“It out-herods Herod.”
“A thing devised by the enemy.”
A HALF-HOUR had passed. The train upon which I had every reason to expect Mr. Gryce had arrived, and I stood in the doorway awaiting with indescribable agitation the slow and labored approach of the motley group of men and women whom I had observed leave the depot at the departure of the cars. Would he be among them? Was the telegram of a nature peremptory enough to make his presence here, sick as he was, an absolute certainty? The written confession of Hannah throbbing against my heart, a heart all elation now, as but a short half-hour before it had been all doubt and struggle, seemed to rustle distrust, and the prospect of a long afternoon spent in impatience was rising before me, when a portion of the advancing crowd turned off into a side street, and I saw the form of Mr. Gryce hobbling, not on two sticks, but very painfully on one, coming slowly down the street.
His face, as he approached, was a study.
“Well, well, well,” he exclaimed, as we met at the gate; “this is a pretty how-dye-do, I must say. Hannah dead, eh? and everything turned topsy-turvy! Humph, and what do you think of Mary Leavenworth now?”
It would therefore seem natural, in the conversation which followed his introduction into the house and installment in Mrs. Belden’s parlor, that I should begin my narration by showing him Hannah’s confession; but it was not so. Whether it was that I felt anxious to have him go through the same alternations of hope and fear it had been my lot to experience since I came to R——; or whether, in the depravity of human nature, there lingered within me sufficient resentment for the persistent disregard he had always paid to my suspicions of Henry Clavering to make it a matter of moment to me to spring this knowledge upon him just at the instant his own convictions seemed to have reached the point of absolute certainty, I cannot say. Enough that it was not till I had given him a full account of every other matter connected with my stay in this house; not till I saw his eye beaming, and his lip quivering with the excitement incident upon the perusal of the letter from Mary, found in Mrs. Belden’s pocket; not, indeed, until I became assured from such expressions as “Tremendous! The deepest game of the season! Nothing like it since the Lafarge affair!” that in another moment he would be uttering some theory or belief that once heard would forever stand like a barrier between us, did I allow myself to hand him the letter I had taken from under the dead body of Hannah.
I shall never forget his expression as he received it; “Good heavens!” cried he, “what’s this?”
“A dying confession of the girl Hannah. I found it lying in her bed when I went up, a half-hour ago, to take a second look at her.”
Opening it, he glanced over it with an incredulous air that speedily, however, turned to one of the utmost astonishment, as he hastily perused it, and then stood turning it over and over in his hand, examining it.
“A remarkable piece of evidence,” I observed, not without a certain feeling of triumph; “quite changes the aspect of affairs!”
“Think so?” he sharply retorted; then, whilst I stood staring at him in amazement, his manner was so different from what I expected, looked up and said: “You tell me that you found this in her bed. Whereabouts in her bed?”
“Under the body of the girl herself,” I returned. “I saw one corner of it protruding from beneath her shoulders, and drew it out.”
He came and stood before me. “Was it folded or open, when you first looked at it?”
“Folded; fastened up in this envelope,” showing it to him.
He took it, looked at it for a moment, and went on with his questions.
“This envelope has a very crumpled appearance, as well as the letter itself. Were they so when you found them?”
“Yes, not only so, but doubled up as you see.”
“Doubled up? You are sure of that? Folded, sealed, and then doubled up as if her body had rolled across it while alive?”
“No trickery about it? No look as if the thing had been insinuated there since her death?”
“Not at all. I should rather say that to every appearance she held it in her hand when she lay down, but turning over, dropped it and then laid upon it.”
Mr. Gryce’s eyes, which had been very bright, ominously clouded; evidently he had been disappointed in my answers, paying the letter down, he stood musing, but suddenly lifted it again, scrutinized the edges of the paper on which it was written, and, darting me a quick look, vanished with it into the shade of the window curtain. His manner was so peculiar, I involuntarily rose to follow; but he waved me back, saying:
“Amuse yourself with that box on the table, which you had such an ado over; see if it contains all we have a right to expect to find in it. I want to be by myself for a moment.”
Subduing my astonishment, I proceeded to comply with his request, but scarcely had I lifted the lid of the box before me when he came hurrying back, flung the letter down on the table with an air of the greatest excitement, and cried:
“Did I say there had never been anything like it since the Lafarge affair? I tell you there has never been anything like it in any affair. It is the rummest case on record! Mr. Raymond,” and his eyes, in his excitement, actually met mine for the first time in my experience of him, “prepare yourself for a disappointment. This pretended confession of Hannah’s is a fraud!”
“Yes; fraud, forgery, what you will; the girl never wrote it.”
