Chronicles of Martin Hewitt
скачать книгу бесплатно
"You say you feel sure Mr. Holford did not destroy the will himself?"
"I am quite sure he would never have done so without telling me of it; indeed, I am sure he would have consulted me first. Moreover, it can never have been his intention to leave Miss Garth utterly unprovided for; it would be the same thing as disinheriting his only daughter."
"Did you see him frequently?"
"There's scarcely been a day when I haven't seen him since I have lived down here. During his illness – it lasted a month – I saw him every day."
"And he said nothing of destroying his will?"
"Nothing at all. On the contrary, soon after his first seizure – indeed, on the first visit at which I found him in bed – he said, after telling me how he felt, 'Everything's as I want it, you know, in case I go under.' That seemed to me to mean his will was still as he desired it to be."
"Well, yes, it would seem so. But counsel on the other side (supposing there were another side) might quite as plausibly argue that he meant to die intestate, and had destroyed his will so that everything should be as he wanted it, in that sense. But what do you want me to do – find the will?"
"Certainly, if you can. It seemed to me that you, with your clever head, might be able to form a better judgment than I as to what has happened and who is responsible for it. Because if the will has been taken away, some one has taken it."
"It seems probable. Have you told any one of your difficulty?"
"Not a soul. I came over as soon as I could after Mr. Holford's death, and Miss Garth gave me all the keys, because, as executor, the case being a peculiar one, I wished to see that all was in order, and, as you know, the estate is legally vested in the executor from the death of the testator, so that I was responsible for everything; although, of course, if there is no will I'm not executor. But I thought it best to keep the difficulty to myself till I saw you."
"Quite right. Is this Wedbury Hall?"
The brougham had passed a lodge gate, and approached, by a wide drive, a fine old red brick mansion carrying the heavy stone dressings and copings distinctive of early eighteenth century domestic architecture.
"Yes," said Mr. Crellan, "this is the place. We will go straight to the study, I think, and then I can explain details."
The study told the tale of the late Mr. Holford's habits and interests. It was half a library, half a scientific laboratory – pathological curiosities in spirits, a retort or two, test tubes on the writing-table, and a fossilized lizard mounted in a case, balanced the many shelves and cases of books disposed about the walls. In a recess between two book-cases stood a heavy, old-fashioned mahogany bureau.
"Now it was in that bureau," Mr. Crellan explained, indicating it with his finger, "that Mr. Holford kept every document that was in the smallest degree important or valuable. I have seen him at it a hundred times, and he always maintained it was as secure as any iron safe.That may not have been altogether the fact, but the bureau is certainly a tremendously heavy and strong one. Feel it."
Hewitt took down the front and pulled out a drawer that Mr. Crellan unlocked for the purpose.
"Solid Spanish mahogany an inch thick," was his verdict, "heavy, hard, and seasoned; not the sort of thing you can buy nowadays. Locks, Chubb's patent, early pattern, but not easily to be picked by anything short of a blast of gunpowder. If there are no marks on this bureau it hasn't been tampered with."
"Well," Mr. Crellan pursued, "as I say, that was where Mr. Holford kept his will. I have often seen it when we have been here together, and this was the drawer, the top on the right, that he kept it in. The will was a mere single sheet of foolscap, and was kept, folded of course, in a blue envelope."
"When did you yourself last actually see the will?"
"I saw it in my friend's hand two days before he took to his bed. He merely lifted it in his hand to get at something else in the drawer, replaced it, and locked the drawer again."
"Of course there are other drawers, bureaux, and so on, about the place. You have examined them carefully, I take it?"
"I've turned out ever possible receptacle for that will in the house, I positively assure you, and there isn't a trace of it."
"You've thought of secret drawers, I suppose?"
"Yes. There are two in the bureau which I always knew of. Here they are." Mr. Crellan pressed his thumb against a partition of the pigeon-holes at the back of the bureau and a strip of mahogany flew out from below, revealing two shallow drawers with small ivory catches in lieu of knobs. "Nothing there at all. And this other, as I have said, was the drawer where the will was kept. The other papers kept in the same drawer are here as usual."
"Did anybody else know where Mr. Holford kept his will?"
"Everybody in the house, I should think. He was a frank, above-board sort of man. His adopted daughter knew, and the butler knew, and there was absolutely no reason why all the other servants shouldn't know; probably they did."
"First," said Hewitt, "we will make quite sure there are no more secret drawers about this bureau. Lock the door in case anybody comes."
