THAT MAINWARING AFFAIR
I THE MAINWARINGS II FAIR OAKS III THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF HUGH MAINWARING IV A TERRIBLE AWAKENING V IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES VI THE INQUEST VII A LITTLE ROYAL VIII THE WEAVING OF THE WEB IX TANGLED THREADS X BEHIND THE SCENES XI SKIRMISHING XII X-RAYS XIII THEORIES, WISE AND OTHERWISE XIV THE EXIT OF SCOTT, THE SECRETARY XV MUTUAL SURPRISES XVI MUTUAL EXPLANATIONS XVII LOVE FINDS A WAY XVIII AN UNFORESEEN FOE XIX MUTUAL RECOGNITIONS XX OPENING FIRE XXI THE LAST THROW XXII SECESSION IN THE RANKS XXIII FLOTSAM AND JETSAM XXIV BETWEEN THE ACTS XXV RUN TO COVER XXVI MAINWARING VS. MAINWARING XXVII THE SILENT WITNESS
The fierce sunlight of a sultry afternoon in the early part of July forced its way through every crevice and cranny of the closely drawn shutters in the luxurious private offices of Mainwaring & Co., Stock Brokers, and slender shafts of light, darting here and there, lent a rich glow of color to the otherwise subdued tones of the elegant apartments.
A glance at the four occupants of one of these rooms, who had disposed themselves in various attitudes according to their individual inclinations, revealed the fact that three out of the four were Englishmen, while the fourth might have been denominated as a typical American from the professional class. Of rather slender form, with a face of rare sensitiveness and delicacy, and restless, penetrating eyes, his every movement indicated energy and alertness. On the present occasion he had little to say, but was engaged in listening attentively to the conversation of the others.
Beside a rosewood desk, whose belongings, arranged with mathematical precision, indicated the methodical business habits of its owner, sat Hugh Mainwaring, senior member of the firm of Mainwaring & Co., a man approaching his fiftieth birthday. His dress and manners, less pronouncedly English than those of the remaining two, betokened the polished man of the world as well as the shrewd financier. He wore an elegant business suit and his linen was immaculate; his hair, dark and slightly tinged with gray, was closely cut; his smoothly shaven face, less florid than those of his companions, was particularly noticeable on account of a pair of dark gray eyes, cold and calculating, and which had at times a steel-like glitter. Though an attractive face, it was not altogether pleasing; it was too sensuous, and indicated stubbornness and self-will rather than firmness or strength.
Half reclining upon a couch on the opposite side of the room, in an attitude more comfortable than graceful, leisurely smoking a fine Havana, was Ralph Mainwaring, of London, a cousin of the New York broker, who, at the invitation of the latter, was paying his first visit to the great western metropolis. Between the two cousins there were few points of resemblance. Both had the same cold, calculating gaze, which made one, subjected to its scrutiny, feel that he was being mentally weighed and measured and would, in all probability, be found lacking; but the Londoner possessed a more phlegmatic temperament. A year or two his cousin's junior, he looked considerably younger; as his hair and heavy English side whiskers were unmixed with gray and he was inclined to stoutness.
Seated near him, in an immense arm-chair which he filled admirably, was William Mainwaring Thornton, of London, also a guest of Hugh Mainwaring and distantly connected with the two cousins. He was the youngest of the three Englishmen and the embodiment of geniality. He was a blond of the purest type, and his beard, parted in the centre, was brushed back in two wavy, silken masses, while his clear blue eyes, beaming with kindliness and good-humor, had the frankness of a child's.
Hugh Mainwaring, the sole heir to the family estate, soon after the death of his father, some twenty-five years previous to this time, became weary of the monotony of his English homelife, and, resolved upon making his permanent home in one of the large eastern cities of the United States and embarking upon the uncertain and treacherous seas of speculation in the western world, had sold the estate which for a number of generations had been in the possession of the Mainwarings, and had come to America. In addition to his heavy capital, he had invested a large amount of keen business tact and ability; his venture had met with almost phenomenal success and he had acquired immense wealth besides his inherited fortune.
His more conservative cousin, Ralph Mainwaring, while never quite forgiving him for having disposed of the estate, had, nevertheless, with the shrewdness and foresight for which his family were noted, given to his only son the name of Hugh Mainwaring, confident that his American-English cousin would never marry, and hoping thereby to win back the old Mainwaring estate into his own line of the family. His bit of strategy had succeeded; and now, after more than twenty years, his foresight and worldly wisdom were about to be rewarded, for the occasion of this reunion between the long-separated cousins was the celebration of the rapidly approaching fiftieth birthday of Hugh Mainwaring, at which time Hugh Mainwaring, Jr., would attain his majority, and in recognition of that happy event the New York millionaire broker had announced his intention of making his will in favor of his namesake, and on that day formally declaring him his lawful heir.
This had been the object of the conference in the private office of Hugh Mainwaring, and now that it was over and all necessary arrangements had been made, that gentleman turned from his desk with a sigh of relief.
"I am heartily glad that this business is over," he said, addressing his guests; "it has been on my mind for some time, and I have consulted with Mr. Whitney about it," with a slight nod towards the fourth gentleman, who was his attorney and legal adviser. "We have both felt that it should have been attended to before this; and yet, as I considered this would be the most fitting time to make a final adjustment of affairs, I have on that account delayed longer than I otherwise would have done. Now everything is arranged in a manner satisfactory, I trust, to all parties immediately concerned, and nothing remains but to draw up and execute the papers, which will be done to-morrow."
"You are not then troubled with any unpleasant superstitions regarding the making of a will?" commented Mr. Thornton.
"No," replied the other, slowly. "I am not of the opinion that it will hasten my exit from this world; but even if it did, I would have the satisfaction of knowing that my own wishes would be carried out in the settlement of my estate, and that no one would derive any benefit from my demise excepting those whom I consider legally entitled thereto."
Ralph Mainwaring looked curiously at his cousin through half-closed eyes.
"I suppose," he remarked, very deliberately, "that even in case there were no will the property would revert to our branch of the family; we are the nearest of kin, you know."
"Yes, I know your family would be considered the lawful heirs," Hugh Mainwaring replied, while he and Mr. Whitney exchanged glances; "but this is not England; here any common adventurer might come forward with some pretended claim against the estate, and I prefer to see affairs definitely settled in my own way."
"Of course," responded the other, resuming his cigar. "Well, speaking for myself, I am more than willing to relinquish any share I might have had for the boy's sake, and I don't suppose, Thornton, that you have any objections to raise on Edith's account."
"Oh, no, no," replied that gentleman, with a pleasant laugh. "I never considered Hugh a bad son-in-law to begin with, but I'll admit he is a little more attractive now than ever."
The little clock on the marble mantel chimed the hour of four, causing a general movement of surprise. "'Pon my soul! had no idea it was that late," exclaimed Mr. Thornton, taking out his watch, while Hugh Mainwaring, touching an electric button, replied,—
"This business has detained us much longer than I anticipated. I will give some instructions to the head clerk, and we will leave at once."
He had scarcely finished speaking, when a door opened noiselessly and a middle-aged man appeared.
"Parsons," said Mr. Mainwaring, addressing him in quick, incisive tones, "I am going out to Fair Oaks, and probably shall not be at the office for two or three days, unless something of unusual importance should demand my presence. Refer all business callers to Mr. Elliott or Mr. Chittenden. Any personal calls, if specially important, just say that I can be found at Fair Oaks."
Parsons bowed gravely, and after a few further instructions retired.
"Now, Mr. Whitney," Hugh Mainwaring continued, at the same time touching another electric button, "you, of course, will be one of our party at Fair Oaks; my secretary will accompany us, and the papers will be drawn up to-morrow in my private library, after which you will do us the honor to join us in the pleasures of the following day."
"I am at your service, Mr. Mainwaring," responded the attorney; "but," he added, in low tones, intended only for Hugh Mainwaring's ear, but which were heard distinctly by the private secretary, now standing beside the desk, "would it not be better to draw up the will here, in your private office? My presence at the house on the present occasion might attract attention and arouse some suspicions as to your intentions."
"That makes no difference," replied Hugh Mainwaring, quickly, but also speaking in a low tone; "my private papers are all at the house, and I choose that this business shall be conducted there. I believe that I am master in my own house yet."
Mr. Whitney bowed in acquiescence, and Hugh Mainwaring turned to his secretary,—
"Mr. Scott, just close up everything in the office as quickly as possible and get ready to accompany me to Fair Oaks; I shall need you there for two or three days."
It was not the first time the private secretary had accompanied Mr. Mainwaring to his elegant suburban residence, and he understood perfectly what was expected of him, and immediately withdrew to make his preparations as expeditiously as possible.
For some reason, which Hugh Mainwaring had never stopped to explain even to himself, he always accorded to his private secretary much more respect and consideration than to any one of his other numerous employees.
Harry Scott was not only a young man of superior education and good breeding, but what particularly impressed his employer in his favor was a certain natural reserve which caused him to hold himself aloof from his associates in the offices of Mainwaring & Co., and an innate refinement and delicacy which kept him, under all circumstances, from any gaucherie on the one hand, or undue familiarity on the other; he was always respectful but never servile. He had been in the employ of Hugh Mainwaring for a little more than a year, and, having frequently accompanied him to Fair Oaks to remain for a day or two, was, consequently, quite familiar with the house and grounds.
