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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 15336

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Immediately after breakfast the following morning, Hugh Mainwaring, having excused himself to his guests, retired to his private library, in company with his secretary and Mr. Whitney, his attorney. A number of fine saddle horses having been brought around from the stables, the young people cantered gayly down the oak-lined avenue, intent upon a morning ride, their voices echoing musically through the grounds. The elderly people, after a short chat, gradually dispersed. Mrs. Mainwaring retired to her room for her accustomed morning nap; Mrs. Hogarth sought the large library and was soon absorbed in the works of her favorite author, while Ralph Mainwaring and Mr. Thornton strolled up and down the gravelled walks, enjoying their cigars.

"This is a very good bit of property," remarked Mr. Mainwaring at length, running his eye with cold scrutiny over the mansion and grounds; "taking into consideration the stocks and bonds and various business interests that will go with it, it will make a fine windfall for the boy."

"That it will, and Hugh certainly is a lucky dog!" responded Mr. Thornton, "but you seem to have some definite knowledge regarding our cousin's finances; has he given you any idea as to what he is really worth?"

"He? Not a word." Then noting an expression of surprise on his companion's face, Mr. Mainwaring continued. "I have a number of business acquaintances on this side the water, and you may rest assured I have kept myself well posted as to the way things were going all these years. I have had something of this kind in view all the time."

"I might have known it," replied Mr. Thornton, with an amused smile. "I never yet saw a Mainwaring who did not understand how to feather his own nest. Well, as you say, it is a fine piece of property; but, do you know, Mainwaring, it strikes me that the old boy seems a bit anxious to get it disposed of according to his own liking as quickly as possible."

"It does look that way," the other acknowledged.

"Well, now, doesn't that seem a little peculiar, when, with no direct heirs that we know of, the property would in any case revert to your family?"

Ralph Mainwaring puffed in silence for a few moments, then removing his cigar and slowing knocking off the ashes, he replied very deliberately,-

"It is my opinion that he and that attorney of his are aware of some possible claimants, of whom we know nothing."

"That is my idea exactly," said Mr. Thornton; "and, don't you know, it has occurred to me that possibly, unknown to us, Harold Mainwaring may have left a child, whose existence is known to Hugh."

"That would cut no figure in this case," Mr. Mainwaring answered, quickly. "Even had there been a living child,-which there was not,-he could make no claim whatever, for Harold was disinherited by his father's will."

"Yes, I know the old gentleman disinherited Harold, but would his heirs have no claim?"

"Not under that will. I was present when it was read, and I remember it debarred 'both him and his heirs, forever.'"

"Poor Harold!" said Mr. Thornton, after a moment's silence; "he was the elder son, was he not?"

"Yes, and his father's favorite. It broke the old man's heart to disinherit him. He failed rapidly after that occurred, and he never was the same towards Hugh. I always thought that accounted for Hugh's selling the old place as he did; it had too many unpleasant memories."

"Harold died soon after that unfortunate marriage, I believe."

"Yes; he learned too late the character of the woman he had married, and after the death of their only child, he left her, and a few years later was lost at sea."

"Well," continued Mr. Thornton, after a pause, "have you the remotest idea as to who these possible claimants against the property may be?"

"Only the merest suspicion, as yet too vague even to mention; but I think a day or two will probably enable me to determine whether I am correct or not."

At that moment, Harry Scott, the private secretary, appeared, with a message to the gentlemen from Hugh Mainwaring, to the effect that he would like to have them join himself and Mr. Whitney in his library.

As they passed around to the southern entrance with the secretary, they did not observe a closed carriage coming swiftly up the driveway, nor a tall, slender man, with cadaverous features and sharp, peering eyes, who alighted and hastily rang for admittance. But two hours later, as Mr. Thornton was descending the winding stairway in the main hall, he caught a glimpse of the strange caller, just taking his departure. The stranger, hearing footsteps, turned towards Mr. Thornton, and for an instant their eyes met. There was a mutual recognition; astonishment and scorn were written on Mr. Thornton's face, while the stranger cowed visibly and, with a fawning, cringing bow, made as speedy an exit as possible.