Hewitt took out every drawer of the bureau, and examined every part of each before he laid it aside. Then he produced a small pair of silver callipers and an ivory pocket-rule and went over every inch of the heavy framework, measuring, comparing, tapping, adding, and subtracting dimensions. In the end he rose to his feet satisfied. "There is most certainly nothing concealed there," he said.
The drawers were put back, and Mr. Crellan suggested lunch. At Hewitt's suggestion it was brought to the study.
"So far," Hewitt said, "we arrive at this: either Mr. Holford has destroyed his will, or he has most effectually concealed it, or somebody has stolen it. The first of these possibilities you don't favour."
"I don't believe it is a possibility for a moment. I have told you why; and I knew Holford so well, you know. For the same reasons I am sure he never concealed it."
"Very well, then. Somebody has stolen it. The question is, who?"
"That is so."
"It seems to me that every one in this house had a direct and personal interest in preserving that will. The servants have all something left them, you say, and without the will that goes, of course. Miss Garth has the greatest possible interest in the will. The only person I have heard of as yet who would benefit by its loss or destruction would be the nephew, Mr. Mellis. There are no other relatives, you say, who would benefit by intestacy?"
"Well, what do you think yourself, now? Have you any suspicions?"
Mr. Crellan shrugged his shoulders. "I've no more right to suspicions than you have, I suppose," he said. "Of course, if there are to be suspicions they can only point one way. Mr. Mellis is the only person who can gain by the disappearance of this will."
"Just so, Now, what do you know of him?"
"I don't know much of the young man," Mr. Crellan said slowly. "I must say I never particularly took to him. He is rather a clever fellow, I believe. He was called to the bar some time ago, and afterwards studied medicine, I believe, with the idea of priming himself for a practice in medical jurisprudence. He took a good deal of interest in my old friend's researches, I am told – at any rate he said he did; he may have been thinking of his uncle's fortune. But they had a small tiff on some medical question. I don't know exactly what it was, but Mr. Holford objected to something – a method of research or something of that kind – as being dangerous and unprofessional. There was no actual rupture between them, you understand, but Mellis's visits slacked off, and there was a coolness."
"Where is Mr. Mellis now?"
"In London, I believe."
"Has he been in this house between the day you last saw the will in that drawer and yesterday, when you failed to find it?"
"Only once. He came to see his uncle two days before his death – last Saturday, in fact. He didn't stay long."
"Did you see him?"
"What did he do?"
"Merely came into the room for a few minutes – visitors weren't allowed to stay long – spoke a little to his uncle, and went back to town."
"Did he do nothing else, or see anybody else?"
"Miss Garth went out of the room with him as he left, and I should think they talked for a little before he went away, to judge by the time she was gone; but I don't know."
"You are sure he went then?"
"I saw him in the drive as I looked from the window."
"Miss Garth, you say, has kept all the keys since the beginning of Mr. Holford's illness?"
"Yes, until she gave them up to me yesterday. Indeed, the nurse, who is rather a peppery customer, and was jealous of Miss Garth's presence in the sick room all along, made several difficulties about having to go to her for everything."
"And there is no doubt of the bureau having been kept locked all the time?"
"None at all. I have asked Miss Garth that – and, indeed, a good many other things – without saying why I wanted the information."
"How are Mr. Mellis and Miss Garth affected toward one another – are they friendly?"
"Oh, yes. Indeed, some while ago I rather fancied that Mellis was disposed to pay serious addresses in that quarter. He may have had a fancy that way, or he may have been attracted by the young lady's expectations. At any rate, nothing definite seems to have come of it as yet. But I must say – between ourselves, of course – I have more than once noticed a decided air of agitation, shyness perhaps, in Miss Garth when Mr. Mellis has been present. But, at any rate, that scarcely matters. She is twenty-four years of age now, and can do as she likes. Although, if I had anything to say in the matter – well, never mind."
"You, I take it, have known Miss Garth a long time?"
"Bless you, yes. Danced her on my knee twenty years ago. I've been her 'Uncle Leonard' all her life."
"Well, I think we must at least let Miss Garth know of the loss of the will. Perhaps, when they have cleared away these plates, she will come here for a few minutes."
"I'll go and ask her," Mr. Crellan answered, and having rung the bell, proceeded to find Miss Garth.
Presently he returned with the lady. She was a slight, very pale young woman; no doubt rather pretty in ordinary, but now not looking her best. She was evidently worn and nervous from anxiety and want of sleep, and her eyes were sadly inflamed. As the wind slammed a loose casement behind her she started nervously, and placed her hand to her head.
"Sit down at once, my dear," Mr. Crellan said; "sit down. This is Mr. Martin Hewitt, whom I have taken the liberty of inviting down here to help me in a very important matter. The fact is, my dear," Mr. Crellan added gravely, "I can't find your poor father's will."
