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   Chapter 14 THE EXIT OF SCOTT, THE SECRETARY

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 16142

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


One of the first duties which the secretary was called upon to perform, during his brief stay at Fair Oaks, was to make a copy of the lost will. He still retained in his possession the stenographic notes of the original document as it had been dictated by Hugh Mainwaring on that last morning of his life, and it was but the work of an hour or two to again transcribe them in his clear chirography.

Engaged in this work, he was seated at the large desk in the tower-room, which had that morning been opened for use for the first time since the death of its owner. He wrote rapidly, and the document was nearly completed when Mr. Whitney and Ralph Mainwaring together entered the adjoining room.

"Egad!" he heard the latter exclaim, angrily, "if that blasted scoundrel thinks he has any hold on me, or that he can keep me on the rack as he did Hugh, he'll find he has made the biggest mistake of his life. It is nothing but a blackmailing scheme, and I've more than half a mind to sift the whole matter to the bottom and land that beggarly impostor where he belongs."

"I hardly know just what to advise under the circumstances," Mr. Whitney answered, quietly, "for I, naturally, have some personal feeling in this matter, and I am forced to believe, Mr. Mainwaring, that there is something back of all this which neither you nor I would care to have given publicity. But, laying aside that consideration, I am of the opinion that it might not be to your interest to push this matter too closely."

"On what grounds, sir, do you base your opinion?" Mr. Mainwaring demanded.

The attorney's reply, however, was lost upon Scott, whose attention had been suddenly arrested by the imprint of a peculiar signature across one corner of the blotter upon which he was drying his work, now completed. Instantly, oblivious to everything else, he carefully examined the blotter. It was a large one, fastened to the top of the desk, and had been in use but a comparatively short time. It bore traces both of Hugh Mainwaring's writing and of his own, but this name, standing out boldly on one corner, was utterly unlike either. Nor did it resemble any of the signatures attached to the will on that memorable day when the desk with its paraphernalia had been last used.

Considerably perplexed, Scott suddenly recalled a small pocket mirror which he had seen in the desk. This he speedily found, and, having placed it at the right angle, leaned over to get a view of the name as it had been originally written. As he did so, he caught sight of some faint lines above the signature which he had not observed, but which were plainly visible in the mirror. It was well for the secretary that he was alone, for, as he read the signature with the words outlined above, he was spellbound. For a moment he seemed almost paralyzed, unable to move. His brain whirled, and, when he at last sank back in his chair, his face was blanched and he felt giddy and faint from the discovery which he had made. Gradually he became conscious of his surroundings. Again he heard, as in a dream, the conversation in the adjoining room. The attorney was speaking.

"I do not at present feel at liberty to give the source of my information, but I can assure you it is perfectly reliable, and my informant would never have made such an assertion unless he had ample authority to back it up."

"I don't care a rap for your information or its source," the other interrupted, impatiently. "The whole thing is simply preposterous. The estate descended regularly to Hugh Mainwaring, and from him to our own family as next of kin. You can see for yourself that to talk of any other claimants having prior rights is an utter absurdity."

"Had not Hugh Mainwaring an elder brother?"

"He had; but you must be aware that he died a great many years ago."

"But had that elder brother no issue?"

"None living," Mr. Mainwaring replied, coldly. Then added, in the same tone, "Even had there been, that fact would have no bearing on this case, Mr. Whitney. The entire estate was transferred to Hugh Mainwaring by legal process before the death of his brother, he and his heirs having been forever disinherited, so that it is the same as though he had never existed."

While he was speaking, the secretary entered the library, his pallor and unusual expression attracting Mr. Whitney's attention. In response to a glance of inquiry from the latter, however, he merely said,-

"The copy is completed. You will find it on the desk," and passed from the library into the hall.

Still wondering at his appearance, Mr. Whitney proceeded to the tower-room, and a moment later both gentlemen were absorbed in the perusal of the duplicate of the lost will; but afterwards the attorney recalled that, on taking the document from the desk, he had noticed that the large blotter covering the top had been removed and replaced by a new one.

There was no perceptible change in Scott's appearance during the remainder of the day, except that he seemed more than usually thoughtful, sometimes to the verge of abstraction, but, in reality, his mind was so preoccupied with endless doubts and surmises regarding his recent discovery that he found it exceedingly difficult to concentrate his attention upon the work required of him. That afternoon, however, while engaged in looking through some important documents belonging to Hugh Mainwaring, kept at the city offices, a cablegram was handed him, addressed to himself personally, from Barton & Barton, a well-known legal firm in London. The despatch itself caused him little surprise, as he had been in correspondence with this firm for more than a year; but the contents of the message were altogether unexpected, and left him in a state of bewilderment. It read,-

"Have you met J. Henry Carruthers, of London, supposed to have sailed ten days since, or can you give us his whereabouts?"

