Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Barnes, for your services in this affair, and I trust the enclosed check will remunerate you for your trouble."

Mr. Barnes, not quite comprehending it all, had attempted to protest, but Mr. Mitchel had taken him by the arm, and hurried him off. In the cab which bore them to the club the detective asked for an explanation, but Mr. Mitchel only replied:

"I am too hungry to talk now. We will have dinner first."

The dinner was over at last, and nuts and coffee were before them, when Mr. Mitchel took a small parcel from his pocket, and handed it to Mr. Barnes, saying:

"It is a beauty, is it not?"

Mr. Barnes removed the tissue paper, and a large opal fell on the table-cloth, where it sparkled with a thousand colors under the electric lamps.

"Do you mean that this is – " cried the detective.

"The Aztec Opal, and the finest harlequin I ever saw," interrupted Mr. Mitchel. "But you wish to know how it came into my possession? Principally so that it may join the collection and cease to be a temptation in this world of wickedness."

"Then Mr. Gray did not steal it?" asked Mr. Barnes, with a touch of chagrin in his voice.

"No, Mr. Barnes. Mr. Gray did not steal it. But you are not to consider yourself very much at fault. Mr. Gray tried to steal it, only he failed. That was not your fault, of course. You read his actions aright, but you did not give enough weight to the stories of the others."

"What important point did I omit from my calculations?"

"I might mention the bare arms which Mrs. Gray said she felt around her neck. It was evidently Mr. Gray who looked for the opal on the neck of his sister-in-law, but as he did not bare his arms before approaching her, he would not have done so later."

"Do you mean that Miss Livingstone was the thief?"

"No. Being hysterical, Miss Livingstone changed her seat without realizing it, but that does not make her a thief. Her excitement when with you was due to her suspicions, which, by the way, were correct. But let us return for a moment to the bare arms. That was the clue from which I worked. It was evident to me that the thief was a man, and it was equally plain that, in the hurry of the few moments of darkness, no man would have rolled up his sleeves, risking the return of the attendants with lamps, and the consequent discovery of himself in such a singular disarrangement of costume."

"How do you account for the bare arms?"

"The lady did not tell the truth, that is all. The arms which encircled her neck were not bare. Neither were they unknown to her. She told you that lie to shield the thief. She also told you that her husband wished to sell the Aztec Opal to me, but that she had refused. Thus she deftly led you to suspect him. Now, if she wished to shield the thief, yet was willing to accuse her husband, it followed that the husband was not the thief."

"Very well reasoned, Mr.

Mitchel. I see now where you are tending, but I shall not get ahead of your story."

"So much I had deduced before we went on board the yacht. When I found myself alone with Gray I candidly told him of your suspicions, and your reasons for harboring them. He was very much disturbed, and pleadingly asked me what I thought. As frankly, I told him that I believed that he had tried to take the opal from his wife, – we can scarcely call it stealing since the law does not, – but that I believed he had failed. He then confessed; admitted emptying the lamps, though he denied running the boat on the sand-bar. But he assured me that he had not reached his wife's chair when the lamps were brought in. He was, therefore, much astonished at missing the gem. I promised him to find the jewel upon condition that he would sell it to me. To this he most willingly acceded."

"But how could you be sure that you would recover the opal?"

"Partly by my knowledge of human nature, and partly because of my inherent faith in my own abilities. I sent for Mrs. Gray, and noted her attitude of defense, which, however, only satisfied me the more that I was right in my suspicions. I began by asking her if she knew the origin of the superstition that an opal brings bad luck to its owner. She did not, of course, comprehend my tactics, but she added that she 'had heard the stupid superstition, but took no interest in such nonsense.' I then gravely explained to her that the opal is the engagement stone of the Orient. The lover gives it to his sweetheart, and the belief is, that should she deceive him even in the most trifling manner, the opal will lose its brilliancy and become cloudy. I then suddenly asked her if she had ever noted a change in her opal. 'What do you mean to insinuate?' she cried out angrily. 'I mean,' said I, sternly, 'that if any opal has ever changed color in accordance with the superstition, this one should have done so. I mean that though your husband greatly needs the money which I have offered him, you have refused to allow him to sell it, and yet you permitted another to take it from you last night. By this act you might have seriously injured if not ruined Mr. Gray. Why have you done it?'"

"How did she receive it?" asked Mr. Barnes, admiring the ingenuity of Mr. Mitchel.

