MoboReader> History > That Mainwaring Affair

   Chapter 27 THE SILENT WITNESS

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 41518

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Approaching footsteps were heard, but they were the steps of men moving slowly and unsteadily, as though carrying some heavy burden. An instant later, six men, bearing a casket beneath whose weight they staggered, entered the court-room and, making their way through the spell-bound crowd, deposited their burden near the witness stand. Immediately following were two men, one of whom was instantly recognized as Merrick, the detective; the other as the man who, a few months before, had been known as the English barrister's clerk, now wearing the full uniform of a Scotland Yard official. Bringing up the rear was an undertaker, who, amid the breathless silence which ensued, proceeded to open the casket. This done, Mr. Sutherland rose and addressed the judge, his low tones for the first time vibrating with suppressed feeling.

"Your honor, I request that William H. Whitney be first called upon to identify the witness."

Controlling his agitation by a visible effort, Mr. Whitney approached the casket, but his eyes no sooner rested on the form and features within than his forced composure gave way. With a groan he exclaimed,

"My God, it is Hugh Mainwaring!" and bending over the casket, he covered his face with his hands while he strove in vain to conceal his emotion.

His words, ringing through the hushed court-room, seemed to break the spell, and the over-wrought nerves of the people began to yield under the tremendous pressure. Mr. Sutherland raised a warning hand to check the tide of nervous excitement which threatened to sweep over the entire crowd, but it was of little avail. Piercing screams followed; women fainted and were borne from the room, and the faces of strong men blanched to a deathly pallor as they gazed at one another in mute consternation and bewilderment. For a few moments the greatest confusion reigned, but when at last order was restored and Mr. Whitney had regained his composure, Mr. Sutherland inquired,-

"Mr. Whitney, do you identify the dead man as Hugh Mainwaring?"

"I do."

"But did you not identify as Hugh Mainwaring the man who, at Fair Oaks, on or about the eighth of July last, came to his death from the effect of a gunshot wound?"

"I supposed then, and up until the present time, that it was he; there certainly was a most wonderful resemblance which I am unable to explain or account for, but this, beyond all question, is Hugh Mainwaring."

"Will you state what proof of identification you can give in this instance that was not present in the other?"

"Hugh Mainwaring had over the right temple a slight birthmark, a red line extending upward into the hair, not always equally distinct, but always visible to one who had once observed it, and in this instance quite noticeable. I saw no trace of this mark on the face of the murdered man; but as the face was somewhat blackened by powder about the right temple, I attributed its absence to that fact, and in the excitement which followed I thought little of it. On the day of the funeral I also noted certain lines in the face which seemed unfamiliar, but realizing that death often makes the features of those whom we know best to seem strange to us, I thought no further of the matter. Now, however, looking upon this face, I am able to recall several differences, unnoticed then, but all of which go to prove that this is Hugh Mainwaring."

Ralph Mainwaring was the next one summoned for identification. During Mr. Whitney's examination his manner had betrayed intense agitation, and he now came forward with an expression of mingled incredulity and dread, but upon reaching the casket, he stood like one petrified, unable to move or speak, while no one who saw him could ever forget the look of horror which overspread his features.

"Mr. Mainwaring," said Mr. Sutherland at length, "do you know the dead man?"

"It is he," answered Ralph Mainwaring in a low tone, apparently speaking more to himself than to the attorney; "it is Hugh Mainwaring; that was the distinguishing mark between them."

"Do you refer to the mark of which Mr. Whitney has just spoken?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean by designating it as 'the distinguishing mark between them'?"

Ralph Mainwaring turned from the casket and faced Mr. Sutherland, but his eyes had the strained, far-away look of one gazing into the distance, unconscious of objects near him.

"It was the mark," he said, speaking with an effort, "by which, when we were boys, he was distinguished from his twin brother."

"His twin brother, Harold Scott Mainwaring?" queried the attorney.

"Yes," the other answered, mechanically.

"Do you then identify this as Hugh Mainwaring?"

"Yes; and the other-he must have been-no, no, it could not be-great God!" Ralph Mainwaring suddenly reeled and raised his hand to his head. Mr. Whitney sprang to his assistance and led him to his chair, but in those few moments he had aged twenty years.

