The Girl at CentralGeraldine Bonner / Mystery & Detective
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THE GIRL AT CENTRAL BY GERALDINE BONNER
Author of The Emigrant Trail, The Book of Evelyn, etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY ARTHUR WILLIAM BROWN
NEW YORK AND LONDON D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1915
Copyright, 1915, by _D. Appleton and Company_
_Copyright, 1914, 1915, by The Curtis Publishing Company_
_Printed in the United States of America_
_'Mark my words, there's going to be trouble atMapleshade'_]
- LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS - I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII - VIII - IX - X - XI - XII - XIII - XIV - XV - XVI - XVII
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
'Mark my words, there's going to be trouble at Mapleshade'Sylvia was in her riding dress, looking a pictureA day later he was arrested at Firehill and taken to Bloomington jailI came down to the parlor where Babbitts was waiting
Poor Sylvia Hesketh! Even now, after this long time, I can't think of itwithout a shudder, without a comeback of the horror of those days afterthe murder. You remember it--the Hesketh mystery? And mystery it surelywas, baffling, as it did, the police and the populace of the wholestate. For who could guess why a girl like that, rich, beautiful,without a care or an enemy, should be done to death as she was. Think ofit--at five o'clock sitting with her mother taking tea in the library atMapleshade and that same night found dead--murdered--by the side of alonesome country road, a hundred and eighteen miles away.
It's the story of this that I'm going to tell here, and as you'll get agood deal of me before I'm through, I'd better, right now at the start,introduce myself.
I'm Molly Morganthau, day operator in the telephone exchange atLongwood, New Jersey, twenty-three years old, dark, slim, and as for mylooks--well, put them down as medium and let it go at that. My name'sMorganthau because my father was a Polish Jew--a piece worker onpants--but my two front names, Mary McKenna, are after my mother, whowas from County Galway, Ireland. I was raised in an East Side tenement,but I went steady to the Grammar school and through the High and I'm notthrowing bouquets at myself when I say I made a good record. That's howI come to be nervy enough to write this story--but you'll see foryourself. Only just keep in mind that I'm more at home in front of aswitchboard than at a desk.
I've supported myself since I was sixteen, my father dying then, and mymother--God rest her blessed memory!--two years later. First I was in adepartment store and then in the Telephone Company. I haven't a relationin the country and if I had I wouldn't have asked a nickel off them. I'mthat kind, independent and--but that's enough about me.
Now for you to rightly get what I'm going to tell I'll have to beginwith a description of Longwood village and the country round about. I'vemade a sort of diagram--it isn't drawn to scale but it gives the generaleffect, all right--and with that and what I'll describe you can get anidea of the lay of the land, which you have to have to understandthings.
Longwood's in New Jersey, a real picturesque village of a thousandinhabitants. It's a little over an hour from New York by the main lineand here and there round it are country places, mostly fine ones ownedby rich people. There are some farms too, and along the railway and theturnpike are other villages. My exchange is the central office for agood radius of country, taking in Azalea, twenty-five miles above us onthe main line, and running its wires out in a big circle to thescattered houses and the crossroad settlements. It's on Main Street,opposite the station, and from my chair at the switchboard I can see theplatform and the trains as they come down from Cherry Junction or upfrom New York. It's sixty miles from Longwood to the Junction where youget the branch line that goes off to the North, stopping at otherstations, mostly for the farm people, and where, when you get toHazelmere, you can connect with an express for Philadelphia. Also youcan keep right on from the Junction and get to Philadelphia that way,which is easier, having no changes and better trains.
When I was first transferred from New York--it's over two years now--Ithought I'd die of the lonesomeness of it. At night, looking out of mywindow--I lived over Galway's Elite Millinery Parlors on LincolnStreet--across those miles and miles of country with a few lights dottedhere and there, I felt like I was cast on a desert island. After a whileI got used to it and that first spring when the woods began to get afaint greenish look and I'd wake up and hear birds twittering in theelms along the street--hold on! I'm getting sidetracked. It's going tobe hard at first to keep myself out, but just be patient, I'll do itbetter as I go along.
