MIDNIGHT IN BEAUCHAMP ROW
By Anna Katharine Green
(Mrs. Charles Rohlfs)
Copyright, 1895, by American Press Association
It was the last house in Beauchamp Row, and it stood several rods away
from its nearest neighbor. It was a pretty house in the daytime, but owing
to its deep, sloping roof and small bediamonded windows it had a lonesome
look at night, notwithstanding the crimson hall-light which shone through
the leaves of its vine-covered doorway.
Ned Chivers lived in it with his six months' married bride, and as he was
both a busy fellow and a gay one there were many evenings when pretty
Letty Chivers sat alone until near midnight.
She was of an uncomplaining spirit, however, and said little, though there
were times when both the day and evening seemed very long and married
life not altogether the paradise she had expected.
On this evening—a memorable evening for her, the twenty-fourth of
December, 1894—she had expected her husband to remain with her, for
it was not only Christmas eve, but the night when, as manager of a large
manufacturing concern, he brought up from New York the money with which to
pay off the men on the next working day, and he never left her when there
was any unusual amount of money in the house. But from the first glimpse
she had of him coming up the road she knew she was to be disappointed in
this hope, and, indignant, alarmed almost, at the prospect of a lonesome
evening under these circumstances, she ran hastily down to the gate to
meet him, crying:
"Oh, Ned, you look so troubled I know you have only come home for a
hurried supper. But you cannot leave me to-night. Tennie" (their only
maid) "has gone for a holiday, and I never can stay in this house alone
with all that." She pointed to the small bag he carried, which, as she
knew, was filled to bursting with bank notes.
He certainly looked troubled. It is hard to resist the entreaty in a young
bride's uplifted face. But this time he could not help himself, and he
"I am dreadful sorry, but I must ride over to Fairbanks to-night. Mr.
Pierson has given me an imperative order to conclude a matter of business
there, and it is very important that it should be done. I should lose my
position if I neglected the matter, and no one but Hasbrouck and Suffern
knows that we keep the money in the house. I have always given out that I
intrusted it to Hale's safe over night."
"But I cannot stand it," she persisted. "You have never left me on these
nights. That is why I let Tennie go. I will spend the evening at The
Larches, or, better still, call in Mr. and Mrs. Talcott to keep me
But her husband did not approve of her going out or of her having company.
The Larches was too far away, and as for Mr. and Mrs. Talcott, they were
meddlesome people, whom he had never liked; besides, Mrs. Talcott was
delicate, and the night threatened storm. It seemed hard to subject her to
this ordeal, and he showed that he thought so by his manner, but, as
circumstances were, she would have to stay alone, and he only hoped she
would be brave and go to bed like a good girl, and think nothing about the
money, which he would take care to put away in a very safe place.
"Or," said he, kissing her downcast face, "perhaps you would rather hide
it yourself; women always have curious ideas about such things."
"Yes, let me hide it," she murmured. "The money, I mean, not the bag.
Every one knows the bag. I should never dare to leave it in that." And
begging him to unlock it, she began to empty it with a feverish haste that
rather alarmed him, for he surveyed her anxiously and shook his head as if
he dreaded the effects of this excitement upon her.
But as he saw no way of averting it he confined himself to using such
soothing words as were at his command, and then, humoring her weakness,
helped her to arrange the bills in the place she had chosen, and
restuffing the bag with old receipts till it acquired its former
dimensions, he put a few bills on top to make the whole look natural, and,
laughing at her white face, relocked the bag and put the key back in his
"There, dear; a notable scheme and one that should relieve your mind
entirely!" he cried. "If any one should attempt burglary in my absence and
should succeed in getting into a house as safely locked as this will be
when I leave it, then trust to their being satisfied when they see this
booty, which I shall hide where I always hide it—in the cupboard
over my desk."
"And when will you be back?" she murmured, trembling in spite of herself
at these preparations.
"By one o'clock if possible. Certainly by two."
"And our neighbors go to bed at ten," she murmured. But the words were
low, and she was glad he did not hear them, for if it was his duty to obey
the orders he had received, then it was her duty to meet the position in
which it left her as bravely as she could.
