Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"'I suppose, of course, you have searched this room, under the possibility of its having dropped to the floor?' I inquired.

"'Yes, indeed,' she answered. 'I had my own maid up, and superintended the search myself. But I took the precaution to see that nothing should be removed from the room. I had the door closed, and then we took up the rug carefully and shook it. Nothing fell from it, and the stud was not on the floor or elsewhere. You can see yourself that it cannot be a difficult matter to search this little room thoroughly. It has been done without success, but if you like you may search again. I assure you that nothing has been taken from the room. If one of those two women has not taken that stud, you may count me an idiot.'

"'You have admitted that your maid was in this room, and that brings another possibility into the case,' I said.

"'You mean that Janet might have taken it? Not at all a possibility. In the first place she is devoted to me, as my people adopted her when she was but a child, and she has been personally in my service for more than ten years. No, Janet would not do such a thing, but even if she would, she could not have done so. I took precautions.'

"'What precautions?' I asked.

"'Why, she would need one hand to pick it up, and I not only kept both of her hands occupied, but I did not permit her to stoop to the floor.'

"'How could you keep her hands always occupied?' said I.

"'Why, most of the time she was handling the broom, and that requires two hands. It was only when she shook the rug and moved the sofa that her hands were otherwise occupied. I myself did the searching, and I am absolutely certain that Janet had not the least opportunity to pick up so much as a pin.'

"'And you think that one of your friends would do what you would not attribute to your maid?'

"'Assuredly. In the first place these women are not friends of mine; after to-day, I should rather say enemies. Moreover, I would trust Janet as I would few of my real friends. You see I have not tested all my friends, and I have tested Janet. She has had temptation enough and opportunity enough to rob me a thousand times over, were she so disposed. No, I tell you one of those two women has that diamond stud.'

"'Would you mind saying which one you are the more inclined to suspect?' I asked.

"'Why, that is a hard question. Sometimes I think one, and then again the other. Mrs. Beaumont showed so much venom that I can see more reason to suspect her if I decide from motive alone. It is really her scheme to get her cousin into the society. It is she who feels most thwarted, because of her lost influence. On the other hand, I cannot remember seeing her within reach of the tea-table, while Mrs. Merivale was near it all the time. So Mrs. Merivale had the opportunity, while the incentive through temper was with Mrs. Beaumont.'

"This was the little problem which I was asked to solve, and I think that you will comprehend my meaning when I say that it was intricate because of its very simplicity.

Let me enumerate the facts so as to get a sort of bird's-eye view of the situation.

"First, we have two women present when the missing property is placed on a table accessible to at least one, and possibly to both. Second, a small room, with floor devoid of cracks, and covered by a rug easily moved and shaken. Third, only a few pieces of simple furniture in the room. Fourth, the visitors depart, and the property is missed. Fifth, a search without discovery, a third possible thief entering upon the scene.

"We have apparently but four solutions; either one of the three women took the stud, or else the alleged loser lies. I omit the possibility that the stud was merely mislaid or accidentally out of sight in the room; this, because I personally conducted a search, which was so systematic as to make it absolutely assured that the stud was not in the room when I looked for it.

"Of the four theories, then, I preferred first to consider that one which the mistress declared to be ridiculous. I insisted upon seeing and catechising the maid Janet, thereby deepening madame's doubts as to my ability. After talking with this girl for half an hour, I felt so convinced of her integrity that I mentally eliminated her from the case. Next in order we had the two visitors, one of whom, according to Mrs. Upton, had a motive while the other had the opportunity. The first postulate always is that the guilty person must have both opportunity and motive, unless indeed we are dealing with an insane person, when motive may be eliminated, though frequently the insane are actuated by quite intelligible motives. Thus we seemed obliged either to discover that Mrs. Beaumont had an opportunity to obtain possession of the stud, or else that Mrs. Merivale had a motive, except that the latter may have simply acted upon the opportunity without motive, in which case we would be dealing with the kleptomaniac. After due consideration I decided to call separately upon these two ladies, and went to Mrs. Merivale first.

"She courteously received me, and as soon as I met her I was pleasantly impressed by her personality. After five minutes' talk I was certain that if she took the stud, it was, after all, the act of a kleptomaniac, and that no petty motive of revenge would have tempted this high-born, beautiful gentlewoman to descend to theft. She asked me the object of my call, and looked at me so frankly that there was no chance for subterfuge. Consequently I openly declared the purpose of my visit.

