"Humph!" came from Mr. Gryce's compressed lips, and no more.
Determined that he should speak, I waited.
"You have, then, some one in your mind "; he remarked at last, almost flippantly.
"I mention no names," I returned. "All I want is further time."
"You are, then, intending to make a personal business of this matter?"
He gave a long, low whistle. "May I ask," he inquired at length, "whether you expect to work entirely by yourself; or whether, if a suitable coadjutor were provided, you would disdain his assistance and slight his advice?"
"I desire nothing more than to have you for my colleague."
The smile upon his face deepened ironically. "You must feel very sure of yourself!" said he.
"I am very sure of Miss Leavenworth."
The reply seemed to please him. "Let us hear what you propose doing."
I did not immediately answer. The truth was, I had formed no plans.
"It seems to me," he continued, "that you have undertaken a rather difficult task for an amateur. Better leave it to me, Mr. Raymond; better leave it to me."
"I am sure," I returned, "that nothing would please me better——"
"Not," he interrupted, "but that a word from you now and then would be welcome. I am not an egotist. I am open to suggestions: as, for instance, now, if you could conveniently inform me of all you have yourself seen and heard in regard to this matter, I should be most happy to listen."
Relieved to find him so amenable, I asked myself what I really had to tell; not so much that he would consider vital. However, it would not do to hesitate now.
"Mr. Gryce," said I, "I have but few facts to add to those already known to you. Indeed, I am more moved by convictions than facts. That Eleanore Leavenworth never committed this crime, I am assured. That, on the other hand, the real perpetrator is known to her, I am equally certain; and that for some reason she considers it a sacred duty to shield the assassin, even at the risk of her own safety, follows as a matter of course from the facts. Now, with such data, it cannot be a very difficult task for you or me to work out satisfactorily, to our own minds at least, who this person can be. A little more knowledge of the family—"
"You know nothing of its secret history, then?"
"Do not even know whether either of these girls is engaged to be married?"
"I do not," I returned, wincing at this direct expression of my own thoughts.
He remained a moment silent. "Mr. Raymond," he cried at last, "have you any idea of the disadvantages under which a detective labors? For instance, now, you imagine I can insinuate myself into all sorts of society, perhaps; but you are mistaken. Strange as it may appear, I have never by any possibility of means succeeded with one class of persons at all. I cannot pass myself off for a gentleman. Tailors and barbers are no good; I am always found out."
He looked so dejected I could scarcely forbear smiling, notwithstanding my secret care and anxiety.
"I have even employed a French valet, who understood dancing and whiskers; but it was all of no avail. The first gentleman I approached stared at me,—real gentleman, I mean, none of your American dandies,—and I had no stare to return; I had forgotten that emergency in my confabs with Pierre Catnille Marie Make-face."
Amused, but a little discomposed by this sudden turn in the conversation, I looked at Mr. Gryce inquiringly.
"Now you, I dare say, have no trouble? Was born one, perhaps. Can even ask a lady to dance without blushing, eh?"
"Well,—" I commenced.
"Just so," he replied; "now, I can't. I can enter a house, bow to the mistress of it, let her be as elegant as she will, so long as I have a writ of arrest in my hand, or some such professional matter upon my mind; but when it comes to visiting in kid gloves, raising a glass of champagne in response to a toast—and such like, I am absolutely good for nothing." And he plunged his two hands into his hair, and looked dolefully at the head of the cane I carried in my hand. "But it is much the same with the whole of us. When we are in want of a gentleman to work for us, we have to go outside of our profession."
I began to see what he was driving at; but held my peace, vaguely conscious I was likely to prove a necessity to him, after all.
"Mr. Raymond," he now said, almost abruptly; "do you know a gentleman by the name of Clavering residing at present at the Hoffman House?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"He is very polished in his manners; would you mind making his acquaintance?"
I followed Mr. Gryce's example, and stared at the chimney-piece. "I cannot answer till I understand matters a little better," I returned at length.
"There is not much to understand. Mr. Henry Clavering, a gentleman and a man of the world, resides at the Hoffman House. He is a stranger in town, without being strange; drives, walks, smokes, but never visits; looks at the ladies, but is never seen to bow to one. In short, a person whom it is desirable to know; but whom, being a proud man, with something of the old-world prejudice against Yankee freedom and forwardness, I could no more approach in the way of acquaintance than I could the Emperor of Austria."
"And you wish——"
"He would make a very agreeable companion for a rising young lawyer of good family and undoubted respectability. I have no doubt, if you undertook to cultivate him, you would find him well worth the trouble."
"Might even desire to take him into familiar relations; to confide in him, and——"
"Mr. Gryce," I hastily interrupted; "I can never consent to plot for any man's friendship for the sake of betraying him to the police."
"It is essential to your plans to make the acquaintance of Mr. Clavering," he dryly replied.
"Oh!" I returned, a light breaking in upon me; "he has some connection with this case, then?"
Mr. Gryce smoothed his coat-sleeve thoughtfully. "I don't know as it will be necessary for you to betray him. You wouldn't object to being introduced to him?"
"Nor, if you found him pleasant, to converse with him?"
"Not even if, in the course of conversation, you should come across something that might serve as a clue in your efforts to save Eleanore Leavenworth?"
The no I uttered this time was less assured; the part of a spy was the very last one I desired to play in the coming drama.
"Well, then," he went on, ignoring the doubtful tone in which my assent had been given, "I advise you to immediately take up your quarters at the Hoffman House."
"I doubt if that would do," I said. "If I am not mistaken, I have already seen this gentleman, and spoken to him."
"Describe him first."
"Well, he is tall, finely formed, of very upright carriage, with a handsome dark face, brown hair streaked with gray, a piercing eye, and a smooth address. A very imposing personage, I assure you."
"I have reason to think I have seen him," I returned; and in a few words told him when and where.
"Humph!" said he at the conclusion; "he is evidently as much interested in you as we are in him.
"How 's that? I think I see," he added, after a moment's thought. "Pity you spoke to him; may have created an unfavorable impression; and everything depends upon your meeting without any distrust."
He rose and paced the floor.
"Well, we must move slowly, that is all. Give him a chance to see you in other and better lights. Drop into the Hoffman House reading-room. Talk with the best men you meet while there; but not too much, or too indiscriminately. Mr. Clavering is fastidious, and will not feel honored by the attentions of one who is hail-fellow-well-met with everybody. Show yourself for what you are, and leave all advances to him; he 'll make them."
"Supposing we are under a mistake, and the man I met on the corner of Thirty-seventh Street was not Mr. Clavering?"
"I should be greatly surprised, that's all."
Not knowing what further objection to make, I remained silent.
"And this head of mine would have to put on its thinking-cap," he pursued jovially.
"Mr. Gryce," I now said, anxious to show that all this talk about an unknown party had not served to put my own plans from my mind, "there is one person of whom we have not spoken."
"No?" he exclaimed softly, wheeling around until his broad back confronted me. "And who may that be?"
"Why, who but Mr.—" I could get no further. What right had I to mention any man's name in this connection, without possessing sufficient evidence against him to make such mention justifiable? "I beg your pardon," said I; "but I think I will hold to my first impulse, and speak no names."
"Harwell?" he ejaculated easily.
The quick blush rising to my face gave an involuntary assent.
"I see no reason why we shouldn't speak of him," he went on; "that is, if there is anything to be gained by it."
"His testimony at the inquest was honest, you think?"
"It has not been disproved."
"He is a peculiar man."
"And so am I."
I felt myself slightly nonplussed; and, conscious of appearing at a disadvantage, lifted my hat from the table and prepared to take my leave; but, suddenly thinking of Hannah, turned and asked if there was any news of her.
He seemed to debate with himself, hesitating so long that I began to doubt if this man intended to confide in me, after all, when suddenly he brought his two hands down before him and exclaimed vehemently:
"The evil one himself is in this business! If the earth had opened and swallowed up this girl, she couldn't have more effectually disappeared."
I experienced a sinking of the heart. Eleanore had said: "Hannah can do nothing for me." Could it be that the girl was indeed gone, and forever?
"I have innumerable agents at work, to say nothing of the general public; and yet not so much as a whisper has come to me in regard to her whereabouts or situation. I am only afraid we shall find her floating in the river some fine morning, without a confession in her pocket."
"Everything hangs upon that girl's testimony," I remarked.
He gave a short grunt. "What does Miss Leavenworth say about it?"
"That the girl cannot help her."
I thought he looked a trifle surprised at this, but he covered it with a nod and an exclamation. "She must be found for all that," said he, "and shall, if I have to send out Q."
