ANNA KATHERINE GREEN
By ANNA KATHARINE GREEN
Author of "The House of the Whispering Pines" "Initials Only"
"That Affair Next Door" Etc.
With Four Illustrations By THOMAS FOGARTY
THE WOMAN IN PURPLE
WHERE IS BELA?
A high and narrow gate of carefully joined boards standing ajar
in a fence of the same construction! What is there in this to
rouse a whole neighbourhood and collect before it a group of
eager anxious hesitating people?
I will tell you.
This fence is no ordinary fence and this gate no ordinary gate;
nor is the fact of the latter standing a trifle open one to be
lightly regarded or taken an inconsiderate advantage of. For this
is Judge Ostrander's place and any one who knows Shelby or the
gossip of its suburbs knows that this house of his has not opened
its doors to any outsider man or woman for over a dozen years;
nor have his gates--in saying which I include the great one in
front--been seen in all that time to gape at any one's instance or
to stand unclosed to public intrusion no not for a moment. The
seclusion sought was absolute. The men and women who passed and
repassed this corner many times a day were as ignorant as the
townspeople in general of what lay behind the grey monotonous
exterior of the weather-beaten boards they so frequently brushed
against. The house was there of course--they all knew the house
or did once--but there were rumours (no one ever knew how they
originated) of another fence a second barrier standing a few
feet inside the first and similar to it in all respects even to
the gates which corresponded exactly with these outer and visible
ones and probably were just as fully provided with bolts and bars.
To be sure these were reports rather than acknowledged facts but
the possibility of their truth roused endless wonder and gave to
the eccentricities of this well-known man a mysterious
significance which lost little or nothing in the slow passage of
And now! in the freshness of this summer morning without warning
or any seeming reason for the change the strict habit of years
has been broken into and this gate of gates is not only standing
unlocked before their eyes but a woman--a stranger to the town as
her very act shows--has been seen to enter there!--to enter but
not come out; which means that she must still be inside and
possibly in the very presence of the judge.
Where is Bela? Why does he allow his errands--But it was Bela or
so they have been told who left this gate ajar ... he the awe
and terror of the town the enormous redoubtable close-mouthed
negro trusted as man is seldom trusted and faithful to his
trust yes up to this very hour as all must acknowledge in
spite of every temptation (and they had been many and alluring) to
disclose the secret of this home of which he was not the least
interesting factor. What has made him thus suddenly careless he
who has never been careless before? Money? A bribe from the woman
who had entered there?
Impossible to believe his virtue has always been so impeccable
his devotion to his strange and dominating master so sturdy and so
seemingly unaffected by time and chance!
Yet what else was there to believe? There stood the gate with the
pebble holding it away from the post; and here stood half the
neighbourhood staring at that pebble and at the all but invisible
crack it made where an opening had never been seen before in a
fascination which had for its motif not so much the knowledge
that these forbidden precincts had been invaded by a stranger as
that they were open to any intruding foot--that they themselves
if they had courage enough might go in just as this woman had
gone in and see--why what she is seeing now--the unknown
unguessed reason for all these mysteries;--the hidden treasure or
the hidden sorrow which would explain why he their first citizen
the respected even revered judge of their highest court should
make use of such precautions and show such unvarying determination
to bar out all comers from the place he called his home.
It had not always been so. Within the memory of many there it had
been an abode of cheer and good fellowship. Not a few of the men
and women now hesitating before its portals could boast of meals
taken at the judge's ample board and of evenings spent in
animated conversation in the great room where he kept his books
and did his writing.
But that was before his son left him in so unaccountable a manner;
before--yes all were agreed on this point--before that other
bitter ordeal of his middle age the trial and condemnation of the
man who had waylaid and murdered his best friend.
Though the effect of these combined sorrows had not seemed to be
immediate (one month had seen both); though a half-year had
elapsed before all sociability was lost in extreme self-
absorption and a full one before he took down the picket-fence
which had hitherto been considered a sufficient protection to his
simple grounds and put up these boards which had so completely
isolated him from the rest of the world it was evident enough to
the friends who recalled his look and step as he walked the
streets with Algernon Etheridge on one side and his brilliant
ever-successful son on the other that the change now observable
in him was due to the violent sundering of these two ties.
