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   Chapter 13 THEORIES, WISE AND OTHERWISE

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 23129

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Half an hour later, having excused himself to Miss Carleton, Mr. Whitney hastened to the grove, where he found the detective sauntering up and down the winding walk, his hands behind him in a reflective mood, absorbed in thought and in the enjoyment of a fine cigar. He nodded pleasantly as the attorney approached.

"Going to be at liberty for some time?" he inquired, at the same time extending his cigar-case.

"Yes, for any length of time you please; it's a relief to get away from those egotists."

"H'm!" said Merrick, as he returned the cigar-case to his pocket after the attorney had helped himself; "I didn't think that you looked particularly anxious to be relieved of your company when I saw you. I really felt considerable delicacy about speaking as I did."

"Oh, to the deuce with your nonsense!" the attorney replied, his cheek flushing as he lighted his cigar. "If you had listened to the twaddle that I have all day, you would be glad to talk to almost any one for a change."

"In that event, perhaps you won't mind talking to me for a while. Well, suppose we go down to the stables, to the coachman's room; he is probably with his best girl by this time, and we will be safe from interruption or eavesdroppers."

"That suits me all right so long as Ralph Mainwaring doesn't think of looking for me there. That man makes me exceedingly weary!"

"Anxious to secure the property according to the terms of that will, I suppose."

"Anxious! He is perfectly insane on the subject; he can't talk of anything else, and he'll move heaven and earth to accomplish it, too, if necessary."

"Don't anticipate any difficulty, do you?"

"None whatever, unless from that woman; there's no knowing to what she may resort. It will only be necessary to prove that the will, if not in existence at the death of the testator, was fraudulently destroyed prior thereto, and I think we have a pretty clear case. By George, Merrick!" suddenly exclaimed the attorney in a different tone, as he paused on the way to the stables. "I hadn't thought of it before, but there's one thing ought to be done; we should have this lake dragged at once."

Merrick raised his eyebrows in mute inquiry.

"To find whatever Brown threw in there, you know; it might furnish us with an almighty important clue."

"H'm! might be a good idea," Merrick remarked, thoughtfully.

"Of course it would! I tell you, Merrick, I was cut out for a detective myself, and I'm pretty good for an amateur, now."

"Haven't a doubt of it," was the quiet response, and the pair resumed their walk. Both were soon comfortably seated in the coachman's room, their chairs tilted at just the right angle before a large double window, facing the sunset. Both smoked in silence for a few moments, each waiting for the other to speak.

"Well, my friend, what do you know?" inquired the detective, while he watched the delicate spirals of blue smoke as they diffused themselves in the golden haze of the sunlight.

"Just what I was about to ask you," said his companion.

"Oh, time enough for that later. You have been looking into this case, and, as you are a born detective, I naturally would like to compare notes with you."

Mr. Whitney glanced sharply at the detective, as though suspicious of some sarcasm lurking in those words, but the serious face of the latter reassured him, and he replied,-

"Well, I've not had much experience in that line, but I've made quite a study of character, and can tell pretty correctly what a person of such and such evident characteristics will do under such and such conditions. As I have already stated to you, I know, both from observation and from hints dropped by Hugh Mainwaring, that if ever a dangerous woman existed,-artful, designing, absolutely devoid of the first principles of truth, honor, or virtue,-that woman is Mrs. LaGrange. I know that Mainwaring stood in fear of her to a certain extent, and that she was constantly seeking, by threats, to compel him to either marry her or secure the property to her and her son and I also know that he was anxious to have the will drawn in favor of his namesake as quickly and as secretly as possible.

"Now, knowing all these circumstances, what is more reasonable than to suppose that she, learning in some way of his intentions, would resort to desperate measures to thwart them? Her first impulse would be to destroy the will; then to make one final effort to bring him, by threats, to her terms, and, failing in that, her fury would know no bounds. Now, what does she do? Sends for Hobson, the one man whom Hugh Mainwaring feared, who knew his secret and stood ready to betray it. Between them the plot was formed. They have another interview in the evening, to which Hobson brings one of his coadjutors, the two coming by different ways like the vile conspirators they were, and in all probability, when Hugh Mainwaring bade his guests good-night, every detail of his death was planned and ready to be carried into execution in the event of his refusing to comply with that woman's demands made by herself, personally, and later, through Hobson. We know, from the darkey's testimony, that Hobson and his companion appeared in the doorway together; that the man suddenly vanished-probably concealing himself in the shrubbery-as Hobson went back into the house; that a few moments later, the latter reappeared with Mrs. LaGrange; and the darkey tells me that he, supposing all was right, slunk away in the bushes and left them standing there. We know that the valet, going up stairs a while after, found Mrs. LaGrange in the private library, and at the same time detected the smell of burning paper. You found the burnt fragments of the will in the grate in the tower-room.

