Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"Then I may consider that you are confident that this mark on the body is of the same shape, in the same position, and caused by the same disease as that which you observed upon Mr. Quadrant?"

"Yes. I do not hesitate to assert that. To this you may add that I identify the body in a general way also."

"By which you mean?"

"That without this mark, basing my opinion merely upon my long acquaintance with the man, I would be ready to declare that Mr. Quadrant's body is the one which was taken from the water."

"What, then, is your opinion as to how this strange occurrence has come about? If Mr. Quadrant was cremated, how could – "

"It could not, of course. This is not the age of miracles. Mr. Quadrant was not cremated. Of that we may be certain."

"But the family claim that they saw his body consigned to the furnace."

"The family believe this, I have no doubt. But how could they be sure? Let us be accurate in considering what we call facts. What did the family see at the crematory? They saw a closed coffin placed into the furnace."

"A coffin, though, which contained the body of their relative."

Mr. Barnes did not of course himself believe this, but made the remark merely to lead the doctor on.

"Again you are inaccurate. Let us rather say a coffin which once contained the body of their relative."

"Ah; then you think that it was taken from the coffin and another substituted for it?"

"No. I do not go so far. I think, nay, I am sure, that Mr. Quadrant's body was taken from the coffin, but whether another was substituted for it, is a question. The coffin may have been empty when burned."

"Could we settle that point by an examination of the ashes?"

The doctor started as though surprised at the question. After a little thought he replied hesitatingly:

"Perhaps. It seems doubtful. Ashes from bone and animal matter would, I suppose, bring us chemical results different from those of burned wood. Whether our analytical chemists could solve such a problem remains to be seen. Ordinarily one would think that ashes would resist all efforts at identification." The doctor seemed lost in thoughtful consideration of this scientific problem.

"The trimmings of the coffin might contain animal matter if made of wool," suggested Mr. Barnes.

"True; that would certainly complicate the work of the chemist, and throw doubt upon his reported results."

"You admitted, Doctor, that the body was placed in the coffin. Do you know that positively?"

"Yes. I called on the widow on the night previous to the funeral, and the body was then in the coffin. I saw it in company with the widow and the two brothers. It was then that it was decided that the coffin should be closed and not opened again."

"Whose wish was this?"

"The widow's. You may well understand that this lichen greatly disfigured Mr. Quadrant, and that he was extremely sensitive about it.

So much so that he had not allowed any one to see him for many weeks prior to his death. It was in deference to this that the widow expressed the wish that no one but the immediate family should see him in his coffin. For this reason also she stipulated that the coffin should be burned with the body."

"You say this was decided on the night before the funeral?"

"Yes. To be accurate, about five o'clock in the afternoon, though at this season and in the closed rooms the lamps were already lighted."

"Was this known to many persons? That is, that the coffin was not again to be opened?"

"It was known of course to the two brothers, and also to the undertaker and two of his assistants who were present."

"The undertaker himself closed the casket, I presume?"

"Yes. He was closing it as I escorted the widow back to her own room."

"Did the brothers leave the room with you?"

"I think so. Yes, I am sure of it."

"So that the body was left with the undertaker and his men, after they knew that it was not to be opened again?"

"Yes."

"Did these men leave before you did?"

"No. I left almost immediately after taking the widow to her own room and seeing her comfortably lying down, apparently recovered from the hysterical spell which I had been summoned to check. You know, of course, that the Quadrant residence is but a block from here."

"There is one more point, Doctor. Of what disease did Mr. Quadrant die?"

"My diagnosis was what in common parlance I may call cancer of the stomach. This, of course, I only knew from the symptoms. That is to say, there had been no operation, as the patient was strenuously opposed to such a procedure. He repeatedly said to me, 'I would rather die than be cut up.' A strange prejudice in these days of successful surgery, when the knife in skilful hands promises so much more than medication."

"Still these symptoms were sufficient in your own mind to satisfy you that your diagnosis was accurate?"

"I can only say in reply that I have frequently in the presence of similar symptoms performed an operation, and always with the same result. The cancer was always present."

"Now the coroner's autopsy on the body at the Morgue is said to have shown that death was due to disease. Do you know what they discovered?"

"Dr. Elliot told me that it was cancer of the stomach."

"Why, then, the identification seems absolute?"

