Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence
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"Oh; then you did find your missing link?"
"Yes. I personally swept every room, and the staircase, and at last I found the link. But it would be more correct to say your missing link, than mine, Mr. Mitchel, for it was from this chain that it was broken."
Mr. Barnes was amazed at the imperturbable manner in which this statement was received. Becoming slightly agitated himself, he continued:
"As soon as I picked up that link, I was shocked at my discovery, for, from its peculiar shape, I recognized it as similar to your chain, which I had often observed. Still, I hoped that there might be some mistake; that it might have fallen from some other man. But you permitted me to examine this chain, and the last doubt is swept away. I note that every alternate link is solid, the intermediate ones having a slit, by which the links are joined into a chain. The wrench given by the dying woman strained one of these links so that it opened, allowing the chain to part, and later this particular link dropped off. Either you did not observe it at once, or else, being small, you could not find it. If this occurred as I have described, what would be the result? Your chain, where parted, would terminate at each end with a solid link. Thus, to unite the chain again, my lens shows me that you have sawed through one link, and so rejoined your chain. And not only do I see the freshly sawed link, but, as must necessarily be the case, we have two links adjacent, each of which can be opened."
"And your next move will be?" asked Mr. Mitchel, still apparently undisturbed.
"I have no recourse open to me except to arrest you. That is why I have found this whole interview so painful."
"I understand your position, and sympathize with you thoroughly," said Mr. Mitchel. "And yet, see how easily you might dismiss this whole theory of yours. These houses are in my neighborhood, immediately back of me, in fact. I am a householder. What more natural than my taking an interest in property so near me? Why may I not have visited the houses to examine them? Then what more possible than the chance that in passing from one room to another, my chain should have caught on a door-knob, and have been broken, the link dropping as you have suggested? My repairing the damage would be but a natural sequence, and the subsequent murder and your train of reasoning is resolved into a mere coincidence."
"That is ingenious, Mr. Mitchel. But some instinct tells me that I am right, and that you did commit this crime."
"Intuition, which I suppose is what you mean by instinct, is not always reliable, but, oddly enough, in this instance you are correct. I did kill that creature. Moreover, the sequence of events was as you have deduced. I commend you for your skill, for, believe me, I used every precaution to prevent detection."
"Then you confess? My God! This is horrible!"
At the prospect of arresting Mr. Mitchel, a man who had won his most ardent admiration, Mr.Barnes was so overcome that he sank into a chair and stared blankly at his companion.
"Come! come!" said Mr. Mitchel. "Don't break down like that. The affair is bad enough, I admit, but it might be worse."
"Might be worse!" ejaculated Mr. Barnes, amazed at the words as well as the half-jocular tone.
"Why yes. Much worse. Why, Mr. Barnes, have you not had evidence of my ability to thwart detectives before to-day? Do you suppose that I shall permit myself to be detected, arrested, imprisoned in this affair? Nothing is further from my mind, I assure you. True, you have, with your uncommon skill, discovered a part of the truth. But that need not trouble me, for no other detective will be so shrewd."
"Do you mean to suggest that I should shield you in this matter?"
"Well, yes. That is about what I expect from your friendship."
"Impossible! Impossible! I wish that I could do what you ask! But no! It is impossible!"
"There. I have tried your patience long enough. Let me tell you the whole story, and then you may decide as you please. A few years ago, in Paris, a friend presented me with a poodle. French poodles, as you know, are considered the most intelligent of all dogs, and this one seemed to be the wisest of his species. My friend had already trained him to perform many tricks, and these were done at command, without special signals, so that I could but believe what my friend claimed, that the dog actually understood what was said to him. Thinking this matter over one day, it presented itself to me in a singular light.
"In the training of animals, man has always aimed to make the dumb brute understand, and carry out, the master's wishes. No one, so far as I then knew, had ever trained a dog to express his own wishes, in any way intelligible to the master. This I undertook to do, and was fairly successful. I printed words on cards, such as 'food,' 'drink,' 'yard,' etc., and, by means which I need not recapitulate, I taught my dog to bring me the special card which would represent his wishes. Thus, when he was thirsty, he could ask for 'water,' or when he wished to leave the house, he brought the card marked 'yard.' Imagine my astonishment when one day a little sky-terrier, belonging to another lodger in the house, came to me with the 'food' card in his mouth. At first I supposed it to be merely an accident, but I soon discovered that the terrier understood the cards as well as did the poodle. How, unless the poodle had taught him? Do dogs, then, have a language by which they may communicate with each other?
"This was a new thought, which attracted me more and more as I revolved it in my mind. Then it occurred to me that if animals have a language, monkeys would offer the best field for study, and I began investigating. The discovery that the apes do have a language has been made by Mr. Garner, and by him the fact has been published to the world. But I made the discovery several years ago, though I kept it to myself, for reasons which you shall hear.