"An agent of mine who is a living interrogation point; so we call him Q, which is short for query." Then, as I turned again to go: "When the contents of the will are made known, come to me."
The will! I had forgotten the will.
XV. WAYS OPENING
"It is not and it cannot come to good." Hamlet.
I ATTENDED the funeral of Mr. Leavenworth, but did not see the ladies before or after the ceremony. I, however, had a few moments' conversation with Mr. Harwell; which, without eliciting anything new, provided me with food for abundant conjecture. For he had asked, almost at first greeting, if I had seen the Telegram of the night before; and when I responded in the affirmative, turned such a look of mingled distress and appeal upon me, I was tempted to ask how such a frightful insinuation against a young lady of reputation and breeding could ever have got into the papers. It was his reply that struck me.
"That the guilty party might be driven by remorse to own himself the true culprit."
A curious remark to come from a person who had no knowledge or suspicion of the criminal and his character; and I would have pushed the conversation further, but the secretary, who was a man of few words, drew off at this, and could be induced to say no more. Evidently it was my business to cultivate Mr. Clavering, or any one else who could throw any light upon the secret history of these girls.
That evening I received notice that Mr. Veeley had arrived home, but was in no condition to consult with me upon so painful a subject as the murder of Mr. Leavenworth. Also a line from Eleanore, giving me her address, but requesting me at the same time not to call unless I had something of importance to communicate, as she was too ill to receive visitors. The little note affected me. Ill, alone, and in a strange home,—'twas pitiful!
The next day, pursuant to the wishes of Mr. Gryce, in I stepped into the Hoffman House, and took a seat in the reading room. I had been there but a few moments when a gentleman entered whom I immediately recognized as the same I had spoken to on the corner of Thirty-seventh Street and Sixth Avenue. He must have remembered me also, for he seemed to be slightly embarrassed at seeing me; but, recovering himself, took up a paper and soon became to all appearance lost in its contents, though I could feel his handsome black eye upon me, studying my features, figure, apparel, and movements with a degree of interest which equally astonished and disconcerted me. I felt that it would be injudicious on my part to return his scrutiny, anxious as I was to meet his eye and learn what emotion had so fired his curiosity in regard to a perfect stranger; so I rose, and, crossing to an old friend of mine who sat at a table opposite, commenced a desultory conversation, in the course of which I took occasion to ask if he knew who the handsome stranger was. Dick Furbish was a society man, and knew everybody.
"His name is Clavering, and he comes from London. I don't know anything more about him, though he is to be seen everywhere except in private houses. He has not been received into society yet; waiting for litters of introduction, perhaps."
"One you speak to?"
"Oh, yes; I talk to him, but the conversation is very one-sided."
I could not help smiling at the grimace with which Dick accompanied this remark. "Which same goes to prove," he went on, "that he is the real thing."
Laughing outright this time, I left him, and in a few minutes sauntered from the room.
As I mingled again with the crowd on Broadway, I found myself wondering immensely over this slight experience. That this unknown gentleman from London, who went everywhere except into private houses, could be in any way connected with the affair I had so at heart, seemed not only improbable but absurd; and for the first time I felt tempted to doubt the sagacity of Mr. Gryce in recommending him to my attention.
The next day I repeated the experiment, but with no greater success than before. Mr. Clavering came into the room, but, seeing me, did not remain. I began to realize it was no easy matter to make his acquaintance. To atone for my disappointment, I called 011 Mary Leavenworth in the evening. She received me with almost a sister-like familiarity.
"Ah," she cried, after introducing me to an elderly lady at her side,—some connection of the family, I believe, who had come to remain with her for a while,—"you are here to tell me Hannah is found; is it not so?"
I shook my head, sorry to disappoint her. "No," said I; "not yet."
"But Mr. Gryce was here to-day, and he told me he hoped she would be heard from within twenty-four hours."
"Mr. Gryce here!"
"Yes; came to report how matters were progressing,—not that they seemed to have advanced very far."
"You could hardly have expected that yet. You must not be so easily discouraged."
"But I cannot help it; every day, every hour that passes in this uncertainty, is like a mountain weight here"; and she laid one trembling hand upon her bosom. "I would have the whole world at work. I would leave no stone unturned; I——"
"What would you do?"
"Oh, I don't know," she cried, her whole manner suddenly changing; "nothing, perhaps." Then, before I could reply to this: "Have you seen Eleanore to-day?"
I answered in the negative.
She did not seem satisfied, but waited till her friend left the room before saying more. Then, with an earnest look, inquired if I knew whether Eleanore was well.
"I fear she is not," I returned.
"It is a great trial to me, Eleanore being away. Not," she resumed, noting, perhaps, my incredulous look, "that I would have you think I wish to disclaim my share in bringing about the present unhappy state of things. I am willing to acknowledge I was the first to propose a separation. But it is none the easier to bear on that account."
"It is not as hard for you as for her," said I.
"Not as hard? Why? because she is left comparatively poor, while I am rich—is that what you would say? Ah," she went on, without waiting for my answer, "would I could persuade Eleanore to share my riches with me! Willingly would I bestow upon her the half I have received; but I fear she could never be induced to accept so much as a dollar from me."
"Under the circumstances it would be better for her not to."
"Just what I thought; yet it would ease me of a great weight if she would. This fortune, suddenly thrown into my lap, sits like an incubus upon me, Mr. Raymond. When the will was read to-day which makes me possessor of so much wealth, I could not but feel that a heavy, blinding pall had settled upon me, spotted with blood and woven of horrors. Ah, how different from the feelings with which I have been accustomed to anticipate this day! For, Mr. Raymond," she went on, with a hurried gasp, "dreadful as it seems now, I have been reared to look forward to this hour with pride, if not with actual longing. Money has been made so much of in my small world. Not that I wish in this evil time of retribution to lay blame upon any one; least of all upon my uncle; but from the day, twelve years ago, when for the first time he took us in his arms, and looking down upon our childish faces, exclaimed: 'The light-haired one pleases me best; she shall be my heiress,' I have been petted, cajoled, and spoiled; called little princess, and uncle's darling, till it is only strange I retain in this prejudiced breast any of the impulses of generous womanhood; yes, though I was aware from the first that whim alone had raised this distinction between myself and cousin; a distinction which superior beauty, worth, or accomplishments could never have drawn; Eleanore being more than my equal in all these things." Pausing, she choked back the sudden sob that rose in her throat, with an effort at self-control which was at once touching and admirable. Then, while my eyes stole to her face, murmured in a low, appealing voice: "If I have faults, you see there is some slight excuse for them; arrogance, vanity, and selfishness being considered in the gay young heiress as no more than so many assertions of a laudable dignity. Ah! ah," she bitterly exclaimed "money alone has been the ruin of us all!" Then, with a falling of her voice: "And now it has come to me with its heritage of evil, and I—I would give it all for—But this is weakness! I have no right to afflict you with my griefs. Pray forget all I have said, Mr. Raymond, or regard my complaints as the utterances of an unhappy girl loaded down with sorrows and oppressed by the weight of many perplexities and terrors."
"But I do not wish to forget," I replied. "You have spoken some good words, manifested much noble emotion. Your possessions cannot but prove a blessing to you if you enter upon them with such feelings as these."
But, with a quick gesture, she ejaculated: "Impossible! they cannot prove a blessing." Then, as if startled at her own words, bit her lip and hastily added: "Very great wealth is never a blessing.
"And now," said she, with a total change of manner, "I wish to address you on a subject which may strike you as ill-timed, but which, nevertheless, I must mention, if the purpose I have at heart is ever to be accomplished. My uncle, as you know, was engaged at the time of his death in writing a book on Chinese customs and prejudices. It was a work which he was anxious to see published, and naturally I desire to carry out his wishes; but, in order to do so, I find it necessary not only to interest myself in the matter now,—Mr. Harwell's services being required, and it being my wish to dismiss that gentleman as soon as possible—but to find some one competent to supervise its completion. Now I have heard,—I have been told,—that you were the one of all others to do this; and though it is difficult if not improper for me to ask so great a favor of one who but a week ago was a perfect stranger to me, it would afford me the keenest pleasure if you would consent to look over this manuscript and tell me what remains to be done."
The timidity with which these words were uttered proved her to be in earnest, and I could not but wonder at the strange coincidence of this request with my secret wishes; it having been a question with me for some time how I was to gain free access to this house without in any way compromising either its inmates or myself. I did not know then that Mr. Gryce had been the one to recommend me to her favor in this respect. But, whatever satisfaction I may have experienced, I felt myself in duty bound to plead my incompetence for a task so entirely out of the line of my profession, and to suggest the employment of some one better acquainted with such matters than myself. But she would not listen to me.
