“Confusion now hath made his master-piece;
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple, and stolen thence
The life of the building.”
TURNING my attention back into the room where I was, I found the coroner consulting a memorandum through a very impressive pair of gold eye-glasses.
“Is the butler here?” he asked.
Immediately there was a stir among the group of servants in the corner, and an intelligent-looking, though somewhat pompous, Irishman stepped out from their midst and confronted the jury. “Ah,” thought I to myself, as my glance encountered his precise whiskers, steady eye, and respectfully attentive, though by no means humble, expression, “here is a model servant, who is likely to prove a model witness.” And I was not mistaken; Thomas, the butler, was in all respects one in a thousand — and he knew it.
The coroner, upon whom, as upon all others in the room, he seemed to have made the like favorable impression, proceeded without hesitation to interrogate him.
“Your name, I am told, is Thomas Dougherty?”
“Well, Thomas, how long have you been employed in your present situation?”
“It must be a matter of two years now, sir.”
“You are the person who first discovered the body of Mr. Leavenworth?”
“Yes, sir; I and Mr. Harwell.”
“And who is Mr. Harwell?”
“Mr. Harwell is Mr. Leavenworth’s private secretary, sir; the one who did his writing.”
“Very good. Now at what time of the day or night did you make this discovery?”
“It was early, sir; early this morning, about eight.”
“In the library, sir, off Mr. Leavenworth’s bedroom. We had forced our way in, feeling anxious about his not coming to breakfast.”
“You forced your way in; the door was locked, then?”
“On the inside?”
“That I cannot tell; there was no key in the door.”
“Where was Mr. Leavenworth lying when you first found him?”
“He was not lying, sir. He was seated at the large table in the centre of his room, his back to the bedroom door, leaning forward, his head on his hands.”
“How was he dressed?”
“In his dinner suit, sir, just as he came from the table last night.”
“Were there any evidences in the room that a struggle had taken place?”
“Any pistol on the floor or table?”
“Any reason to suppose that robbery had been attempted?”
“No, sir. Mr. Leavenworth’s watch and purse were both in his pockets.”
Being asked to mention who were in the house at the time of the discovery, he replied, “The young ladies, Miss Mary Leavenworth and Miss Eleanore, Mr. Harwell, Kate the cook, Molly the upstairs girl, and myself.”
“The usual members of the household?”
“Now tell me whose duty it is to close up the house at night.”
“Did you secure it as usual, last night?”
“I did, sir.”
“Who unfastened it this morning?”
“How did you find it?”
“Just as I left it.”
“What, not a window open nor a door unlocked?”
By this time you could have heard a pin drop. The certainty that the murderer, whoever he was, had not left the house, at least till after it was opened in the morning, seemed to weigh upon all minds. Forewarned as I had been of the fact, I could not but feel a certain degree of emotion at having it thus brought before me; and, moving so as to bring the butler’s face within view, searched it for some secret token that he had spoken thus emphatically in order to cover up some failure of duty on his own part. But it was unmoved in its candor, and sustained the concentrated gaze of all in the room like a rock.
Being now asked when he had last seen Mr. Leavenworth alive, he replied, “At dinner last night.”
“He was, however, seen later by some of you?”
“Yes, sir; Mr. Harwell says he saw him as late as half-past ten in the evening.”
“What room do you occupy in this house?”
“A little one on the basement floor.”
“And where do the other members of the household sleep?”
“Mostly on the third floor, sir; the ladies in the large back rooms, and Mr. Harwell in the little one in front. The girls sleep above.”
“There was no one on the same floor with Mr. Leavenworth?”
“At what hour did you go to bed?”
“Well, I should say about eleven.”
“Did you hear any noise in the house either before or after that time, that you remember?”
“So that the discovery you made this morning was a surprise to you?”
Requested now to give a more detailed account of that discovery, he went on to say it was not till Mr. Leavenworth failed to come to his breakfast at the call of the bell that any suspicion arose in the house that all was not right. Even then they waited some little time before doing anything, but as minute after minute went by and he did not come, Miss Eleanore grew anxious, and finally left the room saying she would go and see what was the matter, but soon returned looking very much frightened, saying she had knocked at her uncle’s door, and had even called to him, but could get no answer. At which Mr. Harwell and himself had gone up and together tried both doors, and, finding them locked, burst open that of the library, when they came upon Mr. Leavenworth, as he had already said, sitting at the table, dead.
