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That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 31960

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The case of Mainwaring versus Mainwaring had been set for the opening of the December term of court, being the first case on the docket. The intervening weeks, crowded with preparation for the coming litigation, had passed, and now, on the eve of the contest, each side having marshalled its forces, awaited the beginning of the fray, each alike confident of victory and each alike little dreaming of the end. From near and far was gathered an array of legal talent as well as of expert testimony seldom equalled, all for the purpose of determining the validity or invalidity of a bit of paper-yellow with age, time-worn and musty which stood as an insurmountable barrier between Ralph Mainwaring and the fulfilment of his long cherished project.

The Fair Oaks tragedy still remained as deep a mystery as on the morning when, in all its horror of sickening detail, it had startled and shocked the entire community. No trace of the murderer had been as yet reported, and even Mr. Whitney had been forced to acknowledge in reply to numerous inquiries that he had of late received no tidings whatever from Merrick, either of success or failure.

Since the announcement of Harold Mainwaring at the club that he would not touch a farthing of the Mainwaring estate until not only his own name should be cleared of the slightest imputation of murder, but until the murder itself should be avenged, it had been rumored that the party at the Waldorf was in possession of facts containing the clue to the whole mystery. Though this was mere conjecture, it was plainly evident that whatever secrets that party held in its possession were not likely to be divulged before their time. The party had been augmented by the arrival of the senior member of the firm of Barton & Barton, while the register of the Waldorf showed at that time numerous other arrivals from London, all of whom proved to be individuals of a severely judicial appearance and on extremely intimate terms with the original Waldorf party. Of the business of the former, however, or the movements of the latter, nothing definite could be learned. Despatches in cipher still flashed daily over the wires, but their import remained a matter of the merest surmise to the curious world outside.

Ralph Mainwaring, on the contrary, since the arrival of his London attorneys, Upham and Blackwell, with Graham, the well-known chirographical expert, had seized every opportunity for rendering himself and them as conspicuous as possible, while his boasts of their well-laid plans, the strong points in their case, and their ultimate triumph, formed his theme on all occasions. Mr. Whitney's position at this time was not an enviable one, for Ralph Mainwaring, having of late become dimly conscious of a lack of harmony between himself and his New York attorney, took special delight in frequently flouting his opinions and advice in the presence of the English solicitors; but that gentleman, mindful of a rapidly growing account, wisely pocketed his pride, and continued to serve his client with the most urbane courtesy, soothing his wounded sensibilities with an extra fee for every snub.

On the day prior to that set for the opening of the trial, among the numerous equipages drawn up at one of the piers, awaiting an incoming ocean-liner, was the Mainwaring carriage, containing, as usual, Ralph Mainwaring, Upham and Blackwell, and Mr. Whitney. The carriage and its occupants formed the centre of attraction to a considerable portion of the crowd, until attention was suddenly diverted by the sight of a stylish turnout in the shape of an elegant trap and a pair of superb bays driven tandem, which passed the Mainwaring carriage and took its position at some distance nearer the pier. Seated in the trap were Harold Mainwaring and Hugh Mainwaring, junior. Their appearance together at that particular time and place excited no little wonder and comment, especially when, the gangplank having been thrown down, the young men left the turnout in care of a policeman and walked rapidly towards the hurrying stream of passengers, followed more slowly by Ralph Mainwaring and his party.

All was explained a few moments later, as that embodiment of geniality, William Mainwaring Thornton, loomed up in the crowd, his daughter upon one arm, upon the other Miss Carleton, and accompanied by Mrs. Hogarth and the usual retinue of attendants.

"Looks like a family reunion, by George!" exclaimed one of the on-lookers, as a general exchange of greetings ensued, but to a close observer it was evident that between some members of the different parties the relations were decidedly strained. No so with Mr. Thornton, however; his first greetings were for the young men.

"Well, well, Hugh, you contumacious young rascal! how are you? I hear you've kicked over the traces and set the governor and his sovereigns at defiance! Well, you've shown yourself a Mainwaring, that's all I have to say! Here is a young lady, however, who is waiting to give you a piece of her mind; you'll have to settle with her."

