Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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PREFATORY

The first meeting between Mr. Barnes, the detective, and Robert Leroy Mitchel, the gentleman who imagines himself to be able to outdo detectives in their own line of work, was fully set forth in the narrative entitled An Artist in Crime. Subsequently the two men occupied themselves with the solution of a startling murder mystery, the details of which were recorded in The Crime of the Century. The present volume contains the history of several cases which attracted their attention in the interval between those already given to the world, the first having occured shortly after the termination of the events in An Artist in Crime, and the others in the order here given, so that in a sense these stories are continuous and interdependent.

R. O.

I
THE PH?NIX OF CRIME

I

Mr. Mitchel was still at breakfast one morning, when the card of Mr. Barnes was brought to him by his man Williams.

"Show Mr. Barnes in here," said he. "I imagine that he must be in a hurry to see me, else he would not call so early."

A few minutes later the detective entered, saying:

"It is very kind of you to let me come in without waiting. I hope that I am not intruding."

"Not at all. As to being kind, why I am kind to myself. I knew you must have something interesting on hand to bring you around so early, and I am proportionately curious; at the same time I hate to go without my coffee, and I do not like to drink it too fast, especially good coffee, and this is good, I assure you. Draw up and have a cup, for I observe that you came off in such a hurry this morning that you did not get any."

"Why, thank you, I will take some, but how do you know that I came off in a hurry and had no coffee at home? It seems to me that if you can tell that, you are becoming as clever as the famous Sherlock Holmes."

"Oh, no, indeed! You and I can hardly expect to be as shrewd as the detectives of romance. As to my guessing that you have had no coffee, that is not very troublesome. I notice three drops of milk on your coat, and one on your shoe, from which I deduce, first, that you have had no coffee, for a man who has his coffee in the morning is not apt to drink a glass of milk besides. Second, you must have left home in a hurry, or you would have had that coffee. Third, you took your glass of milk at the ferry-house of the Staten Island boat, probably finding that you had a minute to spare; this is evident because the milk spots on the tails of your frock-coat and on your shoe show that you were standing when you drank, and leaned over to avoid dripping the fluid on your clothes. Had you been seated, the coat tails would have been spread apart, and drippings would have fallen on your trousers. The fact that in spite of your precautions the accident did occur, and yet escaped your notice, is further proof, not only of your hurry, but also that your mind was abstracted, – absorbed no doubt with the difficult problem about which you have come to talk with me.

How is my guess?"

"Correct in every detail. Sherlock Holmes could have done no better. But we will drop him and get down to my case, which, I assure you, is more astounding than any, either in fact or fiction, that has come to my knowledge."

"Go ahead! Your opening argument promises a good play. Proceed without further waste of words."

"First, then, let me ask you, have you read the morning's papers?"

"Just glanced through the death reports, but had gotten no further when you came in."

"There is one death report, then, that has escaped your attention, probably because the notice of it occupies three columns. It is another metropolitan mystery. Shall I read it to you? I glanced through it in bed this morning and found it so absorbing that, as you guessed, I hurried over here to discuss it with you, not stopping to get my breakfast."

"In that case you might better attack an egg or two, and let me read the article myself."

Mr. Mitchel took the paper from Mr. Barnes, who pointed out to him the article in question, which, under appropriate sensational headlines, read as follows:

