Excerpt: 'The Leavenworth Case'

The Leavenworth Case
The Leavenworth Case
By Anna Katharine Green
Paperback, 352 pages
Penguin Classics
List price: $16

I had been a junior partner in the firm of Veeley, Carr & Raymond, attorneys and counselors at law, for about a year, when one morning, in the temporary absence of both Mr. Veeley and Mr. Carr, there came into our office a young man whose whole appearance was so indicative of haste and agitation that I involuntarily rose as he approached, and advanced to meet him.

"What is the matter, sir?" I inquired. "You have no bad news to tell me, I hope?"

"I have come to see Mr. Veeley; is he in?"

"No," I replied; "he was unexpectedly called away this morning to Washington; he cannot be home before tomorrow, but if you will make your business known to me —"

"To you, sir?" interrupted he, turning a very cold, but steady eye on mine; then seeming to be satisfied with his scrutiny, continued:

"There is no reason why I shouldn't; my business is no secret. I came to inform him that Mr. Leavenworth is dead."

"Mr. Leavenworth!" I exclaimed, falling back a step. Mr. Leavenworth was an old client of our firm, to say nothing of his being the particular friend of Mr. Veeley.

"Yes, murdered; shot through the head by some unknown person while sitting at his library table."

"Shot! Murdered!"

I could scarcely believe my ears. What! The genial, whole-souled old gentleman, who but a week before had stood in that very spot, twitting me with my bachelorhood and asking me in the same breath to come to his house and see what he had there to show me! I stared at the man beside me, half incredulously.

"How? When?" I gasped.

"Last night. At least so we suppose. He was not found till this morning. I am Mr. Leavenworth's private secretary," he explained, "and live in the family. It was a dreadful shock," he went on, "especially to the ladies."

"Dreadful!" I repeated. "Mr. Veeley will be overwhelmed by it."

"They are all alone," continued he in a low business-like way I afterward found to be inseparable from the man; "the Misses Leavenworth I mean — Mr. Leavenworth's nieces; and as an inquest is to be held there today, it is deemed proper they should have someone present capable of advising them. As Mr. Veeley was their uncle's best friend, they naturally sent me for him, but he being absent, I don't know what to do or where to go."

"Well," replied I, "I am a stranger to the ladies, but if I can be of any assistance to them, my respect for their uncle is such —"

The expression of the secretary's eye stopped me. Without seeming to wander from my face, its pupil had suddenly dilated till it appeared to embrace my whole person within its scope.

"I don't know," remarked he finally, a slight frown testifying to the fact that he was not altogether pleased with the turn affairs were taking. "Perhaps it would be best. The ladies must not be left alone —"

"Say no more," interrupted I; "I will go." And sitting down I dispatched a hurried message to Mr. Veeley, after which, and the few other preparations necessary, I accompanied the secretary to the street.

"Now," said I, "tell me all you know of this frightful affair."

"All I know? A few words will do that. I left him last night sitting as usual at his library table, and found him this morning, seated in the same place, almost in the same position, but with a bullet hole in his head as large as the end of my little finger."

"Dead?"

"Stone dead."

"Horrible!" I exclaimed. Then, after a moment: "Could it have been a suicide?"

"No. The pistol with which the deed was committed is not to be found."

"But if it was a murder, there must have been some motive. Mr. Leavenworth was too benevolent a man to have enemies, and if robbery was intended —"

"There was no robbery. There is nothing missing," he again interrupted. "The whole affair is a mystery."

"A mystery?"

"An utter mystery."

Turning, I looked at my informant curiously. The inmate of a house in which a mysterious murder had occurred was rather an interesting object. But the good-featured and yet totally unimpressive countenance of the man beside me offered but little basis for even the wildest imagination to work upon, and glancing almost immediately away I asked:

"Are the ladies very much overcome?"

He took at least a half-dozen steps before replying.

"It would be unnatural if they were not," he said at last; and whether it was the expression of his face at the time or the nature of the reply itself, I felt that in speaking of these ladies to this uninteresting, self- possessed secretary of the late Mr. Leavenworth, I was somehow treading upon dangerous ground. As I had heard they were very accomplished women, I was not altogether pleased at this discovery. It was, therefore, with a certain consciousness of relief that I saw a Fifth Avenue stage approach.

Excerpted from The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green, copyright 2010. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Classics.

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