A number of those most intimately acquainted with Hugh Mainwaring were then called upon, all of whom identified the dead man as their late friend and associate. These preliminaries over, Mr. Sutherland arose.

"Your honor and gentlemen of the jury, before proceeding with the testimony to be introduced, I have a brief statement to make. Soon after the commencement of this action, we came into possession of indisputable evidence that Hugh Mainwaring, the supposed victim of the Fair Oaks tragedy, was still living, and that of whatever crime, if crime there were associated with that fearful event, he was not the victim but the perpetrator. We determined at all hazards to secure him, first as a witness in this case, our subsequent action to be decided by later developments. Through our special detective we succeeded in locating him, but he, upon finding himself cornered, supposing he was to be arrested for the murder of his brother, attempted suicide by shooting. The combined skill of the best surgeons obtainable, though unable to save him, yet prolonged life for three days, long enough to enable two of our number, Mr. Barton and Mr. Montague, to reach him in season to take his dying statement; a statement not only setting forth the facts relating to the will in question, but embracing also the details of the Fair Oaks tragedy and mystery. This statement, made by Hugh Mainwaring and attested by numerous witnesses present, will now be read by Mr. Montague."

Amid an impressive silence, Mr. Montague stepped to the side of the casket and, unfolding a document which he held, read the following:

"I, Hugh Mainwaring, freely and voluntarily and under no duress or compulsion, make this, my dying statement, not only as a relief to the mental anguish I have endured for the past few months, but also in the hope that I may thereby, in my last hours, help in some degree to right the wrong which my life of treachery and cowardice has wrought. To do this, I must go back over twenty-five years of crime, and beyond that to the inordinate greed and ambition that led to crime.

"My brother, Harold Scott Mainwaring, and I were twins, so marvelously alike in form and feature that our parents often had difficulty to distinguish between us, but utterly unlike in disposition, except that we both possessed a fiery temper and an indomitable will. He was the soul of honor, generous to a fault, loyal-hearted and brave, and he exacted honor and loyalty from others. He had no petty ambitions; he cared little for wealth for its own sake, still less for its votaries. I was ambitious; I loved wealth for the power which it bestowed; I would sacrifice anything for the attainment of that power, and even my boyish years were tainted with secret envy of my brother, an envy that grew with my growth, till, as we reached years of maturity, the consciousness that he, my senior by only a few hours, was yet to take precedence over me-to possess all that I coveted-became a thorn in my side whose rankling presence I never for a single waking hour forgot; it embittered my enjoyment of the present, my hopes and plans for the future.

"But of this deadly undercurrent flowing far beneath the surface neither he nor others dreamed, till, one day, a woman's face-cold, cruel, false, but beautiful, bewitchingly, entrancingly beautiful,-came between us, and from that hour all semblance of friendship was at an end. With me it was an infatuation; with him it was love, a love ready to make any sacrifice for its idol. So when our father threatened to disinherit and disown either or both of us, and the false, fickle heart of a woman was laid in the balances against the ancestral estates, I saw my opportunity for seizing the long coveted prize. We each made his choice; my brother sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; his rights were transferred to me, and my ambition was at last gratified.

"Between three and four years later, on the night of November seventeenth, within a few hours preceding his death, my father made a will, revoking the will by which he had disinherited his elder son, and restoring him again to his full right and title to the estate. This was not unexpected to me. Though no words on the subject had passed between us and my brother's name was never mentioned, I had realized for more than a year that my father was gradually relenting towards the son who had ever been his favorite, and on the last day that he was able to leave his room, I had come upon him unaware in the old picture gallery, standing before the portrait of his elder son, silent and stern, but with the tears coursing down his pallid cheeks. When, therefore, on the night preceding his death, my father demanded that an attorney be summoned, my feelings can be imagined. Just as the prize which I had so long regarded as mine was almost within my grasp, should I permit it to elude me for the gratification of a dying man's whim? Never! In my rage I could have throttled him then and there without a qualm; fear of the law alone held me back. I tried to dissuade him, but it was useless. I then bribed the servant sent to bring the attorney to report that he was out of town, and when that proved of no avail, I sent for Richard Hobson, a penniless shyster, whose lack of means and lack of principle I believed would render him an easy tool in my hands. He came; I was waiting to receive him, and we entered into compact, I little dreaming I was setting loose on my track a veritable hell-hound! The will was drawn and executed, Hobson and one Alexander McPherson, an old friend of my father's, signing as witnesses. Within twenty-four hours of its execution, Richard Hobson was richer by several hundred pounds, and the will was in my possession. Two days later, I had a false telegram sent to our place, summoning McPherson to his home in Scotland. He left at once, before my father's burial, and his death, which occurred a few weeks later, removed the last obstacle in the way of carrying my plans into execution. My brother at that time was in Australia, but in what part of the country I did not know, nor did I try to ascertain. My constant fear was that he might in some way-though by what means I could not imagine-get some knowledge of the will and return to set up a claim to the estate. As soon as possible, therefore, notwithstanding the protests of my attorneys, I sold the estate and came to America.

