Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"What happened then?" asked the cashier.

"Well," said Mr. Barnes, "I had better luck than I had expected, though, in line with my hopes. You see, my sudden appearance before him, my words, and my rapid speech, all tended to confuse him. He suddenly heard himself accused of forging the name of 'Carl Grasse,' and for the moment thought only of defending himself from that charge. He was utterly taken back, and stammered out, 'I did not forge anybody's name. The checks had my own signature, and the endorsement – that was "Carl Grasse." There is no such person.' Then suddenly seeing that he was making a mistake and incriminating himself, he exclaimed, 'Who the devil are you?'

"'I am a detective,' I answered, quickly seizing his arms and putting on a pair of manacles, 'and I arrest you for swindling the Fulton Bank, whether your offense be forgery or not.' That settled him. He wilted and began to cry for mercy. He even offered me money to let him escape. I delivered him to the Central Office officials, and since then the Inspector has obtained a voluntary confession from him. Are you satisfied, Mr. West?"

"I am more than satisfied. I am amazed. Mr. Barnes, you are a genius."

"Not at all, Mr. West, I am a detective."

XI
A FROSTY MORNING. 11
  Copyright by Short Story Publishing Company. Republished from the Black Cat, by permission.


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"Thank heaven, you have come," exclaimed Mr. Van Rawlston, as Mr. Mitchel entered. "I have a thousand pounds on my mind, and – "

"Never heard of the disease," interrupted Mr. Mitchel. "If you consider mind and brain to be synonymous, the locality is popularly supposed to be inundated with water occasionally – but then, you mentioned a thousand pounds, and, a pound being a pint, we would have a thousand pints, or five hundred quarts, and – well, really, your head seems hardly large enough, so – "

"I am talking of money," ejaculated Mr. Van Rawlston, sharply; "English money. Pounds sterling."

"The deuce you are! Money, eh? Money on the brain! Oh, I've heard of that. It is a very common disorder."

"Mitchel, I sent for you to help me. I am up to my ears in a mystery. I've been in this room nearly all day trying to solve it. I've had your friend Barnes working on it for several hours, yet we have made no progress. In despair I thought of you; of your cool, keen, analytical brain, and I decided that you could discover the truth, if any man can. But if you are in a jesting humor, why – "

"A thousand pardons, old friend. That is one pardon for each of your pounds. But, there, forgive me, and I will be serious. I received your note late, because I did not reach home until dinner time.

You asked me to call here as soon as possible, and here I am within half an hour of reading your message. Now, then, about this thousand pounds sterling. Where are they, or is it, as you are most accustomed to speaking. The plural or singular verb seems to be a matter of choice with large amounts."

"The money is in this room."

"In this room? You know that, and yet cannot find it?"

"Therein lies the mystery. I had it in my hands this morning, and within a few minutes it had vanished."

"Now, Mr. Van Rawlston, if you are presenting a problem for me to solve, I beg of you to be minutely accurate in your statements. You say 'had vanished.' That is manifestly an impossibility. I presume you mean 'seemed to have vanished.'"

"There was no seeming about it. It was a single bank-note, and I placed it on this table. Five minutes later it had disappeared."

"'Disappeared' is a better word, by long odds. It passed out of your sight, you mean. That I can believe. The question then arises, how was this disappearance managed. I say managed, which is an intimation of my belief that the note did not hide itself, but rather that it was hidden. From this postulate I deduce that two or more persons, besides yourself, were present at the time of said disappearance of said bank-note. Am I correct?"

"You are, but really I can't see how you have guessed that there was more than one person with me!"

"It could not be otherwise. Had there been but one person in this room with you, you would not think, you would know absolutely that he took the note. That you have a doubt as to the identity of the culprit, shows that you suspect one of two or more persons."

"Mitchel, I am delighted that I sent for you. You are exactly the man to recover this money."

"What about Barnes? I think you mentioned his name?"

"Yes. Naturally my first thought was to send for a detective, and I remembered him in connection with that ruby robbery of yours, which occurred at my house. He is now following a clue which he considers a good one, and will report during the evening. But perhaps I should relate the exact circumstances of this affair. The details are strikingly curious, I assure you."

"Now that I know that Barnes is on the scent, I may say that I am eager for the fray. Nothing would please me better than to succeed where he fails. Every time I outwit him, it is a feather in my cap, and another argument in favor of my theory that the professional detective is a much over-rated genius. Allow me to light a cigar, and make myself comfortable, in exchange for which privilege I will devote my undivided attention to your tale of woe."

Mr. Mitchel drew forth a handsome gold case, which bore his monogram in diamonds, and selected a choice Havana, which he puffed complacently as Mr. Van Rawlston proceeded.

