The Vanity Box/Chapter 18
Sir Ian Hereward had replaced Barr, after the young man resigned his situation and went away, by another steward, a very different sort of person—so different, in fact, that Barr's cook-housekeeper and only servant had not cared to accept an offer to stay on.
This fact made matters rather troublesome for the police, when there arose a reason for finding out things about Mr. Barr and his way of life while steward for his cousin. Miss Maunsell was a peculiar woman, a spinster of more than a certain age, and a dour nature. She was not a native of Surrey, but had come from London to act as Mr. Barr's servant, and had made no friends. How Mr. Barr had got her, whether he had known her before, or had selected her from an agency, nobody could tell. Ian Barr "kept himself to himself," as the saying was. He was sensitive about his position, was too proud to seek friends, or to respond warmly to overtures of friendship; and to his few acquaintances he never talked about his own affairs.
All that could be learned of Miss Maunsell in the neighbourhood, therefore, was that she would not consent to work for the new steward (a nervous, "finickin" little man), but that she had gone to London the day after Mr. Barr gave up his stewardship. The man in the booking-office at Redeshall, one of the two stations which served Riding St. Mary, remembered selling, on the date of her departure, a third single ticket for Charing Cross to a woman answering the description given of Miss Maunsell; but nobody could be found who remembered seeing her at Charing Cross. This was not surprising, because the elderly spinster was not in any way interesting to look at, nor did she differ very noticeably in face and figure from hundreds of other female holders of third-class tickets who had poured into the great London rail way-station that day.
When the police began to be surprised by the elusiveness of the young man whom they had expected to find with ease, their attention naturally turned toward Miss Maunsell, who, besides the master, had been the only inmate of the steward's house. It was thought that she must know a great deal about his habits, and even that she might be able to give some special information that was much wanted. But application was made to all the employment agencies in London and the suburbs in vain; and eventually, after various other means of unearthing the woman had failed, recourse was had to a discreet advertisement in several of the daily papers: "If Miss Sarah Maunsell, lately employed by Mr. Barr, of Surrey, will apply in person to Messrs. Kipling & Beecher, Solicitors, of Bedford Row, London, W. C., she will learn something to her advantage."
This appeal was repeated for several days before Messrs. Kipling & Beecher heard from Miss Maunsell. At last they received a letter from Harrogate, signed "S. Maunsell," stating that, as the writer was in the position of cook-housekeeper to an invalid, she could not leave her place to visit London. She had just happened to see the advertisement, not being in the habit of looking at the papers every day, and she would be glad to hear from Messrs. Kipling & Beecher.
Scotland Yard was, of course, responsible for the advertisement, but it had not been considered wise to risk alarming the woman, who might have a horror of the police. When the letter arrived, however, a detective from the Criminal Investigation Department was detailed to travel to Harrogate and interview Miss Maunsell. He was an ambitious fellow whose name—Richard Gaylor—was already favourably marked at headquarters, and he was the "nice grown-up" who had beguiled Poppet Barnard. He was about thirty, but did not look more than twenty-one, at most, in face or figure. "Cupid" was his nick name, and it was not inappropriate to the blue-eyed, curly-haired young man, who had deep dimples in pink cheeks, like a girl's.
The address given in Miss Maunsell's cramped and prim hand-writing was "Care Edwin James, Esq., Hedge House, Aylwin Road, Harrogate," and the detective found the place without difficulty. It was a rather desolate-looking villa, set at some distance from other houses, and it had an air of decayed gentility and "stand-offishness." The high gate was locked, and, having rung, Gaylor was obliged to wait outside in a drizzling rain for some moments. He was just about to pull the old-fashioned bell again when he saw the front door open, and a thin old woman came with mincing steps down the path. The upper half of the gate had a square of lattice, and through this he was able to form some judgment of Miss Maunsell's character (if it were Miss Maunsell who approached) before she opened the gate. She had a high, prominent forehead, tight-drawn, sallow skin, a rat-trap of a mouth, the eyes of an incipient fanatic, and sparse gray hair pulled tightly back in an uncompromising way under a cap like a half-baked bun. Used to face-reading, Gaylor made up his mind in a flash as to the right way of managing the grim old creature.
