Approaching footsteps were heard, but they were the steps of men moving slowl_nd unsteadily, as though carrying some heavy burden. An instant later, si_en, bearing a casket beneath whose weight they staggered, entered the court- room and, making their way through the spell-bound crowd, deposited thei_urden near the witness stand. Immediately following were two men, one of who_as instantly recognized as Merrick, the detective; the other as the man who, a few months before, had been known as the English barrister's clerk, no_earing the full uniform of a Scotland Yard official. Bringing up the rear wa_n undertaker, who, amid the breathless silence which ensued, proceeded t_pen the casket. This done, Mr. Sutherland rose and addressed the judge, hi_ow tones for the first time vibrating with suppressed feeling.
"Your honor, I request that William H. Whitney be first called upon t_dentify the witness."
Controlling his agitation by a visible effort, Mr. Whitney approached th_asket, but his eyes no sooner rested on the form and features within than hi_orced composure gave way. With a groan he exclaimed,
"My God, it is Hugh Mainwaring!" and bending over the casket, he covered hi_ace with his hands while he strove in vain to conceal his emotion.
His words, ringing through the hushed court-room, seemed to break the spell, and the over-wrought nerves of the people began to yield under the tremendou_ressure. Mr. Sutherland raised a warning hand to check the tide of nervou_xcitement which threatened to sweep over the entire crowd, but it was o_ittle avail. Piercing screams followed; women fainted and were borne from th_oom, and the faces of strong men blanched to a deathly pallor as they gaze_t one another in mute consternation and bewilderment. For a few moments th_reatest confusion reigned, but when at last order was restored and Mr.
Whitney had regained his composure, Mr. Sutherland inquired,—
"Mr. Whitney, do you identify the dead man as Hugh Mainwaring?"
"But did you not identify as Hugh Mainwaring the man who, at Fair Oaks, on o_bout the eighth of July last, came to his death from the effect of a gunsho_ound?"
"I supposed then, and up until the present time, that it was he; ther_ertainly was a most wonderful resemblance which I am unable to explain o_ccount for, but this, beyond all question, is Hugh Mainwaring."
"Will you state what proof of identification you can give in this instanc_hat was not present in the other?"
"Hugh Mainwaring had over the right temple a slight birthmark, a red lin_xtending upward into the hair, not always equally distinct, but alway_isible to one who had once observed it, and in this instance quit_oticeable. I saw no trace of this mark on the face of the murdered man; bu_s the face was somewhat blackened by powder about the right temple, _ttributed its absence to that fact, and in the excitement which followed _hought little of it. On the day of the funeral I also noted certain lines i_he face which seemed unfamiliar, but realizing that death often makes th_eatures of those whom we know best to seem strange to us, I thought n_urther of the matter. Now, however, looking upon this face, I am able t_ecall several differences, unnoticed then, but all of which go to prove tha_his is Hugh Mainwaring."
Ralph Mainwaring was the next one summoned for identification. During Mr.
Whitney's examination his manner had betrayed intense agitation, and he no_ame forward with an expression of mingled incredulity and dread, but upo_eaching the casket, he stood like one petrified, unable to move or speak, while no one who saw him could ever forget the look of horror which oversprea_is features.
"Mr. Mainwaring," said Mr. Sutherland at length, "do you know the dead man?"
"It is he," answered Ralph Mainwaring in a low tone, apparently speaking mor_o himself than to the attorney; "it is Hugh Mainwaring; that was th_istinguishing mark between them."
"Do you refer to the mark of which Mr. Whitney has just spoken?"
"What do you mean by designating it as 'the distinguishing mark betwee_hem'?"
Ralph Mainwaring turned from the casket and faced Mr. Sutherland, but his eye_ad the strained, far-away look of one gazing into the distance, unconsciou_f objects near him.
"It was the mark," he said, speaking with an effort, "by which, when we wer_oys, he was distinguished from his twin brother."
"His twin brother, Harold Scott Mainwaring?" queried the attorney.
"Yes," the other answered, mechanically.
"Do you then identify this as Hugh Mainwaring?"
"Yes; and the other—he must have been—no, no, it could not be—great God!"
Ralph Mainwaring suddenly reeled and raised his hand to his head. Mr. Whitne_prang to his assistance and led him to his chair, but in those few moments h_ad aged twenty years.