“And the ladies?”
“Oh, they followed us up and came into the room and Miss Eleanore fainted away.”
“And the other one — Miss Mary, I believe they call her?”
“I don’t remember anything about her; I was so busy fetching water to restore Miss Eleanore, I didn’t notice.”
“Well, how long was it before Mr. Leavenworth was carried into the next room?”
“Almost immediate, as soon as Miss Eleanore recovered, and that was as soon as ever the water touched her lips.”
“Who proposed that the body should be carried from the spot?”
“She, sir. As soon as ever she stood up she went over to it and looked at it and shuddered, and then calling Mr. Harwell and me, bade us carry him in and lay him on the bed and go for the doctor, which we did.”
“Wait a moment; did she go with you when you went into the other room?”
“What did she do?”
“She stayed by the library table.”
“I couldn’t see; her back was to me.”
“How long did she stay there?”
“She was gone when we came back.”
“Gone from the table?”
“Gone from the room.”
“Humph! when did you see her again?”
“In a minute. She came in at the library door as we went out.”
“Anything in her hand?”
“Not as I see.”
“Did you miss anything from the table?”
“I never thought to look, sir. The table was nothing to me. I was only thinking of going for the doctor, though I knew it was of no use.”
“Whom did you leave in the room when you went out?”
“The cook, sir, and Molly, sir, and Miss Eleanore.”
“Not Miss Mary?”
“Very well. Have the jury any questions to put to this man?”
A movement at once took place in that profound body.
“I should like to ask a few,” exclaimed a weazen-faced, excitable little man whom I had before noticed shifting in his seat in a restless manner strongly suggestive of an intense but hitherto repressed desire to interrupt the proceedings.
“Very well, sir,” returned Thomas.
But the juryman stopping to draw a deep breath, a large and decidedly pompous man who sat at his right hand seized the opportunity to inquire in a round, listen-to-me sort of voice:
“You say you have been in the family for two years. Was it what you might call a united family?”
“Affectionate, you know — on good terms with each other.” And the juryman lifted the very long and heavy watch-chain that hung across his vest as if that as well as himself had a right to a suitable and well-considered reply.
The butler, impressed perhaps by his manner, glanced uneasily around. “Yes, sir, so far as I know.”
“The young ladies were attached to their uncle?”
“O yes, sir.”
“And to each other?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so; it’s not for me to say.”
“You suppose so. Have you any reason to think otherwise?” And he doubled the watch-chain about his fingers as if he would double its attention as well as his own.
Thomas hesitated a moment. But just as his interlocutor was about to repeat his question, he drew himself up into a rather stiff and formal attitude and replied:
“Well, sir, no.”
The juryman, for all his self-assertion, seemed to respect the reticence of a servant who declined to give his opinion in regard to such a matter, and drawing complacently back, signified with a wave of his hand that he had no more to say.
Immediately the excitable little man, before mentioned, slipped forward to the edge of his chair and asked, this time without hesitation: “At what time did you unfasten the house this morning?”
“About six, sir.”
“Now, could any one leave the house after that time without your knowledge?”
Thomas glanced a trifle uneasily at his’ fellow-servants, but answered up promptly and as if without reserve;
“I don’t think it would be possible for anybody to leave this house after six in the morning without either myself or the cook’s knowing of it. Folks don’t jump from second-story windows in broad daylight, and as to leaving by the doors, the front door closes with such a slam all the house can hear it from top to bottom, and as for the back-door, no one that goes out of that can get clear of the yard without going by the kitchen window, and no one can go by our kitchen window without the cook’s a-seeing of them, that I can just swear to.” And he cast a half-quizzing, half-malicious look at the round, red-faced individual in question, strongly suggestive of late and unforgotten bickerings over the kitchen coffee-urn and castor.
This reply, which was of a nature calculated to deepen the forebodings which had already settled upon the minds of those present, produced a visible effect. The house found locked, and no one seen to leave it! Evidently, then, we had not far to look for the assassin.
Shifting on his chair with increased fervor, if I may so speak, the juryman glanced sharply around. But perceiving the renewed interest in the faces about him, declined to weaken the effect of the last admission, by any further questions. Settling, therefore, comfortably back, he left the field open for any other juror who might choose to press the inquiry. But no one seeming to be ready to do this, Thomas in his turn evinced impatience, and at last, looking respectfully around, inquired:
“Would any other gentleman like to ask me anything?”