"Some thirty years ago, or more," began Mr. Van Rawlston, "there came into my office a young Englishman, who introduced himself as Thomas Eggleston. The object of his visit was curious. He wished to borrow four thousand dollars upon collateral. Imagine my surprise when the security offered proved to be an English bank-note for one thousand pounds. It seemed odd that he should wish to borrow, when he could readily have exchanged his note for American currency, but he explained that for sentimental reasons he wished not to part with this note permanently. He desired to redeem it in the future, and keep it as a memento – the foundation of the fortune which he hoped to earn in this new land."

"A singular wish," interposed Mr. Mitchel.

"Singular indeed. So much so that my interest was keenly aroused. I agreed to advance the sum demanded without charge. Moreover, I put him in the way of some good speculations which paved his way to success at the outset. It was not long before his thousand-pound note was back in his possession. Since then we have been close friends, and I was not surprised, when he died a few days ago, to find that I had been named as executor of his estates. Now I must speak of three other persons. When Eggleston came to this country he brought with him a sister. A few years later she married a man named Hetheridge, a worthless scamp, who supposed he was marrying money, and who soon abandoned his wife when he learned that she was poor. I think he drank himself to death. Mrs. Hetheridge did not survive him very long, but she left a little girl, now grown to womanhood. Alice Hetheridge is one of the persons who was present when the bank-note disappeared. A second was Arthur Lumley, of whom I know little, except that he is in love with Alice, and that he was here to-day. Robert Eggleston was also present. He is the nephew of the deceased, and proved to be the heir to the bulk of the estate. He has only been in this country a few months, and has lived in this house during that time. Now I come to the events of to-day."

"Kindly be as explicit as possible," said Mr. Mitchel. "Omit no detail, however trifling."

"My friend died very unexpectedly," continued Mr. Van Rawlston. "On Saturday he was well, and on Monday dead. On Wednesday morning, the day of the funeral, his man of business brought me his client's will. I learned by it that I was chosen an executor, and I undertook to make its contents known to the family. I appointed this morning for that purpose, and when I came, I was surprised to find young Lumley present. Alice took me aside, and explained that she had invited him, and so I was silenced. I asked her to bring me a certain box described in the will, which she did. It was locked, the key having been brought to me with the will. I took from it a packet which contained a bank-note for a thousand pounds; the same upon which I had once loaned Eggleston money. There were also some government bonds, and railroad securities. Having compared these with the list attached to the will, I then read aloud the testament of my dear friend. A part of this I will read to you, as possibly shedding some light upon the situation."

"One moment," interposed Mr. Mitchel. "You said that the packet taken from the box contained the bank-note as well as the bonds and other securities. Are you sure that the note was there?"

"Oh, yes. I found it first, and placed it on the table in front of me, while I went through the other papers. When I looked for it again, it had vanished. I say vanished, though you do not like the word, because it seems incredible that one would dare to steal in the presence of three others. But listen to an extract from the will. After bequeathing all of his property to his nephew, Eggleston inserted this paragraph:

"'To my dear niece I must explain why she is not named as my heiress. My father married twice. By his first wife he had a son, William, and by my own mother, my sister and myself. When he died, my half-brother, William, was ten years my senior, and had amassed a considerable fortune, whereas I found myself penniless and dependent upon his bounty. He was not a generous man, but he presented me a bank-note for a thousand pounds, and paid my passage to this country. My first impulse, after my arrival, was to make my way as rapidly as I could, and then to return to William the identical bank-note which he had given me. For this reason I used it as collateral, and borrowed money, instead of changing it for American currency. By the time the note was again in my possession my brother had given me another proof of his recognition of our consanguinity, and I decided that it would be churlish to carry out my intention. Recently William lost his entire fortune in unfortunate speculations, and the shock killed him. Before he died he gave his son Robert a letter to me, reminding me that all that I owned had been the fruit of his bounty, and claiming from me a share of my fortune for his son. I took Robert into my house, and I am bound to say that I have not learned to love him. This, however, may be a prejudice, due to the fact that he had come between me and my wish to make Alice my heiress. It may be in recognition of the possibility of this prejudice that I feel compelled to ease my conscience by bequeathing to William's son the fortune which grew out of William's bounty. The original bank-note, however, was a free gift to me, and I certainly may dispose of it as I please. I ask my niece Alice to accept it from me, as all that my conscience permits me to call my own.'"

"An interesting and curious statement," commented Mr. Mitchel. "Now tell me about the vanishment of the note."

"There is my difficulty. I have so little to tell. After reading the will, I laid it down, and reached out my hand, intending to give the bank-note to Alice, whereupon I discovered that it had disappeared."