At supper she was so natural that his face rapidly brightened, and it was
with quite an air of cheerfulness that he rose at last to lock up the
house and make such preparations as were necessary for his dismal ride
over the mountains to Fairbanks. She had the supper dishes to wash up in
Tennie's absence, and as she was a busy little housewife she found herself
singing a snatch of song as she passed back and forth from dining-room to
kitchen. He heard it, too, and smiled to himself as he bolted the windows
on the ground floor and examined the locks of the three lower doors, and
when he finally came into the kitchen with his greatcoat on to give her
his final kiss, he had but one parting injunction to urge, and that was
that she should lock the front door after him and then forget the whole
matter till she heard his double knock at midnight.
She smiled and held up her ingenuous face.
"Be careful of yourself," she murmured. "I hate this dark ride for you,
and on such a night too." And she ran with him to the door to look out.
"It is certainly very dark," he responded, "but I'm to have one of Brown's
safest horses. Do not worry about me. I shall do well enough, and so will
you, too, or you are not the plucky little woman I have always thought
She laughed, but there was a choking sound in her voice that made him look
at her again. But at sight of his anxiety she recovered herself, and
pointing to the clouds said earnestly:
"It is going to snow. Be careful as you ride by the gorge, Ned; it is very
deceptive there in a snowstorm."
But he vowed that it would not snow before morning, and giving her one
final embrace he dashed down the path toward Brown's livery stable. "Oh,
what is the matter with me?" she murmured to herself as his steps died out
in the distance. "I never knew I was such a coward." And she paused for a
moment, looking up and down the road, as if in despite of her husband's
command she had the desperate idea of running away to some neighbor.
But she was too loyal for that, and smothering a sigh she retreated into
the house. As she did so the first flakes fell of the storm that was not
to have come till morning.
It took her an hour to get her kitchen in order, and nine o'clock struck
before she was ready to sit down. She had been so busy she had not noticed
how the wind had increased or how rapidly the snow was falling. But when
she went to the front door for another glance up and down the road she
started back, appalled at the fierceness of the gale and at the great pile
of snow that had already accumulated on the doorstep.
Too delicate to breast such a wind, she saw herself robbed of her last
hope of any companionship, and sighing heavily she locked and bolted the
door for the night and went back into her little sitting-room, where a
great fire was burning. Here she sat down, and determined, now that she
must pass the evening alone, to do it as cheerfully as possible, and so
began to sew. "Oh, what a Christmas eve!" she thought, and a picture of
other homes rose before her eyes, homes in which husbands sat by wives and
brothers by sisters, and a great wave of regret poured over her and a
longing for something, she hardly dared say what, lest her unhappiness
should acquire a sting that would leave traces beyond the passing moment.
The room in which she sat was the only one on the ground floor except the
dining-room and kitchen. It therefore was used both as parlor and
sitting-room, and held not only her piano, but her husband's desk.
Communicating with it was the tiny dining-room. Between the two, however,
was an entry leading to a side entrance. A lamp was in this entry, and she
had left it burning, as well as the one in the kitchen, that the house
might look cheerful and as if all the family were at home.
She was looking toward this entry and wondering whether it was the mist
made by her tears that made it look so dismally dark to her when there
came a faint sound from the door at its further end.
Knowing that her husband must have taken peculiar pains with the
fastenings of this door, as it was the one toward the woods and therefore
most accessible to wayfarers, she sat where she was, with all her
faculties strained to listen. But no further sound came from that
direction, and after a few minutes of silent terror she was allowing
herself to believe that she had been deceived by her fears when she
suddenly heard the same sound at the kitchen door, followed by a muffled
Frightened now in good earnest, but still alive to the fact that the
intruder was as likely to be a friend as a foe, she stepped to the door,
and with her hand on the lock stooped and asked boldly enough who was
there. But she received no answer, and more affected by this unexpected
silence than by the knock she had heard she recoiled farther and farther
till not only the width of the kitchen, but the dining-room also, lay
between her and the scene of her alarm, when to her utter confusion the
noise shifted again to the side of the house, and the door she thought so
securely fastened, swung violently open as if blown in by a fierce gust,
and she saw precipitated into the entry the burly figure of a man covered
with snow and shaking with the violence of the storm that seemed at once
to fill the house.
Her first thought was that it was her husband come back, but before she
could clear her eyes from the cloud of snow which had entered with him he
had thrown off his outer covering and she found herself face to face with
a man in whose powerful frame and cynical visage she saw little to comfort
her and much to surprise and alarm.
