The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherine Green

XXI. A Prejudice

“True, I talk of dreams,

Which are the children of an idle brain

Begot of nothing but vain phantasy.”

Romeo and Juliet.

FOR one moment I sat a prey to superstitious horror; then, my natural incredulity asserting itself, I looked up and remarked:

“You say that all this took place the night previous to the actual occurrence?”

He bowed his head. “For a warning,” he declared.

“But you did not seem to take it as such?”

“No; I am subject to horrible dreams. I thought but little of it in a superstitious way till I looked next day upon Mr. Leavenworth’s dead body.”

“I do not wonder you behaved strangely at the inquest.”

“Ah, sir,” he returned, with a slow, sad smile; “no one knows what I suffered in my endeavors not to tell more than I actually knew, irrespective of my dream, of this murder and the manner of its accomplishment.”

“You believe, then, that your dream foreshadowed the manner of the murder as well as the fact?”

“I do.”

“It is a pity it did not go a little further, then, and tell us how the assassin escaped from, if not how he entered, a house so securely fastened.”

His face flushed. “That would have been convenient,” he repeated. “Also, if I had been informed where Hannah was, and why a stranger and a gentleman should have stooped to the committal of such a crime.”

Seeing that he was nettled, I dropped my bantering vein. “Why do you say a stranger?” I asked; “are you so well acquainted with all who visit that house as to be able to say who are and who are not strangers to the family?

“I am well acquainted with the faces of their friends, and Henry Clavering is not amongst the number; but ——”

“Were you ever with Mr. Leavenworth,” I interrupted, “when he has been away from home; in the country, for instance, or upon his travels?”

“No.” But the negative came with some constraint.

“Yet I suppose he was in the habit of absenting himself from home?”

“Certainly.”

“Can you tell me where he was last July, he and the ladies?”

“Yes, sir; they went to R——. The famous watering-place, you know. Ah,” he cried, seeing a change in my face, “do you think he could have met them there?”

I looked at him for a moment, then, rising in my turn, stood level with him, and exclaimed:

“You are keeping something back, Mr. Harwell; you have more knowledge of this man than you have hitherto given me to understand. What is it?”

He seemed astonished at my penetration, but replied: “I know no more of the man than I have already informed you; but”— and a burning flush crossed his face, “if you are determined to pursue this matter —” and he paused, with an inquiring look.

“I am resolved to find out all I can about Henry Clavering,” was my decided answer

“Then,” said he, “I can tell you this much. Henry Clavering wrote a letter to Mr. Leavenworth a few days before the murder, which I have some reason to believe produced a marked effect upon the household.” And, folding his arms, the secretary stood quietly awaiting my next question.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I opened it by mistake. I was in the habit of reading Mr. Leaven worth’s business letters, and this, being from one unaccustomed to write to him, lacked the mark which usually distinguished those of a private nature.”

“And you saw the name of Clavering?”

“I did; Henry Ritchie Clavering.”

“Did you read the letter?” I was trembling now.

The secretary did not reply.

“Mr. Harwell,” I reiterated, “this is no time for false delicacy. Did you read that letter?”

“I did; but hastily, and with an agitated conscience.”

“You can, however, recall its general drift?”

“It was some complaint in regard to the treatment received by him at the hand of one of Mr. Leavenworth’s nieces. I remember nothing more.”

“Which niece?”

“There were no names mentioned.”

“But you inferred ——”

“No, sir; that is just what I did not do. I forced myself to forget the whole thing.”

“And yet you say it produced an effect upon the family?”

“I can see now that it did. None of them have ever appeared quite the same as before.”

“Mr. Harwell,” I gravely continued; “when you were questioned as to the receipt of any letter by Mr. Leavenworth, which might seem in any manner to be connected with this tragedy, you denied having seen any such; how was that?”

“Mr. Raymond, you are a gentleman; have a chivalrous regard for the ladies; do you think you could have brought yourself (even if in your secret heart you considered some such result possible, which I am not ready to say I did) to mention, at such a time as that, the receipt of a letter complaining of the treatment received from one of Mr. Leavenworth’s nieces, as a suspicious circumstance worthy to be taken into account by a coroner’s jury?”

I shook my head. I could not but acknowledge the impossibility.

“What reason had I for thinking that letter was one of importance? I knew of no Henry Ritchie Clavering.”

“And yet you seemed to think it was. I remember you hesitated before replying.”

“It is true; but not as I should hesitate now, if the question were put to me again.”

Silence followed these words, during which I took two or three turns up and down the room.

“This is all very fanciful,” I remarked, laughing in the vain endeavor to throw off the superstitious horror his words had awakened.

