The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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"No hinge nor loop
To hang a doubt on!"
"But yet the pity of it, Iago!
Oh, Iago, the pity of it, Iago."
One sentence dropped by Mr. Gryce before leaving R---- prepared me for his next move.
"The clue to this murder is supplied by the paper on which the confession is written. Find from whose desk or portfolio this especial sheet was taken, and you find the double murderer," he had said.
Consequently, I was not surprised when, upon visiting his house, early the next morning, I beheld him seated before a table on which lay a lady's writing-desk and a pile of paper, till told the desk was Eleanore's. Then I did show astonishment. "What," said I, "are you not satisfied yet of her innocence?"
"O yes; but one must be thorough. No conclusion is valuable which is not preceded by a full and complete investigation. Why," he cried, casting his eyes complacently towards the fire-tongs, "I have even been rummaging through Mr. Clavering's effects, though the confession bears the proof upon its face that it could not have been written by him. It is not enough to look for evidence where you expect to find it. You must sometimes search for it where you don't. Now," said he, drawing the desk before him, "I don't anticipate finding anything here of a criminating character; but it is among the possibilities that I may; and that is enough for a detective."
"Did you see Miss Leavenworth this morning?" I asked, as he proceeded to fulfil his intention by emptying the contents of the desk upon the table.
"Yes; I was unable to procure what I desired without it. And she behaved very handsomely, gave me the desk with her own hands, and never raised an objection. To be sure, she had little idea what I was looking for; thought, perhaps, I wanted to make sure it did not contain the letter about which so much has been said. But it would have made but little difference if she had known the truth. This desk contains nothing we want."
"Was she well; and had she heard of Hannah's sudden death?" I asked, in my irrepressible anxiety.
"Yes, and feels it, as you might expect her to. But let us see what we have here," said he, pushing aside the desk, and drawing towards him the stack of paper I have already referred to. "I found this pile, just as you see it, in a drawer of the library table at Miss Mary Leavenworth's house in Fifth Avenue. If I am not mistaken, it will supply us with the clue we want."
"But this paper is square, while that of the confession is of the size and shape of commercial note? I know; but you remember the sheet used in the confession was trimmed down. Let us compare the quality."
Taking the confession from his pocket and the sheet from the pile before him, he carefully compared them, then held them out for my inspection. A glance showed them to be alike in color.
"Hold them up to the light," said he.
I did so; the appearance presented by both was precisely alike.
"Now let us compare the ruling." And, laying them both down on the table, he placed the edges of the two sheets together. The lines on the one accommodated themselves to the lines on the other; and that question was decided.
His triumph was assured. "I was convinced of it," said he. "From the moment I pulled open that drawer and saw this mass of paper, I knew the end was come."
"But," I objected, in my old spirit of combativeness, "isn't there any room for doubt? This paper is of the commonest kind. Every family on the block might easily have specimens of it in their library."
"That isn't so," he said. "It is letter size, and that has gone out. Mr. Leavenworth used it for his manuscript, or I doubt if it would have been found in his library. But, if you are still incredulous, let us see what can be done," and jumping up, he carried the confession to the window, looked at it this way and that, and, finally discovering what he wanted, came back and, laying it before me, pointed out one of the lines of ruling which was markedly heavier than the rest, and another which was so faint as to be almost undistinguishable. "Defects like these often run through a number of consecutive sheets," said he. "If we could find the identical half-quire from which this was taken, I might show you proof that would dispel every doubt," and taking up the one that lay on top, he rapidly counted the sheets. There were but eight. "It might have been taken from this one," said he; but, upon looking closely at the ruling, he found it to be uniformly distinct. "Humph! that won't do! "came from his lips.
The remainder of the paper, some dozen or so half-quires, looked undisturbed. Mr. Gryce tapped his fingers on the table and a frown crossed his face. "Such a pretty thing, if it could have been done!" he longingly exclaimed. Suddenly he took up the next half-quire. "Count the sheets," said he, thrusting it towards me, and himself lifting another.
I did as I was bid. "Twelve."
He counted his and laid it down. "Go on with the rest," he cried. I counted the sheets in the next; twelve. He counted those in the one following, and paused. "Eleven!"
"Count again," I suggested.
