“Sits the wind in that corner?”
Much Ado about Nothing.
I DO not propose to enter into a description of the mingled feelings aroused in me by this announcement. As a drowning man is said to live over in one terrible instant the events of a lifetime, so each word uttered in my hearing by Mary, from her first introduction to me in her own room, on the morning of the inquest, to our final conversation on the night of Mr. Clavering’s call, swept in one wild phantasmagoria through my brain, leaving me aghast at the signification which her whole conduct seemed to acquire from the lurid light which now fell upon it.
“I perceive that I have pulled down an avalanche of doubts about your ears,” exclaimed my companion from the height of his calm superiority. “You never thought of this possibility, then, yourself?”
“Do not ask me what I have thought. I only know I will never believe your suspicions true. That, however much Mary may have been benefited by her uncle’s death, she never had a hand in it; actual hand, I mean.”
“And what makes you so sure of this?”
“And what makes you so sure of the contrary? It is for you to prove, not for me to prove her innocence.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Gryce, in his slow, sarcastic way, “you recollect that principle of law, do you? If I remember rightly, you have not always been so punctilious in regarding it, or wishing to have it regarded, when the question was whether Mr. Clavering was the assassin or not.”
“But he is a man. It does not seem so dreadful to accuse a man of a crime. But a woman! and such a woman! I cannot listen to it; it is horrible. Nothing short of absolute confession on her part will ever make me believe Mary Leavenworth, or any other woman, committed this deed. It was too cruel, too deliberate, too ——”
“Read the criminal records,” broke in Mr. Gryce.
But I was obstinate. “I do not care for the criminal records. All the criminal records in the world would never make me believe Eleanore perpetrated this crime, nor will I be less generous towards her cousin Mary Leavenworth is a faulty woman, but not a guilty one.”
“You are more lenient in your judgment of her than her cousin was, it appears.”
“I do not understand you,” I muttered, feeling a new and yet more fearful light breaking upon me.
“What! have you forgotten, in the hurry of these late events, the sentence of accusation which we overheard uttered between these ladies on the morning of the inquest?”
“No, but ——”
“You believed it to have been spoken by Mary to Eleanore?”
“Of course; didn’t you?”
Oh, the smile which crossed Mr. Gryce’s face! “Scarcely. I left that baby-play for you. I thought one was enough to follow on that tack.”
The light, the light that was breaking upon me! “And do you mean to say it was Eleanore who was speaking at that time? That I have been laboring all these weeks under a terrible mistake, and that you could have righted me with a word, and did not?”
“Well, as to that, I had a purpose in letting you follow your own lead for a while. In the first place, I was not sure myself which spoke; though I had but little doubt about the matter. The voices are, as you must have noticed, very much alike, while the attitudes in which we found them upon entering were such as to be explainable equally by the supposition that Mary was in the act of launching a denunciation, or in that of repelling one. So that, while I did not hesitate myself as to the true explanation of the scene before me, I was pleased to find you accept a contrary one; as in this way both theories had a chance of being tested; as was right in a case of so much mystery. You accordingly took up the affair with one idea for your starting-point, and I with another. You saw every fact as it developed through the medium of Mary’s belief in Eleanore’s guilt, and I through the opposite. And what has been the result? With you, doubt, contradiction, constant unsettlement, and unwarranted resorts to strange sources for reconcilement between appearances and your own convictions; with me, growing assurance, and a belief which each and every development so far has but served to strengthen and make more probable.”
Again that wild panorama of events, looks, and words swept before me. Mary’s reiterated assertions of her cousin’s innocence, Eleanore’s attitude of lofty silence in regard to certain matters which might be considered by her as pointing towards the murderer.
“Your theory must be the correct one,” I finally admitted; “it was undoubtedly Eleanore who spoke. She believes in Mary’s guilt, and I have been blind, indeed, not to have seen it from the first.”
“If Eleanore Leavenworth believes in her cousin’s criminality, she must have some good reasons for doing so.”
I was obliged to admit that too. “She did not conceal in her bosom that telltale key — found who knows where? — and destroy, or seek to destroy, it and the letter which introduced her cousin to the public as the unprincipled destroyer of a trusting man’s peace, for nothing.” “No, no.”
“And yet you, a stranger, a young man who have never seen Mary Leavenworth in any other light than that in which her coquettish nature sought to display itself, presume to say she is innocent, in the face of the attitude maintained from the first by her cousin!”
“But,” said I, in my great unwillingness to accept his conclusions, “Eleanore Leavenworth is but mortal. She may have been mistaken in her inferences. She has never stated what her suspicion was founded upon; nor can we know what basis she has for maintaining the attitude you speak of. Clavering is as likely as Mary to be the assassin, for all we know, and possibly for all she knows.”
“You seem to be almost superstitious in your belief in Clavering’s guilt.”
I recoiled. Was I? Could it be that Mr. Harwell’s fanciful conviction in regard to this man had in any way influenced me to the detriment of my better judgment?