As he re-entered the room, having exchanged his business suit for one more suitable to the occasion, there was not one present but what instinctively, though perhaps unconsciously, recognized in him a true gentleman and treated him as such. Tall, with a splendid physique, finely shaped head, dark hair, and eyes of peculiar beauty, he was far from being the least attractive member of the party which, a few moments later, entered the Mainwaring carriage, with its coat of arms, and rolled away in the direction of Fair Oaks.
The home of Hugh Mainwaring was one of many palatial suburban residences situated on a beautiful avenue running in a northerly direction from the city, but it had not been for so many years in his possession without acquiring some of the characteristics of its owner, which gave it an individuality quite distinct from its elegant neighbors. It had originally belonged to one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the county, for a strictly modern house, without a vestige of antiqueness lingering in its halls and with no faint aroma of bygone days pervading its atmosphere, would have been entirely too plebeian to suit the tastes of Hugh Mainwaring.
From the street to the main entrance a broad driveway wound beneath the interlacing boughs of a double line of giant oaks, from which the place had derived its name. Beautiful grounds extended in every direction, and in the rear of the mansion sloped gently to the edge of a small lake. Facing the west was the main entrance to the house, which was nearly surrounded by a broad veranda, commanding a fine view, not only of the grounds and immediately surrounding country, but also of the Hudson River, not far distant.
The southwestern portion of the building contained the private rooms of Hugh Mainwaring, including what was known as the "tower," and had been added by him soon after he had taken possession of the place. This part of the house was as far removed as possible from the large reception-rooms, and the apartments on the second floor comprised the suite occupied by Mr. Mainwaring. The first of these rooms, semi-octagonal in form, constituted his private library, and its elegant furnishings and costly volumes, lining the walls from floor to ceiling, bespoke the wealth and taste of the owner. Across the southwestern side of this room heavy portieres partially concealed the entrance to what Mr. Mainwaring denominated his "sanctum sanctorum," the room in the tower. This was small, of circular form, and contained an immense desk, one or two revolving bookcases, and a large safe, which held his private papers and, it was rumored, the old Mainwaring jewels. Back of the library was a smoking-room, and in the rear of that Mr. Mainwaring's dressing-rooms and sleeping apartments.
This suite of rooms was connected with the remainder of the building by a long corridor extending from the main hall, but there was on the south side of the house an entrance and stairway leading directly to these rooms, the upper hall opening into the library and smoking-room. From this southern entrance a gravelled walk led between lines of shrubbery to a fine grove, which extended back and downward to the western shore of the small lake already mentioned.
But the especially distinguishing characteristic of Fair Oaks since coming into the possession of Hugh Mainwaring was the general air of exclusion pervading the entire place. The servants, with the exception of "Uncle Mose," the colored man having charge of the grounds, were imported,—the head cook being a Frenchman, the others either English or Irish, and, from butler to chambermaid, one and all seemed to have acquired the reserve which characterized their employer.
Comparatively few servants were employed and few were needed, for never, until the present occasion, had Fair Oaks been thrown open to guests. Occasionally Mr. Mainwaring brought out from the city two or three gentleman friends, whom he entertained in royal fashion. Sometimes these guests were accompanied by their wives, but such instances were extremely rare, as ladies were seldom seen at Fair Oaks.
In the entertainment of these occasional guests Mr. Mainwaring was frequently assisted by Mrs. LaGrange, known as his housekeeper, but in reality holding a position much more advanced than is usually implied by that term. Among those who had been personally entertained by Mrs. LaGrange, this fact, of itself, excited little comment; it being evident that she was as familiar with the fashionable world as was their host himself, but surrounding her was the same dim haze of mystery that seemed to envelop the entire place, impalpable, but thus far impenetrable.
She had come to Fair Oaks some fifteen years previous to this time, dressed in deep mourning, accompanied by her infant son, about three years of age, and it was generally understood that she was distantly related to Mr. Mainwaring. She was a strikingly handsome woman, with that type of physical beauty which commands admiration, rather than winning it; tall, with superb form and carriage, rich olive skin, large dark eyes, brilliant as diamonds and as cold, but which could become luminous with tenderness or fiery with passion, as occasion required. To those whom she sought to entertain she could be extremely charming, but to a few even of these, gifted with deeper insight than the others, it seemed that beneath that fascinating manner was a dangerous nature, a will that would brook no restraint, that never would be thwarted; and that this was, in reality, the power which dominated Fair Oaks.
After years of mysterious seclusion, however, the beautiful home of Hugh Mainwaring, while maintaining its usual reserve towards its neighbors, had thrown open its doors to guests from across the water; and on the particular afternoon of the conference in the private offices of Mainwaring & Co., there might have been seen on one of the upper balconies of the mansion at Fair Oaks a group of five English ladies, engaged in a discussion of their first impressions regarding their host and his American home. The group consisted of Mrs. Ralph Mainwaring and her daughter Isabel; Miss Edith Thornton, the daughter of William Mainwaring Thornton and the fiancee of Hugh Mainwaring, Jr.; Miss Winifred Carleton, a cousin of Miss Thornton; and Mrs. Hogarth, the chaperone of the last named young ladies.
Understanding, as they did, the occasion of this their first visit to the western world, and being personally interested in the happy event so soon to be celebrated, they naturally felt great interest in their new surroundings. The young ladies were especially enthusiastic in their expressions of admiration of the house and grounds, while Mrs. Mainwaring, of even more phlegmatic temperament than her husband, remarked that it was a fine old place, really much finer than she expected to see, which was quite an admission on her part.
"It is just as lovely as it can be!" said Winifred Carleton, coming from the railing, where she had been watching the broad expanse of ocean visible in the distance, and seating herself on a divan beside her cousin. "I do think, Edith, you are the most fortunate girl in the world, and I congratulate you with all my heart."
"Thank you, Winnie," replied Miss Thornton, a pronounced blonde like her father, with large, childlike blue eyes; "but it will be yours to enjoy as much as mine, for you will always be with me; at least, till you are married, you know."
"That is a very reckless declaration on your part, for I am likely never to marry," responded Miss Carleton, lightly. She was an orphan and an heiress, but had a home in the family of William Mainwaring Thornton, who was her uncle and guardian.
Isabel Mainwaring, reclining in a hammock near Miss Thornton, smiled languidly. She was tall, with dark hair and the Mainwaring cold, gray eyes. "You seem to ignore the fact," she said, "that our cousin is likely to live in the exclusive enjoyment of his home for many years to come."
"You mercenary wretch!" retorted Miss Carleton; "are you already counting the years before Mr. Mainwaring's death?"
"Isabel, I am shocked!" exclaimed Mrs. Mainwaring.
"I don't know why," replied that young lady, coolly. "I was only thinking, mamma; and one is not always accountable for one's thoughts, you know."
"But," said Miss Thornton, wonderingly, raising her large eyes, full of inquiry, to Mrs. Mainwaring, "after our cousin has announced his intention of making Hugh his heir, don't you think he will be likely to extend other invitations to visit Fair Oaks?"
"Undoubtedly, my dear," replied Mrs. Mainwaring, "there will probably be an exchange of courtesies between the two branches of the family from this time. Though I must say," she added, in a lower tone, and turning to Mrs. Hogarth, "I do not know that I, for one, will be particularly anxious to repeat my visit when this celebration is once over. So far as I can judge, there seems to be no society here. Wilson has learned from the servants that Mr. Mainwaring lives very quietly, in fact, receives no company whatever; and, I may be mistaken, but it certainly seems to me that this Mrs. LaGrange occupies rather an anomalous position. She is here as his housekeeper, a servant, yet she entertains his guests, and her manners are anything but those of a servant."
"Why shouldn't she, mamma?" inquired Isabel, rather abruptly. "Cousin Hugh has never married,—which is a very good thing for us, by the way,—and who would help him entertain if his housekeeper did not?"
"It is not her position to which I object so much," remarked Mrs. Hogarth, quietly, "though I admit it seems rather peculiar, but there is something about her own personality that impresses me very unfavorably."
"In your opinion, then, she is not a proper person," said Mrs. Mainwaring, who was fond of jumping at conclusions; "well, I quite agree with you."
"No," said Mrs. Hogarth, with a smile, "I have not yet formed so decided an opinion as that. I am not prepared to say that she is a bad woman, but I believe she is a very dangerous woman."
"Dear Mrs. Hogarth, how mercilessly you always scatter my fancies to the winds!" exclaimed Miss Thornton; "until this moment I admired Mrs. LaGrange very much."
"I did not," said Miss Carleton, quickly; "from my first glimpse of her she has seemed to me like a malign presence about the place, a veritable serpent in this beautiful Eden!"
"Well," said Isabel Mainwaring, with a slight shrug, "I see no reason for any concern regarding Mrs. LaGrange, whatever she may be. I don't suppose she will be entailed upon Hugh with the property; and I only hope that before long we can buy back the old Mainwaring estate into our own branch of the family."
"That is just what your father intends to have done whenever the property comes into Hugh's possession," replied Mrs. Mainwaring, and was about to say something further, when a musical whistle attracted the attention of the ladies, and, looking over the balcony railing, they saw Hugh Mainwaring, Jr., approaching the house, on his return from a day's fishing, accompanied by Walter LaGrange, a young sophomore, home on his vacation.
