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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 27105

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


On the morning following Scott's interview with Hobson, he awoke at an early hour, vaguely conscious of some disturbing influence, though unable to tell what had awakened him. He lay for a moment recalling the events of the preceding day, then suddenly remembered that this was the day fixed for the funeral of Hugh Mainwaring. None of the servants were astir about the house, but Scott soon became conscious of the sound of stealthy movements and subdued voices coming through the open window, and, rising, he looked out. At first he could see nothing unusual. It was just sunrise, and the river, at a little distance shimmering in the golden light, held him entranced by its beauty. Then a slight rustling in the shrubbery near the lake attracted his attention. The golden shafts of sunlight had not yet reached that small body of water, and it lay smooth and unbroken as the surface of a mirror, so clear at that hour that one could easily look into its depths. Suddenly a light boat shot out from the side nearest the grove, breaking the smooth surface into a thousand rippling waves of light. In the boat were two men, one of whom Scott instantly recognized as the detective; the other, who was rowing and had his back towards the house, seemed to be a stranger. Some one concealed in the shrubbery called to the boatmen, whereupon they rowed across in that direction, stopping a few yards from shore. Here they rested a few moments till the surface was again smooth, when, both men having carefully peered into the depths of the little lake, the detective proceeded to let down a drag into the water.

"By George!" Scott ejaculated, "the sly old fox is improving the opportunity, while every one is asleep, to drag the lake in search of whatever the coachman threw in there. All right, my dear sir, go ahead! But I'm somewhat interested in this affair myself, and I don't intend that you shall monopolize all the facts in the case."

Keeping an eye on the boat, he dressed quickly and, letting himself out at the front entrance, he hastened down the walk through the grove to the edge of the lake, keeping himself concealed among the trees. The boat was moving slowly back and forth, and was now in such a position that Scott could see the face of the man rowing, who proved to be, as he had thought, a stranger. On the other side, seated under the flowering shrubs and trees bordering the lake, was Joe, the stable-boy, watching proceedings with intense interest. With a smile, the young secretary followed his example, seating himself at the foot of an ancient elm whose branches drooped nearly to the ground.

"All right, Mr. Detective!" he said, "I can stay as long as you. If you fail to make a success of your work this morning no one will be the wiser, but in case you find anything I propose to know something about it myself."

The sun was now shining brightly, but the hour was yet so early that there was little danger of any one else appearing on the scene, especially as it was Sunday morning.

For nearly an hour Mr. Merrick and his companion rowed slowly back and forth in constantly widening circles, meeting with no success and saying little. Suddenly, while Scott was watching the face of the stranger, wondering who he might be, he heard a low exclamation and saw that the drag had fastened itself upon some object at the bottom of the lake. He watched eagerly as they drew it to the surface, and could scarcely restrain a cry of astonishment as he saw what it was, but before either of the men could secure it, it had slipped and fallen again into the water. With language more forcible than elegant, the drag was again lowered, and the boat once more began its slow trailing.

This time they had not so long to wait for success. The drag was brought to the surface, but carrying in its clutches an entirely different object, and one with which the young secretary was totally unfamiliar,-a somewhat rusty revolver.

Mr. Merrick's back was now towards Scott, but the latter saw him take something from his pocket which he seemed to compare with the revolver, at the same time remarking to the stranger, who was watching with an appearance of great interest,

"A pretty good find, Jim, pretty good! However, we'll have another try for that box, whatever it is. It may amount to something or it may not, but it will do no harm to make a trial."

Having let down the drag once more, he glanced at the house, then at his watch, saying, "No signs of any one astir; we're all right for another hour yet."

After a few more turns, Scott saw them suddenly pulling in the ropes, and once more the box appeared, rusty and covered with slime, but still familiar. He at once sprang to his feet and sauntered carelessly down the walk, humming a tune and watching the occupants of the boat with an air of mild curiosity. The stranger was the first to see him, and with an expression of evident disgust gave Merrick warning of his approach. If the detective felt any annoyance he did not betray it as he turned and nodded to Scott in the most nonchalant manner possible, as though dragging the lake were an every-day occurrence.

"You've been fishing, I see," said Scott, pleasantly. "How did you make out?"

"Well, I've made this find which you see here," answered Mr. Merrick, as the boat headed for shore. "I don't know yet what it is, but it has not lain long in the water, and it may be worth looking into."