"The account of a most astounding mystery is reported to-day for the first time, though the body of the deceased, now thought to have been murdered, was taken from the East River several days ago. The facts are as follows. On Tuesday last, at about six o'clock in the morning, several boys were enjoying an early swim in the river near Eighty-fifth Street, when one who had made a deep dive, on reaching the surface scrambled out of the water, evidently terrified. His companions crowded about him asking what he had seen, and to them he declared that there was a 'drownded man down there.' This caused the boys to lose all further desire to go into the water, and while they hastily scrambled into their clothes they discussed the situation, finally deciding that the proper course would be to notify the police, one boy, however, wiser than the others, declaring that he 'washed his hands of the affair' if they should do so, because he was not 'going to be held as no witness.' In true American fashion, nevertheless, the majority ruled, and in a body the boys marched to the station-house and reported their discovery. Detectives were sent to investigate, and after dragging the locality for half an hour the body of a man was drawn out of the water. The corpse was taken to the Morgue, and the customary red tape was slowly unwound. At first the police thought that it was a case of accidental drowning, no marks of violence having been found on the body, which had evidently been in the water but a few hours. Thus no special report of the case was made in the press. Circumstances have developed at the autopsy, however, which make it probable that New Yorkers are to be treated to another of the wonderful mysteries which occur all too frequently in the metropolis. The first point of significance is the fact, on which all the surgeons agree, that the man was dead when placed in the water. Secondly, the doctors claim that he died of disease, and not from any cause which would point to a crime. This conclusion seems highly improbable, for who would throw into the water the body of one who had died naturally, and with what object could such a singular course have been pursued? Indeed this claim of the doctors is so preposterous that a second examination of the body has been ordered, and will occur to-day, when several of our most prominent surgeons will be present. The third, and by far the most extraordinary circumstance, is the alleged identification of the corpse. It seems that one of the surgeons officiating at the first autopsy was attracted by a peculiar mark upon the face of the corpse. At first it was thought that this was merely a bruise caused by something striking the body while in the water, but a closer examination proved it to be a skin disease known as 'lichen.' It appears that there are several varieties of this disease, some of which are quite well known. That found on the face of the corpse, however, is a very rare form, only two other cases having been recorded in this country. This is a fact of the highest importance in relation to the events which have followed. Not unnaturally, the doctors became greatly interested. One of these, Dr. Elliot, the young surgeon who first examined it closely, having never seen any examples of lichen before, spoke of it that evening at a meeting of his medical society. Having looked up the literature relating to the disease in the interval, he was enabled to give the technical name of this very rare form of the disease. At this, another physician present arose, and declared that it seemed to him a most extraordinary coincidence that this case had been reported, for he himself had recently treated an exactly similar condition for a patient who had finally died, his death having occurred within a week. A lengthy and of course very technical discussion ensued, with the result that Dr. Mortimer, the physician who had treated the case of the patient who had so recently died, arranged with Dr. Elliot to go with him on the following day and examine the body at the Morgue. This he did, and, to the great amazement of his colleague, he then declared, that the body before him was none other than that of his own patient, supposed to have been buried. When the authorities learned of this, they summoned the family of the deceased, two brothers and the widow. All of these persons viewed the corpse separately, and each declared most emphatically that it was the body of the man whose funeral they had followed. Under ordinary circumstances, so complete an identification of a body would leave no room for doubt, but what is to be thought when we are informed by the family and friends of the deceased that the corpse had been cremated? That the mourners had seen the coffin containing the body placed in the furnace, and had waited patiently during the incineration? And that later the ashes of the dear departed had been delivered to them, to be finally deposited in an urn in the family vault, where it still is with contents undisturbed? It does not lessen the mystery to know that the body in the Morgue (or the ashes at the cemetery) represents all that is left of one of our most esteemed citizens, Mr. Rufus Quadrant, a gentleman who in life enjoyed that share of wealth which made it possible for him to connect his name with so many charities; a gentleman whose family in the past and in the present has ever been and still is above the breath of suspicion. Evidently there is a mystery that will try the skill of our very best detectives."

"That last line reads like a challenge to the gentlemen of your profession," said Mr. Mitchel to Mr. Barnes as he put down the paper.

"I needed no such spur to urge me to undertake to unravel this case, which certainly has most astonishing features."

"Suppose we enumerate the important data and discover what reliable deduction may be made therefrom."

"That is what I have done a dozen times, with no very satisfactory result. First, we learn that a man is found in the river upon whose face there is a curious distinguishing mark in the form of one of the rarest of skin diseases. Second, a man has recently died who was similarly afflicted. The attending physician declares upon examination that the body taken from the river is the body of his patient. Third, the family agree that this identification is correct. Fourth, this second dead man was cremated. Query, how can a man's body be cremated, and then be found whole in the river subsequently? No such thing has been related in fact or fiction since the beginning of the world."

"Not so fast, Mr. Barnes. What of the Ph?nix?"

"Why, the living young Ph?nix arose from the ashes of his dead ancestor. But here we have seemingly a dead body re-forming from its own ashes, the ashes meanwhile remaining intact and unaltered. A manifest impossibility."