No one replying, he threw a hurried glance of relief towards the servants at his side, then, while each one marvelled at the sudden change that had taken place in his countenance, withdrew with an eager alacrity and evident satisfaction for which I could not at the moment account.
But the next witness proving to be none other than my acquaintance of the morning, Mr. Harwell, I soon forgot both Thomas and the doubts his last movement had awakened, in the interest which the examination of so important a person as the secretary and right-hand man of Mr. Leavenworth was likely to create.
Advancing with the calm and determined air of one who realized that life and death itself might hang upon his words, Mr. Harwell took his stand before the jury with a degree of dignity not only highly prepossessing in itself, but to me, who had not been over and above pleased with him in our first interview, admirable and surprising. Lacking, as I have said, any distinctive quality of face or form agreeable or otherwise — being what you might call in appearance a negative sort of person, his pale, regular features, dark, well-smoothed hair and simple whiskers, all belonging to a recognized type and very commonplace — there was still visible, on this occasion at least, a certain self-possession in his carriage, which went far towards making up for the want of impressiveness in his countenance and expression. Not that even this was in any way remarkable. Indeed, there was nothing remarkable about the man, any more than there is about a thousand others you meet every day on Broadway, unless you except the look of concentration and solemnity which pervaded his whole person; a solemnity which at this time would not have been noticeable, perhaps, if it had not appeared to be the habitual expression of one who in his short life had seen more of sorrow than joy, less of pleasure than care and anxiety.
The coroner, to whom his appearance one way or the other seemed to be a matter of no moment, addressed him immediately and without reserve:
“James Trueman Harwell.”
“I have occupied the position of private secretary and amanuensis to Mr. Leavenworth for the past eight months.”
“You are the person who last saw Mr. Leavenworth alive, are you not?”
The young man raised his head with a haughty gesture which well-nigh transfigured it.
“Certainly not, as I am not the man who killed him.”
This answer, which seemed to introduce something akin to levity or badinage into an examination the seriousness of which we were all beginning to realize, produced an immediate revulsion of feeling toward the man who, in face of facts revealed and to be revealed, could so lightly make use of it. A hum of disapproval swept through the room, and in that one remark, James Harwell lost all that he had previously won by the self-possession of his bearing and the unflinching regard of his eye. He seemed himself to realize this, for he lifted his head still higher, though his general aspect remained unchanged.
“I mean,” the coroner exclaimed, evidently nettled that the young man had been able to draw such a conclusion from his words, “that you were the last one to see him previous to his assassination by some unknown individual?”
The secretary folded his arms, whether to hide a certain tremble which had seized him, or by that simple action to gain time for a moment’s further thought, I could not then determine. “Sir,” he replied at length, “I cannot answer yes or no to that question. In all probability I was the last to see him in good health and spirits, but in a house as large as this I cannot be sure of even so simple a fact as that.” Then, observing the unsatisfied look on the faces around, added slowly, “It is my business to see him late.”
“Your business? Oh, as his secretary, I suppose?”
He gravely nodded.
“Mr. Harwell,” the coroner went on, “the office of private secretary in this country is not a common one. Will you explain to us what your duties were in that capacity; in short, what use Mr. Leavenworth had for such an assistant and how he employed you?”
“Certainly. Mr. Leavenworth was, as you perhaps know, a man of great wealth. Connected with various societies, clubs, institutions, etc., besides being known far and near as a giving man, he was accustomed every day of his life to receive numerous letters, begging and otherwise, which it was my business to open and answer, his private correspondence always bearing a mark upon it which distinguished it from the rest. But this was not all I was expected to do. Having in his early life been engaged in the tea-trade, he had made more than one voyage to China, and was consequently much interested in the question of international communication between that country and our own. Thinking that in his various visits there, he had learned much which, if known to the American people, would conduce to our better understanding of the nation, its peculiarities, and the best manner of dealing with it, he has been engaged for some time in writing a book on the subject, which same it has been my business for the last eight months to assist him in preparing, by writing at his dictation three hours out of the twenty-four, the last hour being commonly taken from the evening, say from half-past nine to half-past ten, Mr. Leavenworth being a very methodical man and accustomed to regulate his own life and that of those about him with almost mathematical precision.”
“You say you were accustomed to write at his dictation evenings? Did you do this as usual last evening?”
“I did, sir.”
