The Mayor's Wife by Anna Katharine Green
Chapter II. Questions
I knew all the current gossip about Mrs. Packard before I had parted with Miss Davies. Her story was a simple one. Bred in the West, she had come, immediately after her mother's death, to live with that mother's brother in Detroit. In doing this she had walked into a fortune. Her uncle was a rich man and when he died, which was about a year after her marriage with Mr. Packard and removal to C--, she found herself the recipient of an enormous legacy. She was therefore a woman of independent means, an advantage which, added to personal attractions of a high order, and manners at once dignified and winning, caused her to be universally regarded as a woman greatly to be envied by all who appreciated a well-founded popularity.
So much for public opinion. It differs materially from that just given me by her husband.
The mayor lived on Franklin Street in a quarter I had seldom visited. As I entered this once aristocratic thoroughfare from Carlton Avenue, I was struck as I had been before by its heterogeneous appearance. Houses of strictly modern type neighbored those of a former period, and it was not uncommon to see mansion and hovel confronting each other from the opposite side of the street. Should I find the number I sought attached to one of the crude, unmeaning dwellings I was constantly passing, or to one of mellower aspect and possibly historic association?
I own that I felt a decided curiosity on this point, and congratulated myself greatly when I had left behind me a peculiarly obnoxious monstrosity in stone, whose imposing proportions might reasonably commend themselves to the necessities, if not to the taste of the city's mayor.
A little shop, one story in height and old enough for its simple wooden walls to cry aloud for paint, stood out from the middle of a row of cheap brick houses. Directly opposite it were two conspicuous dwellings, neither of them new and one of them ancient as the street itself. They stood fairly close together, with an alley running between. From the number I had now reached it was evident that the mayor lived in one of these. Happily it was in the fresher and more inviting one. As I noted this, I paused in admiration of its spacious front and imposing doorway. The latter was in the best style of Colonial architecture, and though raised but one step from the walk, was so distinguished by the fan-tailed light overhead and the flanking casements glazed with antique glass, that I felt myself carried back to the days when such domiciles were few and denoted wealth the most solid, and hospitality the most generous.
A light wall, painted to match the house, extended without break to the adjoining building, a structure equal to the other in age and dimensions, but differing in all other respects as much as neglect and misuse could make it. Gray and forbidding, it towered in its place, a perfect foil to the attractive dwelling whose single step I now amounted with cheerful composure.
What should I have thought if at that moment I had been told that appearances were deceitful, and that there were many persons then living who, if left to their choice, would prefer life in the dismal walls from which I had instinctively turned, to a single night spent in the promising house I was so eager to enter.
An old serving-man, with a countenance which struck me pleasantly enough at the time, opened the door in response to my ring, only to make instant way for Mayor Packard, who advanced from some near-by room to greet me. By this thoughtful attention I was spared the embarrassment from which I might otherwise have suffered.
His few words of greeting set me entirely at my ease, and I was quite ready to follow him when a moment later he invited me to meet Mrs. Packard.
"I can not promise you just the reception you naturally look for," said he, as he led me around the stairs toward an opening at their rear, "but she's a kind woman and can not but be struck with your own kind spirit and quiet manner."
Happily, I was not called upon to answer, for at that moment the door swung open and he ushered me into a room flooded brilliantly with the last rays of the setting sun. The woman who sat in its glow made an instant and permanent impression upon me. No one could look intently upon her without feeling that here was a woman of individuality and power, overshadowed at present by the deepest melancholy. As she rose and faced us I decided instantly that her husband had not exaggerated her state of mind. Emotion of no ordinary nature disturbed the lines of her countenance and robbed her naturally fine figure of a goodly portion of its dignity and grace; and though she immediately controlled herself and assumed the imposing aspect of a highly trained woman, ready, if not eager, to welcome an intruding guest, I could not easily forget the drawn look about mouth and eyes which, in the first instant of our meeting, had distorted features naturally harmonious and beautifully serene.
I am sure her husband had observed it also, for his voice trembled slightly as he addressed her.
"I have brought you a companion, Olympia, one whose business and pleasure it will be to remain with you while I am making speeches a hundred miles away. Do you not see reason for thanking me?" This last question he pointed with a glance in my direction, which drew her attention and caused her to give me a kindly look.
I met her eyes fairly. They were large and gray and meant for smiling; eyes that, with a happy heart behind them, would illumine her own beauty and create joy in those upon whom they fell. But to-day, nothing but question lived in their dark and uneasy depths, and it was for me to face that question and give no sign of what the moment was to me.
"I think--I am sure, that my thanks are due you," she courteously replied, with a quick turn toward her husband, expressive of confidence, and, as I thought, of love. "I dreaded being left alone."
He drew a deep breath of relief; we both did; then we talked a little, after which Mayor Packard found some excuse for taking me from the room.
"Now for the few words you requested," said he; and, preceding me down the hall, he led me into what he called his study.
I noted one thing, and only one thing, on entering this place. That was the presence of a young man who sat at a distant table reading and making notes. But as Mayor Packard took no notice of him, knowing and expecting him to be there, no doubt, I, with a pardonable confusion, withdrew my eyes from the handsomest face I had ever seen, and, noting that my employer had stopped before a type-writer's table, I took my place at his side, without knowing very well what this move meant or what he expected me to do there.
I was not long left in doubt. With a gesture toward the type-writer, he asked me if I was accustomed to its use; and when I acknowledged some sort of acquaintance with it, he drew an unanswered letter from a pile on the table and requested me to copy it as a sample.
I immediately sat down before the type-writer. I was in something of a maze, but felt that I must follow his lead. As I proceeded to insert the paper and lay out the copy to hand, he crossed over to the young man at the other end of the room and began a short conversation which ended in some trivial demand that sent the young man from the room. As the door closed behind him Mayor Packard returned to my side.