"Now, to my mind, it is perfectly clear that Mrs. LaGrange and Hobson proceeded together to the library and tower-room, where they first destroyed the will, and where she secreted him to await the result of her interview with Mainwaring, at the same time providing him with the private keys by which he could effect his escape, and with Hugh Mainwaring's own revolver with which the terrible deed was done. Later, finding that Mainwaring would not accede to her demands, I believe she left that room knowing to a certainty what his fate would be in case Hobson could not succeed in making terms with him, and I believe her object in coming down the corridor afterwards was simply to ascertain that her plans were being carried into execution. Now there is my theory of this whole affair; what do you think of it?"

"Very ingeniously put together! What about the jewels? Do you think Hobson took them?"

"No. I think Mrs. LaGrange got possession of them in some way. She has no means of her own to hire that scoundrel, yet the darkey heard her promise to pay him liberally, and you see her very first attempt to pay him was by the sale of some of those jewels. I'll acknowledge I'm not prepared to say how or when she secured them."

"Could she open the safe?"

"That I cannot say. Mainwaring told me, some months ego, that he found her one day attempting to open it, and he immediately changed the combination. Whether she had discovered the new combination, I am unable to say; but she is a deep woman, and usually finds some way of accomplishing her designs."

"Brown, the coachman, seems to have no place in this theory of yours."

"Well, of course we none of us thought of him in connection with this affair until since his sudden disappearance yesterday, but I am inclined to think that he is to be regarded in the light of an accessory after the fact. I think it very probable that Mrs. LaGrange has employed him since the murder to assist her in concealing evidences of the crime, and that is why I suggested dragging the lake in search of what may be hidden there; but, according to his own story, he was in the city that night until some time after the murder was committed."

"Yes, according to his own story, but in reality he did not go to the city at all that night. More than that, he was seen in this vicinity about midnight with a couple of suspicious looking characters."

"By George! when did you learn that?"

"I knew it when Brown gave his testimony at the inquest."

"The deuce you did! and then let the rascal give you the slip, after all!"

"Don't give yourself any anxiety on that score; I can produce Brown any hour he's wanted. One of my subordinates has his eye on him day and night. At last reports, he and Brown were occupying the same room in a third-class lodging house; I'll wager they're having a game of cards together this evening."

"Well, well! you have stolen a march on us. But, if I may ask, why don't you bag your game?"

"I am using him as a decoy for larger game. Whatever Brown is mixed up in, he is only a tool in the hands of older and shrewder rascals."

Before the attorney could say anything further, Merrick rose abruptly and stepped to a table near by, returning with a package.

"What do you think of that?" he asked, removing the wrappings and holding up the rusty, metallic box.

"Great heavens!" ejaculated Mr. Whitney, springing forward excitedly. "Why, man alive, you don't mean to say that you have found the jewels!"

"No such good fortune as that yet," the detective answered quietly, "only the empty casket;" and having opened the box, he handed it to the attorney.

"Where did you find this?" the latter inquired.

"Fished it out of the lake."

"Ah-h! I should like to know when."

"While you were snoring this morning."

"Great Scott! They'll catch a weasel asleep when they find you napping! But, by George! this rather confirms my theory about that woman getting possession of the jewels and hiring Brown to help her, doesn't it?"

Without replying, Merrick handed over the revolver which had been brought to light that morning.

"Where did you get this rusty thing? Was it in the lake, also?"

The detective nodded affirmatively, and Mr. Whitney examined the weapon in some perplexity.

"Well, I must say," he remarked at length, "I don't see what connection this has with the case. The shooting was done with Hugh Mainwaring's own revolver; that was settled at the inquest-"

"Pardon me! It was only 'settled' that the revolver found lying beside him was his own."

The attorney stared as Merrick continued, at the same time producing from his pocket the revolver in question, "This, as you are doubtless aware, is a Smith and Wesson, 32 calibre, while that," pointing to the rusty weapon in Mr. Whitney's hands, "is an old Colt's revolver, a 38. On the morning of the murder, after you and the coroner had gone, I found the bullet for which we had searched unsuccessfully, and from that hour to this I have known, what before I had suspected, that this dainty little weapon of Mr. Mainwaring's played no part in the shooting. Here is the bullet, you can see for yourself."

Mr. Whitney gazed in silent astonishment as the detective compared the bullet with the two weapons, showing conclusively that it could never have been discharged from the familiar 32-calibre revolver.

"Well, I'll be blessed if I can see what in the dickens that revolver of Mainwaring's had to do with the affair, anyway!"