At luncheon that day both Hugh Mainwaring and a number of his guests seemed rather preoccupied, and the meal passed in unusual silence. Mrs. LaGrange exerted herself to be particularly entertaining to Mr. Whitney, but he, though courteously responding to her overtures, made no effort to continue the conversation. Even the genial Mr. Thornton was in so abstracted a mood that his daughter at last rallied him on his appearance, whereupon he turned somewhat abruptly to his host with the inquiry,-

"Are you personally acquainted with Richard Hobson?"

For an instant, Hugh Mainwaring seemed confused, and Mr. Whitney, always on the alert, noted a peculiar expression flash across the face of Mrs. LaGrange, and was also conscious of an almost imperceptible start on the part of the young secretary seated near him.

Mr. Mainwaring quickly recovered himself and replied, deliberately, "Richard Hobson, the attorney? I believe I met him once or twice, years ago, in London, but I cannot claim any acquaintance with him."

"Dick Hobson does not deserve the name of attorney," remarked Ralph Mainwaring; "he is a shyster and a scoundrel."

"He certainly bears a hard reputation," rejoined Mr. Thornton; "and I would not have mentioned his name, only that I met him here about half an hour since, and that caused me to make the inquiry I did."

Hugh Mainwaring paled visibly, though he remained calm. "Met him here, in my house? Impossible!" he exclaimed, at the same time glancing towards the butler, but the face of that functionary was as immobile as rock. "I did not suppose the man was in this country!"

"Oh, yes," replied Ralph Mainwaring; "he left England about two years ago; he played one too many of his dirty games there and took the first steamer for America, hoping, I suppose, to find a wider sphere of action in this country."

"Possibly I may have been mistaken," remarked Mr. Thornton, quietly, realizing that he had unconsciously touched an unpleasant chord, "but the resemblance was certainly striking."

An awkward silence followed, broken by young Scott, who excused himself on the plea of important work and returned to Mr. Mainwaring's library, where he was soon joined by all the gentlemen excepting young Mainwaring. In the hall, Hugh Mainwaring paused for a few words with the butler, and the attorney, passing at that moment, caught the man's reply, given in a low tone,-

"No, sir; Mrs. LaGrange."

A little later, the last will and testament of Hugh Mainwaring was signed by the testator, and duly attested by Ralph Mainwaring, William Mainwaring Thornton, and William H. Whitney. As the last signature was completed, Hugh Mainwaring drew a heavy sigh, saying in a low tone,-

"That is as I wished, my namesake is my heir;" then taking t

he document, he placed it in the hands of his secretary, adding, "Lay this for the present on my desk. To-morrow I wish it to be read in the presence of all the members of the family, after which, Mr. Whitney, I desire to have it put in your possession for safe keeping until it is needed; when that will be, no one can say;-it may be sooner than we think."

A marked change had come over his manner since luncheon, and his tones, even more than his words, made a deep impression on the mind of every one present. The shade of melancholy passed, however, and, ringing the bell, Hugh Mainwaring ordered carriages for himself and his guests for the afternoon and departed, leaving his secretary to attend to some private work in the library. Harry Scott's manner, upon finding himself alone within the private rooms of Hugh Mainwaring, betrayed intense excitement. He pushed his work impatiently from him and, rising, began to walk swiftly, though noiselessly, back and forth, the entire length of the two apartments. Twice he paused before the large desk, and taking therefrom the will, already familiar to him, read its contents with burning eyes while his face alternately flushed and paled. Then folding and replacing the document, he turned towards the safe, muttering,-

"It is no use. I have searched there once before and could find nothing."

Suddenly he exclaimed, "No one knows what may happen; this may be my last opportunity! I will search once more and leave not a corner unexplored."

Having locked the library, he returned to the safe. He knew the combination, and soon the great doors swung open, revealing the contents arranged with the precision for which Mr. Mainwaring was noted in his business habits. Conscious that he had abundance of time for the work he had undertaken and that he was secure from interruption, he began a careful and methodical search through all the compartments. Various private documents were examined and then replaced in exactly their original position, but all seemed of no avail. He discovered no trace of that which he hoped to find.