"Ugh!" was his coarse and rather familiar greeting. "A hard night, missus!
Enough to drive any man indoors. Pardon the liberty, but I couldn't wait
for you to lift the latch; the wind drove me right in."
"Was—was not the door locked?" she feebly asked, thinking he must
have staved it in with his foot, that looked only too well fitted for such
"Not much," he chuckled. "I s'pose you're too hospitable for that." And
his eyes passed from her face to the comfortable firelight shining through
"Is it refuge you want?" she demanded, suppressing as much as possible all
signs of fear.
"Sure, missus—what else! A man can't live in a gale like that,
specially after a tramp of twenty miles or more. Shall I shut the door for
you?" he asked, with a mixture of bravado and good nature that frightened
her more and more.
"I will shut it," she replied, with a half notion of escaping this
sinister stranger by a flight through the night.
But one glance into the swirling snow-storm deterred her, and making the
best of the alarming situation, she closed the door, but did not lock it,
being more afraid now of what was inside the house than of anything left
to threaten her from without.
The man, whose clothes were dripping with water, watched her with a
cynical smile, and then, without any invitation, entered the dining-room,
crossed it and moved toward the kitchen fire.
"Ugh! ugh! But it is warm here!" he cried, his nostrils dilating with an
animal-like enjoyment that in itself was repugnant to her womanly
delicacy. "Do you know, missus, I shall have to stay here all night? Can't
go out in that gale again; not such a fool." Then with a sly look at her
trembling form and white face he insinuatingly added, "All alone, missus?"
The suddenness with which this was put, together with the leer that
accompanied it, made her start. Alone? Yes, but should she acknowledge it?
Would it not be better to say that her husband was up-stairs. The man
evidently saw the struggle going on in her mind, for he chuckled to
himself and called out quite boldly:
"Never mind, missus; it's all right. Just give me a bit of cold meat and a
cup of tea or something, and we'll be very comfortable together. You're a
slender slip of a woman to be minding a house like this. I'll keep you
company if you don't mind, leastwise until the storm lets up a bit, which
ain't likely for some hours to come. Rough night, missus, rough night."
"I expect my husband home at any time," she hastened to say. And thinking
she saw a change in the man's countenance at this she put on quite an air
of sudden satisfaction and bounded toward the front of the house. "There!
I think I hear him now," she cried.
Her motive was to gain time, and if possible to obtain the opportunity of
shifting the money from the place where she had first put it into another
and safer one. "I want to be able," she thought, "of swearing that I have
no money with me in this house. If I can only get it into my apron I will
drop it outside the door into the snowbank. It will be as safe there as in
the bank it came from." And dashing into the sitting-room she made a feint
of dragging down a shawl from a screen, while she secretly filled her
skirt with the bills which had been put between some old pamphlets on the
She could hear the man grumbling in the kitchen, but he did not follow her
front, and taking advantage of the moment's respite from his none too
encouraging presence she unbarred the door and cheerfully called out her
The ruse was successful. She was enabled to fling the notes where the
falling flakes would soon cover them from sight, and feeling more
courageous, now that the money was out of the house, she went slowly back,
saying she had made a mistake, and that it was the wind she had heard.
The man gave a gruff but knowing guffaw and then resumed his watch over
her, following her steps as she proceeded to set him out a meal, with a
persistency that reminded her of a tiger just on the point of springing.
But the inviting look of the viands with which she was rapidly setting the
table soon distracted his attention, and allowing himself one grunt of
satisfaction, he drew up a chair and set himself down to what to him was
evidently a most savory repast.
"No beer? No ale? Nothing o' that sort, eh? Don't keep a bar?" he growled,
as his teeth closed on a huge hunk of bread.
She shook her head, wishing she had a little cold poison bottled up in a
"Nothing but tea," she smiled, astonished at her own ease of manner in the
presence of this alarming guest.
"Then let's have that," he grumbled, taking the bowl she handed him, with
an odd look that made her glad to retreat to the other side of the room.
"Jest listen to the howling wind," he went on between the huge mouthfuls
of bread and cheese with which he was gorging himself. "But we're very
comfortable, we two! We don't mind the storm, do we?"