Scott made no reply until the detective had sprung ashore; then, as the latter proceeded to examine the box, leaving his companion to take care of the boat and drag, he said, in a low tone,-

"That is likely to prove an important discovery, Mr. Merrick."

"You are familiar with it then?" queried the latter.

"I have seen it in Mr. Mainwaring's safe. That was the box in which he kept the old jewels that were stolen on the night of the murder."

Mr. Merrick whistled softly and studied the box anew. "Well, there are no jewels in it now, but we will open it. There is no one up yet to let us into the house, so suppose we go to the stables; we'll be safe there from intrusion."

They proceeded to the stables, and, arriving there, Scott was puzzled to see Merrick's companion at work and evidently perfectly at home.

"We are going to use your room a while, Matthews," said Merrick, carelessly. Then, noting the surprise on Scott's face, he added, "This is Matthews, the new coachman, Mr. Scott. I thought you knew of his coming."

"At your service, sir," said Matthews, respectfully lifting his cap in response to Scott's greeting, while the latter inquired, as he and the detective passed up-stairs together,-

"When did he come?"

"Yesterday afternoon. He applied for the position, and, as he happened to be an acquaintance of mine, Mr. Mainwaring hired him upon my recommendation. Now," as he locked the door of the room they had entered, "we will open this box as quickly as possible. I suppose there is no key to be found, and, if there were, the lock is too rusty to work."

With the aid of a file and chisel the box was soon opened. The satin linings were somewhat water-soaked and discolored, and the box appeared to be empty, but on opening an inner compartment there were exposed to view a pair of oddly shaped keys and a blood-stained handkerchief, the latter firmly knotted as though it had been used to bandage a wound of some kind.

"Ah!" said the detective, with peculiar emphasis, examining the handkerchief, which was of fine linen, with the initials "H. M." embroidered in one corner. "Did Mr. Mainwaring carry a handkerchief of that style?"

"Yes; he carried that, or one precisely like it, the last day of his life."

"Very good!" was the only reply, as the detective carefully folded and pocketed the article with an air that indicated that he wished to say no more about it. "And these keys, do you recognize them?"

"They were Mr. Mainwaring's private keys to his library and the southern hall."

"The ones the valet said were missing?"

"The same."

Mr. Merrick, after studying them curiously for a moment, consigned them to his pocket also, and then began a careful inspection of the interior of the box. Scott watched him in silence, thinking meanwhile of the old document which he had found hidden away in its depths, and inwardly rejoicing that it had not been left to be discovered by the detective. Nothing in Mr. Merrick's manner or expression betrayed the nature of his thoughts, and, so long as he chose to remain silent, Scott refrained from questioning him.

At length he closed the box, saying, indifferently, "Well, I don't know as there is any reason why I should detain you any longer, Mr. Scott. We have satisfied ourselves as to the contents of the box, and you have identified the articles. For the present, however, I would prefer that you say nothing of this."

"Certainly, Mr. Merrick. The discovery, whatever its import, is your secret, and I shall make no mention of it whatever."

"I don't know that it is of any special importance," said the detective, carelessly, as they prepared to descend the stairs; "but it only confirms the opinion that I have had all along."

"Don't you think that this tends to show that the murder and robbery were connected, notwithstanding Mr. Whitney's theories to the contrary?" Scott inquired, as they were about to separate.

"Possibly," replied the other, gravely. Then added, with a smile, "Mr. Whitney has his own preconceived ideas of the case and tries to adapt the circumstances to suit them, when, in reality, one must first ascertain whatever facts are available and adjust his theories accordingly."

They parted company at the door of the stables, but Scott had not reached the house when the detective, with a peculiar smile, returned to the room up-stairs, and once more opening the box, drew forth from underneath the satin linings a folded paper, yellow with age and covered with closely written lines; which he read with great interest, after which he remained absorbed in thought until aroused by the entrance of his friend, the coachman.

Several hours later Scott stood alone beside the casket of the murdered man. The head had been turned slightly to one side and a spray of white blossoms, dropped with seeming carelessness within the casket, concealed all traces of the ghastly wound, their snowy petals scarcely whiter than the marble features of the dead.

It lacked more than an hour of the time set for the funeral. None of the few invited friends would arrive for some time yet. The gentlemen of the house were still in the hands of their valets, and the ladies engrossed with the details of their elegant mourning costumes. Scott, knowing he would be secure from interruption, had chosen this opportunity to take his farewell look at the face of his employer, desiring to be alone with his own thoughts beside the dead.