A number of those most intimately acquainted with Hugh Mainwaring were the_alled upon, all of whom identified the dead man as their late friend an_ssociate. These preliminaries over, Mr. Sutherland arose.
"Your honor and gentlemen of the jury, before proceeding with the testimony t_e introduced, I have a brief statement to make. Soon after the commencemen_f this action, we came into possession of indisputable evidence that Hug_ainwaring, the supposed victim of the Fair Oaks tragedy, was still living, and that of whatever crime, if crime there were associated with that fearfu_vent, he was not the victim but the perpetrator. We determined at all hazard_o secure him, first as a witness in this case, our subsequent action to b_ecided by later developments. Through our special detective we succeeded i_ocating him, but he, upon finding himself cornered, supposing he was to b_rrested for the murder of his brother, attempted suicide by shooting. Th_ombined skill of the best surgeons obtainable, though unable to save him, ye_rolonged life for three days, long enough to enable two of our number, Mr.
Barton and Mr. Montague, to reach him in season to take his dying statement; _tatement not only setting forth the facts relating to the will in question, but embracing also the details of the Fair Oaks tragedy and mystery. Thi_tatement, made by Hugh Mainwaring and attested by numerous witnesses present, will now be read by Mr. Montague."
Amid an impressive silence, Mr. Montague stepped to the side of the caske_nd, unfolding a document which he held, read the following:
"I, Hugh Mainwaring, freely and voluntarily and under no duress or compulsion, make this, my dying statement, not only as a relief to the mental anguish _ave endured for the past few months, but also in the hope that I may thereby, in my last hours, help in some degree to right the wrong which my life o_reachery and cowardice has wrought. To do this, I must go back over twenty- five years of crime, and beyond that to the inordinate greed and ambition tha_ed to crime.
"My brother, Harold Scott Mainwaring, and I were twins, so marvelously alik_n form and feature that our parents often had difficulty to distinguis_etween us, but utterly unlike in disposition, except that we both possessed _iery temper and an indomitable will. He was the soul of honor, generous to _ault, loyal-hearted and brave, and he exacted honor and loyalty from others.
He had no petty ambitions; he cared little for wealth for its own sake, stil_ess for its votaries. I was ambitious; I loved wealth for the power which i_estowed; I would sacrifice anything for the attainment of that power, an_ven my boyish years were tainted with secret envy of my brother, an envy tha_rew with my growth, till, as we reached years of maturity, the consciousnes_hat he, my senior by only a few hours, was yet to take precedence over me—t_ossess all that I coveted—became a thorn in my side whose rankling presence _ever for a single waking hour forgot; it embittered my enjoyment of th_resent, my hopes and plans for the future.
"But of this deadly undercurrent flowing far beneath the surface neither h_or others dreamed, till, one day, a woman's face—cold, cruel, false, bu_eautiful, bewitchingly, entrancingly beautiful,—came between us, and fro_hat hour all semblance of friendship was at an end. With me it was a_nfatuation; with him it was love, a love ready to make any sacrifice for it_dol. So when our father threatened to disinherit and disown either or both o_s, and the false, fickle heart of a woman was laid in the balances agains_he ancestral estates, I saw my opportunity for seizing the long covete_rize. We each made his choice; my brother sold his birthright for a mess o_ottage; his rights were transferred to me, and my ambition was at las_ratified.
"Between three and four years later, on the night of November seventeenth, within a few hours preceding his death, my father made a will, revoking th_ill by which he had disinherited his elder son, and restoring him again t_is full right and title to the estate. This was not unexpected to me. Thoug_o words on the subject had passed between us and my brother's name was neve_entioned, I had realized for more than a year that my father was graduall_elenting towards the son who had ever been his favorite, and on the last da_hat he was able to leave his room, I had come upon him unaware in the ol_icture gallery, standing before the portrait of his elder son, silent an_tern, but with the tears coursing down his pallid cheeks. When, therefore, o_he night preceding his death, my father demanded that an attorney b_ummoned, my feelings can be imagined. Just as the prize which I had so lon_egarded as mine was almost within my grasp, should I permit it to elude m_or the gratification of a dying man's whim? Never! In my rage I could hav_hrottled him then and there without a qualm; fear of the law alone held m_ack. I tried to dissuade him, but it was useless. I then bribed the servan_ent to bring the attorney to report that he was out of town, and when tha_roved of no avail, I sent for Richard Hobson, a penniless shyster, whose lac_f means and lack of principle I believed would render him an easy tool in m_ands. He came; I was waiting to receive him, and we entered into compact, _ittle dreaming I was setting loose on my track a veritable hell-hound! Th_ill was drawn and executed, Hobson and one Alexander McPherson, an old frien_f my father's, signing as witnesses. Within twenty-four hours of it_xecution, Richard Hobson was richer by several hundred pounds, and the wil_as in my possession. Two days later, I had a false telegram sent to ou_lace, summoning McPherson to his home in Scotland. He left at once, before m_ather's burial, and his death, which occurred a few weeks later, removed th_ast obstacle in the way of carrying my plans into execution. My brother a_hat time was in Australia, but in what part of the country I did not know, nor did I try to ascertain. My constant fear was that he might in som_ay—though by what means I could not imagine—get some knowledge of the wil_nd return to set up a claim to the estate. As soon as possible, therefore, notwithstanding the protests of my attorneys, I sold the estate and came t_merica.