Shocked by his familiarity and still more moved by the look of mingled
inquiry and curiosity with which his eyes now began to wander over the
walls and cupboards, she took an anxious step toward the side of the house
looking toward her neighbors, and lifting one of the shades, which had all
been religiously pulled down, she looked out. A swirl of snow-flakes alone
confronted her. She could neither see her neighbors, nor could she be seen
by them. A shout from her to them would not be heard. She was as
completely isolated as if the house stood in the center of a desolate
"I have no trust but in God," she murmured as she came from the window.
And, nerved to meet her fate, she crossed to the kitchen.
It was now half-past ten. Two hours and a half must elapse before her
husband could possibly arrive.
She set her teeth at the thought and walked resolutely into the room.
"Are you done?" she asked.
"I am, ma'am," he leered. "Do you want me to wash the dishes? I kin, and I
will." And he actually carried his plate and cup to the sink, where he
turned the water upon them with another loud guffaw.
"If only his fancy would take him into the pantry," she thought, "I could
shut and lock the door upon him and hold him prisoner till Ned gets back."
But his fancy ended its flight at the sink, and before her hopes had fully
subsided he was standing on the threshold of the sitting-room door.
"It's pretty here," he exclaimed, allowing his eye to rove again over
every hiding-place within sight. "I wonder now"—He stopped. His
glance had fallen on the cupboard over her husband's desk.
"Well?" she asked, anxious to break the thread of his thought, which was
only too plainly mirrored in his eager countenance.
He started, dropped his eyes, and turning looked at her with a momentary
fierceness. But, as she did not let her own glance quail, but continued to
look at him with what she meant for a smile on her pale lips, he subdued
this outward manifestation of passion, and, chuckling to hide his
embarrassment, began backing into the entry, leering in evident enjoyment
of the fears he caused, with what she felt was a most horrible smile. Once
in the hall, he hesitated, however, for a long time; then he slowly went
toward the garment he had dropped on entering and stooping, drew from
underneath its folds a wicked-looking stick. Giving a kick to the coat,
which sent it into a remote corner, he bestowed upon her another smile,
and still carrying the stick went slowly and reluctantly away into the
"Oh, God Almighty, help me!" was her prayer.
There was nothing for her to do now but endure, so throwing herself into a
chair, she tried to calm the beating of her heart and summon up courage
for the struggle which she felt was before her. That he had come to rob
and only waited to take her off her guard she now felt certain, and
rapidly running over in her mind all the expedients of self-defense
possible to one in her situation, she suddenly remembered the pistol which
Ned kept in his desk. Oh, why had she not thought of it before! Why had
she let herself grow mad with terror when here, within reach of her hand,
lay such a means of self-defense? With a feeling of joy (she had always
hated pistols before and scolded Ned when he bought this one) she started
to her feet and slid her hand into the drawer. But it came back empty. Ned
had taken the weapon away with him.
For a moment, a surge of the bitterest feeling she had ever experienced
passed over her; then she called reason to her aid and was obliged to
acknowledge that the act was but natural, and that from his standpoint he
was much more likely to need it than herself. But the disappointment,
coming so soon after hope, unnerved her, and she sank back in her chair,
giving herself up for lost.
How long she sat there with her eyes on the door, through which she
momentarily expected her assailant to reappear, she never knew. She was
conscious only of a sort of apathy that made movement difficult and even
breathing a task. In vain she tried to change her thoughts. In vain she
tried to follow her husband in fancy over the snow-covered roads and into
the gorge of the mountains. Imagination failed her at this point. Do what
she would, all was misty in her mind's eye, and she could not see that
wandering image. There was blankness between his form and her, and no life
or movement anywhere but here in the scene of her terror.
Her eyes were on a strip of rug that covered the entry floor, and so
strange was the condition of her mind that she found herself mechanically
counting the tassels that finished its edge, growing wroth over one that
was worn, till she hated that sixth tassel and mentally determined that if
she ever outlived this night she would strip them all off and be done with
The wind had lessened, but the air had grown cooler and the snow made a
sharp sound where it struck the panes. She felt it falling, though she had
cut off all view of it. It seemed to her that a pall was settling over the
world and that she would soon be smothered under its folds. Meanwhile no
sound came from the kitchen, only that dreadful sense of a doom creeping
upon her—a sense that grew in intensity till she found herself
watching for the shadow of that lifted stick on the wall of the entry, and
almost imagined she saw the tip of it appearing, when without any
premonition, that fatal side door again blew in and admitted another man
of so threatening an aspect that she succumbed instantly before him and
forgot all her former fears in this new terror.
