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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 19768

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

For some time after his guests had retired, Hugh Mainwaring remained outside, walking up and down in the starlight, apparently absorbed in thought. When at length he passed into the house, he met his secretary coming out for a solitary smoke.

"Come to my library, Mr. Scott, before you retire for the night," said Mr. Mainwaring.

"At once, sir, if you wish," the secretary replied.

"No, there is no hurry; any time within an hour," and he passed up-stairs.

Half an hour later Harry Scott passed down the corridor towards the library, but paused on hearing an angry voice within, which he at once recognized as Mrs. LaGrange's.

"Where would you be to-night?" she cried, "where would you have been all these years, if I had but exposed your dishonesty and duplicity? You defrauded your only brother during his lifetime; you have persistently ignored your son, your own flesh and blood; and now you would rob him, not only of his father's name, but of his father's fortune,-cast him off with a mere pittance,-and put this stranger in the place which is rightfully his, and wish that you had been given such a son as he! You are in my power, and you know it only too well; and I will make you and your high-born, purse-proud family rue this day's work."

Hugh Mainwaring's reply to this tirade was inaudible, and Scott, feeling that he already had heard too much, withdrew, and continued walking up and down the halls until the library door opened and Mrs. LaGrange came out. She swept past him in a towering rage, seeming scarcely aware of his presence until, as he passed down the corridor and entered the library, he was suddenly conscious that she had turned and was watching him.

He found Mr. Mainwaring looking pale and fatigued.

"I will detain you but a moment, Mr. Scott," he said, speaking wearily; "I have a few instructions I would like you to carry out early in the morning; and I also want to say that I wish you to consider yourself as one of my guests to-morrow, and join with us in the festivities of the occasion."

Scott thanked his employer courteously, though there might have been detected a shade of reserve in his manner, and, after receiving brief directions for the following day, withdrew.

He went to his room, but not to sleep. His mind was too full of the events of the day just passed, as well as of the expected events of the morrow. His thoughts reverted to his discovery of the afternoon, and, taking the shabby document from his pocket, he read and re-read it carefully, his features betraying deep emotion. What should be done with it? Should he let his employer know at once of the proof which he now held against him? Or should he hold it for a few days and await developments?

It was nearly three o'clock when he was aroused from his abstraction by a slight sound, as of stealthy footsteps in the rear of the house. He listened intently for a moment, but hearing nothing further and discovering the lateness of the hour, he hastily extinguished the light and, too exhausted and weary to undress, threw himself as he was upon a couch and was soon sleeping heavily.

The sun was shining brightly into his room, when Harry Scott was awakened the next morning by a woman's scream, followed by cries and sobs and a confused sound of running to and fro. Almost before he could collect his thoughts, he heard steps approaching his room, and, rising, hastily exchanged the smoking-jacket in which he had slept for a coat. He had barely time to make the change when there was a loud knock, and some one called his name in quick, sharp tones.

Opening the door, he saw Mr. Whitney standing before him, while in the background servants were running in different directions, wringing their bands and moaning and crying hysterically.

"Mr. Scott," said the attorney, in tones trembling with excitement, "come to the tower-room at once. Mr. Mainwaring has been murdered!"

"Mr. Mainwaring murdered!" he exclaimed, reeling for an instant as if from a blow. "Great heavens! it cannot be possible!"

"It is terrible, but a fact, nevertheless," replied Mr. Whitney; "he was murdered last night in his private rooms."

"How and when was it discovered?" Scott inquired, his mind still dazed by the wild torrent of thought surging through his brain as he recalled the events of the previous night.

"Hardy, his valet, was the first to discover it this morning. We have telephoned for his physician and for the coroner; they will be out on the next train from the city."

Harry Scott shuddered as he entered the familiar room where he had taken leave of his employer but comparatively few hours before. Even amid the confusion, he noted that in the outer room everything appeared the same as when he last saw it, but the portieres at the farther side, pushed widely open, revealed a ghastly sight.