"Concerning the years that followed, it is needless to go into detail; they brought me wealth, influence, power, all that I had craved, but little of happiness. Even when there came tidings of my brother's death at sea, and I felt that at last my title to the estate was secure, I had little enjoyment in its possession. Richard Hobson had already begun his black-mailing schemes, his demands growing more frequent and exorbitant with each succeeding year. Through him, also, the woman who had wrecked my brother's life received some inkling of my secret, and through this knowledge, slight as it was, gained enough of a hold over me that life was becoming an intolerable burden. Through all these years, however, I kept the will in my possession. Even after hearing of the death of my brother, a cowardly, half-superstitious dread kept me from destroying it, though doubtless I would have done so soon after making my own will had I not been prevented by circumstances unforeseen, which I will now state.

"The events which I am about to relate are stamped upon my brain as though by fire; they have haunted me day and night for the past five months. On the seventh of July last, I made and executed my will in favor of my namesake, Hugh Mainwaring, and on the following day-his birthday and mine-he was to be declared my heir. It was past eleven o'clock on the night of that day when I retired to my private library, and it was fully an hour later when, having dismissed my secretary, I finally found myself alone, as I supposed, for the night. My thoughts were far from pleasant. I had just had a stormy interview with my housekeeper, Mrs. LaGrange, who had tried, as on previous occasions, to coerce me by threats into a private marriage and a public recognition of her as my wife and of her child and mine; and, in addition, the occurrences of the day had been of a nature to recall the past, and events which I usually sought to bury in oblivion were passing before my mental vision despite my efforts to banish them. Suddenly a voice which seemed like an echo of the past recalled me to the present. Somewhat startled, I turned quickly, confronting a man who had entered unperceived from the tower-room. He was my own height and size, with curling black hair and heavy mustache, but I was unable to distinguish his features as he remained standing partly in the shadow. Before I could recover from my surprise, he again spoke, his voice still vaguely familiar.

"'The master of Fair Oaks'-the words were spoken with stinging emphasis-'seems depressed on the eve of his festal day, the day on which he is to name the heir and successor to his vast estates!'

"I remembered that a stranger had called that day during my absence, who, my secretary had informed me, bad shown a surprising familiarity with my private plans.

"'I think,' I replied, coldly, 'that you favored me with a call this afternoon, but whatever your business then or now, you will have to defer it for a few days. I do not know how you gained admittance to these apartments at this hour, but I will see that you are escorted from them without delay,' and as I spoke I rose to ring for a servant.

"He anticipated my intention, however, and with the agility of a panther sprang noiselessly across the room, intercepting me, at the same time raising a large, English bull-dog revolver, which he levelled at me.

"'Not so fast, not so fast,' he said, softly; 'you can afford to wait a little; I have waited for years!'

"I stood as though rooted to the spot, gazing at him with a sort of fascination. As he emerged into the light there was something almost familiar in his features, and yet something horribly incongruous and unreal. His eyes glowed like living fire; his soft, low tones reminded me of nothing so much as the purring of a tiger; while the smile that played about his lips was more terrible than anything I had ever seen on human face. It was ten times more fearful than the muzzle of the revolver confronting me, and seemed to freeze the very blood in my veins.

