Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"To prison!" The man laughed, but it was not a hearty laugh.

"Yes, to prison. I believe that is the proper lodging-place for a thief."

"Take care!" cried Mr. Livingstone, advancing upon Mr. Mitchel.

"Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Mitchel, still without raising his weapon. At this the man stopped as quickly as he had when the weapon was first shown. He seemed confounded when the detective stepped into view.

"Ah," he sneered; "so you have spies upon your guests?"

"Always, when my guests are thieves."

Again the words enraged him, and, starting forward, Mr. Livingstone exclaimed:

"If you repeat those words, I'll strangle you in spite of your weapon and your spy."

"I have no wish to use harsh language, Mr. Livingstone. All I want is my property. Give me the two opals."

"Again I tell you they are on your desk."

"Where are the genuine opals, Mr. Barnes? Of course you saw him commit the – that is, you saw the act."

"They are in his vest pocket, one in each," said the detective.

"Since you will not give them to me, I must take them," said Mr. Mitchel, advancing towards Mr. Livingstone. That gentleman stood transfixed, livid with rage. As his antagonist was about to touch his vest pocket, his hand arose swiftly and he aimed a deadly blow at Mr. Mitchel, but not only did Mr. Mitchel as swiftly lower his head, thus avoiding the blow, but before another could be struck, Mr. Barnes had jumped forward and grasped Mr. Livingstone from behind, pinioning his arms and holding him fast by placing his own knee in his adversary's back. Mr. Livingstone struggled fiercely, but almost instantly Mr. Mitchel took the opals from his pockets, and then quietly remarked:

"Release him, Mr. Barnes. I have my property."

Mr. Barnes obeyed, and for an instant Mr. Livingstone seemed weighing his chances, but evidently deciding that the odds were in all ways against him, he rushed from the apartment and out of the house.

"Well, Mr. Mitchel," said Mr. Barnes, "now that the danger has passed, an explanation seems to be in order. You seem to have four opals."

"Yes; but that is merely seeming. You will readily understand why I wished your eyes, for without them I could not have taken my own off of the opals even for an instant."

"Then you purposely turned your back when you went to get the silver band?"

"Assuredly. Why could I not have taken out the band in the first instance, and why did I lock the safe, making it necessary for me to take time with the combination? Simply to give my man the opportunity to do his trick. You see, I knew before he came here exactly what he would do."

"How did you know?"

"You will recall that in his letter he offers to sell me the duplicate opal. That made me smile when I read it, for I already had been notified that he had had duplicates of his opal made."

"You had been notified?"

"Yes. This whole affair flatters my vanity, for I anticipated the event in its minutest detail, and all by analytical deduction.

You quite correctly argued that Livingstone would not abandon his quest of the opal. I also reached that point, and then I asked myself, 'How will he get it, knowing that I would not sell?' I could find but one way. He would offer to sell his, and during the transaction try to steal mine. As he would need both opals in his Mexican mining venture, his only chance of carrying both away with him would be to have two others to leave in their stead. Thus I argued that he would endeavor to have two duplicates of his opal made. Ordinarily, opals are not sufficiently expensive to make it pay to produce spurious specimens. Consequently, it has been little done; indeed, I doubt that the members of the trade in this city have any idea that doublet opals have been made and sold in this city. But I know it, and I know the man who made the doublets. These were common opals, faced with thin layers of a fine quality of 'harlequin' which often comes in such thin layers that it is practically useless for cutting into stones, though it has been utilized for cameos and intaglios. This lapidary does his work admirably, and his cement is practically invisible. I went to this man and warned him that he might be called upon to duplicate a large and valuable opal, and I arranged that he should fill the order, but that he should notify me of the fact."

"Ah, now I understand. The genuine opals lay on the desk, and when you turned to the safe Livingstone merely exchanged them for the spurious doublets. But tell me why did he risk bringing the real opal here at all? Why not offer you one of the doublets, and then merely have one exchange to make?"

"He was too shrewd to risk that. In the first place, he knows I am an expert, and that I would compare the two jewels before making the purchase; he feared that under such close scrutiny I would discover the deception. Secondly, the two genuine opals absolutely match each other. So also the two doublets are actual mates. But the doublets only approximately resemble the real opals."

"Mr. Mitchel, you have managed Livingstone admirably, but there still remains the man Domingo. Until he is disposed of I still think there is danger. Pardon my pertinacity."

"I told you at the beginning of this incident that I had a spy upon Livingstone, but that though the method was commonplace, my choice of a spy was unique. My spy was Livingstone's partner, Domingo."

