The coroner, who fully realized that
for that one day of his life as a provincial solicitor
he was living in the gaze of the world, had resolved
to be worthy of the fleeting eminence. He was
a large man of jovial temper, with a strong interest
in the dramatic aspects of his work, and the news
of Manderson’s mysterious death within his jurisdiction
had made him the happiest coroner in England.
A respectable capacity for marshaling facts was fortified
in him by a copiousness of impressive language that
made juries as clay in his hands and sometimes disguised
a doubtful interpretation of the rules of evidence.
The court was held in a long unfurnished
room lately built onto the hotel, and intended to
serve as a ball-room or concert-hall. A regiment
of reporters was entrenched in the front seats, and
those who were to be called on to give evidence occupied
chairs to one side of the table behind which the coroner
sat, while the jury, in double row, with plastered
hair and a spurious ease of manner, flanked him on
the other side. An undistinguished public filled
the rest of the space, and listened, in an awed silence,
to the opening solemnities. The newspaper men,
well used to these, muttered among themselves.
Those of them who knew Trent by sight, assured the
rest that he was not in the court.
The identity of the dead man was proved
by his wife, the first witness called, from whom the
coroner, after some inquiry into the health and circumstances
of the deceased, proceeded to draw an account of the
last occasion on which she had seen her husband alive.
Mrs. Manderson was taken through her evidence by the
coroner with the sympathy which every man felt for
that dark figure of grief. She lifted her thick
veil before beginning to speak, and the extreme paleness
and unbroken composure of the lady produced a singular
impression. This was not an impression of hardness.
Interesting femininity was the first thing to be felt
in her presence. She was not even enigmatic.
It was only clear that the force of a powerful character
was at work to master the emotions of her situation.
Once or twice as she spoke she touched her eyes with
her handkerchief, but her voice was low and clear
to the end.
Her husband, she said, had come up
to his bedroom about his usual hour for retiring on
the Sunday night. His room was really a dressing-room
attached to her own bedroom, communicating with it
by a door which was usually kept open during the night.
Both dressing-room and bedroom were entered by other
doors giving on the passage. Her husband had always
had a preference for the greatest simplicity in his
bedroom arrangements, and liked to sleep in a small
room. She had not been awake when he came up,
but had been half-aroused, as usually happened, when
the light was switched on in her husband’s room.
She had spoken to him. She had no clear recollection
of what she had said, as she had been very drowsy at
the time; but she had remembered that he had been out
for a moonlight run in the car, and she believed she
had asked whether he had had a good run, and what
time it was. She had asked what the time was because
she felt as if she had only been a very short time
asleep, and she had expected her husband to be out
very late. In answer to her question he had told
her it was half-past eleven, and had gone on to say
that he had changed his mind about going for a run.
“Did he say why?” the coroner asked.
“Yes,” replied the lady,
“he did explain why. I remember very well
what he said, because ” she stopped
with a little appearance of confusion.
“Because ” the coroner insisted
“Because my husband was not
as a rule communicative about his business affairs,”
answered the witness, raising her chin with a faint
touch of defiance. “He did not did
not think they would interest me, and as a rule referred
to them as little as possible. That is why I was
rather surprised when he told me that he had sent
Mr. Marlowe to Southampton to bring back some important
information from a man who was leaving for Paris by
the next day’s boat. He said that Mr. Marlowe
could do it quite easily if he had no accident.
He said that he had started in the car, and then walked
back home a mile or so, and felt all the better for
“Did he say any more?”
“Nothing, as well as I remember,”
the witness said. “I was very sleepy, and
I dropped off again in a few moments. I just remember
my husband turning his light out, and that is all.
I never saw him again alive.”
“And you heard nothing in the night?”
“No; I never woke until my maid
brought my tea in the morning at seven o’clock.
She closed the door leading to my husband’s room,
as she always did, and I supposed him to be still
there. He always needed a great deal of sleep.
He sometimes slept until quite late in the morning.
I had breakfast in my sitting-room. It was about
ten when I heard that my husband’s body had
been found.” The witness dropped her head
and silently waited for her dismissal.
