The Vanity Box/Chapter 10
Next afternoon Miss Ricardo received notice that she would be called as witness at the inquest, which would be held at Friars' Moat the following day. The police learned from a footman that she had called there to see Lady Hereward, and had had tea with Sir Ian and Miss Verney, not very long after the time when the murder must have been committed. A coroner's officer appeared at White Fields and Terry had to answer some questions.
It was dreadful to her that she must go to the inquest, but she was hardly surprised at the summons. She had half expected and greatly feared that it might come. Maud was horrified, and inclined to think it an insult to the whole Ricardo family that one of them should be called upon to give evidence about a murder. "What can you know?" she asked. "Do they suppose you can tell who killed that poor dear? I should refuse to stir a step if I were you. But if you do go, I shall go with you, and we will both wear black, of course."
Mrs. Ricardo seemed somewhat surprised that Terry did not appear to think it mattered what she wore. She had no black dress, so Maud chose a gray gown for her to put on, and a black hat, which was almost too becoming for such an occasion. "Poor Milly would have admired you in it. She had such taste!" Mrs. Ricardo sighed. "And she was fond of gray. She had a gray-embroidered voile this summer that—oh, perhaps she was wearing it on Saturday at Nina Forestier's. I suppose Nina will be a witness too."
Maud and Terry Ricardo drove away from White Fields in a closed brougham, very new and smart, as everything was, or appeared to be, at White Fields, which was a handsome modern house without individuality.
It was but a short distance to Friars' Moat, yet the two places were centuries apart, and as the carnage stopped before the door, Terry thought sadly what a pity it was that this beautiful old house should become hateful forever to its owner, the last of his name. She had told herself, fancifully, day before yesterday, that somehow the place was like Ian; and she felt this still; but both man and house were very tragic now.
Here Ian lived happily with the woman he loved for seven years. Here her murdered body had been brought home, blood-stained and terrible. Here, in some room which she had perhaps helped to make homelike and charming, that body now slept. Here Ian Hereward must go through another agonizing ordeal to-day, only less dreadful than that he had endured when fate led him to find his dead wife in the woods.
The day was one of those perfect days in June, which come often after rain. Last night there had been a heavy shower which had sent the temperature down, and the air smelled of a thousand flowers, whose perfume mingled with the sweet scent of new-cut grass and the freshness of moist earth. It seemed a day made for youth and happiness. The heavy sense of oppression was gone from the atmosphere, and the lawns and flower-beds shining in the gay summer sunlight were so beautiful that it was almost impossible to believe in the tragedy behind the drawn window-curtains of the old house. But once inside, it became easy to believe. A door at the left of the oak-panelled hall was kept by a policeman in uniform. It was the door of the library; for in the library the inquest was to be held. Mrs. Ricardo, as a relative of a witness, was allowed to go in, and though she shuddered, and was very pale under her powder, it would have been a bitter disappointment to miss the great drama about to be enacted. She had heard comparatively few details of the murder, for people contradicted each other, and there were the wildest rumours afloat. Some said that a gypsy had been arrested, others that no arrest had been made, but that the police had "something up their sleeve" which would come out through witnesses at the inquest. Maud Ricardo sincerely believed that she was very sad, heavily oppressed by the tragedy which had fallen on the house, but in reality all that was primitive in her—and there was much thrilled with a delicious, painful curiosity. She had written a letter of sympathy to Sir Ian Hereward. Now she would soon see how he bore his trouble.
Miss Ricardo did not shudder; but she, too, was very pale and there were dark circles round the hazel eyes which had made Richard the footman disloyal to Miss Verney's beauty. Terry knew no more than Maud knew, of what an inquest would be like, and she feared everything, but her face and manner were as composed as if she had come to hear a lecture. As they were admitted into the library, her eyes travelled round the room, searching for Sir Ian and Miss Verney, but neither was there. She had been foolish, Terry told herself, to think that she might see them. They were both mourners; the husband and the trusted girl-companion of the murdered woman. Doubtless they would be spared as much as possible, and would only be called in when the time came for them to speak.
Terry had not seen the library before, but she knew that its grim aspect of to-day was not its aspect of other days. In itself, it was a pleasant room, lined with old books and new, the top shelf displaying rare pottery, and a few marble busts that stood out against the dark oak wall. There were many, many books and the two mullioned windows, with their quaintly fashioned crests on panes of painted glass, looked out on the lawns, one with a sundial rising from a bed of roses, one with a marvellous cedar of Lebanon. But to-day the library was a dreadful room. In the middle was a long Tudor table, on either side of which were ranged chairs for the coroner, his clerk, the chief constable of the county, the deputy chief constable, a superintendent of police, an inspector from Scotland Yard and a detective inspector. A long row of seats for the fifteen jurors stretched in front of the window which looked out upon the Lebanon cedar; and before the fireplace was a table with chairs for eight members of the press. Near the corner was a chair for the witness while being examined.
The jury having been sworn, their foreman was elected and then, on the order of the coroner, the fifteen men went out to look at the dead body of Lady Hereward. When they filed back again into the library, their faces, grave enough before, were masks of solemnity. A light like anger smouldered in some men's eyes; for it would have been hard to find fifteen jurors in the neighbourhood of Riding St. Mary, none of whose families had received kindness from Sir Ian Hereward and his wife. Having gazed upon all that was mortal of the fair Lady Bountiful, the fifteen men realized fully that they were here, in this house which had been her home, to solve—if they could—the mystery of her death; in other words, to find the murderer and help the hangman to put a noose round his neck.