"'You take a base advantage; I am unarmed," I sneered.

"'I knew too well with whom I had to deal to come unarmed,' he replied; 'though this,' and he lowered the revolver, 'this is not the sort of weapon you would employ,-a thrust in the dark, a stab in the back, that is your style, coward!"

"'I demand an explanation of this,' I said.

"He folded his arms, still retaining his hold upon the weapon, as he answered, 'Explanations will follow in due time; but surely, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of such a life as yours, congratulations are first in order. Allow me to congratulate you, Hugh Mainwaring, upon the success which has attended and crowned the past twenty-five years of your life! upon the rich harvest you have reaped during all these years; the amassed wealth, the gratified ambitions, the almost illimitable power, the adulation and homage,-all so precious to your sordid soul, and for which you have bartered honor, happiness, character, all, in short, that life is worth. Standing, as you do to-night, at the fiftieth milestone on life's journey, I congratulate you upon your recollections of the past, and upon your anticipations for the future, as you descend to an unhonored and unloved old age!'

"Every word was heaped with scorn, and, as I looked into the burning eyes fixed upon mine and watched the sardonic smile hovering about his lips, I wondered whether he were some Mephistopheles-some fiend incarnate-sent to torture me, or whether he were really flesh and blood.

"The mocking smile now left his face, but his eyes held me speechless as he continued,-

"'No wonder that memories of bygone years haunted your thoughts to-night! Memories, perhaps, of a father whose dying will you disregarded; of a brother whom you twice defrauded,-once of the honor and sanctity of his home, then, as if that were not enough, of his birthright,-his heritage from generations of our race-'

"'Stop!' I cried, stung to anger by his accusations and startled by the strange words, 'our race,' which seemed to fall so familiarly from his lips. 'Stop! are you mad?" Do you know what you are saying? Once more I demand that you state who or what you are, and your business here!'

"'That is quickly stated, Hugh Mainwaring,' he answered, in tones which made my heart beat with a strange dread; 'I am Harold Scott Mainwaring! I am here to claim no brotherhood or kinship with you, but to claim and to have my own, the birthright restored to me by the last will and testament of a dying father, of which you have defrauded me for twenty-five years!"

"'You are a liar and an impostor!' I cried, enraged at the sound of my brother's name, and for the instant believing the man to be some emissary of Hobson's who had used it to work upon my feelings.

"Drawing himself up to his full height, his eyes blazing, he answered in low tones, 'Dare you apply those epithets to me, usurper that you are? You are a liar and a thief, and if you had your deserts you would be in a felon's cell to-night, or transported to the wilds of Australia! I an impostor? See and judge for yourself!' and with a sudden, swift movement the black curling hair and mustache were dashed to the floor, and he stood before me the exact counterpart of myself. Stunned by the transformation, I gazed at him speechless; it was like looking in a mirror, feature for feature identically the same! For a few seconds my brain seemed to reel from the shock, but his tones recalled me to myself.

"'Ah!' he said, with mocking emphasis, 'who is the impostor now?'

"My first thought was of self-vindication, and to effect, if possible, a compromise with him. 'I am no impostor or usurper,' I said, 'because, believing you dead, I have used that to which in the event of your death I would be legally entitled even had you any claim, and I am willing, not as an acknowledgment of any valid claim on your part, but as a concession on my own part, to give you a liberal share in the estate, or to pay you any reasonable sum which you may require-

"He stopped me with an intolerant gesture. 'Do not attempt any palliation of the past with me,' he said, sternly; 'it is worse than useless; and do not think that you can make any compromises with me or purchase my silence with your ill-gotten wealth. That may have served your purpose in the past with your associate and coadjutor, Richard Hobson, the man who holds in his mercenary grasp the flimsy reputation which is all that is left to you, or with the woman-cruel as the grave and false as hell-who once wrecked my life, and now, with the son that you dare not acknowledge, rules your home, but you cannot buy my silence. I come to you as no beggar! I am a richer man to-day than you, but for the sake of generations past, as well as of generations yet to come, I will have my own. The estate which was once my forefathers shall be my son's, and his sons' after him!'

