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In Jeopardy

Van Tassel Sutphen

  Produced by Annie McGuire. This book was produced fromscanned images of public domain material from the GooglePrint archive.



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  HARPER & BROTHERS, PublishersEstablished 1817


  _By_Van Tassel Sutphen

  _Author of_"The Cardinal's Rose," Etc.


  Copyright, 1922By Harper & Brothers



  Chapter I

  _I Find Some New Relations_

  The letter which lay before me had been written in old-fashionedlonghand on the business stationery of the law firm of Eldon & Crawford,their given address being Calverton, Maryland. For the third time I readover the missive, although certainly it was short and to the point, itsmeaning unmistakable. But judge for yourself.

  CALVERTON, MARYLAND, _June 22, 1919._

  MY DEAR SIR,--The funeral services for the late Francis Hildebrand Graeme Esqre., of "Hildebrand Hundred," King William County, Maryland, will be held at S. Saviour's Church, Guildford Corners, Maryland, on Thursday, June 24, 1919, at three o'clock post meridian.

  In view of the fact that you are a beneficiary under Mr. Graeme's will I am forwarding this communication by special delivery, in the hope that you may be able to attend the services and be present at the reading of the testament.

  I am enclosing a time schedule of the Cape Charles route, and would suggest that you take the morning express from Baltimore. By giving notice to the conductor the train will be stopped at Crown Ferry, the nearest railway point to "Hildebrand Hundred." If you will advise me by telegraph of your coming I will see that a conveyance is in waiting. Trusting that you may find it possible to make the journey, and taking the liberty of placing our legal services at your disposal,

  I remain, my dear sir,

  Your obedient servant, JOHN ELDON. HUGH HILDEBRAND, ESQRE.

  Yes, this was all perfectly plain and understandable. Francis Graeme,the distant cousin whom I had seen just once in my life, had diedsuddenly at his Maryland home; as a member of the family and apresumptive legatee it was my duty to offer the last respects in person.Yet there had been something more or less odd about the whole business.It had been the Civil War which had made a lasting breach between theNorthern and Southern branches of the Hildebrand family; for more than ageneration there had been no social intercourse whatever. Moreover,during that period, the name had shown a tendency to disappear for goodand all, the usual fate of old families who live too close to theancestral soil and dislike the noisy wheels of the world's progress. Thelate owner of the "Hundred" did not even bear the family patronymic, hisHildebrand descent being on the distaff side. I, in turn, am an orphan,without brothers or sisters; more than that I have no near relatives inthe paternal connection; indeed I had never heard of any immediatebearers of my name until one day, some three months ago, when FrancisGraeme called at my Philadelphia office, introduced himself, claimed meas kin, and carried me off to a luncheon which extended itself intodinner and then lasted to a midnight supper. It had been a case ofliking at first sight, although Graeme was a man of forty-five or so,while I lacked three years of thirty. However, years--mere years--don'tsignify if people really "belong," and Graeme and I had lost no time inlaying the foundations of a friendship that promised a more thanordinary degree of permanence. It had been arranged that I should comedown to "Hildebrand Hundred" for a long visit, but one thing afteranother had happened to prevent; I had been presented with an actual lawcase, Graeme was called West for a month, one of my college classreunions had been scheduled for the first part of June; so it went. Andnow poor Graeme was dead and nothing could be as we had planned itduring that long afternoon and night at the old University Club onWalnut Street. Strange, I had not heard that he was ill, but ourcorrespondence had been most irregular, and most likely the attack hadbeen a sudden one--heart disease or perhaps a stroke. Of course I mustgo down to Maryland, albeit the journey would be a depressing one; Imight even find it a little awkward to appear at the house in thecharacter of a new-found relative. I ought to explain that the family atthe "Hundred" now consisted of Miss Lysbeth Graeme and her cousin, MissEunice Trevor. Of course I had never met either of them, but Graeme hadspoken of both girls at our first and only meeting; he seemed especiallyfond of Lysbeth, or Betty, as he called her. Betty Graeme--rather anattractive name I think--was some half dozen years my junior, and anynormal-minded young man would find the acquisition of a brand-newfeminine cousin an interesting possibility. But that was before thisdistressing business of Francis Graeme's death, and I should feel moreor less the intruder. It was evident, however, that Mr. Eldon's lettermust have been sanctioned by Miss Graeme, and, I dare say, Graeme hadspoken to his daughter of having made my acquaintance, and warmly, too;consequently, I should have to go and be decent, stay over night if thatwere unavoidable, and then slip away Friday morning with mylegacy--perhaps a hundred dollars with which to procure themourning-ring so dear to the hearts of mid-Victorian novelists.

