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   Chapter 6 THE INQUEST

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 18024

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The crowd, which early in the day had gathered about Fair Oaks, instead of diminishing, seemed rather to increase as the hours slipped away. Little by little the facts became known to outsiders,-the loss of the old family jewels, concerning whose existence and probable value vague rumors had been circulated in the past, the drawing up of the will on the preceding day and its strange disappearance in connection with the sudden and mysterious death of the testator,-all combined to arouse public interest and curiosity to an unusual degree; it seemed the culmination of the impenetrable mystery which for years had shrouded the place.

As the hour for the inquest approached, the crowd was augmented by each suburban train, until a throng of business men of all classes, interspersed with numerous reporters eager for the details of the affair, covered the grounds and even sought admittance to the house, for the millionaire broker, though a man of few intimate friendships, was widely known and honored in the financial and commercial world.

Shortly after the arrival of the 2.45 train from the city, the Mainwaring carriage came rapidly up the avenue, two or three other carriages following in the rear. As it stopped, Mr. Whitney alighted, followed by an elderly gentleman of fine appearance and two officers of the special police, who immediately began to force back the crowd, while the attorney and his companion hastily entered the house and were met by the butler, who, in response to a hurried inquiry, directed them up-stairs.

In the private library they found the detective who had been left there alone at his own request. There was a brief interview between the three, after which Mr. Whitney begged his companion to excuse him for a moment, and beckoning Mr. Merrick into the tower-room, asked eagerly,-

"Well, what success? Have you struck the trail?"

With an enigmatical smile, the detective replied, "The game has doubled back on the trail pretty adroitly, but I have made one or two little discoveries that may be of value later. What do you think of this?"

Opening a small note-book, he took therefrom several pieces of burnt paper, most of which were so blackened that the faint traces of writing which they bore were illegible. On a few pieces, however, words and parts of words could be distinctly read.

Mr. Whitney studied the bits of discolored paper for a moment, and then exclaimed in excited tones,

"Good heavens, man! it is the will! The will drawn up in these rooms yesterday! See, here is the date, 'this seventh day of July, in the year of our'-the rest is gone."

"Here is part of a name," said the detective, "'nor Houghton LaGra'-"

"Eleanor Houghton LaGrange!" exclaimed the attorney, "and below you can just trace the words, 'this amount of annuity to be'; and here are other bits, 'as to my estate and all property,' 'to hold the same forever, together with.' Well, I should say these were of value; where did you find them?"

For answer, Mr. Merrick pointed to a small fireplace behind the safe, near which a large screen was standing.

"Strange!" exclaimed the attorney. "I never noticed that before, much as I have been here."

"It escaped my observation for some time," replied the other. "I searched the fireplace in the library, but this grate is very small and was concealed by that large screen, as well as by the safe. Evidently, it was seldom used, and was selected for that reason by whoever destroyed the will, as more likely to escape notice."

"Rather a bungling piece of work," commented the attorney, "leaving these partially burned scraps. I wonder that he or she, whoever it was, did not make sure that they were entirely consumed."

"The person may have heard some sound and, fearing detection, hastened away before the job was completed," suggested the other.

"Well, it is past three, we must hasten; you found nothing more?"

"Nothing of special importance. I have learned one fact, however; the murder was never committed in this room, but in the library."

"The library! Why do you think that?"

"I do not think it, I know it, and was confident of it while we were making the examination this morning. Say nothing about it, however, for the present. We will go now, if you are ready."

Joining the gentleman still awaiting them in the library, they descended into the lower hall, where the detective suddenly disappeared.

Meanwhile, the coroner and members of the jury, after alighting from their carriages, marched gravely up the broad stairs and were conducted by a servant into one of the private apartments where lay the body of the murdered man. Under the direction of Dr. Westlake, the jury individually viewed the wounds, noting their location and character, and, after a brief visit to the room in the tower, all passed downstairs and were shown into the large library on the first floor.

The coroner occupied a large arm-chair at one end of a long writing-table in the centre of the room, the jury being seated together near his left, while on each side of the table chairs had been placed for the accommodation of a few of the more prominent reporters, the others, less favored, stationing themselves at the doorways and open windows.

In the room back of the library were the servants, the women grouped about the great arched doorway with white, frightened faces, the men standing a little farther in the rear, while in a dim corner, partially concealed by the heavy portieres and unseen by any one excepting the servants, was the detective.

When everything was in readiness, Mr. Whitney entered the room with the gentleman who had accompanied him out from the city and followed by the London guests. In the lead were Ralph Mainwaring and his son, the entrance of the latter causing a small stir of interest and excitement, as a score of pencils at once began to rapidly sketch the features of the young Englishman, the intended heir of Hugh Mainwaring. The young man's face wore an expression of unconcern, but his father's features were set and severe. To him, the loss of the will meant something more than the forfeiture of the exclusive ownership of a valuable estate; it meant the overthrow and demolition of one of his pet schemes, cherished for twenty-one years, just on the eve of its fulfilment; and those who knew Ralph Mainwaring knew that to thwart his plans was a dangerous undertaking.