The former was a typical young Englishman, with a frank, pleasant countenance. The latter, while inheriting his mother's beauty and resembling her in a marked degree, yet betrayed in his face a weakness which indicated that, lacking ability to plan and execute for himself, he would become a ready tool to aid in carrying out the designs of others.
The ladies, having discovered the hour to be much later than they supposed, and knowing that the gentlemen would soon return from the city, speedily adjourned to their dressing-rooms to prepare for dinner.
THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF HUGH MAINWARING
Immediately after breakfast the following morning, Hugh Mainwaring, having excused himself to his guests, retired to his private library, in company with his secretary and Mr. Whitney, his attorney. A number of fine saddle horses having been brought around from the stables, the young people cantered gayly down the oak-lined avenue, intent upon a morning ride, their voices echoing musically through the grounds. The elderly people, after a short chat, gradually dispersed. Mrs. Mainwaring retired to her room for her accustomed morning nap; Mrs. Hogarth sought the large library and was soon absorbed in the works of her favorite author, while Ralph Mainwaring and Mr. Thornton strolled up and down the gravelled walks, enjoying their cigars.
"This is a very good bit of property," remarked Mr. Mainwaring at length, running his eye with cold scrutiny over the mansion and grounds; "taking into consideration the stocks and bonds and various business interests that will go with it, it will make a fine windfall for the boy."
"That it will, and Hugh certainly is a lucky dog!" responded Mr. Thornton, "but you seem to have some definite knowledge regarding our cousin's finances; has he given you any idea as to what he is really worth?"
"He? Not a word." Then noting an expression of surprise on his companion's face, Mr. Mainwaring continued. "I have a number of business acquaintances on this side the water, and you may rest assured I have kept myself well posted as to the way things were going all these years. I have had something of this kind in view all the time."
"I might have known it," replied Mr. Thornton, with an amused smile. "I never yet saw a Mainwaring who did not understand how to feather his own nest. Well, as you say, it is a fine piece of property; but, do you know, Mainwaring, it strikes me that the old boy seems a bit anxious to get it disposed of according to his own liking as quickly as possible."
"It does look that way," the other acknowledged.
"Well, now, doesn't that seem a little peculiar, when, with no direct heirs that we know of, the property would in any case revert to your family?"
Ralph Mainwaring puffed in silence for a few moments, then removing his cigar and slowing knocking off the ashes, he replied very deliberately,—
"It is my opinion that he and that attorney of his are aware of some possible claimants, of whom we know nothing."
"That is my idea exactly," said Mr. Thornton; "and, don't you know, it has occurred to me that possibly, unknown to us, Harold Mainwaring may have left a child, whose existence is known to Hugh."
"That would cut no figure in this case," Mr. Mainwaring answered, quickly. "Even had there been a living child,—which there was not,—he could make no claim whatever, for Harold was disinherited by his father's will."
"Yes, I know the old gentleman disinherited Harold, but would his heirs have no claim?"
"Not under that will. I was present when it was read, and I remember it debarred 'both him and his heirs, forever.'"
"Poor Harold!" said Mr. Thornton, after a moment's silence; "he was the elder son, was he not?"
"Yes, and his father's favorite. It broke the old man's heart to disinherit him. He failed rapidly after that occurred, and he never was the same towards Hugh. I always thought that accounted for Hugh's selling the old place as he did; it had too many unpleasant memories."
"Harold died soon after that unfortunate marriage, I believe."
"Yes; he learned too late the character of the woman he had married, and after the death of their only child, he left her, and a few years later was lost at sea."
"Well," continued Mr. Thornton, after a pause, "have you the remotest idea as to who these possible claimants against the property may be?"
"Only the merest suspicion, as yet too vague even to mention; but I think a day or two will probably enable me to determine whether I am correct or not."
At that moment, Harry Scott, the private secretary, appeared, with a message to the gentlemen from Hugh Mainwaring, to the effect that he would like to have them join himself and Mr. Whitney in his library.
As they passed around to the southern entrance with the secretary, they did not observe a closed carriage coming swiftly up the driveway, nor a tall, slender man, with cadaverous features and sharp, peering eyes, who alighted and hastily rang for admittance. But two hours later, as Mr. Thornton was descending the winding stairway in the main hall, he caught a glimpse of the strange caller, just taking his departure. The stranger, hearing footsteps, turned towards Mr. Thornton, and for an instant their eyes met. There was a mutual recognition; astonishment and scorn were written on Mr. Thornton's face, while the stranger cowed visibly and, with a fawning, cringing bow, made as speedy an exit as possible.
At luncheon that day both Hugh Mainwaring and a number of his guests seemed rather preoccupied, and the meal passed in unusual silence. Mrs. LaGrange exerted herself to be particularly entertaining to Mr. Whitney, but he, though courteously responding to her overtures, made no effort to continue the conversation. Even the genial Mr. Thornton was in so abstracted a mood that his daughter at last rallied him on his appearance, whereupon he turned somewhat abruptly to his host with the inquiry,—
"Are you personally acquainted with Richard Hobson?"
For an instant, Hugh Mainwaring seemed confused, and Mr. Whitney, always on the alert, noted a peculiar expression flash across the face of Mrs. LaGrange, and was also conscious of an almost imperceptible start on the part of the young secretary seated near him.
Mr. Mainwaring quickly recovered himself and replied, deliberately, "Richard Hobson, the attorney? I believe I met him once or twice, years ago, in London, but I cannot claim any acquaintance with him."
"Dick Hobson does not deserve the name of attorney," remarked Ralph Mainwaring; "he is a shyster and a scoundrel."
"He certainly bears a hard reputation," rejoined Mr. Thornton; "and I would not have mentioned his name, only that I met him here about half an hour since, and that caused me to make the inquiry I did."
Hugh Mainwaring paled visibly, though he remained calm. "Met him here, in my house? Impossible!" he exclaimed, at the same time glancing towards the butler, but the face of that functionary was as immobile as rock. "I did not suppose the man was in this country!"
"Oh, yes," replied Ralph Mainwaring; "he left England about two years ago; he played one too many of his dirty games there and took the first steamer for America, hoping, I suppose, to find a wider sphere of action in this country."
"Possibly I may have been mistaken," remarked Mr. Thornton, quietly, realizing that he had unconsciously touched an unpleasant chord, "but the resemblance was certainly striking."
An awkward silence followed, broken by young Scott, who excused himself on the plea of important work and returned to Mr. Mainwaring's library, where he was soon joined by all the gentlemen excepting young Mainwaring. In the hall, Hugh Mainwaring paused for a few words with the butler, and the attorney, passing at that moment, caught the man's reply, given in a low tone,—
"No, sir; Mrs. LaGrange."
A little later, the last will and testament of Hugh Mainwaring was signed by the testator, and duly attested by Ralph Mainwaring, William Mainwaring Thornton, and William H. Whitney. As the last signature was completed, Hugh Mainwaring drew a heavy sigh, saying in a low tone,—
"That is as I wished, my namesake is my heir;" then taking the document, he placed it in the hands of his secretary, adding, "Lay this for the present on my desk. To-morrow I wish it to be read in the presence of all the members of the family, after which, Mr. Whitney, I desire to have it put in your possession for safe keeping until it is needed; when that will be, no one can say;—it may be sooner than we think."
A marked change had come over his manner since luncheon, and his tones, even more than his words, made a deep impression on the mind of every one present. The shade of melancholy passed, however, and, ringing the bell, Hugh Mainwaring ordered carriages for himself and his guests for the afternoon and departed, leaving his secretary to attend to some private work in the library. Harry Scott's manner, upon finding himself alone within the private rooms of Hugh Mainwaring, betrayed intense excitement. He pushed his work impatiently from him and, rising, began to walk swiftly, though noiselessly, back and forth, the entire length of the two apartments. Twice he paused before the large desk, and taking therefrom the will, already familiar to him, read its contents with burning eyes while his face alternately flushed and paled. Then folding and replacing the document, he turned towards the safe, muttering,—
"It is no use. I have searched there once before and could find nothing."
Suddenly he exclaimed, "No one knows what may happen; this may be my last opportunity! I will search once more and leave not a corner unexplored."
Having locked the library, he returned to the safe. He knew the combination, and soon the great doors swung open, revealing the contents arranged with the precision for which Mr. Mainwaring was noted in his business habits. Conscious that he had abundance of time for the work he had undertaken and that he was secure from interruption, he began a careful and methodical search through all the compartments. Various private documents were examined and then replaced in exactly their original position, but all seemed of no avail. He discovered no trace of that which he hoped to find.
At last he came to a metallic box, which he surmised, from its weight and general appearance, contained the old family jewels. Should he open that? A moment's thought decided the question; he would leave nothing unexplored. Further search revealed the key concealed in a tiny drawer. He applied it to the lock; the cover flew backward, and a dazzling light flashed into his face as a ray of sunlight fell across his shoulder upon the superb gems, gleaming and scintillating from the depths of their hiding-place. But he paid little heed to them, for, in a long and narrow receptacle within one side of the box, his keen eye had discovered a paper, yellow and musty with age, the sight of which thrilled him with hope. He quickly drew it forth, and a single glance at its title assured him it was indeed the object of his search. With a low cry of joy, he locked and replaced the metallic box, and, opening the ancient document, he eagerly scanned its contents, an expression of intense satisfaction overspreading his features.