Miss Garth was not surprised. "I thought so," she said mildly, "when you asked me about the bureau yesterday."
"Of course I need not say, my dear, what a serious thing it may be for you if that will cannot be found. So I hope you'll try and tell Mr. Hewitt here anything he wants to know as well as you can, without forgetting a single thing. I'm pretty sure that he will find it for us if it is to be found."
"I understand, Miss Garth," Hewitt asked, "that the keys of that bureau never left your possession during the whole time of Mr. Holford's last illness, and that the bureau was kept locked?"
"Yes, that is so."
"Did you ever have occasion to go to the bureau yourself?"
"No, I have not touched it."
"Then you can answer for it, I presume, that the bureau was never unlocked by any one from the time Mr. Holford placed the keys in your hands till you gave them to Mr. Crellan?"
"Yes, I am sure of that."
"Very good. Now is there any place on the whole premises that you can suggest where this will may possibly be hidden?"
"There is no place that Mr. Crellan doesn't know of, I'm sure."
"It is an old house, I observe," Hewitt pursued. "Do you know of any place of concealment in the structure – any secret doors, I mean, you know, or sliding panels, or hollow door frames, and so forth?"
Miss Garth shook her head. "There is not a single place of the sort you speak of in the whole building, so far as I know," she said, "and I have lived here almost all my life."
"You knew the purport of Mr. Holford's will, I take it, and understand what its loss may mean to yourself?"
"Now I must ask you to consider carefully. Take your mind back to two or three days before Mr. Holford's illness began, and tell me if you can remember any single fact, occurrence, word, or hint from that day to this in any way bearing on the will or anything connected with it?"
Miss Garth shook her head thoughtfully. "I can't remember the thing being mentioned by anybody, except perhaps by the nurse, who is rather a touchy sort of woman, and once or twice took it upon herself to hint that my recent anxiety was chiefly about my poor father's money. And that once, when I had done some small thing for him, my father – I have always called him father, you know – said that he wouldn't forget it, or that I should be rewarded, or something of that sort. Nothing else that I can remember in the remotest degree concerned the will."
"Mr. Mellis said nothing about it, then?"
Miss Garth changed colour slightly, but answered, "No, I only saw him to the door."
"Thank you, Miss Garth, I won't trouble you any further just now. But if you can remember anything more in the course of the next few hours it may turn out to be of great service."
Miss Garth bowed and withdrew. Mr. Crellan shut the door behind her and returned to Hewitt. "That doesn't carry us much further," he said. "The more certain it seems that the will cannot have been got at, the more difficult our position is from a legal point of view. What shall we do now?"
"Is the nurse still about the place?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"Then I'll speak to her."
The nurse came in response to Mr. Crellan's summons: a sharp-featured, pragmatical woman of forty-five. She took the seat offered her, and waited for Hewitt's questions.
"You were in attendance on Mr. Holford, I believe, Mrs. Turton, since the beginning of his last illness?"
"Since October 24th."
"Were you present when Mr. Mellis came to see his uncle last Saturday?"
"Can you tell me what took place?"
"As to what the gentleman said to Mr. Holford," the nurse replied, bridling slightly, "of course I don't know anything, it not being my business and not intended for my ears. Mr. Crellan was there, and knows as much as I do, and so does Miss Garth. I only know that Mr. Mellis stayed for a few minutes and then went out of the room with Miss Garth."
"How long was Miss Garth gone?"
"I don't know, ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, perhaps."
"Now Mrs. Turton, I want you to tell me in confidence – it is very important – whether you, at any time, heard Mr. Holford during his illness say anything of his wishes as to how his property was to be left in case of his death?"
The nurse started and looked keenly from Hewitt to Mr. Crellan and back again.
"Is it the will you mean?" she asked sharply.
"Yes. Did he mention it?"
"You mean you can't find the will, isn't that it?"
"Well, suppose it is, what then?"
"Suppose won't do," the nurse answered shortly; "I do know something about the will, and I believe you can't find it."
"I'm sure, Mrs. Turton, that if you know anything about the will you will tell Mr. Crellan in the interests of right and justice."
"And who's to protect me against the spite of those I shall offend if I tell you?"
Mr. Crellan interposed.
"Whatever you tell us, Mrs. Turton," he said, "will be held in the strictest confidence, and the source of our information shall not be divulged. For that I give you my word of honour. And, I need scarcely add, I will see that you come to no harm by anything you may say."
"Then the will is lost. I may understand that?"
Hewitt's features were impassive and impenetrable. But in Mr. Crellan's disturbed face the nurse saw a plain answer in the affirmative.