"She began to sob, and between her tears she admitted that the opal had been taken by the man whom I suspected, but she earnestly declared that she had harbored no idea of injuring her husband. Indeed, she was so agitated in speaking upon this point, that I believe that Gray never thoroughly explained to her why he wished to sell the gem. She urged me to recover the opal if possible, and purchase it, so that her husband might be relieved from his pecuniary embarrassment. I then sent for the thief, Mrs. Gray having told me his name; but would you not like to hear how I had picked him out before he went aboard? I still have that bit of paper upon which I wrote his name, in confirmation of what I say."

"Of course I know that you mean Mr. Livingstone, but I would like to hear your reasons for suspecting him."

"From your account Miss Livingstone suspected some one, and this caused her to be so agitated that she was unaware of the fact that she had changed her seat. Women are shrewd in these affairs, and I was confident that the girl had good reasons for her conduct. It was evident that the person in her mind was either her brother or her sweetheart. I decided between these two men from your account of your interviews with them. Moore impressed you as being honest, and he told you that one of the ladies suspected him. In this he was mistaken, but his speaking to you of it was not the act of a thief. Mr. Livingstone, on the other hand, tried to throw suspicion upon Mr. Gray."

"Of course that was sound reasoning after you had concluded that Mrs. Gray was lying. Now tell me how you recovered the jewel."

"That was easier than I expected. When I got him alone, I simply told Mr. Livingstone what I knew, and asked him to hand me the opal. With a perfectly imperturbable manner, understanding that I promised secrecy, he quietly took it from his pocket and gave it to me, saying:

"Women are very poor conspirators. They are too weak."

"What story did you tell Mr. Gray?"

"Oh, he would not be likely to inquire too closely into what I should tell him. My check was what he most cared for. I told him nothing definitely, but I hinted that his wife had secreted the gem during the darkness, that he might not ask her for it again; and that she had intended to find it again at a future time, just as he had meant to pawn it and then pretend to recover it from the thief by offering a reward."

"One more question. Why did Mr. Livingstone steal it?"

"Ah; the truth about that is another mystery worth probing, and one which I shall make it my business to unravel. I will venture a prophecy. Mr. Livingstone did not steal it at all. Mrs. Gray simply handed it to him in the darkness. There must have been some powerful motive to lead her to such an act; something which she was weighing, and decided impulsively. This brings me to a second point. Livingstone used the word conspirators; that is a clue. You will recall that I told you that this gem is one of a pair of opals, and that with the other, the two would be as interesting as any jewels in the world. If anyone ever owns both it shall be your humble servant, Leroy Mitchel, Jewel Collector."

VII
THE DUPLICATE HARLEQUIN

One day about two weeks after the unravelling of the mystery of the opal lost on board the yacht Idler, Mr. Barnes called upon Mr. Mitchel and was cordially received.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Barnes. Anything stirring in the realm of crime?"

"'Stirring' would be a fitting adjective, I think, Mr. Mitchel. Ever since the Idler affair I have occupied myself with a study of the problem, which I am convinced we have but partially solved. You may recall that you gave me a clue."

"You mean that Livingstone, when he gave me the opal, remarked, 'Women are poor conspirators.' Yes, I remember calling your attention to that. Has your clue led to any solution?"

"Oh, I am not out of the maze yet; more likely just entering the most intricate depths. Still, I flatter myself that I have accomplished something; enough to satisfy me that 'mischief is brewing,' and that the conspirators are still conspiring. Moreover, there is little doubt that you are deeply concerned in the new plot."

"What! You insinuate that I am in this conspiracy?"

"Only as a possible victim. You are the object of the plot."

"Perhaps you think that I am in danger?" Mr. Mitchel smiled as though the idea of danger were a pleasurable one.

"Were you any other man than yourself, I should say most decidedly that you are in danger."

"But, being myself, you fancy that the danger will pass from me?"

"Being yourself, I anticipate that you will compel the danger to pass from you."

"Mr. Barnes, you flatter me. Perhaps I may be able to thwart the conspirators, now that you warn me; if I do, however, I must admit my great indebtedness to you. To be forewarned is to have the fight half won, and I candidly say that I was entirely unsuspicious of any lurking danger."

"Exactly. With all your acumen, I was sure that your suspicions had not been aroused. The conspirators are wary, and, I assure you, unusually skilful. So, under all the circumstances, I felt it my duty to be on the alert."

"Ah, I see," said Mr. Mitchel, in that tone peculiar to him, which made it doubtful whether he spoke in earnest, or whether his words hid keen satire. "The old cat being asleep, the kitten watches. That is very nice of you. Really, it is quite a comforting thought that so skilful a detective is ever guarding my person. Especially as I am the owner of so many gems to which the covetous must ever look longingly."