He was still perusing the paper when he heard footsteps approaching the library through the long corridor, followed an instant later by a knock. Depositing the precious document safely within an inside pocket, he swung the doors of the safe together, turning the handle so as to lock it securely, and, crossing the library, unlocked and opened the door.
The butler was standing there, and, handing Scott a card, said, briefly,
"A gentleman on private business; must see Mr. Mainwaring or his secretary at once."
Scott glanced at the card: it bore the name of "J. Henry Carruthers," with a London address, and underneath had been hastily pencilled the word "Important."
"Show the gentleman up," he said. The butler bowed and was gone, and in an incredibly short time, while yet Scott's pulse throbbed wildly from his recent discovery, the stranger entered the room.
He was a little above the average height, with a somewhat commanding presence, rather pale face, dark moustache, and black curling hair. He wore dark glasses, and was dressed in a tweed suit, slightly travel-worn, but his manners were those of a gentleman.
"Mr. Scott, I believe," he said, addressing the secretary.
"That is my name, sir; please be seated. What can I do for you, Mr. Carruthers?"
"Will you inform me, Mr. Scott, of the earliest hour at which I can see Mr. Mainwaring? I called at his city office and was directed here; but the butler states that Mr. Mainwaring is away from home, and is unable to say when he will return, or how soon he would be at liberty to see me."
"Mr. Mainwaring will probably return about five o'clock; but it is rather difficult for me to state when you could see him, as he is entertaining a number of guests, and it is doubtful if he would care to attend to any business just at this time, unless it were of special importance."
"My business with Mr. Mainwaring is of special importance," replied the other; "and I would be very glad if he could give me a little time to-morrow."
"Perhaps, if you would give me some intimation of its nature," Scott suggested, "Mr. Mainwaring might consent to make an appointment for the following day. I hardly think he would see you sooner. To-morrow is his birthday, and, as it is to be celebrated by him and his guests, it is doubtful whether he would attend to any business on that day."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Carruthers, rising, while Scott was conscious of a peculiar scrutiny fixed upon himself from behind those dark glasses; "it had escaped my mind, but now I recall that Mr. Mainwaring is to celebrate his birthday by making his young English cousin and namesake his heir. I certainly would not intrude at a time so inopportune."
The secretary started. "I was not aware that Mr. Mainwaring's intentions were generally known," he remarked.
"Perhaps not," replied the other, in a peculiar tone. "I merely heard it mentioned, and all parties have my congratulations and best wishes. Kindly say to Mr. Mainwaring that when the happy event is over I hope he will give me his earliest consideration. My address for the present will be the Arlington House.. Do not take the trouble to ring, I can find my way."
"You will find this way much shorter, sir," Scott replied, opening the door into the southern hall. Mr. Carruthers thanked him and, with a profound bow, took his departure.
As the hour was late, Scott found it necessary to devote himself at once to his work, and he had but just completed it when the sound of wheels was heard outside, and a few moments later his employer entered the room.
The latter studied Mr. Carruthers's card quite attentively, and frowned upon learning that his intentions regarding the making of his will had become known by outsiders, but he soon seemed to forget the occurrence. Soon all were gathered about the dinner-table, and the evening passed very pleasantly.
When, at a late hour, Hugh Mainwaring, in the dimly-lighted veranda, bade his guests good-night, he grasped the hand of his namesake and said, in a tone remarkably tender,—
"Hugh, my boy, the distance is long between the twenty-first and the fiftieth mile-stones on the journey of life. Heaven grant, when you shall have reached the latter, you may look back over a brighter pathway than I do to-night!"
Then, as the young man passed, he murmured to himself "If I could but have had just such a son as he!"
He did not see, though there was one who did, a woman's form glide away in the dim light, her eyes gleaming with malignant fire.
A TERRIBLE AWAKENING
For some time after his guests had retired, Hugh Mainwaring remained outside, walking up and down in the starlight, apparently absorbed in thought. When at length he passed into the house, he met his secretary coming out for a solitary smoke.
"Come to my library, Mr. Scott, before you retire for the night," said Mr. Mainwaring.
"At once, sir, if you wish," the secretary replied.
"No, there is no hurry; any time within an hour," and he passed up-stairs.
Half an hour later Harry Scott passed down the corridor towards the library, but paused on hearing an angry voice within, which he at once recognized as Mrs. LaGrange's.
"Where would you be to-night?" she cried, "where would you have been all these years, if I had but exposed your dishonesty and duplicity? You defrauded your only brother during his lifetime; you have persistently ignored your son, your own flesh and blood; and now you would rob him, not only of his father's name, but of his father's fortune,—cast him off with a mere pittance,—and put this stranger in the place which is rightfully his, and wish that you had been given such a son as he! You are in my power, and you know it only too well; and I will make you and your high-born, purse-proud family rue this day's work."
Hugh Mainwaring's reply to this tirade was inaudible, and Scott, feeling that he already had heard too much, withdrew, and continued walking up and down the halls until the library door opened and Mrs. LaGrange came out. She swept past him in a towering rage, seeming scarcely aware of his presence until, as he passed down the corridor and entered the library, he was suddenly conscious that she had turned and was watching him.
He found Mr. Mainwaring looking pale and fatigued.
"I will detain you but a moment, Mr. Scott," he said, speaking wearily; "I have a few instructions I would like you to carry out early in the morning; and I also want to say that I wish you to consider yourself as one of my guests to-morrow, and join with us in the festivities of the occasion."
Scott thanked his employer courteously, though there might have been detected a shade of reserve in his manner, and, after receiving brief directions for the following day, withdrew.
He went to his room, but not to sleep. His mind was too full of the events of the day just passed, as well as of the expected events of the morrow. His thoughts reverted to his discovery of the afternoon, and, taking the shabby document from his pocket, he read and re-read it carefully, his features betraying deep emotion. What should be done with it? Should he let his employer know at once of the proof which he now held against him? Or should he hold it for a few days and await developments?
It was nearly three o'clock when he was aroused from his abstraction by a slight sound, as of stealthy footsteps in the rear of the house. He listened intently for a moment, but hearing nothing further and discovering the lateness of the hour, he hastily extinguished the light and, too exhausted and weary to undress, threw himself as he was upon a couch and was soon sleeping heavily.
The sun was shining brightly into his room, when Harry Scott was awakened the next morning by a woman's scream, followed by cries and sobs and a confused sound of running to and fro. Almost before he could collect his thoughts, he heard steps approaching his room, and, rising, hastily exchanged the smoking-jacket in which he had slept for a coat. He had barely time to make the change when there was a loud knock, and some one called his name in quick, sharp tones.
Opening the door, he saw Mr. Whitney standing before him, while in the background servants were running in different directions, wringing their bands and moaning and crying hysterically.
"Mr. Scott," said the attorney, in tones trembling with excitement, "come to the tower-room at once. Mr. Mainwaring has been murdered!"
"Mr. Mainwaring murdered!" he exclaimed, reeling for an instant as if from a blow. "Great heavens! it cannot be possible!"
"It is terrible, but a fact, nevertheless," replied Mr. Whitney; "he was murdered last night in his private rooms."
"How and when was it discovered?" Scott inquired, his mind still dazed by the wild torrent of thought surging through his brain as he recalled the events of the previous night.
"Hardy, his valet, was the first to discover it this morning. We have telephoned for his physician and for the coroner; they will be out on the next train from the city."
Harry Scott shuddered as he entered the familiar room where he had taken leave of his employer but comparatively few hours before. Even amid the confusion, he noted that in the outer room everything appeared the same as when he last saw it, but the portieres at the farther side, pushed widely open, revealed a ghastly sight.
Upon the floor, about half-way between the desk and safe, his head resting in a small pool of blood, lay Hugh Mainwaring. He was inclined slightly towards his right side, his arm partially extended, and on the floor, near his right hand, lay a revolver, while an ugly wound just above the right eye and near the temple showed where the weapon had done its deadly work. The closely cut hair about the temple was singed and his face was blackened, showing that the fatal shot had been fired at close range. There were no indications, however, of a struggle of any kind; the great revolving-chair, usually standing in front of the desk, had been pushed aside, but everything else was in its accustomed place, and the desk was closed and locked.
Ralph Mainwaring was already kneeling beside the body; Mr. Thornton and young Mainwaring, who had entered immediately after Scott and the attorney, stood speechless with horror. With what conflicting emotions the young secretary gazed upon the lifeless form of his employer, fortunately for him at that moment, no one knew; as his mind cleared, he began to realize that his position was likely to prove a difficult and dangerous one, and that he must act with extreme caution.
The silence was first broken by Mr. Thornton, who exclaimed,—
"Terrible! Terrible! What do you think, Mainwaring? is this murder or suicide?"
"Time alone will tell," replied Mr. Mainwaring in a low tone; "but I am inclined to think it is murder."
"Murder without a doubt!" added Mr. Whitney.
"But who could have done such a deed?" groaned Mr. Thornton.