"Concerning the years that followed, it is needless to go into detail; the_rought me wealth, influence, power, all that I had craved, but little o_appiness. Even when there came tidings of my brother's death at sea, and _elt that at last my title to the estate was secure, I had little enjoyment i_ts possession. Richard Hobson had already begun his black-mailing schemes, his demands growing more frequent and exorbitant with each succeeding year.
Through him, also, the woman who had wrecked my brother's life received som_nkling of my secret, and through this knowledge, slight as it was, gaine_nough of a hold over me that life was becoming an intolerable burden. Throug_ll these years, however, I kept the will in my possession. Even after hearin_f the death of my brother, a cowardly, half-superstitious dread kept me fro_estroying it, though doubtless I would have done so soon after making my ow_ill had I not been prevented by circumstances unforeseen, which I will no_tate.
"The events which I am about to relate are stamped upon my brain as though b_ire; they have haunted me day and night for the past five months. On th_eventh of July last, I made and executed my will in favor of my namesake, Hugh Mainwaring, and on the following day—his birthday and mine—he was to b_eclared my heir. It was past eleven o'clock on the night of that day when _etired to my private library, and it was fully an hour later when, havin_ismissed my secretary, I finally found myself alone, as I supposed, for th_ight. My thoughts were far from pleasant. I had just had a stormy intervie_ith my housekeeper, Mrs. LaGrange, who had tried, as on previous occasions, to coerce me by threats into a private marriage and a public recognition o_er as my wife and of her child and mine; and, in addition, the occurrences o_he day had been of a nature to recall the past, and events which I usuall_ought to bury in oblivion were passing before my mental vision despite m_fforts to banish them. Suddenly a voice which seemed like an echo of the pas_ecalled me to the present. Somewhat startled, I turned quickly, confronting _an who had entered unperceived from the tower-room. He was my own height an_ize, with curling black hair and heavy mustache, but I was unable t_istinguish his features as he remained standing partly in the shadow. Befor_ could recover from my surprise, he again spoke, his voice still vaguel_amiliar.
"'The master of Fair Oaks'—the words were spoken with stinging emphasis—'seem_epressed on the eve of his festal day, the day on which he is to name th_eir and successor to his vast estates!'
"I remembered that a stranger had called that day during my absence, who, m_ecretary had informed me, bad shown a surprising familiarity with my privat_lans.
"'I think,' I replied, coldly, 'that you favored me with a call thi_fternoon, but whatever your business then or now, you will have to defer i_or a few days. I do not know how you gained admittance to these apartments a_his hour, but I will see that you are escorted from them without delay,' an_s I spoke I rose to ring for a servant.
"He anticipated my intention, however, and with the agility of a panthe_prang noiselessly across the room, intercepting me, at the same time raisin_ large, English bull-dog revolver, which he levelled at me.
"'Not so fast, not so fast,' he said, softly; 'you can afford to wait _ittle; I have waited for years!'
"I stood as though rooted to the spot, gazing at him with a sort o_ascination. As he emerged into the light there was something almost familia_n his features, and yet something horribly incongruous and unreal. His eye_lowed like living fire; his soft, low tones reminded me of nothing so much a_he purring of a tiger; while the smile that played about his lips was mor_errible than anything I had ever seen on human face. It was ten times mor_earful than the muzzle of the revolver confronting me, and seemed to freez_he very blood in my veins.
"'You take a base advantage; I am unarmed," I sneered.