  In spite of the special delivery stamp the letter had been delayedsomewhere, and it was not handed over to me until early Thursdaymorning, the messenger awaking me out of an unusually sound sleep by thesimple expedient of keeping his finger pressed firmly upon the electricpush button of my tiny room-and-bath lodgings in the "Clarendon." When Ihad rubbed the Sandman's dust out of my eyes, and had taken in thegeneral purport of the epistle, I glanced at the clock and saw that Ihad less than an hour in which to make my toilet, settle my businessaffairs and catch the train. Yet I made it easily enough, for, outsideof bath and breakfast, I had only to telephone the friend with whom Ishared a diminutive law office that I should not be back until Friday,and that our progressive match at golf would have to be postponed tothat date. Happily or unhappily, as you choose to look at it, there wereno clients to put off and no real business exigencies to consider. Cometo think of it, I am not so sure that I was ever intended for the
benchand bar, and certainly the world has not gone out of its way to availitself of my store of legal knowledge. Mine was just the usual case of ayoung man reading law because, on leaving the university, nothing moretangible had presented itself. Moreover, the quarterly paid income frommy mother's estate is sufficient for my modest needs and perhapsdeprives me of any real incentive for hard work. Now the successful manis usually self-made, meaning that he has been forced to play the roleof a creator and make something out of nothing. It makes me blushsometimes when I reflect what would happen if that quarterly cheque everfailed to turn up in the mail; had I anything of real value to offer theworld in exchange for shelter, raiment, and what my newsboy calls three"squares" a day? Not that I am altogether a cumberer of the ground (as agolfer I have been well-trained and always take care to replace mydivots), but there is no particular reason for my existence on thisplanet, and there are not many people who would either know or care thatI was no longer of their number. Cynical? not at all; at least I hadnot intended to give that impression. But my two years' war servicedestroyed some illusion, even though I hadn't the luck to get across thewater.

  Finally, I may call myself a decent enough chap when compared to theordinary run of men, and while I don't pretend to philanthropicactivities I can say quite honestly that there is no man, or womaneither, who may truthfully affirm being the worse off for having enjoyedthe distinction of my personal acquaintance. At best, this is only anegative virtue, and there are times when I feel keenly that I ought tobe adding something definite to the world's stock of material good orethical treasure. I can't flatter myself that I possess anything morethan the one talent, and my quarterly dividend makes a convenient napkinin which to enwrap it; the old allegory seems to fit my case precisely.I dare say that life for me has been a trifle too pleasant andwell-ordered; people who live on Easy Street become more and moreattached to their _otium-cum-dig_; I have visions of myself less than ascore of years away: portly, tonsured, inclined to resent the existenceof boys and dogs, fussily addicted to carrying about to dinner partiesmy own particular brand of pepper in a little, flat, silver box.Perhaps if I should fall in love, but pooh! I have been invoking thatcontingency so long and so unavailingly that it has lost a large portionof its pristine appeal. No, I can't see that there is anything betterfor me to do than to go on drawing my income, sitting religiously for atleast six hours a day in my office, sticking at golf until I finally getthe best of that hideous tendency to hook, and dining as usual onMondays with the Mercers _en famille_; in short, whittling my individualpeg to fit my allotted hole. I do think, however, that I'll tell BobMercer he can count upon me for one evening a week at his Julian Streetsettlement. Bob is the right sort of a cleric, and I know that he talksby the card when he insists that giving and getting are reallyinterchangeable terms. But one always hates to make the effort and soprove the truth of the assertion; it is infinitely less trouble to letsome other fellow get the true meaning and joy out of life while youcontent yourself with the corner seat at the club fireside and thecomfortable certainty that the chef understands to a dot how you likeyour cutlets and asparagus tips. Just the same I will speak to Bob--andmeanwhile I have awakened to the realization that it is ten minutes tonine and that only a taxi-driver with no reverence for the speed lawscan deliver me at the Pennsylvania station in time for the southboundtrain. I do make it, with a quarter of a minute to spare, and now Iremember that I have forgotten to send a wire to Mr. Eldon. I cantelegraph him at Wilmington, but there is small chance of its beingdelivered in time; probably I shall have to rustle my own means ofconveyance to "Hildebrand Hundred." I shall have full two hours betweenthe arrival of my train at Crown Ferry and the time appointed for thefuneral. That ought to be sufficient even if I have to walk.