"So it seems. Yes."

III

Mr. Barnes next called at the home of the Quadrants, and was informed that both of the gentlemen were out. With some hesitation he sent a brief note in to the widow, explaining his purpose and asking for an interview. To his gratification his request was granted, and he was shown up to that lady's reception-room.

"I fear, madame," said he, "that my visit may seem an intrusion, but I take the deepest sort of interest in this sad affair of your husband, and I would much appreciate having your permission and authority to investigate it, with the hope of discovering the wrong-doers."

"I see by your note," said Mrs. Quadrant in a low, sad voice, "that you are a detective, but not connected with the police. That is why I have decided to see you. I have declined to see the regular detective sent here by the police, though my husband's brothers, I believe, have answered all his questions. But as for myself, I felt that I could not place this matter in the hands of men whom my husband always distrusted. Perhaps his prejudice was due to his politics, but he frequently declared that our police force was corrupt. Thus you understand why I am really glad that you have called, for I am anxious, nay, determined, to discover if possible who it was who has done me this grievous wrong. To think that my poor husband was there in the river, when I thought that his body had been duly disposed of. It is horrible, horrible!"

"It is indeed horrible, madame," said Mr. Barnes sympathizingly. "But we must find the guilty person or persons and bring them to justice."

"Yes! That is what I wish. That is what I am ready to pay any sum to accomplish. You must not consider you are working, as you courteously offer, merely to satisfy your professional interest in a mysterious case. I wish you to undertake this as my special agent."

"As you please, madame, but in that case I must make one condition. I would ask that you tell this to no one unless I find it necessary. At present I think I can do better if I am merely regarded as a busybody detective attracted by an odd case."

"Why, certainly, no one need know. Now tell me what you think of this matter."

"Well, it is rather early to formulate an opinion. An opinion is dangerous. One is so apt to endeavor to prove himself right, whereas he ought merely to seek out the truth. But if you have any opinion, it is necessary for me to know it. Therefore I must answer you by asking the very question which you have asked me. What do you think?"

"I think that some one took the body of my husband from the coffin, and that we burned an empty casket. But to guess what motive there could be for such an act would be beyond my mental abilities. I have thought about it till my head has ached, but I can find no reason for such an unreasonable act."

"Let me then suggest one to you, and then perhaps your opinion may be more useful. Suppose that some person, some one who had the opportunity, had committed a murder. By removing the body of your husband, and replacing it with that of his victim, the evidences of his own crime would be concealed. The discovery of your husband's body, even if identified, as it has been, could lead to little else than mystification, for the criminal well knew that the autopsy would show natural causes of death."

"But what a terrible solution this is which you suggest! Why, no one had access to the coffin except the undertaker and his two men!"

"You naturally omit your two brothers, but a detective cannot make such discrimination."

"Why, of course I do not count them, for certainly neither of them could be guilty of such a crime as you suggest. It is true that Amos – but that is of no consequence."

"Who is Amos?" asked Mr. Barnes, aroused by the fact that Mrs. Quadrant had left her remark unfinished.

"Amos is one of my brothers – my husband's brothers, I mean. Amos Quadrant was next in age, and Mark the youngest of the three. But, Mr. Barnes, how could one of the undertakers have made this exchange which you suggest? Certainly they could not have brought the dead body here, and my husband's body never left the house prior to the funeral."

"The corpse which was left in place of that of your husband must have been smuggled into this house by some one. Why not by one of these men? How, is a matter for explanation later. There is one other possibility about which you may be able to enlighten me. What opportunity, if any, was there that this substitution may have occurred at the crematory?"

"None at all. The coffin was taken from the hearse by our own pall-bearers, friends all of them, and carried directly to the room into which the furnace opened. Then, in accordance with my special request, the coffin, unopened, was placed in the furnace in full view of all present."

"Were you there yourself?"

"Oh! no, no! I could not have endured such a sight. The cremation was resorted to as a special request of my husband. But I am bitterly opposed to such a disposition of the dead, and therefore remained at home."

"Then how do you know what you have told me? – that there was no chance for substitution at the crematory?"

"Because my brothers and other friends have related all that occurred there in detail, and all tell the same story that I have told you."

"Dr. Mortimer tells me that you decided to have the coffin closed finally on the evening prior to the funeral. With the casket closed, I presume you did not consider it necessary to have the usual watchers?"