He counted again, and quietly put them aside. "I made a mistake," said he.
But he was not to be discouraged. Taking another half-quire, he went through with the same operation;--in vain. With a sigh of impatience he flung it down on the table and looked up. "Halloo!" he cried, "what is the matter?"
"There are but eleven sheets in this package," I said, placing it in his hand.
The excitement he immediately evinced was contagious. Oppressed as I was, I could not resist his eagerness. "Oh, beautiful!" he exclaimed. "Oh, beautiful! See! the light on the inside, the heavy one on the outside, and both in positions precisely corresponding to those on this sheet of Hannah's. What do you think now? Is any further proof necessary?"
"The veriest doubter must succumb before this," returned I.
With something like a considerate regard for my emotion, he turned away. "I am obliged to congratulate myself, notwithstanding the gravity of the discovery that has been made," said he. "It is so neat, so very neat, and so conclusive. I declare I am myself astonished at the perfection of the thing. But what a woman that is!" he suddenly cried, in a tone of the greatest admiration. "What an intellect she has! what shrewdness! what skill! I declare it is almost a pity to entrap a woman who has done as well as this--taken a sheet from the very bottom of the pile, trimmed it into another shape, and then, remembering the girl couldn't write, put what she had to say into coarse, awkward printing, Hannah-like. Splendid! or would have been, if any other man than myself had had this thing in charge." And, all animated and glowing with his enthusiasm, he eyed the chandelier above him as if it were the embodiment of his own sagacity.
Sunk in despair, I let him go on.
"Could she have done any better?" he now asked. "Watched, circumscribed as she was, could she have done any better? I hardly think so; the fact of Hannah's having learned to write after she left here was fatal. No, she could not have provided against that contingency."
"Mr. Gryce," I here interposed, unable to endure this any longer; "did you have an interview with Miss Mary Leavenworth this morning?"
"No," said he; "it was not in the line of my present purpose to do so. I doubt, indeed, if she knew I was in her house. A servant maid who has a grievance is a very valuable assistant to a detective. With Molly at my side, I didn't need to pay my respects to the mistress."
"Mr. Gryce," I asked, after another moment of silent self-congratulation on his part, and of desperate self-control on mine, "what do you propose to do now? You have followed your clue to the end and are satisfied. Such knowledge as this is the precursor of action."
"Humph! we will see," he returned, going to his private desk and bringing out the box of papers which we had no opportunity of looking at while in R----. "First let us examine these documents, and see if they do not contain some hint which may be of service to us." And taking out the dozen or so loose sheets which had been torn from Eleanore's Diary, he began turning them over.
While he was doing this, I took occasion to examine the contents of the box. I found them to be precisely what Mrs. Belden had led me to expect,--a certificate of marriage between Mary and Mr. Clavering and a half-dozen or more letters. While glancing over the former, a short exclamation from Mr. Gryce startled me into looking up.
"What is it?" I cried.
He thrust into my hand the leaves of Eleanore's Diary. "Read," said he. "Most of it is a repetition of what you have already heard from Mrs. Belden, though given from a different standpoint; but there is one passage in it which, if I am not mistaken, opens up the way to an explanation of this murder such as we have not had yet. Begin at the beginning; you won't find it dull."
Dull! Eleanore's feelings and thoughts during that anxious time, dull!
Mustering up my self-possession, I spread out the leaves in their order and commenced:
"R----, July 6,-"
"Two days after they got there, you perceive," Mr. Gryce explained.
"--A gentleman was introduced to us to-day upon the piazza whom I cannot forbear mentioning; first, because he is the most perfect specimen of manly beauty I ever beheld, and secondly, because Mary, who is usually so voluble where gentlemen are concerned, had nothing to say when, in the privacy of our own apartment, I questioned her as to the effect his appearance and conversation had made upon her. The fact that he is an Englishman may have something to do with this; Uncle's antipathy to every one of that nation being as well known to her as to me. But somehow I cannot feel satisfied of this. Her experience with Charlie Somerville has made me suspicious. What if the. story of last summer were to be repeated here, with an Englishman for the hero! But I will not allow myself to contemplate such a possibility. Uncle will return in a few days, and then all communication with one who, however prepossessing, is of a family and race with whom it is impossible for us to unite ourselves, must of necessity cease. I doubt if I should have thought twice of all this if Mr. Clavering had not betrayed, upon his introduction to Mary, such intense and unrestrained admiration.
