The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green
Book I. The Problem
XI. The Summons
"The pink of courtesy." Romeo and Juliet.
The morning papers contained a more detailed account of the murder than those of the evening before; but, to my great relief, in none of them was Eleanore's name mentioned in the connection I most dreaded.
The final paragraph in the Times ran thus: "The detectives are upon the track of the missing girl, Hannah." And in the Herald I read the following notice:
"A Liberal Reward will be given by the relatives of Horatio Leavenworth, Esq., deceased, for any news of the whereabouts of one Hannah Chester, disappeared from the house -------- Fifth Avenue since the evening of March 4. Said girl was of Irish extraction; in age about twenty-five, and may be known by the following characteristics. Form tall and slender; hair dark brown with a tinge of red; complexion fresh; features delicate and well made; hands small, but with the fingers much pricked by the use of the needle; feet large, and of a coarser type than the hands. She had on when last seen a checked gingham dress, brown and white, and was supposed to have wrapped herself in a red and green blanket shawl, very old. Beside the above distinctive marks, she had upon her right hand wrist the scar of a large burn; also a pit or two of smallpox upon the left temple."
This paragraph turned my thoughts in a new direction. Oddly enough, I had expended very little thought upon this girl; and yet how apparent it was that she was the one person upon whose testimony, if given, the whole case in reality hinged, I could not agree with those who considered her as personally implicated in the murder. An accomplice, conscious of what was before her, would have hid in her pockets whatever money she possessed. But the roll of bills found in Hannah's trunk proved her to have left too hurriedly for this precaution. On the other hand, if this girl had come unexpectedly upon the assassin at his work, how could she have been hustled from the house without creating a disturbance loud enough to have been heard by the ladies, one of whom had her door open? An innocent girl's first impulse upon such an occasion would have been to scream; and yet no scream was heard; she simply disappeared. What were we to think then? That the person seen by her was one both known and trusted? I would not consider such a possibility; so laying down the paper, I endeavored to put away all further consideration of the affair till I had acquired more facts upon which to base the theory. But who can control his thoughts when over-excited upon any one theme? All the morning I found myself turning the case over in my mind, arriving ever at one of two conclusions. Hannah Chester must be found, or Eleanore Leavenworth must explain when and by what means the key of the library door came into her possession.
At two o'clock I started from my office to attend the inquest; but, being delayed on the way, missed arriving at the house until after the delivery of the verdict. This was a disappointment to me, especially as by these means I lost the opportunity of seeing Eleanore Leavenworth, she having retired to her room immediately upon the dismissal of the jury. But Mr. Harwell was visible, and from him I heard what the verdict had been.
"Death by means of a pistol shot from the hand of some person unknown."
The result of the inquest was a great relief to me. I had feared worse. Nor could I help seeing that, for all his studied self-command, the pale-faced secretary shared in my satisfaction.
What was less of a relief to me was the fact, soon communicated, that Mr. Gryce and his subordinates had left the premises immediately upon the delivery of the verdict. Mr. Gryce was not the man to forsake an affair like this while anything of importance connected with it remained unexplained. Could it be he meditated any decisive action? Somewhat alarmed, I was about to hurry from the house for the purpose of learning what his intentions were, when a sudden movement in the front lower window of the house on the opposite side of the way arrested my attention, and, looking closer, I detected the face of Mr. Fobbs peering out from behind the curtain. The sight assured me I was not wrong in my estimate of Mr. Gryce; and, struck with pity for the desolate girl left to meet the exigencies of a fate to which this watch upon her movements was but the evident precursor, I stepped back and sent her a note, in which, as Mr. Veeley's representative, I proffered my services in case of any sudden emergency, saying I was always to be found in my rooms between the hours of six and eight. This done, I proceeded to the house in Thirty-seventh Street where I had left Miss Mary Leavenworth the day before.
Ushered into the long and narrow drawing-room which of late years has been so fashionable in our uptown houses, I found myself almost immediately in the presence of Miss Leavenworth.
"Oh," she cried, with an eloquent gesture of welcome, "I had begun to think I was forsaken!" and advancing impulsively, she held out her hand. "What is the news from home?"