But it was not to be yet.
The coroner’s voice was sympathetic, but it had
a hint of firmness in it now. “The question
I am going to put to you must, in these sad circumstances,
be a painful one; but it is my duty to ask it.
Is it the fact that your relations with your late husband
had not been, for some time past, relations of mutual
affection and confidence? Is it the fact that
there was an estrangement between you?”
The lady drew herself up again and
faced her questioner, the color rising in her cheeks.
“If that question is necessary,” she said
with cold distinctness, “I will answer it so
that there shall be no misunderstanding. During
the last few months of my husband’s life his
attitude towards me had given me great anxiety and
sorrow. He had changed towards me; he had become
very reserved and seemed mistrustful. I saw much
less of him than before; he seemed to prefer to be
alone. I can give no explanation at all of the
change. I tried to work against it; I did all
I could with justice to my own dignity, as I thought.
Something was between us, I did not know what, and
he never told me. My own obstinate pride prevented
me from asking what it was in so many words; I only
made a point of being to him exactly as I had always
been, so far as he would allow me. I suppose
I shall never know now what it was.” The
witness, whose voice had trembled in spite of her
self-control, over the last few sentences, drew down
her veil when she had said this, and stood erect and
One of the jury asked a question,
not without obvious hesitation. “Then was
there never anything of the nature of what they call
Words between you and your husband, ma’am?”
“Never.” The word
was colorlessly spoken; but everyone felt that a crass
misunderstanding of the possibilities of conduct in
the case of a person like Mrs. Manderson had been
visited with some severity.
Did she know, the coroner asked, of
any other matter which might have been preying upon
her husband’s mind recently?
Mrs. Manderson knew of none whatever.
The coroner intimated that her ordeal was at an end,
and the veiled lady made her way to the door.
The general attention, which followed her for a few
moments, was now eagerly directed upon Martin, whom
the coroner had proceeded to call.
It was at this moment that Trent appeared
at the doorway, and edged his way into the great room.
But he did not look at Martin. He was observing
the well-balanced figure that came quickly toward him
along an opening path in the crowd, and his eye was
gloomy. He started, as he stood aside from the
door with a slight bow, to hear Mrs. Manderson address
him by name in a low voice. He followed her a
pace or two into the hall.
“I wanted to ask you,”
she said in a voice now weak and oddly broken, “if
you would give me your arm a part of the way to the
house. I could not see my uncle near the door,
and I suddenly felt rather faint.... I shall
be better in the air.... No, no! I cannot
stay here please, Mr. Trent!” she
said, as he began to make an obvious suggestion.
“I must go to the house.” Her hand
tightened momentarily on his arm as if, for all her
weakness, she could drag him from the place; then again
she leaned heavily upon it, and with that support,
and with bent head, she walked slowly from the hotel
and along the oak-shaded path toward White Gables.
Trent went in silence, his thoughts
whirling, dancing insanely to a chorus of “Fool!
fool!” All that he alone knew, all that he guessed
and suspected of this affair rushed through his brain
in a rout; but the touch of her unnerved hand upon
his arm never for an instant left his consciousness,
filling him with an exaltation that enraged and bewildered
him. He was still cursing himself furiously behind
the mask of conventional solicitude that he turned
to the lady when he had attended her to the house,
and seen her sink upon a couch in the morning room.
Raising her veil, she thanked him gravely and frankly,
with a look of sincere gratitude in her eyes.
She was much better now, she said, and a cup of tea
would work a miracle upon her. She hoped she had
not taken him away from anything important. She
was ashamed of herself; she thought she could go through
with it, but she had not expected those last questions.
“I am glad you did not hear me,” she said
when he explained. “But of course you will
read it all in the reports. It shook me so to
have to speak of that,” she added simply, “and
to keep from making an exhibition of myself took it
out of me. And all those staring men by the door!
Thank you again for helping me when I asked you....
I thought I might,” she ended queerly, with
a little tired smile; and Trent took himself away,
his hand still quivering from the cool touch of her