Hugh Mainwaring was attired, as when Scott had last seen him, in a rich dressing-gown; but as the secretary knelt beside the silent form and touched the left hand lying partially hidden in its folds, he gave a slight start, and, quickly passing his hand within the dressing-gown, announced in a low tone,—
"His diamond ring and his watch are both gone!"
"Robbery!" exclaimed young Mainwaring; "that must have been the object of the murderer!" While his father, glancing towards the safe, remarked,—
"We must ascertain whether anything else is missing."
"We will make a thorough examination of the room after the coroner's arrival," said Mr. Whitney, "but, for the present, everything must remain as it is."
"Should we not send for a detective at once?" Mr. Thornton inquired.
"I have already telephoned for one upon my own responsibility," replied the attorney.
"When were you last in these rooms, Mr. Scott?" asked Ralph Mainwaring of the secretary, who had risen to his feet and was making a careful survey of the room.
"About twelve o'clock last night, sir," was his reply; then noting a look of surprise on the faces about him, he added,—
"I came at Mr. Mainwaring's request, as he wished to give directions regarding some work to be done this morning."
"He was alone at that time?"
"How did he appear?" inquired Mr. Thornton.
"The same as usual, except that he seemed very weary."
"Was he in this room?" asked Mr. Mainwaring.
"No, sir; he was seated in the library."
The sound of voices in the corridor attracted Mr. Mainwaring's attention, and he turned quickly to his son,—
"Hugh, I hear your mother's voice; go and meet her. The ladies must not be allowed to come in here."
Mr. Thornton turned to accompany young Mainwaring. Near the door he met his daughter and Miss Carleton, while a little farther down the corridor were Isabel Mainwaring and her mother. With terror-stricken faces they gathered about him, unable to believe the terrible report which they had learned from the servants. As best he could, he answered their numerous inquiries, and, having escorted them to another part of the house, left them in charge of young Mainwaring, while he returned to the library.
Meanwhile, the news of the murder had spread with lightning-like rapidity, and already crowds of people, drawn by that strange fascination which always exists for a certain class in scenes of this kind, were gathering on the grounds outside the house, forming in little groups, conversing with the servants, or gazing upward with awe-stricken glances at the closely-drawn shutters of the room in the tower. The invisible barriers which so long had excluded the public from Fair Oaks had been swept away by the hand of death, and rich and poor, capitalist and laborer, alike wandered unrestrained up and down the oak-lined avenue.
At the door of the library, Mr. Thornton found Ralph Mainwaring and the attorney conversing together in low tones.
"Yes," Mr. Mainwaring was saying, "as you say, it is undoubtedly murder; but I confess I am at a loss to understand the motive for such a deed, unless it were robbery; and you do not seem to give that idea much credence?"
Mr. Whitney shook his head decidedly. "Unless we find very strong evidence in that direction, I cannot believe that this is any case of common robbery."
"But to what other motive would you attribute it?" inquired Mr. Mainwaring.
"Until further facts have been developed which may throw light upon the subject, I do not feel prepared to say what the motive might have been."
"You evidently have your suspicions," remarked Mr. Mainwaring, while Mr. Thornton inquired,—
"Had our cousin any enemies that you know of?"
Mr. Whitney turned a keen, penetrating glance upon Mr. Thornton for an instant, and the latter continued,—
"I thought it possible that in his business relations he might have incurred the enmity of some one of whom you knew."
"No," the attorney answered, quickly, "I am not aware of anything of that nature. Mr. Mainwaring made few intimate friends, but he was universally respected by all who knew him. If he had any enemies," he added, very slowly, "they were within his own household."
Ralph Mainwaring looked sharply at the attorney, but Mr. Thornton exclaimed,—
"'Egad! sir, but you surely do not think this deed was committed by any one of the inmates of this house?"
"As I have already said," replied Mr. Whitney, "I am not prepared to state what I do think without further knowledge of the facts in the case."
"Of course we understand that," rejoined Mr. Mainwaring; "but we desire to have the benefit of your opinions and judgment regarding this case so soon as you do feel justified in expressing them, and, since you are vastly more familiar with the circumstances surrounding it than we, we wish to rely on your suggestions in this matter."
The attorney bowed. "My advice for the present would be to take care that no one leaves the premises, and that you also send for Mrs. LaGrange; I wish to see her," he said briefly, and passed into the library.
Ralph Mainwaring beckoned to the butler; who was standing at a little distance, awaiting orders.
"Call the housekeeper at once, Mr. Whitney wishes to see her in the library; and send Wilson to me, and also the coachman."
With a silent acknowledgment of the order the butler withdrew, and a moment later, John Wilson, a middle-aged man and a servant of Ralph Mainwaring's who had accompanied him from London, appeared, followed by Brown, the coachman at Fair Oaks.
Mr. Mainwaring first addressed the latter. "Brown, for the next hour or so, I wish you to be stationed in the hall below. Keep back the crowd as much as possible; when the coroner and physician arrive show them up at once, but on no account allow any one else to come up-stairs."
Then turning to his own serving-man, as Brown departed to the duties assigned him, Mr. Mainwaring continued,
"'For you, Wilson, I have a task which I cannot intrust to any one else, but which I know you will perform faithfully and discreetly; so far as you are able, keep a close watch upon every one within this house, without seeming to do so; pay close attention to all conversation which you hear, and if you hear or see anything unusual, or that seems to have any bearing on what has occurred, report to me at once. Above all, do not let any of the servants leave the premises without they have my permission."
"Very well, sir," Wilson replied; as he moved away the butler reappeared.
"The housekeeper has not yet left her room, sir," he said, addressing Mr. Mainwaring. "I gave the message by the chambermaid, and she sent word that she had been prostrated by the terrible news this morning, sir, but that she would see Mr. Whitney in a few moments."
As the man retreated, Mr. Thornton paused suddenly in his walk up and down the corridor,—
"'Pon my soul, Mainwaring! it strikes me—particularly since hearing that will read yesterday—that there must have been something with reference to that woman—well—rather peculiar, don't you know."
"It strikes me," replied Mr. Mainwaring with marked emphasis, "that there may be something rather 'peculiar,' as you call it, in that direction at present, and I believe Mr. Whitney is of the same opinion."
"How is that? You surely do not think it possible that in his mind she is in any way associated with this murder—if it is a murder?"
"He evidently suspects some one in this house, and for the present we can draw our own inferences. Regarding those provisions in the will to which you just now alluded, I can assure you I was not too well pleased; but I knew it was useless to raise any objections or questions; to my mind, however, they furnish a clue as to the possible claimants against the estate, which we were discussing yesterday, and perhaps a clue to this latest development, also."
"By my soul! it looks like it; but surely she could have no valid claim."
"Valid or not," replied Ralph Mainwaring, "there must have been a powerful claim of some kind. When a man of Hugh Mainwaring's type leaves a handsome annuity to his housekeeper, and an interest in his business worth fifty or seventy-five thousand to her son, it may be considered pretty strong evidence that—"
At a warning glance from Mr. Thornton, Ralph Mainwaring paused abruptly and, turning, saw Mrs. LaGrange coming noiselessly down the corridor. She was dressed with even more than usual care, with quantities of rich lace fastened loosely about her shapely neck and falling in profusion over her beautifully moulded wrists and hands. Her dark, handsome features bore no trace of recent prostration, but betrayed, instead, signs of intense excitement. She bowed silently and passed onward, entering the library so quietly that the attorney, absorbed in thought, was unaware of her presence until she stood before him. He started slightly, and for an instant neither spoke. Each was silently gauging the power of the other.
For some time, Mrs. LaGrange had been conscious that Mr. Whitney was one of the few whose penetration could not be blinded by her blandishments. In addition, the fact that he was the private solicitor and legal adviser of Hugh Mainwaring did not tend to inspire her with confidence regarding his attitude towards herself. Nevertheless, he was an eminent attorney and this was a critical moment; if she could gain his favor and his services in her behalf, it would be a brilliant stroke of policy. Her plans were well laid, and she was prepared to assume whatever role was necessary, so soon as his words or manner should give her the desired cue.
For this, she did not have long to wait; one searching glance, and she had read in the piercing scrutiny and cold scorn of his keen blue eye that, so far from winning favor from him, he would prove her most bitter opponent, and as quickly she determined upon her future course of action.
Mr. Whitney, on the other hand, though a frequent visitor at Fair Oaks, and familiar with the fascinating manner with which, when she chose, Mrs. LaGrange entertained the guests of Hugh Mainwaring, was now forced to acknowledge to himself that never had he seen this handsome woman so beautiful as at the present moment. The eyes looking into his with such depth of meaning,—the expression, the attitude,—all were utterly unlike anything which he had ever seen; but his face grew only the more stern, for the thought then and there occurred to him that perhaps here was the solution of the mysterious power which this woman had wielded over the man whose lifeless form was now lying in their presence.
He observed that the luminous eyes grew suddenly cold, while her head assumed its usual haughty poise; the brief spell was over, and each understood the other.
After a few general directions, Mr. Whitney remarked, "This day's events will be far different from what we had anticipated."
"Yes," she replied, with a mocking smile, "in that it brings to the guests of this house, instead of future expectations, the immediate realization of their wishes!"
"It is not to be conceived for one moment that any of them take that view of what has occurred," he replied, in a tone of displeasure.
