"I was during the day, but I did not see him after dinner until late at night."
"Did you notice anything unusual in his appearance at any time yesterday?"
"He appeared rather depressed for about an hour after luncheon, during the execution of the will."
"Did you know any cause for such depression?"
"I attributed it, in my own mind, to the conversation at luncheon, to which Mr. Whitney has referred."
"Regarding one Richard Hobson?"
"Do you know what, if any, relations existed between Mr. Mainwaring and this Hobson?"
The black plumes of Mrs. LaGrange's fan suddenly quivered, her cheek paled, and her breath came and went quickly, but these were the only signs of agitation which she betrayed, as Scott replied,—
"I have no knowledge as to what relations existed between them of late. I only know that Mr. Mainwaring had, years ago, some important private business with this man."
"Will you state the nature of this business?"
"Without giving exact details," Scott replied, speaking deliberately but with no hesitation, though conscious of the surprise and indignation depicted on some of the faces about him, "this man was employed as an attorney by Mr. Mainwaring before the latter came to this country, and has since, at various times, extorted money from him by threats of exposure regarding certain transactions."
The silence that followed this statement was of itself eloquent. The young secretary felt every eye fastened upon himself, and, though his own eyes were fixed on the coroner's face, he saw reflected even there the general expression of mingled astonishment, incredulity, and resentment. Unmoved, however, he awaited, coolly and impassively, the next words of the coroner.
"Mr. Scott," said Dr. Westlake, a touch of severity in his tone, "this is a serious assertion to make regarding a man so widely known as Mr. Mainwaring, and so universally considered above reproach in his business transactions."
"I am aware of that fact, sir," replied Scott, calmly, "but reference to the private letter-files of Mr. Mainwaring will prove the truth of my assertion. I made this statement simply because the time and place demanded it. You were endeavoring to ascertain the cause of Mr. Mainwaring's perturbation on learning yesterday of the arrival of Hobson. I have given what I consider the clue."
"How recently had this man Hobson extorted money from Mr. Mainwaring, and in what amount?"
"The last money sent him was about three years ago, a sum of five thousand dollars. Hobson wrote a most insolent letter of acknowledgment, stating that, as this money would set him on his feet for a time, he would not write again immediately, but assuring Mr. Mainwaring that he would never be able to elude him, as the writer would keep posted regarding his whereabouts, and might, some time in the future, call upon him in person."
"Can you describe this man's appearance?"
"I cannot, having never met him."
"Will you describe the stranger who is reported to have called in the afternoon."
"He was tall, quite pale, with dark hair and moustache. He was dressed in a tweed suit, somewhat travel-worn, and wore dark glasses."
"Did he state his errand?"
"Only that he wished to see Mr. Mainwaring on business of special importance. He at first seemed rather insistent, but, on learning that Mr. Mainwaring was out and that he would receive no business calls for a day or two, he readily consented to defer his interview until later."
"Did he leave his name or address?"
"His card bore the name of J. Henry Carruthers, of London. He gave his present address as the Arlington House."
"You noticed nothing unusual in his appearance?"
"The only thing that struck me as rather peculiar was that Mr. Carruthers seemed well informed regarding events expected to take place here, while his name was wholly unfamiliar to Mr. Mainwaring."
At this point a pencilled note was handed by the coroner to Mr. Whitney, who immediately summoned George Hardy and hastily despatched him on some errand.
"Mr. Scott," resumed the coroner, "were you in Mr. Mainwaring's private library at any time during last evening?"
"I was not. I spent the entire evening in my own room."
"When did you again see Mr. Mainwaring?"
"Not until after eleven o'clock. I had come down for a smoke in the grounds outside and met Mr. Mainwaring in the lower hall on the way to his rooms. He asked me to come to his library before retiring, as he wished to give some final directions for the next day. About half an hour later I went to the library door, but hearing loud and angry talk within, I waited in the hall some fifteen or twenty minutes until I knew Mr. Mainwaring was alone. I then entered, received his instructions, and went directly to my room for the night."
"Were you able to recognize the voices or hear any of the conversation?"
"I was. I recognized the voice of the housekeeper, Mrs. LaGrange; but feeling that I was hearing what was not intended for me, I walked back into the main hall and remained there until Mrs. LaGrange came out."
"You saw her leave the library?"
"Yes, sir; I passed her in the corridor."
"She saw you, of course?"
"She seemed scarcely conscious of my presence until we had passed; she then turned and watched me as I entered the library."
"What was the nature of the conversation which you heard?"
"I only heard what Mrs. LaGrange said. She evidently was very angry with Mr. Mainwaring."
"Can you repeat her words as you heard them?"
"Not entirely. She accused Mr. Mainwaring of dishonesty, saying that he had defrauded his only brother, and had ignored and robbed his own son to put a stranger in his place. The last words I heard were, '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.'"
Harry Scott, with the proof of his employer's crimes in his possession, repeated these words with an indifference and impassiveness that seemed unnatural, while the smouldering fire in his eyes gleamed fitfully, as though he knew some secret of which the others little dreamed.
But, if spoken indifferently, the words were not received with indifference. The reporters bent to their task with renewed ardor, since it promised developments so rich and racy. Ralph Mainwaring's face was dark with suppressed wrath; Mr. Thornton seemed hardly able to restrain himself; while the attorney grew pale with excitement and anger. Mrs. LaGrange alone remained unmoved, as much so as the witness himself, her eyes half closed and a cynical smile playing about her lips as she listened to the repetition of her own words.
"Did Mr. Mainwaring make no reply?" inquired the coroner.
"He did, but it was inaudible to me."
"You went into the library as soon as he was alone?"
"At what hour was this?"
"A few minutes past twelve."
"Was that the last time you saw Mr. Mainwaring living?"
"Can you state whether any one was in his rooms after you left?"
"Mr. Scott, by your own statement, you must have been in Mr. Mainwaring's library within an hour preceding his death; consequently, I would like you to give every detail of that interview."
"I am perfectly willing, sir, but there are few to give. The interview occupied possibly ten minutes. Mr. Mainwaring appeared very weary, and, after giving directions regarding any personal mail or telegrams which might be received, stated that he wished me to consider myself his guest on the following day and join in the festivities of the occasion. I thanked him, and, wishing him good-night, withdrew."
"In which room were you?"
"We were both in the library. When I first entered, Mr. Mainwaring was walking back and forth, his hands folded behind him, as was usually his habit when thinking deeply, but he immediately seated himself and gave me my instructions. The tower-room was dimly lighted and the curtains were drawn quite closely together at the entrance."
"Did you hear any unusual sound after reaching your room?"
"Not at that time. I was aroused about three o'clock this morning by what I thought was a stealthy step in the grounds in the rear of the house, but I listened for a moment and heard nothing more."
"That will do for the present, Mr. Scott. You will probably be recalled later," said the coroner, watching the secretary rather curiously. Then he added, in a different tone,—
"The next witness is Mrs. LaGrange."
There was a perceptible stir throughout the crowd as, with a movement of inimitable grace, Mrs. LaGrange stepped forward, darting a swift glance of such venomous hatred towards Scott, as he again seated himself beside Miss Carleton, that the latter, with a woman's quick intuition, instantly grasped the situation and watched the proceedings with new interest and closer attention. As Mrs. LaGrange took her place and began answering the questions addressed to her, the eager listeners pressed still more closely in their efforts to catch every word, feeling instinctively that some startling developments would be forthcoming; but no one was prepared for the shock that followed when, in response to the request to state her full name, the reply came, in clear tones, with unequivocal distinctness,—
"Eleanor Houghton Mainwaring."
For an instant an almost painful silence ensued, until Dr. Westlake said,—
"Will you state your relation to the deceased?"
"I was the lawfully wedded, but unacknowledged, wife of Hugh Mainwaring," was the calm reply.
"Please state when and where your marriage took place," said the coroner, watching the witness narrowly.
"We were married privately in London, about three months before Mr. Mainwaring came to this country."
"How long ago was that?"
"A little more than twenty-three years."
"You say that you were privately married, and that in all these years Mr. Mainwaring never acknowledged you as his wife?"
"Yes. I was at that time a widow, and, owing to certain unpleasant circumstances attending the last months of my former husband's life, Mr. Mainwaring insisted that our marriage be strictly private. I acceded to his wishes, and we were married as quietly as possible. At the end of three months he deserted me, and for four years I did not even know where he had gone. During that time, however, I learned that my husband, who had been fearful of soiling his proud name by having it publicly joined with mine, was, in the sight of the law, a common criminal. I finally traced him to America, and five years after he deserted me I had the pleasure of confronting him with the facts which I had obtained. With passionate protestations of renewed love and fair promises of an honorable married life, he sought to purchase my silence, and, fool that I was! I yielded. He claimed that he could not at once acknowledge me as his wife, because he was already known as an unmarried man, but in the near future we would repeat the marriage ceremony and I should be the honored mistress of his heart and home. I believed him and waited. Meantime, our child was born, and then a new role had to be adopted. Had he not known that he was in my power, I would then have been thrust out homeless with my babe, but he dared not do that. Instead, I was brought to Fair Oaks dressed in widow's garb, as a distant relative of his who was to be his housekeeper. So, for my son's sake, hoping he would some day receive his rights, I have lived a double life, regarded as a servant where I should have been mistress, and holding that poor position only because it was within my power to put the master of the house in a felon's cell!"
"Can you produce the certificate of this marriage?" inquired the coroner, regarding the witness with a searching glance as she paused in her recital.
"Unfortunately," she replied, in a tone ringing with scorn and defiance, "I cannot produce our marriage certificate, as my husband kept that in his possession, and frequently threatened to destroy it. If it is in existence, it will be found in his safe; but I can produce a witness who was present at our marriage, and who himself signed the certificate."
"State the name of this witness."
"Richard Hobson, of London."
"You are then acquainted with this Hobson?" the coroner inquired, at the same time making an entry in the memorandum he held.
"Naturally, as he was at one time my husband's attorney."
"He called at Fair Oaks yesterday, did he not?"
"Do you know whether he called more than once?"
"He came a second time, in the evening, accompanied by his clerk."
"Was his object at either time to secure an interview with Mr. Mainwaring?"
"He called to see me on private business."
"Had he any intention of meeting Mr. Mainwaring later?"