"Ah; then we arrive at our first reliable deduction, Mr. Barnes."

"Which is?"

"Which is that, despite the doctors, we have two bodies to deal with. The ashes in the vault represent one, while the body at the Morgue is another."

"Of course. So much is apparent, but you say the body at the Morgue is another, and I ask you, which other?"

"That we must learn. As you appear to be seeking my views in this case I will give them to you, though of course I have nothing but this newspaper account, which may be inaccurate. Having concluded beyond all question that there are two bodies in this case, our first effort must be to determine which is which. That is to say, we must discover whether this man, Rufus Quadrant, was really cremated, which certainly ought to be the case, or whether, by some means, another body has been exchanged for his, by accident or by design, and if so, whose body that was."

"If it turns out that the body at the Morgue is really that of Mr. Quadrant, then, of course, as you say, some other man's body was cremated, and – "

"Why may it not have been a woman's?"

"You are right, and that only makes the point to which I was about to call your attention more forcible. If an unknown body has been incinerated, how can we ever identify it?"

"I do not know. But we have not arrived at that bridge yet. The first step is to reach a final conclusion in regard to the body at the Morgue. There are several things to be inquired into, there."

"I wish you would enumerate them."

"With pleasure. First, the autopsy is said to have shown that the man died a natural death, that is, that disease, and not one of his fellow-beings, killed him. What disease was this, and was it the same as that which caused the death of Mr. Quadrant? If the coroner's physicians declared what disease killed the man, and named the same as that which carried off Mr. Quadrant, remembering that the body before them was unknown, we would have a strong corroboration of the alleged identification."

"Very true. That will be easily learned."

"Next, as to this lichen. I should think it important to know more of that. Is it because the two cases are examples of the same rare variety of the disease, or was there something so distinct about the location and area or shape of the diseased surface, that the doctor could not possibly be mistaken? – for doctors do make mistakes, you know."

"Yes, just as detectives do," said Mr. Barnes, smiling, as he made notes of Mr. Mitchel's suggestions.

"If you learn that the cause of death was the same, and that the lichen was not merely similar but identical, I should think that there could be little reason for longer doubting the identification. But if not fully satisfied by your inquiries along these lines, then it might be well to see the family of Mr. Quadrant, and inquire whether they too depend upon this lichen as the only means of identification, or whether, entirely aside from that diseased spot, they would be able to swear that the body at the Morgue is their relative. You would have in connection with this inquiry an opportunity to ask many discreet questions which might be of assistance to you."

"All of this is in relation to establishing beyond a doubt the identity of the body at the Morgue, and of course the work to that end will practically be simple. In my own mind I have no doubt that the body of Mr. Quadrant is the one found in the water. Of course, as you suggest, it will be as well to know this rather than merely to think it. But once knowing it, what then of the body which is now ashes?"

"We must identify that also."

"Identify ashes!" exclaimed Mr. Barnes. "Not an easy task."

"If all tasks were easy, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Mitchel, "we should have little need of talent such as yours. Suppose you follow my advice, provided you intend to accept it, as far as I have indicated, and then report to me the results."

"I will do so with pleasure. I do not think it will occupy much time. Perhaps by luncheon, I – "

"You could get back here and join me. Do so!"

"In the meanwhile shall you do any – any investigating?"

"I shall do considerable thinking. I will cogitate as to the possibility of a Ph?nix arising from those ashes."

II

Leaving Mr. Mitchel, Mr. Barnes went directly to the office of Dr. Mortimer, and after waiting nearly an hour was finally ushered into the consulting-room.

"Dr. Mortimer," said Mr. Barnes, "I have called in relation to this remarkable case of Mr. Quadrant. I am a detective, and the extraordinary nature of the facts thus far published attracts me powerfully, so that, though not connected with the regular police, I am most anxious to unravel this mystery if possible, though, of course, I should do nothing that would interfere with the regular officers of the law. I have called, hoping that you might be willing to answer a few questions."

"I think I have heard of you, Mr. Barnes, and if, as you say, you will do nothing to interfere with justice, I have no objection to telling you what I know, though I fear it is little enough."

"I thank you, Doctor, for your confidence, which, I assure you, you shall not regret. In the first place, then, I would like to ask you about this identification. The newspaper account states that you have depended upon some skin disease. Is that of such a nature that you can be absolutely certain in your opinion?"