"'I knew too well with whom I had to deal to come unarmed,' he replied;
'though this,' and he lowered the revolver, 'this is not the sort of weapo_ou would employ,—a thrust in the dark, a stab in the back, that is you_tyle, coward!"
"'I demand an explanation of this,' I said.
"He folded his arms, still retaining his hold upon the weapon, as he answered,
'Explanations will follow in due time; but surely, on the eve of the fiftiet_nniversary of such a life as yours, congratulations are first in order. Allo_e to congratulate you, Hugh Mainwaring, upon the success which has attende_nd crowned the past twenty-five years of your life! upon the rich harvest yo_ave reaped during all these years; the amassed wealth, the gratifie_mbitions, the almost illimitable power, the adulation and homage,—all s_recious to your sordid soul, and for which you have bartered honor, happiness, character, all, in short, that life is worth. Standing, as you d_o-night, at the fiftieth milestone on life's journey, I congratulate you upo_our recollections of the past, and upon your anticipations for the future, a_ou descend to an unhonored and unloved old age!'
"Every word was heaped with scorn, and, as I looked into the burning eye_ixed upon mine and watched the sardonic smile hovering about his lips, _ondered whether he were some Mephistopheles—some fiend incarnate—sent t_orture me, or whether he were really flesh and blood.
"The mocking smile now left his face, but his eyes held me speechless as h_ontinued,—
"'No wonder that memories of bygone years haunted your thoughts to-night!
Memories, perhaps, of a father whose dying will you disregarded; of a brothe_hom you twice defrauded,—once of the honor and sanctity of his home, then, a_f that were not enough, of his birthright,—his heritage from generations o_ur race—'
"'Stop!' I cried, stung to anger by his accusations and startled by th_trange words, 'our race,' which seemed to fall so familiarly from his lips.
'Stop! are you mad?" Do you know what you are saying? Once more I demand tha_ou state who or what you are, and your business here!'
"'That is quickly stated, Hugh Mainwaring,' he answered, in tones which mad_y heart beat with a strange dread; 'I am Harold Scott Mainwaring! I am her_o claim no brotherhood or kinship with you, but to claim and to have my own, the birthright restored to me by the last will and testament of a dyin_ather, of which you have defrauded me for twenty-five years!"
"'You are a liar and an impostor!' I cried, enraged at the sound of m_rother's name, and for the instant believing the man to be some emissary o_obson's who had used it to work upon my feelings.
"Drawing himself up to his full height, his eyes blazing, he answered in lo_ones, 'Dare you apply those epithets to me, usurper that you are? You are _iar and a thief, and if you had your deserts you would be in a felon's cel_o-night, or transported to the wilds of Australia! I an impostor? See an_udge for yourself!' and with a sudden, swift movement the black curling hai_nd mustache were dashed to the floor, and he stood before me the exac_ounterpart of myself. Stunned by the transformation, I gazed at hi_peechless; it was like looking in a mirror, feature for feature identicall_he same! For a few seconds my brain seemed to reel from the shock, but hi_ones recalled me to myself.
"'Ah!' he said, with mocking emphasis, 'who is the impostor now?'
"My first thought was of self-vindication, and to effect, if possible, _ompromise with him. 'I am no impostor or usurper,' I said, 'because, believing you dead, I have used that to which in the event of your death _ould be legally entitled even had you any claim, and I am willing, not as a_cknowledgment of any valid claim on your part, but as a concession on my ow_art, to give you a liberal share in the estate, or to pay you any reasonabl_um which you may require—
"He stopped me with an intolerant gesture. 'Do not attempt any palliation o_he past with me,' he said, sternly; 'it is worse than useless; and do no_hink that you can make any compromises with me or purchase my silence wit_our ill-gotten wealth. That may have served your purpose in the past wit_our associate and coadjutor, Richard Hobson, the man who holds in hi_ercenary grasp the flimsy reputation which is all that is left to you, o_ith the woman—cruel as the grave and false as hell—who once wrecked my life, and now, with the son that you dare not acknowledge, rules your home, but yo_annot buy my silence. I come to you as no beggar! I am a richer man to-da_han you, but for the sake of generations past, as well as of generations ye_o come, I will have my own. The estate which was once my forefathers shall b_y son's, and his sons' after him!'
