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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 11744

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The sudden turn of affairs in the Mainwaring case excited no small amount of comment, and for the next ensuing days speculation was rife concerning the recently discovered will, but more particularly regarding the new and unknown claimant. At the clubs and elsewhere it formed the principal topic of conversation, and Ralph Mainwaring was loud in his denunciations of the one as a forgery, and of the other as an impostor. To all such remarks, however, as well as to the questions of the curious, Mr. Sutherland had but one reply, accompanied by a slow, quiet smile; that on the day set for the hearing, he would not only prove the validity of the will, but would also establish, beyond all doubt or question, the identity of the claimant.

As a result, public curiosity was so thoroughly aroused, that upon the arrival of the "Umbria," an unusual crowd of reporters was assembled at the pier, notwithstanding a pouring rain, and the gang-plank had no sooner been thrown down than a number of the more ambitious rushed on board, eager to be the first in gaining some bit of information or personal description. Their efforts, however, were unsuccessful, as the individuals whom they most desired to meet remained in their state-rooms and declined to be interviewed. Not until the crowd had about dispersed and the patience of a few of the more persistent was nearly exhausted, was their zeal rewarded by the sight of a party of four Englishmen, who hastily left the boat, completely enveloped in heavy mackintoshes, and, taking a closed carriage which was awaiting them, were driven rapidly to the Waldorf Hotel.

At the hotel the party still remained inaccessible to all visitors, with the exception of Mr. Sutherland, who spent much of his time in their apartments. It was ascertained that the party consisted of two gentlemen, one of whom was accompanied by a valet, the other-presumably the attorney-by a clerk, but all efforts towards gaining any more definite information prove absolutely futile. The arrival by the next steamer of another stranger, an elderly gentleman, who immediately joined the party at the Waldoff, after having registered under an evident alias, only served to deepen the mystery.

Upon the arrival of the day set for the hearing of the proof in support of the ancient will, the court-room was, at an early hour, packed to its utmost capacity. Occupying a prominent place were Ralph Mainwaring and his son, accompanied by Mr. Whitney, the sensitive face of the attorney more eager and alert than ever! At some distance from them, but seated rather conspicuously where she could command a good view of all that occurred, was Mrs. LaGrange, while in a remote corner of the court-room, partially concealed by the crowd, was Richard Hobson.

Within a few moments preceding the appointed hour, Mr. Sutherland appeared. His entrance caused a sudden hush of expectation throughout the crowd and all eyes were immediately turned in his direction. Accompanying him was a gentleman whose bearing commanded universal admiration, and whom the Mainwarings instantly recognized as the English barrister whose connection with the case they had deemed so incredible. But a still deeper surprise awaited them. Immediately following the attorneys was a young man whose features and carriage were familiar, not only to the Mainwarings, but to scores of spectators as well, as those of the private secretary of the deceased Hugh Mainwaring, whose testimony at the inquest had created so much of a sensation, and whose sudden disappearance thereafter had caused considerable comment. There was a ripple of excitement through the court-room, and the Mainwarings, father, and son, watched the young man with strangely varying emotions, neither as yet fully comprehending the real significance of his presence there.

"The secretary!" exclaimed Mr. Whitney, in a low tone. "Can it be possible that he is concerned in this?"

"He is probably the hired tool by means of which this has been brought about. I might have known as much!" replied the elder man, his old hatred and wrath reviving with greater intensity than ever, but before he could proceed further his glance fell on the secretary's companion.

He was a tall, elderly gentleman, with snow-white hair and beard, but with form erect and vigorous, and with piercing eyes which met those of Ralph Mainwaring with a flash, not of recognition alone, but of disdain and defiance that seemed to challenge him to do his utmost.

With a muttered oath, the latter half rose from his chair, but at that instant his attention was arrested by the two men bringing up the rear; one, small and of uncertain age, the other, older even than he appeared, and bearing the unmistakable air of an English servant. As Ralph Mainwaring recognized James Wilson, the last relic of the old Mainwaring household, he suddenly grew pale and sank back into his chair, silent, watchful, and determined; while his son and the attorney, quick to note the change in his appearance, made neither inquiries nor comments, but each drew his own conclusion.

There was one other to whom the white-haired gentleman did not seem an utter stranger. Mrs. LaGrange from her post of observation had watched the entering party with visible signs of excitement. Her lips curled in a mocking smile as she caught sight of the secretary, but glancing from him to his companion, she involuntarily recoiled in terror, yet gazed like one fascinated, unable to remove her eyes from his face. Suddenly the piercing eyes met her own, their look of astonishment quickly changing to scorn. She flushed, then paled, but her eyes never faltered, flashing back mocking defiance to his anger and scorn for scorn.

Meanwhile, the quondam secretary, seated between the attorneys on the one hand and his elderly companion on the other, seemed alike unc

onscious of the many curious glances cast in his direction and of the dark looks of Ralph Mainwaring now fastened on him. At a little distance was the old servant, his immovable features expressing the utmost indifference to his surroundings, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left.

Not so with the remaining member of the party, the so-called "clerk!" Seated beside the English barrister, his eye seemed to sweep the entire court-room with a glance that omitted no details, not even the cringing form of Hobson, who quailed and seemed to be trying to shrink still further into concealment as he felt himself included in the search-light of that gaze. But no one saw the slip of paper which, a moment later, was handed to Alfred Barton, and by him passed to Mr. Sutherland. There was a hurried filling out of blanks lying among the papers on the table, a messenger was despatched, two or three men edged themselves into the crowd in Hobson's vicinity,-and that was all!

Promptly at the time appointed the case was called. There was perfect silence throughout the court-room as Mr. Sutherland arose, holding in one hand the ancient will, and with breathless attention the crowd listened for the opening words of what was to prove one of the fiercest and most bitter contests on record, and of whose final termination even the participants themselves little dreamed.

After a few preliminaries, Mr. Sutherland said, addressing the court,-

"Before proceeding farther, your honor, I will give orders for the subpoena, as a witness in this case, of one Richard Hobson, alias Dick Carroll."

Then turning towards the crowd in the rear of the courtroom, he added, "Let the papers be served at once."

There was a stir of excitement and a sudden craning of necks in the direction indicated by the attorney's glance, where three men had sprung forward in obedience to his orders.

Hobson, at the first mention of his name, had glanced quickly about him as though seeking some means of escape, but on hearing the alias-the name he had supposed unknown in America-he paused for an instant, seemingly half paralyzed with terror. But the sight of the approaching sheriff broke the spell, and he made a sudden lunge through the crowd in the direction of an open window. His progress was speedily checked by one of the deputies, however, and after a short, ineffectual struggle he sullenly submitted.

"Bring the witness forward," said Mr. Sutherland, with his calm, slow smile; "we may call upon him before long, and he would probably prefer a seat convenient to the witness stand."

As he was seated opposite and facing the English party, it was noted that the face of the old servant lighted up with a look of recognition, and he watched the new-comer with evident interest. Hobson, having carefully avoided the eyes of both Alfred Barton and the private secretary, soon became aware of Wilson's scrutiny, and after regarding him fixedly for a moment seemed suddenly to recognize him in turn, and also to realize at the same time the import of his presence there, which, apparently, did not tend to lessen his agitation.

Slowly Mr. Sutherland unfolded the document he held, yellow with age, the edges of its folds so frayed and tattered as to render the writing in some places almost illegible. Slowly, in deep, resonant tones, he read the opening words of the old will; words of unusual solemnity, which caused a hush to fall over the crowded court-room:

"In the name of God; Amen. Know all men, that I, Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, but now upon my death-bed, soon to appear in the presence of my Maker, do make and publish this, my last will and testament; hereby revoking and setting aside any and every will at any time heretofore made by me."

Then followed, in quaint phraseology, the terms of the will; by which the full right and title of the first-born son, under the English law, were conveyed to Harold Scott Mainwaring, and all legal processes theretofore entered into, depriving him of such rights, were forever annulled; restoring to the said Harold Scott Mainwaring, as his rightful inheritance, the entire family estate, including other valuable property; the said property at his death to pass to his eldest living son, or in case of his dying without issue, to revert to his brother Hugh, were the latter living, if not, to the nearest living heirs of the Mainwarings; but on no account was any portion of the estate or property to pass to the wife of Harold Scott Mainwaring, should she survive him.

As the reading of the will progressed, Hobson's feelings, too deep and genuine at that moment for disguise, were plainly mirrored in his face. Having for years believed the old will destroyed, as he now listened to the words dictated to himself upon that memorable night, so long ago, it was little wonder that to his cowardly soul it seemed like a voice from the dead, and that astonishment, fear, and dread were depicted on his features, merging into actual terror as the attorney at last pronounced the names of the witnesses, Alexander McPherson and Richard Hobson.

For a few seconds his brain reeled, and he saw only the face of the dying man as it looked that night,-stern and pale, but with dark, piercing eyes, deep-set, within whose depths still gleamed the embers of a smouldering fire which now seemed burning into his inmost soul. Trembling from head to foot, Hobson, with a mighty effort, regained his scattered faculties and again became conscious of his surroundings, only to find the eyes of the secretary fixed upon his face, and, as he shrank from their burning gaze, the truth flashed suddenly upon him.

"The face of old Mainwaring himself!" he muttered in horror; then added, with an oath, "Fool that I was not to have known it sooner! That woman lied!"

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