"That is just how I reasoned it," said Mr. Barnes, eagerly, wishing to justify his actions, which he began to suspect Mr. Mitchel might resent. "You explained to me your reasons why you have purchased so many valuable jewels. You claimed that almost every large gem has been the cause, or rather the object, of crime. The Aztec Opal came into your possession under most peculiar circumstances. In fact, you thwarted a criminal just as he had come into possession of it. But this criminal is a wealthy man. Not perhaps as rich as yourself, but rich enough to be above stealing even such a valuable bauble. It could not have been the intrinsic value of the opal which tempted him; it must have been that some special reason existed; some reason, I mean, for his acquiring possession of this particular opal. All this being true, it would be a natural sequence that his efforts to get the opal would not cease merely because it had changed hands."

"Your argument is most interesting, Mr. Barnes, especially as it is without a flaw. As you say, from all this reasoning it was a natural sequence that Mr. Livingstone would continue his quest for the opal. This being so obvious, did you imagine that it had escaped me?"

Mr. Barnes was confused by the question. He really admired Mr. Mitchel very much, and though he considered him quite conceited, he also admitted that he had great analytical powers and remarkable acumen. He also, more than anything else, desired a perpetuation of his friendship; indeed, it had been with an idea of increasing the bond between them that he had called. He had spent much of his time, time which could have been occupied with other matters to better financial advantage, and all with the purpose of warding off from his friend a danger which he had at first considered as a distant possibility, but which later he looked upon as certain, if nothing intervened to hinder the plot, which he knew was rapidly approaching the moment of execution. He therefore hastened to make further explanation:

"Not at all – not at all. I am merely indicating the steps by which I reached my conclusions. I am giving you my reasons for what I fear you now may consider my interference in your affairs. Yet I assure you I meant it all – "

"For the best. Why, of course, my friend; did you suppose that I doubted your good intent, merely because I spoke brusquely?" Mr. Mitchel held out his hand cordially, and Mr. Barnes grasped it, glad to note the altered demeanor of his companion. Mr. Mitchel continued: "Will you never learn that my weakness is for antagonizing detectives? When you come here to tell me that you have been 'investigating' my private affairs, how could I resist telling you that I knew all about it, or that I could take care of myself? I would not be Leroy Mitchel were it otherwise."

"How do you mean that you know all about it?"

"Well, perhaps not all. I am not exactly omniscient. Still, I know something. Let me see, now. How much do I know? First, then, you have had this Livingstone watched. Second, you have introduced one of your spies, a young woman, into the home of Mrs. Gray. In spite of your alleged faith in Dennett Moore, you had him watched also, though for only two or three days. Lastly, you have discovered Pedro Domingo, and – "

"In Heaven's name, Mr. Mitchel, how do you know all this?" Mr. Barnes was utterly dumbfounded by what he had heard.

"All this?" said Mr. Mitchel, with a suave smile; "why, I have mentioned only four small facts."

"Small facts?"

"Yes, quite small. Let us run them over again. First, I stated that you had Mr. Livingstone watched. That was not hard to know, because I also had a spy upon his track."

"You?"

"Yes, I. Why not? Did you not just now agree that it was obvious that he would continue his efforts to get the opal? Being determined that I should never part with it whilst alive, it likewise followed that he must kill me, or have me killed, in order to obtain it. Under these circumstances it was only common caution to have the man watched. Indeed, the method was altogether too common. It was bizarre. Still, my spy was no common spy. In that, at least, my method was unique. Secondly, I claimed that you had introduced a woman spy into the home of Mrs. Gray. To learn this was even easier. I deduced it from what I know of your methods. You played the same trick on my wife once, I think you will recall. Supposing Mrs. Gray to be a conspirator (that was your clue, I think), you would hardly watch Livingstone and neglect the woman. Yet the actual knowledge came to me in a very simple manner."

"How was that?"

"Why, Mr. Gray told me."

"Mr. Gray told you?"

"Mr. Gray himself. You see, your assistants are not all so clever as yourself, though I doubt not this girl may think that she is a genius. You told her to seek a position in the house, and what does she do? She goes straight to Mr. Gray and tells him her purpose; hints that it might be well for him to know just what really actuated Mrs. Gray in the curious affair on the yacht, and agrees to 'discover everything' – those were her words – if he would give her the opportunity. Poor man, she filled his mind with dire suspicions and he managed it so that she was taken into service. Up to the present time she has discovered nothing. At least, so she tells him."