Affections so centred wreck the lives from which they are torn;
and Time which reconciles most men to their losses had failed to
reconcile him to his. Grief slowly settled into confirmed
melancholy and melancholy into the eccentricities of which I have
spoken and upon which I must now enlarge a trifle further in
order that the curiosity and subsequent action of the small group
of people in whom we are interested may be fully understood and
possibly in some degree pardoned.
Judge Ostrander was as I have certainly made you see a recluse
of the most uncompromising type; but he was such for only half his
time. From ten in the morning till five in the afternoon he came
and went like any other citizen fulfilling his judicial duties
with the same scrupulous care as formerly and with more
affability. Indeed he showed at times and often when it was
least expected a mellowness of temper quite foreign to him in his
early days. The admiration awakened by his fine appearance on the
bench was never marred now by those quick and rasping tones of an
easily disturbed temper which had given edge to his invective when
he stood as pleader in the very court where he now presided as
judge. But away from the bench once quit of the courthouse and
the town the man who attempted to accost him on his way to his
carriage or sought to waylay him at his own gate had need of all
his courage to sustain the rebuff his presumption incurred.
One more detail and I will proceed with my story.
The son a man of great ability who was making his way as a
journalist in another city had no explanation to give of his
father's peculiarities. Though he never came to Shelby--the
rupture between the two if rupture it were seeming to be
complete--there were many who had visited him in his own place of
business and put such questions concerning the judge and his
eccentric manner of living as must have provoked response had the
young man had any response to give. But he appeared to have none.
Either he was as ignorant as themselves of the causes which had
led to his father's habit of extreme isolation or he showed
powers of dissimulation hardly in accordance with the other traits
of his admirable character.
All of which closed inquiry in this direction but left the maw of
And unsatisfied it had remained up to this hour when through
accident--or was it treachery--the barrier to knowledge was down
and the question of years seemed at last upon the point of being
WAS HE LIVING?--WAS HE DEAD?
Meantime a fussy talkative man was endeavouring to impress the
rapidly collecting crowd with the advisability of their entering
all together and approaching the judge in a body.
"We can say that we felt it to be our dooty to follow this woman
in" he argued. "We don't know who she is or what her errand is.
She may mean harm; I've heard of such things and are we goin' to
see the judge in danger and do nothin'?"
"Oh the woman's all right" spoke up another voice. "She has a
child with her. Didn't you say she had a child with her Miss
"Tell us the whole story Miss Weeks. Some of us haven't heard it.
Then if it seems our duty as his neighbours and well-wishers to go
in we'll just go in."
The little woman towards whom this appeal--or shall I say command-
-was directed flushed a fine colour under so many eyes but
immediately began her ingenuous tale. She had already related it a
half dozen times into as many sympathising ears but she was not
one to shirk publicity for all her retiring manners and meekness
It was to this effect:
She was sitting in her front window sewing. (Everybody knew that
this window faced the end of the lane in which they were then
standing.) The blinds were drawn but not quite being held in just
the desired position by a string. Naturally she could see out
without being very plainly seen herself; and quite naturally too
since she had watched the same proceeding for years she had her
eyes on this gate when Bela prompt to the minute as he always
was issued forth on his morning walk to town for the day's
Always exact always in a hurry--knowing as he did that the judge
would not leave for court till his return--he had never in all
the eight years she had been sitting in that window making button-
holes shown any hesitation in his methodical relocking of the
gate and subsequent quick departure.