Fortunately, Scott was alone, Ralph Mainwaring and the attorney being in the private offices, and he had plenty of opportunity to recover from his surprise. For half an hour he revolved the matter in his thoughts, wondering whether this had any bearing upon the question which for the last few hours he had been trying to solve. A little later he sent the following reply:

"Person mentioned seen on 7th instant. No trace since. You have my letter of 8th instant. Cable instructions."

As the Mainwaring carriage appeared at the offices at four o'clock, to convey the gentlemen to Fair Oaks, Mr. Whitney was surprised to find the secretary still engaged at his desk.

"If you will excuse me," the latter said, pleasantly, "I will not go out to Fair Oaks this evening. I have some unfinished work here, and I will remain in the city to-night."

Upon entering the offices the next day, however, the attorney found the following note addressed to himself:

"Mr. WHITNEY.

"DEAR SIR,-I regret to be compelled to inform you that you will have to look for another assistant, as important business calls me away for an indefinite period. Do not give yourself any trouble concerning the salary which you kindly offered me. I am not in need of it, and have only been too glad to render you the little assistance within my power, knowing, as I do, that you have no easy case on your hands.

"Trusting we shall meet in the future, I am, with great esteem,

"Very truly yours,

"H. SCOTT.

As Mr. Whitney read and reread this note, the words of the detective regarding the private secretary were recalled to his mind, and he muttered,-

"Yes, Merrick was right. It is very evident the young man is not 'looking for a job;' but I'll be blessed if I know what to think of him!"

Upon Mr. Whitney's return to Fair Oaks, he found the guests assembled on the veranda, overlooking the river, Mr. Merrick, who had just returned from a few days' absence, being also included in the company. There were many exclamations of surprise and considerable comment when Mr. Whitney told of the sudden disappearance of the secretary.

"Now, that is too bad!" cri

ed Edith Thornton. "He was so interesting, and we were all beginning to like him so much."

"I don't know that any of us were so charmed with him as one might be led to suppose from your remark, Edith," said Isabel Mainwaring, with a disdainful glance towards the attorney, who had seated himself beside Miss Carleton; "but here, almost any one will answer for a diversion, and he was really quite entertaining."

"It is not to be expected that you would see or appreciate his good points," said her brother, with half a sneer; "but Scott is a fine fellow and a gentleman, and I shall miss him awfully."

Miss Carleton remained silent; but for some reason, unexplainable to herself, she was conscious of a vague sense of disappointment and injury. She would not admit to herself that she was troubled because Scott had gone, it was the manner of his departure. Surely, after the friendship and confidence she had shown him, he might at least have sent some word of farewell, instead of leaving as he had, apparently without a thought of her. However, she chatted graciously with Mr. Whitney, though, all the while, a proud, dark face with strangely beautiful eyes persistently forced itself before her mental vision, nearly obliterating the smiling face of the attorney.

Meanwhile, Ralph Mainwaring was giving the detective his views on the subject.

"I, for one, am not sorry that he has followed the example of the coachman and taken himself off. It is my opinion," he continued, in impressive tones, "that we will yet find he had reasons for leaving in this manner."

"Undoubtedly!" Merrick replied, with equal emphasis.

"Now, that's just where you're wrong, governor," said young Mainwaring. "Scott is as good as gold. There is no sneak about him, either; and if he had reasons for leaving as he has, they were nothing to his discredit; you can stake your last shilling on that!"

"Oh, I know he has pulled the wool over your eyes," said his father; "but he has never tried his smooth games on me; he knows I can see through him. I detest him. One of your typical American swells! Just what one would expect to find in a country where a common clerk is allowed to associate with gentlemen!"

"But, begging your pardon, Mr. Mainwaring," the detective interposed, quietly, "Mr. Scott is not an American. He has lived less than two years in this country."

A chorus of exclamations followed this statement.

"Not an American! Then he must be an Englishman," cried Miss Carleton, her sparkling eyes unconsciously betraying her pleasure at the discovery.

"Merrick, are you sure of that?" inquired Mr. Whitney, in astonishment.

"Certainly, or I would never have made the assertion I did."