"Yes," she said, "I see that's the trouble. Well, I know who took it."
"Then who was it?"
"Miss Garth! Nonsense!" cried Mr. Crellan, starting upright. "Nonsense!"
"It may be nonsense," the nurse replied slowly, with a monotonous emphasis on each word. "It may be nonsense, but it's a fact. I saw her take it."
Mr. Crellan simply gasped. Hewitt drew his chair a little nearer.
"If you saw her take it," he said gently, closely watching the woman's face the while, "then, of course, there's no doubt."
"I tell you I saw her take it," the nurse repeated. "What was in it, and what her game was in taking it, I don't know. But it was in that bureau, wasn't it?"
"Yes – probably."
"In the right hand top drawer?"
"A white paper in a blue envelope?"
"Then I saw her take it, as I said before. She unlocked that drawer before my eyes, took it out, and locked the drawer again."
Mr. Crellan turned blankly to Hewitt, but Hewitt kept his eyes on the nurse's face.
"When did this occur?" he asked, "and how?"
"It was on Saturday night, rather late. Everybody was in bed but Miss Garth and myself, and she had been down to the dining-room for something. Mr. Holford was asleep, so as I wanted to re-fill the water-bottle, I took it up and went. As I was passing the door of this room that we are in now, I heard a noise, and looked in at the door, which was open. There was a candle on the table which had been left there earlier in the evening. Miss Garth was opening the top right hand drawer of that bureau" – Mrs. Turton stabbed her finger spitefully toward the piece of furniture, as though she owed it a personal grudge – "and I saw her take out a blue foolscap envelope, and as the flap was open, I could see the enclosed paper was white. She shut the drawer, locked it, and came out of the room with the envelope in her hand."
"And what did you do?"
"I hurried on, and she came away without seeing me, and went in the opposite direction – toward the small staircase."
"Perhaps," Mr. Crellan ventured at a blurt, "perhaps she was walking in her sleep?"
"That she wasn't!" the nurse replied, "for she came back to Mr. Holford's room almost as soon as I returned there, and asked some questions about the medicine – which was nothing new, for I must say she was very fond of interfering in things that were part of my business."
"That is quite certain, I suppose," Hewitt remarked – "that she could not have been asleep?"
"Quite certain. She talked for about a quarter of an hour, and wanted to kiss Mr. Holford, which might have wakened him, before she went to bed. In fact, I may say we had a disagreement."
Hewitt did not take his steady gaze from the nurse's face for some seconds after she had finished speaking. Then he only said, "Thank you, Mrs. Turton. I need scarcely assure you, after what Mr. Crellan has said, that your confidence shall not be betrayed. I think that is all, unless you have more to tell us."
Mrs. Turton bowed and rose. "There is nothing more," she said, and left the room.
As soon as she had gone, "Is Mrs. Turton at all interested in the will," Hewitt asked.
"No, there is nothing for her. She is a new-comer, you see. Perhaps," Mr. Crellan went on, struck by an idea, "she may be jealous, or something. She seems a spiteful woman – and really, I can't believe her story for a moment."
"Well, you see, it's absurd. Why should Miss Garth go to all this secret trouble to do herself an injury – to make a beggar of herself? And besides, she's not in the habit of telling barefaced lies. She distinctly assured us, you remember, that she had never been to the bureau for any purpose whatever."
"But the nurse has an honest character, hasn't she?"
"Yes, her character is excellent. Indeed, from all accounts, she is a very excellent woman, except for a desire to govern everybody, and a habit of spite if she is thwarted. But, of course, that sort of thing sometimes leads people rather far."
"So it does," Hewitt replied. "But consider now. Is it not possible that Miss Garth, completely infatuated with Mr. Mellis, thinks she is doing a noble thing for him by destroying the will and giving up her whole claim to his uncle's property? Devoted women do just such things, you know."
Mr. Crellan stared, bent his head to his hand, and considered. "So they do, so they do," he said. "Insane foolery. Really, it's the sort of thing I can imagine her doing – she's honour and generosity itself. But then those lies," he resumed, sitting up and slapping his leg; "I can't believe she'd tell such tremendous lies as that for anybody. And with such a calm face, too – I'm sure she couldn't."
"Well, that's as it may be. You can scarcely set a limit to the lengths a woman will go on behalf of a man she loves. I suppose, by the bye, Miss Garth is not exactly what you would call a 'strong-minded' woman?"
"No, she's not that. She'd never get on in the world by herself. She's a good little soul, but nervous – very; and her month of anxiety, grief, and want of sleep seems to have broken her up."
скачать книгу бесплатно