- CHAPTER XXIV. MRS. GASTON LATHAM.
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MRS. GASTON LATHAM.
SOLICITOR WENDELL HAYNES sat at his desk, at half past two, seemingly busy, while across the room, at a smaller desk, sat a second person, with his shoulder toward the outer door, and a screen partially concealing him. From the inner room came the low hum of voices. At the side of the room where the clerk's desk stood, and the tall bookcase towered before the concealed door, the curtains were lowered; but there was a strong light upon the solicitor's corner, and upon the chair, placed near his desk, manifestly, for a visitor.
When Ferrars appeared without the disguise he was expected to wear, the solicitor wondered. But the detective explained in a few words. He had made certain discoveries which would enable him to end a very unpleasant piece of business at once, he hoped. And his disguise would only hamper him.| | 293
"I must ask you, however, to add something to your rôle," he said finally, and at once made plain what more would be required of the solicitor.
As for Ruth Glidden, she had waited in dignified silence, and much to the wonder of the politely reserved solicitor, until Ferrars appeared, and then she went straight to his side.
"Mr. Ferrars," she said, so low that the others caught only the soft murmur, "It came to me, almost at the last moment, that a woman might not be amiss here now if she comes alone. You can trust me, surely?"
Ferrars gave her a sudden look of gratitude. "Thank you for showing me my own brutality," he replied. "I can trust you, and I do thank you; there could have been no one else." And Ruth went back to the inner room smiling a little, as she met her lover's eye.
To guard against all emergencies, the detective had left with the inspector a card telling him, and his men, where a telegram would reach him at different hours of the day, and at a quarter past two a message arrived, bearing the signature of the Swiss.
"Q. H. and a lady on the way to meet you now."
So it ran, and having read it, Ferrars asked:
"Is your boy safe, Mr. Haynes? and trusty?"| | 294
"Quite. I find him really valuable."
"Then please instruct him to go and bring a brace of policemen, as soon as he has shown the next arrivals in." And he held out the telegram by way of explanation, adding, as the solicitor read and returned it, "The man is coming, too. I can't just see why. But we will soon know. By the way, that door on the north side, in the inner room; where does it lead one?"
"Into a side hall, connecting with the other."
"I thought so. Then, as soon as they are in, I will just slip out, myself, and see my man, who won't be far from your door, you may be sure, once his quarry is inside. He will be needed, perhaps, to serve the warrant, which he carries, ready for an emergency. Hist!"
There was the sound of an opening door, and, as Ferrars seated himself, the office boy entered and announced the two visitors.
The lady, who entered and bowed in stately fashion to the solicitor, was all in gray, except where, here and there, a bit of violet protruded. The hair, which was white, rather than gray, was worn low about the ears, and rolled back from the centre of the forehead, giving an effect of length to the face. The eyes looked dark, behind their gold rimmed glasses, and seemed set far back, in dark hollows. The mouth was slightly sunken, but the cheeks and chin, though pale, were sound and | | 295 smooth, and the brow showed a scarcely perceptible wrinkle, beneath a veil of gray gauze spotted with black. She had a plump figure, its fulness accentuated by her rustling gray silk gown, with its spreading mantle glittering with steel beads, and finished with a thick, outstanding ruche at the neck. Atop of the high coifed white hair, sat a dainty Parisian bonnet, all gray beads and violets, and the small hands were daintily gloved, in pearl gray.
"I have taken the liberty of bringing my husband's brother, Mr. Haynes," she said, as she advanced into the room, "Mr. Harry Latham."
The tall, dark fellow behind her advanced, and proffered a hand with an air of easy geniality.
"Mrs. Latham," he explained, "fancied I might be of some use by way of identification. I hope my presence is not de trop; if so--"
"You are very welcome, sir. Sit down, pray, and we will begin our little inquiry. You have brought the papers, Mrs. Latham?"