"Papa!" exclaimed Edith Thornton in faint protest, her fair face suffused with blushes as she came forward to meet her lover, while her father turned towards Harold Mainwaring.

"Well, my dear sir," he said, extending his hand with the utmost cordiality, "I am glad to meet you in your own proper sphere at last; I always thought you were far too good looking for a secretary! But, joking aside, my dear boy, let me assure you that as the son of Harold Scott Mainwaring, one of the most royal fellows I ever knew, I congratulate you and wish you success."

Deeply touched by Mr. Thornton's kindness and his allusion to his father, the young man thanked him with considerable emotion.

"That is all right," the elder man responded heartily; "I was very sorry not to have met you in London, but I heard the particulars of your story from Winifred, and-well, I consider her a very level-headed young woman, and I think you are to be congratulated on that score also."

"No one is better aware of that fact than I," said the young man, warmly, and passed on to meet the young ladies, while Mr. Thornton turned to confront the frowning face of Ralph Mainwaring.

"Hello, Mainwaring! What's the matter? You look black as a thunder-cloud! Did you have something indigestible for luncheon?"

"Matter enough I should say," growled the other, unsuccessfully trying to ignore Mr. Thornton's outstretched hand, "to find you hobnobbing with that blackguard!"

Mr. Thornton glanced over his shoulder at the young people with a comical look of perplexity. "Well, you see how it is yourself, Mainwaring: what is a fellow to do? This is a house divided against itself, as it were, and no matter what my personal sentiments towards you might be, I find myself forced to maintain a position of strict neutrality."

"Neutrality be damned! you had better maintain better parental government in your own family!"

"As you do in yours, for instance."

"You know very well," continued Ralph Mainwaring, flushing angrily, "that if you had forbidden Edith marrying Hugh under present conditions, he would have got down off his high horse very quickly."

"That is something I would never do," Mr. Thornton replied, calmly, "for two reasons; first, I have never governed my daughter by direct commands and prohibitions, and, second, I think just as much of Hugh Mainwaring without his father's money as with it; more, if it is to be accompanied with the conditions which you imposed."

"Then am I to understand," demanded the other, angrily, "that you intend to go against me in this matter?"

"My dear Mainwaring," said Mr. Thornton, much as he would address a petulant child, "this is all the merest nonsense. I am not going against you, for I have no part in this contest; my position is necessarily neutral; but if you want my opinion of the whole matter, I will tell you frankly that I think, for once in your life, you have bitten off more than you can swallow, and you will find it so before long."

"Perhaps it might be just as well to reserve your opinion till it is called for," the other answered, shortly.

"All right," returned Mr. Thornton, with imperturbable good humor; "but any time that you want to wager a thousand or so on the outcome of this affair, remember the money is ready for you!"

The conversation changed, but Ralph Mainwaring was far more chagrined and annoyed than he would have acknowledged. Mr. Thornton's words rang in his ears till they seemed an augury of defeat, and, though outwardly as dogged and defiant as ever, he was unable to banish them, or to throw off the strange sense of depression which followed.

Meanwhile, amid the discordant elements surrounding them, Harold Mainwaring and Winifred Carleton found little opportunity for any but the most desultory conversation, but happily there was little need for words between them. Heart can speak to heart through the subtle magnetism of a hand-clasp, or the swift flash from eye to eye, conveying meanings for which words often prove inadequate.

"You wrote that you were confident of victory, and your looks bear it out," she said, 'with a radiant smile; "but I would have come just the same, even had there been no hope of success for you."

"I need no assurance of your faith and loyalty," he replied, gazing tenderly into her luminous eyes, "but your coming will make my triumph ten times sweeter."

"Of course you will spend the evening with, us at our hotel,-uncle cabled for apartments at the Savoy,-and I am all impatience to learn whatever you are at liberty to tell me concerning your case, for there must have been some wonderful developments in your favor soon after your arrival in this country, you have seemed so much more hopeful; and do not let me forget, I have something to show you which will interest you. It is a written statement by Hugh Mainwaring himself regarding this identical will that is causing all this controversy."

"A statement of Hugh Mainwaring's!" Harold repeated in astonishment; "how did it come into your possession?"

