The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green
Book II. Henry Clavering
XV. Ways Opening
"It is not and it cannot come to good." Hamlet.
I attended the funeral of Mr. Leavenworth, but did not see the ladies before or after the ceremony. I, however, had a few moments' conversation with Mr. Harwell; which, without eliciting anything new, provided me with food for abundant conjecture. For he had asked, almost at first greeting, if I had seen the Telegram of the night before; and when I responded in the affirmative, turned such a look of mingled distress and appeal upon me, I was tempted to ask how such a frightful insinuation against a young lady of reputation and breeding could ever have got into the papers. It was his reply that struck me.
"That the guilty party might be driven by remorse to own himself the true culprit."
A curious remark to come from a person who had no knowledge or suspicion of the criminal and his character; and I would have pushed the conversation further, but the secretary, who was a man of few words, drew off at this, and could be induced to say no more. Evidently it was my business to cultivate Mr. Clavering, or any one else who could throw any light upon the secret history of these girls.
That evening I received notice that Mr. Veeley had arrived home, but was in no condition to consult with me upon so painful a subject as the murder of Mr. Leavenworth. Also a line from Eleanore, giving me her address, but requesting me at the same time not to call unless I had something of importance to communicate, as she was too ill to receive visitors. The little note affected me. Ill, alone, and in a strange home,--'twas pitiful!
The next day, pursuant to the wishes of Mr. Gryce, in I stepped into the Hoffman House, and took a seat in the reading room. I had been there but a few moments when a gentleman entered whom I immediately recognized as the same I had spoken to on the corner of Thirty-seventh Street and Sixth Avenue. He must have remembered me also, for he seemed to be slightly embarrassed at seeing me; but, recovering himself, took up a paper and soon became to all appearance lost in its contents, though I could feel his handsome black eye upon me, studying my features, figure, apparel, and movements with a degree of interest which equally astonished and disconcerted me. I felt that it would be injudicious on my part to return his scrutiny, anxious as I was to meet his eye and learn what emotion had so fired his curiosity in regard to a perfect stranger; so I rose, and, crossing to an old friend of mine who sat at a table opposite, commenced a desultory conversation, in the course of which I took occasion to ask if he knew who the handsome stranger was. Dick Furbish was a society man, and knew everybody.
"His name is Clavering, and he comes from London. I don't know anything more about him, though he is to be seen everywhere except in private houses. He has not been received into society yet; waiting for litters of introduction, perhaps."
"One you speak to?"
"Oh, yes; I talk to him, but the conversation is very one-sided."
I could not help smiling at the grimace with which Dick accompanied this remark. "Which same goes to prove," he went on, "that he is the real thing."
Laughing outright this time, I left him, and in a few minutes sauntered from the room.
As I mingled again with the crowd on Broadway, I found myself wondering immensely over this slight experience. That this unknown gentleman from London, who went everywhere except into private houses, could be in any way connected with the affair I had so at heart, seemed not only improbable but absurd; and for the first time I felt tempted to doubt the sagacity of Mr. Gryce in recommending him to my attention.
The next day I repeated the experiment, but with no greater success than before. Mr. Clavering came into the room, but, seeing me, did not remain. I began to realize it was no easy matter to make his acquaintance. To atone for my disappointment, I called 011 Mary Leavenworth in the evening. She received me with almost a sister-like familiarity.
"Ah," she cried, after introducing me to an elderly lady at her side,--some connection of the family, I believe, who had come to remain with her for a while,--"you are here to tell me Hannah is found; is it not so?"
I shook my head, sorry to disappoint her. "No," said I; "not yet."
"But Mr. Gryce was here to-day, and he told me he hoped she would be heard from within twenty-four hours."
"Mr. Gryce here!"
"Yes; came to report how matters were progressing,--not that they seemed to have advanced very far."
"You could hardly have expected that yet. You must not be so easily discouraged."
"But I cannot help it; every day, every hour that passes in this uncertainty, is like a mountain weight here"; and she laid one trembling hand upon her bosom. "I would have the whole world at work. I would leave no stone unturned; I----"
"What would you do?"
"Oh, I don't know," she cried, her whole manner suddenly changing; "nothing, perhaps." Then, before I could reply to this: "Have you seen Eleanore to-day?"
I answered in the negative.