"Mr. Harwell has notes and memoranda in plenty," she exclaimed, "and can give you all the information necessary. You will have no difficulty; indeed, you will not."
"But cannot Mr. Harwell himself do all that is requisite? He seems to be a clever and diligent young man."
But she shook her head. "He thinks he can; but I know uncle never trusted him with the composition of a single sentence."
"But perhaps he will not be pleased,—Mr. Harwell, I mean—with the intrusion of a stranger into his work."
She opened her eyes with astonishment. "That makes no difference," she cried. "Mr. Harwell is in my pay, and has nothing to say about it. But he will not object. I have already consulted him, and he expresses himself as satisfied with the arrangement."
"Very well," said I; "then I will promise to consider the subject. I can at any rate look over the manuscript and give you my opinion of its condition."
"Oh, thank you," said she, with the prettiest gesture of satisfaction. "How kind you are, and what can I ever do to repay you? But would you like to see Mr. Harwell himself?" and she moved towards the door; but suddenly paused, whispering, with a short shudder of remembrance: "He is in the library; do you mind?"
Crushing down the sick qualm that arose at the mention of that spot, I replied in the negative.
"The papers are all there, and he says he can work better in his old place than anywhere else; but if you wish, I can call him down."
But I would not listen to this, and myself led the way to the foot of the stairs.
"I have sometimes thought I would lock up that room," she hurriedly observed; "but something restrains me. I can no more do so than I can leave this house; a power beyond myself forces me to confront all its horrors. And yet I suffer continually from terror. Sometimes, in the darkness of the night—But I will not distress you. I have already said too much; come," and with a sudden lift of the head she mounted the stairs.
Mr. Harwell was seated, when we entered that fatal room, in the one chair of all others I expected to see unoccupied; and as I beheld his meagre figure bending where such a little while before his eyes had encountered the outstretched form of his murdered employer, I could not but marvel over the unimaginativeness of the man who, in the face of such memories, could not only appropriate that very spot for his own use, but pursue his avocations there with so much calmness and evident precision. But in another moment I discovered that the disposition of the light in the room made that one seat the only desirable one for his purpose; and instantly my wonder changed to admiration at this quiet surrender of personal feeling to the requirements of the occasion.
He looked up mechanically as we came in, but did not rise, his countenance wearing the absorbed expression which bespeaks the preoccupied mind.
"He is utterly oblivious," Mary whispered; "that is a way of his. I doubt if he knows who or what it is that has disturbed him." And, advancing into the room, she passed across his line of vision, as if to call attention to herself, and said: "I have brought Mr. Raymond up-stairs to see you, Mr. Harwell. He has been so kind as to accede to my wishes in regard to the completion of the manuscript now before you."
Slowly Mr. Harwell rose, wiped his pen, and put it away; manifesting, however, a reluctance in doing so that proved this interference to be in reality anything but agreeable to him. Observing this, I did not wait for him to speak, but took up the pile of manuscript, arranged in one mass on the table, saying:
"This seems to be very clearly written; if you will excuse me, I will glance over it and thus learn something of its general character."
He bowed, uttered a word or so of acquiescence, then, as Mary left the room, awkwardly reseated himself, and took up his pen.
Instantly the manuscript and all connected with it vanished from my thoughts; and Eleanore, her situation, and the mystery surrounding this family, returned upon me with renewed force. Looking the secretary steadily in the face, I remarked:
"I am very glad of this opportunity of seeing you a moment alone, Mr. Harwell, if only for the purpose of saying——"
"Anything in regard to the murder?"
"Yes," I began.
"Then you must pardon me," he respectfully but firmly replied. "It is a disagreeable subject which I cannot bear to think of, much less discuss."
Disconcerted and, what was more, convinced of the impossibility of obtaining any information from this man, I abandoned the attempt; and, taking up the manuscript once more, endeavored to master in some small degree the nature of its contents. Succeeding beyond my hopes, I opened a short conversation with him in regard to it, and finally, coming to the conclusion I could accomplish what Miss Leavenworth desired, left him and descended again to the reception room.
When, an hour or so later, I withdrew from the house, it was with the feeling that one obstacle had been removed from my path. If I failed in what I had undertaken, it would not be from lack of opportunity of studying the inmates of this dwelling.
XVI. THE WILL OF A MILLIONAIRE
"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to Heaven." All's Well that Ends Well.
THE next morning's Tribune contained a synopsis of Mr. Leavenworth's will. Its provisions were a surprise to me; for, while the bulk of his immense estate was, according to the general understanding, bequeathed to his niece, Mary, it appeared by a codicil, attached to his will some five years before, that Eleanore was not entirely forgotten, she having been made the recipient of a legacy which, if not large, was at least sufficient to support her in comfort. After listening to the various comments of my associates on the subject, I proceeded to the house of Mr. Gryce, in obedience to his request to call upon him as soon as possible after the publication of the will.
"Good-morning," he remarked as I entered, but whether addressing me or the frowning top of the desk before which he was sitting it would be difficult to say. "Won't you sit?" nodding with a curious back movement of his head towards a chair in his rear.
I drew up the chair to his side. "I am curious to know," I remarked, "what you have to say about this will, and its probable effect upon the matters we have in hand."
"What is your own idea in regard to it?"
"Well, I think upon the whole it will make but little difference in public opinion. Those who thought Eleanore guilty before will feel that they possess now greater cause than ever to doubt her innocence; while those who have hitherto hesitated to suspect her will not consider that the comparatively small amount bequeathed her would constitute an adequate motive for so great a crime."
"You have heard men talk; what seems to be the general opinion among those you converse with?"
"That the motive of the tragedy will be found in the partiality shown in so singular a will, though how, they do not profess to know."
Mr. Gryce suddenly became interested in one of the small drawers before him.
"And all this has not set you thinking?" said he.
"Thinking," returned I. "I don't know what you mean. I am sure I have done nothing but think for the last three days. I——"
"Of course—of course," he cried. "I didn't mean to say anything disagreeable. And so you have seen Mr. Clavering?"
"Just seen him; no more."
"And are you going to assist Mr. Harwell in finishing Mr. Leaven worth's book?"
"How did you learn that?"
He only smiled.
"Yes," said I; "Miss Leavenworth has requested me to do her that little favor."
"She is a queenly creature!" he exclaimed in a burst of enthusiasm. Then, with an instant return to his business-like tone: "You are going to have opportunities, Mr. Raymond. Now there are two things I want you to find out; first, what is the connection between these ladies and Mr. Clavering——"
"There is a connection, then?"
"Undoubtedly. And secondly, what is the cause of the unfriendly feeling which evidently exists between the cousins."
I drew back and pondered the position offered me. A spy in a fair woman's house! How could I reconcile it with my natural instincts as a gentleman?
"Cannot you find some one better adapted to learn these secrets for you?" I asked at length. "The part of a spy is anything but agreeable to my feelings, I assure you."
Mr. Gryce's brows fell.
"I will assist Mr. Harwell in his efforts to arrange Mr. Leaven worth's manuscript for the press," I said; "I will give Mr. Clavering an opportunity to form my acquaintance; and I will listen, if Miss Leavenworth chooses to make me her confidant in any way. But any hearkening at doors, surprises, unworthy feints or ungentlemanly subterfuges, I herewith disclaim as outside of my province; my task being to find out what I can in an open way, and yours to search into the nooks and corners of this wretched business."
"In other words, you are to play the hound, and I the mole; just so, I know what belongs to a gentleman."
"And now," said I, "what news of Hannah?" He shook both hands high in the air. "None."
I cannot say I was greatly surprised, that evening, when, upon descending from an hour's labor with Mr. Harwell, I encountered Miss Leavenworth standing at the foot of the stairs. There had been something in her bearing, the night before, which prepared me for another interview this evening, though her manner of commencing it was a surprise. "Mr. Raymond," said she, with an air of marked embarrassment, "I want to ask you a question. I believe you to be a good man, and I know you will answer me conscientiously. As a brother would," she added, lifting her eyes for a moment to my face. "I know it will sound strange; but remember, I have no adviser but you, and I must ask some one. Mr. Raymond, do you think a person could do something that was very wrong, and yet grow to be thoroughly good afterwards?"
"Certainly," I replied; "if he were truly sorry for his fault."
"But say it was more than a fault; say it was an actual harm; would not the memory of that one evil hour cast a lasting shadow over one's life?"