"That is the strangest part of it," she replied, hurriedly, for they had now reached the carriages in waiting for them. "I received it through the mail, from America, a few days before I left London, and from-you cannot imagine whom-Mr. Merrick, the detective. How he ever knew my address, or how he should surmise that I was particularly interested in you," she blushed very prettily with these words, "is more than I can understand, however."

"I think I can explain that part of it," said Harold, with a smile; "but how such a statement ever came into his hands is a mystery to me. I will see you this evening without fail," and, assisting Miss Carleton into the carriage, he bade her au revoir, and hastened to rejoin young Mainwaring.

That evening witnessed rather a novel reception in the private parlors of the Savoy; both parties to the coming contest being entertained by their mutual friends. When Harold Mainwaring finally succeeded in securing a tete-a-tete conversation with Miss Carleton, she placed in his hands a small packet, saying,-

"You will find in this the statement of which I spoke to you, and I wish you would also read the accompanying note, and explain how the writer came to have so good an understanding of the situation."

With eager haste he drew forth a sheet of paper little less time-worn and yellowed than the ancient will itself, upon which was written, in the methodical business hand with which he was so familiar, a brief statement to the effect that a certain accompanying document described as the last will and testament of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring had been drawn and executed as such on the night preceding his death, its intent and purpose being to reconvey to an elder son the family estate, to which he had previously forfeited all right and title; that efforts made to communicate with the beneficiary had proved unavailing, as he had left the country and his place of residence was unknown. Then followed Hugh Mainwaring's signature. At the bottom of the page, however, was a foot-note of much later date, which put a different complexion on the foregoing, and which read as follows:

"It has now been ascertained for a certainty that the beneficiary mentioned in the accompanying will is no longer living. I have, therefore, a clear title to the estate, as it would revert to me at his death. The document itself is worthless, except as a possible means of silencing that scoundrel, Hobson, should he attempt to reveal anything of the past, as he has threatened to do, and for this purpose I shall retain it in my possession until such time as I make final adjustment of my affairs.


"Ah," said Harold Mainwaring, thoughtfully, as he suddenly recalled the morning when he had discovered Merrick and his assistant dragging the lake at Fair Oaks, "I think I understand how this paper came into Merrick's possession. It was evidently kept in the same receptacle which held the will, but in my haste and excitement at the discovery of the will I must have overlooked it. The box in which these papers were kept afterwards fell into Merrick's hands, and he must have found this."

"That solves one riddle, here is the other," and Miss Carleton handed her lover a small note, covered with a fine, delicate chirography whose perfectly formed characters revealed a mind accustomed to the study of minute details and appreciative of their significance. He opened it and read the following:


"Pardon the liberty I take, but, thinking the enclosed bit of paper might be of some possible assistance to one in whose success I believe you are deeply interested, I send it herewith, as, for obvious reasons, I deem this circuitous method of transmission better than one more direct.

"As when taking leave of you on board the 'Campania,' so now, permit me to assure you that if I can ever serve you as a friend, you have but to command me.

"Most sincerely yours,


A smile of amusement lighted Harold Mainwaring's face as, glancing up from the note, his eyes met those of Miss Carleton's with their expression of perplexed inquiry.

"This is easily explained," he said; "do you remember the tall, slender man whom we observed on board the 'Campania' as being rather unsocial and taciturn?"

"Yes, I remember he rather annoyed me, for I fancied he concentrated considerably more thought and attention upon us than the circumstances called for."

"Which shows you were more observing than I. Such a thought never entered my mind till I had been about ten days in London, when it occurred to me that, considering the size of the town and the fact that he and I were strangers, we met with astonishing frequency. I have since learned that he was a detective sent over to London on an important case, and being an intimate friend of Merrick's, the latter, who, I am informed, was shadowing me pretty closely at the time, requested him to follow my movements and report to him, which he evidently did, as I have since heard that Merrick had expressed to one or two that he was not at all surprised by the developments which followed my return to this country. Consequently, it is not to be wondered at if he has an inkling that you may be somewhat interested in this case."

"But what could have been Mr. Merrick's object in shadowing you?"

"I cannot say. It may have been only part of his professional vigilance in letting nothing escape his observation; but from the first I was conscious of his close espionage of my movements. Now, however, I am satisfied that he had none but friendly intentions, and I appreciate his kindness, not only towards myself, but more especially towards you."