"July 8. The old story is to be repeated. Mary not only submits to the attentions of Mr. Clavering, but encourages them. To-day she sat two hours at the piano singing over to him her favorite songs, and to-night--But I will not put down every trivial circumstance that comes under my observation; it is unworthy of me. And yet, how can I shut my eyes when the happiness of so many I love is at stake!
"July 11. If Mr. Clavering is not absolutely in love with Mary, he is on the verge of it. He is a very fine-looking man, and too honorable to be trifled with in this reckless fashion.
"July 13. Mary's beauty blossoms like the rose. She was absolutely wonderful to-night in scarlet and silver. I think her smile the sweetest I ever beheld, and in this I am sure Mr. Clavering passionately agrees with me; he never looked away from her to-night. But it is not so easy to read her heart. To be sure, she appears anything but indifferent to his fine appearance, strong sense, and devoted affection. But did she not deceive us into believing she loved Charlie Somerville? In her case, blush and smile go for little, I fear. Would it not be wiser under the circumstances to say, I hope?
"July 17. Oh, my heart! Mary came into my room this evening, and absolutely startled me by falling at my side and burying her face in my lap. 'Oh, Eleanore, Eleanore!' she murmured, quivering with what seemed to me very happy sobs. But when I strove to lift her head to my breast, she slid from my arms, and drawing herself up into her old attitude of reserved pride, raised her hand as if to impose silence, and haughtily left the room. There is but one interpretation to put upon this. Mr. Clavering has expressed his sentiments, and she is filled with that reckless delight which in its first flush makes one insensible to the existence of barriers which have hitherto been deemed impassable. When will Uncle come?
"July 18. little did I think when I wrote the above that Uncle was already in the house. He arrived unexpectedly on the last train, and came into my room just as I was putting away my diary. Looking a little care-worn, he took me in his arms and then asked for Mary. I dropped my head, and could not help stammering as I replied that she was in her own room. Instantly his love took alarm, and leaving me, he hastened to her apartment, where I afterwards learned he came upon her sitting abstractedly before her dressing-table with Mr. Clavering's family ring on her finger. I do not know what followed. An unhappy scene, I fear, for Mary is ill this morning, and Uncle exceedingly melancholy and stern.
"Afternoon. We are an unhappy family! Uncle not only refuses to consider for a moment the question of Mary's alliance with Mr. Clavering, but even goes so far as to demand his instant and unconditional dismissal. The knowledge of this came to me in the most distressing way. Recognizing the state of affairs, but secretly rebelling against a prejudice which seemed destined to separate two persons otherwise fitted for each other, I sought Uncle's presence this morning after breakfast, and attempted to plead their cause. But he almost instantly stopped me with the remark, 'You are the last one, Eleanore, who should seek to promote this marriage.' Trembling with apprehension, I asked him why. 'For the reason that by so doing you work entirely for your own interest.' More and more troubled, I begged him to explain himself. 'I mean,' said he, 'that if Mary disobeys me by marrying this Englishman, I shall disinherit her, and substitute your name for hers in my will as well as in my affection.'
For a moment everything swam before my eyes. 'You will never make me so wretched!' I entreated. 'I will make you my heiress, if Mary persists in her present determination,' he declared, and without further word sternly left the room. What could I do but fall on my knees and pray! Of all in this miserable house, I am the most wretched. To supplant her! But I shall not be called upon to do it; Mary will give up Mr. Clavering."
"There!" exclaimed Mr. Gryce. "What do you think of that? Isn't it becoming plain enough what was Mary's motive for this murder? But go on; let us hear what followed."
With sinking heart, I continued. The next entry is dated July 19, and runs thus:
"I was right. After a long struggle with Uncle's invincible will, Mary has consented to dismiss Mr. Clavering. I was in the room when she made known her decision, and I shall never forget our Uncle's look of gratified pride as he clasped her in his arms and called her his own True Heart. He has evidently been very much exercised over this matter, and I cannot but feel greatly relieved that affairs have terminated so satisfactorily. But Mary? What is there in her manner that vaguely disappoints me? I cannot say. I only know that I felt a powerful shrinking overwhelm me when she turned her face to me and asked if I were satisfied now. But I conquered my feelings and held out my hand. She did not take it.