"That depends upon the nature of the harm and its effect upon others. If one had irreparably injured a fellow-being, it would be hard for a person of sensitive nature to live a happy life afterwards; though the fact of not living a happy life ought to be no reason why one should not live a good life."
"But to live a good life would it be necessary to reveal the evil you had done? Cannot one go on and do right without confessing to the world a past wrong?"
"Yes, unless by its confession he can in some way make reparation."
My answer seemed to trouble her. Drawing back, she stood for one moment in a thoughtful attitude before me, her beauty shining with almost a statuesque splendor in the glow of the porcelain-shaded lamp at her side. Nor, though she presently roused herself, leading the way into the drawing-room with a gesture that was allurement itself, did she recur to this topic again; but rather seemed to strive, in the conversation that followed, to make me forget what had already passed between us. That she did not succeed, was owing to my intense and unfailing interest in her cousin.
As I descended the stoop, I saw Thomas, the butler, leaning over the area gate. Immediately I was seized with an impulse to interrogate him in regard to a matter which had more or less interested me ever since the inquest; and that was, who was the Mr. Robbins who had called upon Eleanore the night of the murder? But Thomas was decidedly uncommunicative. He remembered such a person called, but could not describe his looks any further than to say that he was not a small man.
I did not press the matter.
XVII. THE BEGINNING OF GREAT SURPRISES
"Vous regardez une etoile pour deux motifs, parce qu'elle est lumineuse et parce qu'elle est impenetrable. Vous avez aupres de vous un plus doux rayonnement et un pas grand mystere, la femme." Les Miserables.
AND now followed days in which I seemed to make little or no progress. Mr. Clavering, disturbed perhaps by my presence, forsook his usual haunts, thus depriving me of all opportunity of making his acquaintance in any natural manner, while the evenings spent at Miss Leavenworth's were productive of little else than constant suspense and uneasiness.
The manuscript required less revision than I supposed. But, in the course of making such few changes as were necessary, I had ample opportunity of studying the character of Mr. Harwell. I found him to be neither more nor less than an excellent amanuensis. Stiff, unbending, and sombre, but true to his duty and reliable in its performance, I learned to respect him, and even to like him; and this, too, though I saw the liking was not reciprocated, whatever the respect may have been. He never spoke of Eleanore Leavenworth or, indeed, mentioned the family or its trouble in any way; till I began to feel that all this reticence had a cause deeper than the nature of the man, and that if he did speak, it would be to some purpose. This suspicion, of course, kept me restlessly eager in his presence. I could not forbear giving him sly glances now and then, to see how he acted when he believed himself unobserved; but he was ever the same, a passive, diligent, unexcitable worker.
This continual beating against a stone wall, for thus I regarded it, became at last almost unendurable. Clavering shy, and the secretary unapproachable—how was I to gain anything? The short interviews I had with Mary did not help matters. Haughty, constrained, feverish, pettish, grateful, appealing, everything at once, and never twice the same, I learned to dread, even while I coveted, an interview. She appeared to be passing through some crisis which occasioned her the keenest suffering. I have seen her, when she thought herself alone, throw up her hands with the gesture which we use to ward off a coming evil or shut out some hideous vision. I have likewise beheld her standing with her proud head abased, her nervous hands drooping, her whole form sinking and inert, as if the pressure of a weight she could neither upbear nor cast aside had robbed her even of the show of resistance. But this was only once. Ordinarily she was at least stately in her trouble. Even when the softest appeal came into her eyes she stood erect, and retained her expression of conscious power. Even the night she met me in the hall, with feverish cheeks and lips trembling with eagerness, only to turn and fly again without giving utterance to what she had to say, she comported herself with a fiery dignity that was well nigh imposing.
That all this meant something, I was sure; and so I kept my patience alive with the hope that some day she would make a revelation. Those quivering lips would not always remain closed; the secret involving Eleanore's honor and happiness would be divulged by this restless being, if by no one else. Nor was the memory of that extraordinary, if not cruel, accusation I had heard her make enough to destroy this hope—for hope it had grown to be—so that I found myself insensibly shortening my time with Mr. Harwell in the library, and extending my tete-a-tete visits with Mary in the reception room, till the imperturbable secretary was forced to complain that he was often left for hours without work.
But, as I say, days passed, and a second Monday evening came round without seeing me any further advanced upon the problem I had set myself to solve than when I first started upon it two weeks before. The subject of the murder had not even been broached; nor was Hannah spoken of, though I observed the papers were not allowed to languish an instant upon the stoop; mistress and servants betraying equal interest in their contents. All this was strange to me. It was as if you saw a group of human beings eating, drinking, and sleeping upon the sides of a volcano hot with a late eruption and trembling with the birth of a new one. I longed to break this silence as we shiver glass: by shouting the name of Eleanore through those gilded rooms and satin-draped vestibules. But this Monday evening I was in a calmer mood. I was determined to expect nothing from my visits to Mary Leavenworth's house; and entered it upon the eve in question with an equanimity such as I had not experienced since the first day I passed under its unhappy portals.
But when, upon nearing the reception room, I saw Mary pacing the floor with the air of one who is restlessly awaiting something or somebody, I took a sudden resolution, and, advancing towards her, said: "Do I see you alone, Miss Leavenworth?"
She paused in her hurried action, blushed and bowed, but, contrary to her usual custom, did not bid me enter.
"Will it be too great an intrusion on my part, if I venture to come in?" I asked.
Her glance flashed uneasily to the clock, and she seemed about to excuse herself, but suddenly yielded, and, drawing up a chair before the fire, motioned me towards it. Though she endeavored to appear calm, I vaguely felt I had chanced upon her in one of her most agitated moods, and that I had only to broach the subject I had in mind to behold her haughtiness disappear before me like melting snow. I also felt that I had but few moments in which to do it. I accordingly plunged immediately into the subject.
"Miss Leavenworth," said I, "in obtruding upon you to-night, I have a purpose other than that of giving myself a pleasure. I have come to make an appeal."
Instantly I saw that in some way I had started wrong. "An appeal to make to me?" she asked, breathing coldness from every feature of her face.
"Yes," I went on, with passionate recklessness. "Balked in every other endeavor to learn the truth, I have come to you, whom I believe to be noble at the core, for that help which seems likely to fail us in every other direction: for the word which, if it does not absolutely save your cousin, will at least put us upon the track of what will."
"I do not understand what you mean," she protested, slightly shrinking.
"Miss Leavenworth," I pursued, "it is needless for me to tell you in what position your cousin stands. You, who remember both the form and drift of the questions put to her at the inquest, comprehend it all without any explanation from me. But what you may not know is this, that unless she is speedily relieved from the suspicion which, justly or not, has attached itself to her name, the consequences which such suspicion entails must fall upon her, and——"
"Good God!" she cried; "you do not mean she will be——"
"Subject to arrest? Yes."
It was a blow. Shame, horror, and anguish were in every line of her white face. "And all because of that key!" she murmured.
"Key? How did you know anything about a key?"
"Why," she cried, flushing painfully; "I cannot say; didn't you tell me?"
"No," I returned.
"The papers, then?"
"The papers have never mentioned it."
She grew more and more agitated. "I thought every one knew. No, I did not, either," she avowed, in a sudden burst of shame and penitence. "I knew it was a secret; but—oh, Mr. Raymond, it was Eleanore herself who told me."
"Yes, that last evening she was here; we were together in the drawing-room."
"What did she tell?"
"That the key to the library had been seen in her possession."
I could scarcely conceal my incredulity. Eleanore, conscious of the suspicion with which her cousin regarded her, inform that cousin of a fact calculated to add weight to that suspicion? I could not believe this.
"But you knew it?" Mary went on. "I have revealed nothing I ought to have kept secret?"
"No," said I; "and, Miss Leavenworth, it is this thing which makes your cousin's position absolutely dangerous. It is a fact that, left unexplained, must ever link her name with infamy; a bit of circumstantial evidence no sophistry can smother, and no denial obliterate. Only her hitherto spotless reputation, and the efforts of one who, notwithstanding appearances, believes in her innocence, keeps her so long from the clutch of the officers of justice. That key, and the silence preserved by her in regard to it, is sinking her slowly into a pit from which the utmost endeavors of her best friends will soon be inadequate to extricate her."
"And you tell me this——"
"That you may have pity on the poor girl, who will not have pity on herself, and by the explanation of a few circumstances, which cannot be mysteries to you, assist in bringing her from under the dreadful shadow that threatens to overwhelm her."