"Is this Miss Maunsell?" he asked, politely, but not gushingly. To gush at a person of her type would be to court disaster.
"It is," she replied shortly.
"I'm here on the business of Messrs. Kipling & Beecher's advertisement," announced the detective.
If Miss Maunsell felt surprise, she did not show it. "You can come in," she said. Then, being evidently economical of speech, she led the way into the house. It was old-fashioned, but uninteresting. "Gloomy as a sarcophagus," was Gaylor's mental comment as he followed the stiff figure down a narrow corridor to the back of the house. She opened the door of a moderate-sized room like a servants hall. "My sitting-room," she remarked. "We will not be disturbed, for I am the only servant. Mr. James is a paralytic. Take a seat."
Gaylor obeyed, subsiding upon a hard, high chair by a clumsy dining table. Miss Maunsell sat opposite him, on a chair of the same depressing description.
"What have you got to tell me to my advantage?" she inquired, wasting no time in getting to the point. She had the whining twang suggestive of the cockney, which is characteristic of the lower middle classes in some parts of Yorkshire; and Gaylor made up his mind that the woman had returned to her native county. She had all the hardness of the North at its worst.
"I have to tell you that if you will answer a few questions I've been sent to ask, possibly it may save you from being called as a witness in the second adjourned inquest of the Hereward case, which will come on in a fortnight's time."
"I can't leave my place here to be a witness in any case," rasped Miss Maunsell, "and I wouldn't be of any use if I could, for I never heard of the Hereward case."
"What! Never heard of the Hereward murder case over a week ago!" exclaimed Gaylor, surprised that a human being could have existed in such cloistered ignorance.
"Are you talking of the Herewards of Friars' Moat?" asked the housekeeper.
"Who was murdered?"
"Lady Hereward. Is it possible you haven't seen in the papers——"
"Why should I see the papers? 'Tain't likely I'd spend my money on 'em, and Mr. James, my master, cares for nothing but old books, the older the better. I'm no woman to gossip with butcher, baker nor candle stick-maker; and I wouldn't have come across your advertisement if it hadn't stared me in the face, wrapped around a fish. When was her ladyship murdered?"
Gaylor told her.
"Who did it?" was the next question.
That's what we don't know yet, otherwise I wouldn't be here," said the detective.
"I suppose you don't think I did it, do you?" Miss Maunsell demanded with scorn. "Lady Hereward was a Christian woman; that is, if she was as good at heart as what she seemed. But the better she was, the better off she is in the next world.
"If you respected her so much, you'll be all the readier to bring her murderers to justice."
"Not by going as no witness to no trial. My duty is here. Besides, her ladyship was too fond of wearing rich jewelry. She had the name of being charitable, but she'd have done more wisely to sell her precious stones and give the money to missions. Maybe her murder by some thief was a judgment from heaven on her vanity. We all of us have faults, but vanity is a crying sin. And Lady Hereward put powder on her face, and pink paint on her lips. Tisn't many would have seen that, perhaps, but my eyes are sharp for such things, though I'm not as young as I was, and I can't abide 'em, on Christian or no Christian. That's all I know about her ladyship, though I was servant to the steward of her husband's estate, so it's no good summoning me. You've got all I can tell out of me now."
"It isn't so much Lady Hereward I'm here to ask you about," said Gaylor, "as Mr. Ian Barr."
"Oh, indeed, do they think he killed her? Well, I'm not surprised. I always thought his temper would be his undoing one of these fine days."
"There's certainly ground for suspicion," replied the detective. "Mr. Barr has disappeared, and so far can't be found."
"Who's trying to find him?" inquired Mr. Barr's late housekeeper. "Those folks that advertised for me, Kipper & Beeching, or whatever their name is?"
"Scotland Yard is trying to find him, and will before long," said Gaylor, thinking to awe the woman; but her face did not change, unless to grow more grim.
"By that do you mean the perlice?"
He bowed, looking about eighteen.
Her thin lips curled. "And are you a policeman?"