"What! You were on intimate terms with Domingo?"

"Was not that my best course? I found the man, and at once explained to him that as Livingstone never could get my opal, it would be best to shift the partnership and aid me to get Livingstone's. Thus you see, having, as it were, conceived the logical course for Livingstone to pursue, I had his partner Domingo suggest it to him."

"Even the idea of the doublets?"

"Certainly. I gave Domingo the address of the lapidary, and Domingo supplied it to Livingstone."

"Mr. Mitchel, you are a wonder as a schemer. But now you have Domingo on your hands?"

"Only for a short time. Domingo is not such a bloodthirsty cutthroat as your friend Sanchez made you believe. He readily admitted that the game was up when I explained to him that I had one of the opals, a fact which Livingstone had not communicated to him. I had little difficulty in persuading him to become my assistant; money liberally applied often proving a salve for blasted hopes. Besides, I have raised his hopes again, and in a way by which he may yet become possessed of that opal mine, and without a partner."

"Why, how do you mean?"

"I shall give him the doublets, and I have no doubt he can palm them off on the old priests, who will not examine too closely, so anxious are they to see the eyes of the idol restored."

"There is yet one thing that I do not fully understand. Sanchez told me – "

"Sanchez told you nothing, except what he was instructed to tell you."

"Do you mean to say – "

"I mean that Sanchez's story of my danger was told to you so that you would come here this morning. You noted yourself that I must have expected you, when you found the bookcase arranged for you. I had an idea that I might need a strong and faithful arm, and I had both. Mr. Barnes, without your assistance, I must have failed."

VIII
THE PEARLS OF ISIS

Mr. Barnes sat for a while in silence, gazing at Mr. Mitchel. The masterly manner in which that gentleman had managed the affair throughout won his admiration and elevated him more than ever in his esteem. The d?nouement was admirable. Before handing over the check Mr. Mitchel had led Mr. Livingstone to state in the presence of a concealed witness that the opal about to be sold was genuine, whereas, as a matter of fact, the one on the desk at that moment was spurious. Then the payment with a check and the exacting of a receipt furnished tangible proofs of the nature of the transaction. Thus, even eliminating the theft of the other opal, Mr. Mitchel was in the position to prove that the man had obtained a large sum of money by false pretenses. The recovery of the stolen opal practically convicted Mr. Livingstone of a still greater crime, and with a witness to the various details of the occurrence Mr. Mitchel had so great a hold upon him that it would be most improbable that Mr. Livingstone would pursue his scheme further. The second conspirator, Domingo, was equally well disposed of, for if he returned to Mexico with the imitation opals, either the priests would discover the fraud and deal with the man themselves, or, by their failing to do so, he would gain possession of the opal mine.

In either event there would be no reason for him to return to trouble Mr. Mitchel.

"I see the whole scheme," said Mr. Barnes at length, "and I must congratulate you upon the conception and conduct of the affair. You have courteously said that I have been of some assistance, and though I doubt it, I would like to exact a price for my services."

"Certainly," said Mr. Mitchel. "Every man is worthy of his hire, even when he is not aware of the fact that he has been hired, I presume. Name your reward. What shall it be?"

"From my place of concealment, a while ago, I observed that before you took out the opal, you removed from the box a magnificent string of pearls. As you have claimed that all valuable jewels have some story of crime, or attempted crime, attached to them, I fancy you could tell an interesting tale about those pearls."

"Ah; and you would like to hear the story?"

"Yes; very much!"

"Well, it is a pretty old one now, and no harm can come, especially if you receive the tale in confidence."

"Assuredly."

"They are beautiful, are they not?" said Mr. Mitchel, taking them up almost affectionately, and handing them to Mr. Barnes. "I call them the Pearls of Isis."

"The Pearls of Isis?" said Mr. Barnes, taking them. "An odd name, considering that the goddess is a myth. How could she wear jewelry?"

"Oh, the name originated with myself. I will explain that in a moment. First let me say a few words in a general way. You ask me for the story of that string of pearls. If what is told of them in Mexico is true, there is a pathetic tale for each particular pearl, aside from the many legends that are related of the entire string."

"And do you know all of these histories?"