“And you may be right,” Mr. Gryce went on. “I do not pretend to be set in my notions. Future investigation may succeed in fixing something upon him; though I hardly think it likely. His behavior as the secret husband of a woman possessing motives for the commission of a crime has been too consistent throughout.”
“All except his leaving her.”
“No exception at all; for he hasn’t left her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, instead of leaving the country, Mr. Clavering has only made pretence of doing so. That, in place of dragging himself off to Europe at her command, he has only changed his lodgings, and can now be found, not only in a house opposite to hers, but in the window of that house, where he sits day after day watching who goes in and out of her front door.”
I remembered his parting injunction to me, in that memorable interview we had in my office, and saw myself compelled to put a new construction upon it.
“But I was assured at the Hoffman House that he had sailed for Europe, and myself saw the man who professes to have driven him to the steamer.”
“And Mr. Clavering returned to the city after that?”
“In another carriage, and to another house.”
“And you tell me that man is all right?”
“No; I only say there isn’t the shadow of evidence against him as the person who shot Mr. Leavenworth.”
Rising, I paced the floor, and for a few minutes silence fell between us. But the clock, striking, recalled me to the necessity of the hour, and, turning, I asked Mr. Gryce what he proposed to do now.
“There is but one thing I can do,” said he.
“And that is?”
“To go upon such lights as I have, and cause the arrest of Miss Leavenworth.”
I had by this time schooled myself to endurance, and was able to hear this without uttering an exclamation. But I could not let it pass without making one effort to combat his determination.
“But,” said I, “I do not see what evidence you have, positive enough in its character, to warrant extreme measures. You have yourself intimated that the existence of motive is not enough, even though taken with the fact of the suspected party being in the house at the time of the murder; and what more have you to urge against Miss Leavenworth?”
“Pardon me. I said ‘Miss Leavenworth’; I should have said ‘Eleanore Leavenworth.’”
“Eleanore? What! when you and all unite in thinking that she alone of all these parties to the crime is utterly guiltless of wrong?”
“And yet who is the only one against whom positive testimony of any kind can be brought.”
I could but acknowledge that.
“Mr. Raymond,” he remarked very gravely; “the public is becoming clamorous; something must be done to satisfy it, if only for the moment. Eleanore has laid herself open to the suspicion of the police, and must take the consequences of her action. I am sorry; she is a noble creature; I admire her; but justice is justice, and though I think her innocent, I shall be forced to put her under arrest unless ——”
“But I cannot be reconciled to it. It is doing an irretrievable injury to one whose only fault is an undue and mistaken devotion to an unworthy cousin. If Mary is the ——.”
“Unless something occurs between now and tomorrow morning,” Mr. Gryce went on, as if I had not spoken.
I tried to realize it; tried to face the fact that all my efforts had been for nothing, and failed.
“Will you not grant me one more day?” I asked in my desperation.
“What to do?”
Alas, I did not know. “To confront Mr. Clavering, and force from him the truth.”
“To make a mess of the whole affair!” he growled. “No, sir; the die is cast. Eleanore Leavenworth knows the one point which fixes this crime upon her cousin, and she must tell us that point or suffer the consequences of her refusal.”
I made one more effort.
“But why tomorrow? Having exhausted so much time already in our inquiries, why not take a little more; especially as the trail is constantly growing warmer? A little more moling ——”
“A little more folderol!” exclaimed Mr. Gryce, losing his temper. “No, sir; the hour for moling has passed; something decisive has got to be done now; though, to be sure, if I could find the one missing link I want ——”
“Missing link? What is that?”
“The immediate motive of the tragedy; a bit of proof that Mr. Leavenworth threatened his niece with his displeasure, or Mr. Clavering with his revenge, would place me on the vantage-point at once; no arresting of Eleanore then! No, my lady! I would walk right into your own gilded parlors, and when you asked me if I had found the murderer yet, say ‘yes,’ and show you a bit of paper which would surprise you! But missing links are not so easily found. This has been moled for, and moled for, as you are pleased to call our system of investigation, and totally without result. Nothing but the confession of some one of these several parties to the crime will give us what we want. I will tell you what I will do,” he suddenly cried. “Miss Leavenworth has desired me to report to her; she is very anxious for the detection of the murderer, you know, and offers an immense reward. Well, I will gratify this desire of hers. The suspicions I have, together with my reasons for them, will make an interesting disclosure. I should not greatly wonder if they produced an equally interesting confession.”
I could only jump to my feet in my horror.
“At all events, I propose to try it. Eleanore is worth that much risk any way.”
“It will do no good,” said I. “If Mary is guilty, she will never confess it. If not ——”
“She will tell us who is.”
“Not if it is Clavering, her husband.”
“Yes; even if it is Clavering, her husband. She has not the devotion of Eleanore.”
