The Vanity Box/Chapter 12
They hung on his answer. But when it came, it was entirely commonplace.
"We were always on the best of terms, during thirteen years of married life."
There was no quaver of his voice, no flinching of the gaze to account for the sudden rush and ebb of blood. It had seemed a tell-tale change of colour, following as it did upon such a question, which in some form or other he must have expected, and was like the silent revealing of a black secret guessed by none. Yet what could be made out of the reply? There was a ring of truth in it and the query appeared to be fully answered. Yet—there was a dim impression of something wrong, something hidden, something in the words more or less than met the ear. "On the best of terms during thirteen years of married life." What could any coroner or juror ask beyond that?
The coroner, at all events, did not intend to ask anything further of importance for the present. He let Sir Ian Hereward go, after putting a few questions concerning the theory of the robbery, and called Mrs. Barnard, frightened and anxious, but more at ease than she would have been in the hands of any other questioner. Before Mr. Samways became coroner, he had been the favourite doctor of the farming community, and had brought Poppet into the world.
Clearly and truthfully Rose gave the history of her afternoon—the afternoon of the murder. How she had been in the arbour, with her little daughter, and Kate Craigie had come, and at about four o'clock they had heard two shots, which Kate had thought sounded queer. How Kate had gone home a little later, and after tea—oh, a good while after—when she was washing up the dishes, Sir Ian had made Poppet scream out by suddenly appearing, covered with blood. No, not covered; she hadn't meant that. To say "covered" was a great exaggeration. She had spoken impulsively, as women will. Sir Ian had been very much agitated, stammering out some thing about her ladyship being in the Tower, dead; and he wished to find Barnard, who used to serve under him in the Army before Sir Ian came into his title, and got Tom his present position through his influence with Mr. Forestier. Why, yes, of course Barnard owed Sir Ian a big debt of gratitude, and would do anything for him, so it was natural enough the poor gentleman should go there before going any where else. Besides, the farmhouse was near. But unfortunately Barnard was away, so she had to do the best she could. And Sir Ian wouldn't wait for Tom. He would rush back to the woods, where her poor ladyship was lying, though it seemed an awful thing to Rose that he should have to be there with the dead body of his wife, all alone, and nobody to help him bear his grief and horror.
Kate was called, after Rose, describing her impression of the two shots, and inclining to be somewhat sensational, as servants will. She had been fond of her mistress, in a jealously passionate, ill-regulated way, yet she thoroughly enjoyed giving evidence. She felt herself of immense importance, and the wish to be first with every one she approached was almost a mania with Kate Craigie, though she was unconscious of this peculiarity in herself.
When asked on what terms Sir Ian Hereward lived with his wife, she knew that all eyes were fastened upon her. She wished ardently to say something which could hold the interest she was arousing, some thing more than she had already said to the police.
"I think her ladyship was more in love with Sir Ian, than he was with her," Kate replied, half frightened at her own temerity. Still, she reminded herself, it was not only her duty to tell the truth, but the whole truth.
"What do you mean by that?" inquired the coroner sternly.
Now indeed, Kate must justify herself! She replied that her ladyship thought of nothing but to look well in her husband's eyes, and pleasing him with her style of dress, and way of doing her hair. If he didn't like a thing she wore, that was the end of it forever. Liane, her ladyship's French maid, into whose place she (Kate) had stepped ten weeks ago, was very clever about that sort of thing, and took advantage of her mistress's peculiarity in her own interest. If Liane fancied a hat, for instance, she would say, "Miladi, I am sure from the way he looked at you in it, Sir Ian detested you in that hat, though he is far too polite to say so. He only turned his eyes away." That was enough for her ladyship. Liane would get the hat; and the same with dresses and blouses. Her ladyship would begin to hate a thing if she had the idea that it made her look old; for she really was a bit older than Sir Ian, and extremely sensitive about her age, though very few would have guessed her feeling. Liane used to order creams and things for the complexion, or to keep the neck firm, in her own name, but they were really for her ladyship; and it was because of this, as well as little tricks about doing the hair, that her ladyship valued Liane so much. In Kate's opinion, Liane was a sly, worthless creature, but she couldn't say the French girl had any grudge against her mistress. Liane disappeared, it is true, but not on account of a "row," so far as Kate knew, and her ladyship was forever quoting Liane, saying nobody else could do as well as Liane could, no matter how they might try. Liane had probably had a love affair, and had wanted to leave her place for that reason, as her ladyship didn't much like such things going on in the house. As for Sir Ian, he had always seemed very pleasant with his wife, but he didn't have quite the same air of thinking the sun rose and set in her ladyship, that she had for him. He was absent-minded, sometimes, and fond of reading in the library by himself; but they were on very good terms indeed, and in Paris he took his wife everywhere, shopping, and to the theatres, and bought her several handsome presents. On the last morning of her ladyship's life, Sir Ian had come into her room while she was polishing her nails, and Kate was putting away a few things. They had talked to each other as pleasantly as possible, and made plans for a few days stay in town by and by. She had never heard the slightest dispute between them. Her ladyship did not appear to have any trouble or secrets, except some little ones of the toilet, which did not count seriously. If she had had secrets, Kate would have been likely to guess, or would have heard something from Liane, who used to talk rather freely about her mistress in the servants' hall. But Kate believed that Lady Hereward had been a very happy woman, up to the day of her death, and was, on the whole, a lady easy to get on with. The only person Kate had ever heard her scold was Miss Verney, her ladyship's companion.