  The ride over the Cape Charles route is not particularly interesting;moreover, it was infernally dusty, and the food provided by the buffeton the Pullman seemed extraordinarily unappetizing. Where on earth doesthe company procure such tasteless provender? Everything tastes sodesiccated and deodorized, the mere shadow of really substantial viands,a veritable feast of Barmecide. There was the usual delay owing to afreight wreck, and my two hours of leeway had shrunken to a scant sixtyminutes by the time I had alighted at the little flag station of CrownFerry.

  Not a very inviting place, this shabby way station set in a wildernessof jack-pine and hackberry trees. There was not a soul in sight, outsideof the depressed looking individual who served as general utility manand who apparently resented the intrusion of a stranger upon his lonelydomain. To my inquiry concerning the possibility of obtaining some sortof conveyance, he returned a monosyllabic "Nope," and he showed not thesmallest inclination to give me any real assistance in finding my way to"Hildebrand Hundred"; he pointed out the general direction, with a lean,tobacco-stained finger, and let it go at that.

  There was no house in sight, nothing but the two rutted tracks of asandy country road leading off toward the west and bifurcating itself acouple of hundred yards away from the station--"deepo" in thevernacular. I understood, from the scant information vouchsafed me, thatI was to take the left-hand fork, and after prevailing upon the agent,in consideration of two of my choice cigars, to take temporary charge ofmy kit-bag, I started off on my three-mile tramp.

  Once through the belt of scrubby woodland, the appearance of the countrybegan to change for the better, and the further I traveled from thecoast line the more rolling and diversified it became. The sand gaveplace to loam, an improvement in which the highway shared, the fieldswere neatly fenced, and, with the added attractions of oak and hickorygroves, the landscape began to appeal; this was good farming land and apleasant place of rural residence.

  I passed several farm houses, but since the day was unusually cool forthe month of June and as I rather enjoyed the exercise of walking, Iconcluded not to bother about hiring a trap. A farmer whom Iencountered, at a cross-roads where there was a little cluster of half adozen houses, informed me that S. Saviour's Church was distant about amile; but already it was half after two o'clock and I realized that Ishould not have time to present myself at the house before the funeralcortege started. The obvious procedure was for me to wait at the churchuntil the party from "Hildebrand Hundred" had arrived; I could thenintroduce myself to Mr. Eldon and be assigned to my proper positionamong the mourners.

  "Or if you like," continued my new acquaintance, "you can save more'nhalf way to the church by cuttin' across the Thaneford property. You goin by that stile yander," and he pointed a hundred yards down the road.

  I felt a trifle doubtful about the propriety of taking a short cutacross private grounds, and said as much. "You are quite sure that Mr.Thaneford doesn't object?" I asked.

  "Of co'se he objects," declared my rural friend, who now informed methat his name was Greenough and that he was the newly elected sheriff ofthe county. "He objects powerful. But the Co'te has decided that it's apublic right-of-way. And when the law gives a man his rights he's boundto maintain them."

  "Why the right-of-way?" I asked.

  "The Thaneford property was a royal grant," explained Sheriff Greenough,"but S. Saviour's had been built before that, and the folks here inGuildford Corners retained right of access to their parish church. Bythe road it's full a mile."

  "A relic of the established church of colonial days," I remarked."Nowadays no one is obliged to attend S. Saviour's."

  "No," admitted the Sheriff, "and I'm a Baptis' myself. But we keep ourrights, for nobody knows when we may want to use 'em."

  Since Mr. Thaneford was apparently unreconciled to the exercise ofancient ecclesiastical privilege, I was about to say that I, as astranger, did not propose to become a party to the controversy; but aglance at my watch showed me that I would have to take the short cut ifI hoped to reach the church by three o'clock.

  "Mr. Graeme's funeral?" inquired Greenough. "Well, he was a good man anda good neighbor. I'd be there myself if I hadn't business at theCo'te-house to look after. Yes, sir, straight ahead and you c
an't missthe path. Glad to have obliged you, sir; good evening."

  Beyond the stile the path ran across a piece of meadow land; thencethrough a hardwood grove, rising gently to a little plateau upon whichthe mansion was situated. The house was of the Georgian period with theusual pretentious portico; it seemed badly out of repair and wassurrounded by unkempt lawns, paddocks, and gardens. I saw that the pathwould lead me within a comparatively short distance of the house, and Irather sympathized with the owner's resentment at the invasion of hisprivacy under cover of law. Yet I must go on, and I quickened my pace soas to get out of sight of the house as quickly as possible.

