The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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But walkte each where for feare of hid mischance,
Holding a lattis still before his Pace,
Through which he still did peep as forward he did pace."
MISS LEAVENWORTH, who appeared to have lingered from a vague terror of everything and everybody in the house not under her immediate observation, shrank from my side the moment she found herself left comparatively alone, and, retiring to a distant corner, gave herself up to grief. Turning my attention, therefore, in the direction of Mr. Gryce, I found that person busily engaged in counting his own fingers with a troubled expression upon his countenance, which may or may not have been the result of that arduous employment. But, at my approach, satisfied perhaps that he possessed no more than the requisite number, he dropped his hands and greeted me with a faint smile which was, considering all things, too suggestive to be pleasant.
"Well," said I, taking my stand before him, "I cannot blame you. You had a right to do as you thought best; but how had you the heart? Was she not sufficiently compromised without your bringing out that wretched handkerchief, which she may or may not have dropped in that room, but whose presence there, soiled though it was with pistol grease, is certainly no proof that she herself was connected with this murder?"
"Mr. Raymond," he returned, "I have been detailed as police officer and detective to look after this case, and I propose to do it."
"Of course," I hastened to reply. "I am the last man to wish you to shirk your duly; but you cannot have the temerity to declare that this young and tender creature can by any possibility be considered as at all likely to be implicated in a crime so monstrous and unnatural. The mere assertion of another woman's suspicions on the subject ought not----"
But here Mr. Gryce interrupted me. "You talk when your attention should be directed to more important matters. That other woman, as you are pleased to designate the fairest ornament of New York society, sits over there in tears; go and comfort her."
Looking at him in amazement, I hesitated to comply; but, seeing he was in earnest, crossed to Mary Leavenworth and sat down by her side. She was weeping, but in a slow, unconscious way, as if grief had been mastered by fear. The fear was too undisguised and the grief too natural for me to doubt the genuineness of either.
"Miss Leavenworth," said I, "any attempt at consolation on the part of a stranger must seem at a time like this the most bitter of mockeries; but do try and consider that circumstantial evidence is not always absolute proof."
Starting with surprise, she turned her eyes upon me with a slow, comprehensive gaze wonderful to see in orbs so tender and womanly.
"No," she repeated; "circumstantial evidence is not absolute proof, but Eleanore does not know this. She is so intense; she cannot see but one thing at a time. She has been running her head into a noose, and oh,--" Pausing, she clutched my arm with a passionate grasp: "Do you think there is any danger? Will they--" She could not go on.
"Miss Leavenworth," I protested, with a warning look toward the detective, "what do you mean?"
Like a flash, her glance followed mine, an instant change taking place in her bearing.
"Your cousin may be intense," I went on, as if nothing had occurred; "but I do not know to what you refer when you say she has been running her head into a noose."
"I mean this," she firmly returned: "that, wittingly or unwittingly, she has so parried and met the questions which have been put to her in this room that any one listening to her would give her the credit of knowing more than she ought to of this horrible affair. She acts"--Mary whispered, but not so low but that every word could be distinctly heard in all quarters of the room--"as if she were anxious to conceal something. But she is not; I am sure she is not. Eleanore and I are not good friends; but all the world can never make me believe she has any more knowledge of this murder than I have. Won't somebody tell her, then--won't you--that her manner is a mistake; that it is calculated to arouse suspicion; that it has already done so? And oh, don't forget to add"--her voice sinking to a decided whisper now-- "what you have just repeated to me: that circumstantial evidence is not always absolute proof."
I surveyed her with great astonishment. What an actress this woman was!
"You request me to tell her this," said I. "Wouldn't it be better for you to speak to her yourself?"
"Eleanore and I hold little or no confidential communication," she replied.
I could easily believe this, and yet I was puzzled. Indeed, there was something incomprehensible in her whole manner. Not knowing what else to say, I remarked, "That is unfortunate. She ought to be told that the straightforward course is the best by all means."