"As I listened, my whole soul rose against him in bitter hatred, the old hatred of my youth. 'I defy you,' I' cried, hotly, 'to produce one atom of proof in support of your claim or of your charges against me! The estate is mine, and I will make you rue the day that you dare dispute my right and title to it!'

"His eyes flashed with scorn as he replied, 'You lie, Hugh Mainwaring! Yo

ur life for the past twenty-five years has been nothing but a lie, and the day just closed has witnessed the final act in this farce of yours. That I have already undone, and just as surely I will undo the work of the past years. And let me assure you I have no lack of proof with which to verify either my own claim or any assertion I have made, or may yet make, against you. I have proof that on the night preceding my father's death he made a will restoring to me my full rights, which you have fraudulently withheld all these years; and through my son, whom you have known for the past eighteen months as your private secretary, I have proof that that will is still in existence, of itself an irrefutable witness against you!'

"With the mention of my secretary the truth flashed upon me. I realized I was completely in his power, and with a sense of my own impotency my rage and hatred increased. Forgetful of the weapon in his hand and almost blind with fury, I sprang towards him, intending to throttle him-to strangle him-until he should plead for mercy. Instantly he raised the revolver in warning, but not before I had seized his wrist, turning the weapon from myself. A brief struggle followed, in which I soon found my strength was no match for his. Growing desperate, I summoned all my strength for one tremendous effort, at the same time holding his wrist in a vice-like grip, forcing his hand higher and turning the revolver more and more in his direction. Suddenly there was a flash,-a sharp report,-and he fell heavily to the floor, dragging me down upon him.

"For an instant I was too much stunned and bewildered to realize what had happened, but a glance at my opponent revealed the situation. He lay motionless where he had fallen, and a ghastly wound over the right eye told the terrible story. Dazed with horror, I placed my hand over his heart, but there was no motion, no life,-he was dead! The awful truth forced itself upon me. Mad and blind with rage, I had turned the weapon upon him and it had discharged,-whether by some sudden movement of his hand, or by the accidental pressure of my own fingers upon the trigger, God alone knows, I do not! One fact I could not then, nor ever can, forget; it was my hand that gave the weapon its deadly aim, however blindly or unwittingly, and the blood of my brother whom I had wronged and defrauded now lay at my door.

"The agony of remorse that followed was something beyond description, beyond any suffering of which I had ever dreamed; but suddenly a thought flashed upon me which added new horror, causing me to spring to my feet cold with terror, while great beads of perspiration gathered on my brow. When that terrible scene should be revealed, not alone in the approaching morning light, but in the light of past events which, if the last words spoken by those lips now sealed in death were true, could no longer be kept secret, what would be the world's verdict?" Murder! fratricide! and I? Great God! of what avail would be any plea of mine in the face of such damning evidence?

"I rushed to the tower-room, and hastily opening my safe, took from a private drawer therein a key and with trembling fingers fitted it into the lock of a large metallic box which contained the family jewels, and which for more than twenty-five years had held the old will executed by my father on his death-bed. I had seen it there less than forty-eight hours before, and in my desperation I now determined to destroy it. My very haste and eagerness delayed me, but at last the cover flew back, revealing the gleaming jewels, but-the will was not there! Unable to believe my own eyes, I drew my fingers carefully back and forth through the narrow receptacle where it had lain, and among the satin linings of the various compartments, but in vain; the will was gone! My brother had spoken the truth, and the will was doubtless in the possession of his son, who, under its terms, was now himself heir to the estate. The room grew dim and the walls themselves seemed to whirl swiftly about me as, with great difficulty, I groped my way back to the library, where I stood gazing at that strange counterpart of myself, till, under the growing horror of the situation, it seemed to my benumbed senses as though I were some disembodied spirit hovering above his own corpse. The horrible illusion was like a nightmare; I could not throw it off, and I would then and there have gone stark, staring mad, but that there came to me out of that awful chaos of fancies a suggestion which seemed like an inspiration. 'It is Hugh Mainwaring,' I said to myself, 'Hugh Mainwaring died to-night!'