Had Kate seen Lady Hereward in the woods, on her way to visit Mrs. Barnard? No, she hadn't, nor had any idea her ladyship was there, though she left the farm sooner than she would have liked, perhaps about a quarter after four, in order to reach Friars' Moat by teatime, thinking that her mistress might be back and wanting something then. She had seen nobody in the woods but Miss Verney. No, not on the way back, but when going to the farm she had seen Miss Verney. On the way back she had met no one—that is, only the footman, from Friars' Moat. He had perhaps guessed that she (Kate) would be returning through the woods. No, she and Edward were not exactly engaged, though they had been near it once. They often had quarrels. Edward was of an odd disposition, and Kate was not sure whether she would do well to marry him or not. Her ladyship had advised her not to encourage him.
Here was another little detail not elicited by the first questioning of Kate Craigie by the police. She had not then mentioned the fact that her ladyship was against the match between her maid and the footman, or that she particularly disapproved of love-making in the servants' hall. But it was easy to believe that this might have been true, as it was well known that Lady Hereward, despite her many charities, held certain rather strict (some people called them "narrow-minded") views.
The coroner looked frowningly at Kate. Too many unexpected issues seemed to be developing in this case. He felt himself ill-used, in that he had not been sufficiently prepared.
"Did the footman, Edward, know that Lady Hereward wished you to give him up?" was the next question; and it showed Kate the mischief done by her loose way of answering. She had not needed to say that about her mistress and Edward, and she could have boxed her own ears for her carelessness, because, whatever Edward might be, he loved her only too well. Blushing painfully, she said Edward had perhaps guessed at her ladyship's disapproval, but it did not discourage him. He was always hopeful, and as long as he wasn't discharged, there was not much for him to be cross about.
Had Kate ever heard Edward say anything about Lady Hereward, as if he were angry at her attitude toward him? Well, he might have said little things, like any quick-tempered young man would, in the circumstances, but nothing of any importance. She had never thought anything of what he said. Did he refer to the subject when they met in the woods on the afternoon of the murder? Oh, as to that Kate could hardly remember. He might have just mentioned it, no more than a few words. What words? Kate was sure—flushing deeply—that she couldn't repeat them. Such words went in at one ear and out at the other.
Had Edward been excited, when she met him in the woods?
Dear no, not particularly. He was a bit emotional and always got worked up, on one thing and another, when talking to her, that was all, indeed.
Another new suspicion flung at the heads of the jury! Hardly had they recovered from the shock of the first, when there came a second; but after the first, it was a relief to have a second to fall back upon, of so little importance was poor Edward, a footman, compared with his master, Sir Ian Hereward.
Next after Kate came Teresina Ricardo. Thus far, the witnesses had followed each other in order, according to the bearing of their evidence upon the case. Sir Ian's testimony had naturally been taken first, since he had been in his wife's company for some hours before the murder, and had left her in the woods, close to the Tower where she met her death. Rose Barnard and Kate Craigie had together heard the shots; one of which, in all probability, had killed Lady Hereward. Miss Ricardo, it had been ascertained, was one of the first persons who saw Sir Ian after his return through the woods, where he had parted with his wife, therefore her testimony fitted in at this point which had been reached.
If Terry had needed a warning, Kate's experience in the hands of the coroner would have given it. "Nothing can be asked of me that wasn't asked by that policeman yesterday," she tried to be sure, yet she called upon her soul to stand firm.
As she rose to go to the witness's chair where Sir Ian had sat, and Mrs. Barnard and Kate Craigie, the door was opened by the guardian policeman outside. A visiting-card with something written upon it in pencil was passed in, and up to the coroner. A whispered discussion followed among the officials assembled at the table, and presently an answer went back to the door. Some one was admitted, and the questioning of Miss Ricardo was delayed until the slight disturbance should be over. Terry did not turn her head to look at the door. She stood, ready to go to the coroner's table when she should be wanted, but that would not be quite yet, for the coroner's clerk had got up, and was talking to the person who had come in. Then the clerk returned, and spoke with the coroner, handing him a piece of paper, which might have been a leaf torn from a note-book. There was a little more conferring, and then Miss Ricardo was requested to take her place in the chair by the coroner. As she obeyed, she saw the face of the newcomer, who had been given a seat. He was looking at her, and their eyes met. His were of yellowish brown, like the thin hair and stubby moustache, which was turning gray—a dirty, unattractive gray. His complexion was yellowish too, and there were baggy wrinkles under the cold eyes.
"Alligator eyes!" Terry said to herself, as she had said before of the same eyes. It was many years since she had seen the man, but she knew him at once, for he had changed little. He was one of those persons whom it is impossible to imagine as ever having been much younger, or as ever growing much older. It was Major Smedley, the man at whom Terry had cried out as "the worst old gossip and tabby-cat that ever lived," when Maud had mentioned his name, just before news of the murder came to White Fields.
The armour of strength which she had girded on seemed to loosen at the joints.
She was afraid of Major Smedley.