Mary Leavenworth only wept. "Oh, why has this awful trouble come to me, who have always been so happy before!"
"Perhaps for the very reason that you have always been so happy."
"It was not enough for dear uncle to die in this horrible manner; but she, my own cousin, had to----"
I touched her arm, and the action seemed to recall her to herself. Stopping short, she bit her lip.
"Miss Leavenworth," I whispered, "you should hope for the best. Besides, I honestly believe you to be disturbing yourself unnecessarily. If nothing fresh transpires, a mere prevarication or so of your cousin's will not suffice to injure her."
I said this to see if she had any reason to doubt the future. I was amply rewarded.
"Anything fresh? How could there be anything fresh, when she is perfectly innocent?"
Suddenly, a thought seemed to strike her. Wheeling round in her seat till her lovely, perfumed wrapper brushed my knee, she asked: "Why didn't they ask me more questions? I could have told them Eleanore never left her room last night."
"You could?" What was I to think of this woman?
"Yes; my room is nearer the head of the stairs than hers; if she had passed my door, I should have heard her, don't you see?"
Ah, that was all.
"That does not follow," I answered sadly. "Can you give no other reason?"
"I would say whatever was necessary," she whispered.
I started back. Yes, this woman would lie now to save her cousin; had lied during the inquest. But then I felt grateful, and now I was simply horrified.
"Miss Leavenworth," said I, "nothing can justify one in violating the dictates of his own conscience, not even the safety of one we do not altogether love."
"No?" she returned; and her lip took a tremulous curve, the lovely bosom heaved, and she softly looked away.
If Eleanore's beauty had made less of an impression on my fancy, or her frightful situation awakened less anxiety in my breast, I should have been a lost man from that moment.
"I did not mean to do anything very wrong," Miss Leavenworth continued. "Do not think too badly of me."
"No, no," said I; and there is not a man living who would not have said the same in my place.
What more might have passed between us on this subject I cannot say, for just then the door opened and a man entered whom I recognized as the one who had followed Eleanore Leavenworth out, a short time before.
"Mr. Gryce," said he, pausing just inside the door; "a word if you please."
The detective nodded, but did not hasten towards him; instead of that, he walked deliberately away to the other end of the room, where he lifted the lid of an inkstand he saw there, muttered some unintelligible words into it, and speedily shut it again. Immediately the uncanny fancy seized me that if I should leap to that inkstand, open it and peer in, I should surprise and capture the bit of confidence he had intrusted to it. But I restrained my foolish impulse, and contented myself with noting the subdued look of respect with which the gaunt subordinate watched the approach of his superior.
"Well?" inquired the latter as he reached him: "what now?"
The man shrugged his shoulders, and drew his principal through the open door. Once in the hall their voices sank to a whisper, and as their backs only were visible, I turned to look at my companion. She was pale but composed.
"Has he come from Eleanore?"
"I do not know; I fear so. Miss Leavenworth," I proceeded, "can it be possible that your cousin has anything in her possession she desires to conceal?"
"Then you think she is trying to conceal something?"
"I do not say so. But there was considerable talk about a paper----"
"They will never find any paper or anything else suspicious in Eleanore's possession," Mary interrupted. "In the first place, there was no paper of importance enough"--I saw Mr. Gryce's form suddenly stiffen--"for any one to attempt its abstraction and concealment."
"Can you be sure of that? May not your cousin be acquainted with something----"
"There was nothing to be acquainted with, Mr. Raymond. We lived the most methodical and domestic of lives. I cannot understand, for my part, why so much should be made out of this. My uncle undoubtedly came to his death by the hand of some intended burglar. That nothing was stolen from the house is no proof that a burglar never entered it. As for the doors and windows being locked, will you take the word of an Irish servant as infallible upon such an important point? I cannot. I believe the assassin to be one of a gang who make their living by breaking into houses, and if you cannot honestly agree with me, do try and consider such an explanation as possible; if not for the sake of the family credit, why then"--and she turned her face with all its fair beauty upon mine, eyes, cheeks, mouth all so exquisite and winsome--"why then, for mine."
