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Chapter 8 THE WEAVING OF THE WEB

  • Ten o'clock found an eager crowd assembled in and about the large library a_air Oaks, drawn by reports of the sensational features developed on th_receding day. The members of the household occupied nearly the same position_s on the preceding afternoon, with the exception of the secretary, who ha_ntered the room a little in advance of the others and had seated himself nea_he coroner.
  • Notwithstanding the glances of doubt and distrust which Scott encountered, an_is own consciousness that suspicion against himself would deepen as all th_acts in the case became known, he was as impassive as ever. Even Mr. Whitne_as wholly at a loss to account for the change in the bearing of th_ecretary. He was no longer the employee, but carried himself with a prou_ndependence, as though conscious of some mysterious vantage-ground.
  • On the other side of the coroner, but conveniently near Scott, was Mr.
  • Sutherland, while in the rear, commanding a good view of both gentlemen, a_ell as of nearly every face in the room, sat Mr. Merrick, though to _tranger his manner would have implied the utmost indifference to th_roceedings.
  • The first witness called for by the coroner was Johnson, the butler. For th_irst five or ten minutes his testimony was little more than a corroboratio_f that given by the valet on the preceding day, of the discovery of the deat_f Hugh Mainwaring.
  • "You say," said the coroner, "that at Mr. Whitney's request you remained i_he upper hall, near the library and within call?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "Will you state how long a time you should think elapsed between the alar_iven by Hardy and the appearance of the entire household, including both th_uests and the servants?"
  • "Well, sir, Hardy gave the alarm a little after seven. The servants wer_lready up and crowded around there immediately, and I should say that ever_ne, including the ladies, was out within twenty minutes, or thirty at th_atest, with the exception of Mrs. LaGrange and her son."
  • "At what time did the latter appear?"
  • "It must have been considerably after eight o'clock, sir, when she came to th_ibrary in response to a message from Mr. Whitney."
  • "And her son?"
  • "I did not see Mr. Walter LaGrange at all during the forenoon, sir."
  • "How was that?" inquired Dr. Westlake, rather quickly. "Was he not at Fai_aks?"
  • "I cannot say, sir. I did not see him until luncheon."
  • "When did you last see Mr. Mainwaring?"
  • "A little after eleven o'clock night before last,—Wednesday night, sir. I wa_n the hall as he passed upstairs to his rooms, and I heard him ask Mr. Scot_o come to his library."
  • "Did there seem to be any coldness or unpleasantness between them?"
  • "No, sir; they both appeared the same as usual."
  • "Did any strangers call at Fair Oaks Wednesday aside from those mentione_esterday?"
  • "No, sir."
  • "Will you describe the strangers who were here, stating when they called an_ny particulars you are able to give?"
  • "The man giving his name as R. Hobson called between eleven and twelve, Wednesday morning. He was tall, with thin features, small, dark eyes, and _ery soft voice. He came in a carriage, inquired for Mrs. LaGrange, and seeme_n considerable haste. He stayed about an hour. The gentleman who called abou_our in the afternoon also came in a carriage and inquired for Mr. Mainwaring, saying he had been directed to Fair Oaks at the city offices of Mainwaring & Co. On learning that Mr. Mainwaring was out, he asked for the secretary; and _ook his card to Mr. Scott, who gave directions to have him shown up into th_ibrary. I do not know when he left. He was tall, with black hair an_oustache and dark glasses."
  • "Mr. Hobson's call occasioned considerable comment at luncheon, did it not?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "Did you observe that it had any effect on Mr. Mainwaring?"
  • "Well, sir, I thought he appeared considerably annoyed, and after luncheon h_sked me whether Mr. Hobson had inquired for him."
  • "Did you admit Hobson when he called in the evening?"
  • "I did not, sir. I merely met him at the door and directed him to the sout_ide entrance."
  • "At Mrs. LaGrange's request?"
  • "Yes, sir; in accordance with her instructions."
  • "Did she give any reason for such instructions?"
  • "Merely that his former call had caused so much remark she wished to receiv_im privately."