"Tell me exactly where each person was seated."

"We were all at this table, which, you see, is small. I sat at this end, Alice at my right hand, young Eggleston at my left, and Lumley opposite to me."

"So that all three were easily within reach of the bank-note when you placed it upon the table? That complicates matters. Well, when you discovered that you could not find the note, who spoke first, and what comment was made?"

"I cannot be certain. I was stunned, and the others seemed as much surprised as I was. I remember that Eggleston asked Alice whether she had picked it up, adding, 'It is yours, you know.' But she made an indignant denial. Lumley said nothing, but sat looking at us as though seeking an explanation. Then I recall that Eggleston made a very practical suggestion."

"Ah, what was that?"

"He laughed as he did so, but what he said was reasonable enough. In substance it was, that if each person in the room were searched, and the note not found, it would thus be proven that it had merely been blown from the table by some draught, in which case a thorough search should find it."

"Was his suggestion acted upon?"

"You may be sure of that. I declined once to allow my guests to be searched when that fellow Thauret suggested it, at the time of the ruby robbery. And you will remember that the scoundrel himself had the jewel. That taught me a lesson. Therefore when Eggleston made his suggestion, I began with him. The search was thorough, I assure you, but I found nothing. I had as little success with Lumley, and I even examined my own pockets, with the vague hope that I might have inadvertently put the note in one of them. But all my looking was in vain."

"Might not one of these men have secreted the bank-note elsewhere, and then have possessed himself of it after your search?"

"I took care to prevent that. As soon as I had gone through Eggleston, I unceremoniously bundled him out of the room. I did the same with Lumley, and neither has been allowed in here since."

"What about the young lady?"

"It would be absurd to suspect her. The note was her property. Still she insisted upon my searching her, and I examined her pocket. Of course, I found nothing."

"Ah, you only examined her pocket. Well, under the circumstances, I suppose that was all you could do. Thus, having sent the three persons out of the room, you think that the bank-note is still here. A natural deduction, only I wish that the woman might have been more thoroughly searched. I suppose you have looked about the room?"

"I sent for Mr. Barnes, and he and I made a most careful search."

"What view does he take of the case?"

Before Mr. Van Rawlston could reply there was a sharp ring at the door-bell, and a moment later Mr. Barnes himself was ushered in.

"Speak of the Devil, and his imps appear," said Mr. Mitchel, jocularly. "Well, Mr. Imp of Satan, what luck? Has your patron assisted you? Have you had the Devil's own luck, and solved this problem before I fairly got my wits upon it? You look flushed with victory."

"I did not know you were to be called in, Mr. Mitchel," replied Mr. Barnes, "and I am sorry if you shall be disappointed, but really, I think I can explain this affair. The truth is, it did not strike me as very complex."

"Hear that," exclaimed Mr. Mitchel. "Not complex! The sudden vanishing of a thousand-pound note, before the very eyes, and under the very noses, as it were, of four persons, not complex! The Devil certainly has sharpened your wits; eh, Mr. Barnes?"

"Oh, I don't mind your chaffing. Let me explain why I considered this case simple. You will agree that the note was either mislaid or stolen?"

"Logical deduction number one," cried Mr. Mitchel, turning down a finger of the right hand.

"It was not mislaid, or we would have found it. Therefore it was stolen."

"A doubtful point, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Mitchel, "but we will give you the benefit of the doubt, and call it logical deduction number two." He turned down another finger.

"If stolen the note was taken by one of three persons," pursued the detective.

"He leaves you out of it, Van Rawlston. Well, I suppose I must give you the benefit of the doubt this time. So there goes L. D. number three." He dropped another finger.

"Of these three, one actually owned the note, and another had just heard of the inheritance of a large fortune. The third, therefore, comes under suspicion."

"Illogical deduction number one," said Mr. Mitchel, sharply, as he turned down a finger of the left hand.

"Why illogical?" asked the detective.

"First, people have been known to steal their own goods; second, rich men are often thieves. Mr. Lumley, being in love with the owner of the note, was as unlikely to steal it as she was herself."

"Suppose that he had stolen it before he heard that his sweetheart was to inherit it?"

"In that case, of course, he may have desired to return it, and yet not have had the opportunity."

"Such was probably the fact. That he stole the note I am reasonably certain."

"How did he get it out of this room?" asked Mr. Van Rawlston.

"He must have hidden it elsewhere than in his pockets," said Mr. Barnes. "You overlooked the fact, Mr. Van Rawlston, that you cannot thoroughly search a man in the presence of a lady."

