Scattergood Baines twiddles his toes and pulls the strings to save a young woman's life, bring two lovers together and solve a baffling mystery!
Here's the first book publication of this classic 1940s hit magazine serial, featuring one of Kelland's signature, stand-up heroines.
Geraldine Quinton, heiress to the vast Quinton fortune, lived in the old Quinton mansion on the hill above Coldriver, Vermont with her frightened uncle (and guardian) Gaspar, his strangely dominating secretary, Hans Bannister—who rarely missed a chance to mention his admiration for Gerladine—and Woody, their giant manservant. Once there had been three Quinton brothers—her father, Melchior, and her two uncles, Balthazar and Gaspar—but when Geraldine was very young her father had died in an accident, and later her beloved uncle Balthazar had disappeared for reasons that were hushed up, and only Gaspar had been left to care for her.
Now, as her twenty-first birthday neared, Geraldine found herself surrounded by unnerving situations, and she begins to investigate each one:
Her uncle Gaspar has moved someone into a locked room down the hall from her own.
A former felon of polished elocution and unprepossessing appearance is spying on the mansion.
Hans Bannister is pressing her remorselessly to marry him.
A vicious pack of dogs is turned loose every night to guard the mansion grounds.
Gaspar keeps trying to limit her leaving the house.
But the more her investigations uncover, the greater the danger she finds herself in. Her uncle orders her to marry his secretary, and when she stands up to him and refuses, he tries to terrorize her into submission.
Then, just when things seem darkest, two rays of purest light serene enter her life. Scattergood Baines, the philosophical hardware store owner who seems to know everything that is happening in the town, takes an interest in her situation. And Dunker Gilson, a tall, gangling, overeducated geek who has failed at every job and business he has tried, arrives in Coldriver to take over the defunct local paper. Furthermore, Dunker seems to have genuinely and deeply fallen in love with Geraldine.
"I'd be willing to do almost anything to help. Because I love you," he told her simply.
"You would tie yourself to a girl by marrying her—just to help her out of a disagreeable situation—and then step out of her life?" Geraldine asked.
"That," Dunker replied, "is the project."
And for all his crusty exterior the gargantuan Mr. Baines seemed to have a soft heart and have come to regard her almost as a daughter, and he had sage advice as well.
"How d'ye calc'late a person'd make a will if he wanted to see to it somebuddy hoped he lived instid of died?" Scattergood asked. "How'd he do it, then?"
"I have no idea"—she was stumped—"I suppose anybody you leave money to, more or less wants to have you die so he can get it."
"But s'posin' sich a person was to will all his proppity, say, to the Coldriver Public Library, pervidin' and in case he was to die inside of two year from the date thereof; but if he was to live them twenty-four months it was to go to John Smith. Don't ye figger John 'ud be kind of careful of the feller's health durin' that period?"
Geraldine considered and pursed her lips. "I should think he would," she said.
Then following up another clue on her own, she discovers a quarter of a million dollars hidden in the unused basement furnace and knows with cold certainty she will be murdered before morning. Locked in the mansion, unable to escape, she lifts her chin and dares her Uncle do his worst. But she can’t help thinking of Dunker Gilson, who made her feel so safe and is usually Johnny on the spot, but now when she needs him most is nowhere to be seen.
And what could Scattergood Baines, a wheezing old man with nothing but suspicions. do to help her now, when he is far away in town, and she is held prisoner behind the locked doors and closed windows of the Quinton mansion?