"Possibly not," she rejoined, "although the prospective long life of their host seemed to greatly detract, at least in the case of one of their number, from their enjoyment of the occasion which they had come to celebrate."
"To whom do you refer?" he inquired.
"It is unnecessary to give names," she answered, coldly; "but had the Mainwarings of London known the facts which I know, they would never have crossed the water to take part in the farce which was enacted here yesterday. There are Mainwarings with better right and title to this estate than they, as they will soon learn."
Neither by look nor gesture did she manifest the least consciousness of, or concern for, the inanimate form visible in the adjoining room. With sudden directness, and ignoring the implied threat in her last words, Mr. Whitney asked,—
"Mrs. LaGrange, at what hour did you last see Hugh Mainwaring?"
She was about to reply, when Scott entered from the tower-room. He had heard her last remark, and his dark, piercing eyes were fixed upon her face in keen scrutiny. She was quick to note the fact and hesitated an instant, while a change, inexplicable to the attorney, passed over her face,—surprise, a shade almost of fear, and haughty defiance were visible in quick succession; then, turning again towards Mr. Whitney, she answered, indifferently,—
"It was quite late last night; I do not recollect the hour."
As the attorney was about to speak, Mr. Thornton appeared at the door of the library.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Whitney, but I believe the coroner and others have arrived; as you know the gentlemen, will you kindly meet them?"
"Certainly. Mr. Scott, you will please remain here," and the attorney hastened out into the corridor.
Again Mrs. LaGrange and the secretary faced each other in silence, each apparently trying to read the other's thoughts and probe the depth of the other's knowledge; then, as the gentlemen were heard approaching, she withdrew, leaving him alone.
As the attorney, in response to the summons from Mr. Thornton, hastened from the corridor into the main hall, five gentlemen were slowly ascending the broad stairway, conversing together in subdued tones. One, younger than the others and evidently more familiar with the surroundings at Fair Oaks, stepped quickly in advance of the rest and extended his hand to Mr. Whitney in silent greeting. This was Dr. Hobart, Hugh Mainwaring's physician and one of his most intimate friends, although a number of years his junior. Following him were Mr. Elliott and Mr. Chittenden, of the firm of Mainwaring & Co., while bringing up the rear were the coroner and a gentleman, somewhat below medium size and of modest appearance, whom the attorney greeted very cordially and afterwards introduced to Mr. Thornton as Mr. Merrick. Proceeding at once to the library, they were joined a moment later by Ralph Mainwaring and his son. The necessary introductions followed, and Mr. Mainwaring having given the butler instructions to admit no one into the library, Mr. Whitney made a brief statement regarding the discovery of the murder, and all passed into the room in the tower.
Dr. Hobart at once bent over the prostrate form with genuine sorrow. The millionaire broker had been one of his earliest patrons, and their acquaintance had soon ripened into a mutual attachment, notwithstanding the disparity in their ages. After a long look at the face of his friend, he gave place to the coroner, who was also a physician. They partially lifted the body and both examined the wound, the small man who had accompanied the coroner looking on silently. It was found that the bullet had entered just above the right eye and had passed through the brain in a slightly downward direction, coming out near the base upon the same side. The most careful search failed to disclose the bullet, and attention was next directed to the revolver lying upon the floor near the right hand. It was a Smith & Wesson, thirty-two calibre, with but one empty chamber, that from which the fatal bullet had probably been discharged.
"Can any of you gentlemen tell me whether or not this belonged to the deceased?" inquired the coroner, holding up the revolver.
There was an instant's pause, and Mr. Whitney replied, "I know that Mr. Mainwaring owned a revolver, but, having never seen it, am unable to answer your inquiry. Perhaps his secretary could give you the desired information."
"I have often seen a revolver lying in Mr. Mainwaring's desk," said the secretary; "but I doubt whether I could identify it, as I never observed it closely. I should judge, however, that this was the same size and make."
"Would it not be well to see if it is still there?" suggested the attorney. "I suppose you have a key to the desk."
"I have, sir," he replied, at the same time producing it. Crossing the room, he unlocked and opened the desk. An instant later, he announced, as he closed the desk, "It is not here."
There was a subdued murmur, and Mr. Thornton was heard to exclaim, "Suicide! That has been my impression all along."
Ralph Mainwaring glanced inquiringly at the attorney, who shook his head emphatically, while the coroner once more inspected the wound with an air of perplexity.
"Doctor," inquired Ralph Mainwaring, "in your opinion, how long has life been extinct?"
"I should judge about eight or nine hours," replied Dr. Hobart. "What would you say, Dr. Westlake?"
"That would be my judgment, also."
"You would say that death was instantaneous?" questioned the attorney.
"Without a doubt. It could not have been otherwise?" Ralph Mainwaring consulted his watch. "It is now half after nine; in your judgment, then, this must have occurred about one o'clock this morning?"
"About that time."
"At what hour was Mr. Mainwaring last seen by any one in this house?" asked the coroner.
"As nearly as we have ascertained thus far, at about twelve o'clock."
"Twelve? Indeed! By whom? and where?"
"By his private secretary, and in the library adjoining."
"Very well," said the coroner, after a pause, during which he had made a memorandum of certain details which he considered of special importance; "the undertaker can now be summoned as I believe he is waiting below, and we seem to have ascertained all the facts possible in this direction; and, Mr. Whitney, I will next see the valet, whom you say was the one to discover the situation this morning."
In the slight confusion and delay which ensued, Mr. Elliott and Mr. Chittenden took their departure, with the usual expressions of condolence and regret, followed a few moments later by Dr. Hobart, who was accompanied downstairs by young Mainwaring.
Meanwhile, Mr. Merrick, having made a close scrutiny of the lifeless form, had been slowly walking back and forth in the tower-room and library, his hands in the pockets of his short sacque coat and his eyes apparently riveted on the floor. Several times in the library he paused and, bending downward, seemed to be intently studying the carpet; then, after two or three turns about the room, he sauntered towards the windows and doors, examining the fastenings of each in turn, and, on reaching the door opening into the southern hall, suddenly disappeared.
"A very mysterious case!" commented the coroner, when he had finished his interview with the valet. "Thus far nothing can be learned which throws much actual light on the subject one way or another, but if anybody can unravel the mystery, Merrick can."
"Merrick!" repeated Mr. Thornton, turning to Mr. Whitney in surprise. "Is Mr. Merrick a detective?"
"He is. I did not introduce him as such, for the reason that in a case of this kind he usually prefers to make his first visit incognito if possible."
"Very well; you have taken the responsibility in this matter. You understand, of course, Mr. Whitney, that we want no amateur work in a case like this."
"Mr. Merrick is no amateur," said the attorney, quietly; "he is one of the most trusted and one of the surest men on the force."
"Before we go any farther," interposed Ralph Mainwaring, "I suggest that we ascertain whether or not there has been a robbery. We can at least satisfy ourselves on that point."
"Acting on your suggestion, we will examine the safe," said Mr. Whitney; "though I, for one, am not inclined to think there has been any robbery. Without a knowledge of the combination, the safe could not be opened unless force were employed; and it certainly bears no evidence of having been tampered with."
"Proceed with your investigation, Mr. Whitney," said the quiet voice of the detective, who had entered unobserved from the smoking-room; "unless I am greatly mistaken, the person we are after is some one pretty familiar with various 'combinations' in these apartments."
There was a general expression of surprise, and all turned towards Mr. Merrick for an explanation, but a glance at his impassive face convinced them that questions would be useless.
With a few swift turns the secretary unlocked the safe and the ponderous doors swung open, showing books and papers in their accustomed places. Everything appeared in perfect order; but as the attorney began a rapid examination of the interior, he suddenly uttered a sharp exclamation, while, as he continued his search, his manner betrayed considerable excitement.
"Anything wrong, Mr. Whitney? anything missing?" queried Ralph Mainwaring.
"Everything is missing!" the other exclaimed, after a moment's pause, turning around with a pale face and holding in his hand an empty cash box; "there is absolutely nothing left but an old cheque-book, a few drafts, and some other papers of no value whatever except to Hugh Mainwaring himself!"
Half a score of questions were instantly raised: "Was there a large amount of money in the safe?" "Did it contain anything of great value?"
Scott, standing silently in the background, seemed to see again the brilliant gems flashing in the sunlight, as he had seen them in his search on the preceding day, but he said nothing.
"There was a considerable amount of cash," the attorney was saying. "Mr. Mainwaring deposited a large sum there when he last came out from the city, and," he added more slowly, "the old family jewels were kept in the safe."
"The Mainwaring jewels!" echoed both the Englishmen. "Impossible! incredible!" While Ralph Mainwaring exclaimed, "Why, they were worth a fortune several times over in themselves!"
"I am aware of that," answered the attorney. "I often remonstrated with Mr. Mainwaring, but to no purpose; for some reason which he never explained he always kept them there."
"I would never have believed him capable of such recklessness," said Mr. Thornton.
"Recklessness!" exclaimed Ralph Mainwaring; "it was the biggest piece of imbecility I ever heard of! What is your opinion now, Mr. Whitney, regarding a robbery in connection with this case?"
"That there has been a robbery I am forced to admit," the attorney replied, courteously but firmly; "but my opinion of the matter is still unchanged. I regard the robbery as only incident to the murder. I do not yet believe it to have led to the deeper crime."
