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   Chapter 11 SKIRMISHING

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 25975

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


On the following morning the gentlemen at Fair Oaks were astir at an unusually early hour, and immediately after breakfast held a brief conference. It was decided to offer a heavy reward for the apprehension of the murderer of Hugh Mainwaring, while a lesser reward was to be offered for information leading to identification and arrest of the guilty party. Preparations were also to be made for the funeral, which would take place the next day, and which, in accordance with the wishes of Ralph Mainwaring, was to be strictly private.

Their conference at an end, Ralph Mainwaring ordered the carriage to take himself, Mr. Whitney, and the secretary to the depot.

"I believe I will ride down with you," said Mr. Merrick.

"Certainly; plenty of room. Going to the city?"

"Yes; but not with you gentlemen. We will part company at the depot and I will take another car."

"How are you getting on, Mr. Merrick?" inquired Mr. Thorton.

"As well as can be expected, all things considered," was the non-committal reply.

"Going to be a slow case, I'm afraid," commented Ralph Mainwaring, shaking his head in a doubtful way, while Mr. Thornton added jokingly,-

"We've got some mighty fine fellows over home there at the Yard; if you should want any help, Mr. Merrick, I'll cable for one of them."

"Thank you, sir," said the detective, with quiet dignity; "I don't anticipate that I shall want any assistance; and if I should, I will hardly need import it from Scotland Yard."

"Ha, ha! That all depends, you know, on what your man is. If the rascal happens to have any English blood in him, it will take a Scotland Yard chap to run him down."

"On the principle, I suppose, of 'set a rogue to catch a rogue,'" Merrick replied, smiling.

He bad scarcely finished speaking when Hardy suddenly entered the room.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said, addressing Ralph Mainwaring; "but the coachman is gone! We've looked everywhere for him, but he's nowhere about the place."

"When did he go?" asked Mr. Whitney, quickly.

"Nobody knows, sir. Joe, the stable-boy, says he hasn't been around at all this morning."

"Bring the boy here," said Mr. Mainwaring.

There was instantly recalled to every one present the memory of Brown's insolent manner at the inquest, together with his confused and false statements. In a few moments Hardy returned with the stable-boy, an unkempt, ignorant lad of about fourteen, but with a face old and shrewd beyond his years.

"Are you one of the servants here?" Mr. Mainwaring inquired.

"I works here, ef that's wot yer mean; but I don't call myself nobody's servant."

"How did it happen that you were not at the inquest?" he demanded.

"Didn't got no invite," was the reply, accompanied by a grin, while Hardy explained that the boy did not belong to the place, but had been hired by the coachman to come nights and mornings and attend to the stable work.

"What do you know about this Brown?" inquired Mr. Mainwaring, addressing the boy.

"Wal, I guess he's ben a-goin' it at a putty lively gait lately."

"You mean he was fast?"

"I guess that's about the size of it."

"When did you see him last?"

"Hain't seen nothin' of him sence las' night, an' then he was sorter crusty an' didn't say much. I come down this mornin' an' went to work,-he allus left the stable key where I could get it,-but I ham' t seen nor heard nothin' o' him. Me'n him," with an emphatic nod towards Hardy, "went up to his room, but he warn't there, nor hadn't ben there all night."

"Why do you think he was fast?"

"Wal, from all I've hearn about him I guess he's ben goin' with a kinder hard set lately. I've seen some putty tough-lookin' subs hangin' 'round the stables. There was a lot of 'em waitin' for him Wednesday night."

"Wednesday night!" ejaculated Mr. Whitney. "At what time? and who were they?"

"I dunno who they was, but they was hangin' 'round about eight o'clock waitin' for him to go with 'em. An' then he's had lots of money lately."

"How do you know this?"

"I've hearn him a-jinglin' it in his room; an' night afore las' I clim' up-stairs and peeked in, an' he had a whole pile of gold pieces 'bout that high," measuring with his hands; "but he see me, an' he said he'd gimme a whalin' ef he catched me at it agin."

"Did you watch him last night?" asked Mr. Mainwaring.

"Yas; he acted so kinder queer that I waited 'round to see what he was goin' to do. After 'twas still an' he thought I'd gone, he come down an' started off towards the side street. Jes' fer fun I follered him; an' when he got to the lake he stopped and looked all 'round, as ef to make sure there warn't nobody to see him, an' then he takes somethin', I couldn't see what, out from under his coat an' chucks it quick into the lake, an' then he started on a run down towards the street."