"My fevered brain grew cool, my pulse steady, and my nerves firm as I proceeded at once to act upon the idea. Kneeling beside the dead man, I examined the wound. The bullet had entered above the right eye and passed downward, coming out at the base of the brain; from both wounds the blood was flowing in a slow, sluggish stream. Drawing a large handkerchief from my pocket, I bound it tightly about the head over both wounds, knotting it firmly; then carrying the body into the tower-room, I made sure that all doors were locked, and proceeded to put into execution the plan so suddenly formed. By this time I was myself, and, though the task before me was neither easy nor pleasant to perform, I went about it as calmly and methodically as though it were some ordinary business transaction. As expeditiously as possible I removed the dead man's clothing and my own, which I then exchanged, dressing the lifeless form in the clothes I had worn on the preceding day, even to the dressing-gown which I had put on upon retiring to my apartments, while I donned his somewhat travel-worn suit of tweed. Having completed this gruesome task, I left the body in much the same position in which it had originally fallen, lying slightly upon the right side, the right arm extended on the floor, and, to give the appearance of suicide, I placed my own revolver-first emptying one of the chambers-near his right hand. On going to my desk for the revolver, I discovered the explanation of my brother's words when he said that he had already undone my work of the preceding day, the final act of the farce I had carried out. In the terrible excitement of those moments his meaning escaped my mind; now it was clear. My own will, executed with such care, and which early in the evening I had left upon my desk, was gone. That he had destroyed it in his wrath and scorn I had abundant proof a little later, upon incidentally finding in the small grate in that room the partially burned fragments of the document, which I left to tell their own tale.

"Having satisfactorily disposed of Hugh Mainwaring (as the dead man now seemed to my over-wrought imagination), I made preparation for my immediate departure. This occupied little time. There was fortunately some cash in the safe, which I took; all drafts and papers of that nature I left,-they were of value only to Hugh Mainwaring, and he was dead! As the cash would be inadequate, however, for my needs, I decided after considerable deliberation to take the family jewels, though not without apprehension that they might lead to my detection, as they finally did. These I put in a small box covered with ordinary wrapping-paper to attract as little attention as possible,' and, having completed my preparations, I removed the bandage from the dead man's head and threw it with the private keys to my library into the metallic box which had held the jewels. Then donning the black wig and mustache which my visitor had thrown aside on disclosing his identity, together with a long ulster which he had left in the tower-room, I took one farewell look at the familiar apartments and their silent occupant and stole noiselessly out into the night. I remained on the premises only long enough to visit the small lake in the rear of the house, into which I threw the metallic box and its contents, then, following the walk through the grove to the side street, I left Fair Oaks, as I well knew, forever. While yet on the grounds I met my own coachman, but he failed to recognize me in my disguise. My plans were already formed. I had come to the conclusion that my late visitor and the caller of the preceding afternoon, whose card bore the name of J. Henry Carruthers, were one and the same. My secretary had stated that Carruthers had come out from the city that day, so my appearance at the depot, dressed in his own disguise, would probably attract no attention. I was fortunate enough to reach the depot just as two trains were about to pull out; the suburban train which would leave in three minutes for the city, and the north-bound express, due to leave five minutes later. I bought a ticket for New York, then passing around the rear of the suburban train, quietly boarded the express, and before the discovery of that night's fearful tragedy I was speeding towards the great West.

"But go where I might, from that hour to this, I have never been free from agonizing remorse, nor have I been able for one moment to banish from my memory the sight of that face,-the face of my brother, killed by my own hand, and a discovery which I made within the first few hours of my flight made my remorse ten times deeper. In going through the pockets of the suit I wore I found a letter from my brother, addressed to his son, written in my own library and at my own desk while he awaited my coming. He seemed to have had a sort of presentiment that his interview with me might end in some such tragedy as it did, and took that opportunity to inform his son regarding both his past work and his plans for the future. What was my astonishment to find that his son was, at that time, as totally unaware of his father's existence as was I a few hours before of the existence of a brother!