"'Madame,' said I, 'I regret very much the embarrassing nature of my errand. But you visited Mrs. Upton this morning, I believe?'

"'I did, in company with my cousin, Mrs. Beaumont.'

"'Did you happen to notice that while you were there she placed a diamond stud on the tea-table?'

"'Yes; I remember the circumstance perfectly, because of the impression which it made upon me.'

"'Would you mind telling me what that impression was?'

"'Why, simply that it was very discourteous, or at least very untidy. When we were shown to her room, she was lying down, with the collar of her waist open. After a while she arose, the stud dropped to the floor, and she picked it up and placed it on the little tea-table. I thought that it would have shown a greater sense of propriety if she had replaced it and fastened her collar.'

"'Do you recall whether the stud was still on the table when you left?'

"'Why, no! How should I? I paid no further attention to it whatever.' Then as a new idea entered her mind, her eyes flashed, and the color rose in her cheeks as she said to me sharply:

"'You cannot mean that Mrs. Upton dares to intimate – '

"'She intimated nothing,' I hastened to interject. 'Immediately after your departure the stud was missed, and the most thorough search has failed to discover it. In these circumstances Mrs. Upton sought my aid, and I drew from her the details of her morning's experiences.'

"'I imagine you had little difficulty in drawing forth the details.' She said this with a sneer, which made me understand how this woman could say unpleasant things without forgetting her dignity.

"'I assure you,' I hastened to add, 'Mrs. Upton knows nothing of my visit here. I have on my own responsibility called with the idea that if I could obtain an account of your visit from yourself, there might be some slight difference in the two stories which would show me how to proceed.'

"'I know no more than I have told you, and as I am far from being interested in Mrs. Upton's lost baubles, I must beg you to excuse me from further discussion of the subject.'

"I was dismissed. It was courteously done, but done nevertheless. I could do nothing but take leave. Still I made one venture, —

"'I must ask your pardon for intruding, but, as I have said, I thought you might be able to supply a missing detail. For example, do you recall whether Mrs. Upton's maid entered the room while you were there?'

"'I am sorry, Mr. Barnes,' said she in courteous but firm tones, 'but I must decline to pursue this conversation further.'

"That was all. I had seen one of the suspected persons, and learned nothing. Still an interview of this character is bound to leave an impression, and in this case the impression was very strongly in favor of Mrs. Merivale. Without irrefutable proof I could not believe that this dignified, frank woman had stolen the stud. For the time at least I also dismissed all theories of kleptomania.

"Thus my attention was directed toward the woman who had a motive, but was reported to have lacked the opportunity. I called at once upon Mrs. Beaumont.

"This lady is of quite a different mould from her cousin. Older by at least ten years, she is still handsome, her beauty being, however, physical in character only. She lacks the self-poise and dignity which renders Mrs. Merivale's beauty so much more attractive. Moreover, she is voluble, where the other is reserved, a trait which I welcomed as affording me more opportunity to gain some possible clue to truth.

"She came into her reception-room where I awaited her, evidently brimful of curiosity. I had sent in my card, and it seems she had heard of me in connection with that somewhat famous wager of yours.

"'Mr. Barnes, the detective, I believe,' she said as she entered.

"'At your service, Madame,' I replied. 'May I have a few minutes' conversation with you upon a trifling, yet quite puzzling matter?'

"'Why, certainly,' said she, 'but don't keep me in suspense. I am burning with curiosity to know why a detective should call on me.'

"I thought that this woman might be caught by a sudden attack, and made the venture.

"'A diamond stud was stolen from Mrs. Upton this morning, while you were there!' I said, watching her closely. She did not flinch, but seemed honestly not to comprehend the suggestiveness of my words.

"'I do not understand you,' said she.

"'It is not a serious matter, Madame, but Mrs. Upton placed a diamond stud on her tea-table while you and Mrs. Merivale were with her, and missed it a moment after you had left. Therefore – '

"This was plain enough, and she grasped the truth at a flash. In an instant she gave me evidence of that temper against which I had been warned by Mrs. Upton.

"'You dare to insinuate that I took her miserable little stud? I wish my husband were at home; I would have you horsewhipped. No, I wouldn't either. It is not you who suspect me, it is that self-sufficient she-devil, Mrs. Upton. So she accuses me of being a thief, does she? Well, mark me well, Mr. Detective, I shall make her pay dearly for that insult. I have stood enough of that woman's impertinent superciliousness. This is going too far. If she has a shadow of proof against me, she can meet me in open court. Do you understand me? Go back and tell Mrs. Upton, with my compliments, that she must either prove that I stole her stud, or else I will sue her for libel. I'll let her see with whom she is fooling.'

