The holladay case a tal.., p.7
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.7

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER VII

  Miss Holladay Becomes Capricious

  The body of Hiram Holladay was placed beside that of his wife in hisgranite mausoleum at Woodlawn on the Sunday following his death; twodays later, his will, which had been drawn up by Mr. Graham anddeposited in the office safe, was read and duly admitted to probate.As was expected, he had left all his property, without condition orreserve, to his daughter Frances. There were a few bequests to oldservants, Rogers receiving a handsome legacy; about half a million wasgiven to various charities in which he had been interested during hislife, and the remainder was placed at the absolute disposal of hisdaughter.

  We found that his fortune had been over-estimated, as is usually thecase with men whose wealth depends upon the fluctuations of theStreet, but there still remained something over four millions for thegirl--a pretty dowry. She told us at once that she wished to leave heraffairs in our hands, and in financial matters would be guidedentirely by our advice. Most of this business was conducted by ourjunior, and while, of course, he told me nothing, it was evident thatMiss Holladay's kindly feelings toward him had suffered no diminution.The whole office was more or less conversant with the affair, andwished him success and happiness.

  So a week or ten days passed. The utmost endeavor of newspapers andpolice had shed no new light on the tragedy, and for the great publicit had passed into the background of the forgotten. But for me, atleast, it remained of undiminished interest, and more than once Icarefully reviewed its features to convince myself anew that ourtheory was the right one. Only one point occurred to me which wouldtend to prove it untrue. If there was an illegitimate daughter, theblow she had dealt her father had also deprived her of whatever incomehe had allowed her, or of any hope of income from him. So she hadacted in her own despite--still, Godfrey's theory of sudden passionmight explain this away. And then, again, Miss Holladay could probablybe counted upon, her first grief past, to provide suitably for hersister. Granting this, the theory seemed to me quite impregnable.

  One other thing puzzled me. How had this woman eluded the police? Iknew that the French quarter had been ransacked for traces of her,wholly without success, and yet I felt that the search must have beenmisconducted, else some trace of her would surely have beendiscovered. Miss Holladay, of course, rigidly refused herself to allinquirers, and here, again, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma.Doubtless, she was very far from wishing the discovery of the guiltywoman, and yet I felt that she must be discovered, if only for MissHolladay's sake, in order to clear away the last vestige of the cloudthat shadowed her.

  Then came new developments with a startling rapidity. It was towardquitting time one afternoon that a clerk brought word into the inneroffice that there was a woman without who wished to see Mr. Royce atonce. She had given no name, but our junior, who happened to be atleisure for the moment, directed that she be shown in. I recognizedher in an instant, and so did he--it was Miss Holladay's maid. I saw,too, that her eyes were red with weeping, and as she sat down besideour junior's desk she began to cry afresh.

  "Why, what's the matter?" he demanded. "Nothing wrong with yourmistress?"

  "She aint my mistress any more," sobbed the girl. "She discharged methis afternoon."

  "Discharged you!" echoed our junior. "Why, I thought she thought somuch of you?"

  "And so did I, sir, but she discharged me just the same."

  "But what for?" persisted the other.

  "That's just what I don't know, sir; I begged and prayed her to tellme, but she wouldn't even see me. So I came down here. I thought maybeyou could help me."

  "Well, let me hear about it just as it happened," said Mr. Roycesoothingly. "Perhaps I _can_ help you."

  "Oh, if you could, sir!" she cried. "You know, I thought the world andall of Miss Frances. I've been with her nearly eight years, and forher to go and treat me like this--why, it just breaks my heart, sir! Idressed her this afternoon about two o'clock, and she was as nice tome as ever--gave me a little brooch, sir, that she was tired of. Thenshe went out for a drive, and about an hour ago came back. I wentright up to her room to undress her, and when I knocked, sir, astrange woman came to the door and said that Miss Frances had engagedher for her maid and wouldn't need me any more, and here was a month'swages. And while I stood there, sir, too dazed to move, she shut thedoor in my face. After I'd got over it a bit, I begged that I mightsee Miss Frances, if only to say good-by; but she wouldn't see me. Shesent word that she wasn't feeling well, and wouldn't be disturbed."

  Her sobs mastered her again and she stopped. I could see the look ofamazement on our junior's face, and did not wonder at it. What suddendislike could her mistress have conceived against this inoffensive anddevoted creature?

  "You say this other maid was a stranger?" he asked.

  "Yes, sir; she'd never been in the house before, so far as I know.Miss Frances brought her back with her in the carriage."

  "And what sort of looking woman is she?"

