The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherine Green

XXXVII. Culmination

“Saint seducing gold.”

Romeo and Juliet.

“When our actions do not, Our fears do make us traitors.”

Macbeth.

I NEVER saw such a look of mortal triumph on the face of a man as that which crossed the countenance of the detective.

“Well,” said he, “this is unexpected, but not wholly unwelcome. I am truly glad to learn that Miss Leavenworth is innocent; but I must hear some few more particulars before I shall be satisfied. Get up, Mr. Harwell, and explain yourself. If you are the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth, how comes it that things look so black against everybody but yourself?”

But in the hot, feverish eyes which sought him from the writhing form at his feet, there was mad anxiety and pain, but little explanation. Seeing him making unavailing efforts to speak, I drew near.

“Lean on me,” said I, lifting him to his feet.

His face, relieved forever from its mask of repression, turned towards me with the look of a despairing spirit. “Save! save!” he gasped. “Save her — Mary — they are sending a report — stop it!”

“Yes,” broke in another voice. “If there is a man here who believes in God and prizes woman’s honor, let him stop the issue of that report.” And Henry Clavering, dignified as ever, but in a state of extreme agitation, stepped into our midst through an open door at our right.

But at the sight of his face, the man in our arms quivered, shrieked, and gave one bound that would have overturned Mr. Clavering, herculean of frame as he was, had not Mr. Gryce interposed.

“Wait!” he cried; and holding back the secretary with one hand — where was his rheumatism now! — he put the other in his pocket and drew thence a document which he held up before Mr. Clavering. “It has not gone yet,” said he; “be easy. And you,” he went on, turning towards Trueman Harwell, “be quiet, or ——”

His sentence was cut short by the man springing from his grasp. “Let me go!” he shrieked. “Let me have my revenge on him who, in face of all I have done for Mary Leavenworth, dares to call her his wife! Let me —” But at this point he paused, his quivering frame stiffening into stone, and his clutching hands, outstretched for his rival’s throat, falling heavily back. “Hark!” said he, glaring over Mr. Clavering’s shoulder: “it is she! I hear her! I feel her! She is on the stairs! she is at the door! she —” a low, shuddering sigh of longing and despair finished the sentence: the door opened, and Mary Leavenworth stood before us!

It was a moment to make young hairs turn gray. To see her face, so pale, so haggard, so wild in its fixed horror, turned towards Henry Clavering, to the utter ignoring of the real actor in this most horrible scene! Trueman Harwell could not stand it.

“Ah, ah!” he cried; “look at her! cold, cold; not one glance for me, though I have just drawn the halter from her neck and fastened it about my own!”

And, breaking from the clasp of the man who in his jealous rage would now have withheld him, he fell on his knees before Mary, clutching her dress with frenzied hands. “You shall look at me,” he cried; “you shall listen to me! I will not lose body and soul for nothing. Mary, they said you were in peril! I could not endure that thought, so I uttered the truth — yes, though I knew what the consequence would be — and all I want now is for you to say you believe me, when I swear that I only meant to secure to you the fortune you so much desired; that I never dreamed it would come to this; that it was because I loved you, and hoped to win your love in return that I——”

But she did not seem to see him, did not seem to hear him. Her eyes were fixed upon Henry Clavering with an awful inquiry in their depths, and none but he could move her.

“You do not hear me!” shrieked the poor wretch. “Ice that you are, you would not turn your head if I should call to you from the depths of hell!”

But even this cry fell unheeded. Pushing her hands down upon his shoulders as though she would sweep some impediment from her path, she endeavored to advance. “Why is that man here?” she cried, indicating her husband with one quivering hand. “What has he done that he should be brought here to confront me at this awful time?”

‘“I told her to come here to meet her uncle’s murderer,” whispered Mr. Gryce into my ear.

But before I could reply to her, before Mr. Clavering himself could murmur a word, the guilty wretch before her had started to his feet.

“Don’t you know? then I will tell you. It is because these gentlemen, chivalrous and honorable as they consider themselves, think that you, the beauty and the Sybarite, committed with your own white hand the deed of blood which has brought you freedom and fortune. Yes, yes, this man”— turning and pointing at me —“friend as he has made himself out to be, kindly and honorable as you have doubtless believed him, but who in every look he has bestowed upon you, every word he has uttered in your hearing during all these four horrible weeks, has been weaving a cord for your neck — thinks you the assassin of your uncle, unknowing that a man stood at your side ready to sweep half the world from your path if that same white hand rose in bidding. That I——”

“You?” Ah! now she could see him: now she could hear him!

