The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherine Green

XVIII. On the Stairs

“You cannot say I did it.”

Macbeth.

EXCITED, tremulous, filled with wonder at this unlooked-for event, I paused for a moment to collect my scattered senses, when the sound of a low, monotonous voice breaking upon my ear from the direction of the library, I approached and found Mr. Harwell reading aloud from his late employer’s manuscript. It would be difficult for me to describe the effect which this simple discovery made upon me at this time. There, in that room of late death, withdrawn from the turmoil of the world, a hermit in his skeleton-lined cell, this man employed himself in reading and rereading, with passive interest, the words of the dead, while above and below, human beings agonized in doubt and shame. Listening, I heard these words:

“By these means their native rulers will not only lose their jealous terror of our institutions, but acquire an actual curiosity in regard to them.”

Opening the door I went in.

“Ah! you are late, sir,” was the greeting with which he rose and brought forward a chair.

My reply was probably inaudible, for he added, as he passed to his own seat:

“I am afraid you are not well.”

I roused myself.

“I am not ill.” And, pulling the papers towards me, I began looking them over. But the words danced before my eyes, and I was obliged to give up all attempt at work for that night.

I fear I am unable to assist you this evening, Mr. Harwell. The fact is, I find it difficult to give proper attention to this business while the man who by a dastardly assassination has made it necessary goes unpunished.”

The secretary in his turn pushed the papers aside, as if moved by a sudden distaste of them, but gave me no answer.

“You told me, when you first came to me with news of this fearful tragedy, that it was a mystery; but it is one which must be solved, Mr. Harwell; it is wearing out the lives of too many whom we love and respect.”

The secretary gave me a look. “Miss Eleanore?” he murmured.

“And Miss Mary,” I went on; “myself, you, and many others.”

“You have manifested much interest in the matter from the beginning,”— he said, methodically dipping his pen into the ink.

I stared at him in amazement.

“And you,” said I; “do you take no interest in that which involves not only the safety, but the happiness and honor, of the family in which you have dwelt so long?”

He looked at me with increased coldness. “I have no wish to discuss this subject. I believe I have before prayed you to spare me its introduction.” And he arose.

“But I cannot consider your wishes in this regard,” I persisted. “If you know any facts, connected with this affair, which have not yet been made public, it is manifestly your duty to state them. The position which Miss Eleanore occupies at this time is one which should arouse the sense of justice in every true breast; and if you ——”

“If I knew anything which would serve to release her from her unhappy position, Mr. Raymond, I should have spoken long ago.”

I bit my lip, weary of these continual bafflings, and rose also.

“If you have nothing more to say,” he went on, “and feel utterly disinclined to work, why, I should be glad to excuse myself, as I have an engagement out.”

“Do not let me keep you,” I said, bitterly. “I can take care of myself.”

He turned upon me with a short stare, as if this display of feeling was well nigh incomprehensible to him; and then, with a quiet, almost compassionate bow left the room. I heard him go up-stairs, felt the jar when his room door closed, and sat down to enjoy my solitude. But solitude in that room was unbearable. By the time Mr. Harwell again descended, I felt I could remain no longer, and, stepping into the hall, told him that if he had no objection I would accompany him for a short stroll.

He bowed a stiff assent, and hastened before me down the stairs. By the time I had closed the library door, he was half-way to the foot, and I was just remarking to myself upon the unpliability of his figure and the awkwardness of his carriage, as seen from my present standpoint, when suddenly I saw him stop, clutch the banister at his side, and hang there with a startled, deathly expression upon his half-turned countenance, which fixed me for an instant where I was in breathless astonishment, and then caused me to rush down to his side, catch him by the arm, and cry:

“What is it? what is the matter?”

But, thrusting out his hand, he pushed me upwards. “Go back!” he whispered, in a voice shaking with intensest emotion, “go back.” And catching me by the arm, he literally pulled me up the stairs. Arrived at the top, he loosened his grasp, and leaning, quivering from head to foot, over the banisters, glared below.

“Who is that?” he cried. “Who is that man? What is his name?”

Startled in my turn, I bent beside him, and saw Henry Clavering come out of the reception room and cross the hall.

“That is Mr. Clavering,” I whispered, with all the self-possession I could muster; “do you know him?”

Mr. Harwell fell back against the opposite wall. “Clavering, Clavering,” he murmured with quaking lips; then, suddenly bounding forward, clutched the railing before him, and fixing me with his eyes, from which all the stoic calmness had gone down forever in flame and frenzy, gurgled into my ear: “You want to know who the assassin of Mr. Leavenworth is, do you? Look there, then: that is the man, Clavering!” And with a leap, he bounded from my side, and, swaying like a drunken man, disappeared from my gaze in the hall above.

My first impulse was to follow him. Rushing upstairs, I knocked at the door of his room, but no response came to my summons. I then called his name in the hall, but without avail; he was determined not to show himself. Resolved that he should not thus escape me, I returned to the library, and wrote him a short note, in which I asked for an explanation of his tremendous accusation, saying I would be in my rooms the next evening at six, when I should expect to see him. This done I descended to rejoin Mary.