"I am a member of the Criminal Investigation Department."
"Why didn't they let you finish going to school?"
"I am nearly thirty," the detective informed her, laughing.
"Hm! I suppose the Kipper & Beeching men were dummies of the police, then?" She was sharp enough, in her way.
"We employ the firm occasionally. But it is in the name of Scotland Yard that I come to question you."
"How am I to know that? You might be anybody, in that gray suit and them brown boots of yours. And anyhow, I consider you got hold of my address on false pretences. You made me think I might be coming in for a legacy. I don't see why I should answer your questions."
Gaylor took from his pocket an important-looking wallet, and produced his credentials.
Miss Maunsell was convinced, though not impressed.
"Well, all I can say is," she remarked, "that Scotland Yard must be hard put to it to find grown-up men. And I don't approve of their methods."
"If you're summoned as a witness a fortnight from now, you will have to go, you know," Gaylor assured her, slyly. The police have power to subpœna you, and force you to obey if you refuse."
"You can drive a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," said Miss Maunsell, with a kind of dreary nonchalance.
"You wouldn't like to go to prison—a respectable Christian woman like you?"
"A good many respectable Christians have been in prison." And the housekeeper cited several famous scriptural examples.
That s true. But if you went there it would lose you your present place, nor would it help you to get another. And I'm here to save you trouble. That's where your 'advantage' comes in. If you answer freely and truthfully all my questions, the chances are I may get you off from being called. Besides, your conscience can't counsel you to obstruct justice. You believe in the Old Testament, I'm sure: 'An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.'"
"I'll hear your questions, and if I think right, I'll answer them," replied the woman, after a moment's reflection. "If I don't think right, I'll go to prison for twenty years rather than speak. So there you have my mind."
Gaylor believed that not only did she mean what she said, but would stick to it "through thick and thin," and perhaps find a fearful joy in martyrdom. He therefore chose his words with care, suiting them tactfully, as he hoped, to the nature with which he had to deal. He began simply, by asking if Miss Maunsell had had any acquaintance with Mr. Barr before entering his service. Was she by way of being a friend of his family?
"Not I, indeed," she answered scornfully, to the detective's satisfaction. "I didn't know anything about him, until, against my will, I overheard part of a conversation between Mr. Barr and Lady Hereward herself, the day he gave up his stewardship. When I want to get a place I advertise. No agencies for me! Mr. Barr answered my advertisement. I thought the work would suit me; and so it did, as far as that goes, though I can't say I entirely approved of him. In fact, I didn't, though he was always what he should be to me, or else I wouldn't have stopped an hour. My initials only were signed to the advertisement, and the same way when I advertised again after leaving him, and got the place here with Mr. James. I stay near Barnes when I'm out of a situation, with an old blind aunt of mine, who's glad enough to have my help when she can get it, instead of the charity girl off the parish she has when I'm in a job. That's why all your policemen couldn't have found me, if I hadn't been silly enough to be caught by a newspaper trap wrapped round a fish."
Judging from Miss Maunsell's expression when she delivered this statement, she would never taste fish again.
"Were you always on good enough terms with Mr. Barr, in spite of not quite approving his conduct, or did you ever give him a piece of your mind?" inquired the detective, in a friendly way.
"We never had any words," said Miss Maunsell. "And it wasn't so much his conduct I disapproved, as his character. I consider myself something of a judge; and from the first moment I ever set eyes on Mr. Barr, said I to myself, Here's a young man might do anything, if in a passion. He had eyes like—like wells of fire, if there could be such things; and when he frowned, his eyebrows, that were drawn straight across his forehead as though by a pointed piece of charcoal, used to come together across the bridge of his nose. I've seen him when he was angry, with his nostrils quivering as if he was a vicious horse."
"Did you often see him like that?" asked the cherubic Mr. Gaylor, more and more interested, more and more glad that he had been sent to Harrogate.
"Well, no," the housekeeper reflected aloud. "I can't say I did. Two or three times, perhaps. Twice in particular. I shall never forget either of those occasions."
"I should be very glad if you would tell me about them," the detective suggested, mildly.
