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´╗┐Title: Midnight In Beauchamp Row - 1895
Author: Green, Anna Katharine, 1846-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Midnight In Beauchamp Row - 1895" ***

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MIDNIGHT IN BEAUCHAMP ROW

By Anna Katharine Green (Mrs. Charles Rohlfs)

Copyright, 1895, by American Press Association


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."

"I expect my husband home at any time," she hastened to say. And
thinking she saw a change in the man's countenance at this she put on
quite an air of sudden satisfaction and bounded toward the front of the
house. "There! I think I hear him now," she cried.

Her motive was to gain time, and if possible to obtain the opportunity
of shifting the money from the place where she had first put it into
another and safer one. "I want to be able," she thought, "of swearing
that I have no money with me in this house. If I can only get it into my
apron I will drop it outside the door into the snowbank. It will be
as safe there as in the bank it came from." And dashing into the
sitting-room she made a feint of dragging down a shawl from a screen,
while she secretly filled her skirt with the bills which had been put
between some old pamphlets on the bookshelves.

She could hear the man grumbling in the kitchen, but he did not follow
her front, and taking advantage of the moment's respite from his none
too encouraging presence she unbarred the door and cheerfully called out
her husband's name.

The ruse was successful. She was enabled to fling the notes where
the falling flakes would soon cover them from sight, and feeling more
courageous, now that the money was out of the house, she went slowly
back, saying she had made a mistake, and that it was the wind she had
heard.

The man gave a gruff but knowing guffaw and then resumed his watch over
her, following her steps as she proceeded to set him out a meal, with a
persistency that reminded her of a tiger just on the point of springing.
But the inviting look of the viands with which she was rapidly setting
the table soon distracted his attention, and allowing himself one grunt
of satisfaction, he drew up a chair and set himself down to what to him
was evidently a most savory repast.

"No beer? No ale? Nothing o' that sort, eh? Don't keep a bar?" he
growled, as his teeth closed on a huge hunk of bread.

She shook her head, wishing she had a little cold poison bottled up in a
tight-looking jug.

"Nothing but tea," she smiled, astonished at her own ease of manner in
the presence of this alarming guest.

"Then let's have that," he grumbled, taking the bowl she handed him,
with an odd look that made her glad to retreat to the other side of the
room.

"Jest listen to the howling wind," he went on between the huge mouthfuls
of bread and cheese with which he was gorging himself. "But we're very
comfortable, we two! We don't mind the storm, do we?"

Shocked by his familiarity and still more moved by the look of mingled
inquiry and curiosity with which his eyes now began to wander over the
walls and cupboards, she took an anxious step toward the side of the
house looking toward her neighbors, and lifting one of the shades,
which had all been religiously pulled down, she looked out. A swirl of
snow-flakes alone confronted her. She could neither see her neighbors,
nor could she be seen by them. A shout from her to them would not be
heard. She was as completely isolated as if the house stood in the
center of a desolate western plain.

"I have no trust but in God," she murmured as she came from the window.
And, nerved to meet her fate, she crossed to the kitchen.

It was now half-past ten. Two hours and a half must elapse before her
husband could possibly arrive.

She set her teeth at the thought and walked resolutely into the room.

"Are you done?" she asked.

"I am, ma'am," he leered. "Do you want me to wash the dishes? I kin, and
I will." And he actually carried his plate and cup to the sink, where he
turned the water upon them with another loud guffaw.

"If only his fancy would take him into the pantry," she thought, "I
could shut and lock the door upon him and hold him prisoner till Ned
gets back."

But his fancy ended its flight at the sink, and before her hopes had
fully subsided he was standing on the threshold of the sitting-room
door.

"It's pretty here," he exclaimed, allowing his eye to rove again over
every hiding-place within sight. "I wonder now"--He stopped. His glance
had fallen on the cupboard over her husband's desk.

"Well?" she asked, anxious to break the thread of his thought, which was
only too plainly mirrored in his eager countenance.

He started, dropped his eyes, and turning looked at her with a momentary
fierceness. But, as she did not let her own glance quail, but continued
to look at him with what she meant for a smile on her pale lips, he
subdued this outward manifestation of passion, and, chuckling to hide
his embarrassment, began backing into the entry, leering in evident
enjoyment of the fears he caused, with what she felt was a most horrible
smile. Once in the hall, he hesitated, however, for a long time; then he
slowly went toward the garment he had dropped on entering and stooping,
drew from underneath its folds a wicked-looking stick. Giving a kick
to the coat, which sent it into a remote corner, he bestowed upon her
another smile, and still carrying the stick went slowly and reluctantly
away into the kitchen.

"Oh, God Almighty, help me!" was her prayer.

There was nothing for her to do now but endure, so throwing herself
into a chair, she tried to calm the beating of her heart and summon up
courage for the struggle which she felt was before her. That he had come
to rob and only waited to take her off her guard she now felt certain,
and rapidly running over in her mind all the expedients of self-defense
possible to one in her situation, she suddenly remembered the pistol
which Ned kept in his desk. Oh, why had she not thought of it before!
Why had she let herself grow mad with terror when here, within reach of
her hand, lay such a means of self-defense? With a feeling of joy (she
had always hated pistols before and scolded Ned when he bought this one)
she started to her feet and slid her hand into the drawer. But it came
back empty. Ned had taken the weapon away with him.

For a moment, a surge of the bitterest feeling she had ever experienced
passed over her; then she called reason to her aid and was obliged to
acknowledge that the act was but natural, and that from his standpoint
he was much more likely to need it than herself. But the disappointment,
coming so soon after hope, unnerved her, and she sank back in her chair,
giving herself up for lost.

