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   Chapter 7 A LITTLE ROYAL

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 23091

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

"Harry Scorr, private secretary of Hugh Mainwaring," announced the coroner, when Mr. Whitney had resumed his chair.

As the young secretary walked deliberately through the crowded room, there were few who failed to remark his erect, athletic form, his splendid bearing, and especially the striking beauty of his dark face, with its olive tint, clear-cut features, indicative of firmness and strength, and large, piercing eyes, within whose depths, on the present occasion, there seemed to be, half hidden, half revealed, some smouldering fire. Instantly a half-dozen pencils were transferring to paper his form and features.

"Say, what are you 'doing' him for?" whispered one reporter to his neighbor. "He isn't anybody; only the old man's secretary."

"Can't help that," replied the other; "he's better looking than the English chap, anyhow; and, in my opinion, the old fellow would have shown better sense to have left him the 'stuff.'"

Meanwhile, young Scott, having answered a few preliminary interrogatories, turned slowly, facing Mrs. LaGrange, who was watching him with an intensity of manner and expression as though she would compel him to meet her gaze.

As his glance met hers, a look of inquiry flashed from her eyes to his, accompanied by an expression persuasive, almost appealing. But the only reply was an ominous flash from the dark eyes, as, with a gesture of proud disdain, he folded his arms and again faced his interlocutor, while, with eyes gleaming with revenge from under their heavily drooping lids and lips that curled from time to time in a smile of bitter malignity, she watched him, listening eagerly for his testimony, losing no word that he said.

The young secretary well understood the character of the enemy with whom he had thus declared war, though he was as yet in ignorance of the weapons she would use against him, but the honeyed words of the little note crushed within his pocket had no power to swerve him for an instant from the course upon which he had determined.

After a few general questions, the coroner said,

"Please state when and what was the first intimation received by you of any unusual occurrence."

"I was awakened this morning by a woman's scream and heard sounds of confused running in different directions. A few moments later Mr. Whitney came to my room and informed me of what had occurred, and I then went with him to the private rooms of Mr. Mainwaring."

"You were associated with Mr. Mainwaring yesterday during the greater part of the day and evening, were you not?"

"I was during the day, but I did not see him after dinner until late at night."

"Did you notice anything unusual in his appearance at any time yesterday?"

"He appeared rather depressed for about an hour after luncheon, during the execution of the will."

"Did you know any cause for such depression?"

"I attributed it, in my own mind, to the conversation at luncheon, to which Mr. Whitney has referred."

"Regarding one Richard Hobson?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know what, if any, relations existed between Mr. Mainwaring and this Hobson?"

The black plumes of Mrs. LaGrange's fan suddenly quivered, her cheek paled, and her breath came and went quickly, but these were the only signs of agitation which she betrayed, as Scott replied,-

"I have no knowledge as to what relations existed between them of late. I only know that Mr. Mainwaring had, years ago, some important private business with this man."

"Will you state the nature of this business?"

"Without giving exact details," Scott replied, speaking deliberately but with no hesitation, though conscious of the surprise and indignation depicted on some of the faces about him, "this man was employed as an attorney by Mr. Mainwaring before the latter came to this country, and has since, at various times, extorted money from him by threats of exposure regarding certain transactions."

The silence that followed this statement was of itself eloquent. The young secretary felt every eye fastened upon himself, and, though his own eyes were fixed on the coroner's face, he saw reflected even there the general expression of mingled astonishment, incredulity, and resentment. Unmoved, however, he awaited, coolly and impassively, the next words of the coroner.

"Mr. Scott," said Dr. Westlake, a touch of severity in his tone, "this is a serious assertion to make regarding a man so widely known as Mr. Mainwaring, and so universally considered above reproach in his business transactions."

"I am aware of that fact, sir," replied Scott, calmly, "but reference to the private letter-files of Mr. Mainwaring will prove the truth of my assertion. I made this statement simply because the time and place demanded it. You were endeavoring to ascertain the cause of Mr. Mainwaring's perturbation on learning yesterday of the arrival of Hobson. I have given what I consider the clue."

"How recently had this man Hobson extorted money from Mr. Mainwaring, and in what amount?"

"The last money sent him was about three years ago, a sum of five thousand dollars. Hobson wrote a most insolent letter of acknowledgment, stating that, as this money would set him on his feet for a time, he would not write again immediately, but assuring Mr. Mainwaring that he would never be able to elude him, as the writer would keep posted regarding his whereabouts, and might, some time in the future, call upon him in person."

"Can you describe this man's appearance?"

"I cannot, having never met him."

"Will you describe the stranger who is reported to have called in the afternoon."

"He was tall, quite pale, with dark hair and moustache. He was dressed in a tweed suit, somewhat travel-worn, and wore dark glasses."