"A verdict of murder, Miss Leavenworth."
Her eyes did not lose their question.
"Perpetrated by party or parties unknown."
A look of relief broke softly across her features.
"And they are all gone?" she exclaimed.
"I found no one in the house who did not belong there."
"Oh! then we can breathe easily again."
I glanced hastily up and down the room.
"There is no one here," said she.
And still I hesitated. At length, in an awkward way enough, I turned towards her and said:
"I do not wish either to offend or alarm you, but I must say that I consider it your duty to return to your own home to-night."
"Why?" she stammered. "Is there any particular reason for my doing so? Have you not perceived the impossibility of my remaining in the same house with Eleanore?"
"Miss Leavenworth, I cannot recognize any so-called impossibility of this nature. Eleanore is your cousin; has been brought up to regard you as a sister; it is not worthy of you to desert her at the time of her necessity. You will see this as I do, if you will allow yourself a moment's dispassionate thought."
"Dispassionate thought is hardly possible under the circumstances," she returned, with a smile of bitter irony.
But before I could reply to this, she softened, and asked if I was very anxious to have her return; and when I replied, "More than I can say," she trembled and looked for a moment as if she were half inclined to yield; but suddenly broke into tears, crying it was impossible, and that I was cruel to ask it.
I drew back, baffled and sore. "Pardon me," said I, "I have indeed transgressed the bounds allotted to me. I will not do so again; you have doubtless many friends; let some of them advise you."
She turned upon me all fire. "The friends you speak of are flatterers. You alone have the courage to command me to do what is right."
"Excuse me, I do not command; I only entreat."
She made no reply, but began pacing the room, her eyes fixed, her hands working convulsively. "You little know what you ask," said she. "I feel as though the very atmosphere of that house would destroy me; but--why cannot Eleanore come here?" she impulsively inquired. "I know Mrs. Gilbert will be quite willing, and I could keep my room, and we need not meet."
"You forget that there is another call at home, besides the one I have already mentioned. To-morrow afternoon your uncle is to be buried."
"O yes; poor, poor uncle!"
"You are the head of the household," I now ventured, "and the proper one to attend to the final offices towards one who has done so much for you."
There was something strange in the look which she gave me. "It is true," she assented. Then, with a grand turn of her body, and a quick air of determination: "I am desirous of being worthy of your good opinion. I will go back to my cousin, Mr. Raymond."
I felt my spirits rise a little; I took her by the hand. "May that cousin have no need of the comfort which I am now sure you will be ready to give her."
Her hand dropped from mine. "I mean to do my duty," was her cold response.
As I descended the stoop, I met a certain thin and fashionably dressed young man, who gave me a very sharp look as he passed. As he wore his clothes a little too conspicuously for the perfect gentleman, and as I had some remembrance of having seen him at the inquest, I set him down for a man in Mr. Gryce's employ, and hasted on towards the avenue; when what was my surprise to find on the corner another person, who, while pretending to be on the look out for a car, cast upon me, as I approached, a furtive glance of intense inquiry. As this latter was, without question, a gentleman, I felt some annoyance, and, walking quietly up to him, asked if he found my countenance familiar, that he scrutinized it so closely.
"I find it a very agreeable one," was his unexpected reply, as he turned from me and walked down the avenue.
Nettled, and in no small degree mortified, at the disadvantage in which his courtesy had placed me, I stood watching him as he disappeared, asking myself who and what he was. For he was not only a gentleman, but a marked one; possessing features of unusual symmetry as well as a form of peculiar elegance. Not so very young--he might well be forty--there were yet evident on his face the impress of youth's strongest emotions, not a curve of his chin nor a glance of his eye betraying in any way the slightest leaning towards ennui, though face and figure were of that type which seems most to invite and cherish it.
"He can have no connection with the police force," thought I; "nor is it by any means certain that he knows me, or is interested in my affairs; but I shall not soon forget him, for all that."
The summons from Eleanore Leavenworth came about eight o'clock in the evening. It was brought by Thomas, and read as follows:
"Come, Oh, come! I--" there breaking off in a tremble, as if the pen had fallen from a nerveless hand.
It did not take me long to find my way to her home.