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Geraldine Bonner
The Girl at Central


Poor Sylvia Hesketh! Even now, after this long time, I can't think of it without a shudder, without a comeback of the horror of those days after the murder. You remember it – the Hesketh mystery? And mystery it surely was, baffling, as it did, the police and the populace of the whole state. 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 of it – at five o'clock sitting with her mother taking tea in the library at Mapleshade and that same night found dead – murdered – by the side of a lonesome 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 a good 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 at Longwood, New Jersey, twenty-three years old, dark, slim, and as for my looks – well, put them down as "medium" and let it go at that. My name's Morganthau because my father was a Polish Jew – a piece worker on pants – but my two front names, Mary McKenna, are after my mother, who was 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 not throwing bouquets at myself when I say I made a good record. That's how I come to be nervy enough to write this story – but you'll see for yourself. Only just keep in mind that I'm more at home in front of a switchboard than at a desk.

I've supported myself since I was sixteen, my father dying then, and my mother – God rest her blessed memory! – two years later. First I was in a department store and then in the Telephone Company. I haven't a relation in the country and if I had I wouldn't have asked a nickel off them. I'm that 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 begin with a description of Longwood village and the country round about. I've made a sort of diagram – it isn't drawn to scale but it gives the general effect, all right – and with that and what I'll describe you can get an idea of the lay of the land, which you have to have to understand things.

Longwood's in New Jersey, a real picturesque village of a thousand inhabitants. It's a little over an hour from New York by the main line and here and there round it are country places, mostly fine ones owned by rich people. There are some farms too, and along the railway and the turnpike are other villages. My exchange is the central office for a good radius of country, taking in Azalea, twenty-five miles above us on the main line, and running its wires out in a big circle to the scattered houses and the crossroad settlements. It's on Main Street, opposite the station, and from my chair at the switchboard I can see the platform and the trains as they come down from Cherry Junction or up from New York. It's sixty miles from Longwood to the Junction where you get the branch line that goes off to the North, stopping at other stations, mostly for the farm people, and where, when you get to Hazelmere, you can connect with an express for Philadelphia. Also you can 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 – I thought I'd die of the lonesomeness of it. At night, looking out of my window – I lived over Galway's Elite Millinery Parlors on Lincoln Street – across those miles and miles of country with a few lights dotted here and there, I felt like I was cast on a desert island. After a while I got used to it and that first spring when the woods began to get a faint greenish look and I'd wake up and hear birds twittering in the elms along the street – hold on! I'm getting sidetracked. It's going to be hard at first to keep myself out, but just be patient, I'll do it better as I go along.

The county turnpike goes through Longwood, and then sweeps away over the open country between the estates and the farms and now and then a village – Huntley, Latourette, Corona – strung out along it like beads on a string. A hundred and fifty miles off it reaches Bloomington, a big town with hotels and factories and a jail. About twenty miles before it gets to Bloomington it crosses the branch line near Cresset's Farm. There's a little sort of station there – just an open shed – called Cresset's Crossing, built for the Cresset Farm people, who own a good deal of land in that vicinity. Not far from Cresset's Crossing, about a half mile apart, the Riven Rock Road from the Junction and the Firehill Road from Jack Reddy's estate run into the turnpike.

This is the place, I guess, where I'd better tell about Jack Reddy, who was such an important figure in the Hesketh mystery and who – I get red now when I write it – was such an important figure to me.

A good ways back – about the time of the Revolution – the Reddy family owned most of the country round here. Bit by bit they sold it off till in old Mr. Reddy's time – Jack's father – all they had left was the Firehill property and Hochalaga Lake, a big body of water, back in the hills beyond Huntley. Firehill is an old-fashioned, stone house, built by Mr. Reddy's grandfather. It got its name from a grove of maples on the top of a mound that in the autumn used to turn red and orange and look like the hillock was in a blaze. The name, they say, came from the Indian days and so did Hochalaga, though what that stands for I don't know. The Reddys had had lots of offers for the lake but never would sell it. They had a sort of little shack there and before Jack's time, when there were no automobiles, used to make horseback excursions to Hochalaga and stay for a few days. After the old people died and Jack came into the property everybody thought he'd sell the lake – several parties were after it for a summer resort – but he refused them all, had the shack built over into an up-to-date bungalow, and through the summer would 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 from me – 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 that there's not a soul ever knew it, he least of all. I guess no one would have been more surprised than the owner of Firehill if he'd known that the Longwood telephone girl most had heart failure every time he passed the window of the Exchange.

I will say, to excuse myself, that there's few girls who wouldn't have put their hats straight and walked their prettiest when they saw him coming. Gee – he was a good looker! Like those advertisements for collars and shirts you see in the back of the magazines – you know the ones. But it 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 Queen of Sheba. And there wasn't any hanging round my switchboard and asking me to make dates for dinner in town. He was always jolly, but – a girl in a 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 on him. But everybody liked him. There wasn't but one criticism I ever heard 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 they were passing a farm, they saw an Italian laborer prod a horse with a pitchfork. Before he knew, Mr. Reddy was out of the car and over the fence and mashing the life out of that dago. It took Casey and the farmer to pull him off and they thought the dago'd be killed before they could.

There was talk in Longwood that he hadn't much money – much, the way the Reddys had always had it – and was going to study law for a living. But he must have had some, for he kept up the house, and had two motors, one just a common roadster and the other a long gray racing car that he'd let out on the turnpike till he was twice arrested and once ran over a dog.

My, how well I got to know that car! When I first came I only saw it at long intervals. Then – just as if luck was on my side – I began to see it oftener and oftener, slowing down as it came along Main Street, swinging round the corner, jouncing across the tracks, and dropping out of sight behind the houses at the head of Maple Lane.