"Will that statement be of any assistance to you, do you think?"

"I hardly think so under our present plans," h

e replied, after a moment's reflection; "under recent developments our plans differ so radically from what we first intended, that we will probably have little use for any of the testimony which we had originally prepared."

"But these recent developments which have so changed your plans must certainly have been in your favor and have rendered your success the more assured, have they not?"

"Not only more assured, but more speedy and complete. To me, the coming trial means far more than the settlement of the controversy over the estate; it means the complete and final vindication of my character, so that I can stand before you and before the world acquitted of every charge which my enemies would have sought to bring against me."

Her face grew radiant with sympathy. "I well know what that means to you, and I would be first to congratulate you on such a victory, for your own sake; but I needed no public acquittal to convince me of your innocence,-not even," she added, slowly, "when you yourself for some reason, which I hope one day to understand, were unable to assure me of it."

His dark eyes, glowing with suppressed feeling, met hers, the intensity of their gaze thrilling her heart to its inmost depths.

"Do not think that I can ever forget that," he said in low tones which seemed to vibrate through her whole being; "do not think that through any triumphs or joys which the future may bring, I can ever forget, for one moment, the faith and love which stood loyally by me in my darkest hour,-the hour when the shadow of the crime, which has forever darkened Fair Oaks, was closing about my very soul!"

Startled at the sudden solemnity of his words and manner, she remained silent, her eyes meeting his without a shade of doubt or distrust, but full of wondering, tender inquiry, to which he replied, while for an instant he laid his hand lightly and caressingly on hers, "Only a few days longer, love, and I will tell you all!"

On the morning of the following day a dense crowd awaited, at an early hour, the opening of the December term of court; a crowd which was steadily augmented till, when the case of Mainwaring versus Mainwaring was called, every available seat was filled. All parties to the suit were promptly on hand, and amid a silence almost oppressive, proponent and contestant, with their counsel and witnesses, passed down the long aisle to their respective places.

Seldom had the old court-room, in its long and varied history, held so imposing an array of legal talent as was assemble that morning within its walls. The principal attorneys for the contestant were Hunnewell & Whitney of New York, and the London firm of Upham & Blackwell, while grouped about these were a number of lesser luminaries, whose milder rays would sufficiently illumine the minor points in the case. But at a glance it was clearly evident that the galaxy of legal lights opposing them contained only stars of the first magnitude. Most prominent among the latter were Barton & Barton, of London, with Mr. Sutherland and his life-long friend and coadjutor, M. D. Montague, with whom he had never failed to take counsel in cases of special importance, all men of superb physique and magnificent brains; while slightly in the rear, as reinforcements, were the Hon. I. Ponsonby Roget, Q.C., another Q.C. whose name had not yet reached the public ear, and a Boston jurist whose brilliant career had made his name famous throughout the United States.

Prominent among the spectators were Mr. Scott and Mr. Thornton, apparently on the best of terms, and watching proceedings with demonstrations of the liveliest interest, while seated at a little distance, less demonstrative, but no less interested, was young Mainwaring, accompanied by Miss Thornton and Miss Carleton.

The first day was devoted to preliminaries, the greater part of the time being consumed in the selection of a jury. One after another of those impaneled was examined, challenged by one side or the other, and dismissed; not until the entire panel had been exhausted and several special venires issued, was there found the requisite number sufficiently unprejudiced to meet the requirements of the situation.

The remainder of the day was occupied by counsel for contestant in making the opening statement. A review of the grounds upon which the contest was based was first read by one of the assistant attorneys, after which Mr. Whitney followed with a lengthy statement which occupied nearly an hour. He reviewed in detail the circumstances of the case, beginning with the death of Hugh Mainwaring, and laying special stress upon his irreproachable reputation. He stated that it would be shown to the jury that the life of Hugh Mainwaring had been above suspicion, an irrefutable argument against the charges of fraud and dishonesty which had been brought against him by those who sought to establish the will in contest. It would also be shown that the said document was a forgery, the result of a prearranged plan, devised by those who had been lifelong enemies of Hugh Mainwaring and the contestant, to defraud the latter of his rights, and to obtain possession of the Mainwaring estate; and that the transparency of the device in bringing the so-called will to light at that particular time and under those particular circumstances was only too plainly evident.