"Did he state his errand?"

"Only that he wished to see Mr. Mainwaring on business of special importance. He at first seemed rather insistent, but, on learning that Mr. Mainwaring was out and that he would receive no business calls for a day or two, he readily consented to defer his interview until later."

"Did he leave his name or address?"

"His card bore the name of J. Henry Carruthers, of London. He gave his present address as the Arlington House."

"You noticed nothing unusual in his appearance?"

"The only thing that struck me as rather peculiar was that Mr. Carruthers seemed well informed regarding events expected to take place here, while his name was wholly unfamiliar to Mr. Mainwaring."

At this point a pencilled note was handed by the coroner to Mr. Whitney, who immediately summoned George Hardy and hastily despatched him on some errand.

"Mr. Scott," resumed the coroner, "were you in Mr. Mainwaring's private library at any time during last evening?"

"I was not. I spent the entire evening in my own room."

"When did you again see Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Not until after eleven o'clock. I had come down for a smoke in the grounds outside and met Mr. Mainwaring in the lower hall on the way to his rooms. He asked me to come to his library before retiring, as he wished to give some final directions for the next day. About half an hour later I went to the library door, but hearing loud and angry talk within, I waited in the hall some fifteen or twenty minutes until I knew Mr. Mainwaring was alone. I then entered, received his instructions, and went directly to my room for the night."

"Were you able to recognize the voices or hear any of the conversation?"

"I was. I recognized the voice of the housekeeper, Mrs. LaGrange; but feeling that I was hearing what was not intended for me, I walked back into the main hall and remained there until Mrs. LaGrange came out."

"You saw her leave the library?"

"Yes, sir; I passed her in the corridor."

"She saw you, of course?"

"She seemed scarcely conscious of my presence until we had passed; she then turned and watched me as I entered the library."

"What was the nature of the conversation which you heard?"

"I only heard what Mrs. LaGrange said. She evidently was very angry with Mr. Mainwaring."

"Can you repeat her words as you heard them?"

"Not entirely. She accused Mr. Mainwaring of dishonesty, saying that he had defrauded his only brother, and had ignored and robbed his own son to put a stranger in his place. The last words I heard were, 'You are in my power, and you know it only too well; and I will make you and your high-born, purse-proud family rue this day's work.'"

Harry Scott, with the proof of his employer's crimes in his possession, repeated these words with an indifference and impassiveness that seemed unnatural, while the smouldering fire in his eyes gleamed fitfully, as though he knew some secret of which the others little dreamed.

But, if spoken indifferently, the words were not received with indifference. The reporters bent to their task with renewed ardor, since it promised developments so rich and racy. Ralph Mainwaring's face was dark with suppressed wrath; Mr. Thornton seemed hardly able to restrain himself; while the attorney grew pale with excitement and anger. Mrs. LaGrange alone remained unmoved, as much so as the witness himself, her eyes half closed and a cynical smile playing about her lips as she listened to the repetition of her own words.

"Did Mr. Mainwaring make no reply?" inquired the coroner.

"He did, but it was inaudible to me."

"You went into the library as soon as he was alone?"

"I did."

"At what hour was this?"

"A few minutes past twelve."

"Was that the last time you saw Mr. Mainwaring living?"

"It was."

"Can you state whether any one was in his rooms after you left?"

"I cannot."

"Mr. Scott, by your own statement, you must have been in Mr. Mainwaring's library within an hour preceding his death; consequently, I would like you to give every detail of that interview."

"I am perfectly willing, sir, but there are few to give. The interview occupied possibly ten minutes. Mr. Mainwaring appeared very weary, and, after giving directions regarding any personal mail or telegrams which might be received, stated that he wished me to consider myself his guest on the following day and join in the festivities of the occasion. I thanked him, and, wishing him good-night, withdrew."

"In which room were you?"

"We were both in the library. When I first entered, Mr. Mainwaring was walking back and forth, his hands folded behind him, as was usually his habit when thinking deeply, but he immediately seated himself and gave me my instructions. The tower-room was dimly lighted and the curtains were drawn quite closely together at the entrance."

"Did you hear any unusual sound after reaching your room?"

"Not at that time. I was aroused about three o'clock this morning by what I thought was a stealthy step in the grounds in the rear of the house, but I listened for a moment and heard nothing more."

"That will do for the present, Mr. Scott. You will probably be recalled later," said the coroner, watching the secretary rather curiously. Then he added, in a different tone,-

"The next witness is Mrs. LaGrange."

