The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green
Book I. The Problem
IV. A Cuts
"Something is rotten in the State of Denmark." Hamlet.
The cook of the establishment being now called, that portly, ruddy-faced individual stepped forward with alacrity, displaying upon her good-humored countenance such an expression of mingled eagerness and anxiety that more than one person present found it difficult to restrain a smile at her appearance. Observing this and taking it as a compliment, being a woman as well as a cook, she immediately dropped a curtsey, and opening her lips was about to speak, when the coroner, rising impatiently in his seat, took the word from her mouth by saying sternly:
"Katherine Malone, sir."
"Well, Katherine, how long have you been in Mr. Leavenworth's service?"
"Shure, it is a good twelvemonth now, sir, since I came, on Mrs. Wilson's ricommindation, to that very front door, and----"
"Never mind the front door, but tell us why you left this Mrs. Wilson?"
"Shure, and it was she as left me, being as she went sailing to the ould country the same day when on her recommendation I came to this very front door--"
"Well, well; no matter about that. You have been in Mr. Leavenworth's family a year?"
"And liked it? found him a good master?"
"Och, sir, niver have I found a better, worse luck to the villain as killed him. He was that free and ginerous, sir, that many 's the time I have said to Hannah--" She stopped, with a sudden comical gasp of terror, looking at her fellow-servants like one who had incautiously made a slip. The coroner, observing this, inquired hastily:
"Hannah? Who is Hannah?"
The cook, drawing her roly-poly figure up into some sort of shape in her efforts to appear unconcerned, exclaimed boldly: "She? Oh, only the ladies' maid, sir."
"But I don't see any one here answering to that description. You didn't speak of any one by the name of Hannah, as belonging to the house," said he, turning to Thomas.
"No, sir," the latter replied, with a bow and a sidelong look at the red-cheeked girl at his side. "You asked me who were in the house at the time the murder was discovered, and I told you."
"Oh," cried the coroner, satirically; "used to police courts, I see." Then, turning back to the cook, who had all this while been rolling her eyes in a vague fright about the room, inquired, "And where is this Hannah?"
"Shure, sir, she's gone."
"How long since?"
The cook caught her breath hysterically. "Since last night."
"What time last night?"
"Troth, sir, and I don't know. I don't know anything about it."
"Was she dismissed?"
"Not as I knows on; her clothes is here."
"Oh, her clothes are here. At what hour did you miss her?"
"I didn't miss her. She was here last night, and she isn't here this morning, and so I says she 's gone."
"Humph!" cried the coroner, casting a slow glance down the room, while every one present looked as if a door had suddenly opened in a closed wall.
"Where did this girl sleep?"
The cook, who had been fumbling uneasily with her apron, looked up.
"Shure, we all sleeps at the top of the house, sir."
"In one room?"
Slowly. "Yes, sir."
"Did she come up to the room last night?"
"At what hour?"
"Shure, it was ten when we all came up. I heard the clock a-striking."
"Did you observe anything unusual in her appearance?"
"She had a toothache, sir."
"Oh, a toothache; what, then? Tell me all she did."
But at this the cook broke into tears and wails.
"Shure, she didn't do nothing, sir. It wasn't her, sir, as did anything; don't you believe it. Hannah is a good girl, and honest, sir, as ever you see. I am ready to swear on the Book as how she never put her hand to the lock of his door. What should she for? She only went down to Miss Eleanore for some toothache-drops, her face was paining her that awful; and oh, sir----"
"There, there," interrupted the coroner, "I am not accusing Hannah of anything. I only asked you what she did after she reached your room. She went downstairs, you say. How long after you went up?"
"Troth, sir, I couldn't tell; but Molly says----"
"Never mind what Molly says. You didn't see her go down?"
"Nor see her come back?"
"Nor see her this morning?"
"No, sir; how could I when she 's gone?"
"But you did see, last night, that she seemed to be suffering with toothache?"