Amazed, outraged almost, I bounded from my chair. “How do you know that?” I cried.
Bending forward, he put the letter into my hand. “Look at it,” said he; “examine it closely. Now tell me what is the first thing you notice in regard to it?”
“Why, the first thing that strikes me, is that the words are printed, instead of written; something which might be expected from this girl, according to all accounts.”
“That they are printed on the inside of a sheet of ordinary paper ——”
“That is, a sheet of commercial note of the ordinary quality.”
“But is it?”
“Why, yes; I should say so.”
“Look at the lines.”
“What of them? Oh, I see, they run up close to the top of the page; evidently the scissors have been used here.”
“In short, it is a large sheet, trimmed down to the size of commercial note?”
“And is that all you see?”
“All but the words.”
“Don’t you perceive what has been lost by means of this trimming down?”
“No, unless you mean the manufacturer’s stamp in the corner.” Mr. Gryce’s glance took meaning. “But I don’t see why the loss of that should be deemed a matter of any importance.”
“Don’t you? Not when you consider that by it we seem to be deprived of all opportunity of tracing this sheet back to the quire of paper from which it was taken?”
“Humph! then you are more of an amateur than I thought you. Don’t you see that, as Hannah could have had no motive for concealing where the paper came from on which she wrote her dying words, this sheet must have been prepared by some one else?”
“No,” said I; “I cannot say that I see all that.”
“Can’t! Well then, answer me this. Why should Hannah, a girl about to commit suicide, care whether any clue was furnished, in her confession, to the actual desk, drawer, or quire of paper from which the sheet was taken, on which she wrote it?”
“Yet especial pains have been taken to destroy that clue.”
“Then there is another thing. Read the confession itself, Mr. Raymond, and tell me what you gather from it.”
“Why,” said I, after complying, “that the girl, worn out with constant apprehension, has made up her mind to do away with herself, and that Henry Clavering ——”
The interrogation was put with so much meaning, I looked up. “Yes,” said I.
“Ah, I didn’t know that Mr. Clavering’s name was mentioned there; excuse me.”
“His name is not mentioned, but a description is given so strikingly in accordance ——”
Here Mr. Gryce interrupted me. “Does it not seem a little surprising to you that a girl like Hannah should have stopped to describe a man she knew by name?”
I started; it was unnatural surely.
“You believe Mrs. Belden’s story, don’t you?”
“Consider her accurate in her relation of what took place here a year ago?”
“Must believe, then, that Hannah, the go-between, was acquainted with Mr. Clavering and with his name?”
“Then why didn’t she use it? If her intention was, as she here professes, to save Eleanore Leavenworth from the false imputation which had fallen upon her, she would naturally take the most direct method of doing it. This description of a man whose identity she could have at once put beyond a doubt by the mention of his name is the work, not of a poor, ignorant girl, but of some person who, in attempting to play the role of one, has signally failed. But that is not all. Mrs. Belden, according to you, maintains that Hannah told her, upon entering the house, that Mary Leavenworth sent her here. But in this document, she declares it to have been the work of Black Mustache.”
“I know; but could they not have both been parties to the transaction?”
“Yes,” said he; “yet it is always a suspicious circumstance, when there is a discrepancy between the written and spoken declaration of a person. But why do we stand here fooling, when a few words from this Mrs. Belden, you talk so much about, will probably settle the whole matter!”
“A few words from Mrs. Belden,” I repeated. “I have had thousands from her today, and find the matter no nearer settled than in the beginning.”
“You have had,” said he, “but I have not. Fetch her in, Mr. Raymond.”
I rose. “One thing,” said I, “before I go. What if Hannah had found the sheet of paper, trimmed just as it is, and used it without any thought of the suspicions it would occasion!”
“Ah!” said he, “that is just what we are going to find out.”
Mrs. Belden was in a flutter of impatience when I entered the sitting-room. When did I think the coroner would come? and what did I imagine this detective would do for us? It was dreadful waiting there alone for something, she knew not what.
I calmed her as well as I could, telling her the detective had not yet informed me what he could do, having some questions to ask her first. Would she come in to see him? She rose with alacrity. Anything was better than suspense.
Mr. Gryce, who in the short interim of my absence had altered his mood from the severe to the beneficent, received Mrs. Belden with just that show of respectful courtesy likely to impress a woman as dependent as she upon the good opinion of others.
“Ah! and this is the lady in whose house this very disagreeable event has occurred,” he exclaimed, partly rising in his enthusiasm to greet her. “May I request you to sit,” he asked; “if a stranger may be allowed to take the liberty of inviting a lady to sit in her own house.”