Ralph Mainwaring suddenly turned the conversation. "How about that will business, Mr. Whitney? When will that come off?"

"The petition was filed this afternoon, and will be granted a hearing some time next week; I have not yet learned the day."

"And then will you gentlemen be ready to start for home?" Mrs. Mainwaring inquired, a touch of impatience in her voice.

"Well, by my soul! I should say not," laughed Mr. Thornton, before her husband could reply. "It will probably take a number of months, my dear madam, to settle up this estate, even if there should be no contest; and if the case is contested, it may drag on for years, eh, Mr. Whitney?"

"That will depend upon circumstances. A contest would, of course, delay the case, perhaps for several months; but I am not aware of any contestants with sufficient means for continuing it the length of time you mention."

"Mercy me!" exclaimed Mrs. Mainwaring, addressing her husband; "do you and Hugh intend to remain here all that time?"

"Our stay will probably be somewhat indefinite," he replied, evasively; "but that is no reason why you and the young ladies need remain against your will."

"Indeed! Why could you not have said as much before? Neither Isabel nor I care to remain here a day longer than is necessary; we have simply been awaiting your pleasure. Wilson, bring me the morning papers; I want to see what boats are expected. We will take the first steamer home. Mr. Thornton, will you and the young ladies accompany us, or do you prefer to remain in exile a while longer?"

"Well," replied that gentleman, smiling genially, "speaking for myself, I would more than half like to stay and see this thing through; but the ladies are in the majority, and I will abide by their decision. How is it, Edith? I suppose, as the novelists say, you will be 'torn by conflicting emotions.'"

"You horrid old papa! Of course, if auntie is going back, I shall go with her. What do you say, Winifred?"

"I have very little choice, one way or the other," Miss Carleton replied, more quietly than was usual for her; "whatever you and Uncle William decide, will suit me."

"Ab, here are the papers!" said Mrs. Mainwaring, adjusting her eye-glasses. "These dreadful American dailies!" she exclaimed, as she scanned the pages; "one never knows where to find anything. Ah, here it is, and just what we want! The 'Campania' sails Thursday, at three o'clock. That will suit us exactly."

"To-morrow! so soon!" exclaimed two or three voices.

"Certainly," she replied, rising. "I shall have the maids begin packing at once; and, Mr. Thornton, I shall instruct Wilson to attend directly to your luggage, for you would never think of it until within an hour of sailing."

Her departure seemed the signal for the breaking up of the little company. Mr. Whitney lingered a few moments at Miss Carleton's side, with a few murmured words of regret that she was to leave so soon, to which she listened courteously, though making little response. After he had gone she remained standing where he had left her, gazing dreamily out on the river and the distant bluffs. Merrick, slowly sauntering up and down the veranda, had observed the whole scene, and now watched the fair young face with a suggestion of a smile in his kindly eyes.

"H'm!" he soliloquized; "Whitney is a bigger fool than I've given him credit for if he thinks he stands any show in that direction. If I'm not mistaken, I know which way the wind blows, and it's dollars to doughnuts she'll lose that far-away expression of hers before she's been aboard the 'Campania' many hours. I'd like to be aboard myself and watch the transformation scene."

The attorney's voice here broke in upon his cogitations.

"I say, Merrick, that was a regular bomb you threw at Mainwaring with regard to young Scott! How did you discover he was an Englishman?"

"I very easily ascertained that he was not an American; that he was of English descent followed as a matter of course. I am not sure whether he is of English birth."

"You seem to be keeping an eye on him."

"It is my business just now to be posted regarding every one associated with this place. I've been keeping an eye on you for the last thirty minutes."

The attorney colored, and hastily reverted to the original topic of conversation. "Have you seen anything of him since he left us?"

"Since his resignation of the salary as well as the position of private 'secretary?" queried the detective, half to himself, with a tone of amusement, which Mr. Whitney failed to comprehend. "Yes; I met him to-day at the Murray Hill."

"At the Murray Hill! Is he stopping there?"

"He evidently was this morning. So was I. Possibly we were both 'stopping' on the same business; I cannot say."

The detective's face was a study, as was also the attorney's.

"I supposed," said the latter, after a short pause, "from the tenor of his note, that he intended to leave the city at once."

"Possibly he does," replied the other, enigmatically, and, having consulted his watch, turned abruptly in another direction.

"Say, what will you do about him? Shall you watch him?" Mr. Whitney called after the vanishing figure.

Merrick looked back over his shoulder with a peculiar smile. "I shall not lose track of him," he said, slowly; "he is too interesting."

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