"'Really, Mrs. Beaumont,' said I as soon as I found a chance to speak, 'you have rather gotten ahead of my intentions. I assure you that no accusation has been made against you.'

"'Indeed!' said she, scornfully uplifting her nose. 'And pray, then, why have you called? Certainly Mrs. Upton cannot imagine that I would be interested in the petty thieving that goes on in her house.'

"'The point is just this, Madame,' said I. 'The stud was placed on a tea-table while you were present. Mrs. Merivale has told me that she remembers this distinctly. When you had left, the stud was missed, and the most thorough search has been made, not once but twice, without finding it. Indeed, there is no place in the room where it could have been lost. According to the story of Mrs. Upton, the affair, trifling as it is, is a really puzzling problem. But I ventured to hope that either Mrs. Merivale or yourself might remember some incident which might give me a clue; such, for example, as the entrance of one of the house servants.'

"'That is nothing but a smooth story invented by yourself,' said she, 'in order to pacify my righteous indignation. But you cannot deceive me. Mrs. Upton has told you that I stole her stud, and you have come here to endeavor to prove it.'

"'In justice to Mrs. Upton,' said I, 'I must state, on the contrary, that she very distinctly told me that you could have had no opportunity to take the stud, as you were not at any time near enough to the tea-table to touch it.'

"'If she told you that, it shows how little observation she has. I don't at all object to admitting that I had the thing in my hand.'

"'You had it in your hand!' I exclaimed, surprised.

"'Yes. It happened in this way, Mrs. Upton received us with her collar unbuttoned, in the most slovenly fashion. After a while she got up from the lounge, where she was feigning a headache because too lazy to arrange her toilet before receiving guests. It was then that the stud fell to the floor. She picked it up and placed it on the table. When we were leaving she led the way out of the room, Mrs. Merivale following, and I leaving the room last. As I passed, I thoughtlessly picked up the stud and looked at it. I then put it back. I have a vague idea that it rolled off and fell to the floor, but I can't be sure.'

"'That is singular,' said I; 'for if it fell to the floor it should have been found.'

"'Undoubtedly. Very likely it has been found; I should say, by one of the servants. You will never induce me to believe that Mrs. Upton took the trouble to search for that stud without help. She is too lazy by far.'

"I thought it best to keep discreetly silent, preferring not to mention the fact that the maid had been in the room. It being evident to my mind that this woman would adhere to this story, true or false, I deemed it prudent to at least appear to believe her.

"'I am much indebted to you, Madame,' said I. 'You see that, after all, my visit has led me to the truth, for we know that the stud probably fell to the floor, and is therefore either still in the room, or else, as you suggest, one of the servants may have picked it up.'

"'All that is very well, Mr. Barnes,' said she; 'and you are very clever in shielding Mrs. Upton. But, as I said before, you do not deceive me. This matter is more serious than you imagine. That woman has worked systematically for two years to supplant me in our society, "The Daughters of the Revolution." Just now she fancies that she has triumphed over me; but in spite of that, she is jealous of my influence with the members, and would go to any extreme to injure me socially. She well knows that I did not take her stud, but she is quite willing to allow this suspicion to drift out to the world, knowing that it would be difficult to prove my innocence of a charge so vaguely circulated, and that there might be some who would turn aside from me because of this shadow. Now this I shall not permit. If she does not prove her charge, I shall certainly sue her for libel, and have the whole matter cleared up in the open tribunal of the law. You may tell her this from me. There shall be no half-way measures. One thing more before you go. I must call my maid.'

"She rang a bell, and a moment later her maid responded, and at her mistress's orders went upstairs and brought down a jewel-case of large size. This, Mrs. Beaumont opened, and taking out the contents strewed them on the table.

"'There, do you see these?' said she with pride in her voice. 'These are my jewels. Mrs. Upton perhaps is richer than I am, but I defy her to show such jewelry as I have. Some of these things are two hundred years old. Here is a necklace which one of my ancestors wore at the first inauguration of Washington. Here is another which my grandmother wore at the coronation of Queen Victoria. Here is an emerald ring, presented to my own mother by Napoleon. And you see what the others are. Nearly all have some history which adds to their intrinsic value. And with these in my possession, to think that that woman would accuse me of stealing a common little diamond stud! It makes my blood boil. But I have told you what course I shall pursue, and you may warn Mrs. Upton.'