“What can you tell us of his manner and appearance at the time? Were they in any way unusual?”
A frown crossed the secretary’s brow.
“As he probably had no premonition of his doom, why should there have been any change in his manner?”
This giving the coroner an opportunity to revenge himself for his discomfiture of a moment before, he said somewhat severely:
“It is the business of a witness to answer questions, not to put them.”
The secretary flushed and the account stood even.
“Very well, then, sir; if Mr. Leavenworth felt any forebodings of his end, he did not reveal them to me. On the contrary, he seemed to be more absorbed in his work than usual. One of the last words he said to me was, ‘In a month we will have this book in press, eh, Trueman?’ I remember this particularly, as he was filling his wine-glass at the time. He always drank one glass of wine before retiring, it being my duty to bring the decanter of sherry from the closet the last thing before leaving him. I was standing with my hand on the knob of the hall-door, but advanced as he said this and replied, ‘I hope so, indeed, Mr. Leavenworth.’ ‘Then join me in drinking a glass of sherry,’ said he, motioning me to procure another glass from the closet. I did so, and he poured me out the wine with his own hand. I am not especially fond of sherry, but the occasion was a pleasant one and I drained my glass. I remember being slightly ashamed of doing so, for Mr. Leavenworth set his down half full. It was half full when we found him this morning.”
Do what he would, and being a reserved man he appeared anxious to control his emotion, the horror of his first shock seemed to overwhelm him here. Pulling his handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his forehead. “Gentlemen, that is the last action of Mr. Leavenworth I ever saw. As he set the glass down on the table, I said good-night to him and left the room.”
The coroner, with a characteristic imperviousness to all expressions of emotion, leaned back and surveyed the young man with a scrutinizing glance. “And where did you go then?” he asked.
“To my own room.”
“Did you meet anybody on the way?”
“Hear any thing or see anything unusual?”
The secretary’s voice fell a trifle. “No, sir.”
“Mr. Harwell, think again. Are you ready to swear that you neither met anybody, heard anybody, nor saw anything which lingers yet in your memory as unusual?”
His face grew quite distressed. Twice he opened his lips to speak, and as often closed them without doing so. At last, with an effort, he replied:
“I saw one thing, a little thing, too slight to mention, but it was unusual, and I could not help thinking of it when you spoke.”
“What was it?”
“Only a door half open.”
“Miss Eleanore Leavenworth’s.” His voice was almost a whisper now.
“Where were you when you observed this fact?”
“I cannot say exactly. Probably at my own door, as I did not stop on the way. If this frightful occurrence had not taken place I should never have thought of it again.”
“When you went into your room did you close your door?”
“I did, sir.”
“How soon did you retire?”
“Did you hear nothing before you fell asleep?”
Again that indefinable hesitation.
“Not a footstep in the hall?”
“I might have heard a footstep.”
“I cannot swear I did.”
“Do you think you did?”
“Yes, I think I did. To tell the whole: I remember hearing, just as I was falling into a doze, a rustle and a footstep in the hall; but it made no impression upon me, and I dropped asleep.”
“Some time later I woke, woke suddenly, as if something had startled me, but what, a noise or move, I cannot say. I remember rising up in my bed and looking around, but hearing nothing further, soon yielded to the drowsiness which possessed me and fell into a deep sleep. I did not wake again till morning.”
Here requested to relate how and when he became acquainted with the fact of the murder, he substantiated, in all particulars, the account of the matter already given by the butler; which subject being exhausted, the coroner went on to ask if he had noted the condition of the library table after the body had been removed.
“Somewhat; yes, sir.”
“What was on it?”
“The usual properties, sir, books, paper, a pen with the ink dried on it, besides the decanter and the wineglass from which he drank the night before.”
“I remember nothing more.”
“In regard to that decanter and glass,” broke in the juryman of the watch and chain, “did you not say that the latter was found in the same condition in which you saw it at the time you left Mr. Leavenworth sitting in his library?”
“Yes, sir, very much.”
“Yet he was in the habit of drinking a full glass?”
“An interruption must then have ensued very close upon your departure, Mr. Harwell.”
A cold bluish pallor suddenly broke out upon the young man’s face. He started, and for a moment looked as if struck by some horrible thought. “That does not follow, sir,” he articulated with some difficulty. “Mr. Leavenworth might —” but suddenly stopped, as if too much distressed to proceed.
“Go on, Mr. Harwell, let us hear what you have to say.”
