The fierce sunlight of a sultry afternoon in the early part of July forced its way through every crevice and cranny of the closely drawn shutters in the luxurious private offices of Mainwaring & Co., Stock Brokers, and slender shafts of light, darting here and there, lent a rich glow of color to the otherwise subdued tones of the elegant apartments.
A glance at the four occupants of one of these rooms, who had disposed themselves in various attitudes according to their individual inclinations, revealed the fact that three out of the four were Englishmen, while the fourth might have been denominated as a typical American from the professional class. Of rather slender form, with a face of rare sensitiveness and delicacy, and restless, penetrating eyes, his every movement indicated energy and alertness. On the present occasion he had little to say, but was engaged in listening attentively to the conversation of the others.
Beside a rosewood desk, whose belongings, arranged with mathematical precision, indicated the methodical business habits of its owner, sat Hugh Mainwaring, senior member of the firm of Mainwaring & Co., a man approaching his fiftieth birthday. His dress and manners, less pronouncedly English than those of the remaining two, betokened the polished man of the world as well as the shrewd financier. He wore an elegant business suit and his linen was immaculate; his hair, dark and slightly tinged with gray, was closely cut; his smoothly shaven face, less florid than those of his companions, was particularly noticeable on account of a pair of dark gray eyes, cold and calculating, and which had at times a steel-like glitter. Though an attractive face, it was not altogether pleasing; it was too sensuous, and indicated stubbornness and self-will rather than firmness or strength.
Half reclining upon a couch on the opposite side of the room, in an attitude more comfortable than graceful, leisurely smoking a fine Havana, was Ralph Mainwaring, of London, a cousin of the New York broker, who, at the invitation of the latter, was paying his first visit to the great western metropolis. Between the two cousins there were few points of resemblance. Both had the same cold, calculating gaze, which made one, subjected to its scrutiny, feel that he was being mentally weighed and measured and would, in all probability, be found lacking; but the Londoner possessed a more phlegmatic temperament. A year or two his cousin’s junior, he looked considerably younger; as his hair and heavy English side whiskers were unmixed with gray and he was inclined to stoutness.
Seated near him, in an immense arm-chair which he filled admirably, was William Mainwaring Thornton, of London, also a guest of Hugh Mainwaring and distantly connected with the two cousins. He was the youngest of the three Englishmen and the embodiment of geniality. He was a blond of the purest type, and his beard, parted in the centre, was brushed back in two wavy, silken masses, while his clear blue eyes, beaming with kindliness and good-humor, had the frankness of a child’s.
Hugh Mainwaring, the sole heir to the family estate, soon after the death of his father, some twenty-five years previous to this time, became weary of the monotony of his English homelife, and, resolved upon making his permanent home in one of the large eastern cities of the United States and embarking upon the uncertain and treacherous seas of speculation in the western world, had sold the estate which for a number of generations had been in the possession of the Mainwarings, and had come to America. In addition to his heavy capital, he had invested a large amount of keen business tact and ability; his venture had met with almost phenomenal success and he had acquired immense wealth besides his inherited fortune.
His more conservative cousin, Ralph Mainwaring, while never quite forgiving him for having disposed of the estate, had, nevertheless, with the shrewdness and foresight for which his family were noted, given to his only son the name of Hugh Mainwaring, confident that his American-English cousin would never marry, and hoping thereby to win back the old Mainwaring estate into his own line of the family. His bit of strategy had succeeded; and now, after more than twenty years, his foresight and worldly wisdom were about to be rewarded, for the occasion of this reunion between the long-separated cousins was the celebration of the rapidly approaching fiftieth birthday of Hugh Mainwaring, at which time Hugh Mainwaring, Jr., would attain his majority, and in recognition of that happy event the New York millionaire broker had announced his intention of making his will in favor of his namesake, and on that day formally declaring him his lawful heir.
This had been the object of the conference in the private office of Hugh Mainwaring, and now that it was over and all necessary arrangements had been made, that gentleman turned from his desk with a sigh of relief.
“I am heartily glad that this business is over,” he said, addressing his guests; “it has been on my mind for some time, and I have consulted with Mr. Whitney about it,” with a slight nod towards the fourth gentleman, who was his attorney and legal adviser. “We have both felt that it should have been attended to before this; and yet, as I considered this would be the most fitting time to make a final adjustment of affairs, I have on that account delayed longer than I otherwise would have done. Now everything is arranged in a manner satisfactory, I trust, to all parties immediately concerned, and nothing remains but to draw up and execute the papers, which will be done to-morrow.”