With strangely commingled emotions he gazed upon the face, so familiar, and yet upon which the death angel had already traced many unfamiliar lines, and as he realized the utter loneliness of the rich man, both in life and in death, a wave of intense pity swept across heart and brain, well-nigh obliterating all sense of personal wrong and injury.

"Unhappy man!" he murmured. "Unloved in life, unmourned in death! Not one of those whom you sought to enrich will look upon you to-day with one-half the sorrow or the pity with which I do, whom you have wronged and defrauded from the day of my birth! But I forgive you the wrong you have done me. It was slight compared with the far greater wrong you did another,-your brother-your only brother! A wrong which no sums of money, however vast, could ever repair. What would I not give if I could once have stood by his side, even as I stand by yours to-day, and looked once upon his face,-the face of your brother and of the father whom, because of your guilt, I have never seen or known, of whom I have not even a memory! Living, I could never have forgiven you; but here, to-day, in pity for your loveless life and out of the great love I bear that father in his far-away ocean grave,-in his name and in my own,-I forgive you, his brother, even that wrong!"

As Scott left the room, he passed Mr. Whitney in the hall, who, seeing in his face traces of recent emotion, looked after him with great surprise.

"That young man is a mystery!" he soliloquized. "A mystery! I confess I cannot understand him."

A little later the master of Fair Oaks passed for the last time down the winding, oak-lined avenue, followed by the guests of the place and by a small concourse of friends, whose sorrow, though unexpressed by outward signs of mourning, was, in reality, the more sincere.

Mrs. LaGrange, who, as housekeeper, had remained at Fair Oaks, seemed, as the last carriage disappeared from view, to be on the verge of collapse from nervous prostration. No one knew the mental excitement or the terrible nervous strain which she had undergone during those last few days. Many at the funeral had noted her extreme pallor, but no one dreamed of the tremendous will power by which she had maintained her customary haughty bearing. When all had gone, she rose and attempted to go to her room, but in the hall she staggered helplessly and, with a low moan, sank unconscious to the floor. The screams of the chambermaid, who had seen her fall, summoned to her assistance the other servants, who carried her to her room, where she slowly regained consciousness, opening

her eyes with an expression of terror, then closing them again with a shudder. Suddenly she seemed to recall her surroundings; with a great effort she rallied and dismissed the servants, with the exception of the chambermaid, saying, "It was nothing, only a little faintness caused by the heat. The room was insufferably close. Say nothing of this to the others when they return."

With Katie's assistance, she exchanged her heavy dress for a light wrapper of creamy silk, and soon seemed herself again except for her unusual pallor.

"That will do, Katie; I shall not need you further. By the way, did Walter go with the others, or did he remain at home?"

"Mr. Walter is in his room, ma'am; and I heard Hardy say that he was packing up his clothes and things."

Mrs. LaGrange betrayed no surprise, no emotion of any kind. "Say to him that I would like to see him in my room at once."

The girl disappeared, leaving Mrs. LaGrange to her own reflections, which seemed anything but pleasant. The look of terror returned to her face; she clinched her hands until the jewels cut deeply into the white fingers; then, springing to her feet, she paced the room wildly until she heard the footsteps of her son approaching, when she instantly assumed her usual composure.

Walter LaGrange had left Fair Oaks immediately at the close of the inquest, and had not returned except to be present at the funeral, and even there his sullen appearance had caused general remark. Very little love had ever existed between mother and son, for neither had a nature capable of deep affection, but never until now had there been any open rupture between them. Though closely resembling each other, he lacked her ability to plan and execute, and had hitherto been content to follow her counsels. But, as he now entered his mother's room, a glance revealed to her that her authority and influence over him were past.

"You sent for me, I believe. What do you want?" he asked, as she looked at him without speaking.

"Do you consider your conduct becoming towards a mother who is risking everything for you and your interests?"

"Oh, my interests be hanged," he exclaimed, petulantly. "I don't see that you've accomplished much for my interests with all your scheming. A week ago I could hold up my head with any of the fellows. I was supposed to be a relative of Hugh Mainwaring's, with good prospects, and that I would come in for a good round sum whenever the old fellow made his will,-just as I did. Now that's gone, and everything's gone; I haven't even a name left!"

"Walter LaGrange, what do you mean? Do you dare insinuate to your own mother-"

"Why don't you call me Walter Mainwaring?" he sneered. "As to insinuations, I have to hear plenty of 'em. Last night I was black-balled at one of the clubs where my name had been presented for membership, and a lot of the fellows have cut me dead."