"The first time was maybe a month before I left him, when a letter had been delivered to Mr. Barr by hand. I don't know who wrote or sent it. I only know it was brought by a boy I never saw before or after. I opened the door myself. Mr. Barr was just finishing his dinner—about eight o'clock in the evening, it was—and I was busy about the table when I had to answer the knock. The boy said there was no answer wanted, and went away quick, before I had a good look at him; and when I'd handed the envelope to Mr. Barr, I kept on about my business in the dining room, which was the only sitting room he had. I heard him give a kind of exclamation, as if against his will, and I looked up. He'd torn the envelope open in a hurry, as if he'd been expecting the letter, and impatient to find out what was in it. But, my heavens, what a face I saw! I should have been sorry if the writer of the letter had walked into the room! Mr. Barr looked as if he was in a mood to kill at sight. He was livid, and his eyes like live coals. Not a bite more dinner would he eat, though I'd just put on the table a tart he was very fond of. He jumped up, and walked about the room, with the letter in his hand. Once or twice I spoke, and he didn't seem to hear me. But at last he thundered out 'No!' so fiercely that I started; though I will say he appeared to be sorry, and said he didn't mean to be cross. He was a good deal worried about something serious, and didn't want to be bothered with trifles. I made up my mind to let him alone and not speak, if the sky fell; but a few minutes later, I remember very well, that young woman from Friars' Moat came knocking at the door, asking for Mr. Barr, in her affected-sounding, foreign voice."
"What young woman?" questioned Gaylor, with suppressed eagerness.
That French maid of Lady Hereward's. I don't recall her name. Something outlandish."
"Did she come often to see Mr. Barr?"
"Not to my knowledge. I saw her only two or three times. But there were other times when I thought I heard her voice in the house. I wouldn't swear to that, though. I never was a woman with an evil tongue against my sex, even foreigners. Mr. Barr says to me, when I first arrived, that he hated gossip, and I told him, so did I. I never exchanged a dozen words with the tradesfolk, and I made no friends. I kept myself to myself, as usual, and that I know was pleasing to Mr. Barr, though it was for my own sake I did it, not for his."
"What about the evening when Lady Hereward's maid came, and found Mr. Barr so angry?"
"All I know is, that I told him she wanted him for something important, and he said: 'Let her in.' So I did. And afterward I heard her crying and taking on as no English woman would. By and by he went to the door with her himself, and must have walked a bit of the way home with her, for it was raining, and he came in very wet, looking more furious than ever. Whether with her or not, who can say? I never saw the girl again. And it wasn't many days after that, the butcher's boy, trying to get up a conversation, mentioned that the young woman had vanished, and there was a great to-do up at the big house. Now, you tell me Mr. Barr's disappeared, too."
"He seems to be making himself a bit scarce," facetiously replied the detective. "The story at Riding St. Mary was that he'd been seen on the day of Lady Hereward's murder, not far from the woods where she was killed; but the odd thing is, we can't find out where the story started; and, of course, it may or may not be true. Wherever he is, though, Mr. Barr must know he's wanted, and why. Don't you think that looks a little queer for him? If he has nothing to hide, and no reason to keep out of the way, why doesn't he turn up, or send word where he is? Don't you, as a straightforward woman, feel that?"
"Perhaps," said Miss Maunsell, non-committally. "But Mr. Barr was a queer young man."
"Do you think he was in love with that French maid of Lady Hereward's?"
Miss Maunsell tossed her prim gray head, and replied stiffly that she knew nothing about such things. But the girl, in her opinion, was a designing minx. She had the look of it—and being that pleased with herself! No doubt Frenchwomen were mostly hussies, and above their places, with their fussed-up hair and their squeezed-in waists.
"Lady Hereward thought there had been a flirtation, anyhow," remarked Gaylor.
"I abominate that word," snapped the spinster. "I don't call it decent. But it's no news to me that her ladyship thought the worst of Mr. Barr, for I heard her give him her opinion of him in plain words. I told you I was obliged to listen to a conversation between those two the day Mr. Barr resigned; and that conversation was certainly the cause of his doing so."
