of Huckins renewed at this mention of him.

"We were now at her gate, so bidding her good-by, I turned away through the midnight streets, determined to find the constable. As I went hurrying along in the direction of his home, Miss Thompson's question repeated itself in my own mind. Had Mrs. Wakeham been the sufferer and victim which her appearance, yes and her words to me, had betokened? Or was her brother sincere in his passion and true in his complaints that he had been subject to her whims and had led the life of a dog in order to please her. With the remembrance of their two faces before me, I felt inclined to believe her words rather than his, and yet her last cry had contained something in its tone beside anxiety for the rights of an almost unknown heir; there had been anger in it,-the anger of one whose secret has been surprised and who feels himself personally robbed of something dearer than life.

"However, at this time I could not stop to weigh these possibilities or decide this question. Whatever was true as regarded the balance of right between these two, there was no doubt as to the fact that this man was not to be trusted under temptation. I therefore made what haste I could, and being fortunate enough to find the constable still up, succeeded in interesting him in the matter and obtaining his promise to have the house put under proper surveillance. This done, I took the car for Fulton Ferry, and was so fortunate as to reach home at or near two o'clock in the morning. This was last night, and to-day you see me here. You disappoint me by saying that you know no one by the name of Harriet Smith."

"Yet," exclaimed Edgar, rousing himself from his attitude of listening, "I know all the old inhabitants. Harriet Smith," he continued in a musing tone, "Harriet-What is there in the name that stirs up some faint recollection? Did I once know a person by that name after all?"

"Nothing more likely."

"But there the thing stops. I cannot get any farther," mused Edgar.

"The name is not entirely new to me. I have some vague memory in connection with it, but what memory I cannot tell. Let me see if Jerry can help us." And going to the door, he called "Jerry! Jerry!"

The response came slowly; heavy bodies do not soon overcome their inertia. But after the lapse of a few minutes a shuffling footstep was heard. Then the sound of heavy breathing, something between a snore and a snort, and the huge form of the good-natured driver came slowly into view, till it paused and stood in the door opening, which it very nearly filled.

"Did you call, sirs?" asked he, with a rude attempt at a bow.

"Yes," responded Edgar, "I wanted to know if you remembered a woman by the name of Harriet Smith once living about here."

"Har-ri-et Smith," was the long-drawn-out reply; "Har-ri-et Smith! I knows lots of Harriets, and as for Smiths, they be as plenty as squirrels in nut time; but Har-ri-et Smith-I wouldn't like to say I didn't, and I wouldn't like to say I did."

"She is an old woman now, if she is still living," suggested Frank. "Or she may have moved away."

"Yes, sir, yes, of course"; and they perceived another slow Harriet begin to form itself upon his lips.

Seeing that he knew nothing of the person mentioned, Edgar motioned him away, but Frank, with a lawyer's belief in using all means at his command, stopped him as he was heavily turning his back and said:

"I have good news for a woman by that name. If you can find her, and she turns out to be a sister of Cynthia Wakeham, of Flatbush, New York, there will be something good for you too. Do you want to try for it?"

"Do I?" and the grin which appeared on Jerry's face seemed to light up the room. "I'm not quick," he hastily acknowledged, as if in fear that Frank would observe this fault and make use of it against him; "that is, I'm not spry on my feet, but that leaves me all the more time for gossip, and gossip is what'll do this business, isn't it, Dr. Sellick?" Edgar nodding, Jerry laughed, and Frank, seeing he had got an interested assistant at last, gave him such instructions as he thought he needed, and dismissed him to his work.

When he was gone, the friends looked for an instant at each other, and then Frank rose.

"I am going out," said he. "If you have friends to see or business to look after, don't think you must come with me. I always take a walk before retiring."

"Very well," replied Edgar, with unusual cheeriness. "Then if you will excuse me I'll not accompany you. Going to walk for pleasure? You'd better take the road north; the walk in that direction is the best in town."

"All right," returned Frank; "I'll not be gone more than an hour. See you again in the morning if not to-night." And with a careless nod he disappeared, leaving Edgar sitting alone in the room.

On the walk in front of the house he paused.

"To the north," he repeated, looking up and down the street, with a curious shake of the head; "good advice, no doubt, and one that I will follow some time, but not to-night. The attractions in an opposite direction are too great." And with an odd smile, which was at once full of manly confidence and dreamy anticipation, he turned his face southward and strode away through the warm and perfumed darkness of the summer night.

He took the road by which he had come from the depot, and passing rapidly by the few shops that clustered about the hotel, entered at once upon the street whose picturesque appearance had attracted his attention earlier in the evening.

What is he seeking? Exercise-the exhilaration of motion-the refreshment of change? If so, why does he look behind and before him with an almost guilty air as he advances towards a dimly lighted house, guarded by the dense branches of a double row of poplars? Is it here the attraction lies which has drawn him from the hotel and the companionship of his friend? Yes, for he stops as he reaches it and gazes first along the dim shadowy vista made by those clustered trunks and upright boughs, and then up the side and across the front of the silent house itself, while an expression of strange wistfulness softens the eager brightness of his face, and his smile becomes one of mingled pride and tenderness, for which the peaceful scene, with all its picturesque features, can scarcely account.

Can it be that his imagination has been roused and his affections stirred by the instantaneous vision of an almost unknown woman? that this swelling of the heart and this sudden turning of his whole nature towards what is sweetest, holiest, and most endearing in life means that his hitherto free spirit has met its mate, and that here in the lonely darkness, before a strange portal and in the midst of new and untried scenes, he has found the fate that comes once to every man, making him a changed being for ever after?

The month is June and the air is full of the scent of roses. He can see their fairy forms shining from amid the vines clambering over the walls and porches before him. They suggest all that is richest and spiciest and most exquisite in nature, as does her face as he remembered it. What if a thorn has rent a petal here and there, in the luxurious flowers before him, are they not roses still? So to him her face is all the lovelier for the blemish which might speak to others of imperfection, but which to him is only a call for profounder tenderness and more ardent devotion. And if in her nature there lies a fault also, is not a man's first love potent enough to overlook even that? He begins to think so, and allows his glances to roam from window to window of the nearly darkened house, as if half expecting her sweet and melancholy head to look forth in quest of the stars-or him.

The living rooms are mainly on the side that overlooks the garden, and scarcely understanding by what impulse he is swayed, he passes around the wall to a second gate, which he perceives opening at right angles to the poplar walk. Here he pauses a moment, looking up at the window which for some reason he has determined to be hers, and while he stands there, the moonlight shows the figure of another man coming from the highway and making towards the self-same spot. But before this second person reaches Frank he pauses, falters, and finally withdraws. Who is it? The shadow is on his face and we cannot see, but one thing is apparent, Frank Etheridge is not the only man who worships at this especial shrine to-night.

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