"As I listened, my whole soul rose against him in bitter hatred, the ol_atred of my youth. 'I defy you,' I' cried, hotly, 'to produce one atom o_roof in support of your claim or of your charges against me! The estate i_ine, and I will make you rue the day that you dare dispute my right and titl_o it!'
"His eyes flashed with scorn as he replied, 'You lie, Hugh Mainwaring! You_ife for the past twenty-five years has been nothing but a lie, and the da_ust closed has witnessed the final act in this farce of yours. That I hav_lready undone, and just as surely I will undo the work of the past years. An_et me assure you I have no lack of proof with which to verify either my ow_laim or any assertion I have made, or may yet make, against you. I have proo_hat on the night preceding my father's death he made a will restoring to m_y full rights, which you have fraudulently withheld all these years; an_hrough my son, whom you have known for the past eighteen months as you_rivate secretary, I have proof that that will is still in existence, o_tself an irrefutable witness against you!'
"With the mention of my secretary the truth flashed upon me. I realized I wa_ompletely in his power, and with a sense of my own impotency my rage an_atred increased. Forgetful of the weapon in his hand and almost blind wit_ury, I sprang towards him, intending to throttle him—to strangle him—until h_hould plead for mercy. Instantly he raised the revolver in warning, but no_efore I had seized his wrist, turning the weapon from myself. A brie_truggle followed, in which I soon found my strength was no match for his.
Growing desperate, I summoned all my strength for one tremendous effort, a_he same time holding his wrist in a vice-like grip, forcing his hand highe_nd turning the revolver more and more in his direction. Suddenly there was _lash,—a sharp report,—and he fell heavily to the floor, dragging me down upo_im.
"For an instant I was too much stunned and bewildered to realize what ha_appened, but a glance at my opponent revealed the situation. He la_otionless where he had fallen, and a ghastly wound over the right eye tol_he terrible story. Dazed with horror, I placed my hand over his heart, bu_here was no motion, no life,—he was dead! The awful truth forced itself upo_e. Mad and blind with rage, I had turned the weapon upon him and it ha_ischarged,—whether by some sudden movement of his hand, or by the accidenta_ressure of my own fingers upon the trigger, God alone knows, I do not! On_act I could not then, nor ever can, forget; it was my hand that gave th_eapon its deadly aim, however blindly or unwittingly, and the blood of m_rother whom I had wronged and defrauded now lay at my door.
"The agony of remorse that followed was something beyond description, beyon_ny suffering of which I had ever dreamed; but suddenly a thought flashed upo_e which added new horror, causing me to spring to my feet cold with terror, while great beads of perspiration gathered on my brow. When that terribl_cene should be revealed, not alone in the approaching morning light, but i_he light of past events which, if the last words spoken by those lips no_ealed in death were true, could no longer be kept secret, what would be th_orld's verdict?" Murder! fratricide! and I? Great God! of what avail would b_ny plea of mine in the face of such damning evidence?
"I rushed to the tower-room, and hastily opening my safe, took from a privat_rawer therein a key and with trembling fingers fitted it into the lock of _arge metallic box which contained the family jewels, and which for more tha_wenty-five years had held the old will executed by my father on his death- bed. I had seen it there less than forty-eight hours before, and in m_esperation I now determined to destroy it. My very haste and eagernes_elayed me, but at last the cover flew back, revealing the gleaming jewels, but—the will was not there! Unable to believe my own eyes, I drew my finger_arefully back and forth through the narrow receptacle where it had lain, an_mong the satin linings of the various compartments, but in vain; the will wa_one! My brother had spoken the truth, and the will was doubtless in th_ossession of his son, who, under its terms, was now himself heir to th_state. The room grew dim and the walls themselves seemed to whirl swiftl_bout me as, with great difficulty, I groped my way back to the library, wher_ stood gazing at that strange counterpart of myself, till, under the growin_orror of the situation, it seemed to my benumbed senses as though I were som_isembodied spirit hovering above his own corpse. The horrible illusion wa_ike a nightmare; I could not throw it off, and I would then and there hav_one stark, staring mad, but that there came to me out of that awful chaos o_ancies a suggestion which seemed like an inspiration. 'It is Hug_ainwaring,' I said to myself, 'Hugh Mainwaring died to-night!'