"Couldn't you see what he threw?"

"No, I couldn't see what 'twas; but it struck the water awful heavy."

"Is that all you know about the affair?"

"Yas, that's all."

"Wait a moment," said Mr. Merrick, as the boy turned to leave the room. "Can you tell how many, or what kind of looking men were with Brown on Wednesday night?"

"There was three of 'em. One was a big feller with kinder squint eyes, the other two was ornery lookin' fellers; one of 'em was dark like a furriner, an' t'other one had sorter yeller hair."

"How long were they there?"

"About half 'n hour, I guess. They was all gone 'fore nine o'clock."

"Did you hear anything that was said?"

"I hearn 'em talkin' somethin' about the boss."

"Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Yas. He'd made a kick about somethin' or 'nuther that afternoon, an' Brown he was cussin' mad, an' then when they went away I hearn one of 'em say somethin' about 'makin' a good job of it.'"

"How was this, Hardy?" inquired Mr. Whitney. "Had there been any words Wednesday between Mr. Mainwaring and the coachman?"

"Yes, sir; I had forgotten it; but now I remember that when he came back that afternoon, he found some fault with the coachman, and Brown was very insolent, and then Mr. Mainwaring threatened to discharge him."

"'Pon my soul! I should say here was something worth looking into," said Mr. Thornton, as the boy left the room, accompanied by Hardy.

"A great pity that we could not have had his testimony at the inquest," commented the attorney. "We might then have cornered Brown; but I was not aware that there was such a person employed on the place."

Meanwhile, a carriage ordered by telephone from the Arlington had already arrived at Fair Oaks.

"Well," said Ralph Mainwaring, "the carriage is waiting. We had better proceed to the depot; we can talk of this latest development on our way."

"You will excuse me, gentlemen," said Mr. Merrick, quietly, "I have changed my mind, and will postpone my trip to the city."

"Struck a new trail, eh?" queried Ralph Mainwaring, with a peculiar expression, as he paused to light a cigar.

"On the contrary, sir, only following up an old one," and, with a somewhat ambiguous smile, the detective withdrew.

The coachman's sudden disappearance, together with the facts learned from the stable-boy, formed the subject of discussion for the next half-hour between Ralph Mainwaring and the attorney, Scott listening with a thoughtful face, although taking little part in the conversation. Upon their arrival at the offices of Mainwaring & Co. they were given a cordial greeting by Mr. Elliott and Mr. Chittenden, after which they passed on to the elegant private offices of Hugh Mainwaring. Mr. Whitney was visibly affected as he entered the familiar rooms, and to each one was forcibly recalled the memory of their meeting a few days before. A brief silence followed, and then in subdued tones they began to discuss the business which had now brought them there.

At about two o'clock that afternoon, Scott found himself entering an ancient and dilapidated looking block in a rather disreputable part of the city. He had fulfilled his appointment with Mr. Sutherland, and after an hour's conversation both gentlemen appeared very sanguine regarding the case under consideration. As Scott was taking leave, he produced Hobson's card and related the particulars of their incidental meeting at Fair Oaks, and Hobson's urgent invitation to call upon him at his office.

Mr. Sutherland laughed. "About what I expected," he said. "It was evident from his remarks at the inquest that some one-probably Mrs. LaGrange-had posted him concerning you, and he is afraid you are onto his secret."

"I had questioned if it were that, or whether possibly he might be onto mine."

"Not at all probable," said the attorney, after a moment's reflection. "If he really understood your position, he would be far too cunning to allow you to get sight of him. You have the scoundrel completely in your power."

"Yes, as much as he is in anybody's power; but it is doubtful if any one can hold so slippery a rascal as he. I believe I will give him a call, however."

"It would do no harm, taking care, of course, that you give him no information."

"Oh, certainly," said Scott, with a smile, as he paused for an instant in the doorway; "my object will be to get, not give, information."

"His object will probably be the same," was Mr. Sutherland's parting shot, as he turned with a laugh to his desk.