Upon the floor, about half-way between the desk and safe, his head resting in a small pool of blood, lay Hugh Mainwaring. He was inclined slightly towards his right side, his arm partially extended, and on the floor, near his right hand, lay a revolver, while an ugly wound just above the right eye and near the temple showed where the weapon had done its deadly work. The closely cut hair about the temple was singed and his face was blackened, showing that the fatal shot had been fired at close range. There were no indications, however, of a struggle of any kind; the great revolving-chair, usually standing in front of the desk, had been pushed aside, but everything else was in its accustomed place, and the desk was closed and locked.

Ralph Mainwaring was already kneeling beside the body; Mr. Thornton and young Mainwaring, who had entered immediately after Scott and the attorney, stood speechless with horror. With what conflicting emotions the young secretary gazed upon the lifeless form of his employer, fortunately for him at that moment, no one knew; as his mind cleared, he began to realize that his position was likely to prove a difficult and dangerous one, and that he must act with extreme caution.

The silence was first broken by Mr. Thornton, who exclaimed,-

"Terrible! Terrible! What do you think, Mainwaring? is this murder or suicide?"

"Time alone will tell," replied Mr. Mainwaring in a low tone; "but I am inclined to think it is murder."

"Murder without a doubt!" added Mr. Whitney.

"But who could have done such a deed?" groaned Mr. Thornton.

Hugh Mainwaring was attired, as when Scott had last seen him, in a rich dressing-gown; but as the secretary knelt beside the silent form and touched the left hand lying partially hidden in its folds, he gave a slight start, and, quickly passing his hand within the dressing-gown, announced in a low tone,-

"His diamond ring and his watch are both gone!"

"Robbery!" exclaimed young Mainwaring; "that must have been the object of the murderer!" While his father, glancing towards the safe, remarked,-

"We must ascertain whether anything else is missing."

"We will make a thorough examination of the room after the coroner's arrival," said Mr. Whitney, "but, for the present, everything must remain as it is."

"Should we not send for a detective at once?" Mr. Thornton inquired.

"I have already telephoned for one upon my own responsibility," replied the attorney.

"When were you last in these rooms, Mr. Scott?" asked Ralph Mainwaring of the secretary, who had risen to his feet and was making a careful survey of the room.

"About twelve o'clock last night, sir," was his reply; then noting a look of surprise on the faces about him, he added,-

"I came at Mr. Mainwaring's request, as he wished to give directions regarding some work to be done this morning."

"He was alone at that time?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did he appear?" inquired Mr. Thornton.

"The same as usual, except that he seemed very weary."

"Was he in this room?" asked Mr. Mainwaring.

"No, sir; he was seated in the library."

The sound of voices in the corridor attracted Mr. Mainwaring's attention, and he turned quickly to his son,-

"Hugh, I hear your mother's voice; go and meet her. The ladies must not be allowed to come in here."

Mr. Thornton turned to accompany young Mainwaring. Near the door he met his daughter and Miss Carleton, while a little farther down the corridor were Isabel Mainwaring and her mother. With terror-stricken faces they gathered about him, unable to believe the terrible report which they had learned from the servants. As best he could, he answered their numerous inquiries, and, having escorted them to another part of the house, left them in charge of young Mainwaring, while he returned to the library.

Meanwhile, the news of the murder had spread with lightning-like rapidity, and already crowds of people, drawn by that strange fascination which always exists for a certain class in scenes of this kind, were gathering on the grounds outside the house, forming in little groups, conversing with the servants, or gazing upward with awe-stricken glances at the closely-drawn shutters of the room in the tower. The invisible barriers which so long had excluded the public from Fair Oaks had been swept away by the hand of death, and rich and poor, capitalist and laborer, alike wandered unrestrained up and down the oak-lined avenue.

At the door of the library, Mr. Thornton found Ralph Mainwaring and the attorney conversing together in low tones.

"Yes," Mr. Mainwaring was saying, "as you say, it is undoubtedly murder; but I confess I am at a loss to understand the motive for such a deed, unless it were robbery; and you do not seem to give that idea much credence?"

Mr. Whitney shook his head decidedly. "Unless we find very strong evidence in that direction, I cannot believe that this is any case of common robbery."

"But to what other motive would you attribute

it?" inquired Mr. Mainwaring.