"My fevered brain grew cool, my pulse steady, and my nerves firm as _roceeded at once to act upon the idea. Kneeling beside the dead man, _xamined the wound. The bullet had entered above the right eye and passe_ownward, coming out at the base of the brain; from both wounds the blood wa_lowing in a slow, sluggish stream. Drawing a large handkerchief from m_ocket, I bound it tightly about the head over both wounds, knotting i_irmly; then carrying the body into the tower-room, I made sure that all door_ere locked, and proceeded to put into execution the plan so suddenly formed.
By this time I was myself, and, though the task before me was neither easy no_leasant to perform, I went about it as calmly and methodically as though i_ere some ordinary business transaction. As expeditiously as possible _emoved the dead man's clothing and my own, which I then exchanged, dressin_he lifeless form in the clothes I had worn on the preceding day, even to th_ressing-gown which I had put on upon retiring to my apartments, while _onned his somewhat travel-worn suit of tweed. Having completed this gruesom_ask, I left the body in much the same position in which it had originall_allen, lying slightly upon the right side, the right arm extended on th_loor, and, to give the appearance of suicide, I placed my own revolver—firs_mptying one of the chambers—near his right hand. On going to my desk for th_evolver, I discovered the explanation of my brother's words when he said tha_e had already undone my work of the preceding day, the final act of the farc_ had carried out. In the terrible excitement of those moments his meanin_scaped my mind; now it was clear. My own will, executed with such care, an_hich early in the evening I had left upon my desk, was gone. That he ha_estroyed it in his wrath and scorn I had abundant proof a little later, upo_ncidentally finding in the small grate in that room the partially burne_ragments of the document, which I left to tell their own tale.
"Having satisfactorily disposed of Hugh Mainwaring (as the dead man now seeme_o my over-wrought imagination), I made preparation for my immediat_eparture. This occupied little time. There was fortunately some cash in th_afe, which I took; all drafts and papers of that nature I left,—they were o_alue only to Hugh Mainwaring, and he was dead! As the cash would b_nadequate, however, for my needs, I decided after considerable deliberatio_o take the family jewels, though not without apprehension that they migh_ead to my detection, as they finally did. These I put in a small box covere_ith ordinary wrapping-paper to attract as little attention as possible,' and, having completed my preparations, I removed the bandage from the dead man'_ead and threw it with the private keys to my library into the metallic bo_hich had held the jewels. Then donning the black wig and mustache which m_isitor had thrown aside on disclosing his identity, together with a lon_lster which he had left in the tower-room, I took one farewell look at th_amiliar apartments and their silent occupant and stole noiselessly out int_he night. I remained on the premises only long enough to visit the small lak_n the rear of the house, into which I threw the metallic box and it_ontents, then, following the walk through the grove to the side street, _eft Fair Oaks, as I well knew, forever. While yet on the grounds I met my ow_oachman, but he failed to recognize me in my disguise. My plans were alread_ormed. I had come to the conclusion that my late visitor and the caller o_he preceding afternoon, whose card bore the name of J. Henry Carruthers, wer_ne and the same. My secretary had stated that Carruthers had come out fro_he city that day, so my appearance at the depot, dressed in his own disguise, would probably attract no attention. I was fortunate enough to reach the depo_ust as two trains were about to pull out; the suburban train which woul_eave in three minutes for the city, and the north-bound express, due to leav_ive minutes later. I bought a ticket for New York, then passing around th_ear of the suburban train, quietly boarded the express, and before th_iscovery of that night's fearful tragedy I was speeding towards the grea_est.
"But go where I might, from that hour to this, I have never been free fro_gonizing remorse, nor have I been able for one moment to banish from m_emory the sight of that face,—the face of my brother, killed by my own hand, and a discovery which I made within the first few hours of my flight made m_emorse ten times deeper. In going through the pockets of the suit I wore _ound a letter from my brother, addressed to his son, written in my ow_ibrary and at my own desk while he awaited my coming. He seemed to have had _ort of presentiment that his interview with me might end in some such traged_s it did, and took that opportunity to inform his son regarding both his pas_ork and his plans for the future. What was my astonishment to find that hi_on was, at that time, as totally unaware of his father's existence as was I _ew hours before of the existence of a brother!
"From this letter I learned that the son had been given away at birth, and wa_o know nothing of his true parentage until he had reached years of maturity; that he himself had been shipwrecked, as reported years ago, but had escape_n some miraculous manner; that reaching Africa at last, he disclosed hi_dentity to no one, but devoted all his energies to acquiring a fortune fo_is son. He succeeded even beyond his anticipations, and when nearly twent_ears had elapsed, sailed for his old Australian home, to find his son.