"I know nothing regarding his intentions."
"Mrs. LaGrange," said the coroner, after a pause, "you were in Mr. Mainwaring's library between the hours of eleven and twelve last night, were you not?"
Her face darkened with anger at his form of address. "I was in my husband's library at that hour," she replied.
"How long were you there?"
"I cannot state exactly," she answered, indifferently; "perhaps half an hour."
"Did Mr. Scott repeat correctly your words to Mr. Mainwaring?"
"I have no doubt that he did. His memory on the subject is much better than mine."
"What was the meaning of your threat to Mr. Mainwaring, that you would make him and his friends regret the day's proceedings?"
"He understood my meaning. He knew that I could set aside the will, and could ruin him by exposing his duplicity and fraud."
"What reply did he make?"
"He answered me, as usual, with sneers; but I saw that he felt somewhat apprehensive. I wished to give him a little time to reflect upon a proposition I had made, and I left the library, intending to return later; but," she added, slowly and significantly, "I was superseded by another visitor."
"Explain your meaning," said the coroner, briefly.
"My husband's private secretary entered the library directly after I left. Some thirty minutes later I passed down the corridor towards the library, and was startled to hear Mr. Mainwaring, in loud and excited tones, denouncing some one as a liar and an impostor. The reply was low, in a voice trembling with rage, but I caught the words, 'You are a liar and a thief! If you had your deserts, you would be in a felon's cell to-night, or transported to the wilds of Australia!' There was much more in the same tone, but so low I could not distinguish the words, and, thinking Mr. Mainwaring was likely to be occupied for some time, I immediately retired to my room."
"Was the voice of the second speaker familiar to you?" inquired Dr. Westlake, in the breathless silence that followed this statement.
A half smile, both cunning and cruel, played around the lips of the witness, as she answered, with peculiar emphasis and with a ring of triumph in her tone,—
"The voice was somewhat disguised, but it was distinctly recognizable as that of Mr. Scott, the private secretary."
To Scott himself, these words came with stunning force, not so much for the accusation which they conveyed, as that her recital of those words spoken within the library seemed but the repetition of words which had rung in his brain the preceding night, as, alone in his room, he had, in imagination, confronted his employer with the proof of his guilt which that afternoon's search had brought to light. His fancy had vividly portrayed the scene in which he would arraign Hugh Mainwaring as a thief, and would himself, in turn, be denounced as an impostor until he should have established his claims by the indubitable evidence now in his possession. Such a scene bad in reality been enacted,—those very words had been spoken,—and, for an instant, it seemed to Scott as though he had been, unconsciously, one of the actors.
The general wonder and consternation with which he was now regarded by the crowd quickly recalled him, however, to the present situation, and awakened within him a sudden, fierce resentment, though he remained outwardly calm.
"At that time," continued the coroner, "were you of the opinion that it was Mr. Scott whom you heard thus addressing Mr. Mainwaring?"
"Yes, I had every reason to believe it was he, and I have now additional reasons for the same belief."
"Are these additional reasons founded on your own personal knowledge, or on the information of others?"
"Upon information received from various members of the household."
"Did you see Mr. Scott leave the library?"
"I did not."
"Can you state about what time you heard this conversation?"
"I went immediately to my room, and there found that it lacked only ten minutes of one."
"Did you hear any unusual sound afterwards?"
"I did not. I heard no one in the halls; and Mr. Mainwaring's apartments were so remote from the general sleeping-rooms that no sound from there, unless very loud, could have reached the other occupants of the house."
Further questions failed to develop any evidence of importance, and the witness was temporarily dismissed. Glancing at his watch, the coroner remarked,
"It is nearly time to adjourn, but if Mr. Hardy has returned we will first hear what he has to report."
As the valet again came forward, Dr. Westlake asked, "Were you able to learn anything concerning the strangers who were here yesterday?"
"Not very much, sir," was the reply. "I went to the Arlington first and inquired for Mr. J. Henry Carruthers, and they told me there was no such person registered there; but they said a man answering that description, tall and wearing dark glasses, came into the hotel last evening and took dinner and sat for an hour or so in the office reading the evening papers. He went out some time between seven and eight o'clock, and they had seen nothing more of him."
"Was Richard Hobson at the Arlington?"
"No, sir; but I went to the Riverside, and found R. Hobson registered there. They said he came in in the forenoon and ordered a carriage for Fair Oaks. He came back to lunch, but kept his room all the afternoon. He had a man with him in his room most of the afternoon, but he took no meals there. After dinner Hobson went out, and nobody knew when he came back; but he was there to breakfast, and took the first train to the city. I made some inquiries at the depot, and the agent said there was a tall man, in a gray ulster and with dark glasses, who took the 3.10 train this morning to the city, but he didn't notice him particularly. That was all I could learn."
As the hour was late, the inquest was then adjourned until ten o'clock the next morning. Every one connected with the household at Fair Oaks was expected to remain on the premises that night; and, dinner over, the gentlemen, including Mr. Whitney, locked themselves within the large library to discuss the inevitable contest that would arise over the estate and to devise how, with the least possible delay, to secure possession of the property.
Later in the evening Harry Scott came down from his room for a brief stroll through the grounds. A bitter smile crossed his face as he noticed the brightly illumined library and heard the eager, excited tones within, remembering the dimly-lighted room above with its silent occupant, unloved, unmourned, unthought of, in marked contrast to the preceding night, when Hugh Mainwaring lavished upon his guests such royal entertainment and was the recipient of their congratulations and their professions of esteem and regard.
As he paced slowly up and down the avenues, his thoughts were not of the present, but of the past and future. At the earliest opportunity that day he had returned to the city, ostensibly, to attend to some telegraphic despatches, but his main errand had been to consult with an eminent lawyer whom he knew by reputation, and in whom both Hugh Mainwaring and Mr. Whitney, in numerous legal contests, had found a powerful and bitter opponent. To him Scott had intrusted his own case, giving him the fullest details, and leaving in his possession for safe keeping the proofs which were soon to play so important a part; and Mr. Sutherland, the attorney retained by Scott, had been present at the inquest, apparently as a disinterested spectator, but, in reality, one of the most intensely interested of them all.
THE WEAVING OF THE WEB
Ten o'clock found an eager crowd assembled in and about the large library at Fair Oaks, drawn by reports of the sensational features developed on the preceding day. The members of the household occupied nearly the same positions as on the preceding afternoon, with the exception of the secretary, who had entered the room a little in advance of the others and had seated himself near the coroner.
Notwithstanding the glances of doubt and distrust which Scott encountered, and his own consciousness that suspicion against himself would deepen as all the facts in the case became known, he was as impassive as ever. Even Mr. Whitney was wholly at a loss to account for the change in the bearing of the secretary. He was no longer the employee, but carried himself with a proud independence, as though conscious of some mysterious vantage-ground.
On the other side of the coroner, but conveniently near Scott, was Mr. Sutherland, while in the rear, commanding a good view of both gentlemen, as well as of nearly every face in the room, sat Mr. Merrick, though to a stranger his manner would have implied the utmost indifference to the proceedings.
The first witness called for by the coroner was Johnson, the butler. For the first five or ten minutes his testimony was little more than a corroboration of that given by the valet on the preceding day, of the discovery of the death of Hugh Mainwaring.
"You say," said the coroner, "that at Mr. Whitney's request you remained in the upper hall, near the library and within call?"
"Will you state how long a time you should think elapsed between the alarm given by Hardy and the appearance of the entire household, including both the guests and the servants?"
"Well, sir, Hardy gave the alarm a little after seven. The servants were already up and crowded around there immediately, and I should say that every one, including the ladies, was out within twenty minutes, or thirty at the latest, with the exception of Mrs. LaGrange and her son."
"At what time did the latter appear?"
"It must have been considerably after eight o'clock, sir, when she came to the library in response to a message from Mr. Whitney."
"And her son?"
"I did not see Mr. Walter LaGrange at all during the forenoon, sir."
"How was that?" inquired Dr. Westlake, rather quickly. "Was he not at Fair Oaks?"
"I cannot say, sir. I did not see him until luncheon."
"When did you last see Mr. Mainwaring?"
"A little after eleven o'clock night before last,—Wednesday night, sir. I was in the hall as he passed upstairs to his rooms, and I heard him ask Mr. Scott to come to his library."
"Did there seem to be any coldness or unpleasantness between them?"
"No, sir; they both appeared the same as usual."
"Did any strangers call at Fair Oaks Wednesday aside from those mentioned yesterday?"
"Will you describe the strangers who were here, stating when they called and any particulars you are able to give?"
"The man giving his name as R. Hobson called between eleven and twelve, Wednesday morning. He was tall, with thin features, small, dark eyes, and a very soft voice. He came in a carriage, inquired for Mrs. LaGrange, and seemed in considerable haste. He stayed about an hour. The gentleman who called about four in the afternoon also came in a carriage and inquired for Mr. Mainwaring, saying he had been directed to Fair Oaks at the city offices of Mainwaring & Co. On learning that Mr. Mainwaring was out, he asked for the secretary; and I took his card to Mr. Scott, who gave directions to have him shown up into the library. I do not know when he left. He was tall, with black hair and moustache and dark glasses."
"Mr. Hobson's call occasioned considerable comment at luncheon, did it not?"
"Did you observe that it had any effect on Mr. Mainwaring?"
"Well, sir, I thought he appeared considerably annoyed, and after luncheon he asked me whether Mr. Hobson had inquired for him."
"Did you admit Hobson when he called in the evening?"
"I did not, sir. I merely met him at the door and directed him to the south side entrance."
"At Mrs. LaGrange's request?"
"Yes, sir; in accordance with her instructions."
"Did she give any reason for such instructions?"
"Merely that his former call had caused so much remark she wished to receive him privately."
"Was he alone when he called the second time?"
"Can you describe the person who accompanied him?"
"No, sir. The man stood so far in the shadow that I could only see the outlines of his form. I should say he was about the same height as Mr. Hobson, but considerably heavier."
"Do you know at what hour they left?"
Further questions failing to elicit any facts bearing upon the situation, the butler was dismissed, and Brown, the coachman, took his place. The latter was far less taciturn than the butler, seeming rather eager to impart some piece of information which he evidently considered of special importance.