There was a perceptible stir throughout the crowd as, with a movement of inimitable grace, Mrs. LaGrange stepped forward, darting a swift glance of such venomous hatred towards Scott, as he again seated himself beside Miss Carleton, that the latter, with a woman's quick intuition, instantly grasped the situation and watched the proceedings with new interest and closer attention. As Mrs. LaGrange took her place and

began answering the questions addressed to her, the eager listeners pressed still more closely in their efforts to catch every word, feeling instinctively that some startling developments would be forthcoming; but no one was prepared for the shock that followed when, in response to the request to state her full name, the reply came, in clear tones, with unequivocal distinctness,-

"Eleanor Houghton Mainwaring."

For an instant an almost painful silence ensued, until Dr. Westlake said,-

"Will you state your relation to the deceased?"

"I was the lawfully wedded, but unacknowledged, wife of Hugh Mainwaring," was the calm reply.

"Please state when and where your marriage took place," said the coroner, watching the witness narrowly.

"We were married privately in London, about three months before Mr. Mainwaring came to this country."

"How long ago was that?"

"A little more than twenty-three years."

"You say that you were privately married, and that in all these years Mr. Mainwaring never acknowledged you as his wife?"

"Yes. I was at that time a widow, and, owing to certain unpleasant circumstances attending the last months of my former husband's life, Mr. Mainwaring insisted that our marriage be strictly private. I acceded to his wishes, and we were married as quietly as possible. At the end of three months he deserted me, and for four years I did not even know where he had gone. During that time, however, I learned that my husband, who had been fearful of soiling his proud name by having it publicly joined with mine, was, in the sight of the law, a common criminal. I finally traced him to America, and five years after he deserted me I had the pleasure of confronting him with the facts which I had obtained. With passionate protestations of renewed love and fair promises of an honorable married life, he sought to purchase my silence, and, fool that I was! I yielded. He claimed that he could not at once acknowledge me as his wife, because he was already known as an unmarried man, but in the near future we would repeat the marriage ceremony and I should be the honored mistress of his heart and home. I believed him and waited. Meantime, our child was born, and then a new role had to be adopted. Had he not known that he was in my power, I would then have been thrust out homeless with my babe, but he dared not do that. Instead, I was brought to Fair Oaks dressed in widow's garb, as a distant relative of his who was to be his housekeeper. So, for my son's sake, hoping he would some day receive his rights, I have lived a double life, regarded as a servant where I should have been mistress, and holding that poor position only because it was within my power to put the master of the house in a felon's cell!"

"Can you produce the certificate of this marriage?" inquired the coroner, regarding the witness with a searching glance as she paused in her recital.

"Unfortunately," she replied, in a tone ringing with scorn and defiance, "I cannot produce our marriage certificate, as my husband kept that in his possession, and frequently threatened to destroy it. If it is in existence, it will be found in his safe; but I can produce a witness who was present at our marriage, and who himself signed the certificate."

"State the name of this witness."

"Richard Hobson, of London."

"You are then acquainted with this Hobson?" the coroner inquired, at the same time making an entry in the memorandum he held.

"Naturally, as he was at one time my husband's attorney."

"He called at Fair Oaks yesterday, did he not?"

"He did."

"Do you know whether he called more than once?"

"He came a second time, in the evening, accompanied by his clerk."

"Was his object at either time to secure an interview with Mr. Mainwaring?"

"He called to see me on private business."

"Had he any intention of meeting Mr. Mainwaring later?"

"I know nothing regarding his intentions."

"Mrs. LaGrange," said the coroner, after a pause, "you were in Mr. Mainwaring's library between the hours of eleven and twelve last night, were you not?"

Her face darkened with anger at his form of address. "I was in my husband's library at that hour," she replied.

"How long were you there?"

"I cannot state exactly," she answered, indifferently; "perhaps half an hour."

"Did Mr. Scott repeat correctly your words to Mr. Mainwaring?"

"I have no doubt that he did. His memory on the subject is much better than mine."

"What was the meaning of your threat to Mr. Mainwaring, that you would make him and his friends regret the day's proceedings?"

"He understood my meaning. He knew that I could set aside the will, and could ruin him by exposing his duplicity and fraud."

"What reply did he make?"

"He answered me, as usual, with sneers; but I saw that he felt somewhat apprehensive. I wished to give him a little time to reflect upon a proposition I had made, and I left the library, intending to return later; but," she added, slowly and significantly, "I was superseded by another visitor."

"Explain your meaning," said the coroner, briefly.

"My husband's private secretary entered the library directly after I left. Some thirty minutes later I passed down the corridor towards the library, and was startled to hear Mr. Mainwaring, in loud and excited tones, denouncing some one as a liar and an impostor. The reply was low, in a voice trembling with rage, but I caught the words, 'You are a liar and a thief! If you had your deserts, you would be in a felon's cell to-night, or transported to the wilds of Australia!' There was much more in the same tone, but so low I could not distinguish the words, and, thinking Mr. Mainwaring was likely to be occupied for some time, I immediately retired to my room."