But this morning he had neither borne himself with his usual
spirit nor moved with his usual promptitude. Instead of stepping
at once into the lane he had lingered in the gate-way peering to
right and left and pushing the gravel aside with his foot in a way
so unlike himself that the moment he was out of sight she could
not help running down the lane to see if her suspicions were
And they were. Not only had he left the gate unlocked but he had
done so purposely. The movement he had made with his foot had been
done for the purpose of pushing into place a small pebble which
as all could see lay where it would best prevent the gate from
What could such treachery mean and what was her neighbourly duty
under circumstances so unparalleled? Should she go away or stop
and take one peep just to see that there really was another and
similar fence inside of this one? She had about decided that it
was only proper for her to enter and make sure that all was right
with the judge when she experienced that peculiar sense of being
watched with which all of us are familiar and turning quickly
round saw a woman looking at her from the road--a woman all in
purple even to the veil which hid her features. A little child was
with her and the two must have stepped into the road from behind
some of the bushes as neither of them were anywhere in sight when
she herself came running down from the corner.
It was enough to startle any one especially as the woman did not
speak but just stood silent and watchful till Miss Weeks in her
embarrassment began to edge away towards home in the hope that the
other would follow her example and so leave the place free for her
to return and take the little peep she had promised herself.
But before she had gone far she realised that the other was not
following her but was still standing in the same spot watching
her through a veil the like of which is not to be found in Shelby
and which in itself was enough to rouse a decent woman's
She was so amazed at this that she stepped back and attempted to
address the stranger. But before she had got much further than a
timid and hesitating Madam the woman roused into action possibly
by her interference made a quick gesture suggestive of impatience
if not rebuke and moving resolutely towards the gate Miss Weeks
had so indiscreetly left unguarded pushed it open and disappeared
within dragging the little child after her.
The audacity of this act perpetrated without apology before Miss
Weeks' very eyes was too much for that lady's equanimity. She
stopped stock-still and as she did so beheld the gate swing
heavily to and stop an inch from the post hindered as we know by
the intervening pebble. She had scarcely got over the shock of
this when plainly from the space beyond she heard a second
creaking noise then the swinging to of another gate followed
after a breathless moment of intense listening by a series of
more distant sounds which could only be explained by the
supposition that the house door had been reached opened and
"And you didn't follow?"
"I didn't dare."
"And she's in there still?"
"I haven't seen her come out."
"Then what's the matter with you?" called out a burly high-strung
woman stepping hastily from the group and laying her hand upon
the gate still standing temptingly ajar. "It's no time for
nonsense" she announced as she pushed it open and stepped
promptly in followed by the motley group of men and women who if
they lacked courage to lead certainly showed willingness enough
One glance and they felt their courage rewarded.
Rumour which so often deceives proved itself correct in this
case. A second gate confronted them exactly like the first even to
the point of being held open by a pebble placed against the post.
And a second fence also! built upon the same pattern as the one
they had just passed through; the two forming a double barrier as
mysterious to contemplate in fact as it had ever been in fancy. In
gazing at these fences and the canyon-like walk stretching between
them the band of curious invaders forgot their prime errand. Many
were for entering this path whose terminus they could not see for
the sharp turns it took in rounding either corner. Among them was
a couple of girls who had but one thought as was evinced by their
hurried whispers. "If it looks like this in the daytime what must
it be at night!" To which came the quick retort: "I've heard that
the judge walks here. Imagine it under the moon!"
But whatever the mysteries of the place a greater one awaited
them beyond and presently realising this they burst with one
accord through the second gate into the mass of greenery which
either from neglect or intention masked this side of the
Never before had they beheld so lawless a growth or a house so
completely lost amid vines and shrubbery. So unchecked had been
the spread of verdure from base to chimney that the impression
made by the indistinguishable mass was one of studied secrecy and
concealment. Not a window remained in view and had it not been
for some chance glimmers here and there where some small
unguarded portion of the enshrouded panes caught and reflected the
sunbeams they could not have told where they were located in
these once well-known walls.
Two solemn fir trees which were all that remained of an old-time
and famous group kept guard over the untended lawn adding their
suggestion of age and brooding melancholy to the air of desolation
infecting the whole place. One might be approaching a tomb for all
token that appeared of human presence. Even sound was lacking. It
was like a painted scene--a dream of human extinction.
Instinctively the women faltered and the men drew back; then the
very silence caused a sudden reaction and with one simultaneous
rush they made for the only entrance they saw and burst without
further ceremony into the house.
