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   Chapter 20 OPENING FIRE

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 28956

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The first witness called to the stand by Mr. Sutherland was James Wilson. There were many present who noted the resemblance between him and his son, John Wilson, who had given testimony at the inquest, though unaware of the relationship between them.

"Mr. Wilson," said the attorney, after the usual preliminaries, "I understand you were for a number of years in the employ of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, the testator whose name is affixed to this will; is that so?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply, while the attention of the crowd was at once riveted upon the witness.

"Will you state how long you were in his employ, and in what capacity?"

"I was his valet, sir, from his twenty-fifth year until the day of his death, a little above thirty-five years, sir; and during his last illness, of about three months, I was with him constantly, you might say, sir."

"Do you recognize the document just read in your hearing as anything which you have heard before?"

"That I do, sir."

"State when and under what circumstances you have previously heard it."

"At the death-bed of Mr. Ralph Mainwaring, sir, twenty-five years ago the seventeenth of last November. I was present at the making of that will, sir, the night before Mr. Mainwaring died. I heard him give those words to the lawyer, and then heard them read to him before the will was signed."

"By whom was it drawn?"

"By Richard Hobson, sir; the man sitting there," pointing to the shrinking figure of Hobson.

"Do you positively identify that man as the writer of this will?"

"That I do, sir," with marked emphasis; "when one once sets eyes on the likes o' him, he's not likely to forget him soon."

"Was Richard Hobson the attorney of Mr. Mainwaring?"

"Ah, no, sir," with evident scorn; "his attorney was Mr. Alfred Barton, the father, sir, of this gentleman," indicating the English barrister, while the interest of the crowd deepened.

"How, then, was this man employed to draw the will?"

"Mr. Barton was out of town, sir; and as Mr. Mainwaring was dying and naught would satisfy him but to have a lawyer, they brought Mr. Barton's clerk."

"State the circumstances under which this will was drawn; was Mr. Mainwaring influenced by any one to make it?"

"He was influenced by none but his own conscience, sir. You see, sir, three or four years before, he was very angry with his elder son, and cut him off without a shilling and gave everything to Mr. Hugh. But it broke his heart to do it, for Mr. Harold was his favorite, as indeed he was everybody's, though he never mentioned his name again until the night he made the will. Well, sir, all that day we knew he was dying, and he knew it, and he was restless till late at night, when of a sudden he tells us to get his lawyer. Mr. Hugh tried to put him off, and told us his mind was wandering; but 'twas no use; and the carriage was sent for Mr. Barton, and when word was brought back that he was out of town, it was sent again and brought back his clerk. Everything was all ready, and he was propped up in bed by pillows, his eyes burning as though there was fire in them. He repeated those words while the lawyer wrote them down, and then had them read to him, and at fifteen minutes of twelve o'clock the will was signed and sealed."

"You were present during the drawing up of the will?"

"Yes, sir, I was present through it all, but not where the others saw me. When the lawyer came, Mr. Hugh told me to leave the room; but as I was going his father called me back and bade me stay, and I was standing at the foot of the bed, hidden by the curtains of the canopy, so none but the old gentleman saw me."

"Who else was present?"

"Mr. Mainwaring's old friend, Sandy McPherson, Mr. Hugh, and the lawyer."

"No one else? Were there no physicians present?"

"There were physicians in the house, sir, but not in the room."

"How long did Mr. Mainwaring live afterwards?"

"He died at five o'clock the next morning, sir; his strength went fast after that was done, but he rested easy and seemed satisfied."

"What was done with the will?"

"Mr. Hobson took it away with him that night."

"Have you ever seen it since?"

"No, sir."

"Mr. Wilson," said the attorney, showing the witness the will, "can you swear to these signatures as being the same which you saw affixed to the will upon that night?"

Wilson studied the document attentively for a moment. "Yes, sir, that is Mr. Mainwaring's writing, only a bit unsteady, for his hand trembled. McPherson's writing I know, and you mark that blot after his name? I remember his fussing that night because he had blotted the paper."

"And the third name, is that the signature of this man, Richard Hobson?"

"I know naught about that man's writing," the old fellow replied, with a shrewd look; "but you will mind that the name is the same writing as the will itself, and he wrote that and signed his name to it, for I saw him."

"And you have neither seen that will, nor heard it read until this morning?"

"No, sir."

"You have remembered it all these years?"

"Maybe not word for word, sir, but I have kept the sense of it in my mind."

"Are you positive that this is the will drawn up on the night of which you speak?"

"That I am, sir."

"Did you ever speak to any one of this will?"

"To none but my son, sir. Mr. Hugh Mainwaring was that sort of a man, I could not speak to him about it, or ask about his brother. I asked to be allowed to stay about the old place in hopes that some day Mr. Harold would come back to have a look at his old home, and I could tell him of it, for I thought things had not gone right altogether. Then we heard of his death, and I thought it was too late; I could do no good by speaking, and I held my tongue until the young gentleman came."

Wilson was then dismissed and Hobson was next called to the stand. More even than the reading of the old will, the truth which had dawned upon Hobson's mind as he met the piercing gaze of the secretary, had convinced him that the position which he had intended to assume, adverse to the new claimant and as an ally of Ralph Mainwaring's, was neither politic nor safe. His views on that subject had undergone a decided change, and, with his usual weathervane proclivities, he was now preparing to take a totally different stand and strive to ingratiate himself into the favor of the new heir, at the same time leaving, if possible, a few loop-holes through which he could retreat, should some veering wind change his course in another direction.

"Mr. Hobson," said the attorney, somewhat abruptly, when the necessary preliminaries were over, "did you on the night of November 17, 18-, act as attorney for Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, in the drawing up, at his request, of his last will and testament?"

"I believe so, sir," was the guarded answer.

"Did you or did you not?" Mr. Sutherland persisted.

"I did, sir."

"Have you, during all these years, had any knowledge that the will you drew under the circumstances already mentioned was still in existence?"

After a slight pause, the witness replied, "I had no positive knowledge to that effect."

"Did you believe the will to be in existence?"

Hobson reflected a moment, then replied, cautiously, "I was led to suppose that the will did not exist."

"You remember the form, terms, and conditions of the document drawn by yourself on that occasion?"

"I do, perfectly," he replied, with more assurance.

"State whether the will read in your hearing this morning is identical with the one drawn by yourself."

Hobson now saw the drift of the attorney's questions, but it was too late.

"As near as I can recollect," he stammered, but a word from Mr. Sutherland recalled him.

"You just said you remembered perfectly."

"I believe they are identical in form."

"Mr. Hobson," said the attorney, spreading out the document before the witness, but still retaining his hold upon it, "will you state to the court whether that is your writing, and whether the last name, that of the second witness, is your signature."

With great precision, Hobson adjusted a pair of eyeglasses and proceeded to scrutinize the writing closely. "Well," he remarked, at length, very deliberately, "I do not deny that to be my writing, nor am I prepared to positively affirm that it is such. The fact is, my chirography varies so much from time to time that I often find it difficult for me to verify my own signatures."

"Here are some papers which may assist the gentleman, and may be of some use to the court," said a deep voice with rich, musical inflections, but slightly tinged with sarcasm, and the English attorney handed a small package to Mr. Sutherland. "They contain," he added, "some specimens of the witness's chirography of about the same date as the will."

"The writing in both cases is identical," said Mr. Sutherland, as, having examined the papers, he showed them to Hobson, but a glance at their contents seemed rather to confuse the witness than otherwise, for he remained silent.

"Do you acknowledge these letters to be of your writing?" inquired the attorney.

"I do, sir; and I have no doubt but that the other is my writing also."

"You acknowledge this, then, as the will which you wrote at the dictation of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring the night before his death?"

"I believe it is, sir."

"Mr. Hobson, why was this will not make public following Mr. Mainwaring's death and burial?"

"On the day after his death, I gave it into the keeping of his son, Hugh Mainwaring, at his own request, and he afterwards gave me to understand that it was lost."

"And you were paid for keeping silent as to the existence of such a will, were you not?"

"I may have been," the witness replied, with a calmness born of desperation.

"That is sufficient for the present."

A few moments followed in which the attorneys consulted together, while comments in tones of subdued excitement and expectancy were exchanged among the crowd. Ralph Mainwaring had sat with darkening face throughout the testimony thus far; now he remarked to Mr. Whitney, with a bitter sneer,-

"Fine witnesses! A beggarly shyster whose oath is worthless, and an imbecile old servant, who could be bought for a half-crown!"

Young Mainwaring turned upon his father a look of indignant surprise. "Governor," he said, "it would not be well for you if either old James Wilson or his son heard that remark of yours!"

"It will be well for you to attend to your own business and keep your mouth shut!" responded his father, angrily.

Beneath the calm exterior which the young man preserved, the old Mainwaring blood was now fast rising, but he made no reply, for at that instant Mr. Sutherland announced the name of the next witness:

"Harold Scott Mainwaring!"

There was a sudden hush throughout the court-room, broken an instant later by a low murmur of mingled astonishment, incredulity, and wonder as the private secretary rose and walked towards the witness stand. A few comments reached his ears, but he seemed unconscious of them, and, having taken his place, turned towards the audience a face cold and impassive, inscrutable to his enemies, who could read nothing of the conflicting emotions beneath that calm, immobile surface.

He saw the crowd of upturned faces-incredulous, wondering, curious; he caught the mocking smile of Mrs. LaGrange and Ralph Mainwaring's dark, sinister sneer; but he took little note of these. Like an arrow speeding to the mark, his glance sought the face of young Hugh Mainwaring. Their eyes met, and in that brief moment there was recalled to each a starlit night on one of the balconies at Fair Oaks, and the parting words of young Mainwaring to the secretary, "I'm your friend, Scott, and whatever happens, I'll stand by you."

With swift intuition each read the other's thought, and, although there was no outward sign, Harold Mainwaring knew from that instant that there would be no retraction of that pledge.

The slight ripple of excitement died away while the witness was sworn, and the crowd listened with interest even to the preliminary interrogatories.

"Where were you born?" asked the attorney.

"In Melbourne, Australia," was the reply, while deep silence awaited Mr. Sutherland's next question.

"Mr. Mainwaring, I believe you are familiar with the will just read, are you not?"

"I am."

"Please state when, and under what conditions, you gained your knowledge of this will."

"I first learned that such a will had existed and knew its general terms, between five and six years since, through information given me by James Wilson. From data found a little over a year ago among the personal letters of the deceased Hugh Mainwaring, I ascertained that the will was still in existence, and on the 7th of July last I discovered the document itself and became personally familiar with its contents."

At the mention of the name of Hugh Mainwaring and of the date so eventful in the recent history of Fair Oaks, the interest of the crowd deepened.

"Did you discover the document accidentally, or after special search for it?"

"As the result of a systematic search for more than a year."

"Please state whether you took any steps leading to the discovery of this will during the four or five years immediately following your first knowledge of it; and if so, what?"

"As I first learned of the will soon after entering Oxford, my studies necessarily occupied the greater part of my time for the next three or four years; but I lost no opportunity for gaining all possible information relating not only to the Mainwaring estate, but more particularly to Hugh Mainwaring and his coadjutor, Richard Hobson. Among other facts, I learned that immediately after the settlement of the estate, Hugh Mainwaring had disposed of the same and left England for America, while about the same time Richard Hobson suddenly rose from a penniless pettifogger to a position of affluence.

"As soon as my studies were completed, I sailed for America, with the avowed determination of securing further evidence regarding the will, and of establishing my claim to the property fraudulently withheld from my father and from myself. In the securing of the necessary evidence I succeeded beyond my expectations. As Hugh Mainwaring's private secretary, I gained access to the files of his personal letters, and soon was familiar w

ith the entire correspondence between himself and Richard Hobson, from which I learned that the latter demanding and receiving large sums of money as the price of his silence regarding some past fraudulent transaction. The nature of that transaction, I ascertained in this marginal note, in Hugh Mainwaring's handwriting, upon one of Hobson's letters which happened to be more insolent in its tone than the rest. With the permission of the court I will read it:

"'He insinuates that I destroyed the will; I only gave him to understand that it was lost. Little he dreams it is still in my possession and will be, until such time as I, too, have to make final disposition of my estate! Why I did not destroy it, or why I do not, now that the property is rightfully mine, I cannot say, except that I dare not! "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all?"'

"With the discovery of these words," concluded the witness, "began my search for the will itself."

"From the discovery of this letter which led you to believe the will was still in existence, you prosecuted your search for the document until the 7th of last July?"

"Yes, sir, whenever an opportunity for search was offered."

"Where did you finally find the will?"

"In the safe, in Mr. Mainwaring's private apartments at Fair Oaks."

"On July 7 last?"

"Yes, sir."

"That was the day on which you, acting as Hugh Mainwaring's secretary, had drawn, at his dictation, his last will and testament, was it not?"

"It was."

"Mr. Mainwaring," said the attorney, deliberately, his eye quick to read the faces about him, "is there in your mind any connection between that event and your discovery of this will?"

"Only the most indirect," was the reply, given with equal deliberation. "The fact that Hugh Mainwaring was making final disposition of his property naturally spurred me on to increased action, since, in making final adjustment of his papers, he would be more than likely to destroy the old will. This incentive, together with the fact that opportunity was given me for a more thorough search than I had been able to make prior to that time, combined to bring about the discovery of the will."

"Please state the time and circumstances of your finding it."

"I found it late in the afternoon, while Mr. Mainwaring and his guests had gone for a long drive. I determined to leave no place unexplored where it could possibly be concealed; after about an hour's search I found it."

"What did you then do with it?"

"I retained it in my possession, and at the earliest opportunity secreted it within my own room."

"It was in your possession during the following evening and night?"

"It was."

"Mr. Mainwaring," said Mr. Sutherland, with marked emphasis, "please state whether you mentioned to Hugh Mainwaring the discovery of the will, or had any conversation with him relating thereto."

"I made no mention of the matter to him whatever. Except for a few moments, immediately upon his return, I did not see him alone until about midnight, when he appeared fatigued, and I would not introduce the subject at a time so inopportune."

After a slight pause, Mr. Sutherland continued. "You claim to be the lawful son of the Harold Scott Mainwaring mentioned in this will, and as such the lawful heir, under its terms and conditions, of the Mainwaring property?"

"I do."

"Has it not been generally understood among those supposed to have knowledge of the facts in the case that Harold Scott Mainwaring, at the time of his death, had no living child?"

"That has been the general understanding."

"Will you explain how the fact of your existence has been kept concealed all these years?"

The silence following the attorney's question was so deep as to be oppressive until broken by the answer of the witness, clear, cold, and penetrating to the remotest corner of the crowded room.

"Within an hour from my birth, a dead child was substituted in my place, and I was secretly given by my father into the keeping of trusted friends, with instructions that until I had nearly attained my majority I was not even to know of his existence, or of the relationship existing between us."

"Mr. Mainwaring," said the attorney, "are you willing to state the reasons for such an extraordinary proceeding on his part?"

For the first time the impassive bearing and the calm, even tones of the witness gave way; the smouldering fire in his dark eyes burst forth, as with impassioned utterance and voice vibrating with emotion, he replied,-

"It was done because of sorrow, more bitter than death, in his own heart and home, of which he wished me to know nothing until I had reached the years of manhood and could understand the nature of his wrongs; it was done that I should be forever barred from all association with, or knowledge of, the base, false-hearted woman who bore his name only to dishonor it,-who, though she had given me; birth, yet believed me dead,-that I might live as ignorant of her existence as she of mine; it was done because of his love for his only child, a love for which I would to-day gladly suffer dishonor and even death, if I could but avenge his wrongs!"

Only Harold Mainwaring's attorneys understood the spirit which prompted his words, but they carried his audience with him in a sudden wave of sympathy, and as he paused, men applauded and women sobbed, while the judge vainly rapped for order.

One figure alone remained motionless, spellbound. Amid the general excitement, Mrs. LaGrange sat as though turned to stone, her hands clasped so tightly that the jewels cut deeply into the delicate flesh, every vestige of color fled from her face, her lips ashen, her eyes fixed upon the witness, yet seemingly seeing nothing. Gradually, as she became conscious of her surroundings and of the curious glances cast in her direction, she partially recovered herself, though her eyes never left the face of the witness.

"Mr. Mainwaring," continued the attorney, when order had been restored, "when and how did you first learn that you were the son of Harold Scott Mainwaring?"

"My first knowledge regarding my own father I received at the age of fifteen from my foster-parents, who told me of the manner in which I had been given to them and of the death of my father a few years later; but the full particulars I did not learn until my twenty-first birthday, when I received a letter written by my father soon after my birth, and intrusted to the keeping of my foster-parents until I should have attained my majority. In that letter he gave me the story of his life, of his marriage and consequent disinheritance, and of the yet greater sorrow which followed shortly, which led him to voluntarily exile himself from his beloved England, and which finally led to his sacrifice of the love and companionship of his only child."

As Harold Mainwaring paused, Mr. Sutherland remarked, "I, myself, have seen the letter to which the witness refers, but I consider it of too personal a nature and too private in character to submit for examination. I will say, however, that both my honored colleague, Mr. Barton, and myself have compared it with other letters and documents known to have been written by Harold Scott Mainwaring, the elder son of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, and have found the writing in all cases identically the same. There is yet one more question which may have a bearing later upon this case, which I will ask the witness. Mr. Mainwaring, have you, during this time, received any clue regarding the identity of your mother, or is that still unknown to you?"

With great deliberation, the witness replied, "Until within the past three or four days, I have known absolutely nothing regarding even the name of the woman whom my father made his wife, or whether she were still in existence. I have recently learned, however, that she is living, and," he added, more slowly, "I know that she is present in this court-room."

It was afterwards recalled that, as the witness resumed his seat, a curious sound, something between a gasp and a sob was heard, but amid the tremendous sensation produced by his last statement it passed unnoticed.

With very little delay, Mr. Sutherland announced the name of the last witness,-

"Frederick Mainwaring Scott!"

Again the silence deepened as the white-haired gentleman, with great dignity, took his place upon the stand. His heavy, sonorous tones rang out over the court-room, while from time to time the piercing eyes beneath the beetling, snow-white brows sought the face of Ralph Mainwaring with their silent but unmistakable challenge. At the first sound of his voice, Mrs. LaGrange's agitation increased perceptibly; her expression changed to abject terror, yet she seemed unable to move or to withdraw her gaze from his face.

To the question, "Where were you born?" the witness replied, "I was born in London, but for the past forty-five years have been a resident of Melbourne, Australia."

"Are you not connected with the Mainwaring family?"

"Distantly. The Scott and Mainwaring families have intermarried for many years, but I have waived all claims of relationship for nearly half a century."

"Were you acquainted with the Harold Scott Mainwaring mentioned in this will?"

"Intimately acquainted with him, as we were associated together in business during his entire stay in Australia."

"In what business were you engaged?"

"In the sheep business, principally; we were also interested in the mines."

"For how long a time were you associated together?"

"Six years, or thereabouts."

"Mr. Scott, you are the foster-father of Harold Scott Mainwaring who has just preceded you upon the witness stand, are you not?"

"I am, and have been from the day of his birth."

"Will you state the circumstances under which you became his foster-parent?"

"Harold Scott Mainwaring, the elder son of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, came to Australia within a year after the marriage for which he was disinherited. His reason for leaving England was not, as many have supposed, on account of his father's severity, but because of the discovery of his wife's infidelity after all that he had sacrificed for her. He brought her to Australia in the vain hope that, removed from other influences-the influence of his own brother, in particular,-she would yet prove true to him. Within the following year, his son was born; but before that event he had fully learned the character of the woman he had married, and he determined that no child of his should be disgraced by any knowledge of its mother, or contaminated by association with her. To my wife and myself he confided his plans, and, as we had no children of our own, he pledged us to the adoption of his child while yet unborn. An old and trusted nurse in our family was also taken into the secret, but not the physician employed on that occasion, as he was a man of no principle and already in league with the false wife against her husband. When the child was born, Mrs. Mainwaring was very ill and the babe received comparatively little notice from the attendant physician. A dead child, born but a few hours earlier, was therefore easily substituted for the living child of Harold Mainwaring, while the latter was secretly conveyed to my own home.

"A few weeks later, the child was privately christened in a small church on the outskirts of Melbourne and the event duly recorded upon the church records. He was given his father's name in full, Harold Scott Mainwaring, but until his twenty-first birthday was known among our acquaintances as Harry Scott, the same name by which he has been known in your city while acting as private secretary to Hugh Mainwaring."

"Are you familiar with the letter written by Harold Mainwaring to his son?"

"Perfectly so; he gave it into my keeping on the day of the christening, to be given to his son when he should have reached his majority, if he himself had not, before that time, claimed him as his child."

"You can then vouch for its genuineness?"

"I can."

"How long a time elapsed between the birth of this child and the death of Harold Mainwaring, the father?"

"About five years. He left his wife soon after the birth of this child and spent the greater part of his time at the mines. He finally decided to go to the gold fields of Africa, and a few months after his departure, we received tidings of the wreck of the vessel in which he sailed, with the particulars of his death at sea."

"Mr. Scott, did you ever hear of the existence of this will?"

"Not until the boy, Harold, learned of it, soon after he entered Oxford."

"Do you know how he first heard of it?"

"He heard of it from Wilson, one of the old servants on the Mainwaring estate, who recognized in him a resemblance to Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, and, learning of his identity, told him the history of the will."

"You have been kept informed of his search for the will and of its final discovery?"

"From the first; and though the boy has a good bit of money in his own name, I will back him in getting his rights to the very last pound in my possession, and that," he added, while his dark eyes flashed ominously, "will outlast the bank-roll of any that can go against him."

"Have you any further direct evidence which you can produce in support of the identity of the claimant?"

"I have," the witness replied, and having taken from his pocket a large memorandum book and extracted therefrom a paper, he continued, with great deliberation,-

"I have here a certified copy of the record of the christening, at the church of St. Bartholomew, on June 24, 18-, of Harold Scott Mainwaring, the first-born son of Harold Scott and Eleanor Houghton Mainwaring."

A piercing shriek suddenly rang out through the hushed court-room, and the crowd, turning involuntarily at the familiar name of Eleanor Houghton Mainwaring towards the seat occupied by Mrs. LaGrange, saw that wretched woman sink, with a low, despairing moan, unconscious to the floor. As several sprang to the assistance of the unfortunate woman, Mr. Scott, turning swiftly towards the judge, exclaimed,-

"There, your honor, is a most unwilling witness, but one who has very effectively confirmed my testimony!"

The greatest confusion followed, several women having fainted from nervous excitement, and, as it was then nearly noon, the court adjourned until the afternoon session.

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