Instantly Mr. Gryce turned towards us. "Mr. Raymond, will you be kind enough to step this way?"
Glad to escape from my present position, I hastily obeyed.
"What has happened?" I asked.
"We propose to take you into our confidence," was the easy response.
"Mr. Raymond, Mr. Fobbs."
I bowed to the man I saw before me, and stood uneasily waiting. Anxious as I was to know what we really had to fear, I still intuitively shrank from any communication with one whom I looked upon as a spy.
"A matter of some importance," resumed the detective.
"It is not necessary for me to remind you that it is in confidence, is it?"
"I thought not. Mr. Fobbs you may proceed."
Instantly the whole appearance of the man Fobbs changed. Assuming an expression of lofty importance, he laid his large hand outspread upon his heart and commenced.
"Detailed by Mr. Gryce to watch the movements of Miss Eleanore Leavenworth, I left this room upon her departure from it, and followed her and the two servants who conducted her up-stairs to her own apartment. Once there---"
Mr. Gryce interrupted him. "Once there? where?"
"Her own room, sir."
"At the head of the stairs."
"That is not her room. Go on."
"Not her room? Then it was the fire she was after!" he cried, clapping himself on the knee.
"Excuse me; I am ahead of my story. She did not appear to notice me much, though I was right behind her. It was not until she had reached the door of this room--which was not her room!" he interpolated dramatically, "and turned to dismiss her servants, that she seemed conscious of having been followed. Eying me then with an air of great dignity, quickly eclipsed, however, by an expression of patient endurance, she walked in, leaving the door open behind her in a courteous way I cannot sufficiently commend."
I could not help frowning. Honest as the man appeared, this was evidently anything but a sore subject with him. Observing me frown, he softened his manner.
"Not seeing any other way of keeping her under my eye, except by entering the room, I followed her in, and took a seat in a remote corner. She flashed one look at me as I did so, and commenced pacing the floor in a restless kind of way I'm not altogether unused to. At last she stopped abruptly, right in the middle of the room. 'Get me a glass of water!' she gasped; 'I'm faint again--quick! on the stand in the corner.' Now in order to get that glass of water it was necessary for me to pass behind a dressing mirror that reached almost to the ceiling; and I naturally hesitated. But she turned and looked at me, and-Well, gentlemen, I think either of you would have hastened to do what she asked; or at least"--with a doubtful look at Mr. Gryce-- "have given your two ears for the privilege, even if you didn't succumb to the temptation."
"Well, well!" exclaimed Mr. Gryce, impatiently.
"I am going on," said he. "I stepped cut of sight, then, for a moment; but it seemed long enough for her purpose; for when I emerged, glass in hand, she was kneeling at the grate full five feet from the spot where she had been standing, and was fumbling with the waist of her dress in a way to convince me she had something concealed there which she was anxious to dispose of. I eyed her pretty closely as I handed her the glass of water, but she was gazing into the grate, and didn't appear to notice. Drinking barely a drop, she gave it back, and in another moment was holding out her hands over the fire. 'Oh, I am so cold!' she cried, 'so cold.' And I verily believe she was. At any rate, she shivered most naturally. But there were a few dying embers in the grate, and when I saw her thrust her hand again into the folds of her dress I became distrustful of her intentions and, drawing a step nearer, looked over her shoulder, when I distinctly saw her drop something into the grate that clinked as it fell. Suspecting what it was, I was about to interfere, when she sprang to her feet, seized the scuttle of coal that was upon the hearth, and with one move emptied the whole upon the dying embers. 'I want a fire,' she cried, 'a fire!' 'That is hardly the way to make one,' I returned, carefully taking the coal out with my hands, piece by piece, and putting it back into the scuttle, till--"
"Till what?" I asked, seeing him and Mr. Gryce exchange a hurried look. "Till I found this!" opening his large hand, and showing me a broken-handled key.