“It does not seem like my own house any longer,” said she, but in a sad, rather than an aggressive tone; so much had his genial way imposed upon her. “Little better than a prisoner here, go and come, keep silence or speak, just as I am bidden; and all because an unhappy creature, whom I took in for the most unselfish of motives, has chanced to die in my house!”
“Just so!” exclaimed Mr. Gryce; “it is very unjust. But perhaps we can right matters. I have every reason to believe we can. This sudden death ought to be easily explained. You say you had no poison in the house?”
“And that the girl never went out?”
“And that no one has ever been here to see her?”
“No one, sir.”
“So that she could not have procured any such thing if she had wished?”
“Unless,” he added suavely, “she had it with her when she came here?”
“That couldn’t have been, sir. She brought no baggage; and as for her pocket, I know everything there was in it, for I looked.”
“And what did you find there?”
“Some money in bills, more than you would have expected such a girl to have, some loose pennies, and a common handkerchief.”
“Well, then, it is proved the girl didn’t die of poison, there being none in the house.”
He said this in so convinced a tone she was deceived.
“That is just what I have been telling Mr. Raymond,” giving me a triumphant look.
“Must have been heart disease,” he went on, “You say she was well yesterday?”
“Yes, sir; or seemed so.”
“Though not cheerful?”
“I did not say that; she was, sir, very.”
“What, ma’am, this girl?” giving me a look. “I don’t understand that. I should think her anxiety about those she had left behind her in the city would have been enough to keep her from being very cheerful.”
“So you would,” returned Mrs. Belden; “but it wasn’t so. On the contrary, she never seemed to worry about them at all.”
“What! not about Miss Eleanore, who, according to the papers, stands in so cruel a position before the world? But perhaps she didn’t know anything about that — Miss Leavenworth’s position, I mean?”
“Yes, she did, for I told her. I was so astonished I could not keep it to myself. You see, I had always considered Eleanore as one above reproach, and it so shocked me to see her name mentioned in the newspaper in such a connection, that I went to Hannah and read the article aloud, and watched her face to see how she took it.”
“And how did she?”
“I can’t say. She looked as if she didn’t understand; asked me why I read such things to her, and told me she didn’t want to hear any more; that I had promised not to trouble her about this murder, and that if I continued to do so she wouldn’t listen.”
“Humph! and what else?”
“Nothing else. She put her hand over her ears and frowned in such a sullen way I left the room.”
“That was when?”
“About three weeks ago.”
“She has, however, mentioned the subject since?”
“No, sir; not once.”
“What! not asked what they were going to do with her mistress?”
“She has shown, however, that something was preying on her mind — fear, remorse, or anxiety?”
“No, sir; on the contrary, she has oftener appeared like one secretly elated.”
“But,” exclaimed Mr. Gryce, with another sidelong look at me, “that was very strange and unnatural. I cannot account for it.”
“Nor I, sir. I used to try to explain it by thinking her sensibilities had been blunted, or that she was too ignorant to comprehend the seriousness of what had happened; but as I learned to know her better, I gradually changed my mind. There was too much method in her gayety for that. I could not help seeing she had some future before her for which she was preparing herself. As, for instance, she asked me one day if I thought she could learn to play on the piano. And I finally came to the conclusion she had been promised money if she kept the secret intrusted to her, and was so pleased with the prospect that she forgot the dreadful past, and all connected with it. At all events, that was the only explanation I could find for her general industry and desire to improve herself, or for the complacent smiles I detected now and then stealing over her face when she didn’t know I was looking.”
Not such a smile as crept over the countenance of Mr. Gryce at that moment, I warrant.
“It was all this,” continued Mrs. Belden, “which made her death such a shock to me. I couldn’t believe that so cheerful and healthy a creature could die like that, all in one night, without anybody knowing anything about it. But ——”
“Wait one moment,” Mr. Gryce here broke in. “You speak of her endeavors to improve herself. What do you mean by that?”
“Her desire to learn things she didn’t know; as, for instance, to write and read writing. She could only clumsily print when she came here.”
I thought Mr. Gryce would take a piece out of my arm, he griped it so.
“When she came here! Do you mean to say that since she has been with you she has learned to write?”
“Yes, sir; I used to set her copies and ——”
“Where are these copies?” broke in Mr. Gryce, subduing his voice to its most professional tone. “And where are her attempts at writing? I’d like to see some of them. Can’t you get them for us?”
“I don’t know, sir. I always made it a point to destroy them as soon as they had answered their purpose. I didn’t like to have such things lying around. But I will go see.”
“Do,” said he; “and I will go with you. I want to take a look at things upstairs, any way.” And, heedless of his rheumatic feet, he rose and prepared to accompany her.
