As the attorney, in response to the summons from Mr. Thornton, hastened fro_he corridor into the main hall, five gentlemen were slowly ascending th_road stairway, conversing together in subdued tones. One, younger than th_thers and evidently more familiar with the surroundings at Fair Oaks, steppe_uickly in advance of the rest and extended his hand to Mr. Whitney in silen_reeting. This was Dr. Hobart, Hugh Mainwaring's physician and one of his mos_ntimate friends, although a number of years his junior. Following him wer_r. Elliott and Mr. Chittenden, of the firm of Mainwaring & Co., whil_ringing up the rear were the coroner and a gentleman, somewhat below mediu_ize and of modest appearance, whom the attorney greeted very cordially an_fterwards introduced to Mr. Thornton as Mr. Merrick. Proceeding at once t_he library, they were joined a moment later by Ralph Mainwaring and his son.
The necessary introductions followed, and Mr. Mainwaring having given th_utler instructions to admit no one into the library, Mr. Whitney made a brie_tatement regarding the discovery of the murder, and all passed into the roo_n the tower.
Dr. Hobart at once bent over the prostrate form with genuine sorrow. Th_illionaire broker had been one of his earliest patrons, and thei_cquaintance had soon ripened into a mutual attachment, notwithstanding th_isparity in their ages. After a long look at the face of his friend, he gav_lace to the coroner, who was also a physician. They partially lifted the bod_nd both examined the wound, the small man who had accompanied the corone_ooking on silently. It was found that the bullet had entered just above th_ight eye and had passed through the brain in a slightly downward direction, coming out near the base upon the same side. The most careful search failed t_isclose the bullet, and attention was next directed to the revolver lyin_pon the floor near the right hand. It was a Smith & Wesson, thirty-tw_alibre, with but one empty chamber, that from which the fatal bullet ha_robably been discharged.
"Can any of you gentlemen tell me whether or not this belonged to th_eceased?" inquired the coroner, holding up the revolver.
There was an instant's pause, and Mr. Whitney replied, "I know that Mr.
Mainwaring owned a revolver, but, having never seen it, am unable to answe_our inquiry. Perhaps his secretary could give you the desired information."
"I have often seen a revolver lying in Mr. Mainwaring's desk," said th_ecretary; "but I doubt whether I could identify it, as I never observed i_losely. I should judge, however, that this was the same size and make."
"Would it not be well to see if it is still there?" suggested the attorney. "_uppose you have a key to the desk."
"I have, sir," he replied, at the same time producing it. Crossing the room, he unlocked and opened the desk. An instant later, he announced, as he close_he desk, "It is not here."
There was a subdued murmur, and Mr. Thornton was heard to exclaim, "Suicide!
That has been my impression all along."
Ralph Mainwaring glanced inquiringly at the attorney, who shook his hea_mphatically, while the coroner once more inspected the wound with an air o_erplexity.
"Doctor," inquired Ralph Mainwaring, "in your opinion, how long has life bee_xtinct?"
"I should judge about eight or nine hours," replied Dr. Hobart. "What woul_ou say, Dr. Westlake?"
"That would be my judgment, also."
"You would say that death was instantaneous?" questioned the attorney.
"Without a doubt. It could not have been otherwise?" Ralph Mainwarin_onsulted his watch. "It is now half after nine; in your judgment, then, thi_ust have occurred about one o'clock this morning?"
"About that time."
"At what hour was Mr. Mainwaring last seen by any one in this house?" aske_he coroner.
"As nearly as we have ascertained thus far, at about twelve o'clock."
"Twelve? Indeed! By whom? and where?"
"By his private secretary, and in the library adjoining."
"Very well," said the coroner, after a pause, during which he had made _emorandum of certain details which he considered of special importance; "th_ndertaker can now be summoned as I believe he is waiting below, and we see_o have ascertained all the facts possible in this direction; and, Mr.
Whitney, I will next see the valet, whom you say was the one to discover th_ituation this morning."
In the slight confusion and delay which ensued, Mr. Elliott and Mr. Chittende_ook their departure, with the usual expressions of condolence and regret, followed a few moments later by Dr. Hobart, who was accompanied downstairs b_oung Mainwaring.
Meanwhile, Mr. Merrick, having made a close scrutiny of the lifeless form, ha_een slowly walking back and forth in the tower-room and library, his hands i_he pockets of his short sacque coat and his eyes apparently riveted on th_loor. Several times in the library he paused and, bending downward, seemed t_e intently studying the carpet; then, after two or three turns about th_oom, he sauntered towards the windows and doors, examining the fastenings o_ach in turn, and, on reaching the door opening into the southern hall, suddenly disappeared.
"A very mysterious case!" commented the coroner, when he had finished hi_nterview with the valet. "Thus far nothing can be learned which throws muc_ctual light on the subject one way or another, but if anybody can unravel th_ystery, Merrick can."
"Merrick!" repeated Mr. Thornton, turning to Mr. Whitney in surprise. "Is Mr.
Merrick a detective?"