“There is nothing,” he returned faintly, as if battling with some strong emotion.
As he had not been answering a question, only volunteering an explanation, the coroner let it pass; but I saw more than one pair of eyes roll suspiciously from side to side, as if many there felt that some sort of clue had been offered them in this man’s emotion. The coroner, ignoring in his easy way both the emotion and the universal excitement it had produced, now proceeded to ask: “Do you know whether the key to the library was in its place when you left the room last night?”
“No, sir; I did not notice.”
“The presumption is, it was?”
“I suppose so.”
“At all events, the door was locked in the morning, and the key gone?”
“Then whoever committed this murder locked the door on passing out, and took away the key?”
“It would seem so.”
The coroner turning, faced the jury with an earnest look. “Gentlemen,” said he, “there seems to be a mystery in regard to this key which must be looked into.”
Immediately a universal murmur swept through the room, testifying to the acquiescence of all present. The little juryman hastily rising proposed that an instant search should be made for it; but the coroner, turning upon him with what I should denominate as a quelling look, decided that the inquest should proceed in the usual manner, till the verbal testimony was all in.
“Then allow me to ask a question,” again volunteered the irrepressible. “Mr. Harwell, we are told that upon the breaking in of the library door this morning, Mr. Leavenworth’s two nieces followed you into the room.”
“One of them, sir, Miss Eleanore.”
“Is Miss Eleanore the one who is said to be Mr. Leavenworth’s sole heiress?” the coroner here interposed.
“No, sir, that is Miss Mary.”
“That she gave orders,” pursued the juryman, “for the removal of the body into the further room?”
“And that you obeyed her by helping to carry it in?”
“Now, in thus passing through the rooms, did you observe anything to lead you to form a suspicion of the murderer?”
The secretary shook his head. “I have no suspicion,” he emphatically said.
Somehow, I did not believe him. Whether it was the tone of his voice, the clutch of his hand on his sleeve — and the hand will often reveal more than the countenance — I felt that this man was not to be relied upon in making this assertion.
“I should like to ask Mr. Harwell a question,” said a juryman who had not yet spoken. “We have had a detailed account of what looks like the discovery of a murdered man. Now, murder is never committed without some motive. Does the secretary know whether Mr. Leavenworth had any secret enemy?”
“I do not.”
“Every one in the house seemed to be on good terms with him?”
“Yes, sir,” with a little quaver of dissent in the assertion, however.
“Not a shadow lay between him and any other member of his household, so far as you know?”
“I am not ready to say that,” he returned, quite distressed. “A shadow is a very slight thing. There might have been a shadow ——”
“Between him and whom?”
A long hesitation. “One of his nieces, sir.”
Again that defiant lift of the head. “Miss Eleanore.”
“How long has this shadow been observable?”
“I cannot say.”
“You do not know the cause?”
“I do not.”
“Nor the extent of the feeling?”
“You open Mr. Leavenworth’s letters?”
“Has there been anything in his correspondence of late calculated to throw any light upon this deed?”
It actually seemed as if he never would answer. Was he simply pondering over his reply, or was the man turned to stone?
“Mr. Harwell, did you hear the juryman?” inquired the coroner.
“Yes, sir; I was thinking.”
“Very well, now answer.”
“Sir,” he replied, turning and looking the juryman full in the face, and in that way revealing his unguarded left hand to my gaze, “I have opened Mr. Leavenworth’s letters as usual for the last two weeks, and I can think of nothing in them bearing in the least upon this tragedy.”
The man lied; I knew it instantly. The clenched hand pausing irresolute, then making up its mind to go through with the lie firmly, was enough for me.
“Mr. Harwell, this is undoubtedly true according to your judgment,” said the coroner; “but Mr. Leavenworth’s correspondence will have to be searched for all that.”
“Of course,” he replied carelessly; “that is only right.”
This remark ended Mr. Harwell’s examination for the time. As he sat down I made note of four things.
That Mr. Harwell himself, for some reason not given, was conscious of a suspicion which he was anxious to suppress even from his own mind.
That a woman was in some way connected with it, a rustle as well as a footstep having been heard by him on the stairs.
That a letter had arrived at the house, which if found would be likely to throw some light upon this subject.
That Eleanore Leavenworth’s name came with difficulty from his lips; this evidently unimpressible man, manifesting more or less emotion whenever he was called upon to utter it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55