She did not seem satisfied, but waited till her friend left the room before saying more. Then, with an earnest look, inquired if I knew whether Eleanore was well.
"I fear she is not," I returned.
"It is a great trial to me, Eleanore being away. Not," she resumed, noting, perhaps, my incredulous look, "that I would have you think I wish to disclaim my share in bringing about the present unhappy state of things. I am willing to acknowledge I was the first to propose a separation. But it is none the easier to bear on that account."
"It is not as hard for you as for her," said I.
"Not as hard? Why? because she is left comparatively poor, while I am rich--is that what you would say? Ah," she went on, without waiting for my answer, "would I could persuade Eleanore to share my riches with me! Willingly would I bestow upon her the half I have received; but I fear she could never be induced to accept so much as a dollar from me."
"Under the circumstances it would be better for her not to."
"Just what I thought; yet it would ease me of a great weight if she would. This fortune, suddenly thrown into my lap, sits like an incubus upon me, Mr. Raymond. When the will was read to-day which makes me possessor of so much wealth, I could not but feel that a heavy, blinding pall had settled upon me, spotted with blood and woven of horrors. Ah, how different from the feelings with which I have been accustomed to anticipate this day! For, Mr. Raymond," she went on, with a hurried gasp, "dreadful as it seems now, I have been reared to look forward to this hour with pride, if not with actual longing. Money has been made so much of in my small world. Not that I wish in this evil time of retribution to lay blame upon any one; least of all upon my uncle; but from the day, twelve years ago, when for the first time he took us in his arms, and looking down upon our childish faces, exclaimed: 'The light-haired one pleases me best; she shall be my heiress,' I have been petted, cajoled, and spoiled; called little princess, and uncle's darling, till it is only strange I retain in this prejudiced breast any of the impulses of generous womanhood; yes, though I was aware from the first that whim alone had raised this distinction between myself and cousin; a distinction which superior beauty, worth, or accomplishments could never have drawn; Eleanore being more than my equal in all these things." Pausing, she choked back the sudden sob that rose in her throat, with an effort at self-control which was at once touching and admirable. Then, while my eyes stole to her face, murmured in a low, appealing voice: "If I have faults, you see there is some slight excuse for them; arrogance, vanity, and selfishness being considered in the gay young heiress as no more than so many assertions of a laudable dignity. Ah! ah," she bitterly exclaimed "money alone has been the ruin of us all!" Then, with a falling of her voice: "And now it has come to me with its heritage of evil, and I--I would give it all for--But this is weakness! I have no right to afflict you with my griefs. Pray forget all I have said, Mr. Raymond, or regard my complaints as the utterances of an unhappy girl loaded down with sorrows and oppressed by the weight of many perplexities and terrors."
"But I do not wish to forget," I replied. "You have spoken some good words, manifested much noble emotion. Your possessions cannot but prove a blessing to you if you enter upon them with such feelings as these."
But, with a quick gesture, she ejaculated: "Impossible! they cannot prove a blessing." Then, as if startled at her own words, bit her lip and hastily added: "Very great wealth is never a blessing.
"And now," said she, with a total change of manner, "I wish to address you on a subject which may strike you as ill-timed, but which, nevertheless, I must mention, if the purpose I have at heart is ever to be accomplished. My uncle, as you know, was engaged at the time of his death in writing a book on Chinese customs and prejudices. It was a work which he was anxious to see published, and naturally I desire to carry out his wishes; but, in order to do so, I find it necessary not only to interest myself in the matter now,--Mr. Harwell's services being required, and it being my wish to dismiss that gentleman as soon as possible--but to find some one competent to supervise its completion. Now I have heard,--I have been told,--that you were the one of all others to do this; and though it is difficult if not improper for me to ask so great a favor of one who but a week ago was a perfect stranger to me, it would afford me the keenest pleasure if you would consent to look over this manuscript and tell me what remains to be done."
The timidity with which these words were uttered proved her to be in earnest, and I could not but wonder at the strange coincidence of this request with my secret wishes; it having been a question with me for some time how I was to gain free access to this house without in any way compromising either its inmates or myself. I did not know then that Mr. Gryce had been the one to recommend me to her favor in this respect. But, whatever satisfaction I may have experienced, I felt myself in duty bound to plead my incompetence for a task so entirely out of the line of my profession, and to suggest the employment of some one better acquainted with such matters than myself. But she would not listen to me.