How long she sat there with her eyes on the door, through which she
momentarily expected her assailant to reappear, she never knew. She was
conscious only of a sort of apathy that made movement difficult and even
breathing a task. In vain she tried to change her thoughts. In vain she
tried to follow her husband in fancy over the snow-covered roads and
into the gorge of the mountains. Imagination failed her at this point.
Do what she would, all was misty in her mind's eye, and she could not
see that wandering image. There was blankness between his form and her,
and no life or movement anywhere but here in the scene of her terror.

Her eyes were on a strip of rug that covered the entry floor, and
so strange was the condition of her mind that she found herself
mechanically counting the tassels that finished its edge, growing wroth
over one that was worn, till she hated that sixth tassel and mentally
determined that if she ever outlived this night she would strip them all
off and be done with them.

The wind had lessened, but the air had grown cooler and the snow made a
sharp sound where it struck the panes. She felt it falling, though she
had cut off all view of it. It seemed to her that a pall was settling
over the world and that she would soon be smothered under its folds.
Meanwhile no sound came from the kitchen, only that dreadful sense of
a doom creeping upon her--a sense that grew in intensity till she found
herself watching for the shadow of that lifted stick on the wall of the
entry, and almost imagined she saw the tip of it appearing, when without
any premonition, that fatal side door again blew in and admitted another
man of so threatening an aspect that she succumbed instantly before him
and forgot all her former fears in this new terror.

The second intruder was a negro of powerful frame and lowering aspect,
and as he came for-ward and stood in the doorway there was ob-servable
in his fierce and desperate countenance no attempt at the insinuation
of the other, only a fearful resolution that made her feel like a puppet
before him, and drove her, almost without her volition, to her knees.

"Money? Is it money you want?" was her desperate greeting. "If so,
here's my purse and here are my rings and watch. Take them and go."

But the stolid wretch did not even stretch out his hands. His eyes went
beyond her, and the mingled anxiety and resolve which he displayed would
have cowed a stouter heart than that of this poor woman.

"Keep de trash," he growled. "I want de company's money. You 've got
it--two thousand dollars. Show me where it is, that's all, and I won't
trouble you long after I close on it."

"But it's not in the house," she cried. "I swear it is not in the house.
Do you think Mr. Chivers would leave me here alone with two thousand
dollars to guard?"

But the negro, swearing that she lied, leaped into the room, and tearing
open the cupboard above her husband's desk, seized the bag from the
corner where they had put it.

"He brought it in this," he muttered, and tried to force the bag open,
but finding this impossible he took out a heavy knife and cut a big
hole in its side. Instantly there fell out the pile of old receipts with
which they had stuffed it, and seeing these he stamped with rage, and
flinging them in one great handful at her rushed to the drawers below,
emptied them, and, finding nothing, attacked the bookcase.

"The money is somewhere here. You can't fool me," he yelled. "I saw
the spot your eyes lit on when I first came into the room. Is it
behind these books?" he growled, pulling them out and throwing them
helter-skelter over the floor. "Women is smart in the hiding business.
Is it behind these books, I say?"

They had been, or rather had been placed between the books, but she
had taken them away, as we know, and he soon began to realise that his
search was bringing him nothing, for leaving the bookcase he gave the
books one kick, and seizing her by the arm, shook her with a murderous
glare on his strange and distorted features.

"Where's the money?" he hissed. "Tell me, or you are a goner."

He raised his heavy fist. She crouched and all seemed over, when, with
a rush and cry, a figure dashed between them and he fell, struck down by
the very stick she had so long been expecting to see fall upon her own
head. The man who had been her terror for hours had at the moment of
need acted as her protector.

* * * * *

She must have fainted, but if so, her unconsciousness was but momentary,
for when she again recognized her surroundings she found the tramp still
standing over her adversary.

"I hope you don't mind, ma'am," he said, with an air of humbleness she
certainly had not seen in him before, "but I think the man's dead." And
he stirred with his foot the heavy figure before him.

"Oh, no, no, no!" she cried. "That would be too fearful. He's shocked,
stunned; you cannot have killed him."

But the tramp was persistent. "I'm 'fraid I have," he said. "I done it
before, and it's been the same every time. But I couldn't see a man
of that color frighten a lady like you. My supper was too warm in me,
ma'am. Shall I throw him outside the house?"

"Yes," she said, and then, "No; let us first be sure there is no life in
him." And, hardly knowing what she did, she stooped down and peered into
the glassy eyes of the prostrate man.

Suddenly she turned pale--no, not pale, but ghastly, and cowering back,
shook so that the tramp, into whose features a certain refinement had
passed since he had acted as her protector, thought she had discovered
life in those set orbs, and was stooping down to make sure that this was
so, when he saw her suddenly lean forward and, impetuously plunging her
hand into the negro's throat, tear open the shirt and give one look at
his bared breast.

It was white.

"O God! O God!" she moaned, and lifting the head in her two hands she
gave the motionless features a long and searching look. "Water!" she
cried. "Bring water." But before the now obedient tramp could respond,
she had torn off the woolly wig disfiguring the dead man's head, and
seeing the blond curls beneath had uttered such a shriek that it rose
above the gale and was heard by her distant neighbors.

It was the head and hair of her husband.

* * * * *

They found out afterwards that he had contemplated this theft for
months, that each and every precaution possible to a successful issue to
this most daring undertaking had been made use of and that but for the
unexpected presence in the house of the tramp, he would doubtless have
not only extorted the money from his wife, but have so covered up the
deed by a plausible _alibi_ as to have retained her confidence and that
of his employers.

Whether the tramp killed him out of sympathy for the defenseless
woman or in rage at being disappointed in his own plans has never been
determined. Mrs. Chivers herself thinks he was actuated by a rude sort
of gratitude.





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