"Good point," exclaimed Mr. Mitchel. "You have your wits about you to-day, Mr. Barnes. Now tell us what you have learned in corroboration of your theory."

"Lumley is in love with Miss Hetheridge. Up to a few hours ago, he was a clerk, upon a salary not sufficient to permit him to marry. Curiously enough, for one would hardly have thought him so foolish, when he left this house he went direct to his employer and resigned his position. Next, I traced him to a business agency, where he obtained an option to purchase a partnership in a good concern, agreeing to pay five thousand dollars for the same."

"Five thousand dollars! About one thousand pounds," said Mr. Mitchel, thoughtfully.

"The scoundrel!" cried Mr. Van Rawlston. "Undoubtedly he is the thief. I trust you have arrested him, Mr. Barnes?"

"No. He left the city by a train leaving the Grand Central an hour ago."

"Track him, Mr. Barnes. Track him to the end of the earth if necessary. Spare no money. I'll pay the expense." Mr. Van Rawlston was excited.

"I do not know his destination," said the detective, "but, fortunately, the train is a 'local,' and he cannot go far on it. I will do my best to catch up with him. But no time is to be lost."

As he hurried out, Mr. Mitchel shouted after him:

"Luck, and the Devil go with you, Mr. Barnes." Then, turning to Mr. Van Rawlston, he continued: "After all, shrewd detective though he be, Mr. Barnes may be on the wrong scent. The note may still be in this house. I do not like to say in this room, after your thorough search. Still, if it could be managed, without the knowledge of Eggleston and Miss Hetheridge, I would like to remain here to-night."

"You wish to make a search yourself, eh? Very good. I will arrange it. By the way, I should tell you that there is to be an auction here to-morrow. Eggleston had arranged a sale of his library before his sudden death, and as the date was fixed and the catalogues sent to all possible buyers, we have thought best to allow the sale to proceed. This being the library, you will see the necessity for settling this mystery before to-morrow, if possible."

"A crowd coming here to-morrow? Excellent. Nothing could be better. Rest easy, Van Rawlston. If Barnes does not recover the bank-note, I will."

It was already nine o'clock in the evening, and Mr. Van Rawlston decided to go to his own home. Upon inquiry he learned that Eggleston was not in the house, and that Miss Hetheridge was in her room. He dismissed the servant, and locked Mr. Mitchel in the library. Next he went up-stairs to Miss Hetheridge, told her that he had thought best to lock the library door, and bade her good-night. Passing out to the street, he handed the door-key to Mr. Mitchel through the front window.

Left thus alone in a strange house, Mr. Mitchel dropped into an easy chair and began to analyze the situation. He did not light the gas, as that would have betrayed his presence, but the glowing grate-fire shed light enough for him to see about him.

Mr. Eggleston had amassed a great collection of books, for the library was a long room occupying the whole of one side of the house, the parlors being on the opposite side of the hallway. Windows in front overlooked the street, and at the back opened upon a small yard. Just below these back windows extended a shed, the roof of an extension, which served as a laundry.

Mr. Mitchel went over in his mind the incidents which had been related to him, and two of his conclusions are worthy of note here:

"Barnes argues," thought he, "that Lumley may have taken the bank-note before he knew that it had been bequeathed to his sweetheart. But the same holds good with the girl herself, and might well explain her stealing what was really her own property. That is one point worth bearing in mind, but the best of all is my scheme for finding the note itself. Why should I trouble myself with a search which might occupy me all night, when by waiting I may see the thief take the note from its present hiding-place, always supposing that it is in this room? Decidedly, patience is a virtue in this instance, and I have only to wait."

A couple of hours later, Mr. Mitchel started up from a slight doze, and realized that he had been disturbed, though at first he could not tell by what.

Then he heard a sound which indicated that someone was fitting a key into the lock. Perhaps the thief was coming! This thought awakened him to his full faculties, and he quickly hid among the folds of some heavy draperies which served upon occasion to divide the room into two apartments. The door opened, and he heard the stealthy tread of soft footsteps, though at first the figure of the intruder was hidden from his view by the draperies which surrounded him. In a few moments his suspense was at an end. A young woman, of girlish figure, passed by him and went over to the fireplace. She was in a dainty night-robe, her long black hair hanging in rich profusion down her back. She leaned against the mantel, and gazed into the fire without moving, for some minutes, and then turning suddenly, crossed the room, going directly to one of the book-shelves. Here she paused, then took down several books which she placed upon a chair near by. Her back was towards Mr. Mitchel, but he could see her reach into the recess with her arm, which was bared by the act, the loose sleeve of her gown falling aside. Then there was a clicking sound just perceptible to the ear, and Mr. Mitchel muttered to himself:



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