Mrs. Latham, who had been looking with something like disapproval upon her aristocratic face, toward the partly visible person behind the screen, turned toward the speaker, and, as she advanced to lay a packet of papers, produced from a little bag, upon the desk, the solicitor called out, as if by her suggestion, "Richards, I | | 296 shall not need you for an hour or more." And before the lady could turn toward him again, the man at the desk had vanished through the door just at his back. Glancing toward this closed door, the lady seated herself, and drew the packet toward her. "I suppose we may begin with these?" she said, untying the packet with deft fingers, and laying the papers one by one upon the desk before the solicitor, as she talked. "I think all the needed proofs are here; my marriage certificate, and that of my mother as well; other family papers that may, or may not, be of use--letters relating to family matters and to the Paisleys of an earlier day--a copy of the will of Hugo Paisley the first, letters announcing the deaths of various members of the family; also a copy of my grandfather's will. I think you will find them quite correct, and conclusive." She stopped, and looked at him inquiringly. "You will need to examine them, of course, if only for form's sake?" she asked, somewhat crisply.
"Possibly, yes. All in good time, madam." The solicitor took up one of the papers, and glanced at the first words.
"I would like to ask," now spoke Harry Latham, "how soon--supposing of course all things are correct, and Mrs. Latham's claim proved--how soon can she | | 297 take personal and complete possession of the property? I am a busy man, myself, and my time----"
"I fancy you will not be needed after to-day," broke in Mr. Haynes, somewhat abruptly. "As to the property, once the claim is proven there need not be a day's delay. The late incumbent was a very far-seeing person." He turned abruptly to Mrs. Latham. "Madam, may I ask why you were not more prompt in putting forward your claim to so fine an estate?"
She turned toward him with a slow smile.
"That is a most natural question. I did not at first imagine myself a claimant; a certain Hugo Paisley, the younger, or his heirs, was before me in the line of succession, and I have waited to see if they would not be heard from. I had no wish to claim that which might not have been mine."
"And you are satisfied now that no such heirs exist? Of course this must be proven."
"Of course, I have been at some pains, and to much expense, to learn if there were such heirs. With the help of friends we made inquiry in the United States, where Hugo went years ago. He was never heard of again."
"And was your search rewarded by definite news?"
"By an accident we learned of a member of the family, and through him traced all the remaining ones. They were three, a mother, the great granddaughter of Hugo | | 298 Paisley, and two sons. The mother has been dead some years. They were not a rugged family."
"Consumption," came from the dark man at her elbow.
"Yes, consumption. The two sons died within a few months of each other."
"I see. And of course you have the proofs of death?"
"They can readily be proved at need," the lady coldly answered.
"Then there remains but one more question, where you are concerned. Supposing your claim to be disputed, could you prove beyond a doubt that you are the Bessie Cramer, who was the last descendant in this country of the Paisleys, your mother having been a Paisley?"
"And you are then able to furnish proof that there was no other Mrs. Gaston Latham? That Gaston Latham married only one wife?"
A loud laugh broke upon this speech, and the man arose.
"Would the word of Gaston's only brother be of any worth as a witness to the marriage, the only marriage of his only brother? Fortunately I knew Miss Bessie Cramer as a slim young girl. I was a boy in round-abouts then."
Solicitor Haynes arose, and looked gravely down | | 299 upon his client, ignoring the man's words, and even his presence.
"I must tell you, Mrs. Latham, that there has been a claim set up by the American heirs."
"There are no heirs!" warmly.
"Only yesterday I had a visit from an American gentleman, a Mr. Myers, attorney-at-law. Do you know of him?"
"I know no Americans, and very little of the country."
"Then you have never crossed the ocean?"
"No, indeed! It's quite enough for me to cross the channel."
"Mr. Myers has presented a claim." The solicitor's eyes were narrowing.
"For--a--I think the name is Brierly; as I was about to say, having made an appointment with you, I thought it best that you should meet him." He touched the bell at his side, as he spoke the last word.
"But," interposed the man, "this is some old claim, or else a fraud! The Brierlys are dead!" The last words harshly guttural.
The office boy had entered now, and Mr. Haynes quietly gave his order.
"See if Mr. Myers is in number seventeen, William."
"Mr. Haynes," said Mrs. Latham, with a touch of | | 300 haughtiness, "Why should I need to see this man? These deaths can be proved." The solicitor bowed formally. "So much the worse for Mr. Myers and his claim," he said. "Of course you must meet him; there's no other alternative. He is a gentleman, and he certainly believes in his claim."
"He's not up to date, then," interposed the brother-in-law, somewhat coarsely, and even as he spoke the door opened, and Mr. Myers, having taken his way around by the side hall, entered, hat in hand.
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