"depend upon it, sir, i asked that question myself. and i appreciate - believe me have come very much to appreciate - the skepticism that the circumstance arouses. i only ask that you let me finish my story before making a judgment."
"very well then, proceed."
"let me be frank with you, sir. although i could not have been more astonished by the contents of the miraculous letter - in another way i was all too familiar with it. for the basic tale, though not the details, was one i had often heard told by myself - in my dreams!
ah! for what orphan does not dream of a great ancestral home? what prodigal, though banished to the wilderness since birth, does not dream of a return to a home he had never known? what wretch is so low that it does not dream of golden staircases and alabaster towers?
i freely admit it - i was that wretch!"
the mysterious young woman scanned mr barbourforth's face for a clue to his reception of her narrative so far.
his visage remained impassive.
she resumed. " my newly declared cousin informed me that he had but a brief time remaining on this earth -
53. a witness
nodding grimly to himself, hartley rogers stepped over to the door of grandmother fotherinton's study and calmly opened it.
cousin garland stood before him.
with a smile.
54. mystery and fortune
" - except for myself, so far as my cousin knew, he had no relations left on this earth. he was sorry he had only one thing to leave me."
the young woman paused.
but as mr barbourforth had no comment or question, she plunged on.
"the one thing was the key - the possible key - to a great mystery - and to an even greater fortune."
55. something terrible
knowing that now there was nothing else for it, hartley bent to the task of making a suitable response to grandmother fotherinton's untimely demise.
he returned garland's somewhat vacant smile with the most somber expression he could muster.
"good evening, miss. you are, i trust, a member of the fotherinton family?"
"what else would i be? do you take me for a servant?"
hartley bowed his head. "of course not, miss. i am afraid my poor wits are addled. addled - by something terrible that has happened."
"excuse me, but just who are you anyway?"
"my name is hartley rogers, miss, but i am afraid that is of little consequence at the moment."
"i'll be the judge of that." garland stepped to hartley's right and looked past him.
she saw the old woman's carcass, which had slid off her chair on to the floor.
"why is grandmother lying on the floor? did she faint?"
"i am afraid it is worse than that."
"oh, she's dead. that's what you are pussyfooting about."
"she appears to be. perhaps we should call a doctor."
garland moved past hartley and bent over the body.
"not much need for that," she announced.
57. a painful reconsideration
just when everything had been going so well -
how could he have been such a fool, such an absolute pitiful fool!
barbourforth felt he was going mad.
it took all his considerable reserves of impassivity to maintain his composure as the young woman with the veil continued her story.
a story, the very story which in almost every detail , he had heard in these very chambers a fortnight ago -
"nothing you do surprises me, jasper," grandmother interrupted his desperate flow of babbling incoherence, "but this time you have gone too far. please be gone from the house in one hour, and do not return, ever."
"but, where - "
"do not return, ever."
45. a declaration
"now, young man, i hope we can proceed with our business - your business, for i am not sure it is any of mine - without further interruption."
"indeed. i will come straight to the point. my name is hartley rogers, and i am the rightful heir of madwood - and the fotherinton estate. "
46. an unexpected event
hardly had the astonishing declaration left the young visitor's mouth,
when grandmother fotherinton had gasped, and fallen backward in her chair.
the young man jumped up and rushed to the chair.
the old woman had fallen over on her right side, mouth agape.
should he call for help?
she was lifeless, insensitive.
quite dead, in fact.
"lord help us!"
hartley rogers - for convenience's sake, dear reader , we will invest the young man with the cognomen he declared to the late grandmother fotherinton - after his initial shock had passed, felt - completely and utterly bewildered.
how could such a thing have happened?
after all his careful planning and preparation?
it just wasn't fair!
what was he to do?
48. the cousin
"considering the low spirits i was in at the prospect of my departure," the mysterious young lady continued her tale to mr barbourforth, "it continues to surprise me that i had the presence of mind to bid the coachman wait until my aunt perused the letter brought by the postman."
"the letter was from a cousin in south america whose existence i had previously been unaware of."
"if you do not mind my asking, " mr barbourforth interrupted, "how was it that you were ignorant of this most fortuitous personage?
everything has converged on this moment, thought garland.
she had felt that something momentous happened.
and she had surmised correctly that grandmother fotherinton - being the spider in the center of the web - was involved.
having made her way down the corridor to grandmother's study, she paused.