  • "Was he alone when he called the second time?"
  • "No, sir."
  • "Can you describe the person who accompanied him?"
  • "No, sir. The man stood so far in the shadow that I could only see th_utlines of his form. I should say he was about the same height as Mr. Hobson, but considerably heavier."
  • "Do you know at what hour they left?"
  • "No, sir."
  • Further questions failing to elicit any facts bearing upon the situation, th_utler was dismissed, and Brown, the coachman, took his place. The latter wa_ar less taciturn than the butler, seeming rather eager to impart some piec_f information which he evidently considered of special importance.
  • After a few preliminary questions, the coroner said,—
  • "At what time, and from whom, did you first hear of Mr. Mainwaring's death?"
  • "About half-past seven, yesterday morning, sir. I was a-taking care of th_orses, sir, when Uncle Mose—he's the gardener, sir—he comes past the stabl_n his way to the tool-house, and he tells me that Mr. Mainwaring had bee_urdered in the night, right in his own rooms, and then he tells me-"
  • "How long had you been up and at work in the stables?"
  • "Before I heard of the murder? Well, about an hour, I should say. I generall_ets up at six."
  • "Had you been to the house that morning?"
  • "No, sir; but I went right up there after seeing Uncle Mose, and I was in th_itchen telling what I had seen the night before, when the butler he come_own and said as how Mr. Ralph Mainwaring wanted me, and that I had bette_eep my mouth shut till I was asked to tell what I knew."
  • "Where were you last Wednesday night?" asked the coroner, rather abruptly.
  • Brown looked surprised, but answered readily, "I was out with some friends o_ine. We all went down to the city together that night and stayed out prett_ate, and it seems a mighty good thing we did, too."
  • "Why so?" asked the coroner.
  • "Well, sir," said Brown, deliberately, glad of an opportunity to tell hi_tory and evidently determined to make the most of it, "as I said, we staye_ut that night later than we meant to, and I didn't waste no time getting hom_fter I left the depot. So, when I got to Fair Oaks, I thought I'd take th_hortest cut, and so I come in by the south gate, off from the side street, and took the path around the lake to get to the stables."
  • "What lake do you mean?" interrupted the coroner.
  • "The small lake back of the grove in the south part of the grounds. Well, _as hurrying along through that grove, and all of a sudden I seen a ma_tanding on the edge of the lake with his back towards me. He was very tall, and wore an ulster that came nearly to his feet, and he looked so queer that _tepped out of the path and behind some big trees to watch him. I hadn't n_ore than done so, when he stooped and picked up something, and come right u_he path towards me. The moon was shining, had been up about two hours, _hould say, but his back was to the light and I couldn't see his face, nor _idn't want him to see me. After he'd got by I stepped out to watch him an_ee if he went towards the house, but he didn't; he took the path I had jus_eft and walked very fast to the south gate and went out onto the sid_treet."
  • "In which direction did he then go?" asked the coroner.
  • "He went up onto the main avenue and turned towards the town."
  • "Can you describe his appearance?"
  • "Only that he was tall and had very black hair; but his face was in th_hadow, so I couldn't tell how he looked."
  • "What did he pick up from the ground?"
  • "I couldn't see very plain, but it looked like a small, square box done up i_aper."
  • "You did not try to call any one?"
  • "No, sir. The man didn't go near the house, and I didn't think much about i_ntil Uncle Mose told me yesterday morning that the night before he seen—"
  • "Never mind what he saw; we will let him tell his own story. Was that all yo_aw?"
  • "No, sir; it wasn't," replied Brown, with a quick side glance towards Mrs.
  • LaGrange, who occupied the same position as on the preceding day. "I was goin_long towards the stables, thinking about that man, and all of a sudden _oticed there was a bright light in one of the rooms up-stairs. The curtain_asn't drawn, and I thought I'd see whose room it was, so I walked up toward_he house carefully, and I saw Mr. Mainwaring's secretary. He looked awfull_ale and haggard, and was walking up and down the room kind of excited like.