"Do you know, Mr. Scott, whether any one beside yourself understood the combination of the safe?" Ralph Mainwaring inquired.
"I do not, sir," the secretary replied, conscious that all eyes had turned upon him at the inquiry and that the detective was observing him closely.
Meanwhile Ralph Mainwaring loudly lamented the missing jewels, until it was evident to all that their loss, for the time at least, had completely overshadowed all thought of the tragedy they were investigating.
"They must be recovered at all hazards and at any price," he said, addressing the detective. "There were single gems in that collection which cost a fortune and which have been heirlooms in the family for generations."
After further search which failed to disclose anything of importance, or any clue regarding either the murder or the robbery, arrangements were made for the inquest to be held at three o'clock that afternoon, and the party was about to leave the apartments, when Mr. Whitney paused.
"One moment, gentlemen; there is one more point I would like investigated. I maintain that we have not yet discovered the most essential clue to this case—something to throw light on the possible motive which prompted the murder of Hugh Mainwaring. I now wish to make a final trial. Mr. Scott, will you once more open Mr. Mainwaring's desk for us and take out the will that was deposited there yesterday?"
Ralph Mainwaring started. "The will? You surely do not think—"
"I think it might be safer in our own possession," said the attorney, with a peculiar smile.
"And right you are!" added Mr. Thornton, approvingly. "I wonder you had not thought of that yourself, Mainwaring."
Meanwhile, Scott, having opened the desk in compliance with the attorney's request, had looked for the will where he had last seen it on the preceding day, and, failing to find it, was searching through the numerous receptacles containing Mr. Mainwaring's private papers. The silence around him became oppressive, and suddenly looking up, he encountered the glance of both Mr. Whitney and the detective, the former with an expression of triumph in his keen eyes. Perplexed and bewildered, Scott exclaimed in a mechanical tone,—
"The will is gone; it is nowhere to be found!"
"I thought as much," said the attorney, quietly.
The crowd, which early in the day had gathered about Fair Oaks, instead of diminishing, seemed rather to increase as the hours slipped away. Little by little the facts became known to outsiders,—the loss of the old family jewels, concerning whose existence and probable value vague rumors had been circulated in the past, the drawing up of the will on the preceding day and its strange disappearance in connection with the sudden and mysterious death of the testator,—all combined to arouse public interest and curiosity to an unusual degree; it seemed the culmination of the impenetrable mystery which for years had shrouded the place.
As the hour for the inquest approached, the crowd was augmented by each suburban train, until a throng of business men of all classes, interspersed with numerous reporters eager for the details of the affair, covered the grounds and even sought admittance to the house, for the millionaire broker, though a man of few intimate friendships, was widely known and honored in the financial and commercial world.
Shortly after the arrival of the 2.45 train from the city, the Mainwaring carriage came rapidly up the avenue, two or three other carriages following in the rear. As it stopped, Mr. Whitney alighted, followed by an elderly gentleman of fine appearance and two officers of the special police, who immediately began to force back the crowd, while the attorney and his companion hastily entered the house and were met by the butler, who, in response to a hurried inquiry, directed them up-stairs.
In the private library they found the detective who had been left there alone at his own request. There was a brief interview between the three, after which Mr. Whitney begged his companion to excuse him for a moment, and beckoning Mr. Merrick into the tower-room, asked eagerly,—
"Well, what success? Have you struck the trail?"
With an enigmatical smile, the detective replied, "The game has doubled back on the trail pretty adroitly, but I have made one or two little discoveries that may be of value later. What do you think of this?"
Opening a small note-book, he took therefrom several pieces of burnt paper, most of which were so blackened that the faint traces of writing which they bore were illegible. On a few pieces, however, words and parts of words could be distinctly read.
Mr. Whitney studied the bits of discolored paper for a moment, and then exclaimed in excited tones,
"Good heavens, man! it is the will! The will drawn up in these rooms yesterday! See, here is the date, 'this seventh day of July, in the year of our'—the rest is gone."
"Here is part of a name," said the detective, "'nor Houghton LaGra'—"
"Eleanor Houghton LaGrange!" exclaimed the attorney, "and below you can just trace the words, 'this amount of annuity to be'; and here are other bits, 'as to my estate and all property,' 'to hold the same forever, together with.' Well, I should say these were of value; where did you find them?"
For answer, Mr. Merrick pointed to a small fireplace behind the safe, near which a large screen was standing.
"Strange!" exclaimed the attorney. "I never noticed that before, much as I have been here."
"It escaped my observation for some time," replied the other. "I searched the fireplace in the library, but this grate is very small and was concealed by that large screen, as well as by the safe. Evidently, it was seldom used, and was selected for that reason by whoever destroyed the will, as more likely to escape notice."
"Rather a bungling piece of work," commented the attorney, "leaving these partially burned scraps. I wonder that he or she, whoever it was, did not make sure that they were entirely consumed."
"The person may have heard some sound and, fearing detection, hastened away before the job was completed," suggested the other.
"Well, it is past three, we must hasten; you found nothing more?"
"Nothing of special importance. I have learned one fact, however; the murder was never committed in this room, but in the library."
"The library! Why do you think that?"
"I do not think it, I know it, and was confident of it while we were making the examination this morning. Say nothing about it, however, for the present. We will go now, if you are ready."
Joining the gentleman still awaiting them in the library, they descended into the lower hall, where the detective suddenly disappeared.
Meanwhile, the coroner and members of the jury, after alighting from their carriages, marched gravely up the broad stairs and were conducted by a servant into one of the private apartments where lay the body of the murdered man. Under the direction of Dr. Westlake, the jury individually viewed the wounds, noting their location and character, and, after a brief visit to the room in the tower, all passed downstairs and were shown into the large library on the first floor.
The coroner occupied a large arm-chair at one end of a long writing-table in the centre of the room, the jury being seated together near his left, while on each side of the table chairs had been placed for the accommodation of a few of the more prominent reporters, the others, less favored, stationing themselves at the doorways and open windows.
In the room back of the library were the servants, the women grouped about the great arched doorway with white, frightened faces, the men standing a little farther in the rear, while in a dim corner, partially concealed by the heavy portieres and unseen by any one excepting the servants, was the detective.
When everything was in readiness, Mr. Whitney entered the room with the gentleman who had accompanied him out from the city and followed by the London guests. In the lead were Ralph Mainwaring and his son, the entrance of the latter causing a small stir of interest and excitement, as a score of pencils at once began to rapidly sketch the features of the young Englishman, the intended heir of Hugh Mainwaring. The young man's face wore an expression of unconcern, but his father's features were set and severe. To him, the loss of the will meant something more than the forfeiture of the exclusive ownership of a valuable estate; it meant the overthrow and demolition of one of his pet schemes, cherished for twenty-one years, just on the eve of its fulfilment; and those who knew Ralph Mainwaring knew that to thwart his plans was a dangerous undertaking.
Mr. Thornton followed, escorting Mrs. Mainwaring and her daughter, the cold, gray eyes of Isabel Mainwaring flashing a look of haughty disdain on the faces about her. Bringing up the rear was Mrs. Hogarth with her two charges, Edith Thornton and Winifred Carleton, the face of the latter lighted with an intelligent, sympathetic interest in her surroundings.
Harry Scott next entered, pausing in the doorway for an instant, while just behind him appeared Mrs. LaGrange. The room was already crowded, and Miss Carleton, seated near the door, with a quick glance invited the young secretary to a vacant chair by her side, which he gracefully accepted, but not before a tiny note had been thrust into his hand, unseen by any one excepting the detective.
Pale, but with all her accustomed hauteur, Mrs. LaGrange, accompanied by her son, passed slowly around the group of reporters, ignoring the chair offered by the attorney, and seated herself in a position as remote as possible from the guests of the house and commanding a full view of the servants. Her gown was noticeable for its elegance, and her jewelled hands toyed daintily with a superb fan, from whose waving black plumes a perfume, subtle and exquisite, was wafted to every part of the room.
In the silence that followed, the coroner, with a few brief words, called for the first witness, George Hardy. A young man, with a frank face and quiet, unassuming manner, stepped forward from the group of servants. After the usual preliminaries, the coroner inquired,—
"How long have you been in the employ of Mr. Mainwaring?"
"Nearly four years, sir."
"During that time you have held the position of valet?"
"At what time this morning did you discover what had occurred?"
"About seven o'clock, sir."
"You may state how you came to make this discovery, giving full particulars."
"I had gone as usual to the bath-room to prepare the bath for Mr. Mainwaring, and when everything was in readiness I knocked at his door to waken him. There was no answer, and, after knocking several times, I unlocked the door and looked in. I saw he had not occupied the room, but I didn't think much about that, and went on through the smoking-room into the library, and then I saw Mr. Mainwaring lying on the floor in the next room. At first I thought he was sick and went to him, but as I got nearer I saw that he was dead, and then I noticed the revolver lying beside him."
"What did you then do?"
"I was frightened, sir, and I went to call help as quick as I could."
"Who was the first person whom you met and told of your discovery?"
"Well, sir, I went first for Mr. Whitney, because he was a friend of Mr. Mainwaring's and a lawyer, and I thought he would know what to do; but on my way to his room I met Wilson, Mr. Ralph Mainwaring's valet, and I told him what had happened; then I called Mr. Whitney and told him Mr. Mainwaring had shot himself."