"Not exactly, though the two gentlemen, I believe, sat up through the night, and occasionally visited the room where the casket was."

"Ah! Then it would seem to have been impossible for any one to enter the house and accomplish the exchange, without being detected by one or both of these gentlemen?"

"Of course not," said Mrs. Quadrant, and then, realizing the necessary deduction, she hastened to add: "I do not know. After all, they may not have sat up through all the night."

"Did any one enter the house that night, so far as you know?"

"No one, except Dr. Mortimer, who stopped in about ten as he was returning from a late professional call. He asked how I was, and went on, I believe."

"But neither of the undertakers came back upon any excuse?"

"Not to my knowledge."

At this moment some one was heard walking in the hall below, and Mrs. Quadrant added:

"I think that may be one of my brothers now. Suppose you go down and speak to him. He would know whether any one came to the house during the night. You may tell him that you have seen me, if you wish, and that I have no objection to your endeavoring to discover the truth."

Mr. Barnes bade Mrs. Quadrant adieu and went down to the parlor floor. Not meeting any one, he touched a bell, and when the servant responded, asked for either of the gentlemen of the house who might have come in. He was informed that Mr. Mark Quadrant was in the library, and was invited to see him there.

Mr. Mark Quadrant was of medium height, body finely proportioned, erect figure, a well-poised head, keen, bright eyes, a decided blond, and wore a Vandyke beard, close trimmed. He looked at Mr. Barnes in such a manner that the detective knew that whatever he might learn from this man would be nothing that he would prefer to conceal, unless accidentally surprised from him. It was necessary therefore to approach the subject with considerable circumspection.

"I have called," said Mr. Barnes, "in relation to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of your brother."

"Are you connected with the police force?" asked Mr. Quadrant.

"No. I am a private detective."

"Then you will pardon my saying that you are an intruder – an unwelcome intruder."

"I think not," said Mr. Barnes, showing no irritation at his reception. "I have the permission of Mrs. Quadrant to investigate this affair."

"Oh! You have seen her, have you?"

"I have just had an interview with her."

"Then your intrusion is more than unwelcome; it is an impertinence."

"Why, pray?"

"You should have seen myself or my brother, before disturbing a woman in the midst of her grief."

"I asked for you or your brother, but you were both away. It was only then that I asked to see Mrs. Quadrant."

"You should not have done so. It was impertinent, I repeat. Why could you not have waited to see one of us?"

"Justice cannot wait. Delay is often dangerous."

"What have you to do with justice? This affair is none of your business."

"The State assumes that a crime is an outrage against all its citizens, and any man has the right to seek out and secure the punishment of the criminal."

"How do you know that any crime has been committed?"

"There can be no doubt about it. The removal of your brother's body from his coffin was a criminal act in itself, even if we do not take into account the object of the person who did this."

"And what, pray, was the object, since you are so wise?"

"Perhaps the substitution of the body of a victim of murder, in order that the person killed might be incinerated."

"That proposition is worthy of a detective. You first invent a crime, and then seek to gain employment in ferreting out what never occurred."

"That hardly holds with me, as I have offered my service without remuneration."

"Oh, I see. An enthusiast in your calling! A crank, in other words. Well, let me prick your little bubble. Suppose I can supply you with another motive, one not at all connected with murder?"

"I should be glad to hear you propound one."

"Suppose that I tell you that though my brother requested that his body should be cremated, both his widow and myself were opposed? Suppose that I further state that my brother Amos, being older than I, assumed the management of affairs, and insisted that the cremation should occur? And then suppose that I admit that to thwart that, I removed the body myself?"

"You ask me to suppose all this," said Mr. Barnes quietly. "In reply, I ask you, do you make such a statement?"

"Why, no. I do not intend to make any statement, because I do not consider that you have any right to mix yourself up in this affair. It is my wish that the matter should be allowed to rest. Nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings, or to my brother's, were he alive, poor fellow, than all this newspaper notoriety. I wish to see the body buried, and the mystery with it. I have no desire for any solution."

"But, despite your wishes, the affair will be, must be, investigated. Now, to discuss your imaginary proposition, I will say that it is so improbable that no one would believe it."

"Why not, pray?"

