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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 17770

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Ten o'clock found an eager crowd assembled in and about the large library at Fair Oaks, drawn by reports of the sensational features developed on the preceding day. The members of the household occupied nearly the same positions as on the preceding afternoon, with the exception of the secretary, who had entered the room a little in advance of the others and had seated himself near the coroner.

Notwithstanding the glances of doubt and distrust which Scott encountered, and his own consciousness that suspicion against himself would deepen as all the facts in the case became known, he was as impassive as ever. Even Mr. Whitney was wholly at a loss to account for the change in the bearing of the secretary. He was no longer the employee, but carried himself with a proud independence, as though conscious of some mysterious vantage-ground.

On the other side of the coroner, but conveniently near Scott, was Mr. Sutherland, while in the rear, commanding a good view of both gentlemen, as well as of nearly every face in the room, sat Mr. Merrick, though to a stranger his manner would have implied the utmost indifference to the proceedings.

The first witness called for by the coroner was Johnson, the butler. For the first five or ten minutes his testimony was little more than a corroboration of that given by the valet on the preceding day, of the discovery of the death of Hugh Mainwaring.

"You say," said the coroner, "that at Mr. Whitney's request you remained in the upper hall, near the library and within call?"

"Yes, sir."

"Will you state how long a time you should think elapsed between the alarm given by Hardy and the appearance of the entire household, including both the guests and the servants?"

"Well, sir, Hardy gave the alarm a little after seven. The servants were already up and crowded around there immediately, and I should say that every one, including the ladies, was out within twenty minutes, or thirty at the latest, with the exception of Mrs. LaGrange and her son."

"At what time did the latter appear?"

"It must have been considerably after eight o'clock, sir, when she came to the library in response to a message from Mr. Whitney."

"And her son?"

"I did not see Mr. Walter LaGrange at all during the forenoon, sir."

"How was that?" inquired Dr. Westlake, rather quickly. "Was he not at Fair Oaks?"

"I cannot say, sir. I did not see him until luncheon."

"When did you last see Mr. Mainwaring?"

"A little after eleven o'clock night before last,-Wednesday night, sir. I was in the hall as he passed upstairs to his rooms, and I heard him ask Mr. Scott to come to his library."

"Did there seem to be any coldness or unpleasantness between them?"

"No, sir; they both appeared the same as usual."

"Did any strangers call at Fair Oaks Wednesday aside from those mentioned yesterday?"

"No, sir."

"Will you describe the strangers who were here, stating when they called and any particulars you are able to give?"

"The man giving his name as R. Hobson called between eleven and twelve, Wednesday morning. He was tall, with thin features, small, dark eyes, and a very soft voice. He came in a carriage, inquired for Mrs. LaGrange, and seemed in considerable haste. He stayed about an hour. The gentleman who called about four in the afternoon also came in a carriage and inquired for Mr. Mainwaring, saying he had been directed to Fair Oaks at the city offices of Mainwaring & Co. On learning that Mr. Mainwaring was out, he asked for the secretary; and I took his card to Mr. Scott, who gave directions to have him shown up into the library. I do not know when he left. He was tall, with black hair and moustache and dark glasses."

"Mr. Hobson's call occasioned considerable comment at luncheon, did it not?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you observe that it had any effect on Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Well, sir, I thought he appeared considerably annoyed, and after luncheon he asked me whether Mr. Hobson had inquired for him."

"Did you admit Hobson when he called in the evening?"

"I did not, sir. I merely met him at the door and directed him to the south side entrance."

"At Mrs. LaGrange's request?"

"Yes, sir; in accordance with her instructions."

"Did she give any reason for such instructions?"

"Merely that his former call had caused so much remark she wished to receive him privately."

"Was he alone when he called the second time?"

"No, sir."

"Can you describe the person who accompanied him?"

"No, sir. The man stood so far in the shadow that I could only see the outlines of his form. I should say he was about the same height as Mr. Hobson, but considerably heavier."

"Do you know at what hour they left?"

"No, sir."

Further questions failing to elicit any facts bearing upon the situation, the butler was dismissed, and Brown, the coachman, took his place. The latter was far less taciturn than the butler, seeming rather eager to impart some piece of information which he evidently considered of special importance.

After a few preliminary questions, the coroner said,-

"At what time, and from whom, did you first hear of Mr. Mainwaring's death?"

"About half-past seven, yesterday morning, sir. I was a-taking care of the horses, sir, when Uncle Mose-he's the gardener, sir-he comes past the stable on his way to the tool-house, and he tells me that Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered in the night, right in his own rooms, and then he tells me-"

"How long had you been up and at work in the stables?"

"Before I heard of the murder? Well, about an hour, I should say. I generally gets up at six."

"Had you been to the house that morning?"

"No, sir; but I went right up there after seeing Uncle Mose, and I was in the kitchen telling what I had seen the night before, when the butler he comes down and said as how Mr. Ralph Mainwaring wanted me, and that I had better keep my mouth shut till I was asked to tell what I knew."

"Where were you last Wednesday night?" asked the coroner, rather abruptly.

Brown looked surprised, but answered readily, "I was out with some friends of mine. We all went down to the city together that night and stayed out pretty late, and it seems a mighty good thing we did, too."

"Why so?" asked the coroner.

"Well, sir," said Brown, deliberately, glad of an opportunity to tell his story and evidently determined to make the most of it, "as I said, we stayed out that night later than we meant to, and I didn't waste no time getting home after I left the depot. So, when I got to Fair Oaks, I thought I'd take the shortest cut, and so I come in by the south gate, off from the side street, and took the path around the lake to get to the stables."

"What lake do you mean?" interrupted the coroner.

"The small lake back of the grove in the south part of the grounds. Well, I was hurrying along through that grove, and all of a sudden I seen a man standing on the edge of the lake with his back towards me. He was very tall, and wore an ulster that came nearly to his feet, and he looked so queer that I stepped out of the path and behind some big trees to watch him. I hadn't no more than done so, when he stooped and picked up something, and come right up the path towards me. The moon was shining, had been up about two hours, I should say, but his back was to the light and I couldn't see his face, nor I didn't want him to see me. After he'd got by I stepped out to watch him and see if he went towards the house, but he didn't; he took the path I had just left and walked very fast to the south gate and went out onto the side street."

"In which direction did he then go?" asked the coroner.

"He went up onto the main avenue and turned towards the town."

"Can you describe his appearance?"

"Only that he was tall and had very black hair; but his face was in the shadow, so I couldn't tell how he looked."

"What did he pick up from the ground?"

"I couldn't see very plain, but it looked like a small, square box done up in paper."

"You did not try to call any one?"

"No, sir. The man didn't go near the house, and I didn't think much about it until Uncle Mose told me yesterday morning that the night before he seen-"

"Never mind what he saw; we will let him tell his own story. Was that all you saw?"

"No, sir; it wasn't," replied Brown, with a quick side glance towards Mrs. LaGrange, who occupied the same position as on the preceding day. "I was going along towards the stables, thinking about that man, and all of a sudden I noticed there was a bright light in one of the rooms up-stairs. The curtains wasn't drawn, and I thought I'd see whose room it was, so I walked up towards the house carefully, and I saw Mr. Mainwaring's secretary. He looked awfully pale and haggard, and was walking up and down the room kind of excited like. Just then I

happened to step on the gravelled walk and he heard me, for he started and looked kind of frightened and listened a moment, and then he stepped up quick and extinguished the light, and I was afraid he'd see me then from the window, so I hurried off. But I thought 'twas mighty queer-"

"Mr. Scott was dressed, was he?" interrupted the coroner.

"Yes, sir," Brown answered, sullenly.

"Did you go directly to your room?"

"Yes, sir."

"What time was this?"

"I heard the clock strike three just after I got in."

"You saw or heard nothing more?"

"No, sir."

"You knew nothing of what had occurred at the house until the gardener told you in the morning?"

"N-yes-no, sir," Brown stammered, with another glance towards Mrs. LaGrange, who was watching him closely.

"What did you say?" demanded the coroner.

"I said I didn't know what had happened till Uncle Mose told me," Brown answered, doggedly.

"That will do," said the coroner, watching the witness narrowly as he resumed his place among the servants.

During the latter part of Brown's testimony, quick, telegraphic glances had been exchanged between Scott and Mr. Sutherland, and one or two slips of paper, unobserved by any one but Merrick, had passed from one to the other.

Scott was well aware that the statements made by the coachman had deepened suspicion against himself. He paid little attention to the crowd, however, but noted particularly the faces of the guests at Fair Oaks. Ralph Mainwaring's, dark with anger; that of the genial Mr. Thornton coldly averted; young Mainwaring's supercilious stare, and his sister's expression of contemptuous disdain; and as he studied their features his own grew immobile as marble. Suddenly his glance encountered Miss Carleton's face and was held for a moment as though under a spell. There was no weak sentimentality there, no pity or sympathy,-he would have scorned either,-but the perfect confidence shining in her eyes called forth a quick response from his own, though not a muscle stirred about the sternly-set mouth. She saw and understood, and, as her eyes fell, a smile, inexplicable and mysterious, flashed for an instant across her face and was gone.

"John Wilson," announced the coroner, after a slight pause.

A middle-aged man, rather dull in appearance, except for a pair of keenly observant eyes, stepped forward with slow precision.

"You are Mr. Ralph Mainwaring's valet, I believe?" said the coroner.

"That I am, sir," was the reply.

"Have you been for some time in his employ?"

The man peered sharply at Dr. Westlake from under his heavy brows, and replied, with great deliberation, "Nigh onto thirty years, sir."

Then, noting the surprise in his interlocutor's face, he added, with dignity, "The Wilsons, sir, have served the Mainwarings for three generations. My father, sir, was valet to the father of the dead Hugh Mainwaring, the Honorable Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, sir."

A smile played over the features of young Mainwaring at these words, but Scott started involuntarily, and, after studying Wilson's face intently for a moment, hastily pencilled a few words on a slip of paper which he handed to Mr. Sutherland, and both watched the witness with special interest.

His testimony differed little from that given by Hardy and by the butler. He stated, however, that, after accompanying Mr. Ralph Mainwaring to the scene of the murder, the latter sent him to summon Mr. Scott; but on his way to the young gentleman's room he saw Mr. Whitney in advance of him, who called the secretary and immediately returned with him to the library.

"Was Mr. Scott already up when Mr. Whitney called him?" the coroner inquired, quickly.

"He was up and dressed, sir," was the reply.

Wilson also corroborated the butler's statement that Walter LaGrange was not seen about the premises until luncheon, and stated, in addition, that the horse belonging to young LaGrange was missing from the stables until nearly noon. Having mingled very little with the servants at Fair Oaks, he had but slight knowledge concerning the occurrences of the day preceding the murder. His testimony was therefore very brief.

"Katie O'Brien, chambermaid," was next called; and in response a young Irish woman quietly took her place before the coroner. She answered the questions addressed her as briefly as possible, but with deliberation, as though each word had been carefully weighed.

"Did you have charge of the private rooms of Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Yes, sir."

"You took care of his rooms as usual Wednesday?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you see Mr. Mainwaring during the day or evening?"

"I met him once or twice in the halls."

"When did you last see him?"

"About two o'clock Wednesday afternoon."

"State how you first heard of his death."

"I was working in the halls up-stairs about seven that morning and heard running back and forth, as if there was trouble. I went out into the front hall and met the butler, and he told me Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered."

"Did you go in to see him at that time?"

"Yes, sir, for a moment."

"Did you notice anything unusual in his rooms?"

"I didn't notice anything unusual in Mr. Mainwaring's rooms."

"Did you in any room?"

"Yes, sir."

"In what one?"

"In Mr. Scott's room, a little later."

"State what you observed."

"A few minutes after I left the library I saw Mr. Scott come out of his room and go away with Mr. Whitney, and I thought I would go in and do up the room. So I went in, but the bed was just as I had made it up the day before. It hadn't been slept in nor touched. Then things was strewn around considerable, and the top drawer of his dressing-case was kept locked all the forenoon until he went to the city."

"When did he go to the city?"

"About noon."

"Did you see Mr. Scott the day or evening preceding Mr. Mainwaring's death?"

"No, sir; but I know he was locked in Mr. Mainwaring's library all the afternoon, after the folks had gone out driving."

"How do you know the library was locked?"

"I was sweeping in the corridor, and I heard him unlock the door when the butler came up with some gentleman's card."

"Did you see the gentleman who came up-stairs later?"

"No, sir."

"Did you see Walter LaGrange at any time during yesterday forenoon?"

The witness colored slightly, but replied, "I think I met him once or twice; I don't remember just when."

"He was away from home part of the time, was he not?"

"I don't know where he was."

Nothing further of importance could be learned from the witness, and, as it was then past twelve, a short recess was taken until after lunch.

Scott took his place at the table with the guests, seemingly alike indifferent to cold aversion or angry frowns. He was conscious that Miss Carleton was watching him, her manner indicating the same frank friendliness she had shown him on the preceding day, and in response to a signal from her, as they rose from the table, he followed her into one of the drawing-rooms, joining her in a large alcove window, where she motioned him to a seat on a low divan by her side.

"You have made a bitter enemy in Mrs. LaGrange," she said, archly; "and she has marshalled her forces against you."

"Do you think so?" he asked, with an amused smile.

"Certainly. She displayed her tactics this morning. I am positive that much of the testimony was given in accordance with her orders."

"For the most part, however, the witnesses stated facts," Scott replied, watching her closely.

"Yes; but facts may be so misrepresented as to give an impression quite the reverse of the truth."

"That is so. And a misrepresentation having a foundation of truth is the hardest to fight. But," he added, in a lighter tone, "all this testimony against me does not seem to have produced the same impression upon you that it has upon the others. Your suspicions do not seem, as yet, to have been very thoroughly aroused."

"Perhaps my suspicions are as dormant as your own apprehensions. I fail to detect the slightest anxiety on your part as to the outcome of this, one way or another."

"No," he replied, after a pause; "I feel no anxiety, only resentment that circumstances have conspired against me just at this time, and contempt for people who will be led by appearances rather than their own judgment."

"People sometimes use very little judgment where their own personal interests are concerned."

"In that case," said Scott, as they rose to return to the library, where the others had already preceded them, "I suppose the word of one unprincipled woman and of three or four ignorant servants will be allowed to outweigh mine."

They had reached the library and Miss Carleton made no reply, but Scott again saw the same inscrutable little smile play over her features, and wondered at its meaning.

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