“You are not then troubled with any unpleasant superstitions regarding the making of a will?” commented Mr. Thornton.
“No,” replied the other, slowly. “I am not of the opinion that it will hasten my exit from this world; but even if it did, I would have the satisfaction of knowing that my own wishes would be carried out in the settlement of my estate, and that no one would derive any benefit from my demise excepting those whom I consider legally entitled thereto.”
Ralph Mainwaring looked curiously at his cousin through half-closed eyes.
“I suppose,” he remarked, very deliberately, “that even in case there were no will the property would revert to our branch of the family; we are the nearest of kin, you know.”
“Yes, I know your family would be considered the lawful heirs,” Hugh Mainwaring replied, while he and Mr. Whitney exchanged glances; “but this is not England; here any common adventurer might come forward with some pretended claim against the estate, and I prefer to see affairs definitely settled in my own way.”
“Of course,” responded the other, resuming his cigar. “Well, speaking for myself, I am more than willing to relinquish any share I might have had for the boy’s sake, and I don’t suppose, Thornton, that you have any objections to raise on Edith’s account.”
“Oh, no, no,” replied that gentleman, with a pleasant laugh. “I never considered Hugh a bad son-in-law to begin with, but I’ll admit he is a little more attractive now than ever.”
The little clock on the marble mantel chimed the hour of four, causing a general movement of surprise. “‘Pon my soul! had no idea it was that late,” exclaimed Mr. Thornton, taking out his watch, while Hugh Mainwaring, touching an electric button, replied,—
“This business has detained us much longer than I anticipated. I will give some instructions to the head clerk, and we will leave at once.”
He had scarcely finished speaking, when a door opened noiselessly and a middle-aged man appeared.
“Parsons,” said Mr. Mainwaring, addressing him in quick, incisive tones, “I am going out to Fair Oaks, and probably shall not be at the office for two or three days, unless something of unusual importance should demand my presence. Refer all business callers to Mr. Elliott or Mr. Chittenden. Any personal calls, if specially important, just say that I can be found at Fair Oaks.”
Parsons bowed gravely, and after a few further instructions retired.
“Now, Mr. Whitney,” Hugh Mainwaring continued, at the same time touching another electric button, “you, of course, will be one of our party at Fair Oaks; my secretary will accompany us, and the papers will be drawn up to-morrow in my private library, after which you will do us the honor to join us in the pleasures of the following day.”
“I am at your service, Mr. Mainwaring,” responded the attorney; “but,” he added, in low tones, intended only for Hugh Mainwaring’s ear, but which were heard distinctly by the private secretary, now standing beside the desk, “would it not be better to draw up the will here, in your private office? My presence at the house on the present occasion might attract attention and arouse some suspicions as to your intentions.”
“That makes no difference,” replied Hugh Mainwaring, quickly, but also speaking in a low tone; “my private papers are all at the house, and I choose that this business shall be conducted there. I believe that I am master in my own house yet.”
Mr. Whitney bowed in acquiescence, and Hugh Mainwaring turned to his secretary,—
“Mr. Scott, just close up everything in the office as quickly as possible and get ready to accompany me to Fair Oaks; I shall need you there for two or three days.”
It was not the first time the private secretary had accompanied Mr. Mainwaring to his elegant suburban residence, and he understood perfectly what was expected of him, and immediately withdrew to make his preparations as expeditiously as possible.
For some reason, which Hugh Mainwaring had never stopped to explain even to himself, he always accorded to his private secretary much more respect and consideration than to any one of his other numerous employees.
Harry Scott was not only a young man of superior education and good breeding, but what particularly impressed his employer in his favor was a certain natural reserve which caused him to hold himself aloof from his associates in the offices of Mainwaring & Co., and an innate refinement and delicacy which kept him, under all circumstances, from any gaucherie on the one hand, or undue familiarity on the other; he was always respectful but never servile. He had been in the employ of Hugh Mainwaring for a little more than a year, and, having frequently accompanied him to Fair Oaks to remain for a day or two, was, consequently, quite familiar with the house and grounds.
As he re-entered the room, having exchanged his business suit for one more suitable to the occasion, there was not one present but what instinctively, though perhaps unconsciously, recognized in him a true gentleman and treated him as such. Tall, with a splendid physique, finely shaped head, dark hair, and eyes of peculiar beauty, he was far from being the least attractive member of the party which, a few moments later, entered the Mainwaring carriage, with its coat of arms, and rolled away in the direction of Fair Oaks.
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by Anna Maynard Barbour, 1990
Image by Katarzyna Bruniewska-Gierczak