"First, because it was an unnatural procedure upon such an inadequate motive. A man might kill his brother, but he would hardly desecrate his brother's coffin merely to prevent a certain form of disposing of the dead."

"That is mere presumption. You cannot dogmatically state what may actuate a man."

"But in this case the means was inadequate to the end."

"How so?"

"If the combined wishes of yourself and the widow could not sway your brother Amos, who had taken charge of the funeral, how could you hope when the body should be removed from the river, that he would be more easily brought around to your wishes?"

"The effort to cremate the body having failed once, he would not resist my wishes in the second burial."

"That is doubtful. I should think he would be so incensed by your act, that he would be more than ever determined that you should have no say in the matter. But supposing that you believed otherwise, and that you wished to carry out this extraordinary scheme, you had no opportunity to do so."

"Why not?"

"I suppose, of course, that your brother sat up with the corpse through the night before the funeral."

"Exactly. You suppose a good deal more than you know. My brother did not sit up with the corpse. As the coffin had been closed, there was no need to follow that obsolete custom. My brother retired before ten o'clock. I myself remained up some hours longer."

Thus in the mental sparring Mr. Barnes had succeeded in learning one fact from this reluctant witness.

"But even so," persisted the detective, "you would have found difficulty in removing the body from this house to the river."

"Yet it was done, was it not?"

This was unanswerable. Mr. Barnes did not for a moment place any faith in what this brother had said. He argued that had he done anything like what he suggested, he would never have hinted at it as a possibility. Why he did so was a puzzle. Perhaps he merely wished to make the affair seem more intricate, in the hope of persuading him to drop the investigation, being, as he had stated, honestly anxious to have the matter removed from the public gaze, and caring nothing about any explanation of how his brother's body had been taken from the coffin. On the other hand, there was a possibility which could not be entirely overlooked. He might really have been guilty of acting as he had suggested, and perhaps now told of it as a cunning way of causing the detective to discredit such a solution of the mystery. Mr. Barnes thought it well to pursue the subject a little further.

"Suppose," said he, "that it could be shown that the ashes now in the urn at the cemetery are the ashes of a human being?"

"You will be smart if you can prove that," said Mr. Quadrant. "Ashes are ashes, I take it, and you will get little proof there. But since you discussed my proposition, I will argue with you about yours. You say, suppose the ashes are those of a human being. Very well, then, that would prove that my brother was cremated after all, and that I have been guying you, playing with you as a fisherman who fools a fish with feathers instead of real bait."

"But what of the identification of the body at the Morgue?"

"Was there ever a body at the Morgue that was not identified a dozen times? People are apt to be mistaken about their friends after death."

"But this identification was quite complete, being backed up by scientific reasons advanced by experts."

"Yes, but did you ever see a trial where expert witnesses were called, that equally expert witnesses did not testify to the exact contrary? Let me ask you a question. Have you seen this body at the Morgue?"

"Not yet."

"Go and see it. Examine the sole of the left foot. If you do not find a scar three or four inches long the body is not that of my brother. This scar was the result of a bad gash made by stepping on a shell when in bathing. He was a boy at the time, and I was with him."

"But, Mr. Quadrant," said Mr. Barnes, astonished by the new turn of the conversation, "I understood that you yourself admitted that the identification was correct."

"The body was identified by Dr. Mortimer first. My sister and my brother agreed with the doctor, and I agreed with them all, for reasons of my own."

"Would you mind stating those reasons?"

"You are not very shrewd if you cannot guess. I want this matter dropped. Had I denied the identity of the body it must have remained at the Morgue, entailing more newspaper sensationalism. By admitting the identity, I hoped that the body would be given to us for burial, and that the affair would then be allowed to die."

"Then if, as you now signify, this is not your brother's body, what shall I think of your suggestion that you yourself placed the body in the river?"

"What shall you think? Why, think what you like. That is your affair. The less you think about it, though, the better pleased I should be. And now really I cannot permit this conversation to be prolonged. You must go, and if you please I wish that you do not come here again."

"I am sorry that I cannot promise that. I shall come if I think it necessary. This is your sister's house, I believe, and she has expressed a wish that I pursue this case to the end."

"My sister is a fool. At any rate, I can assure you, you shall not get another chance at me, so make the most of what information I have given you. Good morning."



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