"I was going to ask if you knew what terms they were on. Now, if you tell me a few more things of this sort, I may really be able to save you from being summoned as a witness."
"I don't mind repeating as much as I can remember of that conversation," said the old woman, "though I can't recall the exact words. But to explain how I overheard, I must mention that Mr. Barr's house was no more than a cottage, and an inconvenient old cottage, at that. My room was over his sitting and dining-room, and my only way of getting down stairs was to pass through it. A little narrow stairs led down directly into that room, and close by was the kitchen door. Any one talking in a fairly loud voice down stairs, I was bound to hear, up above, if I happened to be there; though mumbling would not reach my ears. Well, after I washed the luncheon things, I used generally to go to my room for a bit of a rest, if there was time, and to get dressed; for you see, Mr. Barr seldom or never had people coming to see him at that time. One day, I'd got off my frock and slipped into a dressing-gown, for a ten minutes' snooze before changing into my afternoon dress, when I heard Mr. Barr come in from out of doors, bringing somebody with him. There was a woman's voice, but as I'd never heard her speak before, I shouldn't have known it was Lady Hereward, if he hadn't called her by name.
"'I have come here to see you because I want to talk to you alone,' says she. Those were the first words I caught, and he answered: 'Come indoors, then, Lady Hereward.' I thought of making it known to them that I was in my room; but it would have been awkward for Mr. Barr, and as he ought to have remembered how it was my habit to be there at that time of day—it was about three o'clock—I said to myself it wasn't likely there'd be any talk between them which they'd mind my hearing. It would only be business that Lady Hereward wanted to discuss, thinks I, with her husband's steward.
"In a few minutes I knew better; but it was too late then. If it would have been awkward calling out at first, it would have been ten times as bad then, for every one concerned.
"'Mr. Barr, I want you to tell me where my maid is,' says her ladyship, sharp and short, mentioning the French girl's name, which I can't pronounce."
"Liane," suggested the detective, who was well primed in every detail of the Hereward case.
"'I can tell you nothing whatever about her,' says Mr. Barr in an angry, surprised voice.
"'You know very well where she is!' says Lady Hereward. And to that Mr. Barr wouldn't make any answer. His keeping silence threw her ladyship into a rage, and it was then she told Mr. Barr exactly what she thought of him. She'd been against Sir Ian engaging him as steward, or having him about the place in any capacity. It was 'most unsuitable,' to her idea, and she'd warned her husband, said she, that it would turn out badly. But he would have his way, out of 'mistaken kindness of heart,' and now see the consequences! 'Bad blood will out, like murder!' said her ladyship. Those words I do remember. And little did she dream then she'd be murdered herself! Mr. Barr took that as an insult to his mother, and he just about ordered her ladyship out of the house. 'I'm your husband's servant,' said he, 'but this is my house while I'm in his employ, and no one shall defame my dead mother under my roof while it's still mine.'"
"Did Lady Hereward go when he said that?" inquired the detective, greatly interested in this story, which he could have heard from no other living person than Ian Barr's housekeeper, save Ian Barr himself.
"Not she. She stopped where she was, and insulted him more. 'Put me out by force, if you choose,' says she. 'You'd be equal to that, I dare say; but unless you do, I won't go till I've finished telling you what I think. You're a villain,' says her ladyship. 'You made that poor French girl love you. Then you turned to another and very likely drove her to death.'
"'I deny it absolutely, said Mr. Barr. 'It is shameful that I should be obliged to deny it. Does Sir Ian believe this against me?'
"'I will make him believe,' says my lady. And then she was beginning something about Miss Verney, a young person Mr. Barr was engaged to marry. But that was too much for him. 'Stop!' he shouted. 'I won't stop!' cried her ladyship. 'Very well, then, I'll go, and leave you to babble calumnies to the four walls,' says Mr. Barr—or words like those. And he must have gone instantly, for I didn't hear his voice again. About five minutes afterward a door slammed; so what I supposed was that Lady Hereward waited a bit, thinking he might change his mind and come back, or else she rummaged about to find papers which might explain what had become of the French girl; and then she got discouraged and went away. It was the same day Mr. Barr warned Sir Ian to look for another steward."