After a few preliminary questions, the coroner said,—
"At what time, and from whom, did you first hear of Mr. Mainwaring's death?"
"About half-past seven, yesterday morning, sir. I was a-taking care of the horses, sir, when Uncle Mose—he's the gardener, sir—he comes past the stable on his way to the tool-house, and he tells me that Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered in the night, right in his own rooms, and then he tells me-"
"How long had you been up and at work in the stables?"
"Before I heard of the murder? Well, about an hour, I should say. I generally gets up at six."
"Had you been to the house that morning?"
"No, sir; but I went right up there after seeing Uncle Mose, and I was in the kitchen telling what I had seen the night before, when the butler he comes down and said as how Mr. Ralph Mainwaring wanted me, and that I had better keep my mouth shut till I was asked to tell what I knew."
"Where were you last Wednesday night?" asked the coroner, rather abruptly.
Brown looked surprised, but answered readily, "I was out with some friends of mine. We all went down to the city together that night and stayed out pretty late, and it seems a mighty good thing we did, too."
"Why so?" asked the coroner.
"Well, sir," said Brown, deliberately, glad of an opportunity to tell his story and evidently determined to make the most of it, "as I said, we stayed out that night later than we meant to, and I didn't waste no time getting home after I left the depot. So, when I got to Fair Oaks, I thought I'd take the shortest cut, and so I come in by the south gate, off from the side street, and took the path around the lake to get to the stables."
"What lake do you mean?" interrupted the coroner.
"The small lake back of the grove in the south part of the grounds. Well, I was hurrying along through that grove, and all of a sudden I seen a man standing on the edge of the lake with his back towards me. He was very tall, and wore an ulster that came nearly to his feet, and he looked so queer that I stepped out of the path and behind some big trees to watch him. I hadn't no more than done so, when he stooped and picked up something, and come right up the path towards me. The moon was shining, had been up about two hours, I should say, but his back was to the light and I couldn't see his face, nor I didn't want him to see me. After he'd got by I stepped out to watch him and see if he went towards the house, but he didn't; he took the path I had just left and walked very fast to the south gate and went out onto the side street."
"In which direction did he then go?" asked the coroner.
"He went up onto the main avenue and turned towards the town."
"Can you describe his appearance?"
"Only that he was tall and had very black hair; but his face was in the shadow, so I couldn't tell how he looked."
"What did he pick up from the ground?"
"I couldn't see very plain, but it looked like a small, square box done up in paper."
"You did not try to call any one?"
"No, sir. The man didn't go near the house, and I didn't think much about it until Uncle Mose told me yesterday morning that the night before he seen—"
"Never mind what he saw; we will let him tell his own story. Was that all you saw?"
"No, sir; it wasn't," replied Brown, with a quick side glance towards Mrs. LaGrange, who occupied the same position as on the preceding day. "I was going along towards the stables, thinking about that man, and all of a sudden I noticed there was a bright light in one of the rooms up-stairs. The curtains wasn't drawn, and I thought I'd see whose room it was, so I walked up towards the house carefully, and I saw Mr. Mainwaring's secretary. He looked awfully pale and haggard, and was walking up and down the room kind of excited like. Just then I happened to step on the gravelled walk and he heard me, for he started and looked kind of frightened and listened a moment, and then he stepped up quick and extinguished the light, and I was afraid he'd see me then from the window, so I hurried off. But I thought 'twas mighty queer-"
"Mr. Scott was dressed, was he?" interrupted the coroner.
"Yes, sir," Brown answered, sullenly.
"Did you go directly to your room?"
"What time was this?"
"I heard the clock strike three just after I got in."
"You saw or heard nothing more?"
"You knew nothing of what had occurred at the house until the gardener told you in the morning?"
"N—yes—no, sir," Brown stammered, with another glance towards Mrs. LaGrange, who was watching him closely.
"What did you say?" demanded the coroner.
"I said I didn't know what had happened till Uncle Mose told me," Brown answered, doggedly.
"That will do," said the coroner, watching the witness narrowly as he resumed his place among the servants.
During the latter part of Brown's testimony, quick, telegraphic glances had been exchanged between Scott and Mr. Sutherland, and one or two slips of paper, unobserved by any one but Merrick, had passed from one to the other.
Scott was well aware that the statements made by the coachman had deepened suspicion against himself. He paid little attention to the crowd, however, but noted particularly the faces of the guests at Fair Oaks. Ralph Mainwaring's, dark with anger; that of the genial Mr. Thornton coldly averted; young Mainwaring's supercilious stare, and his sister's expression of contemptuous disdain; and as he studied their features his own grew immobile as marble. Suddenly his glance encountered Miss Carleton's face and was held for a moment as though under a spell. There was no weak sentimentality there, no pity or sympathy,—he would have scorned either,—but the perfect confidence shining in her eyes called forth a quick response from his own, though not a muscle stirred about the sternly-set mouth. She saw and understood, and, as her eyes fell, a smile, inexplicable and mysterious, flashed for an instant across her face and was gone.
"John Wilson," announced the coroner, after a slight pause.
A middle-aged man, rather dull in appearance, except for a pair of keenly observant eyes, stepped forward with slow precision.
"You are Mr. Ralph Mainwaring's valet, I believe?" said the coroner.
"That I am, sir," was the reply.
"Have you been for some time in his employ?"
The man peered sharply at Dr. Westlake from under his heavy brows, and replied, with great deliberation, "Nigh onto thirty years, sir."
Then, noting the surprise in his interlocutor's face, he added, with dignity, "The Wilsons, sir, have served the Mainwarings for three generations. My father, sir, was valet to the father of the dead Hugh Mainwaring, the Honorable Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, sir."
A smile played over the features of young Mainwaring at these words, but Scott started involuntarily, and, after studying Wilson's face intently for a moment, hastily pencilled a few words on a slip of paper which he handed to Mr. Sutherland, and both watched the witness with special interest.
His testimony differed little from that given by Hardy and by the butler. He stated, however, that, after accompanying Mr. Ralph Mainwaring to the scene of the murder, the latter sent him to summon Mr. Scott; but on his way to the young gentleman's room he saw Mr. Whitney in advance of him, who called the secretary and immediately returned with him to the library.
"Was Mr. Scott already up when Mr. Whitney called him?" the coroner inquired, quickly.
"He was up and dressed, sir," was the reply.
Wilson also corroborated the butler's statement that Walter LaGrange was not seen about the premises until luncheon, and stated, in addition, that the horse belonging to young LaGrange was missing from the stables until nearly noon. Having mingled very little with the servants at Fair Oaks, he had but slight knowledge concerning the occurrences of the day preceding the murder. His testimony was therefore very brief.
"Katie O'Brien, chambermaid," was next called; and in response a young Irish woman quietly took her place before the coroner. She answered the questions addressed her as briefly as possible, but with deliberation, as though each word had been carefully weighed.
"Did you have charge of the private rooms of Mr. Mainwaring?"
"You took care of his rooms as usual Wednesday?"
"Did you see Mr. Mainwaring during the day or evening?"
"I met him once or twice in the halls."
"When did you last see him?"
"About two o'clock Wednesday afternoon."
"State how you first heard of his death."
"I was working in the halls up-stairs about seven that morning and heard running back and forth, as if there was trouble. I went out into the front hall and met the butler, and he told me Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered."
"Did you go in to see him at that time?"
"Yes, sir, for a moment."
"Did you notice anything unusual in his rooms?"
"I didn't notice anything unusual in Mr. Mainwaring's rooms."
"Did you in any room?"
"In what one?"
"In Mr. Scott's room, a little later."
"State what you observed."
"A few minutes after I left the library I saw Mr. Scott come out of his room and go away with Mr. Whitney, and I thought I would go in and do up the room. So I went in, but the bed was just as I had made it up the day before. It hadn't been slept in nor touched. Then things was strewn around considerable, and the top drawer of his dressing-case was kept locked all the forenoon until he went to the city."
"When did he go to the city?"
"Did you see Mr. Scott the day or evening preceding Mr. Mainwaring's death?"
"No, sir; but I know he was locked in Mr. Mainwaring's library all the afternoon, after the folks had gone out driving."
"How do you know the library was locked?"
"I was sweeping in the corridor, and I heard him unlock the door when the butler came up with some gentleman's card."
"Did you see the gentleman who came up-stairs later?"
"Did you see Walter LaGrange at any time during yesterday forenoon?"
The witness colored slightly, but replied, "I think I met him once or twice; I don't remember just when."
"He was away from home part of the time, was he not?"
"I don't know where he was."
Nothing further of importance could be learned from the witness, and, as it was then past twelve, a short recess was taken until after lunch.
Scott took his place at the table with the guests, seemingly alike indifferent to cold aversion or angry frowns. He was conscious that Miss Carleton was watching him, her manner indicating the same frank friendliness she had shown him on the preceding day, and in response to a signal from her, as they rose from the table, he followed her into one of the drawing-rooms, joining her in a large alcove window, where she motioned him to a seat on a low divan by her side.
"You have made a bitter enemy in Mrs. LaGrange," she said, archly; "and she has marshalled her forces against you."
"Do you think so?" he asked, with an amused smile.
"Certainly. She displayed her tactics this morning. I am positive that much of the testimony was given in accordance with her orders."
"For the most part, however, the witnesses stated facts," Scott replied, watching her closely.
"Yes; but facts may be so misrepresented as to give an impression quite the reverse of the truth."
"That is so. And a misrepresentation having a foundation of truth is the hardest to fight. But," he added, in a lighter tone, "all this testimony against me does not seem to have produced the same impression upon you that it has upon the others. Your suspicions do not seem, as yet, to have been very thoroughly aroused."
"Perhaps my suspicions are as dormant as your own apprehensions. I fail to detect the slightest anxiety on your part as to the outcome of this, one way or another."
"No," he replied, after a pause; "I feel no anxiety, only resentment that circumstances have conspired against me just at this time, and contempt for people who will be led by appearances rather than their own judgment."
"People sometimes use very little judgment where their own personal interests are concerned."
"In that case," said Scott, as they rose to return to the library, where the others had already preceded them, "I suppose the word of one unprincipled woman and of three or four ignorant servants will be allowed to outweigh mine."
They had reached the library and Miss Carleton made no reply, but Scott again saw the same inscrutable little smile play over her features, and wondered at its meaning.