"And would you insinuate, sir," she cried, turning upon me with a look of great anger, "that I know any more than you do of this matter? that I possess any knowledge which I have not already made public concerning the dreadful tragedy which has transformed our home into a desert, our existence into a lasting horror? Has the blight of suspicion fallen upon me, too; and have you come to accuse me in my own house——"
"Miss Leavenworth," I entreated; "calm yourself. I accuse you of nothing. I only desire you to enlighten me as to your cousin's probable motive for this criminating silence. You cannot be ignorant of it. You are her cousin, almost her sister, have been at all events her daily companion for years, and must know for whom or for what she seals her lips, and conceals facts which, if known, would direct suspicion to the real criminal—that is, if you really believe what you have hitherto stated, that your cousin is an innocent woman."
She not making any answer to this, I rose and confronted her. "Miss Leavenworth, do you believe your cousin guiltless of this crime, or not?"
"Guiltless? Eleanore? Oh! my God; if all the world were only as innocent as she!"
"Then," said I, "you must likewise believe that if she refrains from speaking in regard to matters which to ordinary observers ought to be explained, she does it only from motives of kindness towards one less guiltless than herself."
"What? No, no; I do not say that. What made you think of any such explanation?"
"The action itself. With one of Eleanore's character, such conduct as hers admits of no other construction. Either she is mad, or she is shielding another at the expense of herself."
Mary's lip, which had trembled, slowly steadied itself. "And whom have you settled upon, as the person for whom Eleanore thus sacrifices herself?"
"Ah," said I, "there is where I seek assistance from you. With your knowledge of her history——"
But Mary Leavenworth, sinking haughtily back into her chair, stopped me with a quiet gesture. "I beg your pardon," said she; "but you make a mistake. I know little or nothing of Eleanore's personal feelings. The mystery must be solved by some one besides me."
I changed my tactics.
"When Eleanore confessed to you that the missing key had been seen in her possession, did she likewise inform you where she obtained it, and for what reason she was hiding it?"
"Merely told you the fact, without any explanation?"
"Was not that a strange piece of gratuitous information for her to give one who, but a few hours before, had accused her to the face of committing a deadly crime?"
"What do you mean?"' she asked, her voice suddenly sinking.
"You will not deny that you were once, not only ready to believe her guilty, but that you actually charged her with having perpetrated this crime."
"Explain yourself!" she cried.
"Miss Leavenworth, do you not remember what you said in that room upstairs, when you were alone with your cousin on the morning of the inquest, just before Mr. Gryce and myself entered your presence?"
Her eyes did not fall, but they filled with sudden terror.
"You heard?" she whispered.
"I could not help it. I was just outside the door, and——"
"What did you hear?"
I told her.
"And Mr. Gryce?"
"He was at my side."
It seemed as if her eyes would devour my face. "Yet nothing was said when you came in?"
"You, however, have never forgotten it?"
"How could we, Miss Leavenworth?"
Her head fell forward in her hands, and for one wild moment she seemed lost in despair. Then she roused, and desperately exclaimed:
"And that is why you come here to-night. With that sentence written upon your heart, you invade my presence, torture me with questions——"
"Pardon me," I broke in; "are my questions such as you, with reasonable regard for the honor of one with whom you are accustomed to associate, should hesitate to answer? Do I derogate from my manhood in asking you how and why you came to make an accusation of so grave a nature, at a time when all the circumstances of the case were freshly before you, only to insist fully as strongly upon your cousin's innocence when you found there was even more cause for your imputation than you had supposed?"
She did not seem to hear me. "Oh, my cruel fate!" she murmured. "Oh, my cruel fate!"
"Miss Leavenworth," said I, rising, and taking my stand before her; "although there is a temporary estrangement between you and your cousin, you cannot wish to seem her enemy. Speak, then; let me at least know the name of him for whom she thus immolates herself. A hint from you——"
But rising, with a strange look, to her feet, she interrupted me with a stern remark: "If you do not know, I cannot inform you; do not ask me, Mr. Raymond." And she glanced at the clock for the second time.
I took another turn.
"Miss Leavenworth, you once asked me if a person who had committed a wrong ought necessarily to confess it; and I replied no, unless by the confession reparation could be made. Do you remember?"
Her lips moved, but no words issued from them.
"I begin to think," I solemnly proceeded, following the lead of her emotion, "that confession is the only way out of this difficulty: that only by the words you can utter Eleanore can be saved from the doom that awaits her. Will you not then show yourself a true woman by responding to my earnest entreaties?"
I seemed to have touched the right chord; for she trembled, and a look of wistfulness filled her eyes. "Oh, if I could!" she murmured.
"And why can you not? You will never be happy till you do. Eleanore persists in silence; but that is no reason why you should emulate her example. You only make her position more doubtful by it."
"I know it; but I cannot help myself. Fate has too strong a hold upon me; I cannot break away."
"That is not true. Any one can escape from bonds imaginary as yours."
"No, no," she protested; "you do not understand."
"I understand this: that the path of rectitude is a straight one, and that he who steps into devious byways is going astray."
A nicker of light, pathetic beyond description, flashed for a moment across her face; her throat rose as with one wild sob; her lips opened; she seemed yielding, when—A sharp ring at the front door-bell!
"Oh," she cried, sharply turning, "tell him I cannot see him; tell him——"
"Miss Leavenworth," said I, taking her by both hands, "never mind the door; never mind anything but this. I have asked you a question which involves the mystery of this whole affair; answer me, then, for your soul's sake; tell me, what the unhappy circumstances were which could induce you—"
But she tore her hands from mine. "The door!" she cried; "it will open, and—"
Stepping into the hall, I met Thomas coming up the basement stairs. "Go back," said I; "I will call you when you are wanted."
With a bow he disappeared.
"You expect me to answer," she exclaimed, when I re-entered, "now, in a moment? I cannot."
"Impossible!" fastening her gaze upon the front door.
"I fear the time will never come, if you do not speak now."
"Impossible," she reiterated.
Another twang at the bell.
"You hear!" said she.
I went into the hall and called Thomas. "You may open the door now," said I, and moved to return to her side.
But, with a gesture of command, she pointed up-stairs. "Leave me!" and her glance passed on to Thomas, who stopped where he was.
"I will see you again before I go," said I, and hastened up-stairs.
Thomas opened the door. "Is Miss Leavenworth in?" I heard a rich, tremulous voice inquire.
"Yes, sir," came in the butler's most respectful and measured accents, and, leaning over the banisters I beheld, to my amazement, the form of Mr. Clavering enter the front hall and move towards the reception room.
XVIII. ON THE STAIRS
"You cannot say I did it." Macbeth.
EXCITED, tremulous, filled with wonder at this unlooked-for event, I paused for a moment to collect my scattered senses, when the sound of a low, monotonous voice breaking upon my ear from the direction of the library, I approached and found Mr. Harwell reading aloud from his late employer's manuscript. It would be difficult for me to describe the effect which this simple discovery made upon me at this time. There, in that room of late death, withdrawn from the turmoil of the world, a hermit in his skeleton-lined cell, this man employed himself in reading and rereading, with passive interest, the words of the dead, while above and below, human beings agonized in doubt and shame. Listening, I heard these words:
"By these means their native rulers will not only lose their jealous terror of our institutions, but acquire an actual curiosity in regard to them."
Opening the door I went in.
"Ah! you are late, sir," was the greeting with which he rose and brought forward a chair.
My reply was probably inaudible, for he added, as he passed to his own seat:
"I am afraid you are not well."
I roused myself.
"I am not ill." And, pulling the papers towards me, I began looking them over. But the words danced before my eyes, and I was obliged to give up all attempt at work for that night.
"I fear I am unable to assist you this evening, Mr. Harwell. The fact is, I find it difficult to give proper attention to this business while the man who by a dastardly assassination has made it necessary goes unpunished."
The secretary in his turn pushed the papers aside, as if moved by a sudden distaste of them, but gave me no answer.
"You told me, when you first came to me with news of this fearful tragedy, that it was a mystery; but it is one which must be solved, Mr. Harwell; it is wearing out the lives of too many whom we love and respect."
The secretary gave me a look. "Miss Eleanore?" he murmured.
"And Miss Mary," I went on; "myself, you, and many others."
"You have manifested much interest in the matter from the beginning,"—he said, methodically dipping his pen into the ink.
I stared at him in amazement.
"And you," said I; "do you take no interest in that which involves not only the safety, but the happiness and honor, of the family in which you have dwelt so long?"
He looked at me with increased coldness. "I have no wish to discuss this subject. I believe I have before prayed you to spare me its introduction." And he arose.