  The girl hesitated.

  "She looked like a foreigner, sir," she said at last. "A Frenchwoman,maybe, by the way she rolls her r's."

  I pricked up my ears. The same thought occurred at that instant toboth Mr. Royce and myself.

  "Does she resemble Miss Holladay?" he asked quickly.

  "Miss Holladay? Oh, no, sir. She's much older--her hair's quite gray."

  Well, certainly, Miss Holladay had the right to choose any maid shepleased, and to discharge any or all of her servants; and yet itseemed strangely unlike her to show such seeming injustice to anyone.

  "You say she sent down word that she was ill?" said Mr. Royce, atlast. "Was she ill when you dressed her?"

  "Why, sir," she answered slowly, "I wouldn't exactly say she was ill,but she seemed troubled about something. I think she'd been crying.She's been crying a good deal, off and on, since her father died, poorthing," she added.

  That would explain it, certainly; and yet grief for her father mightnot be the only cause of Frances Holladay's tears.

  "But she didn't seem vexed with you?"

  "Oh, no, sir; she gave me a brooch, as I told you."

  "I fear I can't promise you anything," said Mr. Royce slowly, after amoment's thought. "Of course, it's none of my business: for MissHolladay must arrange her household to suit herself; yet, if you don'tget back with your old mistress, I may, perhaps, be able to find you aposition somewhere else. Suppose you come back in three or four days,and I'll see what I can do."

  "All right, sir; and thank you," she said, and left the office.

  I had some work of my own to keep me busy that night, so devoted nothought to Frances Holladay and her affairs, but they were recalled tome with renewed force next morning.

  "Did you get Miss Holladay's signature to that conveyance?" Mr. Grahamchanced to ask his partner in the course of the morning.

  "No, sir," answered Mr. Royce, with just a trace of embarrassment. "Icalled at the house last night, but she sent down word that she wastoo ill to see me or to transact any business."

  "Nothing serious, I hope?" asked the other quickly.

  "No, sir; I think not. Just a trace of nervousness probably."

  But when he called again at the house that evening, he received asimilar message, supplemented with the news imparted by the butler, aservant of many years' standing in the family, that Miss Holladay hadsuddenly decided to leave the city and open her country place on LongIsland. It was only the end of March, and so a full two months andmore ahead of the season; but she was feeling very ill, was not ableto leave her room, indeed, and believed the fresh air and quiet of thecountry would do more than anything else to restore her shatterednerves. So the whole household, with the exception of her maid, acook, house-girl, and under-butler, were to leave the city next day inorder to get the country house ready at once.

  "I don't wonder she needs a little toning up," remarked our chiefsympathetically. "She has gone through a nerve-trying ordeal,especially for a girl reared as she has been. Two or three months o
fquiet will do her good. When does she expect to leave?"

  "In about a week, I think. The time hasn't been definitely set. Itwill depend upon how the arrangements go forward. It won't benecessary, will it, to bother her with any details of business? Thatconveyance, for instance----"

  "Can wait till she gets back. No, we won't bother her at all."

  But it seemed that she had either improved or changed her mind, fortwo days later a note, which her maid had written for her, came to Mr.Graham, asking him to call upon her in the course of the nexttwenty-four hours, as she wished to talk over some matters of businesswith him. It struck me as singular that she should ask for Mr. Graham,but our senior called a cab, and started off at once without comment.An hour later, the door opened, and he entered the office with a mostpeculiar expression of countenance.

  "Well, that beats me!" he exclaimed, as he dropped into his chair.

  Our junior wheeled around toward him without speaking, but his anxietywas plain enough.

  "To think that a girl as level-headed as Frances Holladay has alwaysbeen, should suddenly develop such whimsicalities. Yet, I couldn't butadmire her grasp of things. Here have I been thinking she didn't knowanything about her business and didn't care, but she seems to havekept her eyes open."

  "Well?" asked Mr. Royce, as the other paused.

  "Well, she started out by reminding me that her property had been leftto her absolutely, to do as she pleased with; a point which I, ofcourse, conceded. She then went on to say that she knew of a number ofbequests her father had intended to make before his death, and whichhe would have made if he had not been cut off so suddenly; that thebequests were of such a nature that he did not wish his name to appearin them, and that she was going to undertake to carry them outanonymously."

  "Well?" asked our junior again.

  "Well," said Mr. Graham slowly, "she asked me to dispose at once ofsuch of her securities as I thought best, in order that I might placein her hands by to-morrow night one hundred thousand dollars incash--a cool hundred thousand!"

 
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