"What's bringing Jack Reddy in this long way so often?" people would say at first.

Then, after a while, when they'd see the gray car, they'd look sly at each other and wink.

There's one good thing about having a crush on a party that's never thought any more about you than if you were the peg he hangs his hat on – it doesn't hurt so bad when he falls in love with his own kind of girl.

And that brings me – as if I was in the gray car speeding down Maple Lane – to Mapleshade and the Fowlers and Sylvia Hesketh.


About a mile from Longwood, standing among ancient, beautiful trees, is Mapleshade, Dr. Dan Fowler's place.

It was once a farmhouse, over a century old, but two and a half years ago when Dr. Fowler bought it he fixed it all up, raised the roof, built on a servants' wing and a piazza with columns and turned the farm buildings into a garage. Artists and such people say it's the prettiest place in this part of the State, and it certainly is a picture, especially in summer, with the lawns mown close as velvet and the flower-beds like bits of carpet laid out to air.

The Doctor bought a big bit of land with it – I don't know how many hundred acres – so the house, though it's not far from the village, is kind of secluded and shut away. You get to it by Maple Lane, a little winding road that runs between trees caught together with wild grape and Virginia creeper. In summer they're like green walls all draped over with the vines and in winter they turn into a rustling gray hedge, woven so close it's hard to see through. About ten minutes' walk from the gate of Mapleshade there's a pine that was struck by lightning and stands up black and bare.

When the house was finished the Doctor, who was a bachelor, married Mrs. Hesketh, a widow lady accounted rich, and he and she came there as bride and groom with her daughter, Sylvia Hesketh. I hadn't come yet, but from what I've heard, there was gossip about them from the start. What I can say from my own experience is that I'd hardly got my grip unpacked when I began to hear of the folks at Mapleshade.

They lived in great style with a housekeeper, a butler and a French maid for the ladies. In the garage were three automobiles, Mrs. Fowler's limousine, the Doctor's car and a dandy little roadster that belonged to Miss Sylvia. Neither she nor the Doctor bothered much with the chauffeur. They left him to take Mrs. Fowler round and drove themselves, the joke going that if Miss Sylvia ever went broke she could qualify for a chauffeur's job.

After a while the story came out that it wasn't Mrs. Fowler who was so rich but Miss Hesketh. The late Mr. Hesketh had only left his wife a small fortune, willing the rest – millions, it was said – to his daughter. She was a minor – nineteen – and the trustees of the estate allowed her a lot of money for her maintenance, thirty thousand a year they had it in Longwood.

In spite of the grand way they lived there wasn't much company at Mapleshade. Anne Hennessey, the housekeeper, told me Mrs. Fowler was so dead in love with her husband she didn't want the bother of entertaining people. And the Doctor liked a quiet life. He'd been a celebrated surgeon in New York but had retired only for consultations and special cases now and again. He was very good to the people round about, and would come in and help when our little Dr. Pease, or Dr. Graham, at the Junction, were up against something serious. I'll never forget when Mick Donahue, the station agent's boy, got run over by Freight No. 22. But I'm sidetracked again. Anyhow, the Doctor amputated the leg and little Mick's stumping round on a wooden pin almost as good as ever.

But even so they weren't liked much. They held their heads very high, Mrs. Fowler driving through the village like it was Fifth Avenue, sending the chauffeur into the shops and not at all affable to the tradespeople. The Doctor wouldn't trouble to give you so much as a nod, just stride along looking straight ahead. When the story got about that he'd lost most of the money he'd made doctoring I didn't bear any resentment, seeing it was worry that made him that way.

But Miss Sylvia was made on a different measure. My, but she was a winner! Even after I knew what brought Jack Reddy in from Firehill so often I couldn't be set against her. Jealous I might be of a girl like myself, but not of one who was the queen bee of the hive.

She was a beauty from the ground up – a blonde with hair like corn silk that she wore in a loose, fluffy knot with little curly ends hanging on her neck. Her face was pure pink and white, the only dark thing in it her big brown eyes, that were as clear and soft as a baby's. And she was a great dresser, always the latest novelty, and looking prettier in each one. Mrs. Galway'd say to me, with her nose caught up, scornful,

"To my mind it's not refined to advertise your wealth on your back."

But I didn't worry, knowing Mrs. Galway'd have advertised hers if she'd had the wealth or a decent shaped back to advertise it on, which she hadn't, being round-shouldered.

There was none of the haughty ways of her parents about Miss Sylvia. When she'd come into the exchange to send a call (a thing that puzzled me first but I soon caught on) she'd always stop and have a pleasant word with me. On bright afternoons I'd see her pass on horseback, straight as an arrow, with a man's hat on her golden hair. She'd always have a smile for everyone, touching her hat brim real sporty with the end of her whip. Even when she was in her motor, speeding down Main Street, she'd give you a hail as jolly as if she was your college chum.

Sometimes she'd be alone but generally there was a man along. There were a lot of them hanging round her, which was natural, seeing she had everything to draw them like a candle drawing moths. They'd come and go from town and now and then stay over Sunday at the Longwood Inn – it's a swell little place done up in the Colonial style – and you'd see them riding and walking with her, very devoted. At first everybody thought her parents were agreeable to all the attention she was getting. It wasn't till the Mapleshade servants began to talk too much that we heard the Fowlers, especially the Doctor, didn't like it.


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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «The Girl at Central», автора Geraldine Bonner. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанрам: «Зарубежные детективы», «Классические детективы».. Книга «The Girl at Central» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!