The second intruder was a negro of powerful frame and lowering aspect, and
as he came for-ward and stood in the doorway there was observable in his
fierce and desperate countenance no attempt at the insinuation of the
other, only a fearful resolution that made her feel like a puppet before
him, and drove her, almost without her volition, to her knees.
"Money? Is it money you want?" was her desperate greeting. "If so, here's
my purse and here are my rings and watch. Take them and go."
But the stolid wretch did not even stretch out his hands. His eyes went
beyond her, and the mingled anxiety and resolve which he displayed would
have cowed a stouter heart than that of this poor woman.
"Keep de trash," he growled. "I want de company's money. You 've got it—two
thousand dollars. Show me where it is, that's all, and I won't trouble you
long after I close on it."
"But it's not in the house," she cried. "I swear it is not in the house.
Do you think Mr. Chivers would leave me here alone with two thousand
dollars to guard?"
But the negro, swearing that she lied, leaped into the room, and tearing
open the cupboard above her husband's desk, seized the bag from the corner
where they had put it.
"He brought it in this," he muttered, and tried to force the bag open, but
finding this impossible he took out a heavy knife and cut a big hole in
its side. Instantly there fell out the pile of old receipts with which
they had stuffed it, and seeing these he stamped with rage, and flinging
them in one great handful at her rushed to the drawers below, emptied
them, and, finding nothing, attacked the bookcase.
"The money is somewhere here. You can't fool me," he yelled. "I saw the
spot your eyes lit on when I first came into the room. Is it behind these
books?" he growled, pulling them out and throwing them helter-skelter over
the floor. "Women is smart in the hiding business. Is it behind these
books, I say?"
They had been, or rather had been placed between the books, but she had
taken them away, as we know, and he soon began to realise that his search
was bringing him nothing, for leaving the bookcase he gave the books one
kick, and seizing her by the arm, shook her with a murderous glare on his
strange and distorted features.
"Where's the money?" he hissed. "Tell me, or you are a goner."
He raised his heavy fist. She crouched and all seemed over, when, with a
rush and cry, a figure dashed between them and he fell, struck down by the
very stick she had so long been expecting to see fall upon her own head.
The man who had been her terror for hours had at the moment of need acted
as her protector.
She must have fainted, but if so, her unconsciousness was but momentary,
for when she again recognized her surroundings she found the tramp still
standing over her adversary.
"I hope you don't mind, ma'am," he said, with an air of humbleness she
certainly had not seen in him before, "but I think the man's dead." And he
stirred with his foot the heavy figure before him.
"Oh, no, no, no!" she cried. "That would be too fearful. He's shocked,
stunned; you cannot have killed him."
But the tramp was persistent. "I'm 'fraid I have," he said. "I done it
before, and it's been the same every time. But I couldn't see a man of
that color frighten a lady like you. My supper was too warm in me, ma'am.
Shall I throw him outside the house?"
"Yes," she said, and then, "No; let us first be sure there is no life in
him." And, hardly knowing what she did, she stooped down and peered into
the glassy eyes of the prostrate man.
Suddenly she turned pale—no, not pale, but ghastly, and cowering
back, shook so that the tramp, into whose features a certain refinement
had passed since he had acted as her protector, thought she had discovered
life in those set orbs, and was stooping down to make sure that this was
so, when he saw her suddenly lean forward and, impetuously plunging her
hand into the negro's throat, tear open the shirt and give one look at his
It was white.
"O God! O God!" she moaned, and lifting the head in her two hands she gave
the motionless features a long and searching look. "Water!" she cried.
"Bring water." But before the now obedient tramp could respond, she had
torn off the woolly wig disfiguring the dead man's head, and seeing the
blond curls beneath had uttered such a shriek that it rose above the gale
and was heard by her distant neighbors.
It was the head and hair of her husband.
They found out afterwards that he had contemplated this theft for months,
that each and every precaution possible to a successful issue to this most
daring undertaking had been made use of and that but for the unexpected
presence in the house of the tramp, he would doubtless have not only
extorted the money from his wife, but have so covered up the deed by a
plausible alibi as to have retained her confidence and that of his
Whether the tramp killed him out of sympathy for the defenseless woman or
in rage at being disappointed in his own plans has never been determined.
Mrs. Chivers herself thinks he was actuated by a rude sort of gratitude.