The county turnpike goes through Longwood, and then sweeps away over theopen country between the estates and the farms and now and then avillage--Huntley, Latourette, Corona--strung out along it like beads ona string. A hundred and fifty miles off it reaches Bloomington, a bigtown with hotels and factories and a jail. About twenty miles before itgets to Bloomington it crosses the branch line near Cresset's Farm.There's a little sort of station there--just an open shed--calledCresset's Crossing, built for the Cresset Farm people, who own a gooddeal of land in that vicinity. Not far from Cresset's Crossing, about ahalf mile apart, the Riven Rock Road from the Junction and the FirehillRoad from Jack Reddy's estate run into the turnpike.
This is the place, I guess, where I'd better tell about Jack Reddy, whowas such an important figure in the Hesketh mystery and who--I get rednow when I write it--was such an important figure to me.
A good ways back--about the time of the Revolution--the Reddy familyowned most of the country round here. Bit by bit they sold it off tillin old Mr. Reddy's time--Jack's father--all they had left was theFirehill property and Hochalaga Lake, a big body of water, back in thehills beyond Huntley. Firehill is an old-fashioned, stone house, builtby Mr. Reddy's grandfather. It got its name from a grove of maples onthe top of a mound that in the autumn used to turn red and orange andlook like the hillock was in a blaze. The name, they say, came from theIndian days and so did Hochalaga, though what that stands for I don'tknow. The Reddys had had lots of offers for the lake but never wouldsell it. They had a sort of little shack there and before Jack's time,when there were no automobiles, used to make horseback excursions toHochalaga and stay for a few days. After the old people died and Jackcame into the property everybody thought he'd sell the lake--severalparties were after it for a summer resort--but he refused them all, hadthe shack built over into an up-to-date bungalow, and through the summerwould have guests down from town, spending week-ends out there.
Now I'm telling everything truthful, for that's what I set out to do,and if you think I'm a fool you're welcome to and no back talk fromme--but I was crazy about Jack Reddy. Not that he ever gave me cause;he's not that kind and neither am I. And let me say right here thatthere's not a soul ever knew it, he least of all. I guess no one wouldhave been more surprised than the owner of Firehill if he'd known thatthe Longwood telephone girl most had heart failure every time he passedthe window of the Exchange.
I will say, to excuse myself, that there's few girls who wouldn't haveput their hats straight and walked their prettiest when they saw himcoming. Gee--he was a good looker! Like those advertisements for collarsand shirts you see in the back of the magazines--you know the ones. Butit wasn't that that got me. It was his ways, always polite, never fresh.If he'd meet me in the street he'd raise his hat as if I was the Queenof Sheba. And there wasn't any hanging round my switchboard and askingme to make dates for dinner in town. He was always jolly, but--a girl ina telephone exchange gets to know a lot--he was always a gentleman.
He lived at Firehill--forty miles from Longwood--with two old servants,David Gilsey and his wife, who'd been with his mother and just doted onhim. But everybody liked him. There wasn't but one criticism I everheard passed on him and that was that he had a violent temper. Casey,his chauffeur, told a story in the village of how one day, when theywere passing a farm, they saw an Italian laborer prod a horse with apitchfork. Before he knew, Mr. Reddy was out of the car and over thefence and mashing the life out of that dago. It took Casey and thefarmer to pull him off and they thought the dago'd be killed before theycould.
There was talk in Longwood that he hadn't much money--much, the way theReddys had always had it--and was going to study law for a living. Buthe must have had some, for he kept up the house, and had two motors, onejust a common roadster and the other a long gray racing car that he'dlet out on the turnpike till he was twice arrested and once ran over adog.
My, how well I got to know that car! When I first came I only saw it atlong intervals. Then--just as if luck was on my side--I began to see itoftener and oftener, slowing down as it came along Main Street, swinginground the corner, jouncing across the tracks, and dropping out of sightbehind the houses at the head of Maple Lane.
What's bringing Jack Reddy in this long way so often? people would sayat first.
Then, after a while, when they'd see the gray car, they'd look sly ateach other and wink.
There's one good thing about having a crush on a party that's neverthought any more about you than if you were the peg he hangs his haton--it doesn't hurt so bad when he falls in love with his own kind ofgirl.
And that brings me--as if I was in the gray car speeding down MapleLane--to Mapleshade and the Fowlers and Sylvia Hesketh.