"Very easily explained when you once take into consideration the fact that the whole thing was an elaborately arranged plan, on the part of the murderer, to give the affair an appearance of suicide. One glance at the murdered man convinced me that the wound had never

been produced by the weapon lying at his side. That clue led to others, and when I left that room with you, to attend the inquest, I knew that Hugh Mainwaring had been shot with a 38-calibre revolver, in his library, near the centre of the room, and that the body had afterwards been so arranged in the tower-room as to give the appearance of his having deliberately shot himself beside his desk and with his own revolver."

"By George! I believe you're right," said the attorney; "and I recall now your statement that day, that the shooting had occurred in the library; I wondered then what reason you had for such an opinion."

"A small stain on the library carpet and the bullet told me that much. Another thing, which at first puzzled me, was the marked absence of blood-stains. There was a small pool of blood underneath the head, a slight stain on the carpet in the adjoining room, but none on the clothing or elsewhere. The solution to this I found on further investigation. The wound had been firmly and skillfully bandaged by an expert hand, the imprint of the bandage being plainly visible in the hair on the temples. Here is the proof that I was correct," and Merrick held up to the attorney's astonished view the stained and knotted handkerchief. "This, with the private keys belonging to Mr. Mainwaring's library, was in that box at the bottom of the lake. Do you consider Mrs. LaGrange or Hobson capable of planning and carrying out an affair so adroitly as that?"

"You've got me floored," the attorney answered, gazing at the proofs before him. "Hobson I know nothing about; but that woman I believe could scheme to beat the very devil himself; and yet, Merrick, when you think of it, it must have taken time-considerable time-to plan a thing like that."

"Or else," Merrick suggested, "it was the performance of an expert criminal; no bungling, no work of a green hand."

Mr. Whitney started slightly, but the detective continued. "Another point: Hobson, as you say, was the one man whom Hugh Mainwaring feared and who evidently had some hold upon him; would he then have dared denounce him as a liar and an impostor? Would not his use of such terms imply that he was addressing one whom he considered a stranger and unacquainted with the facts in the case?"

"I see," the attorney replied quickly; "you have in mind Hobson's accomplice, the tall man with dark glasses."

Merrick smiled. "You are then inclined to the opinion that J. Henry Carruthers, who called in the afternoon, is identical with the so-called Jack Carroll who accompanied Hobson in the evening?"

"Certainly that is a reasonable supposition. The descriptions of the two men agree remarkably, and the darkey was positive, both in his testimony at the inquest and in conversation with me, that they were one and the same person."

"Their general appearance seems to have been much the same, but their conduct and actions were totally unlike. Carruthers acted fearlessly, with no attempt at concealment; while, if you will stop to think of it, of all the witnesses who tried to give a description of Carroll, not one had seen his face. He always remained in the background, as much concealed as possible."

"I don't deny that you are correct," the attorney said musingly; "and they may have been two distinct individuals, Carroll evidently being the guilty party; but even in that event, in my opinion, he was only carrying out with a skillful hand the plans already arranged by that woman and Hobson."

"Whatever part Carroll took in the affair, he was undoubtedly Hobson's agent; and you will find that Hobson and Mrs. LaGrange have been more intimately associated and for a much longer time than you suspect," and Merrick repeated what he had overheard of the interview in Mrs. LaGrange's parlor, just after the close of the inquest.

Mr. Whitney listened with deep interest. "Well, well! And you heard her accuse him of being an accessory? Of course she referred to the murder. By George! I should have wanted them arrested on the spot!"

After a slight pause, he continued. "There's one thing, Merrick, in the conduct of Carruthers which I don't understand. Why, after telling the secretary that he would remain at the Arlington for the next two or three days, should he return to the city the next morning on the 3.10 train?"

"He seems to have been an impulsive man, who acted on the spur of the moment," Merrick answered; "but the strangest part of that is, that he did not return to the city at all. He bought a ticket for New York, but the conductor informs me there was no such man on board; while the north-bound train, which pulls out about five minutes later, had a passenger answering exactly to his description. The conductor on the latter train also informed me that, just as they were pulling out of the station, a man, tall and dark, rather good-looking, he should judge, though he could not see his face, and wearing a long, light overcoat, sprang aboard, decidedly winded, as though from running, and immediately steered for the darkest corner of the smoking-car, where he sat with his hat well drawn down over his face."

"Carroll again, by George!" exclaimed the attorney.

"Here is a problem for you to solve," Merrick continued, pointing to the revolver and box lying side by side. "You think Brown threw those in the lake. Who was the man that Brown saw standing beside the lake just before three o'clock in the morning, and what was he doing? He was tall and dark, and wore a long coat or ulster. Was that Carroll or Carruthers? Did he throw anything into the lake? And if so, what?"

Mr. Whitney gazed dubiously at the detective for a moment, then began to whistle softly, while he slowly shook his head.