“This is getting very intense,” I whispered, as he passed me.
The smile he gave me in reply would have made the fortune of a Thespian Mephistopheles.
Of the ten minutes of suspense which I endured in their absence, I say nothing. At the end of that time they returned with their hands full of paper boxes, which they flung down on the table.
“The writing-paper of the household,” observed Mr. Gryce; “every scrap and half-sheet which could be found. But, before you examine it, look at this.” And he held out a sheet of bluish foolscap, on which were written some dozen imitations of that time-worn copy, “BE GOOD AND YOU WILL BE HAPPY”; with an occasional “Beauty soon fades,“ and “Evil communications corrupt good manners.“
“What do you think of that?”
“Very neat and very legible.”
“That is Hannah’s latest. The only specimens of her writing to be found. Not much like some scrawls we have seen, eh?”
“Mrs. Belden says this girl has known how to write as good as this for more than a week. Took great pride in it, and was continually talking about how smart she was.” Leaning over, he whispered in my ear, “This thing you have in your hand must have been scrawled some time ago, if she did it.” Then aloud: “But let us look at the paper she used to write on.”
Dashing open the covers of the boxes on the table, he took out the loose sheets lying inside, and scattered them out before me. One glance showed they were all of an utterly different quality from that used in the confession. “This is all the paper in the house,” said he.
“Are you sure of that?” I asked, looking at Mrs. Belden, who stood in a sort of maze before us. “Wasn’t there one stray sheet lying around somewhere, foolscap or something like that, which she might have got hold of and used without your knowing it?”
“No, sir; I don’t think so. I had only these kinds; besides, Hannah had a whole pile of paper like this in her room, and wouldn’t have been apt to go hunting round after any stray sheets.”
“But you don’t know what a girl like that might do. Look at this one,” said I, showing her the blank side of the confession. “Couldn’t a sheet like this have come from somewhere about the house? Examine it well; the matter is important.”
“I have, and I say, no, I never had a sheet of paper like that in my house.”
Mr. Gryce advanced and took the confession from my hand. As he did so, he whispered: “What do you think now? Many chances that Hannah got up this precious document?”
I shook my head, convinced at last; but in another moment turned to him and whispered back: “But, if Hannah didn’t write it, who did? And how came it to be found where it was?”
“That,” said he, “is just what is left for us to learn.” And, beginning again, he put question after question concerning the girl’s life in the house, receiving answers which only tended to show that she could not have brought the confession with her, much less received it from a secret messenger. Unless we doubted Mrs. Belden’s word, the mystery seemed impenetrable, and I was beginning to despair of success, when Mr. Gryce, with an askance look at me, leaned towards Mrs. Belden and said:
“You received a letter from Miss Mary Leavenworth yesterday, I hear.”
“This letter?” he continued, showing it to her.
“Now I want to ask you a question. Was the letter, as you see it, the only contents of the envelope in which it came? Wasn’t there one for Hannah enclosed with it?”
“No, sir. There was nothing in my letter for her; but she had a letter herself yesterday. It came in the same mail with mine.”
“Hannah had a letter!” we both exclaimed; “and in the mail?”
“Yes; but it was not directed to her. It was”— casting me a look full of despair, “directed to me. It was only by a certain mark in the corner of the envelope that I knew ——”
“Good heaven!” I interrupted; “where is this letter? Why didn’t you speak of it before? What do you mean by allowing us to flounder about here in the dark, when a glimpse at this letter might have set us right at once?”
“I didn’t think anything about it till this minute. I didn’t know it was of importance. I——”
But I couldn’t restrain myself. “Mrs. Belden, where is this letter?” I demanded. “Have you got it?”
“No,” said she; “I gave it to the girl yesterday; I haven’t seen it since.”
“It must be upstairs, then. Let us take another look.” and I hastened towards the door.
“You won’t find it,” said Mr. Gryce at my elbow. “I have looked. There is nothing but a pile of burned paper in the corner. By the way, what could that have been?” he asked of Mrs. Belden.
“I don’t know, sir. She hadn’t anything to burn unless it was the letter.”
“We will see about that,” I muttered, hurrying upstairs and bringing down the wash-bowl with its contents. “If the letter was the one I saw in your hand at the post-office, it was in a yellow envelope.”
“Yellow envelopes burn differently from white paper. I ought to be able to tell the tinder made by a yellow envelope when I see it. Ah, the letter has been destroyed; here is a piece of the envelope,” and I drew out of the heap of charred scraps a small bit less burnt than the rest, and held it up.
“Then there is no use looking here for what the letter contained,” said Mr. Gryce, putting the wash-bowl aside. “We will have to ask you, Mrs. Belden.”