At last he came to a metallic box, which he surmised, from its weight and general appearance, contained the old family jewels. Should he open that? A moment's thought decided the question; he would leave nothing unexplored. Further search revealed the key concealed in a tiny drawer. He applied it to the lock; the cover flew backward, and a dazzling light flashed into his face as a ray of sunlight fell across his shoulder upon the superb gems, gleaming and scintillating from the depths of their hiding-place. But he paid little heed to them, for, in a long and narrow receptacle within one side of the box, his keen eye had discovered a paper, yellow and musty with age, the sight of which thrilled him with hope. He quickly drew it forth, and a single glance at its title assured him it was indeed the object of his search. With a low cry of joy, he locked and replaced the metallic box, and, opening the ancient document, he eagerly scanned its contents, an expression of intense satisfaction overspreading his features.

He was still perusing the paper when he heard footsteps approaching the library through the long corridor, followed an instant later by a knock. Depositing the precious document safely within an inside pocket, he swung the doors of the safe together, turning the handle so as to lock it securely, and, crossing the library, unlocked and opened the door.

The butler was standing there, and, handing Scott a card, said, briefly,

"A gentleman on private business; must see Mr. Mainwaring or his secretary at once."

Scott glanced at the card: it bore the name of "J. Henry Carruthers," with a London address, and underneath had been hastily pencilled the word "Important."

"Show the gentleman up," he said. The butler bowed and was gone, and in an incredibly short time, while yet Scott's pulse throbbed wildly from his recent discovery, the stranger entered the room.

He was a little above the average height, with a somewhat commanding presence, rather pale face, dark moustache, and black curling hair. He wore dark glasses, and was dressed in a tweed suit, slightly travel-worn, but his manners were those of a gentleman.

"Mr. Scott, I believe," he said, addressing the secretary.

"That is my name, sir; please be seated. What can I do for you, Mr. Carruthers?"

"Will you inform me, Mr. Scott, of the earliest hour at which I can see Mr. Mainwaring? I called at his city office and was directed here; but the butler states that Mr. Mainwaring is away from home, and is unable to say when he will return, or how soon he would be at liberty to see me."

"Mr. Mainwaring will probably return about five o'clock; but it is rather difficult for me to state when you could see him, as he is entertaining a number of guests, and it is doubtful if he would care to attend to any business just at this time, unless it were of special importance."

"My business with Mr. Mainwaring is of special importance," replied the other; "and I would be very glad if he could give me a little time to-morrow."

"Perhaps, if you would give me some intimation of its nature," Scott suggested, "Mr. Mainwaring might consent to make an appointment for the following day. I hardly think he would see you sooner. To-morrow is his birthday, and, as it is to be celebrated by him and his guests, it is doubtful whether he would attend to any business on that day."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Carruthers, rising, while Scott was conscious of a peculiar scrutiny fixed upon himself from behind those dark glasses; "it had escaped my mind, but now I recall that Mr. Mainwaring is to celebrate his birthday by making his young English cousin and namesake his heir. I certainly would not intrude at a time so inopportune."

The secretary started. "I was not aware that Mr. Mainwaring's intentions were generally known," he remarked.

"Perhaps not," replied the other, in a peculiar tone. "I merely heard it mentioned, and all parties have my congratulations and best wishes. Kindly say to Mr. Mainwaring that when the happy event is over I hope he will give me his earliest consideration. My address for the present will be the Arlington House.. Do not take the trouble to ring, I can find my way."

"You will find this way much shorter, sir," Scott replied, opening the door into the southern hall. Mr. Carruthers thanked him and, with a profound bow, took his departure.

As the hour was late, Scott found it necessary to devote himself at once to his work, and he had but just completed it when the sound of wheels was heard outside, and a few moments later his employer entered the room.

The latter studied Mr. Carruthers's card quite attentively, and frowned upon learning that his intentions regarding the making of his will had become known by outsiders, but he soon seemed to forget the occurrence. Soon all were gathered about the dinner-table, and the evening passed very pleasantly.

When, at a late hour, Hugh Mainwaring, in the dimly-lighted veranda, bade his guests good-night, he grasped the hand of his namesake and said, in a tone remarkably tender,-

"Hugh, my boy, the distance is long between the twenty-first and the fiftieth mile-stones on the journey of life. Heaven grant, when you shall have reached the latter, you may look back over a brighter pathway than I do to-night!"

Then, as the young man passed, he murmured to himself "If I could but have had just such a son as he!"

He did not see, though there was one who did, a woman's form glide away in the dim light, her eyes gleaming with malignant fire.

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