"Was the voice of the second speaker familiar to you?" inquired Dr. Westlake, in the breathless silence that followed this statement.

A half smile, both cunning and cruel, played around the lips of the witness, as she answered, with peculiar emphasis and with a ring of triumph in her tone,-

"The voice was somewhat disguised, but it was distinctly recognizable as that of Mr. Scott, the private secretary."

To Scott himself, these words came with stunning force, not so much for the accusation which they conveyed, as that her recital of those words spoken within the library seemed but the repetition of words which had rung in his brain the preceding night, as, alone in his room, he had, in imagination, confronted his employer with the proof of his guilt which that afternoon's search had brought to light. His fancy had vividly portrayed the scene in which he would arraign Hugh Mainwaring as a thief, and would himself, in turn, be denounced as an impostor until he should have established his claims by the indubitable evidence now in his possession. Such a scene bad in reality been enacted,-those very words had been spoken,-and, for an instant, it seemed to Scott as though he had been, unconsciously, one of the actors.

The general wonder and consternation with which he was now regarded by the crowd quickly recalled him, however, to the present situation, and awakened within him a sudden, fierce resentment, though he remained outwardly calm.

"At that time," continued the coroner, "were you of the opinion that it was Mr. Scott whom you heard thus addressing Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Yes, I had every reason to believe it was he, and I have now additional reasons for the same belief."

"Are these additional reasons founded on your own personal knowledge, or on the information of others?"

"Upon information received from various members of the household."

"Did you see Mr. Scott leave the library?"

"I did not."

"Can you state about what time you heard this conversation?"

"I went immediately to my room, and there found that it lacked only ten minutes of one."

"Did you hear any unusual sound afterwards?"

"I did not. I heard no one in the halls; and Mr. Mainwaring's apartments were so remote from the general sleeping-rooms that no sound from there, unless very loud, could have reached the other occupants of the house."

Further questions failed to develop any evidence of importance, and the witness was temporarily dismissed. Glancing at his watch, the coroner remarked,

"It is nearly time to adjourn, but if Mr. Hardy has returned we will first hear what he has to report."

As the valet again came forward, Dr. Westlake asked, "Were you able to learn anything concerning the strangers who were here yesterday?"

"Not very much, sir," was the reply. "I went to the Arlington first and inquired for Mr. J. Henry Carruthers, and they told me there was no such person registered there; but they said a man answering that description, tall and wearing dark glasses, came into the hotel last evening and took dinner and sat for an hour or so in the office reading the evening papers. He went out some time between seven and eight o'clock, and they had seen nothing more of him."

"Was Richard Hobson at the Arlington?"

"No, sir; but I went to the Riverside, and found R. Hobson registered there. They said he came in in the forenoon and ordered a carriage for Fair Oaks. He came back to lunch, but kept his room all the afternoon. He had a man with him in his room most of the afternoon, but he took no meals there. After dinner Hobson went out, and nobody knew when he came back; but he was there to breakfast, and took the first train to the city. I made some inquiries at the depot, and the agent said there was a tall man, in a gray ulster and with dark glasses, who took the 3.10 train this morning to the city, but he didn't notice him particularly. That was all I could learn."

As the hour was late, the inquest was then adjourned until ten o'clock the next morning. Every one connected with the household at Fair Oaks was expected to remain on the premises that night; and, dinner over, the gentlemen, including Mr. Whitney, locked themselves within the large library to discuss the inevitable contest that would arise over the estate and to devise how, with the least possible delay, to secure possession of the property.

Later in the evening Harry Scott came down from his room for a brief stroll through the grounds. A bitter smile crossed his face as he noticed the brightly illumined library and heard the eager, excited tones within, remembering the dimly-lighted room above with its silent occupant, unloved, unmourned, unthought of, in marked contrast to the preceding night, when Hugh Mainwaring lavished upon his guests such royal entertainment and was the recipient of their congratulations and their professions of esteem and regard.

As he paced slowly up and down the avenues, his thoughts were not of the present, but of the past and future. At the earliest opportunity that day he had returned to the city, ostensibly, to attend to some telegraphic despatches, but his main errand had been to consult with an eminent lawyer whom he knew by reputation, and in whom both Hugh Mainwaring and Mr. Whitney, in numerous legal contests, had found a powerful and bitter opponent. To him Scott had intrusted his own case, giving him the fullest details, and leaving in his possession for safe keeping the proofs which were soon to play so important a part; and Mr. Sutherland, the attorney retained by Scott, had been present at the inquest, apparently as a disinterested spectator, but, in reality, one of the most intensely interested of them all.

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