“Yes,” clutching her robe again as she hastily recoiled; “didn’t you know it? When in that dreadful hour of your rejection by your uncle, you cried aloud for some one to help you, didn’t you know ——”

“Don’t!” she shrieked, bursting from him with a look of unspeakable horror. “Don’t say that! Oh!” she gasped, “is the mad cry of a stricken woman for aid and sympathy the call for a murderer?” And turning away in horror, she moaned: “Who that ever looks at me now will forget that a man — such a man! — dared to think that, because I was in mortal perplexity, I would accept the murder of my best friend as a relief from it!” Her horror was unbounded. “Oh, what a chastisement for folly!” she murmured. “What a punishment for the love of money which has always been my curse!”

Henry Clavering could no longer restrain himself, leaping to her side, he bent over her. “Was it nothing but folly, Mary? Are you guiltless of any deeper wrong? Is there no link of complicity between you two? Have you nothing on your soul but an inordinate desire to preserve your place in your uncle’s will, even at the risk of breaking my heart and wronging your noble cousin? Are you innocent in this matter? Tell me!” placing his hand on her head, he pressed it slowly back and gazed into her eyes; then, without a word, took her to his breast and looked calmly around him.

“She is innocent!” said he.

It was the uplifting of a stifling pall. No one in the room, unless it was the wretched criminal shivering before us, but felt a sudden influx of hope. Even Mary’s own countenance caught a glow. “Oh!” she whispered, withdrawing from his arms to look better into his face, “and is this the man I have trifled with, injured, and tortured, till the very name of Mary Leavenworth might well make him shudder? Is this he whom I married in a fit of caprice, only to forsake and deny? Henry, do you declare me innocent in face of all you have seen and heard; in face of that moaning, chattering wretch before us, and my own quaking flesh and evident terror; with the remembrance on your heart and in your mind of the letter I wrote you the morning after the murder, in which I prayed you to keep away from me, as I was in such deadly danger the least hint given to the world that I had a secret to conceal would destroy me? Do you, can you, will you, declare me innocent before God and the world?”

“I do,” said he.

A light such as had never visited her face before passed slowly over it. “Then God forgive me the wrong I have done this noble heart, for I can never forgive myself! Wait!” said she, as he opened his lips. “Before I accept any further tokens of your generous confidence, let me show you what I am. You shall know the worst of the woman you have taken to your heart. Mr. Raymond,” she cried, turning towards me for the first time, “in those days when, with such an earnest desire for my welfare (you see I do not believe this man’s insinuations), you sought to induce me to speak out and tell all I knew concerning this dreadful deed, I did not do it because of my selfish fears. I knew the case looked dark against me. Eleanore had told me so. Eleanore herself — and it was the keenest pang I had to endure — believed me guilty. She had her reasons. She knew first, from the directed envelope she had found lying underneath my uncle’s dead body on the library table, that he had been engaged at the moment of death in summoning his lawyer to make that change in his will which would transfer my claims to her; secondly, that notwithstanding my denial of the same, I had been down to his room the night before, for she had heard my door open and my dress rustle as I passed out. But that was not all; the key that every one felt to be a positive proof of guilt wherever found, had been picked up by her from the floor of my room; the letter written by Mr. Clavering to my uncle was found in my fire; and the handkerchief which she had seen me take from the basket of clean clothes, was produced at the inquest stained with pistol grease. I could not account for these things. A web seemed tangled about my feet. I could not stir without encountering some new toil. I knew I was innocent; but if I failed to satisfy my cousin of this, how could I hope to convince the general public, if once called upon to do so. Worse still, if Eleanore, with every apparent motive for desiring long life to our uncle, was held in such suspicion because of a few circumstantial evidences against her, what would I not have to fear if these evidences were turned against me, the heiress! The tone and manner of the juryman at the inquest that asked who would be most benefited by my uncle’s will showed but too plainly. When, therefore, Eleanore, true to her heart’s generous instincts, closed her lips and refused to speak when speech would have been my ruin, I let her do it, justifying myself with the thought that she had deemed me capable of crime, and so must bear the consequences. Nor, when I saw how dreadful these were likely to prove, did I relent. Fear of the ignominy, suspense, and danger which confession would entail sealed my lips. Only once did I hesitate. That was when, in the last conversation we had, I saw that, notwithstanding appearances, you believed in Eleanore’s innocence, and the thought crossed me you might be induced to believe in mine if I threw myself upon your mercy. But just then Mr. Clavering came; and as in a flash I seemed to realize what my future life would be, stained by suspicion, and, instead of yielding to my impulse, went so far in the other direction as to threaten Mr. Clavering with a denial of our marriage if he approached me again till all danger was over.