That I could but acknowledge. She would hide no keys for the sake of shielding another: no, if Mary were accused, she would speak. The future opening before us looked sombre enough. And yet when, in a short time from that, I found myself alone in a busy street, the thought that Eleanore was free rose above all others, filling and moving me till my walk home in the rain that day has become a marked memory of my life. It was only with nightfall that I began to realize the truly critical position in which Mary stood if Mr. Gryce’s theory was correct. But, once seized with this thought, nothing could drive it from my mind. Shrink as I would, it was ever before me, haunting me with the direst forebodings. Nor, though I retired early, could I succeed in getting either sleep or rest. All night I tossed on my pillow, saying over to myself with dreary iteration: “Something must happen, something will happen, to prevent Mr. Gryce doing this dreadful thing.” Then I would start up and ask what could happen; and my mind would run over various contingencies, such as — Mr. Clavering might confess; Hannah might come back; Mary herself wake up to her position and speak the word I had more than once seen trembling on her lips. But further thought showed me how unlikely any of these things were to happen, and it was with a brain utterly exhausted that I fell asleep in the early dawn, to dream I saw Mary standing above Mr. Gryce with a pistol in her hand. I was awakened from this pleasing vision by a heavy knock at the door. Hastily rising, I asked who was there. The answer came in the shape of an envelope thrust under the door. Raising it, I found it to be a note. It was from Mr. Gryce, and ran thus:
“Come at once; Hannah Chester is found.”
“So we have reason to think.”
“When? where? by whom?”
“Sit down, and I will tell you.”
Drawing up a chair in a flurry of hope and fear, I sat down by Mr. Gryce’s side.
“She is not in the cupboard,” that person dryly assured me, noting without doubt how my eyes went travelling about the room in my anxiety and impatience. “We are not absolutely sure that she is anywhere. But word has come to us that a girl’s face believed to be Hannah’s has been seen at the upper window of a certain house in-don’t start — R— — where a year ago she was in the habit of visiting while at the hotel with the Misses Leavenworth. Now, as it has already been determined that she left New York the night of the murder, by the ————— Railroad, though for what point we have been unable to ascertain, we consider the matter worth inquiring into.”
“If she is there,” resumed Mr. Gryce, “she is secreted; kept very close. No one except the informant has ever seen her, nor is there any suspicion among the neighbors of her being in town.”
“Hannah secreted at a certain house in R——? Whose house?”
Mr. Gryce honored me with one of his grimmest smiles. “The name of the lady she’s with is given in the communication as Belden; Mrs. Amy Belden.”
“Amy Belden! the name found written on a torn envelope by Mr. Clavering’s servant girl in London?”
I made no attempt to conceal my satisfaction. “Then we are upon the verge of some discovery; Providence has interfered, and Eleanore will be saved! But when did you get this word?”
“Last night, or rather this morning; Q brought it.”
“It was a message, then, to Q?”
“Yes, the result of his molings while in R— — I suppose.”
“Whom was it signed by?”
“A respectable tinsmith who lives next door to Mrs. B.”
“And is this the first you knew of an Amy Belden living in R——?”
“Widow or wife?”
“Don’t know; don’t know anything about her but her name.”
“But you have already sent Q to make inquiries?”
“No; the affair is a little too serious for him to manage alone. He is not equal to great occasions, and might fail just for the lack of a keen mind to direct him.”
“In short ——”
“I wish you to go. Since I cannot be there myself, I know of no one else sufficiently up in the affair to conduct it to a successful issue. You see, it is not enough to find and identify the girl. The present condition of things demands that the arrest of so important a witness should be kept secret. Now, for a man to walk into a strange house in a distant village, find a girl who is secreted there, frighten her, cajole her, force her, as the case may be, from her hiding-place to a detective’s office in New York, and all without the knowledge of the next-door neighbor, if possible, requires judgment, brains, genius. Then the woman who conceals her I She must have her reasons for doing so; and they must be known. Altogether, the affair is a delicate one. Do you think you can manage it?”
“I should at least like to try.”
Mr. Gryce settled himself on the sofa. “To think what pleasure I am losing on your account!” he grumbled, gazing reproachfully at his helpless limbs. “But to business. How soon can you start?”
“Good! a train leaves the depot at 12.15. Take that. Once in R— — it will be for you to decide upon the means of making Mrs. Belden’s acquaintance without arousing her suspicions. Q, who will follow you, will hold himself in readiness to render you any assistance you may require. Only this thing is to be understood: as he will doubtless go in disguise, you are not to recognize him, much less interfere with him and his plans, till he gives you leave to do so, by some preconcerted signal. You are to work in your way, and he in his, till circumstances seem to call for mutual support and countenance. I cannot even say whether you will see him or not; he may find it necessary to Keep um of the way; but you may be sure of one thing, that he will know where you are, and that the display of, well, let us say a red silk handkerchief — have you such a thing?”
“I will get one.”
“Will be regarded by him as a sign that you desire his presence or assistance, whether it be shown about your person or at the window of your room.”
“And these are all the instructions you can give me?” I said, as he paused.
“Yes, I don’t know of anything else. You must depend largely upon your own discretion, and the exigencies of the moment. I cannot tell you now what to do. Your own wit will be the best guide. Only, if possible, let me either hear from you or see you by tomorrow at this time.”
And he handed me a cipher in case I should wish to telegraph.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55