"No, indeed. I wish that I did. But I can tell you some of the legendry. In Humboldt's American Researches you will find an illustration showing the figure of what he calls 'The Statue of an Aztec Priestess.' The original had been discovered by M. Dup?. The statue was cut from basalt, and the point of chief interest in it is the head-dress, which resembles the calantica, or veil of Isis, the Sphinxes, and other Egyptian statues. On the forehead of this stone priestess was found a string of pearls, of which Humboldt says: 'The pearls have never been found on any Egyptian statue, and indicate a communication between the city of Tenochtitlan, ancient Mexico, and the coast of California, where pearls are found in great numbers.' Humboldt himself found a similar statue decorated with pearls in the ruins of Tezcuco, and this is still in the museum at Berlin, where I have seen it. Humboldt doubted that these statues represented priestesses, but thought rather that they were merely figures of ordinary women, and he bases this view on the fact that the statues have long hair, whereas it was the custom of the tepanteohuatzin, a dignitary controlling the priestesses, to cut off the tresses of these virgins when they devoted themselves to the services of the temple. M. Dup? thought that this statue represented one of the temple virgins, while, as I have said, Humboldt concluded that they had no religious connection. My own view is that both of these gentlemen were wrong, and that these and similar statues were images of the goddess Isis."

"But I thought that Isis was an Old World goddess?"

"So she was, and the oldest world is this continent. We need not now enter upon a discussion of the reasons upon which I base my belief. Suffice it to say that I think I can prove to the satisfaction of any good arch?ologist that both Isis and Osiris belong to Central America. And as those pearls in your hand once adorned an Aztec basaltic statue similar to those of Dup? and Humboldt, I have chosen to call them the 'Pearls of Isis.'"

"Ah; then it is from their origin that you imagine that so many stories are connected with them. I have always heard that the priests of ancient Mexico were a bloodthirsty lot, and as pearls are supposed by the superstitious to symbolize tears, I can imagine the romances that might be built around these, especially if they were guarded by virgin priestesses."

"Now you are utilizing your detective instinct to guess my tale before it is told. You are partly right. Many curious legends are to be heard from the natives in Mexico, explanatory of these pearl-bedecked idols. Two are particularly interesting, though you are not bound to accept them as strictly true. The first was related to me personally by an old man, who claimed a connection with the priesthood through a lineage of priestly ancestors covering two thousand generations. This you will admit is a long service for a single family in worshipful care of a lot of idols, and it would at least be discourteous to doubt the word of such a truly holy man."

"Oh, I shall not attempt to discredit or disprove the old fellow's story, whatever it may be."

"That is very generous of you, considering your profession, and I am sure the old Aztec would feel duly honored. However, here is his story. According to him, there were many beautiful women among the Aztecs, but only the most beautiful of these were acceptable to the gods as priestesses. Their entrance into the service of the temple, I imagine, must have been most trying, for he stated that it was only when the women came before the priests with their chosen lovers to be married that the priests were permitted to examine their faces in order to determine whether they were beautiful enough to become temple virgins. If, on such an occasion, the bride seemed sufficiently beautiful, the priest, instead of uniting her to her lover, declared that the gods demanded her as their own, and she was forthwith consecrated to the service of the temple. They were then compelled to forswear the world, and, under threats of mysterious and direful punishments, they promised to guard their chastity, and devote their virgin lives to the gods. The mysterious punishment meted out to transgressors the old priest explained to me. Usually in such instances the girl would elope, most often with the lover of whom she had been deprived at the altar. No effort was made to recapture her. Such was the power of the priests, and such the superstitious dread of the anger of the gods, that none would hold communication of any kind with the erring couple. Thus isolated and compelled to hide away in the forests, the unfortunate lovers would eventually live in hourly dread of disaster, until either the girl would voluntarily return to the priests to save her lover from the imagined fury of the gods, or else to save himself he would take the girl back. In either case the result would be the same. None ever saw her again. But, shortly after, a new pearl would appear upon the forehead of the idol."

"A new pearl? How?"

"The old priest, whose word you have promised not to doubt, claimed that beneath the temple there was a dark, bottomless pool of water in which abounded the shell-fish from which pearls were taken. These molluscs were sacred, and to them were fed the bodies of all the human beings sacrificed on their altars. Whenever one of the temple virgins broke her oath of fidelity to the gods, upon her return she was dropped alive into this pool, and, curious to relate, at the appearance of the next new moon the tepanteohuatzin would invariably discover a pearl of marvellous size."

"Why, then, each pearl would represent a temple virgin reincarnated, as it were?"

"Yes; one might almost imagine that in misery and grief over her unhappy love affair, she had wept until she had dissolved, and that then she had been precipitated, to use a chemical term, in the form of a pearl. Altogether the legend is not a bad one, and if we recall the connection between Isis and the crescent moon, you must admit my right to call these the Pearls of Isis."