"Walter, listen to me. You are Hugh Mainwaring's son and I was his wife. I will yet compel people to recognize us as such; but you must-"

"Tell me one thing," he demanded, interrupting her. "If I was Hugh Mainwaring's son, why have I not borne his name? Why did he not recognize me as such? I'll claim no man for my father who would not acknowledge me as his son."

Then, before she could reply, he added, "If you were the wife of Hugh Mainwaring, what was the meaning of your proposal of marriage to him less than three months ago?"

She grew deathly pale; but he, seeming to enjoy the situation, repeated, sneeringly, "Less than three months ago, the night on which he gave you the necklace which you commissioned me to sell the other day! You urged your suit with a vengeance, too, I remember, for you threatened to ruin him if he did not come to your terms.

"I only laughed then, for I thought 'twas another scheme of yours to get a tighter hold on the old man's purse-strings. It's nothing to me what your object was, but in view of the fact that I happened to overhear that little episode, it might be just as well not to try to tell me that I am Hugh Mainwaring's son. You will naturally see that I am not likely to be interested in helping carry out that little farce!"

Still controlling herself by a tremendous will power, the wretched woman made one more desperate effort. In low tones she replied,-

"You show your base ingratitude by thus insulting your mother and running the risk of betraying her to listening servants by your talk. Of course, this is all a farce, as you say, but it must be carried through. You and I were distantly related to Hugh Mainwaring, but what chance would we have against these people with no more of a claim than ours? I am compelled to assert that I was his wife and that you are his son in order to win any recognition in the eyes of the law."

For an instant her son regarded her with an expression of mingled surprise and incredulity, then the sneer returned, and, turning to leave the room, he answered, carelessly,-

"You can tell your little story to other people, and when you have won a fortune on it, why, I'll be around for my share, as, whatever my doubts in other directions, I have not the slightest doubt that you are my mother, and therefore bound to support me. But, for the present, if you please, I'll go by the old name of LaGrange. It's a name that suits me very well yet, even though," and a strange look flashed at her from his dark eyes, "even though it may be only a borrowed one," and the door closed, for the last time, between mother and son.

A low moan escaped from the lips of the unhappy woman. "My son-the only living being of my flesh and blood-even he has turned against me!" Too proud to recall him, however, she sank exhausted upon a couch, and, burying her face in her hands, wept bitterly for the first and only time in her remembrance.

Meanwhile, the guests of Fair Oaks, having returned from the funeral, had assembled in the large library below, and were engaged in animated discussion regarding the disposition to be made of the property. Ralph Mainwaring and Mr. Thornton, with pencils and paper, were computing stocks and bonds, and estimating how much of a margin would be left after the purchase of the old Mainwaring estate, which they had heard could be bought at a comparatively low figure, the present owner being somewhat embarrassed financially; while Mrs. Mainwaring was making a careful inventory of the furniture, paintings, and bric-a-brac at Fair Oaks, with a view of ascertaining whether there were any articles which she would care to retain for their future home.

Mr. Whitney, who, as a bachelor and an intimate friend of Hugh Mainwaring's, as well as his legal adviser, had perhaps more than any one else enjoyed the hospitality of his beautiful suburban home, found the conversation extremely distasteful, and, having furnished whatever information was desired, excused himself and left the room. As he sauntered out upon the broad veranda, he was surprised to see Miss Carleton, who had made her escape through one of the long windows, and who looked decidedly bored.

"It's perfectly beastly! Don't you think so?" she exclaimed, looking frankly into his face, as if sure of sympathy.

She had so nearly expressed his own feelings that he flushed slightly, as he replied, with a smile, "It looks rather peculiar to an outsider, but I suppose it is only natural."

"It is natural for them," she replied, with emphasis.

"I did not intend to be personal; I meant human nature generally."

"I have too much respect for human nature generally to believe it as selfish and as mercenary as that. I have learned one lesson, however. I will never leave my property to my friends, hoping by so doing to be held in loving remembrance. It would be the surest way to make them forget me."

"Has your experience of the last few days made you so cynical as that?" the attorney inquired, again smiling into the bright, fair face beside him.

"It is not cynicism, Mr. Whitney; it is the plain truth. I have always known that the Mainwarings as a family were mercenary; but I confess I had no idea, until within the last few days, that they were capable of such beastly ingratitude."

"Do you mean to say that it is a trait of the entire Mainwaring family, or only of this branch in particular?" he inquired, somewhat amused.