"Until further facts have been developed which may throw light upon the subject, I do not feel prepared to say what the motive might have been."

"You evidently have your suspicions," remarked Mr. Mainwaring, while Mr. Thornton inquired,-

"Had our cousin any enemies that you know of?"

Mr. Whitney turned a keen, penetrating glance upon Mr. Thornton for an instant, and the latter continued,-

"I thought it possible that in his business relations he might have incurred the enmity of some one of whom you knew."

"No," the attorney answered, quickly, "I am not aware of anything of that nature. Mr. Mainwaring made few intimate friends, but he was universally respected by all who knew him. If he had any enemies," he added, very slowly, "they were within his own household."

Ralph Mainwaring looked sharply at the attorney, but Mr. Thornton exclaimed,-

"'Egad! sir, but you surely do not think this deed was committed by any one of the inmates of this house?"

"As I have already said," replied Mr. Whitney, "I am not prepared to state what I do think without further knowledge of the facts in the case."

"Of course we understand that," rejoined Mr. Mainwaring; "but we desire to have the benefit of your opinions and judgment regarding this case so soon as you do feel justified in expressing them, and, since you are vastly more familiar with the circumstances surrounding it than we, we wish to rely on your suggestions in this matter."

The attorney bowed. "My advice for the present would be to take care that no one leaves the premises, and that you also send for Mrs. LaGrange; I wish to see her," he said briefly, and passed into the library.

Ralph Mainwaring beckoned to the butler; who was standing at a little distance, awaiting orders.

"Call the housekeeper at once, Mr. Whitney wishes to see her in the library; and send Wilson to me, and also the coachman."

With a silent acknowledgment of the order the butler withdrew, and a moment later, John Wilson, a middle-aged man and a servant of Ralph Mainwaring's who had accompanied him from London, appeared, followed by Brown, the coachman at Fair Oaks.

Mr. Mainwaring first addressed the latter. "Brown, for the next hour or so, I wish you to be stationed in the hall below. Keep back the crowd as much as possible; when the coroner and physician arrive show them up at once, but on no account allow any one else to come up-stairs."

Then turning to his own serving-man, as Brown departed to the duties assigned him, Mr. Mainwaring continued,

"'For you, Wilson, I have a task which I cannot intrust to any one else, but which I know you will perform faithfully and discreetly; so far as you are able, keep a close watch upon every one within this house, without seeming to do so; pay close attention to all conversation which you hear, and if you hear or see anything unusual, or that seems to have any bearing on what has occurred, report to me at once. Above all, do not let any of the servants leave the premises without they have my permission."

"Very well, sir," Wilson replied; as he moved away the butler reappeared.

"The housekeeper has not yet left her room, sir," he said, addressing Mr. Mainwaring. "I gave the message by the chambermaid, and she sent word that she had been prostrated by the terrible news this morning, sir, but that she would see Mr. Whitney in a few moments."

As the man retreated, Mr. Thornton paused suddenly in his walk up and down the corridor,-

"'Pon my soul, Mainwaring! it strikes me-particularly since hearing that will read yesterday-that there must have been something with reference to that woman-well-rather peculiar, don't you know."

"It strikes me," replied Mr. Mainwaring with marked emphasis, "that there may be something rather 'peculiar,' as you call it, in that direction at present, and I believe Mr. Whitney is of the same opinion."

"How is that? You surely do not think it possible that in his mind she is in any way associated with this murder-if it is a murder?"

"He evidently suspects some one in this house, and for the present we can draw our own inferences. Regarding those provisions in the will to which you just now alluded, I can assure you I was not too well pleased; but I knew it was useless to raise any objections or questions; to my mind, however, they furnish a clue as to the possible claimants against the estate, which we were discussing yesterday, and perhaps a clue to this latest development, also."

"By my soul! it looks like it; but surely she could have no valid claim."

