“A deed of dreadful note.”--Macbeth.
I had been a junior partner in the firm of Veeley, Carr & Raymond,attorneys and counsellors at law, for about a year, when one morning, inthe temporary absence of both Mr. Veeley and Mr. Carr, there came intoour office a young man whose whole appearance was so indicative of hasteand agitation that I involuntarily rose at his approach and impetuouslyinquired:
“What is the matter? You have no bad news to tell, I hope.”
“I have come to see Mr. Veeley; is he in?”
“No,” I replied; “he was unexpectedly called away this morning toWashington; cannot be home before to-morrow; but if you will make yourbusiness known to me----”
“To you, sir?” he repeated, turning a very cold but steady eye on mine;then, seeming to be satisfied with his scrutiny, continued, “There is noreason why I shouldn’t; my business is no secret. I came to inform himthat Mr. Leavenworth is dead.”
“Mr. Leavenworth!” I exclaimed, falling back a step. Mr. Leavenworth wasan old client of our firm, to say nothing of his being the particularfriend of Mr. Veeley.
“Yes, murdered; shot through the head by some unknown person whilesitting at his library table.”
“Shot! murdered!” I could scarcely believe my ears.
“How? when?” I gasped.
“Last night. At least, so we suppose. He was not found till thismorning. I am Mr. Leavenworth’s private secretary,” he explained, “andlive in the family. It was a dreadful shock,” he went on, “especially tothe ladies.”
“Dreadful!” I repeated. “Mr. Veeley will be overwhelmed by it.”
“They are all alone,” he continued in a low businesslike wayI afterwards found to be inseparable from the man; “the MissesLeavenworth, I mean--Mr. Leavenworth’s nieces; and as an inquest isto be held there to-day it is deemed proper for them to have some onepresent capable of advising them. As Mr. Veeley was their uncle’s bestfriend, they naturally sent me for him; but he being absent I am at aloss what to do or where to go.”
“I am a stranger to the ladies,” was my hesitating reply, “but if I canbe of any assistance to them, my respect for their uncle is such----”
The expression of the secretary’s eye stopped me. Without seeming towander from my face, its pupil had suddenly dilated till it appeared toembrace my whole person with its scope.
“I don’t know,” he finally remarked, a slight frown, testifying tothe fact that he was not altogether pleased with the turn affairswere taking. “Perhaps it would be best. The ladies must not be leftalone----”
“Say no more; I will go.” And, sitting down, I despatched a hurriedmessage to Mr. Veeley, after which, and the few other preparationsnecessary, I accompanied the secretary to the street.
“Now,” said I, “tell me all you know of this frightful affair.”
“All I know? A few words will do that. I left him last night sitting asusual at his library table, and found him this morning, seated in thesame place, almost in the same position, but with a bullet-hole in hishead as large as the end of my little finger.”
“Horrible!” I exclaimed. Then, after a moment, “Could it have been asuicide?”
“No. The pistol with which the deed was committed is not to be found.”
“But if it was a murder, there must have been some motive. Mr.Leavenworth was too benevolent a man to have enemies, and if robbery wasintended----”
“There was no robbery. There is nothing missing,” he again interrupted.“The whole affair is a mystery.”
“An utter mystery.”
Turning, I looked at my informant curiously. The inmate of a house inwhich a mysterious murder had occurred was rather an interesting object.But the good-featured and yet totally unimpressive countenance of theman beside me offered but little basis for even the wildest imaginationto work upon, and, glancing almost immediately away, I asked:
“Are the ladies very much overcome?”
He took at least a half-dozen steps before replying.
“It would be unnatural if they were not.” And whether it was theexpression of his face at the time, or the nature of the reply itself,I felt that in speaking of these ladies to this uninteresting,self-possessed secretary of the late Mr. Leavenworth, I was somehowtreading upon dangerous ground. As I had heard they were veryaccomplished women, I was not altogether pleased at this discovery. Itwas, therefore, with a certain consciousness of relief I saw a FifthAvenue stage approach.
“We will defer our conversation,” said I. “Here’s the stage.”
But, once seated within it, we soon discovered that all intercourse uponsuch a subject was impossible. Employing the time, therefore, inrunning over in my mind what I knew of Mr. Leavenworth, I found that myknowledge was limited to the bare fact of his being a retired merchantof great wealth and fine social position who, in default of possessingchildren of his own, had taken into his home two nieces, one of whom hadalready been declared his heiress. To be sure, I had heard Mr. Veeleyspeak of his eccentricities, giving as an instance this very fact of hismaking a will in favor of one niece to the utter exclusion of the other;but of his habits of life and connection with the world at large, I knewlittle or nothing.
There was a great crowd in front of the house when we arrived there, andI had barely time to observe that it was a corner dwelling of unusualdepth when I was seized by the throng and carried quite to the foot ofthe broad stone steps. Extricating myself, though with some difficulty,owing to the importunities of a bootblack and butcher-boy, who seemedto think that by clinging to my arms they might succeed in smugglingthemselves into the house, I mounted the steps and, finding thesecretary, by some unaccountable good fortune, close to my side,hurriedly rang the bell. Immediately the door opened, and a face Irecognized as that of one of our city detectives appeared in the gap.
“Mr. Gryce!” I exclaimed.
“The same,” he replied. “Come in, Mr. Raymond.” And drawing us quietlyinto the house, he shut the door with a grim smile on the disappointedcrowd without. “I trust you are not surprised to see me here,” said he,holding out his hand, with a side glance at my companion.
“No,” I returned. Then, with a vague idea that I ought to introduce theyoung man at my side, continued: “This is Mr. ----, Mr. ----, --excuseme, but I do not know your name,” I said inquiringly to my companion.“The private secretary of the late Mr. Leavenworth,” I hastened to add.