"All the Mainwarings are noted for their worship of the golden god," she replied, with a low musical laugh; "but Ralph Mainwaring's love of money is almost a monomania. He has planned and schemed to get that old piece of English property into his hands for years and years, in fact, ever since it was willed to Hugh Mainwaring at the time his brother was disinherited, and the name he gave to his son was the first stone laid to pave the way to this coveted fortune."

"I see. Pardon me, Miss Carleton; but you just now alluded to Hugh Mainwaring's brother. I remember some mention was made at the inquest of a brother, but I supposed it must be an error. Had he really a brother?"

"Ah, yes, an elder brother; and he must have been less avaricious than the rest of them, as he sacrificed a fortune for love. It was quite a little romance, you know. He and his brother Hugh were both in love with the same lady. The father did not approve, and gave his sons their choice between love without a fortune or a fortune without love. Hugh Mainwaring chose the latter, but Harold, the elder, was true to his lady, and was consequently disinherited."

"Poor Hugh Mainwaring!" commented the attorney; "he made his choice for life of a fortune without love, and a sad life it was, too!"

Miss Carleton glanced up with quick sympathy. "Yes, it seemed to me his life must have been rather lonely and sad."

There was a pause, and she added, "And did he never speak to you, his intimate friend, of his brother?"

"Never."

"Strange! Perhaps he was like the others, after all, and thought of nothing but money."

"No, I cannot believe that of Hugh Mainwaring," the attorney replied, loyally; then added, "What became of the brother, Miss Carleton?"

"He was lost at sea. He had started for Africa, to make a fortune for himself, but the boat was wrecked in a storm and every one on board was lost."

"And his family, what of them?" queried the attorney.

"He had no children, and no one ever knew what became of his wife. The Mainwarings are a very prosaic family; that is the only bit of romance in their history; but I always enjoyed that, except that it ended so sadly, and I always admired Harold Mainwaring. I would like to meet such a man as he."

"Why, I should say there was a romance in progress at present in the Mainwaring family," said Mr. Whitney, smiling.

"What! Hugh and Edith Thornton?" She laughed again, a wonderfully musical, rippling laugh, the attorney thought. "Oh, there is no more romance there than there is in that marble," and she pointed to a beautiful Cupid and Psyche embracing each other in the centre of a mass of brilliant geraniums and coleas. "They have been engaged ever since their days of long dresses and highchairs,-another of Ralph Mainwaring's schemes! You know Edith is Hugh's cousin, an only child, and her father is immensely rich! Oh, no; if I ever have a romance of my own, it must spring right up spontaneously, and grow in spite of all opposition. Not one of the sort that has been fostered in a hot-house until its life is nearly stifled out of it."

Mr. Whitney glanced in admiration at the fair English face beside him glowing with physical and intellectual beauty. Then a moment later, as they passed down the long hall in response to the summons to dinner, and he caught a glimpse, in one of the mirrors, of a tolerably good-looking, professional gentleman of nearly forty, he wondered why he suddenly felt so much older than ever before.

Miss Carleton was seated beside him at dinner, while nearly opposite was Harry Scott, conversing with young Mainwaring. He was quietly but elegantly dressed, and his fine physique and noble bearing, as well as the striking beauty of his dark face, seemed more marked than usual. Mr. Whitney watched the young secretary narrowly. Something in the play of his features seemed half familiar, and yet gave him a strange sense of pain, but why, he could not determine.

"Mr. Whitney," said Miss Carleton, in a low tone, "did you ever observe a resemblance at times between Mr. Scott and your friend, Mr. Hugh Mainwaring?"

The attorney looked up in surprise. "Why, no, Miss Carleton, I would not think a resemblance possible. Mr. Scott is much darker and his features are altogether different."

"Oh, I did not refer to any resemblance of feature or complexion, but his manner, and sometimes his expression, strikes me as very similar. I suppose because he was associated with him so much, you know."

Mr. Whitney's eyes again wandered to the face of the secretary. He started involuntarily. "By George!" he ejaculated, mentally, "Hugh Mainwaring, as sure as I live! Not a feature like him, but the same expression. What does it mean? Can it be simply from association?"

In a state of great bewilderment he endeavored still to entertain Miss Carleton, though it is to be feared she found him rather absent-minded. He was passing out of the dining-room in a brown study when some one touched his arm. He turned and saw Merrick.

"When you are at liberty, come out to the grove," the latter said, briefly, and was gone before the attorney could more than bow in reply.

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