"This ended the interview. I had gained some information at least, for I had learned that Mrs. Beaumont did have the opportunity to take the stud, but, on the other hand, the motive for such an act seemed less tenable. She certainly would not take it for its value, and in view of her own magnificent array of jewels, she would be less likely to imagine that she was giving Mrs. Upton any great annoyance by the petty theft. Then, too, her assertion that Mrs. Upton is systematically seeking to undermine her influence in their society connections, affords a possible reason for our last theory, that Mrs. Upton lied in declaring that the stud had been stolen. Thus the matter rests, as I have had no opportunity to have another interview with Mrs. Upton. If you call on her, I am sure that you will be well received because of the fact that she knows all about your outwitting me in that wager matter. Trusting that you may care to give this little affair some of your time and attention, and with the belief that you will certainly unravel the tangle if you do, I am

"Very sincerely yours,
"Jack Barnes."
(Letter from Mr. Mitchel to Mr. Barnes)

"My dear Barnes: —

"I read your letter with considerable interest. As you very truly say, the case was intricate because of its simplicity. As you had followed up three theories with apparently the result that you were at least tentatively satisfied that neither held the key to the mystery, it seemed proper to take up the affair where you had left it, and to endeavor to learn whether or not Mrs. Upton had lied to you, and still had the stud in her own possession. For this and other reasons I decided to adopt your suggestion and call upon Mrs. Upton. I did so, and, as you surmised, was cordially received. She met me first in her parlor, and I at once stated to her the object of my visit.

"'Mrs. Upton,' said I, 'you are perhaps aware that I have a friendly regard for Mr. Barnes, the detective, ever since the affair of my little wager. I have received a letter from him this morning in which he states that an important criminal case compels him suddenly to leave the city; he has also given me a succinct statement of the few facts in relation to the loss of your stud, and has asked me to interest myself in the solution of this little mystery.'

"'And you mean to do it?' she exclaimed, impulsively. 'Why, how delightful! Of course you will find out all about it. To think that you, Mr. Mitchel, the man who outwitted Mr. Barnes, will take up my case! I am honored, I assure you.'

"I give you her exact words, though her flattery was somewhat embarrassing. In the course of the conversation she referred to you in terms which I repeat, though I do not at all share her poor estimate of your ability.

"'Of course,' said I, 'I am not a detective, yet I do take a trifling interest in these little problems, I find it mentally exhilarating to measure minds, as it were, with these wrong-doers. Thus far I have generally been successful, which, however, only proves my claim that those who stoop to crime are not really ever sound mentally, and consequently, either from too little or from too much care, some slight detail is overlooked, which, once comprehended by the investigator, leads unerringly to the criminal.'

"'Ah, how delightfully you talk!' said she. 'I am so glad you have taken this up, for, do you know, I rather thought Mr. Barnes a little dull, not to say stupid. Why, he actually suggested that my maid took the stud!'

"Here, I thought, was an opportune moment to follow the method which you employed with Mrs. Beaumont, and by a sudden, unexpected accusation, to endeavor to surprise the truth from her. I said:

"'Oh, Mr. Barnes has given up that idea now, and has almost adopted one even more startling. He thinks that perhaps you took the stud yourself."

"I had expected from your estimate of this woman's character, which you recall was not very flattering to her mental calibre, that if indeed it were true that she had concocted this little scheme to injure a society rival, thus taken unawares she would feign great indignation. On the contrary, she laughed so heartily, and spoke of your theory so lightly that I was practically convinced that again we were on the wrong scent. All she said by way of comment was:

"'Well, if that is the result of his investigation, he is a bigger fool than I took him to be. It is certain, therefore, that he will never discover the truth, and so I am doubly glad that he has gone out of town, and that you have consented to take his place.'

"'You must not so quickly condemn Mr. Barnes,' said I, feeling bound to defend you. 'He has really worked in this matter quite systematically, and this final theory has been reached by exclusion.'

"'I do not understand,' said she, puzzled.

"'Well, first he accepted your assurance that the maid Janet was not guilty because she had no opportunity. Then he called upon Mrs. Merivale, and from his interview with her judged that she too must be innocent, a view in which I must concur after reading his report of what passed. Then he called upon Mrs. Beaumont, and though she admitted, what you did not yourself observe, that she actually took the stud in her hand when leaving the room, yet it seems equally certain that she replaced it, as she says she did. Thus, if the stud is really not in the room, there apparently could be no other explanation than that you are misleading us.'



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