“Oh,” he returned, “the secretary! The coroner has been asking for you,sir.”
“The coroner is here, then?”
“Yes; the jury have just gone up-stairs to view the body; would you liketo follow them?”
“No, it is not necessary. I have merely come in the hope of being ofsome assistance to the young ladies. Mr. Veeley is away.”
“And you thought the opportunity too good to be lost,” he went on;“just so. Still, now that you are here, and as the case promises to bea marked one, I should think that, as a rising young lawyer, you wouldwish to make yourself acquainted with it in all its details. But followyour own judgment.”
I made an effort and overcame my repugnance. “I will go,” said I.
“Very well, then, follow me.”
But just as I set foot on the stairs I heard the jury descending, so,drawing back with Mr. Gryce into a recess between the reception room andthe parlor, I had time to remark:
“The young man says it could not have been the work of a burglar.”
“Indeed!” fixing his eye on a door-knob near by.
“That nothing has been found missing--”
“And that the fastenings to the house were all found secure thismorning; just so.”
“He did not tell me that. In that case”--and I shuddered--“the murderermust have been in the house all night.”
Mr. Gryce smiled darkly at the door-knob.
“It has a dreadful look!” I exclaimed.
Mr. Gryce immediately frowned at the door-knob.
And here let me say that Mr. Gryce, the detective, was not the thin,wiry individual with the piercing eye you are doubtless expecting tosee. On the contrary, Mr. Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage withan eye that never pierced, that did not even rest on _you._ If it restedanywhere, it was always on some insignificant object in the vicinity,some vase, inkstand, book, or button. These things he would seem to takeinto his confidence, make the repositories of his conclusions; but asfor you--you might as well be the steeple on Trinity Church, for allconnection you ever appeared to have with him or his thoughts. Atpresent, then, Mr. Gryce was, as I have already suggested, on intimateterms with the door-knob.
“A dreadful look,” I repeated.
His eye shifted to the button on my sleeve.
“Come,” he said, “the coast is clear at last.”
Leading the way, he mounted the stairs, but stopped on the upperlanding. “Mr. Raymond,” said he, “I am not in the habit of talking muchabout the secrets of my profession, but in this case everything dependsupon getting the right clue at the start. We have no common villainyto deal with here; genius has been at work. Now sometimes an absolutelyuninitiated mind will intuitively catch at something which the mosthighly trained intellect will miss. If such a thing should occur,remember that I am your man. Don’t go round talking, but come to me. Forthis is going to be a great case, mind you, a great case. Now, come on.”
“But the ladies?”
“They are in the rooms above; in grief, of course, but tolerablycomposed for all that, I hear.” And advancing to a door, he pushed itopen and beckoned me in.
All was dark for a moment, but presently, my eyes becoming accustomed tothe place, I saw that we were in the library.
“It was here he was found,” said he; “in this room and upon thisvery spot.” And advancing, he laid his hand on the end of a largebaize-covered table that, together with its attendant chairs, occupiedthe centre of the room. “You see for yourself that it is directlyopposite this door,” and, crossing the floor, he paused in front of thethreshold of a narrow passageway, opening into a room beyond. “As themurdered man was discovered sitting in this chair, and consequently withhis back towards the passageway, the assassin must have advanced throughthe doorway to deliver his shot, pausing, let us say, about here.” AndMr. Gryce planted his feet firmly upon a certain spot in the carpet,about a foot from the threshold before mentioned.
“But--” I hastened to interpose.
“There is no room for ‘but,’” he cried. “We have studied the situation.”And without deigning to dilate upon the subject, he turned immediatelyabout and, stepping swiftly before me, led the way into the passagenamed. “Wine closet, clothes closet, washing apparatus, towel-rack,”he explained, waving his hand from side to side as we hurried through,finishing with “Mr. Leavenworth’s private apartment,” as that room ofcomfortable aspect opened upon us.
Mr. Leavenworth’s private apartment! It was here then that _it_ oughtto be, the horrible, blood-curdling _it_ that yesterday was a living,breathing man. Advancing to the bed that was hung with heavy curtains,I raised my hand to put them back, when Mr. Gryce, drawing them frommy clasp, disclosed lying upon the pillow a cold, calm face looking sonatural I involuntarily started.
“His death was too sudden to distort the features,” he remarked, turningthe head to one side in a way to make visible a ghastly wound in theback of the cranium. “Such a hole as that sends a man out of the worldwithout much notice. The surgeon will convince you it could never havebeen inflicted by himself. It is a case of deliberate murder.”
Horrified, I drew hastily back, when my glance fell upon a door situateddirectly opposite me in the side of the wall towards the hall. Itappeared to be the only outlet from the room, with the exception of thepassage through which we had entered, and I could not help wonderingif it was through this door the assassin had entered on his roundaboutcourse to the library. But Mr. Gryce, seemingly observant of my glance,though his own was fixed upon the chandelier, made haste to remark, asif in reply to the inquiry in my face:
“Found locked on the inside; may have come that way and may not; wedon’t pretend to say.”
Observing now that the bed was undisturbed in its arrangement, Iremarked, “He had not retired, then?”
“No; the tragedy must be ten hours old. Time for the murderer to havestudied the situation and provided for all contingencies.”
“The murderer? Whom do you suspect?” I whispered.
He looked impassively at the ring on my finger.
“Every one and nobody. It is not for me to suspect, but to detect.” Anddropping the curtain into its former position he led me from the room.
The coroner’s inquest being now in session, I felt a strong desire to bepresent, so, requesting Mr. Gryce to inform the ladies that Mr. Veeleywas absent from town, and that I had come as his substitute, to renderthem any assistance they might require on so melancholy an occasion, Iproceeded to the large parlor below, and took my seat among the variouspersons there assembled.