Upon resuming the examination, the first witness called for was Mary Catron, the second cook, a woman about thirty-five years of age, with an honest face, but one indicative of a fiery temper. Her testimony was brief, but given with a directness that was amusing. When questioned of the occurrences of the day preceding the murder, she replied,—
"I know nothing of what went on except from the gossip of the rest. My place was in the kitchen, and I had too much to do that day to be loitering round in the halls, leaning on a broom-handle, and listening at keyholes," and she cast a glance of scathing contempt in the direction of the chambermaid.
"Did this 'gossip' that you speak of have any bearing on what has since occurred?" the coroner inquired.
"Well, sir, it might and it mightn't. 'Twas mostly about the will that Mr. Mainwaring was making; and as how them that got little was angry that they didn't get more, and them as got much was growling at not getting the whole."
"How did the servants gain any knowledge of this will?"
"That's more than I can say, sir, except as I knows the nature of some folks."
Upon further questioning, the witness stated that on the night of the murder, between the hours of two and three, she was aroused by a sound like the closing of an outside door, but on going to one of the basement windows to listen, she heard nothing further and concluded she had been mistaken.
"Did you see the coachman at that time?" she was asked.
"A few minutes later I looked out again and I see him gaping and grinning at the house and jabbering to himself like an idiot, and I was minded to send him about his business if he hadn't a-took himself off when he did."
"He was perfectly sober, was he not?"
"Sober for aught that I know; but, to my thinking, he's that daft that he's noways responsible for aught that he says."
"Were you up-stairs soon after the alarm was given?" asked the coroner, when she had told of hearing from the butler the news of the murder.
"Yes, sir; I went up as soon as ever I heard what had happened."
"Who was in the library at that time?"
"Nobody but some of the servants, sir. I met Mr. Whitney just as I came out."
"Did you meet any one else?"
"I met no one, but I saw the housekeeper coming out of her son's room. She didn't see me; but she was telling him to get ready quick to go somewheres, and I heard her say to hurry, for every minute was precious."
Louis Picot, the head cook, could give no information whatever. When the alarm was given, he had rushed, with the other servants, to the scene of the murder, and in his imperfect English, accompanied by expressive French gestures, he tried to convey his horror and grief at the situation, but that was all.
The two maids who attended the English ladies were next called upon; but their testimony was mainly corroborative of that given by the chambermaid, except that Sarah Whitely, Miss Carleton's maid, stated, in addition, that she had seen Mr. Walter LaGrange leave his mother's room in great haste and go down-stairs, and a little later, from one of the upper windows, saw him riding away from the stables in the direction of the south gate.
But one servant remained, "Uncle Mose," as he was familiarly called, the old colored man having charge of the grounds at Fair Oaks. His snow-white hair and bent form gave him a venerable appearance; but he was still active, and the shrewd old face showed both humor and pathos as he proceeded with his story. He had been a slave in his younger days, and still designated his late employer by the old term "mars'r." He was a well-known character to many present, including Dr. Westlake, who knew that in this instance questions would have to be abandoned and the witness allowed to tell his story in his own way.
"Well, Uncle Mose, you have been employed at Fair Oaks for a long time, haven't you?"
"Moah dan twenty yeahs, sah, I'se had charge ob dese y'er grounds; an' mars'r Mainwaring, he t'ought nobody but ole Mose cud take cyah ob 'em, sah."
"You were about the grounds as usual Wednesday, were you not?"
"I was 'bout de grounds all day, sah, 'case dere was a pow'ful lot to do a-gittin' ready for de big doins dere was goin' to be on mars'r's birfday."
"Did you see either of the strangers who called that day?"
"I'se a-comm' to dat d'rectly, sah. You see, sah, I wants to say right heah, befo' I goes any furder, dat I don' know noffin 'cept what tuk place under my own obserbation. I don' feel called upon to 'spress no 'pinions 'bout nobody. I jes' wants to state a few recurrences dat I noted at de time, speshally 'bout dem strangers as was heah in pertickeler. Well, sah, de fust man, he come heah in de mawnin'. De Inglish gentlemens, dey had been a-walkin' in de grounds and jes' done gone roun' de corner oh de house to go to mars'r Mainwaring's liberry, when dis man he comes up de av'nue in a kerridge, an' de fust ting I heah 'im a-cussin' de driver. Den he gets out and looks roun' kind o' quick, jes' like de possum in de kohn, as ef he was 'fraid somebody done see 'im. I was fixin' de roses on de front poach, an' I looked at 'im pow'ful sharp, an' when de dooh opened he jumped in quick, as ef he was glad to get out o' sight. Well, sah, I didn't like de 'pearance ob dat man, an' I jes' t'ought I'd get anoder look at 'im, but he stayed a mighty long time, sah, an' bime'by I had to go to de tool-house, an' when I gets back the kerridge was gone."
"Could you describe the man, Uncle Mose?" the coroner asked.
"No, sah, I don' know as I could 'scribe 'im perzacly; but I'd know 'im, no matter where I sot eyes on 'im, and I know'd 'im the nex' time I see 'im. Well, sah, dat aft'noon, mars'r Mainwaring an' de folks had gone out ridin', an' I was roun' kind o' permiscuous like, an' I see anoder kerridge way down de av'nue by de front gate, an' I waited, 'spectin' maybe I'd see dat man again. While I was waitin' by de front dooh, all oh a sudden a man come roun' from de side, as ef he come from mars'r Mainwaring's liberry, but he was anoder man."
"Didn't he look at all like the first man?" inquired the coroner.
"No, sah; he looked altogedder diff'rent; but I don' know as I could state whar'in de differensiashun consisted, sah. Dis man was berry good lookin' 'ceptin' his eyes, an' dem yoh cudn' see, 'case he had on cull'ed glasses. Mebbe his eyes was pow'ful weak, er mebbe he didn't want nobody to see 'em; but I 'spicioned dem glasses d'rectly, sah, an' I watched 'im. He goes down to de kerridge an' takes out a coat an' says sump' in to de driver, an' de kerridge goes away tow'ds de town, an' he walks off de oder way. Bime'by I see 'im gwine back again on de oder side ob de street-"
"Was he alone?" interrupted the coroner.
"Yes, sah; an' I done kep' my eye on 'im, an' he didn' go on to de town, but tuhned down de fust side street. Well, sah, I didn' see no moah ob 'im den; but dat ebenin' I'd ben a-workin' roun' de house, sprinklin' de grass and gettin' ready foh de nex' day, when I happens to pass by de side dooh, an' I sees dem two men comm' out togedder."
"What time was this, Uncle Mose?" the coroner asked, quickly.
"Well, sah," said the old man, reflectively, "my mem'ry is a little derelictious on dat p'int, but I knows 'twas gettin' putty late."
"Are you sure these were the same two men you had seen earlier in the day?"
"Yes, sah; 'case I stepped in de bushes to watch 'em. Dey talked togedder berry low, an' den one man goes back into de house, an' I seen 'im plain in de hall light, an' he was de fust man; an' while I was a-watchin' 'im, de oder man he disappeahed an' I cudn' see 'im nowhar, but I know'd he was de man dat came in de aft'noon, 'case he look jes' like 'im, an' toted a coat on his arm. Well, sah, I t'inks it a berry cur'is sarcumstance, an' I was jes' comm' to de preclushun dat I'd mention it to some ob de fambly, when de fust man, he come to de dooh wid de housekeeper. I was in de shadder and dey didn' see me, but I heah 'im say, kind o' soft like, 'Remember, my deah lady, dis is a biz'ness contract; I does my part, an' I 'spects my pay.' An' she says, 'Oh, yes, yoh shall hab yohr money widout fail.' An' I says to myse'f, 'Mose, yoh ole fool, what you stan'in' heah foh? Dat ain't nuffin dat consarns yoh nohow,' an' I goes home, an' dat's all I know, sah. But I'se ben pow'ful sorry eber sence dat I didn' let mars'r Mainwaring know 'bout it, 'case I has my 'spicions," and the old darkey shook his head, while the tears coursed down his furrowed cheeks.
"How did you hear of Mr. Mainwaring's death?" asked the coroner.
"De coachman, he done tole me, sah."
"Why, the coachman stated that you told him what had occurred."
"No, sah; he done tole me; I'd come up to de place pow'ful ahly dat mawnin' 'case dere was to be such big doings dat day, an' I was gwine to de tool-house foh sump'in, an' I see mars'r Walter ridin' away from de stables pow' ful fas' on his hoss-"
"Do you mean Walter LaGrange?"
"Yes, sah; an' de coachman he came out an' I ax 'im whar de young man was gwine dat ahly, an' he say mars'r Mainwaring ben killed, an' mars'r Walter had to go to town as fas' as his hoss cud take 'im."
"Do you know when he returned?"
"He came back, sah, befo' berry long, an' den he went away agin and didn't come back till mos' noon."
When the old darkey had been dismissed the coachman was recalled.
"What did you mean by stating that you first heard of Mr. Mainwaring's death from the gardener, when the reverse was the truth?"
"I don't know," he replied, carelessly; "I s'pose I got mixed. I remember talking with him about it, and I thought he told me."
"You had forgotten the interview with Walter LaGrange, I presume."
Brown made no answer.
"Why did you not mention that?"
"I wasn't asked to," he replied in insolent tones; "you said nothing to me about Mr. LaGrange."
"You are expected to state in full every occurrence having any bearing on the situation. You may give the particulars of that interview now."
"There's nothing to tell more than Uncle Mose told. I was working in the stables as usual, and Mr. LaGrange came in in a big hurry and ordered me to saddle his horse as quick as I could, that Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered, and he'd got to go to town."
"At what time was this?"
"About half-past seven, I should say."
"Did he state his errand?"
"When did he return?"
"I saw his horse standing in the yard outside the stables about half an hour after, and then 'twas gone, and I didn't see it again till noon."
Walter LaGrange was next called. He stated that he had spent the greater part of the day preceding the murder away from Fair Oaks; he had not been at home to luncheon or dinner, and consequently knew nothing of the strangers seen on the place that day. He had returned about half-past ten that evening, and remembered seeing Mr. Mainwaring and his guests seated on the veranda, but he had gone directly to his room without meeting any one. The first intimation which he had received of any unusual occurrence the next morning was when his mother entered his room and told him that Mr. Mainwaring had either been murdered or had committed suicide, no one knew which.