50. no surrender
"come, fellow, pull yourself together," hartley rogers counseled himself sternly. "what would nelson have done, in this situation, or sir francis drake? no one ever won a battle by surrendering."
could he simply leave, and leave the body to be found later?
for it might well be sometime later. and no one could then definitely connect his visit with the old woman's demise.
but what did he know of the old woman's habits? the whole accursed family might well be expecting her for something or other at this minute.
no, best to sound the alarm, and let the situation play out.
on his return to his furnished rooms, all ternwhistle's ambition and enthusiasm concerning the possibility of turning the fotherinton affair to his own account drained out of him.
what had he been thinking? barbourforth was probably not acting alone, although of course he intimated that he was.
if ternwhistle attempted to get the better of some cabal of who knew what powerful forces - it was better not to think of it.
he decided to rest a bit, then make his way to madame ming's.
a couple of pipes was what he needed.
with a sigh, he lay back on his couch.
37. beyond the borders
except for one disastrous and exceedingly boring year at an academy for young ladies, cousin arboreta had never been more than five miles beyond the borders of the fotherinton estate.
strangely, she had little desire to travel outside them, although sometimes she vaguely felt she should have such a desire.
very soon, thought garland, very soon everything - everything - will be revealed.
39. a slender document
under a cloudy and threatening night sky, a solitary traveler approached the grounds of madwood on foot.
he paused when he could finally make out the lights of the house.
there were very few lights, even though the sun had set only an hour ago.
he had heard that the fotherintons were a somnolent lot, but still…
the traveler reached into his inside coat pocket and fingered the slender document lodged in it.
then he proceeded, striking the ground with his walking stick as he did so.
40. shedding light
"really, miss, all this is a bit too mysterious for my old bones. make yourself comfortable, please, while i have some light brought in."
mr barbourforth rang for his servant, and when that worthy appeared, instructed him to bring another light.
craver knew without being told that he was to place the light as close as possible to the young woman, who had settled into a chair, but without taking her coat off or raising the veil of her hat.
"so then." mr barbourforth announced briskly when craver had departed, "state your case."
the young woman paused.
"my name is of no consequence, " she finally began, in a voice more melodious than the one with which she had hitherto addressed mr barbourforth. "but i am descended from an ancient though impoverished race."
41. an interrupted journey
as we all are, thought mr barbourforth, but he only nodded.
"i had resigned myself to my poverty and melancholy fate, and was prepared to accept a position as governess with a family located in the northernmost wilds of scotland, when chance intervened."
the young woman paused again.
"the coachman was just loading my small trunk on to the carriage which was to take me on the first stage of my journey, when the postman appeared."
42. apologies in order
"just a moment, please." grandmother fotherinton held up her hand .
she carefully approached the door of her study, and flung it open -
"excuse me again, sir, but i think an introduction - a so-called proper introduction will only be appropriate if you indicate an interest in my proposal. if you have no interest i shall simply vanish - it will be as if i had never been here - and in that case your ignorance will be to both of our advantages. i realize, of course, that all this is highly irregular, but i have been given to understand that irregularity is your stock in trade, as it were."
the young woman had still not lifted her veil.
mr barbourforth laughed. "well, you are not at a loss for words, at any rate. to speak such a mouthful without pausing for breath - perhaps you have been on the stage?"
"just who sent you here?"
the young man smiled at grandmother fotherinton, not insolently, but with an air of mild puzzlement that she would even hint at questioning his sincerity.
"may i sit down?'
"of course. you may even take your coat off."
"there is a rack over there in the corner. you may hang your hat and coat on it."
"ah. very good."
"and when you have comfortably seated yourself, you can tell me who sent you here."
the young man hung his coat and hat up, and sat down in the chair in front of the old woman's, quite at his ease.
"i think it might be proper to say that i sent myself here - acting on information received from certain persons."