"I practised upon the monkeys in the Zo?logical Gardens in Paris and London, until I was a veritable crank on the subject of monkey language. Nothing would satisfy me but a trip to Africa. Thither I went, and made great progress, so that by the time I captured a fine chimpanzee on the Congo, I was able to readily make him understand that I meant him no harm. At first he received my overtures with hesitation, his previous experience with my race rendering him skeptical as to my good qualities. But after a time, we became good friends; I might even say chums. After that I gave him his liberty, and we took strolls together. He was a very sociable fellow when one really got to know him well, but we found the resources of the monkey language inadequate to our needs. The experiment with my dog recurred to me, and I undertook to teach him a human tongue. I chose German as the best adapted to his limitations, and he made such progress that in a few months we could converse with tolerable ease.
"I decided to tell him something of the world of civilization, and one day it occurred to me to expound to him the Darwinian theory. He listened with an expression of learned thought upon his face which would have well suited the countenance of a philosopher, but when I had finished, he astounded me by announcing that he thought he could show me that higher race of apes, which, being more humanly developed than any species now known, might well be designated 'the missing link' which connects the Simian race with man. I begged him to do so, and he undertook the task, though he said that it involved a long journey. I urged him to go, and he left me.
"A month had passed, and I had begun to think that my new-found friend had deserted me, when one day he walked into camp, accompanied by the most human-like ape I had ever seen. It was neither chimpanzee nor gorilla, but a combination of both in those characteristics which were most manlike. The most conspicuous advance beyond the anthropoid apes now known, was the hairless skin. The hands and feet, too, were more human in shape, though on the latter the hallux still retained its prehensile character, which perhaps is necessary to a tree dweller. The face was peculiarly human, though the jaws retained certain distinguishing attributes of the ape, as, for example, the space between the anterior and posterior teeth, and the fang-like canine teeth.
"As you must already suspect the sequel, I may hurry on to the end. The creature was a female, and in the trip to our camp my chimpanzee friend had become much attached to her; indeed, I may say he had fallen in love with her. He had also begun her higher education, so that when we met she was able to address a few words to me in German. As you may well imagine, I was greatly interested in this animal, and did all in my power to teach her. She made even more rapid progress than the chimpanzee had, and I was thinking of the sensation I could produce in Paris by sending cards of invitation to the nuptials of my monkey friends, which I determined should occur in the great metropolis.
"Imagine my horror one morning, upon finding the chimpanzee dead. I did not immediately comprehend the full significance of this, but upon questioning the ape a few days later, she candidly confessed to me that she had strangled the chimpanzee, her only reason being, that having decided for the future to live as a human being, she deemed it wise to destroy her companion, that he might not be able to divulge the secret of her origin.
"Instantly my mind was awakened to a danger which menaced myself. I too knew the secret of her savage ancestry, and the fact that she had not slain me also was probably due to her hope that I would fulfil my promise and take her with me to more civilized parts. Indeed, so certain was I of this, that I took the first opportunity to foster that ambition in her bosom. At the same time I carefully planned a secret departure, and a few nights later succeeded in getting away unobserved, while the ape slept. Throughout the journey to the coast I constantly feared pursuit, but was fortunate enough to get safely on shipboard without hearing more of the savage creature.
"At dusk on last Saturday, I was strolling through the next street, when, to my amazement, I saw coming towards me what appeared to be a woman, whose face however was so startlingly like the ape which I had left in Africa that for a moment I was dazed. In the next instant, realizing that if my suspicion was true, I might be in danger even after the lapse of time, and hoping that it was merely a chance resemblance, I quickly turned into one of the new houses still open for inspection. I did not dare to look behind me, and even thought it a trick of my excited imagination when I fancied that I heard steps following me as I ascended to the second floor. I turned upon reaching the floor above, and instantly with a savage cry the brute was upon me, her hands upon my throat, making a desperate effort to strangle me. I gripped her neck in a similar manner, scarcely hoping to save my life. Fortune favored me, however, and, after a lengthy struggle, the ape lay dead at my feet. I suppose that several years of life in civilization had sapped her savage strength.
"My subsequent proceedings were actuated by two motives. In the first place any public connection of my name with such a horrible encounter would naturally have greatly annoyed my wife, and secondly I could not resist my innate fondness for contending with detectives. I removed the head, hands, and feet, to prevent identification, and also because with them I can convince you that the animal was an ape, and not a woman. As there is no law against the killing of an ape, you must see, Mr. Barnes, that it would be futile to arrest me."
"You are right," replied Mr. Barnes, "and I am truly glad that your explanation places you beyond the law. You must forgive me for my suspicion."
The two men joined hands in a firm clasp, which cemented their friendship, and guaranteed that the secret which they shared would never be divulged by either.