“Look here upon this picture and on this.”
I STARED at him in amazement. “I doubt if it will be so very difficult,” said he. Then, in a sudden burst, “Where is the man Cook?”
“He is below with Q.”
“That was a wise move; let us see the boys; have them up.”
Stepping to the door I called them.
“I expected, of course, you would want to question them,” said I, coming back.
In another moment the spruce Q and the shock-headed Cook entered the room.
“Ah,” said Mr. Gryce, directing his attention at the latter in his own whimsical, non-committal way; “this is the deceased Mr. Stebbins’ hired man, is it? Well, you look as though you could tell the truth.”
“I usually calculate to do that thing, sir; at all events, I was never called a liar as I can remember.”
“Of course not, of course not,” returned the affable detective. Then, without any further introduction: “What was the first name of the lady you saw married in your master’s house last summer?”
“Bless me if I know! I don’t think I heard, sir.”
“But you recollect how she looked?”
“As well as if she was my own mother. No disrespect to the lady, sir, if you know her,” he made haste to add, glancing hurriedly at me. “What I mean is, she was so handsome, I could never forget the look of her sweet face if I lived a hundred years.”
“Can you describe her?”
“I don’t know, sirs; she was tall and grand-looking, had the brightest eyes and the whitest hand, and smiled in a way to make even a common man like me wish he had never seen her.”
“Would you know her in a crowd?”
“I would know her anywhere.”
“Very well; now tell us all you can about that marriage.”
“Well, sirs, it was something like this. I had been in Mr. Stebbins’ employ about a year, when one morning as I was hoeing in the garden I saw a gentleman walk rapidly up the road to our gate and come in. I noticed him particularly, because he was so fine-looking; unlike anybody in F— — and, indeed, unlike anybody I had ever seen, for that matter; but I shouldn’t have thought much about that if there hadn’t come along, not five minutes after, a buggy with two ladies in it, which stopped at our gate, too. I saw they wanted to get out, so I went and held their horse for them, and they got down and went into the house.”
“Did you see their faces?”
“No, sir; not then. They had veils on.”
“Very well, go on.”
“I hadn’t been to work long, before I heard some one calling my name, and looking up, saw Mr. Stebbins standing in the doorway beckoning. I went to him, and he-said, ‘I want you, Tim; wash your hands and come into the parlor.’ I had never been asked to do that before, and it struck me all of a heap; but I did what he asked, and was so taken aback at the looks of the lady I saw standing up on the floor with the handsome gentleman, that I stumbled over a stool and made a great racket, and didn’t know much where I was or what was going on, till I heard Mr. Stebbins say ‘man and wife’; and then it came over me in a hot kind of way that it was a marriage I was seeing.”
Timothy Cook stopped to wipe his forehead, as if overcome with the very recollection, and Mr. Gryce took the opportunity to remark:
“You say there were two ladies; now where was the other one at this time?”
“She was there, sir; but I didn’t mind much about her, I was so taken up with the handsome one and the way she had of smiling when any one looked at her. I never saw the beat.”
I felt a quick thrill go through me.
“Can you remember the color of her hair or eyes?”
“No, sir; I had a feeling as if she wasn’t dark, and that is all I know.”
“But you remember her face?”
Mr. Gryce here whispered me to procure two pictures which I would find in a certain drawer in his desk, and set them up in different parts of the room unbeknown to the man.
“You have before said,” pursued Mr. Gryce, “that you have no remembrance of her name. Now, how was that? Weren’t you called upon to sign the certificate?”
“Yes, sir; but I am most ashamed to say it; I was in a sort of maze, and didn’t hear much, and only remember it was a Mr. Clavering she was married to, and that some one called some one else Elner, or something like that. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid, sir, if it would have done you any good.”
“Tell us about the signing of the certificate,” said Mr. Gryce.
“Well, sir, there isn’t much to tell. Mr. Stebbins asked me to put my name down in a certain place on a piece of paper he pushed towards me, and I put it down there; that is all.”
“Was there no other name there when you wrote yours?”
“No, sir. Afterwards Mr. Stebbins turned towards the other lady, who now came forward, and asked her if she wouldn’t please sign it, too; and she said,’ yes,’ and came very quickly and did so.”
“And didn’t you see her face then?”
“No, sir; her back was to me when she threw by her veil, and I only saw Mr. Stebbins staring at her as she stooped, with a kind of wonder on his face, which made me think she might have been something worth looking at too; but I didn’t see her myself.”
“Well, what happened then?”
“I don’t know, sir. I went stumbling out of the room, and didn’t see anything more.”
“Where were you when the ladies went away?”
“In the garden, sir. I had gone back to my work.”
“You saw them, then. Was the gentleman with them?”
“No, sir; that was the queer part of it all. They went back as they came, and so did he; and in a few minutes Mr. Stebbins came out where I was, and told me I was to say nothing about what I had seen, for it was a secret.”
“Were you the only one in the house who knew anything about it? Weren’t there any women around?”
“No, sir; Miss Stebbins had gone to the sewing circle.”
I had by this time some faint impression of what Mr. Gryce’s suspicions were, and in arranging the pictures had placed one, that of Eleanore, on the mantel-piece, and the other, which was an uncommonly fine photograph of Mary, in plain view on the desk. But Mr. Cook’s back was as yet towards that part of the room, and, taking advantage of the moment, I returned and asked him if that was all he had to tell us about this matter.