  • Just then I happened to step on the gravelled walk and he heard me, for h_tarted and looked kind of frightened and listened a moment, and then h_tepped up quick and extinguished the light, and I was afraid he'd see me the_rom the window, so I hurried off. But I thought 'twas mighty queer-"
  • "Mr. Scott was dressed, was he?" interrupted the coroner.
  • "Yes, sir," Brown answered, sullenly.
  • "Did you go directly to your room?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "What time was this?"
  • "I heard the clock strike three just after I got in."
  • "You saw or heard nothing more?"
  • "No, sir."
  • "You knew nothing of what had occurred at the house until the gardener tol_ou in the morning?"
  • "N—yes—no, sir," Brown stammered, with another glance towards Mrs. LaGrange, who was watching him closely.
  • "What did you say?" demanded the coroner.
  • "I said I didn't know what had happened till Uncle Mose told me," Brow_nswered, doggedly.
  • "That will do," said the coroner, watching the witness narrowly as he resume_is place among the servants.
  • During the latter part of Brown's testimony, quick, telegraphic glances ha_een exchanged between Scott and Mr. Sutherland, and one or two slips o_aper, unobserved by any one but Merrick, had passed from one to the other.
  • Scott was well aware that the statements made by the coachman had deepene_uspicion against himself. He paid little attention to the crowd, however, bu_oted particularly the faces of the guests at Fair Oaks. Ralph Mainwaring's, dark with anger; that of the genial Mr. Thornton coldly averted; youn_ainwaring's supercilious stare, and his sister's expression of contemptuou_isdain; and as he studied their features his own grew immobile as marble.
  • Suddenly his glance encountered Miss Carleton's face and was held for a momen_s though under a spell. There was no weak sentimentality there, no pity o_ympathy,—he would have scorned either,—but the perfect confidence shining i_er eyes called forth a quick response from his own, though not a muscl_tirred about the sternly-set mouth. She saw and understood, and, as her eye_ell, a smile, inexplicable and mysterious, flashed for an instant across he_ace and was gone.
  • "John Wilson," announced the coroner, after a slight pause.
  • A middle-aged man, rather dull in appearance, except for a pair of keenl_bservant eyes, stepped forward with slow precision.
  • "You are Mr. Ralph Mainwaring's valet, I believe?" said the coroner.
  • "That I am, sir," was the reply.
  • "Have you been for some time in his employ?"
  • The man peered sharply at Dr. Westlake from under his heavy brows, an_eplied, with great deliberation, "Nigh onto thirty years, sir."
  • Then, noting the surprise in his interlocutor's face, he added, with dignity,
  • "The Wilsons, sir, have served the Mainwarings for three generations. M_ather, sir, was valet to the father of the dead Hugh Mainwaring, th_onorable Ralph Maxwell Mainwaring, sir."
  • A smile played over the features of young Mainwaring at these words, but Scot_tarted involuntarily, and, after studying Wilson's face intently for _oment, hastily pencilled a few words on a slip of paper which he handed t_r. Sutherland, and both watched the witness with special interest.
  • His testimony differed little from that given by Hardy and by the butler. H_tated, however, that, after accompanying Mr. Ralph Mainwaring to the scene o_he murder, the latter sent him to summon Mr. Scott; but on his way to th_oung gentleman's room he saw Mr. Whitney in advance of him, who called th_ecretary and immediately returned with him to the library.
  • "Was Mr. Scott already up when Mr. Whitney called him?" the coroner inquired, quickly.
  • "He was up and dressed, sir," was the reply.
  • Wilson also corroborated the butler's statement that Walter LaGrange was no_een about the premises until luncheon, and stated, in addition, that th_orse belonging to young LaGrange was missing from the stables until nearl_oon. Having mingled very little with the servants at Fair Oaks, he had bu_light knowledge concerning the occurrences of the day preceding the murder.
  • His testimony was therefore very brief.
  • "Katie O'Brien, chambermaid," was next called; and in response a young Iris_oman quietly took her place before the coroner. She answered the question_ddressed her as briefly as possible, but with deliberation, as though eac_ord had been carefully weighed.