"Oh, I promised to dispute nothing. But did you not say that there was another legend?"

"Yes, and I am glad to say it has a much more fortuitous finale and is altogether more believable, though this one was not told to me by a man of God, or perhaps to be more accurate I should say a 'man of the gods.' According to this rendition the temple virgins were chosen exactly as related in the other narrative, but before actually entering upon their duties there was a period of probation, a period of time covering 'one moon.' You see we cannot escape the moon in this connection. During this probationary period it was possible for the lover to regain his sweetheart by paying a ransom, and this ransom was invariably a pearl of a certain weight and quality. By placing these pearls on the forehead of the goddess she was supposed to be repaid for the loss of one of her virgin attendants. All of which shows that her ladyship, Isis, in her love for finery, was peculiarly human and not unlike her sisters of to-day."

"This second story is very easy to believe, if one could understand where the pearls were to be found."

"Oh, that is easily explained. Humboldt was right in supposing that there was a communication with the Californian coast. There was a regular yearly journey to and from that place for the purposes of trade, and many of the Aztecs travelled thither purposely to engage in fishing for pearls. Whenever one of these fishers was fortunate enough to find a pearl of the kind demanded by the priests, he would hoard it up, and keep his good luck a secret. For with such a pearl could he not woo and win one of the fairest daughters of his tribe? We can well imagine that without such a pearl the more cautious of the beauties would turn a deaf ear to lovers' pleadings, fearing to attract the eyes of the priests at the altar. Verily, in those days beauty was a doubtful advantage."

"Yes, indeed. Now I understand what you meant when you said that each of these pearls might have its own romance. For, according to the legends, they are either the penalty or the price of love. But you have not told me the particular story of these pearls."

"There may be as many as there are pearls, but I can tell you but one; though as that involves a story of crime, it will interest you I am sure. You will remember that when we were going to the yacht on that day when we solved the first opal mystery, I explained to you my reasons for buying up large gems. I think I told you of my first venture?"

"Yes; you overheard a plot to steal a ruby, and you went to the hostess and bought the jewel, which you then stuck in your scarf, where the plotters could see it and know that it had changed hands."

"That is the tale exactly. You will consider it a curious coincidence when I tell you that these pearls came into my possession in an almost similar manner."

"That is remarkable, I must say."

"And yet not so remarkable, either, all things considered. Crime, or rather the method of committing a crime, is often suggested by previous occurrences. A body is found in the river dismembered, and is a nine days' wonder. Yet, even though the mystery may be solved, and the murderer brought to justice, the police may scarcely have finished with the case before another dismembered body is discovered. Often, too, the second criminal goes unpunished; in imitating his predecessor he avoids, or attempts to avoid, his mistakes. I suppose that is easier than formulating an entirely new plan. So I imagine that the attempt to steal the ruby, which I frustrated, and the stealing of the pearls, which was successfully managed, may have some connection, more especially as both affairs occurred in the same house."

"In the same house?"

"Yes, and within a month, or, to follow the legend, I might say in the same 'moon.' I was in New Orleans at the time, and as it was in the Mardi Gras season, masked balls were common occurrences. One who was especially fond of this class of entertainment was Madame Damien. She was a widow, not yet thirty, and as her husband, Maurice Damien, had belonged to one of the wealthiest and most distinguished of the old Creole families, there was no apparently good reason for denying her the rightful privilege of mixing with and receiving the best people of the city. Nevertheless, there were a few who declined to associate with her, or to allow the younger members of their households to do so."

"What were their reasons?"

"Reasons there were, but of such an impalpable nature that even those who most rigorously shunned her, ventured not to speak openly against her. For reasons, it might have been said that she smoked cigarettes – but other good women did likewise; she entertained often, and served wine intemperately – others did the same; she permitted card-playing in her rooms, even for money stakes, – but the same thing occurred in other houses, though perhaps not so openly. Thus none of these reasons, you see, was sufficiently potent. But there were others, less easily discussed and more difficult to prove. It was whispered, very low and only in the ears of most trustworthy intimates, that Madame Damien permitted, nay, encouraged, young men to pay court to her. If true, she managed her courtiers most admirably, for openly she was most impartial in distributing her favors, while secretly – well, none penetrated the secrets of Madame Damien. One thing was certainly in her favor; there were no duels about her, and duelling was not uncommon in those days."



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