  A powerfully built young man came around the corner of what, in its day,must have been a very considerable glass-house, and confronted me. Not apleasant face, with its prominent cheekbones and black V of eyebrowsfurrowing the low, heavy forehead. "What are you doing on thisproperty?" he demanded with a truculency that made me dislike himinstantly and completely.

  "It's a public right-of-way," I retorted.

  "We don't admit that," he said hotly. "The case has been appealed; ifnecessary, we'll carry it to Washington."

  Well what was I to do? I had no desire to get into a dispute with thisrustic boor, and yet it was imperative for me to go on if I were toreach the church in time for the service. Much as I disliked the man Imust put myself in the position of asking a favor from him.

  "I presume that I am addressing Mr. Thaneford?" I began inquiringly.

  "I'm John Thaneford--what then?"

  "As you see, I am a stranger here. At the Corners I was told that Icould take this short cut and so save time and distance in reaching thechurch."

  "Oh, S. Saviour's!"

  "Yes. I am a relative of the late Mr. Francis Graeme and came thismorning from Philadelphia to attend the funeral."

  John Thaneford looked up sharply, the V of eyebrows narrowing. "I didn'tknow Graeme had any kin in Philadelphia," he said suspiciously. "Or, forthat matter, anywhere."

  "That may be true so far as the Graeme side of the family is concerned,"I rejoined. "My name is Hildebrand."

  "Hildebrand!" He stared at me even more intently than before, and Ifancied that there was a subtle note of dismay in the ejaculation. Idetermined to follow up the advantage, if advantage it was.

  "Hugh Hildebrand, to be precise," I continued, eyeing him steadily. "Weare of the Northern branch, and since the Civil War there has beenlittle or no intercourse with the family of the 'Hundred.'"

  "Yet you come to Francis Graeme's funeral. Why?"

  My temper flashed up. "And what damned business is that of yours, Mr.John Thaneford!" I snapped out. "Am I to pass or not?"

  For an instant he glowered, and I saw the pupils of his coal-black eyescontract to a pin point. Then he took an evident pull upon himself; hespoke with a marked change of demeanor, almost courteously.

  "I'm afraid I've been acting rather rudely," he said, and stepped asideout of the path. "But these country bullies have been most annoying oflate, insisting upon their so-called rights out of mere, petty spite.It's part of their creed, you know, to hate a gentleman." I nodded. Icould see now that John Thaneford was by no means the rustic lout of myfirst impressions. Not that I liked him any the better, but at least wespoke the same language.

  "It's a silly fiction," he went on, "this alleged necessity of access tothe parish church. Nowadays, everybody at the Corners goes to theBaptist or Methodist meeting-house, and S. Saviour's congregation isgathered chiefly in the churchyard. Outside the Graeme and Thanefordfamilies there ar'n't more than a dozen regular parishioners, and thechurch is only opened for service once a month."

  By this time we were walking side by side in the direction of the house.For some inscrutable reason Mr. John Thaneford had made up his mind tobe decently polite; indeed the effort was plainly apparent.Consequently, I could do no less than fall in with his new mood.

  "I suppose S. Saviour's is a colonial foundation," I remarked.

  "Yes, even to the inevitable Queen Anne Communion plate. But thecountryside has changed and the bigger estates have been cut up intosmall holdings. That always brings in a different set of people. And theold and the new don't mix well."

  "Precisely. And so there are empty pews at S. Saviour's."

  "More of them every year. A young chap comes over from Lynn the firstSunday in the month and holds service; so I'm told, at least. Otherwise,the church is only opened for weddings, christenings, and funerals; andthe latter outnumber both the former. What's the answer?" He laughedcynically.

  "It's a pity," I said regretfully. "I always hate to see the old orderdisplaced. But surely if someone took the lead--well, why notyourself?"

  "I haven't been inside the building since I used to get whaled for notknowing my catechism. And I've small use for parsons," he continued,dourly.

  We walked on in silence, that hostile silence which sooner or later issure to declare itself between two natures essentially antagonistic.Since John Thaneford and I could not be friends, nor even remainindifferent, we should never have met at all. But the fact had beenaccomplished and we should have to put up with it; I fell to wonderingif he, too, sensed the vague presentiment of future clash and struggle;in the meantime I was uncomfortable; I wanted to get away.