"Keep on with your work and never mind mistakes," said he. "What I want is to hear the questions you told me to expect from you if you stayed."
Seemingly Mayor Packard did not wish this young man to know my position in the house. Was it possible he did not wholly trust him? My hands trembled from the machine and I was about to turn and give my full thought to what I had to say. But pride checked the impulse. "No," I muttered in quick dissuasion, to myself. "He must see that I can do two things at once and do both well." And so I went on with the letter.
"When," I asked, "did you first see the change in Mrs. Packard?"
"On Tuesday afternoon at about this time."
"What had happened on that day? Had she been out?"
"Yes, I think she told me later that she had been out."
"Do you know where?"
"To some concert, I believe. I did not press her with questions, Miss Saunders; I am a poor inquisitor."
Click, click; the machine was working admirably.
"Have you reason to think," I now demanded, "that she brought her unhappiness in with her, when she returned from that concert?"
"No; for when I returned home myself, as I slid earlier than usual that night, I heard her laughing with the child in the nursery. It was afterward, some few minutes afterward, that I came upon her sitting in such a daze of misery, that she did not recognize me when I spoke to her. I thought it was a passing mood at the time; she is a sensitive woman and she had been reading--I saw the book lying on the floor at her side; but when, having recovered from her dejection--a dejection, mind you, which she would' neither acknowledge nor explain--she accompanied me out to dinner, she showed even more feeling on our return, shrinking unaccountably, from leaving the carriage and showing, not only in this way but in others, a very evident distaste to reenter her own house. Now, whatever hold I still retain upon her is of so slight a nature that I am afraid every day she will leave me."
"Leave you !"
My fingers paused; my astonishment had got the better of me.
"Yes; it is as bad as that. I don't know what day you will send me a telegram of three words, 'She has gone.' Yet she loves me, really and truly loves me. That is the mystery of it. More than this, her very heart-strings are knit up with those of our child."
"Mayor Packard,"--I had resumed work,--"was any letter delivered to her that day?"
"That I can not say."
Fact one for me to establish.
"The wives of men like you--men much before the world, men in the thick of strife, social and political--often receive letters of a very threatening character."
"She would have shown me any such, if only to put me on my guard. She is physically a very, brave woman and not at all nervous."
"Those letters sometimes assume the shape of calumny. Your character may have been attacked."
"She believes in my character and would have given me an opportunity to vindicate myself. I have every confidence in my wife's sense of justice."
I experienced a thrill of admiration for the appreciation he evinced in those words. Yet I pursued the subject resolutely.
"Have you an enemy, Mayor Packard? Any real and downright enemy capable of a deep and serious attempt at destroying your happiness?"
"None that I know of, Miss Saunders. I have political enemies, of course men, who, influenced by party feeling, are not above attacking methods and possibly my official reputation; but personal ones--wretches willing to stab me in my home-life and affections, that I can not believe. My life has been as an open book. I have harmed no man knowingly and, as far as I know, no man has ever cherished a wish to injure me."
"Who constitute your household? How many servants do you keep and how long have they been with you?"
"Now you exact details with which only Mrs. Packard is conversant. I don't know anything about the servants. I do not interest myself much in matters purely domestic, and Mrs. Packard spares me. You will have to observe the servants yourself."
I made another note in my mind while inquiring:
"Who is the young man who was here just now? He has an uncommon face."
"A handsome one, do you mean?"
"Yes, and--well, what I should call distinctly clever."
"He is clever. My secretary, Miss Saunders. He helps me in my increased duties; has, in a way, charge of my campaign; reads, sorts and sometimes answers my letters. Just now he is arranging my speeches--fitting them to the local requirements of the several audiences I shall be called upon to address. He knows mankind like a book. I shall never give the wrong speech to the wrong people while he is with me."
"Do you like him?--the man, I mean, not his work."
"Well-yes. He is very good company, or would have been if, in the week he has been in the house, I had been in better mood to enjoy him. He's a capital story-teller."
"He has been here a week?"
"Yes, or almost."
"Came on last Tuesday, didn't he?"
"Yes, I believe that was the day."
"No; he came early; soon after breakfast, in fact."
"Does your wife like him?"
His Honor gave a start, flushed (I can sometimes see a great deal even while very busily occupied) and answered without anger, but with a good deal of pride:
"I doubt if Mrs. Packard more than knows of his presence. She does not come to this room."
"And he does not sit at your table?"
"No; I must have some few minutes in the day free from the suggestion of politics. Mr. Steele can safely be left out of our discussion. He does not even sleep in the house."
The note I made at this was very emphatic. "You should know," said I; then quickly "Tuesday was the day Mrs. Packard first showed the change you observed in her."
"Yes, I think so; but that is a coincidence only. She takes no interest in this young man; scarcely noticed him when I introduced him; just bowed to him over her shoulder; she was fastening on our little one's cap. Usually she is extremely, courteous to strangers, but she was abstracted, positively abstracted at that moment. I wondered at it, for he usually makes a stir wherever he goes. But my wife cares little for beauty in a man; I doubt if she noticed his looks at all. She did not catch his name, I remember."
"Pardon me what is that you say?"
"She did not catch his name, for later she asked me what it was."
"Tell me about that, Mr. Packard."
"It is immaterial; but I am ready to answer all your questions. It was while we were out dining. Chance threw us together, and to fill up the moment she asked the name of the young man I had brought into the library that morning. I told her and explained his position and the long training he had had in local politics. She listened, but not as closely as she did to the music. Oh, she takes no interest in him. I wish she did; his stories might amuse her."
I did not pursue the subject. Taking out the letter I had been writing, I held it out for his inspection, with the remark:
"More copy, please, Mayor Packard."