Mr. Whitney was warming with his subject, but at this juncture he was peremptorily called to order by Mr. Sutherland, who stated that he objected to counsel making an argument to the jury, when he should confine himself simply to an opening statement. Mr. Whitney's face flushed as a ripple of amusement ran through the courtroom, but the objection was sustained, and, after a brief summary of what the contestant proposed to show, he resumed his seat, and the court then adjourned until the following morning.

The first testimony introduced on the following day was to establish the unimpeachable honesty and integrity of the deceased Hugh Mainwaring. Both Mr. Elliot and Mr. Chittenden were called to the stand, and their examination-particularly the cross-examination, in which a number of damaging admissions were made-occupied nearly the entire forenoon; the remainder of the day being devoted to the testimony of witnesses from abroad, introduced to show that for years a bitter estrangement had existed between Frederick Mainwaring Scott, the alleged foster-father of the proponent, and the members of the Mainwaring family,-the deceased Hugh Mainwaring and the contestant in particular; and also to show the implacable anger of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring against his elder son and the extreme improbability of his ever relenting in his favor.

Day after day dragged slowly on, still taken up with the examination of witnesses for contestant; examinations too tedious and monotonous for repetition, but full of interest to the crowds which came and went, increasing daily, till, on the days devoted to the expert testimony, galleries and aisles were packed to overflowing, while throngs of eager listeners gathered in the corridors about the various exits.

It soon became evident that Ralph Mainwaring's oft repeated assertions concerning the elaborate preparation he had made for the coming contest were no idle boast. Nothing that human ingenuity could devise had been left undone which could help to turn the scale in his own favor. The original will of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, by which his elder son was disinherited, was produced and read in court. Both wills were photographed, and numerous copies, minute in every detail, made, in order to show by comparison the differences in their respective signatures. Under powerful microscopes it was discovered that several pauses had been made in the signature of the later will. Electric batteries were introduced to show that the document had been steeped in coffee and tobacco juice to give it the appearance of great age. Interesting chemical experiments were performed, by which a piece of new paper was made to look stained and spotted as if mildewed and musty, while by the use of tiny files and needles, the edges, having first been slightly scalloped, were grated and the paper punctured, till it presented a very similar aspect to the will itself as though worn through at the creases and frayed and tattered with age.

But the accumulation of this overwhelming mass of expert testimony failed to make the impression upon counsel for proponent which had been anticipated by the other side. Mr. Sutherland varied the monotony of the direct examinations by frequent and pertinent objections, while Barton & Barton took occasional notes, which were afterwards passed to Sutherland and Montague, and by them used with telling effect in the cross-examinations, but the faces of one and all wore an expression inscrutable as that of the sphinx.

Only once was their equanimity disturbed by any ripple of agitation, and then the incident was so little understood as to be soon forgotten. As the third day of the trial was drawing to a close, a despatch in cipher was handed Mr. Sutherland, which when translated seemed to produce a startling effect upon its readers. Barton & Barton exchanged glances and frowned heavily; Mr. Sutherland's face for one brief moment showed genuine alarm, and Harold Mainwaring, upon reading the slip of paper passed to him, grew pale. A hurried consultation followed and Mr. Montague left the court-room.

On the following morning the papers announced that at 11 P.M. the preceding night, the Victoria, the private car of the president of one of the principal railway lines, with special engine attached, had left for the West, evidently on business of great importance, as everything on the road had been ordered side-tracked. It was stated that no particulars could be ascertained, however, regarding either her passengers or her destination, the utmost secrecy being maintained by those on board, including even the trainmen. This item, though attracting some attention, caused less comment than did the fact that for the three days next ensuing, neither the senior Mr. Barton nor Mr. Montague was present in court; but no one suspected any connection between the two events, or dreamed that the above gentlemen, with two of New York's most skilled surgeons, were the occupants of the president's private car, then hastening westward at almost lightning speed.