"Mr. Harwell has notes and memoranda in plenty," she exclaimed, "and can give you all the information necessary. You will have no difficulty; indeed, you will not."
"But cannot Mr. Harwell himself do all that is requisite? He seems to be a clever and diligent young man."
But she shook her head. "He thinks he can; but I know uncle never trusted him with the composition of a single sentence."
"But perhaps he will not be pleased,--Mr. Harwell, I mean--with the intrusion of a stranger into his work."
She opened her eyes with astonishment. "That makes no difference," she cried. "Mr. Harwell is in my pay, and has nothing to say about it. But he will not object. I have already consulted him, and he expresses himself as satisfied with the arrangement."
"Very well," said I; "then I will promise to consider the subject. I can at any rate look over the manuscript and give you my opinion of its condition."
"Oh, thank you," said she, with the prettiest gesture of satisfaction. "How kind you are, and what can I ever do to repay you? But would you like to see Mr. Harwell himself?" and she moved towards the door; but suddenly paused, whispering, with a short shudder of remembrance: "He is in the library; do you mind?"
Crushing down the sick qualm that arose at the mention of that spot, I replied in the negative.
"The papers are all there, and he says he can work better in his old place than anywhere else; but if you wish, I can call him down."
But I would not listen to this, and myself led the way to the foot of the stairs.
"I have sometimes thought I would lock up that room," she hurriedly observed; "but something restrains me. I can no more do so than I can leave this house; a power beyond myself forces me to confront all its horrors. And yet I suffer continually from terror. Sometimes, in the darkness of the night--But I will not distress you. I have already said too much; come," and with a sudden lift of the head she mounted the stairs.
Mr. Harwell was seated, when we entered that fatal room, in the one chair of all others I expected to see unoccupied; and as I beheld his meagre figure bending where such a little while before his eyes had encountered the outstretched form of his murdered employer, I could not but marvel over the unimaginativeness of the man who, in the face of such memories, could not only appropriate that very spot for his own use, but pursue his avocations there with so much calmness and evident precision. But in another moment I discovered that the disposition of the light in the room made that one seat the only desirable one for his purpose; and instantly my wonder changed to admiration at this quiet surrender of personal feeling to the requirements of the occasion.
He looked up mechanically as we came in, but did not rise, his countenance wearing the absorbed expression which bespeaks the preoccupied mind.
"He is utterly oblivious," Mary whispered; "that is a way of his. I doubt if he knows who or what it is that has disturbed him." And, advancing into the room, she passed across his line of vision, as if to call attention to herself, and said: "I have brought Mr. Raymond up-stairs to see you, Mr. Harwell. He has been so kind as to accede to my wishes in regard to the completion of the manuscript now before you."
Slowly Mr. Harwell rose, wiped his pen, and put it away; manifesting, however, a reluctance in doing so that proved this interference to be in reality anything but agreeable to him. Observing this, I did not wait for him to speak, but took up the pile of manuscript, arranged in one mass on the table, saying:
"This seems to be very clearly written; if you will excuse me, I will glance over it and thus learn something of its general character."
He bowed, uttered a word or so of acquiescence, then, as Mary left the room, awkwardly reseated himself, and took up his pen.
Instantly the manuscript and all connected with it vanished from my thoughts; and Eleanore, her situation, and the mystery surrounding this family, returned upon me with renewed force. Looking the secretary steadily in the face, I remarked:
"I am very glad of this opportunity of seeing you a moment alone, Mr. Harwell, if only for the purpose of saying----"
"Anything in regard to the murder?"
"Yes," I began.
"Then you must pardon me," he respectfully but firmly replied. "It is a disagreeable subject which I cannot bear to think of, much less discuss."
Disconcerted and, what was more, convinced of the impossibility of obtaining any information from this man, I abandoned the attempt; and, taking up the manuscript once more, endeavored to master in some small degree the nature of its contents. Succeeding beyond my hopes, I opened a short conversation with him in regard to it, and finally, coming to the conclusion I could accomplish what Miss Leavenworth desired, left him and descended again to the reception room.
When, an hour or so later, I withdrew from the house, it was with the feeling that one obstacle had been removed from my path. If I failed in what I had undertaken, it would not be from lack of opportunity of studying the inmates of this dwelling.