But the evening was destined to be full of disappointments. She had retired to her room while I was in the library, and I lost the interview from which I expected so much. “The woman is slippery as an eel,” I inwardly commented, pacing the hall in my chagrin. “Wrapped in mystery, she expects me to feel for her the respect due to one of frank and open nature.”

I was about to leave the house, when I saw Thomas descending the stairs with a letter in his hand.

“Miss Leavenworth’s compliments, sir, and she is too fatigued to remain below this evening.”

I moved aside to read the note he handed me, feeling a little conscience-stricken as I traced the hurried, trembling handwriting through the following words:

“You ask more than I can give. Matters must be received as they are without explanation from me. It is the grief of my life to deny you; but I have no choice. God forgive us all and keep us from despair.

“M.”

And below:

“As we cannot meet now without embarrassment, it is better we should bear our burdens in silence and apart. Mr. Harwell will visit you. Farewell!”

As I was crossing Thirty-second Street, I heard a quick footstep behind me, and turning, saw Thomas at my side. “Excuse me, sir,” said he, “but I have something a little particular to say to you. When you asked me the other night what sort of a person the gentleman was who called on Miss Eleanore the evening of the murder, I didn’t answer you as I should. The fact is, the detectives had been talking to me about that very thing, and I felt shy; but, sir, I know you are a friend of the family, and I want to tell you now that that same gentleman, whoever he was — Mr. Robbins, he called himself then — was at the house again tonight, sir, and the name he gave me this time to carry to Miss Leavenworth was Clavering. Yes, sir,” he went on, seeing me start; “and, as I told Molly, he acts queer for a stranger. When he came the other night, he hesitated a long time before asking for Miss Eleanore, and when I wanted his name, took out a card and wrote on it the one I told you of, sir, with a look on his face a little peculiar for a caller; besides ——”

“Well?”

“Mr. Raymond,” the butler went on, in a low, excited voice, edging up very closely to me in the darkness. “There is something I have never told any living being but Molly, sir, which may be of use to those as wishes to find out who committed this murder.”

“A fact or a suspicion?” I inquired.

“A fact, sir; which I beg your pardon for troubling you with at this time; but Molly will give me no rest unless I speak of it to you or Mr. Gryce; her feelings being so worked up on Hannah’s account, whom we all know is innocent, though folks do dare to say as how she must be guilty just because she is not to be found the minute they want her.”

“But this fact?” I urged.

“Well, the fact is this. You see — I would tell Mr. Gryce,” he resumed, unconscious of my anxiety, “but I have my fears of detectives, sir; they catch you up so quick at times, and seem to think you know so much more than you really do.”

“But this fact,” I again broke in.

“O yes, sir; the fact is, that that night, the one of the murder you know, I saw Mr. Clavering, Robbins, or whatever his name is, enter the house, but neither I nor any one else saw him go out of it; nor do I know that he did.“

“What do you mean?”

“Well, sir, what I mean is this. When I came down from Miss Eleanore and told Mr. Robbins, as he called himself at that time, that my mistress was ill and unable to see him (the word she gave me, sir, to deliver) Mr. Robbins, instead of bowing and leaving the house like a gentleman, stepped into the reception room and sat down. He may have felt sick, he looked pale enough; at any rate, he asked me for a glass of water. Not knowing any reason then for suspicionating any one’s actions, I immediately went down to the kitchen for it, leaving him there in the reception room alone. But before I could get it, I heard the front door close. ‘What’s that?’ said Molly, who was helping me, sir. ‘I don’t know,’ said I, ‘unless it’s the gentleman has got tired of waiting and gone.’ ‘If he’s gone, he won’t want the water,’ she said. So down I set the pitcher, and up-stairs I come; and sure enough he was gone, or so I thought then. But who knows, sir, if he was not in that room or the drawing-room, which was dark that night, all the time I was a-shutting up of the house?”

I made no reply to this; I was more startled than I cared to reveal.

“You see, sir, I wouldn’t speak of such a thing about any person that comes to see the young ladies; but we all know some one who was in the house that night murdered my master, and as it was not Hannah ——”

“You say that Miss Eleanore refused to see him,” I interrupted, in the hope that the simple suggestion would be enough to elicitate further details of his interview with Eleanore.

“Yes, sir. When she first looked at the card, she showed a little hesitation; but in a moment she grew very flushed in the face, and bade me say what I told you. I should never have thought of it again if I had not seen him come blazoning and bold into the house this evening, with a new name on his tongue. Indeed, and I do not like to think any evil of him now; but Molly would have it I should speak to you, sir, and ease my mind — and that is all, sir.”

When I arrived home that night, I entered into my memorandum-book a new list of suspicious circumstances, but this time they were under the caption “C” instead of “E.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37