"I think so," said the doctor. "But then, as you must have found in your long experience, all identifications of the dead should be accepted with a little doubt. Death alters the appearance of every part of the body, and especially the face. We think that we know a man by the contour of his face, whereas we often depend, during life, upon the habitual expressions which the face ever carries. For example, suppose that we know a young girl, full of life and happiness, with a sunny disposition undimmed by care or the world's worry. She is ever smiling, or ready to smile. Thus we know her. Let that girl suffer a sudden and perhaps painful death. In terror and agony as she dies, the features are distorted, and in death the resultant expression is somewhat stamped upon the features. Let that body lie in the water for a time, and when recovered it is doubtful whether all of her friends would identify her. Some would, but others would with equal positiveness declare that these were mistaken. Yet you observe the physical contours would still be present."

"I am pleased, Doctor, by what you say," said Mr. Barnes, "because with such appreciation of the changes caused by death and exposure in the water, I must lay greater reliance upon your identification. In this case, as I understand it, there is something peculiar about the body, a mark of disease called lichen, I believe?"

"Yes. But what I have said about the changes caused by death must have weight here also," said the doctor. "You see I am giving you all the points that may militate against my identification, that you may the better judge of its correctness. We must not forget that we are dealing with a disease of very great rarity; so rare, in fact, that this very case is the only one that I have ever seen. Consequently I cannot claim to be perfectly familiar with the appearance of surfaces attacked by this disease, after they have suffered the possible alterations of death."

"Then you mean that, after all, this spot upon which the identification rests does not now look as it did in life?"

"I might answer both yes and no to that. Changes have occurred, but they do not, in my opinion, prevent me from recognizing both the disease and the corpse. To fully explain this I must tell you something of the disease itself, if you will not be bored?"

"Not at all. Indeed, I prefer to know all that you can make intelligible to a layman."

"I will use simple language. Formerly a great number of skin diseases were grouped under the general term 'lichen,' which included all growths which might be considered fungoid. At the present time we are fairly well able to separate the animal from the vegetable parasitic diseases, and under the term 'lichen' we include very few forms. The most common is lichen planus, which unfortunately is not infrequently met, and is therefore very well understood by the specialists. Lichen ruber, however, is quite distinct. It was first described by the German, Hebra, and has been sufficiently common in Europe to enable the students to thoroughly well describe it. In this country, however, it seems to be one of the rarest of diseases. White of Boston reported a case, and Fox records another, accompanied by a colored photograph, which, of course, aids greatly in enabling any one to recognize a case should it occur. There is one more fact to which I must allude as having an important bearing upon my identification. Lichen ruber, like other lichens, is not confined to any one part of the body; on the contrary, it would be remarkable, should the disease be uncontrolled for any length of time, not to see it in many places. This brings me to my point. The seat of the disease, in the case of Mr. Quadrant, was the left cheek, where a most disfiguring spot appeared. It happened that I was in constant attendance upon Mr. Quadrant for the trouble which finally caused his decease, and therefore I saw this lichen in its incipiency, and more fortunately I recognized its true nature. Now whether due to my treatment or not, it is a fact that the disease did not spread; that is to say, it did not appear elsewhere upon the body."

"I see! I see!" said Mr. Barnes, much pleased. "This is an important point. For if the body at the Morgue exhibits a spot in that exact locality and nowhere else, and if it is positively this same skin disease, it is past belief that it should be any other than the body of your patient."

"So I argue. That two such unique examples of so rare a disease should occur at the same time seems incredible, though remotely possible. Thus, as you have indicated, we have but to show that the mark on the body at the Morgue is truly caused by this disease, and not by some abrasion while in the water, in order to make our opinion fairly tenable. Both Dr. Elliot and myself have closely examined the spot, and we have agreed that it is not an abrasion. Had the face been thus marked in the water, we should find the cuticle rubbed off, which is not the case. Contrarily, in the disease under consideration, the cuticle, though involved in the disease, and even missing in minute spots, is practically present. No, I am convinced that the mark on the body at the Morgue existed in life as the result of this lichen, though the alteration of color since death gives us a much changed appearance."



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