“But I don’t know. It was directed to me, to be sure; but Hannah told me, when she first requested me to teach her how to write, that she expected such a letter, so I didn’t open it when it came, but gave it to her just as it was.”
“You, however, stayed by to see her read it?”
“No, sir; I was in too much of a flurry. Mr. Raymond had just come and I had no time to think of her. My own letter, too, was troubling me.”
“But you surely asked her some questions about it before the day was out?”
“Yes, sir, when I went up with her tea things; but she had nothing to say. Hannah could be as reticent as any one I ever knew, when she pleased. She didn’t even admit it was from her mistress.”
“Ah! then you thought it was from Miss Leavenworth?”
“Why, yes, sir; what else was I to think, seeing that mark in the corner? Though, to be sure, it might have been put there by Mr. Clavering,” she thoughtfully added.
“You say she was cheerful yesterday; was she so after receiving this letter?”
“Yes, sir; as far as I could see. I wasn’t with her long; the necessity I felt of doing something with the box in my charge — but perhaps Mr. Raymond has told you?”
Mr. Gryce nodded.
“It was an exhausting evening, and quite put Hannah out of my head, but ——”
“Wait!” cried Mr. Gryce, and beckoning me into a corner, he whispered, “Now comes in that experience of Q’s. While you are gone from the house, and before Mrs. Belden sees Hannah again, he has a glimpse of the girl bending over something in the corner of her room which may very fairly be the wash-bowl we found there. After which, he sees her swallow, in the most lively way, a dose of something from a bit of paper. Was there anything more?”
“No,” said I.
“Very well, then,” he cried, going back to Mrs. Belden. “But ——”
“But when I went upstairs to bed, I thought of the girl, and going to her door opened it. The light was extinguished, and she seemed asleep, so I closed it again and came out.”
“Did you notice how she was lying?”
“Not particularly. I think on her back.”
“In something of the same position in which she was found this morning?”
“And that is all you can tell us, either of her letter or her mysterious death?”
Mr. Gryce straightened himself up.
“Mrs. Belden,” said he, “you know Mr. Clavering’s handwriting when you see it?”
“And Miss Leavenworth’s?”
“Now, which of the two was upon the envelope of the letter you gave Hannah?”
“I couldn’t say. It was a disguised handwriting and might have been that of either; but I think ——”
“That it was more like hers than his, though it wasn’t like hers either.”
With a smile, Mr. Gryce enclosed the confession in his hand in the envelope in which it had been found. “You remember how large the letter was which you gave her?”
“Oh, it was large, very large; one of the largest sort.”
“O yes; thick enough for two letters.”
“Large enough and thick enough to contain this?” laying the confession, folded and enveloped as it was, before her.
“Yes, sir,” giving it a look of startled amazement, “large enough and thick enough to contain that.”
Mr. Gryce’s eyes, bright as diamonds, flashed around the room, and finally settled upon a fly traversing my coat-sleeve. “Do you need to ask now,” he whispered, in a low voice, “where, and from whom, this so-called confession comes?”
He allowed himself one moment of silent triumph, then rising, began folding the papers on the table and putting them in his pocket.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, hurriedly approaching.
He took me by the arm and led me across the hall into toe sitting-room. “I am going back to New York, ram going to pursue this matter. I am going to find out from, whom came the poison which killed this girl, and by whose hand this vile forgery of a confession was written.”
“But,” said I, rather thrown off my balance by all this, “Q and the coroner will be here presently, won’t you wait to see them?”
“No; clues such as are given here must be followed while the trail is hot; I can’t afford to wait.”
“If I am not mistaken, they have already come,” I remarked, as a tramping of feet without announced that some one stood at the door.
“That is so,” he assented, hastening to let them in.
Judging from common experience, we had every reason to fear that an immediate stop would be put to all proceedings on our part, as soon as the coroner was introduced upon the scene. But happily for us and the interest at stake, Dr. Fink, of R— — proved to be a very sensible man. He had only to hear a true story of the affair to recognize at once its importance and the necessity of the most cautious action in the matter. Further, by a sort of sympathy with Mr. Gryce, all the more remarkable that he had never seen him before, he expressed himself as willing to enter into our plans, offering not only to allow us the temporary use of such papers as we desired, but even undertaking to conduct the necessary formalities of calling a jury and instituting an inquest in such a way as to give us time for the investigations we proposed to make.
The delay was therefore short. Mr. Gryce was enabled to take the 6:30 train for New York, and I to follow on the 10 p.m. — the calling of a jury, ordering of an autopsy, and final adjournment of the inquiry till the following Tuesday, having all taken place in the interim.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55