Arriving there, he learned that his son, while pursuing his studies i_ngland, had obtained information of the will made in his father's favor, an_earning facts which led him to believe that the will was still in existenc_nd in the possession of his father's younger brother, had, with the advice o_is London attorneys, gone to America, and was then in his uncle's employ fo_he purpose of securing proof regarding the will, and, if possible, possessio_f the will itself. Upon learning these facts, my brother had immediatel_roceeded to London and to Barton & Barton, his son's attorneys, who, upon hi_rrival there, informed him of his son's success up to that time, and als_otified him that his brother was about to celebrate his approaching fiftiet_irthday by naming the son of Ralph Mainwaring as his heir, Ralph Mainwarin_nd family having just sailed to America for that purpose. My brother the_ook the first steamer for America, arriving only two days later than Ralp_ainwaring. Though unable to obtain an interview with me at once, as he ha_ntended, he had succeeded in catching sight of me, in order to assure himsel_hat the marked resemblance between us still existed, and, to emphasize tha_esemblance, he then shaved and had his hair cut in the same style in which _ore mine, so as to render the likeness the more striking and indisputabl_hen he should announce himself to me.
"His existence and return he wished kept secret from his son until th_uccessful consummation of his plans, but he wrote the letter as a_xplanation in case there should be any unforeseen termination. The letter wa_verflowing with a father's love and pride; his allusion to the difficult_ith which he had restrained his feelings when he found himself face to fac_ith his son on the afternoon of his call, being especially touching. Th_erusal of that letter added a hundred-fold to my own grief and remorse. _ared not run the risk of disclosing myself by sending it to my brother's son, but I have preserved it carefully for him, and desire it to be given him a_uickly as possible.
"Through New York papers I learned from time to time of the murder of Hug_ainwaring, the lost will, the discovery of the old will, and the appearanc_f the rightful heir. From that source, also, I learned that Merrick, th_etective, was shadowing the murderer, who was generally supposed to be a ma_y the name of Carruthers. I had one advantage of Merrick. I knew him—my ol_riend Whitney having often pointed him out to me—while he did not know th_an he sought. Many a time in my wanderings I have seen him, and, knowing wel_he game he was after, eluded him, only to fall at last into the snare of on_hom I did not know. The man searching for the murderer of Hugh Mainwarin_ncountered another, trailing the murderer of Harold Scott Mainwaring, and _uddenly found my time had come! A coward then, as always, I tried to shoo_yself. In the darkness I held the muzzle of my brother's revolver to my ow_emple; instantly there flashed before me his face when I had killed him! _rew sick, my hand trembled and dropped; then, as my pursuers came nearer, _imed for my heart and fired! This is the result. Death was not instantaneous, as I had hoped; instead, I was given this opportunity to make some sligh_eparation for my sin; to aid, as I said before, in righting the wrong wrough_y my past life.
"And now, in these my last moments, I do solemnly affirm and aver that on th_ight preceding his death, my father executed a will restoring to my elde_rother his full right and title, which will I have for more than twenty-fiv_ears last past wrongfully and fraudulently withheld and concealed; and tha_y brother being now dead, killed by my own hand, though unwittingly an_nintentionally, his son, Harold Scott Mainwaring, is the rightful and sol_eir to the entire Mainwaring estate.
"Signed by Hugh Mainwaring in the presence of the following witnesses: Willia_. Barton, M. D. Montague, Joseph P. Sturgiss, M.D., M. J. Wheating, M.D., Daniel McCabe and C. D. Merrick."
At the conclusion of this statement, there was shown in evidence the rust_etallic box-dragged from the lake—with the keys and the knotted, blood- stained handkerchief found therein. This was followed by brief testimony b_arold Scott Mainwaring and the old servant, James Wilson, but the proceeding_ollowing the reading of the statement were little more than mere form. Ther_as little attempt at cross-examination, and when the time came for th_rgument by counsel for contestant, Mr. Whitney, who had been deeply affecte_y the confession of his old friend, declined to speak.
All eyes were fastened upon Mr. Sutherland as he arose, as was supposed, fo_he closing argument. For a moment his eyes scanned the faces of the jurors, man by man, then addressing the judge, he said slowly, in clear, resonan_ones,—
"Your honor, I submit the case without argument."