"From this letter I learned that the son had been given away at birth, and was to know nothing of his true parentage until he had reached years of maturity; that he himself had been shipwrecked, as reported years ago, but had escaped in some miraculous manner; that reaching Africa at last, he disclosed his identity to no one, but devoted all his energies to acquiring a fortune for his son. He succeeded even beyond his anticipations, and when nearly twenty years had elapsed, sailed for his old Australian home, to find his son. Arriving there, he learned that his son, while pursuing his studies in England, had obtained information of the will made in his father's favor, and learning facts which led him to believe that the will was still in existence and in the possession of his father's younger brother, had, with the advice of his London attorneys, gone to America, and was then in his uncle's employ for the purpose of securing proof regarding the will, and, if possible, possession of the will itself. Upon learning these facts, my brother had immediately proceeded to London and to Barton & Barton, his son's attorneys, who, upon his arrival there, informed him of his son's success up to that time, and also notified him that his brother was about to celebrate his approaching fiftieth birthday by naming the son of Ralph Mainwaring as his heir, Ralph Mainwaring and family having just sailed to America for that purpose. My brother then took the first steamer for America, arriving only two days later than Ralph Mainwaring. Though unable to obtain an interview with me at once, as he had intended, he had succeeded in catching sight of me, in order to assure himself that the marked resemblance between us still existed, and, to emphasize that resemblance, he then shaved and had his hair cut in the same style in which I wore mine, so as to render the likeness the more striking and indisputable when he should announce himself to me.

"His existence and return he wished kept secret from his son until the successful consummation of his plans, but he wrote the letter as an explanation in case there should be any unforeseen termination. The letter was overflowing with a father's love and pride; his allusion to the difficulty with which he had restrained his feelings when he found himself face to face with his son on the afternoon of his call, being especially touching. The perusal of that letter added a hundred-fold to my own grief and remorse. I dared not run the risk of disclosing myself by sending it to my brother's son, but I have preserved it carefully for him, and desire it to be given him as quickly as possible.

"Through New York papers I learned from time to time of the murder of Hugh Mainwaring, the lost will, the discovery of the old will, and the appearance of the rightful heir. From that source, also, I learned that Merrick, the detective, was shadowing the murderer, who was generally supposed to be a man by the name of Carruthers. I had one advantage of Merrick. I knew him-my old friend Whitney having often pointed him out to me-while he did not know the man he sought. Many a time in my wanderings I have seen him, and, knowing well the game he was after, eluded him, only to fall at last into the snare of one whom I did not know. The man searching for the murderer of Hugh Mainwaring encountered another, trailing the murderer of Harold Scott Mainwaring, and I suddenly found my time had come! A coward then, as always, I tried to shoot myself. In the darkness I held the muzzle of my brother's revolver to my own temple; instantly there flashed before me his face when I had killed him! I grew sick, my hand trembled and dropped; then, as my pursuers came nearer, I aimed for my heart and fired! This is the result. Death was not instantaneous, as I had hoped; instead, I was given this opportunity to make some slight reparation for my sin; to aid, as I said before, in righting the wrong wrought by my past life.

"And now, in these my last moments, I do solemnly affirm and aver that on the night preceding his death, my father executed a will restoring to my elder brother his full right and title, which will I have for more than twenty-five years last past wrongfully and fraudulently withheld and concealed; and that my brother being now dead, killed by my own hand, though unwittingly and unintentionally, his son, Harold Scott Mainwaring, is the rightful and sole heir to the entire Mainwaring estate.

"Signed by Hugh Mainwaring in the presence of the following witnesses: William J. Barton, M. D. Montague, Joseph P. Sturgiss, M.D., M. J. Wheating, M.D., Daniel McCabe and C. D. Merrick."

At the conclusion of this statement, there was shown in evidence the rusty metallic box-dragged from the lake-with the keys and the knotted, blood-stained handkerchief found therein. This was followed by brief testimony by Harold Scott Mainwaring and the old servant, James Wilson, but the proceedings following the reading of the statement were little more than mere form. There was little attempt at cross-examination, and when the time came for the argument by counsel for contestant, Mr. Whitney, who had been deeply affected by the confession of his old friend, declined to speak.

All eyes were fastened upon Mr. Sutherland as he arose, as was supposed, for the closing argument. For a moment his eyes scanned the faces of the jurors, man by man, then addressing the judge, he said slowly, in clear, resonant tones,-

"Your honor, I submit the case without argument."