"The little she-devil! You said that she explained her whole purpose. Do you mean – "

"Oh, no. She did not implicate you, nor divulge her true mission. The fun of the thing is that she claimed to be a 'private detective' and that this venture was entirely her own idea. In fact, she is working for Mr. Gray. Is not that droll?" Mr. Mitchel threw back his head and laughed heartily. Mr. Barnes did not quite see the fun, and looked grim. All he said was:

"She acted beyond her instructions, yet it seems that she has not done any harm; and though she is like an untamed colt, apt to take the bit between her teeth, still she is shrewd. But I'll curb her yet. Now as to your third fact. How did you know that I had Mr. Moore watched, and only for two or three days?"

"Why, I recognized one of your spies following him one day down Broadway, and as Moore sailed for Europe two days after, I made the deduction that you had withdrawn your watch-dog."

"Well, then," said Mr. Barnes, testily, "how did you know that I had, as you declare, 'discovered Pedro Domingo'?"

"How did I know that? Why – but that can wait. You certainly did not call this morning to ask me all these questions. You came, as I presume, to convey information."

"Oh, you know so much, it is evidently unnecessary for me to tell you of my trifling discoveries." Mr. Barnes was suffering from wounded pride.

"Come, come," exclaimed Mr. Mitchel, cheerily, "be a man; don't be downcast and fall into the dumps merely because I surprised a few trifling facts in your game, and could not resist the fun of guying you a little. You see, I still admit that what I know are but trifling facts; what you know, on the contrary, is perhaps of great importance. Indeed, I am assured that without your information, without a full knowledge of all that you have discovered, my own plans may go awry, and then the danger at which you hint might be all too real. Do you not see that, knowing that you are interested in this case, I have been only too willing to let half the burden of the investigation fall upon you? That to your skill I have intrusted all of that work which I knew you could do so well? That in the most literal sense we have been silent partners, and that I depended upon your friendship to bring you to me with your news, just as it has brought you?"

This speech entirely mollified Mr. Barnes, and, with a brightening countenance, he exclaimed:

"Mr. Mitchel, I'm an ass. You are right to laugh at me."

"Nonsense! I defy all other detectives, because Mr. Barnes works with me."

"Bosh!" said the detective, deprecatingly, but pleased nevertheless by the words of flattery. "Well, then, suppose I tell you my story from the beginning?"

"From the beginning, by all means."

"In speaking of the woman whom I set to spy upon Mrs. Gray, you just now mentioned that I had once played the same trick upon your wife. Very true, and not only is this the same trick, but it is the same girl."

"What! Lucette?"

"The same. This is not the first time that she has chosen to resort to her own devices rather than to follow strictly the orders given to her. In this case, however, as I said before, she has done no harm, and on the contrary, I think you would find her report, which I received an hour ago, quite interesting."

"Ah, you have brought it with you?"

"Yes. I will read it to you. Of course it is not addressed to me, neither is there any signature. No names are mentioned except by initial. All this is the girl's own devising, so you see she is not entirely stupid. She writes:

"'At last I have discovered everything.' You observe that she is not unappreciative of her own ability. 'Mr. L. was right. Women are bad conspirators. At least he is right as to Mrs. G. She has dropped the conspiracy entirely, if she ever was a real conspirator, which I doubt, for, though you may not suspect it, she loves her husband. How do I know? Well, a woman has instincts about love. A man may swear eternal devotion to a woman eight hours a day for a year, without convincing her, when she would detect the true lover by the way he ties her shoe-string, unasked. So here. I have not heard madame talking in her sleep, neither has she taken her maid for a confidante, though I think she might find a worse adviser. Still I say she loves her husband. How do I know? When a woman is constantly doing things which add to the comfort of a man, and for which she never receives thanks, because they are such trifles, you may be sure the woman loves the man, and by hundreds of such tokens I know that Mrs. G. is in love with her husband. To reach the next point I must give you an axiom. A woman never loves more than one man at a time. She may have many lovers in the course of a lifetime, but in each instance she imagines that all previous affairs were delusions, and that at last the divine fire consumes her. To this last love she is constant until he proves unworthy, and ofttimes even after. No, a man may be able to love two persons, but a woman's affections are ever centred in a single idol. From which it is a logical deduction that Mrs. G. does not and did not love Mr. L. Then why did she give him the opal? A question which will puzzle you, and for which you are at a loss for an answer.'"

"She is not complimentary," interrupted Mr. Mitchel.



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