“Yes, he will tell you that was my welcome to him when, with heart and brain racked by long suspense, he came to my door for one word of assurance that the peril I was in was not of my own making. That was the greeting I gave him after a year of silence every moment of which was torture to him. But he forgives me; I see it in his eyes; I hear it in his accents; and you — oh, if in the long years to come you can forget what I have made Eleanore suffer by my selfish fears; if with the shadow of her wrong before you, you can by the grace of some sweet hope think a little less hardly of me, do. As for this man — torture could not be worse to me than this standing with him in the same room — let him come forward and declare if I by look or word have given him reason to believe I understood his passion, much less returned it.”

“Why ask!” he gasped. “Don’t you see it was your indifference which drove me mad? To stand before you, to agonize after you, to follow you with thoughts in every move you made; to know my soul was welded to yours with bands of steel no fire could melt, no force destroy, no strain dissever; to sleep under the same roof, sit at the same table, and yet meet not so much as one look to show me you understood! It was that which made my life a hell. I was determined you should understand. If I had to leap into a pit of flame, you should know what I was, and what my passion for you was. And you do. You comprehend it all now. Shrink as you will from my presence, cower as you may to the weak man you call husband, you can never forget the love of Trueman Harwell; never forget that love, love, love, was the force which led me down into your uncle’s room that night, and lent me will to pull the trigger which poured all the wealth you hold this day into your lap. Yes,” he went on, towering in his preternatural despair till even the noble form of Henry Clavering looked dwarfed beside him, “every dollar that chinks from your purse shall talk of me. Every gew-gaw which flashes on that haughty head, too haughty to bend to me, shall shriek my name into your ears. Fashion, pomp, luxury — you will have them all; but till gold loses its glitter and ease its attraction you will never forget the hand that gave them to you!”

With a look whose evil triumph I cannot describe, he put his hand into the arm of the waiting detective, and in another moment would have been led from the room; when Mary, crushing down the swell of emotions that was seething in her breast, lifted her head and said:

“No, Trueman Harwell; I cannot give you even that thought for your comfort. Wealth so laden would bring nothing but torture. I cannot accept the torture, so must release the wealth. From this day, Mary Clavering owns nothing but what comes to her from the husband she has so long and so basely wronged.” And raising her hands to her ears, she tore out the diamonds which hung there, and flung them at the feet of the unfortunate man.

It was the final wrench of the rack. With a yell such as I never thought to listen to from the lips of a man, he flung up his arms, while all the lurid light of madness glared on his face. “And I have given my soul to hell for a shadow!” he moaned, “for a shadow!”

“Well, that is the best day’s work I ever did! Your congratulations, Mr. Raymond, upon the success of the most daring game ever played in a detective’s office.”

I looked at the triumphant countenance of Mr. Gryce in amazement. “What do you mean?” I cried; “did you plan all this?”

“Did I plan it?” he repeated. “Could I stand here, seeing how things have turned out, if I had not? Mr. Raymond, let us be comfortable. You are a gentleman, but we can well shake hands over this. I have never known such a satisfactory conclusion to a bad piece of business in all my professional career.”

We did shake hands, long and fervently, and then I asked him to explain himself.

“Well,” said he, “there has always been one thing that plagued me, even in the very moment of my strongest suspicion against this woman, and that was, the pistol-cleaning business. I could not reconcile it with what I knew of womankind. I could not make it seem the act of a woman. Did you ever know a woman who cleaned a pistol? No. They can fire them, and do; but after firing them, they do not clean them. Now it is a principle which every detective recognizes, that if of a hundred leading circumstances connected with a crime, ninety-nine of these are acts pointing to the suspected party with unerring certainty, but the hundredth equally important act one which that person could not have performed, the whole fabric of suspicion is destroyed. Recognizing this principle, then, as I have said, I hesitated when it came to the point of arrest. The chain was complete; the links were fastened; but one link was of a different size and material from the rest; and in this argued a break in the chain. I resolved to give her a final chance. Summoning Mr. Clavering, and Mr. Harwell, two persons whom I had no reason to suspect, but who were the only persons beside herself who could have committed this crime, being the only persons of intellect who were in the house or believed to be, at the time of the murder, I notified them separately that the assassin of Mr. Leavenworth was not only found, but was about to be arrested in my house, and that if they wished to hear the confession which would be sure to follow, they might have the opportunity of doing so by coming here at such an hour. They were both too much interested, though for very different reasons, to refuse; and I succeeded in inducing them to conceal themselves in the two rooms from which you saw them issue, knowing that if either of them had committed this deed, he had done it for the love of Mary Leavenworth, and consequently could not hear her charged with crime, and threatened with arrest, without betraying himself. I did not hope much from the experiment; least of all did I anticipate that Mr. Harwell would prove to be the guilty man — but live and learn, Mr. Raymond, live and learn.”

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