"Was that her only object in coming to your room?"
"No, sir; she wanted me to do an errand for her."
"Will you state the nature of this errand?"
"It was only to deliver a note."
"To Mr. Hobson," the young man answered weakly, while his mother frowned, the first sign of emotion of any kind which she had betrayed that day.
"Did you deliver the note?"
"Then, under your mother's orders, you went to the city on your second trip, did you not?"
"Were you successful in finding Mr. Hobson there?"
"Yes, sir," the witness answered sullenly.
"You had other business in the city aside from meeting him, had you not?"
Between the coroner's persistence and his mother's visible signs of displeasure, Walter LaGrange was fast losing his temper.
"If you know so much about this business, I don't see the use of your questioning me," he retorted angrily. "It's no affair of mine anyway; I had nothing to do with it, nor I won't be mixed up in it; and if you want any information you'd better ask mother for it; it's her business and none of mine."
After a few more questions, which the witness answered sullenly and in monosyllables, he was dismissed.
"Mr. Higgenbotham," announced the coroner. The greatest surprise was manifested on every side as the senior member of a well-known firm of jewellers stepped forward; the same gentleman who had accompanied Mr. Whitney on his return from the city on the preceding day.
"Mr. Higgenbotham," said the coroner, "I believe you are able to furnish some testimony which will be pertinent at this time."
"Yes, Dr. Westlake," responded the other, in deep, musical tones, "I think possibly I can render you a little assistance in your investigations."
"Mr. Higgenbotham, do you recognize the young gentleman who has just given his testimony?"
"I do, sir," said the witness, adjusting a pair of eyeglasses and gazing steadily at Walter LaGrange. "I recall his features perfectly."
"You were personally acquainted with the late Hugh Mainwaring, I believe?"
"Yes, sir, intimately acquainted with him."
"You are, I believe, familiar with the Mainwaring jewels which are now missing?" continued the coroner.
Walter LaGrange looked uncomfortable and his mother's cheek paled.
"I am, sir; having had them repeatedly left in my possession for safe keeping during their owner's absence from home; and I have also a complete list of them, with a detailed description of every piece."
"Very well, Mr. Higgenbotham, will you now please state when, and under what circumstances, you saw this young gentleman?"
"I was seated in my private office yesterday morning, when my head clerk came in and asked me to step out into the salesrooms for a moment, as he said a young man was there trying to sell some very fine jewels, and, from his youth and his ignorance of their value, he feared something was wrong. I went out immediately and saw this young gentleman, who handed me for inspection a superb diamond brooch and an elegant necklace of diamonds and pearls. I instantly recognized the gems as pieces from the old Mainwaring collection of jewels. Simultaneously there occurred to my mind the report of the murder of Hugh Mainwaring, which I had heard but a short time before, although then I knew nothing of the robbery. Naturally, my suspicions were awakened. I questioned the young man closely, however, and he stated that his home was at Fair Oaks, and that his mother was a distant relative of Mr. Mainwaring's; that the jewels were hers, and she wished to dispose of them for ready cash to meet an emergency. His story was so plausible that I thought possibly my suspicions had been somewhat hasty and premature. Still, I declined to purchase the jewels; and when he left the store I ordered one of our private detectives to follow him and report to me. In the course of an hour the detective returned and reported that the young man had sold the jewels to a pawnbroker for less than one-fourth their actual value. About half an hour later I heard the news of the robbery at Fair Oaks, and that the family jewels were missing; and knowing that Mr. Whitney was here, I immediately telephoned to him the facts which I have just stated. He came in to the city at once, and we proceeded to the pawnshop, where he also identified the jewels."
Mr. Higgenbotham paused for a moment, producing a package from an inner pocket, which he proceeded to open.
"We secured a loan of the jewels for a few days," he continued, advancing towards the coroner. "Here they are, and here is a copy of the list of which I spoke. By comparing these gems with the description of those which I have checked on the list, you will see that they are identical."
He placed the open casket on the table. There was a moment's silence, broken by subdued exclamations of admiration as Dr. Westlake lifted the gems from their resting-place.
"You are correct," he said; "the description is complete. There is no doubt that these are a part of the collection. I see you have marked the value of these two items as seven thousand dollars."
"Yes; that is a moderate valuation. And were the prices of the other articles carried out, you would see that, with the exception of a few very small pieces, these have the least value of the entire lot. I believe I can be of no further service."
Mrs. LaGrange was next recalled.
"Have you anything to say in reference to the testimony just given?" the coroner inquired.
"I have this much to say," she replied, haughtily, "that I could have given you the history of those jewels, including, perhaps, some facts of which even Mr. Higgenbotham and Mr. Whitney are in ignorance, and thus have spared you the infinite pains you have taken to make public the straits to which I was reduced, because of my position here, when in need of a little ready money. I could have informed you that they were originally a part of the old Mainwaring collection of gems, until they were given me by my husband."
"It hardly seems consistent that a man who treated his wife in the manner in which you claim to have been treated would bestow upon her gifts of such value as these," the coroner remarked with emphasis.
"They were of little value to him," she answered, with scorn; "as you have been informed, they were the poorest which he possessed. Besides, there were times when I could persuade him to almost anything,—anything but to acknowledge his lawful wife and his legitimate son."
"Was the money which you were forced to raise by the sale of these jewels to be paid to Hobson?"
"In accordance with the terms of your contract with him, made a few hours preceding the death of Mr. Mainwaring?"
"Yes," she replied, defiantly. "And as you probably would ask the nature of that contract, I will save you the trouble. Knowing that my son and I were likely to be defrauded of our rights in the same manner in which Hugh Mainwaring had defrauded others, I engaged Mr. Hobson as my attorney, as he, better than any one else, knew the facts in the case. When I learned yesterday morning of my husband's death, I realized that I would have immediate need of his services, and accordingly sent him word to that effect. He demanded a large cash payment at once. The result of this demand Mr. Higgenbotham has already told you."
"How was Hobson to secure for you your rights from Hugh Mainwaring?"
"That was left entirely to his own discretion."
"Will you describe the appearance of Mr. Hobson's clerk?"
"Unfortunately, I am unable to do so. He was merely brought as a witness to our contract. I knew that he was present, but he remained in the shadow, and I took no notice of him whatever."
"Your contract, then, was a verbal one?"
Upon being closely questioned, Mrs. LaGrange reiterated her assertions of the preceding day, laying particular stress upon the alleged interview between Hugh Mainwaring and his secretary, after which she was dismissed, and Harry Scott was recalled.
"Mr. Scott," said the coroner, "what were the relations existing between Mr. Mainwaring and yourself up to the time of his death?"
Scott flushed slightly as he replied, "Those ordinarily existing between employer and employed, except that I believe Mr. Mainwaring accorded me more than usual consideration, and I, while duly appreciative of his kindness, yet took especial pains never to exceed the bounds of an employee."
"Were there ever any unpleasant words passed between you?"
"Was your last interview with Mr. Mainwaring of a friendly nature?"
"What have you to say in reference to the testimony given to the effect that your voice was heard and recognized in angry conversation with Mr. Mainwaring at nearly one o'clock?"
"I have to say that it is false, and without foundation."
"Do you mean to say that the statement of the witness was wholly without truth?"
"I do not deny that such an interview, as alleged by the witness, may have taken place, for that is something concerning which I have no knowledge whatever; but I do deny that she heard my voice, or that I was in the library at that time, or at any time after about twenty minutes past twelve."
"Was that the time at which you went to your room?"
"Very near that time, as my interview with Mr. Mainwaring could not have exceeded ten minutes."
"At what time did you retire?"
"I sat up very late that night, for my mind was so occupied with some personal matters that I felt no inclination for sleep. I lighted a cigar and became so absorbed in my own thoughts that I was totally unaware of the lapse of time, until I was aroused by what I thought was a stealthy step outside. I then became conscious, for the first time, that I was very weary, both physically and mentally, and I also discovered that it was nearly three o'clock. Astonished to find it so late, and exhausted by hours of protracted thought, I threw myself as I was upon a low couch, where I slept soundly until awakened in the morning."
Further questions failed to reveal any discrepancy in his statement, and he was dismissed.
The testimony of Ralph Mainwaring and of his son added nothing of interest or importance. Mr. Thornton testified to his incidental meeting with Hobson and to the reputation which the man had borne in London. When he had resumed his seat the coroner remarked,—
"As a matter of form, I will have to call upon the ladies, though it is not expected they will be able to furnish any information throwing light on this mysterious case."
It was, as he had said, little more than a ceremony and occupied but a few moments. Miss Carleton was the last one called upon. She stated that it was nearly eleven o'clock when she reached her room, but added that she did not retire immediately, as her cousin, Miss Thornton, had come in, and they had chatted together for more than an hour; that while so engaged, she heard Mr. Scott come up-stairs and enter his room, which adjoined hers, and lock the door for the night.
"At what hour was this?" inquired the coroner.
"It could not have been more than twenty minutes after twelve, as it was twenty-five minutes after twelve when my cousin went to her room, and this was about five minutes earlier."
"Can you state whether or not he left his room within the next half-hour?"
"I know that he did not," she replied. "I can testify that he remained in his room until after one o'clock. After my cousin left I discovered that the moon was just rising, and the view across the Hudson being extremely beautiful, as well as novel to me, I extinguished the light in my room and sat down by the open window to enjoy it. I heard Mr. Scott stepping quietly about his room for a few moments; then all was still. I sat for some time admiring the scenery, until I was aroused by hearing him pacing back and forth like a person in deep thought. I then found it was much later than I supposed,—nearly one o' clock,—and I immediately retired; but so long as I was awake I could hear him walking in his room."
As Miss Carleton finished her testimony it was evident that the tide of general opinion had turned somewhat in favor of the young secretary, but the latter quietly ignored the friendly glances cast in his direction.
It was generally supposed that all testimony in the case had now been heard. Considerable surprise was, therefore, manifested when the coroner nodded to Mr. Whitney, who, in turn, beckoned to some one in the hall. In response the butler appeared, ushering in a tall man, with cadaverous features and small, dark eyes, which peered restlessly about him.
"Richard Hobson," announced the coroner.