"But I cannot consider your wishes in this regard," I persisted. "If you know any facts, connected with this affair, which have not yet been made public, it is manifestly your duty to state them. The position which Miss Eleanore occupies at this time is one which should arouse the sense of justice in every true breast; and if you——"
"If I knew anything which would serve to release her from her unhappy position, Mr. Raymond, I should have spoken long ago."
I bit my lip, weary of these continual bafflings, and rose also.
"If you have nothing more to say," he went on, "and feel utterly disinclined to work, why, I should be glad to excuse myself, as I have an engagement out."
"Do not let me keep you," I said, bitterly. "I can take care of myself."
He turned upon me with a short stare, as if this display of feeling was well nigh incomprehensible to him; and then, with a quiet, almost compassionate bow left the room. I heard him go up-stairs, felt the jar when his room door closed, and sat down to enjoy my solitude. But solitude in that room was unbearable. By the time Mr. Harwell again descended, I felt I could remain no longer, and, stepping into the hall, told him that if he had no objection I would accompany him for a short stroll.
He bowed a stiff assent, and hastened before me down the stairs. By the time I had closed the library door, he was half-way to the foot, and I was just remarking to myself upon the unpliability of his figure and the awkwardness of his carriage, as seen from my present standpoint, when suddenly I saw him stop, clutch the banister at his side, and hang there with a startled, deathly expression upon his half-turned countenance, which fixed me for an instant where I was in breathless astonishment, and then caused me to rush down to his side, catch him by the arm, and cry:
"What is it? what is the matter?"
But, thrusting out his hand, he pushed me upwards. "Go back!" he whispered, in a voice shaking with in-tensest emotion, "go back." And catching me by the arm, he literally pulled me up the stairs. Arrived at the top, he loosened his grasp, and leaning, quivering from head to foot, over the banisters, glared below.
"Who is that?" he cried. "Who is that man? What is his name?"
Startled in my turn, I bent beside him, and saw Henry Clavering come out of the reception room and cross the hall.
"That is Mr. Clavering," I whispered, with all the self-possession I could muster; "do you know him?"
Mr. Harwell fell back against the opposite wall. "Clavering, Clavering," he murmured with quaking lips; then, suddenly bounding forward, clutched the railing before him, and fixing me with his eyes, from which all the stoic calmness had gone down forever in flame and frenzy, gurgled into my ear: "You want to know who the assassin of Mr. Leavenworth is, do you? Look there, then: that is the man, Clavering!" And with a leap, he bounded from my side, and, swaying like a drunken man, disappeared from my gaze in the hall above.
My first impulse was to follow him. Rushing upstairs, I knocked at the door of his room, but no response came to my summons. I then called his name in the hall, but without avail; he was determined not to show himself. Resolved that he should not thus escape me, I returned to the library, and wrote him a short note, in which I asked for an explanation of his tremendous accusation, saying I would be in my rooms the next evening at six, when I should expect to see him. This done I descended to rejoin Mary.
But the evening was destined to be full of disappointments. She had retired to her room while I was in the library, and I lost the interview from which I expected so much. "The woman is slippery as an eel," I inwardly commented, pacing the hall in my chagrin. "Wrapped in mystery, she expects me to feel for her the respect due to one of frank and open nature."
I was about to leave the house, when I saw Thomas descending the stairs with a letter in his hand.
"Miss Leavenworth's compliments, sir, and she is too fatigued to remain below this evening."
I moved aside to read the note he handed me, feeling a little conscience-stricken as I traced the hurried, trembling handwriting through the following words:
"You ask more than I can give. Matters must be received as they are without explanation from me. It is the grief of my life to deny you; but I have no choice. God forgive us all and keep us from despair.
"As we cannot meet now without embarrassment, it is better we should bear our burdens in silence and apart. Mr. Harwell will visit you. Farewell!"
As I was crossing Thirty-second Street, I heard a quick footstep behind me, and turning, saw Thomas at my side. "Excuse me, sir," said he, "but I have something a little particular to say to you. When you asked me the other night what sort of a person the gentleman was who called on Miss Eleanore the evening of the murder, I didn't answer you as I should. The fact is, the detectives had been talking to me about that very thing, and I felt shy; but, sir, I know you are a friend of the family, and I want to tell you now that that same gentleman, whoever he was,—Mr. Robbins, he called himself then,—was at the house again tonight, sir, and the name he gave me this time to carry to Miss Leavenworth was Clavering. Yes, sir," he went on, seeing me start; "and, as I told Molly, he acts queer for a stranger. When he came the other night, he hesitated a long time before asking for Miss Eleanore, and when I wanted his name, took out a card and wrote on it the one I told you of, sir, with a look on his face a little peculiar for a caller; besides——"
"Mr. Raymond," the butler went on, in a low, excited voice, edging up very closely to me in the darkness. "There is something I have never told any living being but Molly, sir, which may be of use to those as wishes to find out who committed this murder."
"A fact or a suspicion?" I inquired.
"A fact, sir; which I beg your pardon for troubling you with at this time; but Molly will give me no rest unless I speak of it to you or Mr. Gryce; her feelings being so worked up on Hannah's account, whom we all know is innocent, though folks do dare to say as how she must be guilty just because she is not to be found the minute they want her."
"But this fact?" I urged.
"Well, the fact is this. You see—I would tell Mr. Gryce," he resumed, unconscious of my anxiety, "but I have my fears of detectives, sir; they catch you up so quick at times, and seem to think you know so much more than you really do."
"But this fact," I again broke in.
"O yes, sir; the fact is, that that night, the one of the murder you know, I saw Mr. Clavering, Robbins, or whatever his name is, enter the house, but neither I nor any one else saw him go out of it; nor do I know that he did."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, sir, what I mean is this. When I came down from Miss Eleanore and told Mr. Robbins, as he called himself at that time, that my mistress was ill and unable to see him (the word she gave me, sir, to deliver) Mr. Robbins, instead of bowing and leaving the house like a gentleman, stepped into the reception room and sat down. He may have felt sick, he looked pale enough; at any rate, he asked me for a glass of water. Not knowing any reason then for suspicionat-ing any one's actions, I immediately went down to the kitchen for it, leaving him there in the reception room alone. But before I could get it, I heard the front door close. 'What's that?' said Molly, who was helping me, sir. 'I don't know,' said I, 'unless it's the gentleman has got tired of waiting and gone.' 'If he's gone, he won't want the water,' she said. So down I set the pitcher, and up-stairs I come; and sure enough he was gone, or so I thought then. But who knows, sir, if he was not in that room or the drawing-room, which was dark that night, all the time I was a-shutting up of the house?"
I made no reply to this; I was more startled than I cared to reveal.
"You see, sir, I wouldn't speak of such a thing about any person that comes to see the young ladies; but we all know some one who was in the house that night murdered my master, and as it was not Hannah——"
"You say that Miss Eleanore refused to see him," I interrupted, in the hope that the simple suggestion would be enough to elicitate further details of his interview with Eleanore.
"Yes, sir. When she first looked at the card, she showed a little hesitation; but in a moment she grew very flushed in the face, and bade me say what I told you. I should never have thought of it again if I had not seen him come blazoning and bold into the house this evening, with a new name on his tongue. Indeed, and I do not like to think any evil of him now; but Molly would have it I should speak to you, sir, and ease my mind,—and that is all, sir."
When I arrived home that night, I entered into my memorandum-book a new list of suspicious circumstances, but this time they were under the caption "C" instead of "E."
XIX. IN MY OFFICE
"Something between an hindrance and a help." Wordsworth.
THE next day as, with nerves unstrung and an exhausted brain, I entered my office, I was greeted by the announcement:
"A gentleman, sir, in your private room—been waiting some time, very impatient."
Weary, in no mood to hold consultation with clients new or old, I advanced with anything but an eager step towards my room, when, upon opening the door, I saw—Mr. Clavering.
Too much astounded for the moment to speak, I bowed to him silently, whereupon he approached me with the air and dignity of a highly bred gentleman, and presented his card, on which I saw written, in free and handsome characters, his whole name, Henry Ritchie Clavering. After this introduction of himself, he apologized for making so unceremonious a call, saying, in excuse, that he was a stranger in town; that his business was one of great urgency; that he had casually heard honorable mention of me as a lawyer and a gentleman, and so had ventured to seek this interview on behalf of a friend who was so unfortunately situated as to require the opinion and advice of a lawyer upon a question which not only involved an extraordinary state of facts, but was of a nature peculiarly embarrassing to him, owing to his ignorance of American laws, and the legal bearing of these facts upon the same.