"Valid or not," replied Ralph Mainwaring, "there must have been a powerful claim of some kind. When a man of Hugh Mainwaring's type leaves a handsome annuity to his housekeeper, and an interest in his business worth fifty or seventy-five thousand to her son, it may be considered pretty strong evidence that-"

At a warning glance from Mr. Thornton, Ralph Mainwaring paused abruptly and, turning, saw Mrs. LaGrange coming noiselessly down the corridor. She was dressed with even more than usual care, with quantities of rich lace fastened loosely about her shapely neck and falling in profusion over her beautifully moulded wrists and hands. Her dark, handsome features bore no trace of recent prostration, but betrayed, instead, signs of intense excitement. She bowed silently and passed onward, entering the library so quietly that the attorney, absorbed in thought, was unaware of her presence until she stood before him. He started slightly, and for an instant neither spoke. Each was silently gauging the power of the other.

For some time, Mrs. LaGrange had been conscious that Mr. Whitney was one of the few whose penetration could not be blinded by her blandishments. In addition, the fact that he was the private solicitor and legal adviser of Hugh Mainwaring did not tend to inspire her with confidence regarding his attitude towards herself. Nevertheless, he was an eminent attorney and this was a critical moment; if she could gain his favor and his services in her behalf, it would be a brilliant stroke of policy. Her plans were well laid, and she was prepared to assume whatever role was necessary, so soon as his words or manner should give her the desired cue.

For this, she did not have long to wait; one searching glance, and she had read in the piercing scrutiny and cold scorn of his keen blue eye that, so far from winning favor from him, he would prove her most bitter opponent, and as quickly she determined upon her future course of action.

Mr. Whitney, on the other hand, though a frequent visitor at Fair Oaks, and familiar with the fascinating manner with which, when she chose, Mrs. LaGrange entertained the guests of Hugh Mainwaring, was now forced to acknowledge to himself that never had he seen this handsome woman so beautiful as at the present moment. The eyes looking into his with such depth of meaning,-the expression, the attitude,-all were utterly unlike anything which he had ever seen; but his face grew only the more stern, for the thought then and there occurred to him that perhaps here was the solution of the mysterious power which this woman had wielded over the man whose lifeless form was now lying in their presence.

He observed that the luminous eyes grew suddenly cold, while her head assumed its usual haughty poise; the brief spell was over, and each understood the other.

After a few general directions, Mr. Whitney remarked, "This day's events will be far different from what we had anticipated."

"Yes," she replied, with a mocking smile, "in that it brings to the guests of this house, instead of future expectations, the immediate realization of their wishes!"

"It is not to be conceived for one moment that any of them take that view of what has occurred," he replied, in a tone of displeasure.

"Possibly not," she rejoined, "although the prospective long life of their host seemed to greatly detract, at least in the case of one of their number, from their enjoyment of the occasion which they had come to celebrate."

"To whom do you refer?" he inquired.

"It is unnecessary to give names," she answered, coldly; "but had the Mainwarings of London known the facts which I know, they would never have crossed the water to take part in the farce which was enacted here yesterday. There are Mainwarings with better right and title to this estate than they, as they will soon learn."

Neither by look nor gesture did she manifest the least consciousness of, or concern for, the inanimate form visible in the adjoining room. With sudden directness, and ignoring the implied threat in her last words, Mr. Whitney asked,-

"Mrs. LaGrange, at what hour did you last see Hugh Mainwaring?"

She was about to reply, when Scott entered from the tower-room. He had heard her last remark, and his dark, piercing eyes were fixed upon her face in keen scrutiny. She was quick to note the fact and hesitated an instant, while a change, inexplicable to the attorney, passed over her face,-surprise, a shade almost of fear, and haughty defiance were visible in quick succession; then, turning again towards Mr. Whitney, she answered, indifferently,-

"It was quite late last night; I do not recollect the hour."

As the attorney was about to speak, Mr. Thornton appeared at the door of the library.

"Beg pardon, Mr. Whitney, but I believe the coroner and others have arrived; as you know the gentlemen, will you kindly meet them?"

"Certainly. Mr. Scott, you will please remain here," and the attorney hastened out into the corridor.

Again Mrs. LaGrange and the secretary faced each other in silence, each apparently trying to read the other's thoughts and probe the depth of the other's knowledge; then, as the gentlemen were heard approaching, she withdrew, leaving him alone.

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