Scott, having ascended a narrow, crooked stairway, found himself in a long, dark hall, poorly ventilated, and whose filthy condition was only too apparent even in the dim light. Far in the rear he saw a door bearing the words, "R. Hobson, Attorney." As he pushed open the door, a boy of about seventeen, who, with a cigarette in his mouth and his feet on a table, sat reading a novel, instantly assumed the perpendicular and, wheeling about, faced Scott with one of the most villainous countenances the latter had ever seen. Something in Scott's appearance seemed to surprise him, for he stared impudently without speaking. After silently studying the face before him for an instant, Scott inquired for Mr. Hobson.

"He is in, sir, but he is engaged at present with a client," said the boy, in tones which closely resembled Hobson's. "I will take in your card, sir."

The boy disappeared with the card into an adjoining room, returning a moment later with the most obsequious manners and the announcement that Mr. Hobson would be at liberty in a few moments. Scott rightly judged that this ceremony was merely enacted for effect, and contented himself with looking about the small, poorly furnished room, while the office boy opposite regarded him with an undisguised curiosity, which betrayed that this client-if such he could be regarded-differed greatly from the usual class. Young and untaught though he were, he had learned to read the faces about him, and that of his employer was to him as an open book, and the expression which flashed into Hobson's eyes as they fell upon Scott's card indicated plainly to the office boy that in this instance the usual conditions were reversed, and the attorney stood in fear of his visitor.

A few moments later the door of the next room opened noiselessly and Hobson, attired in a red dressing-gown and wearing his most ingratiating smile, silently beckoned Scott to enter. With a quick glance the latter took in every detail of the second apartment. It was somewhat larger than the first, but the furnishing was meagre and shabby in the extreme, and, with the exception of a small set of shelves containing a few dilapidated volumes, there were no visible signs of an attorney's office.

Hobson did not speak until he had carefully closed the door, then he said, in low tones,-

"As our conversation is likely to be of a confidential nature, you would perhaps desire greater privacy than can be secured here. Step this way."

He opened the door into a room so dark and so thick with stale tobacco smoke that at first Scott could discern nothing clearly.

"My den!" said Hobson, with a magnificent flourish, and Scott stepped within, feeling, he afterwards said, as though he were being ushered by Mephistopheles into the infernal regions, and this impression was not lessened by the first objects which he was able to distinguish,-a pair of skulls grinning at him through the smoky atmosphere. As his eyes became accustomed to the dim light he noted that the room was extremely small, with only one window, which opened upon the blank wall of an adjoining building, and with no furniture, save an enormous, high-top desk and two chairs. One of the latter Hobson placed near the window for his visitor, and then busied himself for a moment at the desk in hastily concealing what to Scott looked like some paraphernalia of the black arts. Upon the top of the desk were the two skulls which had first attracted Scott's attention, and which he now regarded rather curiously. Hobson, following his glance, said, by way of explanation,-

"Rather peculi

ar ornaments, I dare say, you consider those, Mr. Scott; but I am greatly interested in phrenology and devote much of my leisure time to its study. It is not only amusing, you know, but it is of great assistance in reading and understanding my fellow-men, and enables me to adapt myself to my clients, so to speak."

Having satisfactorily arranged his belongings, Hobson locked the door, and, seating himself behind his desk, appeared ready for business.

"Well, my young friend," he began, "I rather expected you, for I flatter myself that I understand enough of human nature to know that there are very few who will pass by an opportunity of learning something for the advancement of their own interests or the betterment of their own condition in life."

"That may be perfectly natural," Scott replied; "but you flatter yourself altogether too much if you think that I have come here with any expectation that you can advance my interests or better my condition."

"That remains to be seen. Much also depends upon yourself, for I take it that a young man of your calibre is not without ambition."

Hobson paused, regarding his visitor with sharp scrutiny, but receiving no reply, continued, "I might add, that to a young man with ambitious designs such as yours, I would probably be able to render great assistance."

"I am not aware of any unusual ambition on my part."

"Oh, no, nothing unusual. You simply had no intention of remaining Hugh Mainwaring's secretary any longer than was necessary. That was perfectly natural, perfectly laudable, my young friend, and I admire the shrewdness and foresight with which you set about to accomplish your designs. At the same time, I believe I am in a position to give you just the information and advice you need in order to insure your success."

Both men had the same object in view. Each wished to ascertain what the other knew concerning himself. Scott, unable to determine whether Hobson had spoken at random or with an inkling of the facts, answered, coldly,-

"I do not know to what you refer, or on what grounds you base the inference which you seem to have drawn."