In less than forty-five minutes from the conclusion of the statement the jur_etired, but no one moved from his place in the crowded court-room, for al_elt that little time would be required for their decision. In ten minute_hey returned, and, amid the silence that followed, the foreman announced th_erdict, "for the proponent, Harold Scott Mainwaring."
Cheers burst forth from all parts of the room, and the walls rang wit_pplause, which was only checked by a sudden, simultaneous movement of severa_en towards the contestant. With the announcement of the verdict, Ralp_ainwaring had risen to his feet, as though in protest. For an instant h_tood gasping helplessly, but unable to utter a word; then, with a loud groan, he sank backward and would have fallen to the floor but for his attorneys, wh_ad rushed to the assistance of the stricken man.
A few moments later the lifeless remains of Hugh Mainwaring were carried fro_he court-room, while, in another direction, the unconscious form of Ralp_ainwaring was borne by tender, pitying hands, among them those of the victo_imself, and the contest of Mainwaring versus Mainwaring was ended.
The bright sunlight of a December afternoon, ten days after the close of th_rial, crowned with a shining halo the heads of Harold Scott Mainwaring an_is wife as they stood together in the tower-room at Fair Oaks. But a fe_ours had elapsed since they had repeated the words of the beautiful marriag_ervice which had made them husband and wife. Their wedding had been, o_ecessity, a quiet one, only their own party and a few of their America_riends being present, for the ocean-liner, then lying in the harbor, bu_hich in a few hours was to bear them homeward, would carry also the bodies o_he Mainwaring brothers and of Ralph Mainwaring to their last resting place.
Here, amid the very surroundings where it was written, Harold Mainwaring ha_ust read to his wife his father's letter, penned a few hours before hi_eath. For a few moments neither spoke, then Winifred said brokenly, throug_ast falling tears,—
"How he loved you, Harold!"
"Yes," he replied, sadly; "and what would I not give for one hour in which t_ssure him of my love! I would gladly have endured any suffering for his sake, but in the few moments that we stood face to face we met as strangers, and _ave had no opportunity to show him my appreciation of his love or my love fo_im in return."
"Don't think he does not know it," she said, earnestly. "I believe that he no_nows your love for him far more perfectly than you know his."
He kissed her tenderly, then drawing from his pocket a memorandum-book, too_herefrom a piece of blotter having upon it the impress of some writing.
Placing it upon the desk beside the letter, he held a small mirror against it, and Winifred, looking in the mirror, read,
"Your affectionate father,
"HAROLD SCOTT MAINWARING."
Then glancing at the signature to the letter, she saw they were identical. I_nswer to her look of inquiry, Harold said,—
"I discovered that impress on the blotter on this desk one morning about te_ays after the tragedy, and at once recognized it as my father's writing. In _lash I understood the situation; my father himself had returned, had been i_hese rooms, and had had an interview with his brother! I knew of the marke_esemblance between them, and at once questioned, How had that intervie_nded? Who was the murdered man? Who was the murderer? That was the cause o_y trip to England to try to find some light on this subject. I need no word_o tell you the agony of suspense that I endured for the next few weeks, an_ou will understand now why I would not—even to yourself—declare my innocenc_f the murder of Hugh Mainwaring. I would have bourne any ignominy an_ishonor, even death itself, rather than that a breath of suspicion shoul_ave been directed against my father's name."
"My hero!" she exclaimed, smiling through her tears; then asked, "When and ho_id you learn the real facts?"
"Almost immediately upon my return to this country, and from Mrs. LaGrange,"
and he told her briefly of his last interview with that unhappy woman. "Up t_he day of the funeral, she was ignorant of the truth, but on that day sh_etected the difference, which none of the others saw. She knew and recognize_y father."
Standing at last on the western veranda, they took their farewell of Fai_aks.
"Beautiful Fair Oaks!" Winifred murmured; "once I loved you; but you coul_ever be our home; you hold memories far too bitter!"
"Yes," Harold replied, gravely, "it is darkened by crime and stained wit_nnocent blood. The only bright feature to redeem it," he added with a smile,
"is the memory of the love I found there, but that," and he drew her ar_losely within his own, "I take with me to England, to my father's home an_ine."
Together they left the majestic arched portals, and going down the oak-line_venue, through the dim twilight of the great boughs interlocked above thei_eads, passed on, out into the sunlight, with never a fear for shadows tha_ight come; each strong and confident in the love that united them "for bette_or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, … till death u_o part."