"At your service, sir," said the man, advancing with a cringing gait and fawning, apologetic smile.
"Mr. Hobson," said the coroner, after a few preliminaries, "I understand you were somewhat acquainted with the late Hugh Mainwaring."
"Well, yes, sir, somewhat," the other replied in soft, insinuating tones, but with peculiar emphasis on the word used by Dr. Westlake. "Indeed, I might say, without exaggeration, that I was probably better acquainted with that estimable gentleman than was any one in this country."
"When did you last see Mr. Mainwaring?"
"I have not seen him to speak with him for fully twenty-three years."
"You have corresponded with, him, however, in that time?"
The witness showed no surprise.
"We exchanged a few letters while I was in England. I have neither heard from him nor written to him since coming to this country."
"When did you last see him, regardless of whether you spoke to him or not?"
"Probably within the last two or three weeks. I have occasionally met him on the street."
"Did Mr. Mainwaring see you at any of these times?"
"If he did, he did not recognize me."
"Did you see him when you called at Fair Oaks, Wednesday,—either morning or evening?"
"I did not."
"Mr. Hobson, will you describe the man who accompanied you when you called in the evening, Wednesday?"
"I could give you a general description. He was a large man, about my own height, but heavier, and rather good looking, on the whole. But I am not good on details, such as complexion, color of hair, and so on; and then, you know, those little things are very easily changed."
"What was his name?"
Mr. Hobson smiled blandly. "The name by which I know him is John Carroll, but I have no idea as to his real name. He is a very eccentric character, many-sided as it were, and I never know which side will come uppermost."
"He is your clerk and in your employ, is he not?"
"Agent, I think, would be a preferable term. He is in my employ, he transacts certain business for me, but he does it in his own way, and comes and goes at his own discretion."
"Where is he at present?"
"I have no idea, sir."
"Did he leave for the city that night, or did he remain with you at the Riverside Hotel?"
"He was not with me at the hotel except for a few hours. I have not the slightest idea from whence he came to see me, when he went away, or in what direction he went. He was in haste to be excused as soon as our joint business was done, and I have not seen him since."
"Did he have on dark glasses that day?"
"Not when I saw him, but that was only in my room at the hotel, and for a few moments in this house; he would have no need for them at either place."
"Did he not accompany you from the hotel to Fair Oaks?"
"No, sir; we met here by prearrangement."
"When do you expect to see your agent again?"
"Whenever he has any business reports to make," Hobson replied, with an exasperating smile; "but I have no idea when that will be. He has other commissions to execute; he is in the employ of others besides myself, and transacts some business on his own account also."
"I understand, Mr. Hobson, that you have repeatedly extorted money from Mr. Mainwaring by threatening to disclose facts in your possession regarding some questionable transaction."
"No, sir; my action could not be termed extortion or blackmail within the meaning of the law, though to any one conversant with Mr. Mainwaring's private correspondence it may have had that appearance. I was, however, merely making an effort to collect what was legally due me. Mr. Mainwaring, before leaving England, had voluntarily bound himself to pay me a certain sum upon the condition that I would not reveal certain transactions of considerably more than questionable character. I kept my part of the contract, but he failed in his. I wrote him, therefore, threatening, unless he fulfilled his share of the agreement, to institute proceedings against him, which would naturally involve a disclosure of his secret. He never paid me in full and the secret is still mine," he paused, then added slowly, "to keep or to sell, as will pay me best."
"Was Hugh Mainwaring ever married?" the coroner asked, abruptly.
"I believe he was not generally considered a married man, sir."
"Was there ever any private marriage?"
Hobson smiled enigmatically. "You already have the word of the lady herself, sir; that should be sufficient. I cannot reveal any of Hugh Mainwaring's secrets,—unless I am well paid for it!"
Hobson was dismissed without further questions, and the examination being now at an end, the coroner's jury retired to the room in the rear of the library. Very few left the house, for all felt that little time would be required for the finding of a verdict, and comment and opinion were freely exchanged.
"Well," said Mr. Sutherland, turning towards the secretary with a smile, "they did not learn one fact from that last witness, for I doubt whether one of the few statements he did make had an iota of truth in it. By the way, Mr. Scott, it's a very fortunate thing that you've got the proofs you have. It would be a risky piece of work to depend on that man's word for proof; he is as slippery as an eel. With those proofs, however, there is no doubt but that you've got a strong case."
"It will be hard to convince Ralph Mainwaring of that fact."
"Yes, he looks as though he would hold on to his opinions pretty tenaciously."
"Not so tenaciously as he would grasp any money coming within his reach!"
At a little distance, Mr. Whitney was engaged in conversation with the Englishmen.
"I never thought he could be in any way connected with it," he was saying. "In the first place, there was no motive, there could be none; then, again, I believe he is altogether above suspicion. I know that Mr. Mainwaring had the most implicit confidence in him."
"Well," said Mr. Thornton, "for my part, I'm heartily glad if there is nothing in it. I always liked the young fellow."
"That's just where I don't agree with you; I don't like him," Ralph Mainwaring replied in a surly tone. "He may be all right so far as this matter is concerned; I don't say yet that he is or isn't; but I do say that to defame a man's character after he's dead, in the manner he has, is simply outrageous, and, you may depend upon it, there's some personal spite back of it."
"Oh, well, as to Hugh's character, I don't think you or I are going to fret ourselves about that," laughed Mr. Thornton. "He probably sowed his wild oats with the rest of us, and there may have been some reason for his leaving England as he did."
"I don't believe it," Ralph Mainwaring retorted, angrily; but before he could say more, the doors opened and the coroner's jury filed into the room. There was instant silence, and a moment later the verdict had been announced. It was what every one had expected, and yet there was not one but experienced a feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction.
"We find that the deceased, Hugh Mainwaring, came to his death by the discharge of a revolver in the hands of some person or persons to us unknown."
BEHIND THE SCENES
The crowd dispersed rapidly, passing down the oak-lined avenue in twos and threes, engaged in animated discussion of the details of the inquest, while each one advanced some theory of his own regarding the murder. Mr. Sutherland had taken his departure after making an appointment with Scott for the following day, and the latter now stood in one of the deep bow-windows engrossed with his own thoughts. Suspicion had been partially diverted from himself, but only partially, as he well knew, to return like a tidal wave, deepened and intensified by personal animosity, whenever the facts he had thus far so carefully concealed should become known. He gave little thought to this, however, except as it influenced him in planning his course of action for the next few days.
He was aroused from his revery by the sound of approaching steps, and, turning, met Mr. Whitney.
"Ah, Mr. Scott, I was just looking for you. I thought possibly you had slipped back to the city with the crowd. I wanted to say, Mr. Scott, that, if it will be agreeable to you, I wish you would remain at Fair Oaks for the next few days, or weeks, as the case may be. Mr. Ralph Mainwaring has retained my services to aid in securing his title to the estate, and the will having been destroyed, complications are likely to arise, so that it may take some time to get matters adjusted. Much of the business will, of necessity, have to be transacted here, as all of Mr. Mainwaring's private papers are here, and if you will stay and help us out I will see, of course, that your salary goes right on as usual."
An excuse fur remaining at Fair Oaks was what Scott particularly desired, but he replied indifferently, "If it will accommodate you, Mr. Whitney, I can remain for a few days."
"Very well. I cannot say just how long we may need you, though I anticipate a long contest."
"Against Mrs. LaGrange?"
"Yes; though she has, in my opinion, no legal right whatever, yet she will make a hard fight, and with that trickster Hobson to help her with his chicanery, it is liable to take some time to beat them."
"You expect to win in the end, however?"
"Certainly; there is no doubt but that Ralph Mainwaring will win the case. He will get the property either for his son or for himself. We are first going to try to have the will upheld in the courts. Failing in that, the property will, of course, be divided between the nearest heirs, Ralph Mainwaring and a younger bachelor brother; in which event, the whole thing will, in all probability, finally revert to his son Hugh."
"Mr. Whitney, what is your opinion of Mrs. LaGrange's story of a private marriage?"
The attorney shook his head decidedly. "One of her clever lies; but if she ever undertakes to tell that little romance in court, I'll tear it all to shreds. She never was married to Hugh Mainwaring; but," he added, slowly, "I may as well tell you that Walter was his son. Mr. Mainwaring the same as admitted that to me once; but I am certain that, aside from that fact, that woman had some terrible hold on him, though what I never knew. By the way, Mr. Scott, do you know anything of the particulars of that transaction to which those letters referred and to which Hobson alluded to-day?"
Mr. Whitney looked keenly at the young man. "You obtained your knowledge originally from other sources than Mr. Mainwaring's correspondence, did you not?"
"I thought so. Do you know, Mr. Scott, I would denounce the whole thing as a lie, a scheme of that adventuress, or that impostor, Hobson, or both, by which they hope to gain some hold on the heirs, were it not that, from your manner, I have been convinced that you have some personal knowledge of the facts in the case,—that you know far more than you have yet told."
Mr. Whitney paused, watching the young secretary closely, but there was no reply, and, with all his penetration, the attorney could read nothing in the immobile face before him. He continued,—
"Whatever that transaction may have been, I wish to know nothing about it. I was much attached to Mr. Mainwaring and respected him highly, and I want to respect his memory; and I will tell you frankly what I most dread in this coming contest. I expect nothing else but that either that woman or Hobson will drag the affair out from its hiding-place, and will hold it up for the public to gloat over, as it always does. I hate to see a man's reputation blackened in that way, especially when that man was my friend and his own lips are sealed in death."
"It is a pity," said Scott, slowly; "but if one wishes to leave behind him an untarnished reputation, he must back it up, while living, with an unblemished character."
"Well," said the attorney, tentatively, after another pause, "Mr. Mainwaring's character, whatever it may have been before we were associated with him, certainly had no effect upon your life or mine, hence I feel that it is nothing with which we are directly concerned; and I believe, in fact I know, that it will be for your interest, Mr. Scott, if you say nothing regarding whatever knowledge you may have of the past."
Mr. Whitney, watching the effect of his words, suddenly saw an expression totally unlike anything he had ever seen on the face of the secretary, and yet strangely familiar.