31. the time has come
o dear reader, our intent is not to unduly confuse you. perhaps the time has come to shed a little light into the murky proceedings being described herein.
the fotherintons, as we have indicated, were one of the oldest, though least celebrated families in the kingdom.
they had occupied the same land since the time of king arthur.
the family seat itself had been known as "madwood" since at least the time of king stephen.
various family members through the centuries had attempted to prove, through information gleaned from the dustiest and most ambiguous documents, that madwood had been, or might still be, the repository of the holy grail.
but their researches had been ignored and not even granted the dignity of being treated with contempt by serious scholars.
i hear a knock on my door…
"begging your pardon, sir, and not meaning any disrespect, but i think we may both be better served if we stay clear of any consideration of each other's pasts."
"oh for god's sake!," exclaimed mr barbourforth, " i was only making polite conversation. say what you have to say. let me guess, is this concerning the fotherinton affair?"
"why, of course." and the young woman evinced the hint of a smile for the first time. "what else would it concern?"
"ah. but i have already made my own arrangements regarding it."
"but i hope to convince you to make better arrangements."
mr barbourforth sighed. "i suppose i may as well hear you out."
"sit down, please. make yourself comfortable."
"thank you." but she still did not lift her veil.
following the disappearance of the handsome young stranger into the depths of the house, after he had politely evaded the questions of the inhabitants of the verandah as to the purpose of his visit to grandmother fotherinton, new disagreements had broken out, particulary centered on the person of cousin garland, who never shied from controversy.
"your lack of candor is in some measure reassuring, young man. at least it indicates an ability to keep a confidence."
grandmother paused, and looked past her visitor out the window into the darkness, which was now complete.
"i assure you i can keep a confidence, madam, as i am sure you can do likewise."
"you know me that well, then? perhaps we were acquainted in a previous lifetime."
when garland seized upon a topic, nothing silenced her.
"sit down, please, cousin darnell, you are blocking my view."
"your view of what? the sun has set, there is nothing out there but the bleak, desolate moor."
good gracious, thought arboreta, are they going to start up again?
"yes, garland," arboreta interjected, in as reasonable a voice as she could manage, "perhaps you could tell us what you wish a view of?"
"a view of that!" garland pointed to the driveway, up which a long black touring car
was approaching with dimmed headlights.
nothing could console or calm down cousin thomas "the redeemer".
cousin betsy was ready to give up trying - he did seem to be past the stage where he might start banging his head against the thin walls of his garret room.
the window of the room was too small for him to jump out of.
"we are doomed - doomed, " thomas muttered, his voice finally dropping a bit.
betsy was tempted to ask exactly when and how they were doomed, but of course that would only get him going again.
"i am going to leave you now, thomas."
24. a strange business
when mr ternwhistle had gathered up his papers and left, mr barbourforth sat gazing into the fire.
a strange business! and perhaps about to get stranger.
but he had committed himself to it.
it would be stretching the case to say that he felt excitement - he had long since passed the stage of life when he could even think of such a thing - but he did feel, a - a - how could he put it, a certain frisson - maybe even that was too strong a word.
he heard a knock on the study door - the unmistakable knock of his long time servant, craver.
"a young lady to see you, sir."
"a young lady?"
"yes, sir. unmistakably young, and if i may presume to say so, unmistakably a lady."
quickly making his way to a cab stand in the deepening fog, ternwhistle , though remaining alert to his surroundings, allowed his mind a few flights of fancy.
for here was an opportunity for a man to take a chance.
"i apologize, sir, for the lateness of the hour, but when you hear my story i hope you will at least acknowledge the necessity for caution which has prompted so irregular an introduction." the young woman gave mr barbourforth a smile which in its very brevity and coolness dazzled him by its complete confidence in its ability to conquer him.
the upper part of her face remained covered by a veil. but her voice gave ample credence to craver's assertions as to her breeding and youth.
mr barbourforth, who had settled snugly into his chair and only risen from it with some effort, returned a cool smile of his own.
"indeed, miss. i am a man who keeps late hours in any case. but i do not believe we have, in fact, been introduced."
27. a creature of impulse
"please forgive me, madam, for this intrusion. i sincerely hope i am not inconveniencing you . but i am a creature of impulse, and i was suddenly possessed by the need to present my case to you directly, without intermediaries."
grandmother fotherinton considered the young man standing before her, attired in the finest and most fashionable clothes seen at madwood in twenty years.
total consternation reigned on the verandah, where the handsome young stranger's arrival had broken the stagnant pool of the evening like a falling star
plunging into a witch's cauldron.