Having thus secured my attention, and awakened my curiosity, he asked me if I would permit him to relate his story. Recovering in a measure from my astonishment, and subduing the extreme repulsion, almost horror, I felt for the man, I signified my assent; at which he drew from his pocket a memorandum-book from which he read in substance as follows:
"An Englishman travelling in this country meets, at a fashionable watering-place, an American girl, with whom he falls deeply in love, and whom, after a few days, he desires to marry. Knowing his position to be good, his fortune ample, and his intentions highly honorable, he offers her his hand, and is accepted. But a decided opposition arising in the family to the match, he is compelled to disguise his sentiments, though the engagement remained unbroken. While matters were in this uncertain condition, he received advices from England demanding his instant return, and, alarmed at the prospect of a protracted absence from the object of his affections, he writes to the lady, informing her of the circumstances, and proposing a secret marriage. She consents with stipulations; the first of which is, that he should leave her instantly upon the conclusion of the ceremony, and the second, that he should intrust the public declaration of the marriage to her. It was not precisely what he wished, but anything which served to make her his own was acceptable at such a crisis. He readily enters into the plans proposed. Meeting the lady at a parsonage, some twenty miles from the watering-place at which she was staying, he stands up with her before a Methodist preacher, and the ceremony of marriage is performed. There were two witnesses, a hired man of the minister, called in for the purpose, and a lady friend who came with the bride; but there was no license, and the bride had not completed her twenty-first year. Now, was that marriage legal? If the lady, wedded in good faith upon that day by my friend, chooses to deny that she is his lawful wife, can he hold her to a compact entered into in so informal a manner? In short, Mr. Raymond, is my friend the lawful husband of that girl or not?"
While listening to this story, I found myself yielding to feelings greatly in contrast to those with which I greeted the relator but a moment before. I became so interested in his "friend's" case as to quite forget, for the time being, that I had ever seen or heard of Henry Clavering; and after learning that the marriage ceremony took place in the State of New York, I replied to him, as near as I can remember, in the following words: "In this State, and I believe it to be American law, marriage is a civil contract, requiring neither license, priest, ceremony, nor certificate—and in some cases witnesses are not even necessary to give it validity. Of old, the modes of getting a wife were the same as those of acquiring any other species of property, and they are not materially changed at the present time. It is enough that the man and woman say to each other, 'From this time we are married,' or, 'You are now my wife,' or, 'my husband,' as the case may be. The mutual consent is all that is necessary. In fact, you may contract marriage as you contract to lend a sum of money, or to buy the merest trifle."
"Then your opinion is——"
"That upon your statement, your friend is the lawful husband of the lady in question; presuming, of course, that no legal disabilities of either party existed to prevent such a union. As to the young lady's age, I will merely say that any fourteen-year-old girl can be a party to a marriage contract."
Mr. Clavering bowed, his countenance assuming a look of great satisfaction. "I am very glad to hear this," said he; "my friend's happiness is entirely involved in the establishment, of his marriage."
He appeared so relieved, my curiosity was yet further aroused. I therefore said: "I have given you my opinion as to the legality of this marriage; but it may be quite another thing to prove it, should the same be contested."
He started, cast me an inquiring look, and murmured:
"Allow me to ask you a few questions. Was the lady married under her own name?"
"Did the lady receive a certificate?"
"Properly signed by the minister and witnesses?"
He bowed his head in assent.
"Did she keep this?"
"I cannot say; but I presume she did."
"The witnesses were——"
"A hired man of the minister——"
"Who can be found?"
"Who cannot be found."
"Dead or disappeared?"
"The minister is dead, the man has disappeared."
"The minister dead!"
"Three months since."
"And the marriage took place when?"
"The other witness, the lady friend, where is she?"
"She can be found; but her action is not to be depended upon."
"Has the gentleman himself no proofs of this marriage?"
Mr. Clavering shook his head. "He cannot even prove he was in the town where it took place on that particular day."
"The marriage certificate was, however, filed with the clerk of the town?" said I.
"It was not, sir."
"How was that?"
"I cannot say. I only know that my friend has made inquiry, and that no such paper is to be found."
I leaned slowly back and looked at him. "I do not wonder your friend is concerned in regard to his position, if what you hint is true, and the lady seems disposed to deny that any such ceremony ever took place. Still, if he wishes to go to law, the Court may decide in his favor, though I doubt it. His sworn word is all he would have to go upon, and if she contradicts his testimony under oath, why the sympathy of a jury is, as a rule, with the woman."
Mr. Clavering rose, looked at me with some earnestness, and finally asked, in a tone which, though somewhat changed, lacked nothing of its former suavity, if I would be kind enough to give him in writing that portion of my opinion which directly bore upon the legality of the marriage; that such a paper would go far towards satisfying his friend that his case had been properly presented; as he was aware that no respectable lawyer would put his name to a legal opinion without first having carefully arrived at his conclusions by a thorough examination of the law bearing upon the facts submitted.
This request seeming so reasonable, I unhesitatingly complied with it, and handed him the opinion. He took it, and, after reading it carefully over, deliberately copied it into his memorandum-book. This done, he turned towards me, a strong, though hitherto subdued, emotion showing itself in his countenance.
"Now, sir," said he, rising upon me to the full height of his majestic figure, "I have but one more request to make; and that is, that you will receive back this opinion into your own possession, and in the day you think to lead a beautiful woman to the altar, pause and ask yourself: 'Am I sure that the hand I clasp with such impassioned fervor is free? Have I any certainty for knowing that it has not already been given away, like that of the lady whom, in this opinion of mine, I have declared to be a wedded wife according to the laws of my country? '"
But he, with an urbane bow, laid his hand upon the knob of the door. "I thank you for your courtesy, Mr. Raymond, and I bid you good-day. I hope you will have no need of consulting that paper before I see you again." And with another bow, he passed out.
It was the most vital shock I had yet experienced; and for a moment I stood paralyzed. Me! me! Why should he mix me up with the affair unless—but I would not contemplate that possibility. Eleanore married, and to this man? No, no; anything but that! And yet I found myself continually turning the supposition over in my mind until, to escape the torment of my own conjectures, I seized my hat, and rushed into the street in the hope of finding him again and extorting from him an explanation of his mysterious conduct. But by the time I reached the sidewalk, he was nowhere to be seen. A thousand busy men, with their various cares and purposes, had pushed themselves between us, and I was obliged to return to my office with my doubts unsolved.
I think I never experienced a longer day; but it passed, and at five o'clock I had the satisfaction of inquiring for Mr. Clavering at the Hoffman House. Judge of my surprise when I learned that his visit to my office was his last action before taking passage upon the steamer leaving that day for Liverpool; that he was now on the high seas, and all chance of another interview with him was at an end. I could scarcely believe the fact at first; but after a talk with the cabman who had driven him off to my office and thence to the steamer, I became convinced. My first feeling was one of shame. I had been brought face to face with the accused man, had received an intimation from him that he was not expecting to see me again for some time, and had weakly gone on attending to my own affairs and allowed him to escape, like the simple tyro that I was. My next, the necessity of notifying Mr. Gryce of this man's departure. But it was now six o'clock, the hour set apart for my interview with Mr. Harwell. I could not afford to miss that, so merely stopping to despatch a line to Mr. Gryce, in which I promised to visit him that evening, I turned my steps towards home. I found Mr. Harwell there before me.
XX. "TRUEMAN! TRUEMAN! TRUEMAN!"
"Often do the spirits Of great events stride on before the events, And in to-day already walks to-morrow." Coleridge.
INSTANTLY a great dread seized me. What revelations might not this man be going to make! But I subdued the feeling; and, greeting him with what cordiality I could, settled myself to listen to his explanations.
But Trueman Harwell had no explanations to give, or so it seemed; on the contrary, he had come to apologize for the very violent words he had used the evening before; words which, whatever their effect upon me, he now felt bound to declare had been used without sufficient basis in fact to make their utterance of the least importance.
"But you must have thought you had grounds for so tremendous an accusation, or your act was that of a madman."
His brow wrinkled heavily, and his eyes assumed a very gloomy expression. "It does not follow," he returned. "Under the pressure of surprise, I have known men utter convictions no better founded than mine without running the risk of being called mad."
"Surprise? Mr. Clavering's face or form must; then, have been known to you. The mere fact of seeing a strange gentleman in the hall would have been insufficient to cause you astonishment, Mr. Harwell."
He uneasily fingered the back of the chair before which he stood, but made no reply.
"Sit down," I again urged, this time with a touch of command in my voice. "This is a serious matter, and I intend to deal with it as it deserves. You once said that if you knew anything which might serve to exonerate Eleanore Leavenworth from the suspicion under which she stands, you would be ready to impart it."