"That is most important," said Gaylor, "and you have told the story well; nobody could have done better. You see, I've taken down everything you've said," and he held up his notebook, several pages of which were filled with shorthand jottings. "Now, to trouble you just a bit more, and then I've finished. Do you know whether Mr. Barr had a key to the View Tower in Riding Wood?"
The old woman looked thoughtful. "There was a big key that lay on his desk at one time," she replied. "I don't know what it unlocked, but it certainly wasn't any door in the house. And that's what it was like; a door-key. I noticed it lying on the desk one morning, when I was dusting, and wondered where it came from. It had an old-fashioned sort of shape, yet for all that it seemed to be quite new. It lay there for a bit and then it disappeared again, never to come back. I don't know what Mr. Barr did with it after that."
"How long was this before he gave up the stewardship?" asked Gaylor.
"I can't say exactly, but several weeks at least," returned Miss Maunsell.
The detective took a key from his pocket. (He was not a man to neglect anything.) "Was the key on Mr. Barr's desk at all like this one?" he inquired.
The housekeeper examined it gingerly. "Exactly like, if I remember right," she answered.
Gaylor thanked her, and pocketed the key.
"Was Lady Hereward killed in the Tower?" the woman wanted to know.
"Yes," said the detective.
"That looks rather queer against Mr. Barr, hating her as he did," Miss Maunsell reflected aloud. "Well, well, if he has committed a murder, the sooner it's brought home to him the better, say I. I wouldn't put out my hand to save a brother, if I had one, from justice, so be that he was guilty."
"Had Barr a revolver?" Gaylor asked.
"Oh, yes; he used to keep it in a drawer of his writing desk. Not that I was one to pry; but he didn't try to hide the thing. Sometimes the drawer was left half open, and I couldn't help seeing what was in it, when I was putting the room to rights."
At this, the detective produced a small, new revolver. It had been obtained for this very purpose; that it might be shown to the late housekeeper of Ian Barr. The bullet which had killed Lady Hereward had been extracted from her dead body, and another exactly like it had been found embedded in the wall of the Tower room. As yet, it had not been discovered by whom these cartridges had been sold or bought, nor had the revolver been found, despite diligent search. But the bullets exactly fitted the weapon purchased and brought to Yorkshire by the detective; therefore, it stood to reason that the missing revolver was of the same calibre and of more or less the same description.
"How does this strike you?" he asked Miss Maunsell.
She did not shrink away foolishly as many women do at sight of a weapon.
"That's about the size I should say," she remarked. "And it's very like, too; but Mr. Barr's wasn't so shiny and bright as that."
"What became of the revolver when he went away?"
That I can't tell, because I went before he did. He was to leave a few hours later."
"Well, was the revolver in the drawer when you left?"
"So far as I know. I hadn't seen the drawer open for some days, and he packed for himself, but I suppose it was still there. I don't suppose he took it out."
"Did Miss Verney ever call at Mr. Barr's house?"
"Once, when she'd been walking with him, and was caught in a storm, she came in and had tea. Mr. Barr says to me: 'Miss Maunsell, I've brought in the young lady I hope will be my wife some day—Miss Verney. Please give us the nicest tea and toast you can'; which I did. Other times I used to see Miss Verney occasionally, passing. Perhaps she'd speak to Mr. Barr at the gate, or come for a minute or two into the garden; but never did she show her face our way, I'm sure, after the day that French girl disappeared. Whether she believed anything against Mr. Barr or not, I don't know; but so it was."
"Mr. Barr never said anything to you about Liane?"
"Not he. He would have known better."
"Nor about his reason for leaving Friars' Moat?"
"Not a word. But coming on top of what I'd overheard, I could make a pretty good guess."
"Well, then, that's all I need trouble you about," said the detective, shutting up his note-book. "And I'll do my best to see you're not summoned to the inquest; but of course I can't promise."
"Anyhow, I shan't go," snapped Miss Maunseil.