"Very well; now tell me how and when you first became acquainted with the fact of Mr. Leavenworth's death."
But her replies to this question, while over-garrulous, contained but little information; and seeing this, the coroner was on the point of dismissing her, when the little juror, remembering an admission she had made, of having seen Miss Eleanore Leavenworth coming out of the library door a few minutes after Mr. Leavenworth's body had been carried into the next room, asked if her mistress had anything in her hand at the time.
"I don't know, sir. Faith!" she suddenly exclaimed, "I believe she did have a piece of paper. I recollect, now, seeing her put it in her pocket."
The next witness was Molly, the upstairs girl.
Molly O'Flanagan, as she called herself, was a rosy-cheeked, black-haired, pert girl of about eighteen, who under ordinary circumstances would have found herself able to answer, with a due degree of smartness, any question which might have been addressed to her. But fright will sometimes cower the stoutest heart, and Molly, standing before the coroner at this juncture, presented anything but a reckless appearance, her naturally rosy cheeks blanching at the first word addressed to her, and her head falling forward on her breast in a confusion too genuine to be dissembled and too transparent to be misunderstood.
As her testimony related mostly to Hannah, and what she knew of her, and her remarkable disappearance, I shall confine myself to a mere synopsis of it.
As far as she, Molly, knew, Hannah was what she had given herself out to be, an uneducated girl of Irish extraction, who had come from the country to act as lady's-maid and seamstress to the two Misses Leavenworth. She had been in the family for some time; before Molly herself, in fact; and though by nature remarkably reticent, refusing to tell anything about herself or her past life, she had managed to become a great favorite with all in the house. But she was of a melancholy nature and fond of brooding, often getting up nights to sit and think in the dark: "as if she was a lady!" exclaimed Molly.
This habit being a singular one for a girl in her station, an attempt was made to win from the witness further particulars in regard to it. But Molly, with a toss of her head, confined herself to the one statement. She used to get up nights and sit in the window, and that was all she knew about it.
Drawn away from this topic, during the consideration of which, a little of the sharpness of Molly's disposition had asserted itself, she went on to state, in connection with the events of the past night, that Hannah had been ill for two days or more with a swelled face; that it grew so bad after they had gone upstairs, the night before, that she got out of bed, and dressing herself--Molly was closely questioned here, but insisted upon the fact that Hannah had fully dressed herself, even to arranging her collar and ribbon--lighted a candle, and made known her intention of going down to Miss Eleanore for aid.
"Why Miss Eleanore?" a juryman here asked.
"Oh, she is the one who always gives out medicines and such like to the servants."
Urged to proceed, she went on to state that she had already told all she knew about it. Hannah did not come back, nor was she to be found in the house at breakfast time.
"You say she took a candle with her," said the coroner. "Was it in a candlestick?"
"No, sir; loose like."
"Why did she take a candle? Does not Mr. Leavenworth burn gas in his halls?"
"Yes, sir; but we put the gas out as we go up, and Hannah is afraid of the dark."
"If she took a candle, it must be lying somewhere about the house. Now, has anybody seen a stray candle?"
"Not as I knows on, sir."
"Is this it?" exclaimed a voice over my shoulder.
It was Mr. Gryce, and he was holding up into view a half-burned paraffine candle.
"Yes, sir; lor', where did you find it?"
"In the grass of the carriage yard, half-way from the kitchen door to the street," he quietly returned.
Sensation. A clue, then, at last! Something had been found which seemed to connect this mysterious murder with the outside world. Instantly the backdoor assumed the chief position of interest. The candle found lying in the yard seemed to prove, not only that Hannah had left the house shortly after descending from her room, but had left it by the backdoor, which we now remembered was only a few steps from the iron gate opening into the side street. But Thomas, being recalled, repeated his assertion that not only the back-door, but all the lower windows of the house, had been found by him securely locked and bolted at six o'clock that morning. Inevitable conclusion--some one had locked and bolted them after the girl. Who? Alas, that had now become the very serious and momentous question.