Scott turned and faced him, with eyes cold and cynical and that seemed to pierce him through and through, remarking, in tones of quiet irony, "I am greatly obliged for your advice, Mr. Whitney, regarding my interests, but it is not needed. Furthermore, I think all your thought and attention will be required to look after the interests of Ralph Mainwaring," and without waiting for reply, he stepped through one of the low, old-fashioned windows opening upon the veranda and disappeared, leaving the attorney alone.
"By George, but that was cool!" ejaculated the latter. "And that look; where have I seen it? I believe that Ralph Mainwaring is more than half right after all, and there is something back of all this!"
So absorbed was he in his own reflections as to be wholly unaware of the presence of the detective in the hall, near the doorway, where he had paused long enough to witness the parting between Scott and the attorney, and who now passed quietly up-stairs, remarking to himself, "Whitney is pretty sharp, but he's more than got his match there. That young fellow is too deep for him or any of the rest of 'em, and he's likely to come out where they least expect to find him."
Half an hour later, Mr. Merrick, stepping from the private library into the upper southern hall, heard the sound of voices, which, from his familiarity with the rooms, he knew must proceed from Mrs. LaGrange's parlor. He cautiously descended the stairs to the lowest landing, in which was a deep window. The shutters were tightly closed, and, concealing himself behind the heavy curtains, he awaited developments. He was now directly opposite the door of the parlor, and through the partially open transom he could hear the imperious tones of Mrs. LaGrange and the soft, insinuating accents of Hobson. For a while he was unable to distinguish a word, but the variations in Hobson's tones indicated that he was not seated, but walking back and forth, while Mrs. LaGrange's voice betrayed intense excitement and gradually grew louder.
"You are not altogether invulnerable," Merrick heard her say, angrily. "You were an accessory in that affair, and you cannot deny it?"
Hobson evidently had paused near the door, as his reply was distinctly audible. "You have not an atom of proof; as you well know; and even if you had, our acquaintance, my dear madam, has been too long and of too intimate a nature for you to care to attempt any of your little tricks with me. You play a deep game, my lady, but I hold the winning hand yet."
"If you are dastardly enough to threaten me, I am not such a coward as to fear you. I have played my cards better than you know," she answered, defiantly.
"My dear lady," Hobson replied, and the door-knob turned slightly under his hand, "those little speeches sound very well, but we both understand each other perfectly. You want my services in this case; you must have them; and I am willing to render them; but it is useless for you to dictate terms to me. I will undertake the case in accordance with your wishes, but only upon the conditions mentioned."
The reply was inaudible, but was evidently satisfactory to Hobson, for, as he opened the door, there was a leer of triumph on his face. He glanced suspiciously about the hall, and, on reaching the door, turned to Mrs. LaGrange, who had accompanied him, saying, in his smoothest tones,—
"I shall be out again in two or three days. Should you wish to see me before that time, you can telephone to my office or send me word."
She bowed silently and he took his departure, but as she returned to her room, she exclaimed, fiercely, "Craven! Let me but once get my rights secured, and he will find whether I stand in fear of him!"
Having taken leave of Mrs. LaGrange, Hobson carefully avoided the front part of the house and grounds, taking instead the gravelled walk leading through the grove towards the lake in the rear and out upon the side street. As he was hurrying along this rather secluded avenue, he was suddenly confronted by Scott. Although strangers to each other, Hobson instantly conjectured that this must be the secretary who had betrayed such familiarity with the correspondence which had passed between himself and Hugh Mainwaring, and that it might be to his own interest to form the acquaintance of the young man.
Quick as thought he drew from his pocket a card, and, pausing suddenly in his rapid walk, said, with a profound bow,—
"I beg pardon; I cannot be mistaken; have I not the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scott?"
"That is my name," replied the secretary, coldly.
"I beg you will accept this card; and allow me to suggest that you may find it conducive to your interests to call upon me at the address named, if you will take the trouble to do so."
Scott glanced from the card to the speaker, regarding the latter with close scrutiny. "You seem very solicitous of the interests of a stranger, as it is not to be presumed that you have any ulterior motive in making this suggestion."
Hobson appeared to ignore the sarcasm. "It is barely possible," he continued, in his most ingratiating tones, "that I may be in possession of facts which it would be to your advantage to learn."
"In case you are, I suppose, of course, you would impart them to me simply out of pure disinterestedness, without a thought of pecuniary compensation?"
Hobson winced and glanced nervously about him. "I must hasten," he said; "I cannot stop for explanations; but you will find me in my office at two o'clock to-morrow, if you care to call. Meantime, my young friend, I am not perhaps as mercenary as you think, and I may be able to be of great assistance to you," and with a final bow, the man hastily disappeared around a turn of the winding walk.
Scott proceeded in the opposite direction in a deep study. "Is it possible," he soliloquized, "that that creature is on my track and has any proposition to make to me? Or, is he afraid that I know his secret, and that I may deprive him of his hold upon the Mainwarings? More likely it is the latter. A week ago I was looking for that man, and would probably have endeavored to make terms with him, though it would have involved an immense amount of risk, for a cast-iron contract wouldn't hold him, and his testimony would be worth little or nothing, one way or the other." Scott glanced again at the address on the card. "Not a very desirable locality! It probably suits him and his business, though: I believe, I will give the scoundrel a call and see what I can draw out of him."
Dinner was announced as Scott returned to the house, and a number of circumstances combined to render the meal far pleasanter and more social than any since the death of the master of Fair Oaks. Mr. Merrick was nowhere to be found, and the slight restraint imposed by his presence was removed. Mrs. LaGrange and her son were also absent, preferring to take their meals privately in an adjoining room which Hugh Mainwaring had often used as a breakfast-room. The silence and frigidity which had lately reigned at the table seemed to have given place to almost universal sociability, though Ralph Mainwaring's face still wore a sullen scowl.
As Mr. Whitney met the secretary, his sensitive face flushed at the remembrance of their late interview, and he watched the young man with evident curiosity. Scott was conscious, however, of an increased friendliness towards himself on the part of most of the guests, but feeling that it was likely to prove of short duration, he remained noncommittal and indifferent. As they left the table, Miss Carleton rallied him on his appearance.
"Mr. Scott, you are a mystery!"
"Why so, Miss Carleton, if you please?" he asked, quickly.
"Just now, when everybody's spirits are relaxing after that horrible inquest, you look more serious and glum than I have ever seen you. I threw myself into the breach this afternoon to rescue you from the enemy's grounds, whither you had been carried by the sensational statements of Mrs. LaGrange and the coachman and chambermaid, and I have not even seen you smile once since. Perhaps," she added, archly, "you didn't care to be rescued by a woman, but would have preferred to make your own way out."
"No," said Scott, smiling very brightly now; "I'll not be so ungrateful as to say that, though I believe I am generally able to fight my own battles; but I will confess I was somewhat disappointed this afternoon when you gave your testimony."
"How could that be?" she inquired, greatly surprised.
"Up to that time I had flattered myself that I had one friend who had faith in me, even though circumstances conspired against me. I discovered, then, that it was no confidence in me, but only a knowledge of some of the facts, that kept her from turning against me like the rest."
Scott spoke in serio-comic tones, and Miss Carleton looked keenly in his face to see if he were jesting.
"No; you are mistaken, Mr. Scott," she said, slowly, after a pause. "My confidence in you would have been just as strong if I had known nothing of the facts."
"Thank you; I am very glad to hear that," he answered. Then added, gently, "Would, it be strong enough to stand a far heavier strain than that, if it were necessary?"
His tones were serious now, and she regarded him inquiringly for a moment before speaking; then seeing young Mainwaring approaching with his sister and Miss Thornton, she replied, in low tones,—
"I have no idea to what you refer, Mr. Scott, and I begin to think you are indeed a 'mystery;' but you can be assured of this much: I would never, under any circumstances, believe you capable of anything false or dishonorable."
Scott's eyes expressed his gratification at these words, and he would then have withdrawn, but neither Miss Carleton nor young Mainwaring gave him an opportunity to do so without seeming discourteous. Both drew him into conversation and found him exceedingly entertaining, though reserved concerning himself. Isabel Mainwaring still held herself aloof and took little part in the conversation, but to make amends for this Miss Thornton bestowed some of her most winning smiles upon the handsome young secretary, her large, infantile blue eyes regarding him with wondering curiosity.
After a pleasant evening, Scott excused himself and retired to his room; but an hour or two later there was a knock at his door, and on opening it he saw young Mainwaring in smoking-cap and jacket.
"I say, Scott, won't you come out and have a smoke? I've got some fine cigars, and it's too pretty a night to stay in one's room; come out on my balcony and we'll have a bit of a talk and smoke."
Scott readily consented, and the two young men proceeded to the balcony upon which Mainwaring's room opened, where the latter had already placed two reclining chairs and a small table containing a box of his favorite Havanas.
For a few moments they puffed in silence, looking out into the starlit night with its beauty of dim outline and mysterious shadow. Mainwaring was the first to speak.
"I say, Scott, I'm awfully ashamed of the way that some of us, my family in particular, have treated you within the last day or two. It was confoundedly shabby, and I beg your pardon for my share in it, anyhow."
"Don't waste any regrets over that matter," Scott answered, indifferently; "I never gave it any thought, and it is not worth mentioning."
"I do regret it, though, more than I can tell, and I haven't any excuse for myself; only things did look so deucedly queer there for a while, don't you know?"
"Well," said Scott, pleasantly, "we are not out of the woods yet, and there is no telling what developments may arise. Things might 'look queer' again, you know."
"That's all right. I know a gentleman when I see him, unless I happen to lose my head, and that doesn't occur very often. Now it's different with the governor. He's got so confoundedly wrought up over that will, don't you know, that he can't think of anything else, and there's no reason in him."
"As I understand it," remarked Scott, "Mr. Mainwaring expects to win the property in any case, either for you or for himself."
"Yes; and naturally you might think that the loss of the will wouldn't amount to much, one way or the other; but it's like this: the governor and I are very different; I know we've got plenty of ducats, and that's enough for me, but not for him; he is ambitious. It has always galled him that we were not in the direct line of descent from the main branch of the Mainwarings; and it has been his one great ambition since the death of old Ralph Mainwaring, Hugh's father, a few years before I was born, to win into his own family the old Mainwaring estate. He had an idea that Hugh would never marry, and gave me his name, hoping that I would be made his heir. Should the governor succeed in this scheme of his, he will immediately buy back the Mainwaring estate, although he knows I don't care a rap for the whole thing, and we will then have the honor, as he considers it, of perpetuating the old family line. On the other hand, if the property goes to the nearest heirs, it will be divided between him and his younger brother. Uncle Harold has no more ambition than I have, and though he is at present a bachelor, that is no guarantee that he will remain one; and, anyhow, it isn't likely that there will be much of his share left when he gets through with it. So you see how much importance the governor attached to that will."