A common hall and common furnishings confronted them. They had
entered at the side and were evidently close upon the kitchen.
More they could not gather; for blocked as the doorway was by
their crowding figures the little light which sifted in over
their heads was not enough to show up details.
But it was even darker in the room towards which their determined
leader now piloted them. Here there was no light at all; or if
some stray glimmer forced its way through the network of leaves
swathing the outer walls it was of too faint a character to reach
the corners or even to make the furniture about them
Halting with one accord in what seemed to be the middle of the
uncarpeted floor they waited for some indication of a clear
passageway to the great room where the judge would undoubtedly be
found in conversation with his strange guest unless forewarned
by their noisy entrance he should have risen already to meet
them. In that case they might expect at any minute to see his tall
form emerging in anger upon them through some door at present
This possibility new to some but recognised from the first by
others fluttered the breasts of such as were not quite impervious
to a sense of their own presumption and as they stood in a close
group swaying from side to side in a vain endeavour to see their
way through the gloom before them the whimper of a child and the
muttered ejaculations of the men testified that the general
feeling was one of discontent which might very easily end in an
outburst of vociferous expression.
But the demon of curiosity holds fast and as soon as their eyes
had become sufficiently used to the darkness to notice the faint
line of light marking the sill of a door directly in front of
them they all plunged forward in spite of the fear I have
The woman of the harsh voice and self-satisfied demeanour who had
started them upon this adventure was still ahead; but even she
quailed when upon laying her hand upon the panel of the door she
was the first to reach she felt it to be cold and knew it to be
made not of wood but of iron. How great must be the treasure or
terrible the secret to make necessary such extraordinary
precautions! Was it for her to push open this door and so come
upon discoveries which--
But here her doubts were cut short by finding herself face to face
with a heavy curtain instead of a yielding door. The pressure of
the crowd behind had precipitated her past the latter into a small
vestibule which acted as an ante-chamber to the very room they
were in search of.
The shock restored her self-possession. Bracing herself she held
her place for a moment while she looked back with a finger laid
on her lip. The light was much better here and they could all see
both the move she made and the expression which accompanied it.
"Look at this!" she whispered pushing the curtain inward with a
Her hand had encountered no resistance. There was nothing between
them and the room beyond but a bit of drapery.
"Now hark all of you" fell almost soundlessly from her lips as
she laid her own ear against the curtain.
And they hearkened.
Not a murmur came from within not so much as the faintest rustle
of clothing or the flutter of a withheld breath. All was perfectly
still--too still. As the full force of this fact impressed itself
upon them a blankness settled over their features. The
significance of this undisturbed quiet was making itself felt. If
the two were there or if he were there alone they would
certainly hear some movement voluntary or involuntary--and they
could hear nothing. Was the woman gone? Had she found her way out
front while they approached from the rear? And the judge! Was he
gone also?--this man of inalterable habits--gone before Bela's
return--a thing he had not been known to do in the last twelve
years? No no this could not be. Yet even this supposition was
not so incredible as that he should still be here and SILENT. Men
like him do not hold their peace under a provocation so great as
the intrusion of a mob of strangers into a spot where he never
anticipated seeing anybody nor had seen anybody but his man Bela
for years. Soon they would hear his voice. It was not in nature
for him to be as quiet as this in face of such audacity.
Yet who could count upon the actions of an Ostrander or reckon
with the imperious whims of a man mysterious beyond all
precedent?--He may be there but silent or--
A single glance would settle all.
The woman drew the curtain.
Sunshine! A stream of it dazzling them almost to blindness and
sending them one and all pellmell back upon each other! However
dismal the approach here all was in brilliant light with every
evidence before them of busy life.
The room was not only filled but crammed with furniture. This
was the first thing they noticed; then as their blinking eyes
became accustomed to the glare and to the unexpected confusion of
tables and chairs and screens and standing receptacles for books
and pamphlets and boxes labelled and padlocked they beheld
something else; something which once seen held the eye from
further wandering and made the apprehensions from which they had
suffered sink into insignificance before a real and only too