"No, Merrick; you've got me there! I never have had enough experience in this line that I could go into the detail work. I have to be guided by the main points in the case. Then, again, I gave Brown's testimony very little thought, as I considered him unreliable and irresponsible."

"Well, to come back to the 'main points,' then: what reasons have you for connecting Mrs. LaGrange and Hobson with this affair that might not apply equally well in the cases of certain other people?"

"What reason? Why, man alive! there is every reason to consider Mrs. LaGrange the instigator of the whole affair. In the first place, her one object and aim for the past seventeen or eighteen years has been to get hold of Hugh Mainwaring's property, to secure for herself and her son what she calls their 'rights'-"

"That is the point," Merrick interrupted. "You consider her guilty because she would be interested in securing a hold upon the property, although she, personally, has no claim whatever. Has it never occurred to you that there might be others more deeply interested than she, inasmuch as they have valid claims, being the rightful heirs?"

"I never thought of such a possibility," said the astonished attorney; "and I don't know that I understand now to whom you refer."

"I have learned from various reliable sources," the detective replied, "that Ralph Mainwaring has a younger brother, Harold, who is as much of a money-lover as himself, though too indolent to take the same measures for acquiring it. He is a reckless, unprincipled fellow, and having about run through his own property, I understand, he has had great expectations regarding this American estate, depending upon his share of the same to retrieve his wasted fortune. I learned yesterday, by cable, that since the departure of Ralph Mainwaring and his family for this country, his brother has been missing, and it is supposed, among his associates in London, that he took the next steamer for America, intending to assert his own claims."

"And you think-" the attorney interrupted, breathlessly; but Merrick shook his head and continued,-

"I have also, in the course of my investigations, incidentally discovered Hugh Mainwaring's secret, and, consequently, Hobson's secret, only that I know the real facts in the case, which Hobson does not know. You, as Mainwaring's friend, will not care to learn the details, and I shall not speak of them now, but I will say this much: there are probably in existence to-day, and perhaps not very far distant, heirs to this property, having a claim preceding not only that of Ralph Mainwaring or his son, but of Hugh Mainwaring himself."

There was silence for a few moments as the detective paused, Mr. Whitney's surprise rendering him speechless; at last he said,-

"Well, you are a truthful fellow, Merrick, and you never jump at conclusions, so I know your statements can be relied upon; but I'll be blessed if I understand how or when you have gathered all this information together. I suppose it would be useless to ask your deductions from all this, but I wish you would answer one or two questions. Do you think that this Harold Mainwaring, or those possible heirs you mention, would put in an appearance personally, or that they would work through agents and emissaries?"

"Depends altogether upon circumstances. Harold Mainwaring would not be likely to appear on the scene unless he were pretty effectually disguised. As to the others,-if they were to assert their claim,-it would be difficult to say just what course they might take. I have made these statements merely to give you a hint of the possibilities involved in the case. It is now getting rather late, but I will give you one or two pointers to ruminate upon. Don't think that Hobson will run any risks or put himself to any personal inconvenience for Mrs. LaGrange. He is working first and foremost for Richard Hobson, after that for whoever will pay him best. Another thing, don't ever for a moment imagine that Hugh Mainwaring's private secretary is looking for a job. It's my opinion he'll give you fellows one of the hardest jobs you ever tackled; and, unless I'm greatly mistaken, he's got brains enough and backing enough to carry through whatever he undertakes."

"Say! I don't know as I exactly catch your meaning; but that's one thing I wanted to ask you. What do you think of that young man, anyway? I can't make him out."

"I noticed that you had not assigned him any place in that theory of yours."

"No; he's been a mystery to me, a perfect mystery; but this evening a new idea has occurred to me, and I would like your judgment on it. Has he ever reminded you of any one? That is, can you recall any one whom he resembles?"

"Well, I should say there was a marked resemblance. I've often wondered where your eyes were that you had not seen it."

"You have noticed it, then? Well, so have I; but it has puzzled me, for, though the look was familiar, I was unable to recall whose it was until to-night. Now that I have recalled it, that, taken in connection with some other things I have observed, has led me to wonder whether it were possible that he is a son of Hugh Mainwaring's, of whose existence no one in this country has ever known."

"Hugh Mainwaring! I don't understand you."

"Why, you just acknowledged you had noticed the resemblance between them!"

"I beg your pardon; but you must recollect that I have never seen Hugh Mainwaring living, and have little idea how he looked."

"By George! that's a fact. Well, then, who in the dickens do you think he resembles?"

The coachman's step was heard at that instant on the stairs, and Merrick's reply was necessarily brief.

"Laying aside expression, take feature for feature, and you have the face of Mrs. LaGrange."

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