“Then,” said Mr. Gryce, with a glance at Q, “isn’t there something you can give Mr. Cook in payment for his story? Look around, will you?”
Q nodded, and moved towards a cupboard in the wall at the side of the mantel-piece; Mr. Cook following him with his eyes, as was natural, when, with a sudden start, he crossed the room and, pausing before the mantelpiece, looked at the picture of Eleanore which I had put there, gave a low grunt of satisfaction or pleasure, looked at it again, and walked away. I felt my heart leap into my throat, and, moved by what impulse of dread or hope I cannot say, turned my back, when suddenly I heard him give vent to a startled exclamation, followed by the words: “Why! here she is; this is her, sirs,” and turning around saw him hurrying towards us with Mary’s picture in his hands.
I do not know as I was greatly surprised. I was powerfully excited, as well as conscious of a certain whirl of thought, and an unsettling of old conclusions that was very confusing; but surprised? No. Mr. Gryce’s manner had too well prepared me.
“This the lady who was married to Mr. Clavering, my good man? I guess you are mistaken,” cried the detective, in a very incredulous tone.
“Mistaken? Didn’t I say I would know her anywhere? This is the lady, if she is the president’s wife herself.” And Mr. Cook leaned over it with a devouring look that was not without its element of homage.
“I am very much astonished,” Mr. Gryce went on, winking at me in a slow, diabolical way which in another mood would have aroused my fiercest anger. “Now, if you had said the other lady was the one”— pointing to the picture on the mantelpiece,” I shouldn’t have wondered.”
“She? I never saw that lady before; but this one — would you mind telling me her name, sirs?”
“If what you say is true, her name is Mrs. Clavering.”
“Clavering? Yes, that was his name.”
“And a very lovely lady,” said Mr. Gryce. “Morris, haven’t you found anything yet?”
Q, for answer, brought forward glasses and a bottle.
But Mr. Cook was in no mood for liquor. I think he was struck with remorse; for, looking from the picture to Q, and from Q to the picture, he said:
“If I have done this lady wrong by my talk, I ‘ll never forgive myself. You told me I would help her to get her rights; if you have deceived me ——”
“Oh, I haven’t deceived you,” broke in Q, in his short, sharp way. “Ask that gentleman there if we are not all interested in Mrs. Clavering getting her due.”
He had designated me; but I was in no mood to reply. I longed to have the man dismissed, that I might inquire the reason of the great complacency which I now saw overspreading Mr. Gryce’s frame, to his very finger-ends.
“Mr. Cook needn’t be concerned,” remarked Mr. Gryce. “If he will take a glass of warm crink to fortify him for his walk, I think he may go to the lodgings Mr. Morris has provided for him without fear. Give the gent a glass, and let him mix for himself.”
But it was full ten minutes before we were delivered of the man and his vain regrets. Mary’s image had called up every latent feeling in his heart, and I could but wonder over a loveliness capable of swaying the low as well as the high. But at last he yielded to the seductions of the now wily Q, and departed.
Left alone with Mr. Gryce, I must have allowed some of the confused emotions which filled my breast to become apparent on my countenance; for after a few minutes of ominous silence, he exclaimed very grimly, and yet with a latent touch of that complacency I had before noticed:
“This discovery rather upsets you, doesn’t it? Well, it don’t me,” shutting his mouth like a trap. “I expected it.”
“Your conclusions must differ very materially from mine,” I returned; “or you would see that this discovery alters the complexion of the whole affair.”
“It does not alter the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
Mr. Gryce’s very legs grew thoughtful; his voice sank to its deepest tone. “Do you very much want to know?”
“Want to know the truth? What else are we after?”
“Then,” said he, “to my notion, the complexion of things has altered, but very much for the better. As long as Eleanore was believed to be the wife, her action in this matter was accounted for; but the tragedy itself was not. Why should Eleanore or Eleanore’s husband wish the death of a man whose bounty they believed would end with his life? But with Mary, the heiress, proved the wife! — I tell you, Mr. Raymond, it all hangs together now. You must never, in reckoning up an affair of murder like this, forget who it is that most profits by the deceased man’s death.”
“But Eleanore’s silence? her concealment of certain proofs and evidences in her own breast — how will you account for that? I can imagine a woman devoting herself to the shielding of a husband from the consequences of crime; but a cousin’s husband, never.”
Mr. Gryce put his feet very close together, and softly grunted. “Then you still think Mr. Clavering the assassin of Mr. Leavenworth?”
I could only stare at him in my sudden doubt and dread. “Still think?” I repeated.
“Mr. Clavering the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth?”
“Why, what else is there to think? You don’t — you can’t — suspect Eleanore of having deliberately undertaken to help her cousin out of a difficulty by taking the life of their mutual benefactor?”
“No,” said Mr. Gryce; “no, I do not think Eleanore Leavenworth had any hand in the business.”
“Then who —” I began, and stopped, lost in the dark vista that was opening before me.
“Who? Why, who but the one whose past deceit and present necessity demanded his death as a relief? Who but the beautiful, money-loving, man-deceiving goddess ——”
I leaped to my feet in my sudden horror and repugnance. “Do not mention the name! You are wrong; but do not speak the name.”
“Excuse me,” said he; “but it will have to be spoken many times, and we may as well begin here and now — who then but Mary Leavenworth; or, if you like it better, Mrs. Henry Clavering? Are you so much surprised? It has been my thought from the beginning.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50