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The Heart of a Mystery

The Heart of a Mystery
Title: The Heart of a Mystery
Release Date: 2018-06-12
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Transcriber's Notes:1. Page scan source: Google Books
(The New York Public Library)



A Novel




"Pluck out the Heart of my Mystery."--Hamlet


Copyright, 1896


The Heart of a Mystery



I.In December Weather.
II.The Pengarvons of Broome.


I.Mr. Hazeldine Changes his Notes for Gold.
II."Farewell, a Long Farewell."
III.Tea, Talk, and Music.
IV.A Laggard in Love.
V.Ephraim Judd Cuts his Hand.
VI.The Discovery.
VII.Who Did It?
VIII.Mr. Hazeldine's Letter.
IX.The Inquest.
X.An Anxious Week.
XI.The Verdict.
XII.Amo, Amas.
XIII.The Trial.
XIV.Exit Miss Letitia.
XV.After the Trial.
XVI.A Letter and its Reply.
XVII.The Progress of Events.
XVIII.A Revelation.
XIX.The Old Story.
XX."What will he Think? What will he Say?"
XXI.Mildew and Decay.
XXII.Ephraim Judd's Strange Experience.
XXIII.Poor John!
XXIV.Enter Mr. Hodgson.
XXV.Ephraim Judd's Remorse.
XXVI.The Brothers.
XXVII.Wrong Versus Right.
XXIX.Mixed Threads.
XXX.The Downward Path.--A Proposal.
XXXI.Clement's Quest.
XXXIII.The Quest Continued.
XXXIV.Another Link.
XXXV.The Widow Varrel.
XXXVI.A Journey of Discovery.
XXXVII.How and Why.
XXXVIII.The Cloud Dispersed, and a Bitter Disappointment.
XXXIX.An Interview and its Sequel.
XL.A Story of the Past, and a Departure.
XLI."Good-Bye to One and All."





On a certain bitter December evening, when the present century wasseveral years younger than it is now, Miss Pengarvon, of Broome, inthe shire of Derby, sat in the Green Parlor at the Hall, working bycandle-light at some piece of delicate embroidery. The fingers of theold case-clock pointed to half-past ten--an exceptionally late hour inthat remote place. Miss Pengarvon was alone. Her sister, Miss Letitia,had been suffering from neuralgic pains in the head, and had retiredan hour ago. Barney Dale, the major-domo and, in point of fact, theonly male member of the establishment, together with his wife, hadgone into the village to visit a sick relative, and there was noknowing at what hour they might return. The solitary housemaid, havingnothing to sit up for, had been glad to exchange the chilly gloom ofthe huge nagged kitchen for the comfort and warmth of bed. Earlier inthe evening snow had fallen to the depth of two or three inches, butthe sky was clear again by this time and the stars were glitteringfrostily. Except for the ticking of the clock and the occasionaldropping of a cinder, silence the most profound reigned inside theHall and out. Now and then Miss Pengarvon's needle would come to astand for a moment while she snuffed the candles, after which themonotonous stitching would go on as before. Be it observed thatcandlesticks, tray, and snuffers were all of silver, although thecandles themselves were of a cheap and common kind.

Miss Pengarvon was desirous of completing the work on which she wasengaged before going to bed. Both she and Miss Letitia were remarkablyskillful with their needles, and, gentlewomen though they were, werenot above seeking payment for their work. But this was a secret knownto themselves and Barney Dale alone. Once a month Barney went over toa certain town some score miles away, where he found a ready marketfor the proceeds of the untiring industry of the two ladies at theHall, without anybody being the wiser as to whose handiwork it was.The money thus earned formed a welcome addition to the very limitedincome of Miss Pengarvon and her sister.

At this time Miss Pengarvon was close on her forty-fifth birthday. Shewas very tall, and grim, and gaunt. The normal expression of herfeatures was harsh and forbidding. She had fine teeth, an aquilinenose, and unsympathetic blue-grey eyes, with a cold, stony gleam inthem, deeply set under bushy brows--eyes which looked as though theyhad never melted with tenderness or softened with tears. The mass ofher dark-brown hair, which began to show signs of the flight of time,was coiled round the crown of her head and held in its place by a highcomb, while three small puffs or curls, which were generally kept inpaper till mid-day, decorated each side of her forehead. When notengaged with her needle, she wore black lace mittens, and she alwayschanged her morning dress of black bombazine for one of black silkbefore dinner. The dress she was wearing had been both dyed andturned, but was still good for two or three years' longer wear.

Of Miss Letitia it is enough to say that she was a copy, in somewhatless pronounced colors, of her sister as far as one human being can bea copy of any other; indeed, by comparative strangers, she was notinfrequently mistaken for Miss Pengarvon. She was two years youngerthan her sister, whose stronger will dominated hers, and who had stillas complete an ascendency over her as when they had been childrentogether. It was noticeable that if any of the servants, or any poorperson, wanted a favor granted, or a kindness done them, they went bypreference to Miss Letitia rather than to Miss Barbara.

The Green Parlor, although it was traditionally supposed to behaunted, was the favorite sitting-room of the Misses Pengarvon, as ithad been of their mother in her time. It was probably owing to theforce of early associations that they clung to it as they did, seeingthat there were many pleasanter rooms in the old house, some of themlooking over the terrace and the garden beyond, or having views acrossmiles of swelling moorland; whereas the two high, narrow windows ofthe Green Parlor looked into nothing more attractive than a smallshaven lawn, shut in by a thick semicircular hedge of evergreens, andwithout any embellishment beyond such as might be afforded by adilapidated and moss-grown sun-dial.

Both fingers and eyes were tired, but Miss Pengarvon went on doggedlywith her work. She finished her task as the clock was striking eleven.With a sigh of relief she rose from her chair, and began to put awayher silks and needles and other materials. While thus engaged shestarted suddenly; she felt nearly sure that she had heard a knockingat the front door. She waited without stirring for a couple ofminutes. Yes, there it was again--the unmistakable sound of some oneknocking at the great door of the Hall. Who could be seekingadmittance at that late hour? The visitors at the Hall were so fewthat Miss Pengarvon was utterly nonplussed, Barney Dale and his wife,when they should return, would gain admittance through the backpremises, of which they had the key. There might be thieves or trampsabroad, who knew that there was no one but women in the house.

But Miss Pengarvon was a woman of nerve, and not readily frightened.She was still waiting and hesitating when the knocking sounded for thethird time, but less loudly than before. At the best it had been atimorous and half-hearted sort of summons, with little or noself-assertion about it.

Miss Pengarvon hesitated no longer. Taking up one of the twocandlesticks, for there was no light in any other part of the house,she flung open the door of the Green Parlor and passed into the darkcorridor beyond, shading the candle with her hand as she went. Fromthe corridor she passed into the entrance-hall, strange, weird shadowsseeming to start into life from wall and ceiling, as though they hadbeen suddenly disturbed in their sleep, as she crossed it with herfeeble light. Before her was the great door, iron clamped, andfastened with bolt and chain. Putting down her candle on a side table,Miss Pengarvon went up to the door and laid her hand on one of thebolts. Then she hesitated. She knew not who might be outside, and shewas but one lonely woman. Then with a gesture of impatience at her owntimidity, she undid the heavy bolts and locks one by one, but wascareful to leave the guard chain still up. Then she pulled open thedoor as far as the chain would allow. A gust of frosty air, that cutalmost like a knife, leaped suddenly in, bringing with it a shower ofpowdered snow and extinguishing the candle.

Miss Pengarvon, peering out into the snowy night, saw a female figure,hooded and cloaked from head to foot, standing on the topmost of thebroad, shallow flight of steps which led up to the door. As she lookeda dire presentiment shook her from head to foot, as few things else inthe world could have shaken her, but her voice was clear and sternwhen she spoke:

"Who are you, and what is your business here at this untimely hour?"she demanded.

The figure outside came a step nearer.

"I am Isabel--your sister," was uttered in broken accents. "I havebeen walking till I can walk no longer. I have not tasted food sincemorning. I want shelter and rest for to-night--only for to-night."

The tone was one of pitiful supplication.

"Neither shelter nor rest is there under this roof for such as you,"replied Miss Pengarvon, in her stoniest accents. "You have disgracedthe name you bear as it was never disgraced before. This is your homeno longer. Go!" and without another word the great door was shut witha crash and the bolts and locks shot one by one.

As Miss Pengarvon put out her hand in the dark to find thecandlestick, one short, sharp, anguished cry--the cry of a brokenheart--smote her ears. She stood for some moments with a hand pressedto her bosom, listening, but the silence was not broken again. Oncemore the house seemed a house of the dead. Then Miss Pengarvon turnedand made her way through the black entrance-hall and the blackercorridor beyond, till she reached the parlor. Going in, she shut thedoor and tried to re-light the candle, but her hand trembled so thatfor some time she could not. Her face looked strangely haggard, butthe hard, cold look in her eyes never varied. She drew a knitted shawlround her shoulders and sat down by the smouldering embers. SurelyBarney and his wife could not be long now! She felt a strangedisinclination for going to bed till they should return, althoughunder ordinary circumstances she would have had no hesitation aboutdoing so. The wind was beginning to rise, and every now and againthere were eerie meanings in the wide chimney, while the windows shookand rattled as though some one were trying them from without. Therewas only one candle alight, and the room seemed full of shadows suchas she had never noticed before. The darkest corner was the cornerbehind her chair. It made her uncomfortable to know this, so shecrossed to the opposite side of the hearth, and sat down in hersister's chair. She wished that Letitia had not gone to bed.

She never remembered having felt so nervous before, not even when achild, and she despised herself for the feeling. All this time she wasconscious that she was still listening intently. Would that timoroussummons at the door make itself heard again? Perhaps she half hopedthat it might. She kept telling herself again and again that it wasimpossible for her to have acted otherwise than as she had acted, thatno other course was open to her--and yet she listened for the knockingto come again. By-and-bye she opened the door a little way. This, asshe told herself, was only that she might be enabled to hear Barneywhen he should arrive. How slowly the minutes passed! What strangenoises the wind made! Those windows must be seen to in the morning andmade to fit more tightly in their frames. It was evident that shewould not be troubled with the knocking again. "So much the better--somuch the better," she muttered under her breath--and yet she waslistening all the time. Thank Heaven! here was Barney Dale at last.

She could hear him unlocking one of the back doors of which he hadtaken the key with him. But he did not re-lock the door, which wasstrange; and now he was coming at a great pace in the direction of theGreen Parlor; his hobnailed shoes clumping

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