Mr. Thornton followed, escorting Mrs. Mainwaring and her daughter, the cold, gray eyes of Isabel Mainwaring flashing a look of haughty disdain on the faces about her. Bringing up the rear was Mrs. Hogarth with her two charges, Edith Thornton and Winifred Carleton, the face of the latter lighted with an intelligent, sympathetic interest in her surroundings.

Harry Scott next entered, pausing in the doorway for an instant, while just behind him appeared Mrs. LaGrange. The room was already crowded, and Miss Carleton, seated near the door, with a quick glance invited the young secretary to a vacant chair by her side, which he gracefully accepted, but not before a tiny note had been thrust into his hand, unseen by any one excepting the detective.

Pale, but with all her accustomed hauteur, Mrs. LaGrange, accompanied by her son, passed slowly around the group of reporters, ignoring the chair offered by the attorney, and seated herself in a position as remote as possible from the guests of the house and commanding a full view of the servants. Her gown was noticeable for its elegance, and her jewelled hands toyed daintily with a superb fan, from whose waving black plumes a perfume, subtle and exquisite, was wafted to every part of the room.

In the silence that followed, the coroner, with a few brief words, called for the first witness, George Hardy. A young man, with a frank face and quiet, unassuming manner, stepped forward from the group of servants. After the usual preliminaries, the coroner inquired,-

"How long have you been in the employ of Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Nearly four years, sir."

"During that time you have held the position of valet?"

"Yes, sir."

"At what time this morning did you discover what had occurred?"

"About seven o'clock, sir."

"You may state how you came to make this discovery, giving full particulars."

"I had gone as usual to the bath-room to prepare the bath for Mr. Mainwaring, and when everything was in readiness I knocked at his door to waken him. There was no answer, and, after knocking several times, I unlocked the door and looked in. I saw he had not occupied the room, but I didn't think much about that, and went on through the smoking-room into the library, and then I saw Mr. Mainwaring lying on the floor in the next room. At first I thought he was sick and went to him, but as I got nearer I saw that he was dead, and then I noticed the revolver lying beside him."

"What did you then do?"

"I was frightened, sir, and I went to call help as quick as I could."

"Who was the fir

st person whom you met and told of your discovery?"

"Well, sir, I went first for Mr. Whitney, because he was a friend of Mr. Mainwaring's and a lawyer, and I thought he would know what to do; but on my way to his room I met Wilson, Mr. Ralph Mainwaring's valet, and I told him what had happened; then I called Mr. Whitney and told him Mr. Mainwaring had shot himself."

"Did you get the impression that Mr. Mainwaring bad shot himself from the fact that the revolver lay near his band, or had you any other reasons for that inference?"

"No, sir, that was the only reason."

"Can you state positively whether this revolver belonged to Mr. Mainwaring?" asked the coroner, at the same time passing the weapon to Hardy.

"Yes, sir," replied the latter, promptly, handing it back after a moment's inspection, "that is Mr. Mainwaring's revolver. I've cleaned it many a time, and there's little marks on it that I know sure."

"Very well. After summoning Mr. Whitney, did you call any other members of the household?"

"Mr. Whitney sent me to call Mr. Ralph Mainwaring; but I met Wilson again, and he said he had just told Mr. Mainwaring and Mr. Thornton, and was on his way to the room of young Mr. Mainwaring. Down the hall I met the butler and told him what had happened, and we both went into the library, and I stayed there till Mr. Whitney came."

"When did you last see Mr. Hugh Mainwaring?"

"Shortly after dinner last evening, between seven and eight o'clock, I should say, sir."

"Where was that?"

"In the main hall down-stairs, sir. He stopped me to say that he would not need me last evening, and that after locking up his rooms for the night I could have my time to myself."

"Was the locking of his rooms usually included among your duties at night?"

"Yes, sir; his private rooms and the hall on the south side."

"Did you have any stated time for doing this?"

"At nine o'clock, sir."

"You locked the rooms as usual last night?"

"Yes, sir; that is, I locked them all right, but it was later than usual."

"How was that?"

"About half an hour after Mr. Mainwaring spoke to me, the housekeeper came and asked me to keep the rooms open till about ten o'clock, as she was expecting callers and wanted to receive them by the south hall into her private parlor."

"At what time did you lock the rooms?"

"A few minutes after ten, sir. I felt kind of uneasy, because it was Mr. Mainwaring's orders that the rooms be shut at nine; so soon as 'twas ten o'clock I went around outside, and, seeing no light in her parlor, I went in and locked the hall and then went up-stairs to lock the rooms there."

"Did you see any strangers about the place at that time?"

"No, sir."

"You saw no one in any of Mr. Mainwaring's private rooms?"

"No strangers, you mean? No, sir."

"Was there any one in his rooms?"