  "The original right-of-way turns here," said Thaneford suddenly, "but Ican take you across the lawn, and thence it is only a step, through afir plantation, to the churchyard. Besides, I want you to meet myfather; he will be interested in knowing you since the Hildebrands andthe Thanefords have been neighbors for seven generations; yes and kin,too, as we reckon such things down here. My mother was a sister of oldRichard Hildebrand, and that makes me a second or third cousin of thisFrancis Graeme, who inherited the family property, although he did notbear the family name. If it were a question of direct descent either youor I might have put in a better claim to the 'Hundred.'" He looked at meslantingly as though to assure himself that the idea had not alreadypresented itself to my mind. I murmured an unintelligible assent; whatwas coming now?

  "And it follows logically that we two are kin. How does that strikeyou, Cousin Hugh Hildebrand," he added coolly.

  "Better than being thrown out as a trespasser," I answered with the mostconvincing imitation of a smile that I could conjure up. "But I think Iought to be getting along; it's ten minutes to three."

  "Remember that you are now south of Mason and Dixon's line," herejoined, "and time is made only for slaves. But come along," and he ledme, inwardly protesting, across the weedy expanse of what had once beena handsome piece of ornamental grass to where an old man sat in a bigarm-chair under the shade of the most beautiful white oak that I hadever beheld in my life, an almost perfectly symmetrical ball of limbsand foliage. Then I looked at Fielding Thaneford and straightway forgotabout the wonders of inanimate nature.

  Certainly a very old man, and yet his skin was of a remarkable textureand quality, apparently as fine and softly pink as that of a baby. Theresemblance to an infant was intensified by one distinguishingcharacteristic of the massive head and features--the total absence ofany hirsute adornment; there was not a vestige of hair, beard,eyelashes, or eyebrows, and the effect was singularly repulsive. Yet hedid not seem to be afflicted with the ordinary infirmities of senility,for he turned at the slight noise of our approaching footsteps and theeye that scanned me was of a cold, bright blue, indicative of a keen andfinely coordinated intelligence.

  "Father," said John Thaneford in his hatefully false voice of assumedcordiality, "this is our cousin, Hugh Hildebrand, of Philadelphia."

  I fancied that the placid figure in the great chair stiffened slightlyat the sound of my name. But otherwise he made no movement or sign,continuing to gaze upon me with those unflinching eyes, as horrible intheir total lack of lashes as the optics of a vulture.

  "He is here to be present at the funeral of Cousin Francis Graeme."Again that coldly devouring gaze passed over me; involuntarily Ishivered and stepped back. What was the impression that was being
madeupon me? Not of malignancy certainly, nor even of ordinarycold-bloodedness; there was something too detached about this singularpersonality to suggest any kind of commonplace, healthy passion; if thecrater had ever existed it had long since cooled to slag and ashes.There was but one fitting adjective--inhuman. Whatever spirit it wasthat still held its abode behind that fresh, childlike masque itendured altogether of its own volition and outside the sphere of thoseblessed, understandable things of our common life. In the world but notof it, if one may use that divine metaphor in its inverted sense. Thebabe possesses innocence in that it has never come into contact with sinand death, and a man may finally withdraw himself from the defilementsof this naughty world and become again as a little child. Yet withoutrepentance and so without grace. Lucifer himself could never assume therole of penitent, but he may easily take front rank as an ethicalphilosopher. And so Fielding Thaneford and I looked upon one another.Either might have put out a touching hand, and yet a thousand leaguescould not have spanned the abyss that separated us. And in that selfsamemoment the bell of S. Saviour's began to toll for the passing of him whohad been master of "Hildebrand Hundred," and kin, through the blood tie,to one and all of us who waited and listened.

  Fielding Thaneford had turned his eyes away, and they were fixed on theroad winding far below the plateau on which stood "Thane Court"; in thedistance appeared a stately moving cortege, the hearses and thecarriages containing the mourners; there was a flutter of sabledraperies and of funeral plumes; the old man looked, but remainedimmobile and impassive. With a nod of acknowledgment and farewell toJohn Thaneford I made my own way down the slope and into the shadow ofthe plantation of firs. There still remained the faint traces of a path,and presently it led me to the brick wall surrounding the churchyard, awall built after the curious serpentine pattern generally ascribed tothe inventive genius of Thomas Jefferson, and still to be seen at theUniversity of Virginia. A door, painted a dull, faded green, hadevidently been the private approach of the Thaneford family in days goneby, but now it was secured by a huge, rusty padlock, and I was obligedto skirt the wall and so reach the open lawn upon which the churchfaced.