"I understand," said Scott, as his companion paused. Then he added, musingly, "Your uncle's name seems to be rather unusual among the Mainwarings; I do not recall your having mentioned it before."
"What, Harold? On the contrary, it is the great name in our family, especially in the main line. I would have been given that name if the governor had not been looking out for Hugh Mainwaring's money. There was a direct line of Harolds down to my great-grandfather. He gave the name to his eldest son, but he died, and the next one, Ralph, Hugh's father, took up the line. Guy, my grandfather, was the youngest."
"One would almost have thought that Hugh Mainwaring would have borne the name of Harold," commented Scott.
Young Mainwaring smoked for a moment in silence, then said, in lower tones, "Old Uncle Ralph had a son by that name."
"Indeed! Had Hugh Mainwaring a brother?" Scott asked in surprise.
"Yes, there was a brother, but he died a great many years ago. There is quite a story connected with his name, but I don't know many of the particulars, for the governor seldom alludes to it. I know, however, that Harold was the elder son, but that Uncle Ralph disinherited him for marrying against his wishes, and afterwards died of grief over the affair, and soon after his father's death Harold was lost at sea."
"You say he married; did he leave any children?"
"No, I believe he had no children; but even if he had, they would have been disinherited also. Uncle Ralph was severe; he would not even allow Harold's name to be mentioned; and Hugh also must have turned against his brother, for I have heard that he never spoke of him or allowed any allusion to be made to him."
"Well," said Scott, after a pause, "I believe Hugh Mainwaring's life was far from happy."
"You are right there. I'll never forget the last words he ever spoke to me as I took leave of him that night. They were to the effect that he hoped when I should have reached his age, I would be able to look back over a happier past than his had been. It is my opinion, too, that that woman was the cause of his unhappiness, and I believe she is at the bottom of all this trouble."
Their conversation had drifted to the mystery then surrounding them, and for more than an hour they dwelt on that subject, advancing many surmises, some strangely improbable, but none of which seemed to bring them any nearer a solution of the problem.
"My first visit to this country has proved an eventful one," said young Mainwaring, as, at a late hour, they finally separated for the night, "and I don't know yet how it may terminate; but there's one thing I shall look back upon with pleasure, and that is my meeting with you; and I hope that from this time or we will be friends; and that this friendship, begun to-night, will be renewed in old England many a time."
"Are you not rather rash," Scott inquired, slowly, "considering how little we know of each other, the circumstances under which we have met, and the uncertainty of what the future may reveal?"
"No; I'm peculiar. When I like a fellow, I like him; and I've been studying you pretty closely. I don't think we need either of us be troubled about the future; but I'm your friend, Scott, and, whatever happens, I'll stand by you."
"So be it, then, Hugh," replied the secretary, clasping the hand of the young Englishman and, for the first time, calling him by name. "I thank you, and I hope you will never go back on that."
On the following morning the gentlemen at Fair Oaks were astir at an unusually early hour, and immediately after breakfast held a brief conference. It was decided to offer a heavy reward for the apprehension of the murderer of Hugh Mainwaring, while a lesser reward was to be offered for information leading to identification and arrest of the guilty party. Preparations were also to be made for the funeral, which would take place the next day, and which, in accordance with the wishes of Ralph Mainwaring, was to be strictly private.
Their conference at an end, Ralph Mainwaring ordered the carriage to take himself, Mr. Whitney, and the secretary to the depot.
"I believe I will ride down with you," said Mr. Merrick.
"Certainly; plenty of room. Going to the city?"
"Yes; but not with you gentlemen. We will part company at the depot and I will take another car."
"How are you getting on, Mr. Merrick?" inquired Mr. Thorton.
"As well as can be expected, all things considered," was the non-committal reply.
"Going to be a slow case, I'm afraid," commented Ralph Mainwaring, shaking his head in a doubtful way, while Mr. Thornton added jokingly,—
"We've got some mighty fine fellows over home there at the Yard; if you should want any help, Mr. Merrick, I'll cable for one of them."
"Thank you, sir," said the detective, with quiet dignity; "I don't anticipate that I shall want any assistance; and if I should, I will hardly need import it from Scotland Yard."
"Ha, ha! That all depends, you know, on what your man is. If the rascal happens to have any English blood in him, it will take a Scotland Yard chap to run him down."
"On the principle, I suppose, of 'set a rogue to catch a rogue,'" Merrick replied, smiling.
He bad scarcely finished speaking when Hardy suddenly entered the room.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, addressing Ralph Mainwaring; "but the coachman is gone! We've looked everywhere for him, but he's nowhere about the place."
"When did he go?" asked Mr. Whitney, quickly.
"Nobody knows, sir. Joe, the stable-boy, says he hasn't been around at all this morning."
"Bring the boy here," said Mr. Mainwaring.
There was instantly recalled to every one present the memory of Brown's insolent manner at the inquest, together with his confused and false statements. In a few moments Hardy returned with the stable-boy, an unkempt, ignorant lad of about fourteen, but with a face old and shrewd beyond his years.
"Are you one of the servants here?" Mr. Mainwaring inquired.
"I works here, ef that's wot yer mean; but I don't call myself nobody's servant."
"How did it happen that you were not at the inquest?" he demanded.
"Didn't got no invite," was the reply, accompanied by a grin, while Hardy explained that the boy did not belong to the place, but had been hired by the coachman to come nights and mornings and attend to the stable work.
"What do you know about this Brown?" inquired Mr. Mainwaring, addressing the boy.
"Wal, I guess he's ben a-goin' it at a putty lively gait lately."
"You mean he was fast?"
"I guess that's about the size of it."
"When did you see him last?"
"Hain't seen nothin' of him sence las' night, an' then he was sorter crusty an' didn't say much. I come down this mornin' an' went to work,—he allus left the stable key where I could get it,—but I ham' t seen nor heard nothin' o' him. Me'n him," with an emphatic nod towards Hardy, "went up to his room, but he warn't there, nor hadn't ben there all night."
"Why do you think he was fast?"
"Wal, from all I've hearn about him I guess he's ben goin' with a kinder hard set lately. I've seen some putty tough-lookin' subs hangin' 'round the stables. There was a lot of 'em waitin' for him Wednesday night."
"Wednesday night!" ejaculated Mr. Whitney. "At what time? and who were they?"
"I dunno who they was, but they was hangin' 'round about eight o'clock waitin' for him to go with 'em. An' then he's had lots of money lately."
"How do you know this?"
"I've hearn him a-jinglin' it in his room; an' night afore las' I clim' up-stairs and peeked in, an' he had a whole pile of gold pieces 'bout that high," measuring with his hands; "but he see me, an' he said he'd gimme a whalin' ef he catched me at it agin."
"Did you watch him last night?" asked Mr. Mainwaring.
"Yas; he acted so kinder queer that I waited 'round to see what he was goin' to do. After 'twas still an' he thought I'd gone, he come down an' started off towards the side street. Jes' fer fun I follered him; an' when he got to the lake he stopped and looked all 'round, as ef to make sure there warn't nobody to see him, an' then he takes somethin', I couldn't see what, out from under his coat an' chucks it quick into the lake, an' then he started on a run down towards the street."
"Couldn't you see what he threw?"
"No, I couldn't see what 'twas; but it struck the water awful heavy."
"Is that all you know about the affair?"
"Yas, that's all."
"Wait a moment," said Mr. Merrick, as the boy turned to leave the room. "Can you tell how many, or what kind of looking men were with Brown on Wednesday night?"
"There was three of 'em. One was a big feller with kinder squint eyes, the other two was ornery lookin' fellers; one of 'em was dark like a furriner, an' t'other one had sorter yeller hair."
"How long were they there?"
"About half 'n hour, I guess. They was all gone 'fore nine o'clock."
"Did you hear anything that was said?"
"I hearn 'em talkin' somethin' about the boss."
"Yas. He'd made a kick about somethin' or 'nuther that afternoon, an' Brown he was cussin' mad, an' then when they went away I hearn one of 'em say somethin' about 'makin' a good job of it.'"
"How was this, Hardy?" inquired Mr. Whitney. "Had there been any words Wednesday between Mr. Mainwaring and the coachman?"
"Yes, sir; I had forgotten it; but now I remember that when he came back that afternoon, he found some fault with the coachman, and Brown was very insolent, and then Mr. Mainwaring threatened to discharge him."
"'Pon my soul! I should say here was something worth looking into," said Mr. Thornton, as the boy left the room, accompanied by Hardy.
"A great pity that we could not have had his testimony at the inquest," commented the attorney. "We might then have cornered Brown; but I was not aware that there was such a person employed on the place."
Meanwhile, a carriage ordered by telephone from the Arlington had already arrived at Fair Oaks.
"Well," said Ralph Mainwaring, "the carriage is waiting. We had better proceed to the depot; we can talk of this latest development on our way."
"You will excuse me, gentlemen," said Mr. Merrick, quietly, "I have changed my mind, and will postpone my trip to the city."
"Struck a new trail, eh?" queried Ralph Mainwaring, with a peculiar expression, as he paused to light a cigar.
"On the contrary, sir, only following up an old one," and, with a somewhat ambiguous smile, the detective withdrew.
The coachman's sudden disappearance, together with the facts learned from the stable-boy, formed the subject of discussion for the next half-hour between Ralph Mainwaring and the attorney, Scott listening with a thoughtful face, although taking little part in the conversation. Upon their arrival at the offices of Mainwaring & Co. they were given a cordial greeting by Mr. Elliott and Mr. Chittenden, after which they passed on to the elegant private offices of Hugh Mainwaring. Mr. Whitney was visibly affected as he entered the familiar rooms, and to each one was forcibly recalled the memory of their meeting a few days before. A brief silence followed, and then in subdued tones they began to discuss the business which had now brought them there.