"The housekeeper was in the library. She had gone up-stairs that way, she said, and had found the door into the main hall locked, and hearing me come, she waited for me to open it."

"Had you locked the door into the main hall?"

"No, sir; that door wasn't usually locked in the evening. I don't know who locked it, but I opened it for her and then locked it again."

"Are you positive there was no one else in those rooms at that time?"

"Yes, sir, pretty sure," replied Hardy, with a smile, "for I looked them over uncommon thorough last night. I thought at first that I smelled smoke, like something burning, but I looked around careful and everything was all right."

At this point Mr. Whitney held a whispered consultation with the coroner for a moment.

"You say," continued the latter, "you thought you smelled something burning; could you state what the material seemed to be?"

"Well, sir, I thought it was like paper burning; but I must have been mistaken, for the papers on the table was all right and there was nothing in the fireplace."

"Did you see or hear anything unusual about the place at any time last night?"

"No, sir."

For a moment the coroner was occupied with a slip of paper which had been passed to him through a number of hands; then he said,-

"Before you are dismissed, will you describe the locks used on the doors of Mr. Mainwaring's library and the south hall."

"They had the ordinary locks, sir; and then, in addition, a small, patent lock, that when a certain spring was turned the door locked of itself and could not be opened from either side unless one had the key and understood the working of the spring."

"Who had keys to fit these locks?"

"No one but Mr. Mainwaring. When he was home and wanted the doors unlocked, he hung the keys in a particular place in the library where I could find them, and when he went away he always took them with him."

"Did you unlock the library doors this morning?"

"Only the door into the main hall when I went to call Mr. Whitney,-that had nothing but an ordinary lock; but the other door, into the south hall, was unlocked and the keys gone when I first went into the library."

"One question more. Do you know whether any one else in the house had knowledge of or access to, these particular keys?"

"I don't know for certain, sir, but I think not."

The attorney was next called upon, and came forward, while Hardy resumed his former place among the servants.

"Mr. Whitney," said the coroner, after the witness had given the details of his arrival in the tower-room in response to the valet's summons, "will you please state when, and under what circumstances, you last saw Hugh Mainwaring living."

"At nearly eleven o'clock last night. Mr. Mainwaring had just bidden his guests good-night, and I believe they had all retired to their rooms, leaving him and myself together upon the veranda in front of the house. I remained with him about ten minutes, I should judge, talking over the events of the day which had been of unusual interest. I remember his remarking that he should not retire for an hour or so, as, to use his own expression, his thoughts would not let him sleep. We clasped hands with an exchange of good wishes. That was the last I ever saw him living or heard him speak."

Mr. Whitney's voice trembled slightly towards the close of his recital, but as he repeated Hugh Mainwaring's words a smile of scorn passed over the face of Mrs. LaGrange, who was seated directly opposite.

"Will you please state," said the coroner, "how Mr. Mainwaring had been engaged during the day, yesterday."

"Until about half-past two his time was spent in the preparation, with the assistance of his secretary and myself, and the execution of his last will and testament. The remainder of the day was devoted to the entertainment of his guests."

"Will you give briefly and in general terms the conditions of the will."

"With the exception of an annuity to his housekeeper and a handsome bequest to her son, it conveyed everything to his cousin and namesake, Hugh Mainwaring, Jr., whom he intended to-day to formally declare his heir."

"Where was this document placed, Mr. Whitney?"

"It was, at Mr. Mainwaring's request, placed by his secretary on his desk in the tower-room."

"You can give no further information regarding this will, now missing?"

"Only this," replied Mr. Whitney, with marked emphasis, "that we now have positive proof that the will was burned."

There was a general movement of surprise, both among the members of the household and outsiders; and the attorney, closely observant of Mrs. LaGrange, saw her cheek, which but a moment before, at his mention of the annuity contained in the will, had flamed with anger, suddenly assume a strange pallor.

"Mr. Whitney," continued the coroner, having consulted a small memorandum which he held, "do you know whether there were any strangers at Fair Oaks yesterday?"

"I have no personal knowledge on that subject. The secretary informs me that a stranger inquired for Mr. Mainwaring in the afternoon, and remarks were made at luncheon, that impressed me considerably, regarding some one who had called in the forenoon, whether to see Mr. Mainwaring I am not prepared to state."

"Will you state the nature of those remarks?"

"I should prefer to be excused until later in this examination. For the present, I will merely say that one of Mr. Mainwaring's guests incidentally met and recognized this caller; that the latter was evidently well and unfavorably known by both Mr. Mainwaring and his guests, and, if I am not mistaken, by the secretary also, and that the mention of the man's name seemed to affect Mr. Hugh Mainwaring very unpleasantly."

"In what respect, Mr. Whitney?"

"He grew very pale and appeared confused, if not alarmed, on learning that the man was in this country and had been seen at this house, and he seemed abstracted and very unlike himself for fully an hour after the occurrence."

"Will you state the name of this man?"

"He was spoken of as Richard Hobson, formerly an attorney, of London."

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