"No? Then you will allow me to remark, Mr. Scott, that such familiarity as yours with a portion of Hugh Mainwaring's private correspondence, extending back over a period of fifteen or more years, taking into consideration the facts that you cannot be much more than twenty-five years of age, and have only been about two years in Mr. Mainwaring's employ, would indicate that you had sought to acquaint yourself with some facts connected with your employer's early life with the express purpose of using the same to your own advantage."

"You must see the inconsistency of such a supposition, when you consider that I have been in possession of these facts for some time-it is unnecessary to state how long-and have made no use of them whatever."

"Possibly," said Hobson, with emphasis, "your knowledge of the facts may not have been definite enough to warrant your use of them."

His voice and manner unconsciously betrayed the importance which he attached to Scott's reply. The latter detected this, and answered evasively,-

"It is sufficiently definite for any own personal satisfaction in any event."

Hobson shook his head. "It is useless to evade the point. You had an object in looking up that correspondence; you intended to make a good thing out of the facts you got hold of; and, if your information is sufficiently complete, you can make a good thing out of them yet."

"If I have not attempted anything of that kind in the past, would I be likely to try it at this late day?" Scott asked, with the air of one who is open to any available suggestion.

Hobson at once assumed a confidential manner, and, moving a little nearer his visitor, replied, in a low tone,-

"Look here, Mr. Scott, that's just why I wanted to meet you. You see I knew more about you than you think. I've taken an unusual interest in you, too; and, seeing the little game you were playing, and knowing that I held the trump card myself, I naturally would like to take a hand and help you out at the same time. Now, the point is just this, Mr. Scott: What do you really know concerning the transaction referred to in that correspondence? I suppose you are familiar with all the letters that passed on both sides?"

"Perfectly so."

"Certainly. But you will acknowledge, Mr. Scott, that those letters were expressed in very guarded terms, and, with the exception of possibly one or two, gave no hint of the nature of that transaction. Remember," he added, impressively, "I have an exact copy of the correspondence on both sides, and no one could ever assume any statement or admissions that were not there."

"I presumed that, of course," said Scott, calmly.

"Now, my young friend, let us get down to the actual knowledge which you have of the facts. You are, I suppose, aware that there was a missing will involved in the case?"

"I am; and that one or two of your letters purported to show that the missing will was destroyed by Hugh Mainwaring."

"Did I make any such allegation?"

"Not directly; but your allusions and references would be clear to any one having a knowledge of the English statutes."

Hobson started, and inquired quickly, "Are you familiar with English law?"

"I made myself familiar with your citations and references in this case."

"I see; you have indeed made a study of the case. Well, Mr. Scott, permit me to say that I accused Hugh Mainwaring of nothing which he had not previously confessed to me himself. Have you any knowledge concerning that will,-its terms or conditions, or the names of the testator or beneficiaries?"

"There was nothing in the correspondence to give any clue to those particulars. I could only gather that Hugh Mainwaring had defrauded others and enriched himself by destroying this will."

Hobson looked relieved. "Without doubt, he did; but allow me to call your attention to one point, Mr. Scott. You see how little actual knowledge you have of this affair. There are others-Mrs. LaGrange, for instance, and the mysterious individual whom she heard conversing with Mr. Mainwaring on the night of the murder,-all of whom know as much or more than you; and while this meagre knowledge of the case might perhaps have been sufficient to bring to bear upon Mainwaring himself, personally, it would have little or no weight with those with whom we would now have to deal. You know nothing of the terms of the will, or of the persons named as beneficiaries, whom, consequently, Hugh Mainwaring defrauded. You have no proof that he destroyed the will. In fact, my dear young friend, you could produce no proof that such a document ever existed at all!"

"Do I understand you, then, that those letters, Mr. Mainwaring's included, would not be regarded as proof?" Scott asked, with well-feigned surprise.

"Not of themselves with these people; I know them too well." Hobson shook his head decidedly, then continued, in oracular tones, "Remember, I am only speaking of your chances with them. Mainwaring's letters were very guarded, mine scarcely less so. They would have no weight whatever with men like Ralph Mainwaring or William Thornton. They might even charge you with forging the whole thing. The point is just this, Mr. Scott: in order to be able to get anything from these parties you must have complete data, absolute proof of every statement you are to make; and such data and proofs are in the possession of no one but myself. So you see I am the only one who can assist you in this matter."

"And what compensation would you demand for 'assisting' me?"