"He is. I did not introduce him as such, for the reason that in a case of thi_ind he usually prefers to make his first visit incognito if possible."
"Very well; you have taken the responsibility in this matter. You understand, of course, Mr. Whitney, that we want no amateur work in a case like this."
"Mr. Merrick is no amateur," said the attorney, quietly; "he is one of th_ost trusted and one of the surest men on the force."
"Before we go any farther," interposed Ralph Mainwaring, "I suggest that w_scertain whether or not there has been a robbery. We can at least satisf_urselves on that point."
"Acting on your suggestion, we will examine the safe," said Mr. Whitney;
"though I, for one, am not inclined to think there has been any robbery.
Without a knowledge of the combination, the safe could not be opened unles_orce were employed; and it certainly bears no evidence of having bee_ampered with."
"Proceed with your investigation, Mr. Whitney," said the quiet voice of th_etective, who had entered unobserved from the smoking-room; "unless I a_reatly mistaken, the person we are after is some one pretty familiar wit_arious 'combinations' in these apartments."
There was a general expression of surprise, and all turned towards Mr. Merric_or an explanation, but a glance at his impassive face convinced them tha_uestions would be useless.
With a few swift turns the secretary unlocked the safe and the ponderous door_wung open, showing books and papers in their accustomed places. Everythin_ppeared in perfect order; but as the attorney began a rapid examination o_he interior, he suddenly uttered a sharp exclamation, while, as he continue_is search, his manner betrayed considerable excitement.
"Anything wrong, Mr. Whitney? anything missing?" queried Ralph Mainwaring.
"Everything is missing!" the other exclaimed, after a moment's pause, turnin_round with a pale face and holding in his hand an empty cash box; "there i_bsolutely nothing left but an old cheque-book, a few drafts, and some othe_apers of no value whatever except to Hugh Mainwaring himself!"
Half a score of questions were instantly raised: "Was there a large amount o_oney in the safe?" "Did it contain anything of great value?"
Scott, standing silently in the background, seemed to see again the brillian_ems flashing in the sunlight, as he had seen them in his search on th_receding day, but he said nothing.
"There was a considerable amount of cash," the attorney was saying. "Mr.
Mainwaring deposited a large sum there when he last came out from the city, and," he added more slowly, "the old family jewels were kept in the safe."
"The Mainwaring jewels!" echoed both the Englishmen. "Impossible! incredible!"
While Ralph Mainwaring exclaimed, "Why, they were worth a fortune severa_imes over in themselves!"
"I am aware of that," answered the attorney. "I often remonstrated with Mr.
Mainwaring, but to no purpose; for some reason which he never explained h_lways kept them there."
"I would never have believed him capable of such recklessness," said Mr.
"Recklessness!" exclaimed Ralph Mainwaring; "it was the biggest piece o_mbecility I ever heard of! What is your opinion now, Mr. Whitney, regarding _obbery in connection with this case?"
"That there has been a robbery I am forced to admit," the attorney replied, courteously but firmly; "but my opinion of the matter is still unchanged. _egard the robbery as only incident to the murder. I do not yet believe it t_ave led to the deeper crime."
"Do you know, Mr. Scott, whether any one beside yourself understood th_ombination of the safe?" Ralph Mainwaring inquired.
"I do not, sir," the secretary replied, conscious that all eyes had turne_pon him at the inquiry and that the detective was observing him closely.
Meanwhile Ralph Mainwaring loudly lamented the missing jewels, until it wa_vident to all that their loss, for the time at least, had completel_vershadowed all thought of the tragedy they were investigating.
"They must be recovered at all hazards and at any price," he said, addressin_he detective. "There were single gems in that collection which cost a fortun_nd which have been heirlooms in the family for generations."
After further search which failed to disclose anything of importance, or an_lue regarding either the murder or the robbery, arrangements were made fo_he inquest to be held at three o'clock that afternoon, and the party wa_bout to leave the apartments, when Mr. Whitney paused.
"One moment, gentlemen; there is one more point I would like investigated. _aintain that we have not yet discovered the most essential clue to thi_ase—something to throw light on the possible motive which prompted the murde_f Hugh Mainwaring. I now wish to make a final trial. Mr. Scott, will you onc_ore open Mr. Mainwaring's desk for us and take out the will that wa_eposited there yesterday?"
Ralph Mainwaring started. "The will? You surely do not think—"
"I think it might be safer in our own possession," said the attorney, with _eculiar smile.
"And right you are!" added Mr. Thornton, approvingly. "I wonder you had no_hought of that yourself, Mainwaring."
Meanwhile, Scott, having opened the desk in compliance with the attorney'_equest, had looked for the will where he had last seen it on the precedin_ay, and, failing to find it, was searching through the numerous receptacle_ontaining Mr. Mainwaring's private papers. The silence around him becam_ppressive, and suddenly looking up, he encountered the glance of both Mr.
Whitney and the detective, the former with an expression of triumph in hi_een eyes. Perplexed and bewildered, Scott exclaimed in a mechanical tone,—