"Pardon me. I said that if I had ever known anything calculated to release her from her unhappy position, I would have spoken," he coldly corrected.
"Do not quibble. You know, and I know, that you are keeping something back; and I ask you, in her behalf, and in the cause of justice, to tell me what it is."
"You are mistaken," was his dogged reply. "I have reasons, perhaps, for certain conclusions I may have drawn; but my conscience will not allow me in cold blood to give utterance to suspicions which may not only damage the reputation of an honest man, but place me in the unpleasant position of an accuser without substantial foundation for my accusations."
"You occupy that position already," I retorted, with equal coldness. "Nothing can make me forget that in my presence you have denounced Henry Clavering as the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth. You had better explain yourself, Mr. Harwell."
He gave me a short look, but moved around and took the chair. "You have me at a disadvantage," he said, in a lighter tone. "If you choose to profit by your position, and press me to disclose the little I know, I can only regret the necessity under which I lie, and speak."
"Then you are deterred by conscientious scruples alone?"
"Yes, and by the meagreness of the facts at my command."
"I will judge of the facts when I have heard them."
He raised his eyes to mine, and I was astonished to observe a strange eagerness in their depths; evidently his convictions were stronger than his scruples. "Mr. Raymond," he began, "you are a lawyer, and undoubtedly a practical man; but you may know what it is to scent danger before you see it, to feel influences working in the air over and about you, and yet be in ignorance of what it is that affects you so powerfully, till chance reveals that an enemy has been at your side, or a friend passed your window, or the shadow of death crossed your book as you read, or mingled with your breath as you slept?"
I shook my head, fascinated by the intensity of his gaze into some sort of response.
"Then you cannot understand me, or what I have suffered these last three weeks." And he drew back with an icy reserve that seemed to promise but little to my now thoroughly awakened curiosity.
"I beg your pardon," I hastened to say; "but the fact of my never having experienced such sensations does not hinder me from comprehending the emotions of others more affected by spiritual influences than myself."
He drew himself slowly forward. "Then you will not ridicule me if I say that upon the eve of Mr. Leavenworth's murder I experienced in a dream all that afterwards occurred; saw him murdered, saw"—and he clasped his hands before him, in an attitude inexpressibly convincing, while his voice sank to a horrified whisper, "saw the face of his murderer!"
I started, looked at him in amazement, a thrill as at a ghostly presence running through me.
"And was that——" I began.
"My reason for denouncing the man I beheld before me in the hall of Miss Leavenworth's house last night? It was." And, taking out his handkerchief, he wiped his forehead, on which the perspiration was standing in large drops.
"You would then intimate that the face you saw in your dream and the face you saw in the hall last night were the same?"
He gravely nodded his head.
I drew my chair nearer to his. "Tell me your dream," said I.
"It was the night before Mr. Leavenworth's murder. I had gone to bed feeling especially contented with myself and the world at large; for, though my life is anything but a happy one," and he heaved a short sigh, "some pleasant words had been said to me that day, and I was revelling in the happiness they conferred, when suddenly a chill struck my heart, and the darkness which a moment before had appeared to me as the abode of peace thrilled to the sound of a supernatural cry, and I heard my name, 'Trueman, Trueman, True-man,' repeated three times in a voice I did not recognize, and starting from my pillow beheld at my bedside a woman. Her face was strange to me," he solemnly proceeded, "but I can give you each and every detail of it, as, bending above me, she stared into my eyes with a growing terror that seemed to implore help, though her lips were quiet, and only the memory of that cry echoed in my ears."
"Describe the face," I interposed.
"It was a round, fair, lady's face. Very lovely in contour, but devoid of coloring; not beautiful, but winning from its childlike look of trust. The hair, banded upon the low, broad forehead, was brown; the eyes, which were very far apart, gray; the mouth, which was its most charming feature, delicate of make and very expressive. There was a dimple in the chin, but none in the cheeks. It was a face to be remembered."
"Go on," said I.
"Meeting the gaze of those imploring eyes, I started up. Instantly the face and all vanished, and I became conscious, as we sometimes do in dreams, of a certain movement in the hall below, and the next instant the gliding figure of a man of imposing size entered the library. I remember experiencing a certain thrill at this, half terror, half curiosity, though I seemed to know, as if by intuition, what he was going to do. Strange to say, I now seemed to change my personality, and to be no longer a third party watching these proceedings, but Mr. Leavenworth himself, sitting at his library table and feeling his doom crawling upon him without capacity for speech or power of movement to avert it. Though my back was towards the man, I could feel his stealthy form traverse the passage, enter the room beyond, pass to that stand where the pistol was, try the drawer, find it locked, turn the key, procure the pistol, weigh it in an accustomed hand, and advance again. I could feel each footstep he took as though his feet were in truth upon my heart, and I remember staring at the table before me as if I expected every moment to see it run with my own blood. I can see now how the letters I had been writing danced upon the paper before me, appearing to my eyes to take the phantom shapes of persons and things long ago forgotten; crowding my last moments with regrets and dead shames, wild longings, and unspeakable agonies, through all of which that face, the face of my former dream, mingled, pale, sweet, and searching, while closer and closer behind me crept that noiseless foot till I could feel the glaring of the assassin's eyes across the narrow threshold separating me from death and hear the click of his teeth as he set his lips for the final act. Ah!" and the secretary's livid face showed the touch of awful horror, "what words can describe such an experience as that? In one moment, all the agonies of hell in the heart and brain, the next a blank through which I seemed to see afar, and as if suddenly removed from all this, a crouching figure looking at its work with starting eyes and pallid back-drawn lips; and seeing, recognize no face that I had ever known, but one so handsome, so remarkable, so unique in its formation and character, that it would be as easy for me to mistake the countenance of my father as the look and figure of the man revealed to me in my dream."
"And this face?" said I, in a voice I failed to recognize as my own.
"Was that of him whom we saw leave Mary Leavenworth's presence last night and go down the hall to the front door."
XXI. A PREJUDICE
"True, I talk of dreams, 'Which are the children of an idle brain Begot of nothing but vain phantasy." —Romeo and Juliet.
FOR one moment I sat a prey to superstitious horror; then, my natural incredulity asserting itself, I looked up and remarked:
"You say that all this took place the night previous to the actual occurrence?"
He bowed his head. "For a warning," he declared.
"But you did not seem to take it as such?"
"No; I am subject to horrible dreams. I thought but little of it in a superstitious way till I looked next day upon Mr. Leavenworth's dead body."
"I do not wonder you behaved strangely at the inquest."
"Ah, sir," he returned, with a slow, sad smile; "no one knows what I suffered in my endeavors not to tell more than I actually knew, irrespective of my dream, of this murder and the manner of its accomplishment."
"You believe, then, that your dream foreshadowed the manner of the murder as well as the fact?"
"It is a pity it did not go a little further, then, and tell us how the assassin escaped from, if not how he entered, a house so securely fastened."
His face flushed. "That would have been convenient," he repeated. "Also, if I had been informed where Hannah was, and why a stranger and a gentleman should have stooped to the committal of such a crime."
Seeing that he was nettled, I dropped my bantering vein. "Why do you say a stranger?" I asked; "are you so well acquainted with all who visit that house as to be able to say who are and who are not strangers to the family?
"I am well acquainted with the faces of their friends, and Henry Clavering is not amongst the number; but——"
"Were you ever with Mr. Leavenworth," I interrupted, "when he has been away from home; in the country, for instance, or upon his travels?"
"No." But the negative came with some constraint.
"Yet I suppose he was in the habit of absenting himself from home?"
"Can you tell me where he was last July, he and the ladies?"
"Yes, sir; they went to R——. The famous watering-place, you know. Ah," he cried, seeing a change in my face, "do you think he could have met them there?"
I looked at him for a moment, then, rising in my turn, stood level with him, and exclaimed:
"You are keeping something back, Mr. Harwell; you have more knowledge of this man than you have hitherto given me to understand. What is it?"
He seemed astonished at my penetration, but replied: "I know no more of the man than I have already informed you; but"—and a burning flush crossed his face, "if you are determined to pursue this matter—" and he paused, with an inquiring look.
"I am resolved to find out all I can about Henry Clavering," was my decided answer
"Then," said he, "I can tell you this much. Henry Clavering wrote a letter to Mr. Leavenworth a few days before the murder, which I have some reason to believe produced a marked effect upon the household." And, folding his arms, the secretary stood quietly awaiting my next question.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"I opened it by mistake. I was in the habit of reading Mr. Leaven worth's business letters, and this, being from one unaccustomed to write to him, lacked the mark which usually distinguished those of a private nature."