  • "Did you have charge of the private rooms of Mr. Mainwaring?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "You took care of his rooms as usual Wednesday?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "Did you see Mr. Mainwaring during the day or evening?"
  • "I met him once or twice in the halls."
  • "When did you last see him?"
  • "About two o'clock Wednesday afternoon."
  • "State how you first heard of his death."
  • "I was working in the halls up-stairs about seven that morning and hear_unning back and forth, as if there was trouble. I went out into the fron_all and met the butler, and he told me Mr. Mainwaring had been murdered."
  • "Did you go in to see him at that time?"
  • "Yes, sir, for a moment."
  • "Did you notice anything unusual in his rooms?"
  • "I didn't notice anything unusual in Mr. Mainwaring's rooms."
  • "Did you in any room?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "In what one?"
  • "In Mr. Scott's room, a little later."
  • "State what you observed."
  • "A few minutes after I left the library I saw Mr. Scott come out of his roo_nd go away with Mr. Whitney, and I thought I would go in and do up the room.
  • So I went in, but the bed was just as I had made it up the day before. I_adn't been slept in nor touched. Then things was strewn around considerable, and the top drawer of his dressing-case was kept locked all the forenoon unti_e went to the city."
  • "When did he go to the city?"
  • "About noon."
  • "Did you see Mr. Scott the day or evening preceding Mr. Mainwaring's death?"
  • "No, sir; but I know he was locked in Mr. Mainwaring's library all th_fternoon, after the folks had gone out driving."
  • "How do you know the library was locked?"
  • "I was sweeping in the corridor, and I heard him unlock the door when th_utler came up with some gentleman's card."
  • "Did you see the gentleman who came up-stairs later?"
  • "No, sir."
  • "Did you see Walter LaGrange at any time during yesterday forenoon?"
  • The witness colored slightly, but replied, "I think I met him once or twice; _on't remember just when."
  • "He was away from home part of the time, was he not?"
  • "I don't know where he was."
  • Nothing further of importance could be learned from the witness, and, as i_as then past twelve, a short recess was taken until after lunch.
  • Scott took his place at the table with the guests, seemingly alike indifferen_o cold aversion or angry frowns. He was conscious that Miss Carleton wa_atching him, her manner indicating the same frank friendliness she had show_im on the preceding day, and in response to a signal from her, as they ros_rom the table, he followed her into one of the drawing-rooms, joining her i_ large alcove window, where she motioned him to a seat on a low divan by he_ide.
  • "You have made a bitter enemy in Mrs. LaGrange," she said, archly; "and sh_as marshalled her forces against you."
  • "Do you think so?" he asked, with an amused smile.
  • "Certainly. She displayed her tactics this morning. I am positive that much o_he testimony was given in accordance with her orders."
  • "For the most part, however, the witnesses stated facts," Scott replied, watching her closely.
  • "Yes; but facts may be so misrepresented as to give an impression quite th_everse of the truth."
  • "That is so. And a misrepresentation having a foundation of truth is th_ardest to fight. But," he added, in a lighter tone, "all this testimon_gainst me does not seem to have produced the same impression upon you that i_as upon the others. Your suspicions do not seem, as yet, to have been ver_horoughly aroused."
  • "Perhaps my suspicions are as dormant as your own apprehensions. I fail t_etect the slightest anxiety on your part as to the outcome of this, one wa_r another."
  • "No," he replied, after a pause; "I feel no anxiety, only resentment tha_ircumstances have conspired against me just at this time, and contempt fo_eople who will be led by appearances rather than their own judgment."
  • "People sometimes use very little judgment where their own personal interest_re concerned."
  • "In that case," said Scott, as they rose to return to the library, where th_thers had already preceded them, "I suppose the word of one unprinciple_oman and of three or four ignorant servants will be allowed to outweig_ine."
  • They had reached the library and Miss Carleton made no reply, but Scott agai_aw the same inscrutable little smile play over her features, and wondered a_ts meaning.