"July 26. How long the days are! The shadow of our late trial is upon me yet; I cannot shake it off. I seem to see Mr. Clavering's despairing face wherever I go. How is it that Mary preserves her cheerfulness? If she does not love him, I should think the respect which she must feel for his disappointment would keep her from levity at least.
"Uncle has gone away again. Nothing I could say sufficed to keep him.
"July 28. It has all come out. Mary has only nominally separated from Mr. Clavering; she still cherishes the idea of one day uniting herself to him in marriage. The fact was revealed to me in a strange way not necessary to mention here; and has since been confirmed by Mary herself. 'I admire the man,' she declares, 'and have no intention of giving him up.' 'Then why not tell Uncle so?' I asked. Her only answer was a bitter smile and a short,--'I leave that for you to do.'
"July 30. Midnight. Worn completely out, but before my blood cools let me write. Mary is a wife. I have just returned from seeing her give her hand to Henry Clavering. Strange that I can write it without quivering when my whole soul is one flush of indignation and revolt. But let me state the facts. Having left my room for a few minutes this morning, I returned to find on my dressing-table a note from Mary in which she informed me that she was going to take Mrs. Belden for a drive and would not be back for some hours. Convinced, as I had every reason to be, that she was on her way to meet Mr. Clavering, I only stopped to put on my hat--"
There the Diary ceased.
"She was probably interrupted by Mary at this point," explained Mr. Gryce. "But we have come upon the one thing we wanted to know. Mr. Leavenworth threatened to supplant Mary with Eleanore if she persisted in marrying contrary to his wishes. She did so marry, and to avoid the consequences of her act she----"
"Say no more," I returned, convinced at last. "It is only too clear."
Mr. Gryce rose.
"But the writer of these words is saved," I went on, trying to grasp the one comfort left me. "No one who reads this Diary will ever dare to insinuate she is capable of committing a crime."
"Assuredly not; the Diary settles that matter effectually."
I tried to be man enough to think of that and nothing else. To rejoice in her deliverance, and let every other consideration go; but in this I did not succeed. "But Mary, her cousin, almost her sister, is lost," I muttered.
Mr. Gryce thrust his hands into his pockets and, for the first time, showed some evidence of secret disturbance. "Yes, I am afraid she is; I really am afraid she is." Then after a pause, during which I felt a certain thrill of vague hope: "Such an entrancing creature too! It is a pity, it positively is a pity! I declare, now that the thing is worked up, I begin to feel almost sorry we have succeeded so well. Strange, but true. If there was the least loophole out of it," he muttered. But there isn't. The thing is clear as A, B, C." Suddenly he rose, and began pacing the floor very thoughtfully, casting his glances here, there, and everywhere, except at me, though I believe now, as then, my face was all he saw.
"Would it be a very great grief to you, Mr. Raymond, if Miss Mary Leavenworth should be arrested on this charge of murder?" he asked, pausing before a sort of tank in which two or three disconsolate-looking fishes were slowly swimming about.
"Yes," said I, "it would; a very great grief."
"Yet it must be done," said he, though with a strange lack of his usual decision. "As an honest official, trusted to bring the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth to the notice of the proper authorities, I have got to do it."
Again that strange thrill of hope at my heart induced by his peculiar manner. "Then my reputation as a detective! I ought surely to consider that. I am not so rich or so famous that I can afford to forget all that a success like this may bring me. No, lovely as she is, I have got to push it through." But even as he said this, he became still more thoughtful, gazing down into the murky depths of the wretched tank before him with such an intent-ness I half expected the fascinated fishes to rise from the water and return his gaze. What was in his mind?
After a little while he turned, his indecision utterly gone. "Mr. Raymond, come here again at three. I shall then have my report ready for the Superintendent. I should like to show it to you first, so don't fail me."
There was something so repressed in his expression, I could not prevent myself from venturing one question. "Is your mind made up?" I asked.
"Yes," he returned, but in a peculiar tone, and with a peculiar gesture.
"And you are going to make the arrest you speak of?"
"Come at three!"