"Did you get the impression that Mr. Mainwaring bad shot himself from the fact that the revolver lay near his band, or had you any other reasons for that inference?"
"No, sir, that was the only reason."
"Can you state positively whether this revolver belonged to Mr. Mainwaring?" asked the coroner, at the same time passing the weapon to Hardy.
"Yes, sir," replied the latter, promptly, handing it back after a moment's inspection, "that is Mr. Mainwaring's revolver. I've cleaned it many a time, and there's little marks on it that I know sure."
"Very well. After summoning Mr. Whitney, did you call any other members of the household?"
"Mr. Whitney sent me to call Mr. Ralph Mainwaring; but I met Wilson again, and he said he had just told Mr. Mainwaring and Mr. Thornton, and was on his way to the room of young Mr. Mainwaring. Down the hall I met the butler and told him what had happened, and we both went into the library, and I stayed there till Mr. Whitney came."
"When did you last see Mr. Hugh Mainwaring?"
"Shortly after dinner last evening, between seven and eight o'clock, I should say, sir."
"Where was that?"
"In the main hall down-stairs, sir. He stopped me to say that he would not need me last evening, and that after locking up his rooms for the night I could have my time to myself."
"Was the locking of his rooms usually included among your duties at night?"
"Yes, sir; his private rooms and the hall on the south side."
"Did you have any stated time for doing this?"
"At nine o'clock, sir."
"You locked the rooms as usual last night?"
"Yes, sir; that is, I locked them all right, but it was later than usual."
"How was that?"
"About half an hour after Mr. Mainwaring spoke to me, the housekeeper came and asked me to keep the rooms open till about ten o'clock, as she was expecting callers and wanted to receive them by the south hall into her private parlor."
"At what time did you lock the rooms?"
"A few minutes after ten, sir. I felt kind of uneasy, because it was Mr. Mainwaring's orders that the rooms be shut at nine; so soon as 'twas ten o'clock I went around outside, and, seeing no light in her parlor, I went in and locked the hall and then went up-stairs to lock the rooms there."
"Did you see any strangers about the place at that time?"
"You saw no one in any of Mr. Mainwaring's private rooms?"
"No strangers, you mean? No, sir."
"Was there any one in his rooms?"
"The housekeeper was in the library. She had gone up-stairs that way, she said, and had found the door into the main hall locked, and hearing me come, she waited for me to open it."
"Had you locked the door into the main hall?"
"No, sir; that door wasn't usually locked in the evening. I don't know who locked it, but I opened it for her and then locked it again."
"Are you positive there was no one else in those rooms at that time?"
"Yes, sir, pretty sure," replied Hardy, with a smile, "for I looked them over uncommon thorough last night. I thought at first that I smelled smoke, like something burning, but I looked around careful and everything was all right."
At this point Mr. Whitney held a whispered consultation with the coroner for a moment.
"You say," continued the latter, "you thought you smelled something burning; could you state what the material seemed to be?"
"Well, sir, I thought it was like paper burning; but I must have been mistaken, for the papers on the table was all right and there was nothing in the fireplace."
"Did you see or hear anything unusual about the place at any time last night?"
For a moment the coroner was occupied with a slip of paper which had been passed to him through a number of hands; then he said,—
"Before you are dismissed, will you describe the locks used on the doors of Mr. Mainwaring's library and the south hall."
"They had the ordinary locks, sir; and then, in addition, a small, patent lock, that when a certain spring was turned the door locked of itself and could not be opened from either side unless one had the key and understood the working of the spring."
"Who had keys to fit these locks?"
"No one but Mr. Mainwaring. When he was home and wanted the doors unlocked, he hung the keys in a particular place in the library where I could find them, and when he went away he always took them with him."
"Did you unlock the library doors this morning?"
"Only the door into the main hall when I went to call Mr. Whitney,—that had nothing but an ordinary lock; but the other door, into the south hall, was unlocked and the keys gone when I first went into the library."
"One question more. Do you know whether any one else in the house had knowledge of or access to, these particular keys?"
"I don't know for certain, sir, but I think not."
The attorney was next called upon, and came forward, while Hardy resumed his former place among the servants.
"Mr. Whitney," said the coroner, after the witness had given the details of his arrival in the tower-room in response to the valet's summons, "will you please state when, and under what circumstances, you last saw Hugh Mainwaring living."
"At nearly eleven o'clock last night. Mr. Mainwaring had just bidden his guests good-night, and I believe they had all retired to their rooms, leaving him and myself together upon the veranda in front of the house. I remained with him about ten minutes, I should judge, talking over the events of the day which had been of unusual interest. I remember his remarking that he should not retire for an hour or so, as, to use his own expression, his thoughts would not let him sleep. We clasped hands with an exchange of good wishes. That was the last I ever saw him living or heard him speak."
Mr. Whitney's voice trembled slightly towards the close of his recital, but as he repeated Hugh Mainwaring's words a smile of scorn passed over the face of Mrs. LaGrange, who was seated directly opposite.
"Will you please state," said the coroner, "how Mr. Mainwaring had been engaged during the day, yesterday."
"Until about half-past two his time was spent in the preparation, with the assistance of his secretary and myself, and the execution of his last will and testament. The remainder of the day was devoted to the entertainment of his guests."
"Will you give briefly and in general terms the conditions of the will."
"With the exception of an annuity to his housekeeper and a handsome bequest to her son, it conveyed everything to his cousin and namesake, Hugh Mainwaring, Jr., whom he intended to-day to formally declare his heir."
"Where was this document placed, Mr. Whitney?"
"It was, at Mr. Mainwaring's request, placed by his secretary on his desk in the tower-room."
"You can give no further information regarding this will, now missing?"
"Only this," replied Mr. Whitney, with marked emphasis, "that we now have positive proof that the will was burned."
There was a general movement of surprise, both among the members of the household and outsiders; and the attorney, closely observant of Mrs. LaGrange, saw her cheek, which but a moment before, at his mention of the annuity contained in the will, had flamed with anger, suddenly assume a strange pallor.
"Mr. Whitney," continued the coroner, having consulted a small memorandum which he held, "do you know whether there were any strangers at Fair Oaks yesterday?"
"I have no personal knowledge on that subject. The secretary informs me that a stranger inquired for Mr. Mainwaring in the afternoon, and remarks were made at luncheon, that impressed me considerably, regarding some one who had called in the forenoon, whether to see Mr. Mainwaring I am not prepared to state."
"Will you state the nature of those remarks?"
"I should prefer to be excused until later in this examination. For the present, I will merely say that one of Mr. Mainwaring's guests incidentally met and recognized this caller; that the latter was evidently well and unfavorably known by both Mr. Mainwaring and his guests, and, if I am not mistaken, by the secretary also, and that the mention of the man's name seemed to affect Mr. Hugh Mainwaring very unpleasantly."
"In what respect, Mr. Whitney?"
"He grew very pale and appeared confused, if not alarmed, on learning that the man was in this country and had been seen at this house, and he seemed abstracted and very unlike himself for fully an hour after the occurrence."
"Will you state the name of this man?"
"He was spoken of as Richard Hobson, formerly an attorney, of London."
A LITTLE ROYAL
"Harry Scorr, private secretary of Hugh Mainwaring," announced the coroner, when Mr. Whitney had resumed his chair.
As the young secretary walked deliberately through the crowded room, there were few who failed to remark his erect, athletic form, his splendid bearing, and especially the striking beauty of his dark face, with its olive tint, clear-cut features, indicative of firmness and strength, and large, piercing eyes, within whose depths, on the present occasion, there seemed to be, half hidden, half revealed, some smouldering fire. Instantly a half-dozen pencils were transferring to paper his form and features.
"Say, what are you 'doing' him for?" whispered one reporter to his neighbor. "He isn't anybody; only the old man's secretary."
"Can't help that," replied the other; "he's better looking than the English chap, anyhow; and, in my opinion, the old fellow would have shown better sense to have left him the 'stuff.'"
Meanwhile, young Scott, having answered a few preliminary interrogatories, turned slowly, facing Mrs. LaGrange, who was watching him with an intensity of manner and expression as though she would compel him to meet her gaze.
As his glance met hers, a look of inquiry flashed from her eyes to his, accompanied by an expression persuasive, almost appealing. But the only reply was an ominous flash from the dark eyes, as, with a gesture of proud disdain, he folded his arms and again faced his interlocutor, while, with eyes gleaming with revenge from under their heavily drooping lids and lips that curled from time to time in a smile of bitter malignity, she watched him, listening eagerly for his testimony, losing no word that he said.
The young secretary well understood the character of the enemy with whom he had thus declared war, though he was as yet in ignorance of the weapons she would use against him, but the honeyed words of the little note crushed within his pocket had no power to swerve him for an instant from the course upon which he had determined.
After a few general questions, the coroner said,
"Please state when and what was the first intimation received by you of any unusual occurrence."
"I was awakened this morning by a woman's scream and heard sounds of confused running in different directions. A few moments later Mr. Whitney came to my room and informed me of what had occurred, and I then went with him to the private rooms of Mr. Mainwaring."
"You were associated with Mr. Mainwaring yesterday during the greater part of the day and evening, were you not?"