He bent his head in assent. “I know it,” said he. “I am practical myself in broad daylight, and recognize the nimsiness of an accusation based upon a poor, hardworking secretary’s dream, as plainly as you do. This is the reason I desired to keep from speaking at all; but, Mr. Raymond,” and his long, thin hand fell upon my arm with a nervous intensity which gave me almost the sensation of an electrical shock, “if the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth is ever brought to confess his deed, mark my words, he will prove to be the man of my dream.”

I drew a long breath. For a moment his belief was mine; and a mingled sensation of relief and exquisite pain swept over me as I thought of the possibility of Eleanore being exonerated from crime only to be plunged into fresh humiliation and deeper abysses of suffering.

“He stalks the streets in freedom now,” the secretary went on, as if to himself; “even dares to enter the house he has so wofully desecrated; but justice is justice and, sooner or later, something will transpire which will prove to you that a premonition so wonderful as that I received had its significance; that the voice calling ‘Trueman, Trueman,’ was something more than the empty utterances of an excited brain; that it was Justice itself, calling attention to the guilty.”

I looked at him in wonder. Did he know that the officers of justice were already upon the track of this same Clavering? I judged not from his look, but felt an inclination to make an effort and see.

“You speak with strange conviction,” I said; “but in all probability you are doomed to be disappointed. So far as we know, Mr. Clavering is a respectable man.”

He lifted his hat from the table. “I do not propose to denounce him; I do not even propose to speak his name again. I am not a fool, Mr. Raymond. I have spoken thus plainly to you only in explanation of last night’s most unfortunate betrayal; and while I trust you will regard what I have told you as confidential, I also hope you will give me credit for behaving, on the whole, as well as could be expected under the circumstances.” And he held out his hand.

“Certainly,” I replied as I took it. Then, with a sudden impulse to test the accuracy of this story of his, inquired if he had any means of verifying his statement of having had this dream at the time spoken of: that is, before the murder and not afterwards.

“No, sir; I know myself that I had it the night previous to that of Mr. Leavenworth’s death; but I cannot prove the fact.”

“Did not speak of it next morning to any one?”

“O no, sir; I was scarcely in a position to do so.”

“Yet it must have had a great effect upon you, unfitting you for work ——”

“Nothing unfits me for work,” was his bitter reply.

“I believe you,” I returned, remembering his diligence for the last few days. “But you must at least have shown some traces of having passed an uncomfortable night. Have you no recollection of any one speaking to you in regard to your appearance the next morning?”

“Mr. Leavenworth may have done so; no one else would be likely to notice.” There was sadness in the tone, and my own voice softened as I said:

“I shall not be at the house to-night, Mr. Harwell; nor do I know when I shall return there. Personal considerations keep me from Miss Leavenworth’s presence for a time, and I look to you to carry on the work we have undertaken without my assistance, unless you can bring it here ——”

“I can do that.”

“I shall expect you, then, tomorrow evening.”

“Very well, sir “; and he was going, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him. “Sir,” he said, “as we do not wish to return to this subject again, and as I have a natural curiosity in regard to this man, would you object to telling me what you know of him? You believe him to be a respectable man; are you acquainted with him, Mr. Raymond?”

“I know his name, and where he resides.”

“And where is that?”

“In London; he is an Englishman.”

“Ah!” he murmured, with a strange intonation.

“Why do you say that?”

He bit his lip, looked down, then up, finally fixed his eyes on mine, and returned, with marked emphasis: “I used an exclamation, sir, because I was startled.”

“Startled?”

“Yes; you say he is an Englishman. Mr. Leavenworth had the most bitter antagonism to the English. It was one of his marked peculiarities. He would never be introduced to one if he could help it.”

It was my turn to look thoughtful.

“You know,” continued the secretary, “that Mr. Leavenworth was a man who carried his prejudices to the extreme. He had a hatred for the English race amounting to mania. If he had known the letter I have mentioned was from an Englishman, I doubt if he would have read it. He used to say he would sooner see a daughter of his dead before him than married to an Englishman.”

I turned hastily aside to hide the effect which this announcement made upon me.

“You think I am exaggerating,” he said. “Ask Mr. Veeley.”

“No,” I replied. “I have no reason for thinking so.”

“He had doubtless some cause for hating the English with which we are unacquainted,” pursued the secretary. “He spent some time in Liverpool when young, and had, of course, many opportunities for studying their manners and character.” And the secretary made another movement, as if to leave.

But it was my turn to detain him now. “Mr. Harwell, you must excuse me. You have been on familiar terms with Mr. Leavenworth for so long. Do you think that, in the case of one of his nieces, say, desiring to marry a gentleman of that nationality, his prejudice was sufficient to cause him to absolutely forbid the match?”

“I do.”

I moved back. I had learned what I wished, and saw no further reason for prolonging the interview.

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