On the afternoon of the sixth day of the trial, as it became apparent that the seemingly interminable evidence submitted by contestant was nearly at an end, the eager impatience of the waiting crowd could scarcely be restrained within the limits of order. A change was noticeable also in the demeanor of proponent and his counsel. For the two days preceding they had appeared as though under some tension or suspense; now they seemed to exhibit almost an indifference to the proceedings, as though the outcome of the contest were already a settled fact, while a marked gravity accompanied each word and gesture.

At last the contestant rested, and all eyes were fixed upon Mr. Sutherland, as, after a brief pause, he rose to make, as was supposed, his opening statement. Instead of addressing the jury, however, he turned towards Judge Bingham.

"Your honor," he began, in slow, measured tones, "it now lacks but little more than an hour of the usual time for adjournment, and after the constant strain which has been put upon our nerves for the past six days, I feel that none of us, including yourself, your honor, are in a sufficiently receptive mood to listen to the testimony which the proponent has to offer. In addition to this is the fact that our most important witness is not present this afternoon. I would therefore ask for an adjournment to be taken until ten o'clock next Monday morning, at which time I will guarantee your honor and the gentlemen of the jury that the intricate and elaborate web of fine-spun theories which has been presented will be swept away in fewer hours than the days which have been required for its construction."

There was an attempt at applause, which was speedily checked, and without further delay the court adjourned.

As judge, jury, and counsel took their respective places on the following Monday at the hour appointed, the scene presented by the old court-room was one never before witnessed in its history. Every available inch of standing room, both on the main floor and in the galleries, was taken; throngs were congregated about the doorways, those in the rear standing on chairs and benches that they might obtain a view over the heads of their more fortunate neighbors, while even the recesses formed by the enormous windows were packed with humanity, two rows deep, the outer row embracing the inner one in its desperate efforts to maintain its equilibrium.

The opposing sides presented a marked contrast in their appearance that morning. Ralph Mainwaring betrayed a nervous excitement very unusual in one of his phlegmatic temperament; his face alternately flushed and paled, and though much of the old defiant bravado remained, yet he awaited the opening of proceedings with visible impatience. Nor was Mr. Whitney less excited, his manner revealing both agitation and anxiety. On the part of Harold Mainwaring and his counsel, however, there was no agitation, no haste; every movement was characterized by composure and deliberation, yet something in their bearing-something subtle and indefinable but nevertheless irresistible-impressed the sensibilities of the vast audience much as the oppressive calm which precedes an electric storm. All felt that some great crisis was at hand, and it was amid almost breathless silence that Mr. Sutherland arose to make his opening statement.

"Gentlemen of the jury," he began, and the slow, resonant tones penetrated to the farthest corner and out into the corridors where hundreds were eagerly listening, "as a defence to the charges sought to be established in your hearing, we propose to show, not by fine-spun theories based upon electrical and chemical experiments, nor brilliant sophistries deduced from microscopic observations, but by the citation of stubborn and incontrovertible facts, that this document (holding up the will), copies of which you now have in your possession, is the last will and testament of Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, executed by him on the night preceding his death, and as such entitled to stand; that this will, from the date of its execution to the day of its discovery on the seventh of July last, was wilfully and fraudulently withheld from publication, and its existence kept secret by the deceased Hugh Mainwaring. That the proponent, Harold Scott Mainwaring, is the lawful and only son of the beneficiary named therein, and as such the sole rightful and lawful heir to and owner of the Mainwaring estate. More than this, we propose at the same time and by the same evidence to forever disprove, confute, and silence any and every aspersion and insinuation which has been brought against the character of the proponent, Harold Scott Mainwaring; and in doing this, we shall at last lift the veil which, for the past five months, has hung over the Fair Oaks tragedy."

Mr. Sutherland paused to allow the tremendous excitement produced by his words to subside; then turning, he addressed himself to the judge.

"Your honor, I have to request permission of the court to depart in a slight degree from the usual custom. The witness for the defence is in an adjoining room, ready to give testimony when summoned to do so, but in this instance I have to ask that the name be withheld, and that the witness himself be identified by the contestant and his counsel."

The judge bowed in assent, and amid a silence so rigid and intense as to be almost painful, at a signal from Mr. Sutherland, the doors of an anteroom were swung noiselessly open and approaching footsteps were heard.

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