"We will not put it that way, Mr. Scott," Hobson replied, his small, malignant eyes gleaming with delight at the ease with which his prey was falling into his clutches. "It is like this: Ralph Mainwaring and Thornton are prejudiced against me; I might not be able to work them as successfully as I could wish, but you and I could work together very smoothly. I could remain invisible, as it were, and give you the benefit of the information I possess and of my experience and advice, and you could then successfully manipulate the wires which would bring in the ducats for both of us. What do you say, my young friend?"

"Do you think that either Ralph Mainwaring or Mr. Thornton would care enough for any secrets you might be able to disclose to pay you hush money?"

"I object to the term of 'hush money.' I am merely trying to get what was due me from Hugh Mainwaring. As he never paid me in full, his heirs must. Yes, I could work them after they return to England and set up in style on the old Mainwaring estate. They would be rather sensitive about the family reputation then."

"Where are the beneficiaries of that will that was destroyed?" Scott suddenly inquired.

Hobson looked sharply at him. "Dead, long ago. Why do you ask?"

"I was thinking that if they or their heirs were living, it would be better to go to them with this information. They would probably pay a good price for it."

"You're right, they would," Hobson replied, approvingly; "but they are all dead."

"Were there no heirs left?"

"None whatever, more's the pity. However, I've got a good hold on these English chaps and will make them hand over the sovereigns yet."

The contempt which Scott had hitherto concealed as Hobson unfolded his plans was now plainly visible on his face as he rose from his chair.

"Don't hasten, my young friend," said Hobson, eagerly. "Sit down, sit down; we have not laid our plans yet."

"No, nor will we," was the reply. "If you think to make a cat's-paw of me in any of your dirty, contemptible pieces of work, you are mistaken. If you think that I came here with any intention of listening for one moment to any of your vile propositions, you are mistaken. I came here simply to satisfy myself on one point. My errand is accomplished, and I will remain no longer."

Hobson had sprung to his feet and now faced Scott, barring the way to the door, while fear, anger, defiance, and hate passed in rapid succession across his evil countenance, making his appearance more demon-like than ever.

"You lie!" he exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper. "I have not given you one word of information!"

"No," Scott interrupted, "you have given me no information, and you could give me none, for the reason that I know more concerning this whole affair than you do. I also have knowledge of certain other matters regarding one Richard Hobson, alias Dick Carroll, and his London adventures."

Hobson's face had become a livid hue, and Scott detected a sudden movement of his right hand towards his desk.

"None of that!" he cried, warningly, at the same time springing quickly upon him with two well-aimed blows, one of which knocked a revolver from Hobson's hand, while the other deposited him in a heap upon the floor. While the latter was recovering from the effect of the stunning blow he had received, Scott picked up the revolver and, having examined it, slipped it into his pocket, saying,-

"I will keep this for a while as a souvenir of our interview. It may be needed as evidence later."

Hobson crawled to his feet and stood cowering abjectly before Scott, rage written on every lineament of his face, but not daring to give it expression.

"Who in the devil are you, anyway?" he growled.

"That is none of your business whatever," Scott replied, seizing him by the collar and dragging him to the door. "The only thing for you to do is to unlock that door as expeditiously as possible, asking no questions and making no comments."

With trembling fingers the wretch complied, and Scott, still retaining his hold upon his collar, reached the door of the outer room, where, with a final shake, he released him.

"Wait a moment," Hobson whispered, eagerly, half-paralyzed with fear, while his eyes gleamed with malign hatred. "You've got no hold on me by anything I've said, and you've no proof of that Carroll business, either."

Scott looked at him an instant with silent contempt. "You cowardly scoundrel! all I have to say to you at present is, be careful how you interfere with me! I'm only sorry I soiled my hands with you, but I'll do it again if necessary; and the next time you will fare worse!" and, opening the door, he passed quickly through the outer room, conscious of the amazed stare of the office boy, who had overheard his last words. Hobson did not attempt to follow him, but paced up and down his room, trembling with fear and rage combined, and vainly striving to imagine who his visitor might be. At last he sat down to his desk and began to write rapidly, muttering to himself,-

"I half believe-only that he's too young-that he is some hound over here trying to scent out the whole thing. But," he added, with an oath, "whoever he is, if he crosses my track he'll be likely to follow Hugh Mainwaring before long, that's all!"

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