In less than forty-five minutes from the conclusion of the statement the jury retired, but no one moved from his place in the crowded court-room, for all felt that little time would be required for their decision. In ten minutes they returned, and, amid the silence that followed, the foreman announced the verdict, "for the proponent, Harold Scott Mainwaring."

Cheers burst forth from all parts of the room, and the walls rang with applause, which was only checked by a sudden, simultaneous movement of several men towards the contestant. With the announcement of the verdict, Ralph Mainwaring had risen to his feet, as though in protest. For an instant he stood gasping helplessly, but unable to utter a word; then, with a loud groan, he sank backward and would have fallen to the floor but for his attorneys, who had rushed to the assistance of the stricken man.

A few moments later the lifeless remains of Hugh Mainwaring were carried from the court-room, while, in another direction, the unconscious form of Ralph Mainwaring was borne by tender, pitying hands, among them those of the victor himself, and the contest of Mainwaring versus Mainwaring was ended.

* * *

The bright sunlight of a December afternoon, ten days after the close of the trial, crowned with a shining halo the heads of Harold Scott Mainwaring and his wife as they stood together in the tower-room at Fair Oaks. But a few hours had elapsed since they had repeated the words of the beautiful marriage service which had made them husband and wife. Their wedding had been, of necessity, a quiet one, only their own party and a few of their American friends being present, for the ocean-liner, then lying in the harbor, but which in a few hours was to bear them homeward, would carry also the bodies of the Mainwaring brothers and of Ralph Mainwaring to their last resting place.

Here, amid the very surroundings where it was written, Harold Mainwaring had just read to his wife his father's letter, penned a few hours before his death. For a few moments neither spoke, then Winifred said brokenly, through fast falling tears,-

"How he loved you, Harold!"

"Yes," he replied, sadly; "and what would I not give for one hour in which to assure him of my love! I would gladly have endured any suffering for his sake, but in the few moments that we stood face to face we met as strangers, and I have had no opportunity to show him my appreciation of his love or my love for him in return."

"Don't think he does not know it," she said, earnestly. "I believe that he now knows your love for him far more perfectly than you know his."

He kissed her tenderly, then drawing from his pocket a memorandum-book, took therefrom a piece of blotter having upon it the impress of some writing. Placing it upon the desk beside the letter, he held a small mirror against it, and Winifred, looking in the mirror, read,

"Your affectionate father,

"HAROLD SCOTT MAINWARING."

Then glancing at the signature to the letter, she saw they were identical. In answer to her look of inquiry, Harold said,-

"I discovered that impress on the blotter on this desk one morning about ten days after the tragedy, and at once recognized it as my father's writing. In a flash I understood the situation; my father himself had returned, had been in these rooms, and had had an interview with his brother! I knew of the marked resemblance between them, and at once questioned, How had that interview ended? Who was the murdered man? Who was the murderer? That was the cause of my trip to England to try to find some light on this subject. I need no words to tell you the agony of suspense that I endured for the next few weeks, and you will understand now why I would not-even to yourself-declare my innocence of the murder of Hugh Mainwaring. I would have bourne any ignominy and dishonor, even death itself, rather than that a breath of suspicion should have been directed against my father's name."

"My hero!" she exclaimed, smiling through her tears; then asked, "When and how did you learn the real facts?"

"Almost immediately upon my return to this country, and from Mrs. LaGrange," and he told her briefly of his last interview with that unhappy woman. "Up to the day of the funeral, she was ignorant of the truth, but on that day she detected the difference, which none of the others saw. She knew and recognized my father."

Standing at last on the western veranda, they took their farewell of Fair Oaks.

"Beautiful Fair Oaks!" Winifred murmured; "once I loved you; but you could never be our home; you hold memories far too bitter!"

"Yes," Harold replied, gravely, "it is darkened by crime and stained with innocent blood. The only bright feature to redeem it," he added with a smile, "is the memory of the love I found there, but that," and he drew her arm closely within his own, "I take with me to England, to my father's home and mine."

Together they left the majestic arched portals, and going down the oak-lined avenue, through the dim twilight of the great boughs interlocked above their heads, passed on, out into the sunlight, with never a fear for shadows that might come; each strong and confident in the love that united them "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, . . . till death us do part."

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares