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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 22359

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The crowd dispersed rapidly, passing down the oak-lined avenue in twos and threes, engaged in animated discussion of the details of the inquest, while each one advanced some theory of his own regarding the murder. Mr. Sutherland had taken his departure after making an appointment with Scott for the following day, and the latter now stood in one of the deep bow-windows engrossed with his own thoughts. Suspicion had been partially diverted from himself, but only partially, as he well knew, to return like a tidal wave, deepened and intensified by personal animosity, whenever the facts he had thus far so carefully concealed should become known. He gave little thought to this, however, except as it influenced him in planning his course of action for the next few days.

He was aroused from his revery by the sound of approaching steps, and, turning, met Mr. Whitney.

"Ah, Mr. Scott, I was just looking for you. I thought possibly you had slipped back to the city with the crowd. I wanted to say, Mr. Scott, that, if it will be agreeable to you, I wish you would remain at Fair Oaks for the next few days, or weeks, as the case may be. Mr. Ralph Mainwaring has retained my services to aid in securing his title to the estate, and the will having been destroyed, complications are likely to arise, so that it may take some time to get matters adjusted. Much of the business will, of necessity, have to be transacted here, as all of Mr. Mainwaring's private papers are here, and if you will stay and help us out I will see, of course, that your salary goes right on as usual."

An excuse fur remaining at Fair Oaks was what Scott particularly desired, but he replied indifferently, "If it will accommodate you, Mr. Whitney, I can remain for a few days."

"Very well. I cannot say just how long we may need you, though I anticipate a long contest."

"Against Mrs. LaGrange?"

"Yes; though she has, in my opinion, no legal right whatever, yet she will make a hard fight, and with that trickster Hobson to help her with his chicanery, it is liable to take some time to beat them."

"You expect to win in the end, however?"

"Certainly; there is no doubt but that Ralph Mainwaring will win the case. He will get the property either for his son or for himself. We are first going to try to have the will upheld in the courts. Failing in that, the property will, of course, be divided between the nearest heirs, Ralph Mainwaring and a younger bachelor brother; in which event, the whole thing will, in all probability, finally revert to his son Hugh."

"Mr. Whitney, what is your opinion of Mrs. LaGrange's story of a private marriage?"

The attorney shook his head decidedly. "One of her clever lies; but if she ever undertakes to tell that little romance in court, I'll tear it all to shreds. She never was married to Hugh Mainwaring; but," he added, slowly, "I may as well tell you that Walter was his son. Mr. Mainwaring the same as admitted that to me once; but I am certain that, aside from that fact, that woman had some terrible hold on him, though what I never knew. By the way, Mr. Scott, do you know anything of the particulars of that transaction to which those letters referred and to which Hobson alluded to-day?"

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Whitney looked keenly at the young man. "You obtained your knowledge originally from other sources than Mr. Mainwaring's correspondence, did you not?"

"Yes, sir."

"I thought so. Do you know, Mr. Scott, I would denounce the whole thing as a lie, a scheme of that adventuress, or that impostor, Hobson, or both, by which they hope to gain some hold on the heirs, were it not that, from your manner, I have been convinced that you have some personal knowledge of the facts in the case,-that you know far more than you have yet told."

Mr. Whitney paused, watching the young secretary closely, but there was no reply, and, with all his penetration, the attorney could read nothing in the immobile face before him. He continued,-

"Whatever that transaction may have been, I wish to know nothing about it. I was much attached to Mr. Mainwaring and respected him highly, and I want to respect his memory; and I will tell you frankly what I most dread in this coming contest. I expect nothing else but that either that woman or Hobson will drag the affair out from its hiding-place, and will hold it up for the public to gloat over, as it always does. I hate to see a man's reputation blackened in that way, especially when that man was my friend and his own lips are sealed in death."

"It is a pity," said Scott, slowly; "but if one wishes to leave behind him an untarnished reputation, he must back it up, while living, with an unblemished character."

"Well," said the attorney, tentatively, after another pause, "Mr. Mainwaring's character, whatever it may have been before we were associated with him, certainly had no effect upon your life or mine, hence I feel that it is nothing with which we are directly concerned; and I believe, in fact I know, that it will be for your interest, Mr. Scott, if you say nothing regarding whatever knowledge you may have of the past."

Mr. Whitney, watching the effect of his words, suddenly saw an expression totally unlike anything he had ever seen on the face of the secretary, and yet strangely familiar.

Scott turned and faced him, with eyes cold and cynical and that seemed to pierce him through and through, remarking, in tones of quiet irony, "I am greatly obliged for your advice, Mr. Whitney, regarding my interests, but it is not needed. Furthermore, I think all your thought and attention will be required to look after the interests of Ralph Mainwaring," and without waiting for reply, he stepped through one of the low, old-fashioned windows opening upon the veranda and disappeared, leaving the attorney alone.

"By George, but that was cool!" ejaculated the latter. "And that look; where have I seen it? I believe that Ralph Mainwaring is more than half right after all, and there is something back of all this!"

So absorbed was he in his own reflections as to be wholly unaware of the presence of the detective in the hall, near the doorway, where he had paused long enough to witness the parting between Scott and the attorney, and who now passed quietly up-stairs, remarking to himself, "Whitney is pretty sharp, but he's more than got his match there. That young fellow is too deep for him or any of the rest of 'em, and he's likely to come out where they least expect to find him."

Half an hour later, Mr. Merrick, stepping from the private library into the upper southern hall, heard the sound of voices, which, from his familiarity with the rooms, he knew must proceed from Mrs. LaGrange's parlor. He cautiously descended the stairs to the lowest landing, in which was a deep window. The shutters were tightly closed, and, concealing himself behind the heavy curtains, he awaited developments. He was now directly opposite the door of the parlor, and through the partially open transom he could hear the imperious tones of Mrs. LaGrange and the soft, insinuating accents of Hobson. For a while he was unable to distinguish a word, but the variations in Hobson's tones indicated that he was not seated, but walking back and forth, while Mrs. LaGrange's voice betrayed intense excitement and gradually grew louder.

"You are not altogether invulnerable," Merrick heard her say, angrily. "You were an accessory in that affair, and you cannot deny it?"

Hobson evidently had paused near the door, as his reply was distinctly audible. "You have not an atom of proof; as you well know; and even if you had, our acquaintance, my dear madam, has been too long and of too intimate a nature for you to care to attempt any of your little tricks with me. You play a deep game, my lady, but I hold the winning hand yet."

"If you are dastardly enough to threaten me, I am not such a coward as to fear you. I have played my cards better than you know," she answered, defiantly.

"My dear lady," Hobson replied, and the door-knob turned slightly under his hand, "those little speeches sound very well, but we both understand each other perfectly. You want my services in this case; you must have them; and I am willing to render them; but it is useless for you to dictate terms to me. I will undertake the case in accordance with your wishes, but only upon the conditions mentioned."

The reply was inaudible, but was evidently satisfactory to Hobson, for, as he opened the door, there was a leer of triumph on his face. He glanced suspiciously about the hall, and, on reaching the door, turned to Mrs. LaGrange, who had accompanied him, saying, in his smoothest tones,-

"I shall be out again in two or three days. Should you wish to see me before that time, you can telephone to my office or send me word."

She bowed silently and he took his departure, but as she returned to her room, she exclaimed, fiercely, "Craven! Let me but once get my rights secured, and he will find whether I stand in fear of him!"

Having taken leave of Mrs. LaGrange, Hobson carefully avoided the front part of the house and grounds, taking instead the gravelled walk leading through the grove towards the lake in the rear and out upon the side street. As he was hurrying along this rather secluded avenue, he was suddenly confronted by Scott. Although strangers to each other, Hobson instantly conjectured that this must be the secretary who had betrayed such familiarity with the correspondence which had passed between himself and Hugh Mainwaring, and that it might be to his own interest to form the acquaintance of the young man.

Quick as thought he drew from his pocket a card, and, pausing suddenly in his rapid walk, said, with a profound bow,-

"I beg pardon; I cannot be mistaken; have I not the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scott?"

"That is my name," replied the secretary, coldly.

"I beg you will accept this card; and allow me to suggest that you may find it conducive to your interests to call upon me at the address named, if you will take the trouble to do so."

Scott glanced from the card to the speaker, regarding the latter with close scrutiny. "You seem very solicitous of the interests of a stranger, as it is not to be presumed that you have any ulterior motive in making this suggestion."

Hobson appeared to ignore the sarcasm. "It is barely possible," he continued, in his most ingratiating tones, "that I may be in possession of facts which it would be to your advantage to learn."

"In case you are, I suppose, of course, you would impart them to me simply out of pure disinterestedness, without a thought of pecuniary compensation?"

Hobson winced and glanced nervously about him. "I must hasten," he said; "I cannot stop for explanations; but you will find me in my office at two o'clock to-morrow, if you care to call. Meantime, my young friend, I am not perhaps as mercenary as you think, and I may be able to be of great assistance to you," and with a final bow, the man hastily disappeared around a turn of the winding walk.

Scott proceeded in the opposite direction in a deep study. "Is it

possible," he soliloquized, "that that creature is on my track and has any proposition to make to me? Or, is he afraid that I know his secret, and that I may deprive him of his hold upon the Mainwarings? More likely it is the latter. A week ago I was looking for that man, and would probably have endeavored to make terms with him, though it would have involved an immense amount of risk, for a cast-iron contract wouldn't hold him, and his testimony would be worth little or nothing, one way or the other." Scott glanced again at the address on the card. "Not a very desirable locality! It probably suits him and his business, though: I believe, I will give the scoundrel a call and see what I can draw out of him."

Dinner was announced as Scott returned to the house, and a number of circumstances combined to render the meal far pleasanter and more social than any since the death of the master of Fair Oaks. Mr. Merrick was nowhere to be found, and the slight restraint imposed by his presence was removed. Mrs. LaGrange and her son were also absent, preferring to take their meals privately in an adjoining room which Hugh Mainwaring had often used as a breakfast-room. The silence and frigidity which had lately reigned at the table seemed to have given place to almost universal sociability, though Ralph Mainwaring's face still wore a sullen scowl.

As Mr. Whitney met the secretary, his sensitive face flushed at the remembrance of their late interview, and he watched the young man with evident curiosity. Scott was conscious, however, of an increased friendliness towards himself on the part of most of the guests, but feeling that it was likely to prove of short duration, he remained noncommittal and indifferent. As they left the table, Miss Carleton rallied him on his appearance.

"Mr. Scott, you are a mystery!"

"Why so, Miss Carleton, if you please?" he asked, quickly.

"Just now, when everybody's spirits are relaxing after that horrible inquest, you look more serious and glum than I have ever seen you. I threw myself into the breach this afternoon to rescue you from the enemy's grounds, whither you had been carried by the sensational statements of Mrs. LaGrange and the coachman and chambermaid, and I have not even seen you smile once since. Perhaps," she added, archly, "you didn't care to be rescued by a woman, but would have preferred to make your own way out."

"No," said Scott, smiling very brightly now; "I'll not be so ungrateful as to say that, though I believe I am generally able to fight my own battles; but I will confess I was somewhat disappointed this afternoon when you gave your testimony."

"How could that be?" she inquired, greatly surprised.

"Up to that time I had flattered myself that I had one friend who had faith in me, even though circumstances conspired against me. I discovered, then, that it was no confidence in me, but only a knowledge of some of the facts, that kept her from turning against me like the rest."

Scott spoke in serio-comic tones, and Miss Carleton looked keenly in his face to see if he were jesting.

"No; you are mistaken, Mr. Scott," she said, slowly, after a pause. "My confidence in you would have been just as strong if I had known nothing of the facts."

"Thank you; I am very glad to hear that," he answered. Then added, gently, "Would, it be strong enough to stand a far heavier strain than that, if it were necessary?"

His tones were serious now, and she regarded him inquiringly for a moment before speaking; then seeing young Mainwaring approaching with his sister and Miss Thornton, she replied, in low tones,-

"I have no idea to what you refer, Mr. Scott, and I begin to think you are indeed a 'mystery;' but you can be assured of this much: I would never, under any circumstances, believe you capable of anything false or dishonorable."

Scott's eyes expressed his gratification at these words, and he would then have withdrawn, but neither Miss Carleton nor young Mainwaring gave him an opportunity to do so without seeming discourteous. Both drew him into conversation and found him exceedingly entertaining, though reserved concerning himself. Isabel Mainwaring still held herself aloof and took little part in the conversation, but to make amends for this Miss Thornton bestowed some of her most winning smiles upon the handsome young secretary, her large, infantile blue eyes regarding him with wondering curiosity.

After a pleasant evening, Scott excused himself and retired to his room; but an hour or two later there was a knock at his door, and on opening it he saw young Mainwaring in smoking-cap and jacket.

"I say, Scott, won't you come out and have a smoke? I've got some fine cigars, and it's too pretty a night to stay in one's room; come out on my balcony and we'll have a bit of a talk and smoke."

Scott readily consented, and the two young men proceeded to the balcony upon which Mainwaring's room opened, where the latter had already placed two reclining chairs and a small table containing a box of his favorite Havanas.

For a few moments they puffed in silence, looking out into the starlit night with its beauty of dim outline and mysterious shadow. Mainwaring was the first to speak.

"I say, Scott, I'm awfully ashamed of the way that some of us, my family in particular, have treated you within the last day or two. It was confoundedly shabby, and I beg your pardon for my share in it, anyhow."

"Don't waste any regrets over that matter," Scott answered, indifferently; "I never gave it any thought, and it is not worth mentioning."

"I do regret it, though, more than I can tell, and I haven't any excuse for myself; only things did look so deucedly queer there for a while, don't you know?"

"Well," said Scott, pleasantly, "we are not out of the woods yet, and there is no telling what developments may arise. Things might 'look queer' again, you know."

"That's all right. I know a gentleman when I see him, unless I happen to lose my head, and that doesn't occur very often. Now it's different with the governor. He's got so confoundedly wrought up over that will, don't you know, that he can't think of anything else, and there's no reason in him."

"As I understand it," remarked Scott, "Mr. Mainwaring expects to win the property in any case, either for you or for himself."

"Yes; and naturally you might think that the loss of the will wouldn't amount to much, one way or the other; but it's like this: the governor and I are very different; I know we've got plenty of ducats, and that's enough for me, but not for him; he is ambitious. It has always galled him that we were not in the direct line of descent from the main branch of the Mainwarings; and it has been his one great ambition since the death of old Ralph Mainwaring, Hugh's father, a few years before I was born, to win into his own family the old Mainwaring estate. He had an idea that Hugh would never marry, and gave me his name, hoping that I would be made his heir. Should the governor succeed in this scheme of his, he will immediately buy back the Mainwaring estate, although he knows I don't care a rap for the whole thing, and we will then have the honor, as he considers it, of perpetuating the old family line. On the other hand, if the property goes to the nearest heirs, it will be divided between him and his younger brother. Uncle Harold has no more ambition than I have, and though he is at present a bachelor, that is no guarantee that he will remain one; and, anyhow, it isn't likely that there will be much of his share left when he gets through with it. So you see how much importance the governor attached to that will."

"I understand," said Scott, as his companion paused. Then he added, musingly, "Your uncle's name seems to be rather unusual among the Mainwarings; I do not recall your having mentioned it before."

"What, Harold? On the contrary, it is the great name in our family, especially in the main line. I would have been given that name if the governor had not been looking out for Hugh Mainwaring's money. There was a direct line of Harolds down to my great-grandfather. He gave the name to his eldest son, but he died, and the next one, Ralph, Hugh's father, took up the line. Guy, my grandfather, was the youngest."

"One would almost have thought that Hugh Mainwaring would have borne the name of Harold," commented Scott.

Young Mainwaring smoked for a moment in silence, then said, in lower tones, "Old Uncle Ralph had a son by that name."

"Indeed! Had Hugh Mainwaring a brother?" Scott asked in surprise.

"Yes, there was a brother, but he died a great many years ago. There is quite a story connected with his name, but I don't know many of the particulars, for the governor seldom alludes to it. I know, however, that Harold was the elder son, but that Uncle Ralph disinherited him for marrying against his wishes, and afterwards died of grief over the affair, and soon after his father's death Harold was lost at sea."

"You say he married; did he leave any children?"

"No, I believe he had no children; but even if he had, they would have been disinherited also. Uncle Ralph was severe; he would not even allow Harold's name to be mentioned; and Hugh also must have turned against his brother, for I have heard that he never spoke of him or allowed any allusion to be made to him."

"Well," said Scott, after a pause, "I believe Hugh Mainwaring's life was far from happy."

"You are right there. I'll never forget the last words he ever spoke to me as I took leave of him that night. They were to the effect that he hoped when I should have reached his age, I would be able to look back over a happier past than his had been. It is my opinion, too, that that woman was the cause of his unhappiness, and I believe she is at the bottom of all this trouble."

Their conversation had drifted to the mystery then surrounding them, and for more than an hour they dwelt on that subject, advancing many surmises, some strangely improbable, but none of which seemed to bring them any nearer a solution of the problem.

"My first visit to this country has proved an eventful one," said young Mainwaring, as, at a late hour, they finally separated for the night, "and I don't know yet how it may terminate; but there's one thing I shall look back upon with pleasure, and that is my meeting with you; and I hope that from this time or we will be friends; and that this friendship, begun to-night, will be renewed in old England many a time."

"Are you not rather rash," Scott inquired, slowly, "considering how little we know of each other, the circumstances under which we have met, and the uncertainty of what the future may reveal?"

"No; I'm peculiar. When I like a fellow, I like him; and I've been studying you pretty closely. I don't think we need either of us be troubled about the future; but I'm your friend, Scott, and, whatever happens, I'll stand by you."

"So be it, then, Hugh," replied the secretary, clasping the hand of the young Englishman and, for the first time, calling him by name. "I thank you, and I hope you will never go back on that."

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