Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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With these words Mr. Mark Quadrant walked out of the room, leaving Mr. Barnes alone.

IV

Mr. Barnes stood for a moment in a quandary, and then decided upon a course of action. He touched the bell which he knew would call the butler, and then sat down by the grate fire to wait. Almost immediately his eye fell upon a bit of white paper protruding from beneath a small rug, and he picked it up. Examining it closely, he guessed that it had once contained some medicine in powder form, but nothing in the shape of a label, or traces of the powder itself, was there to tell what the drug had been.

"I wonder," thought he, "whether this bit of paper would furnish me with a clue? I must have it examined by a chemist. He may discern by his methods what I cannot detect with the naked eye."

With this thought in his mind, he carefully folded the paper in its original creases and deposited it in his wallet. At that moment the butler entered.

"What is your name?" asked Mr. Barnes.

"Thomas, sir," said the man, a fine specimen of the intelligent New York negro. "Thomas Jefferson."

"Well, Thomas, I am a detective, and your mistress wishes me to look into the peculiar circumstances which, as you know, have occurred. Are you willing to help me?"

"I'll do anything for the mistress, sir."

"Very good. That is quite proper. Now, then, do you remember your master's death?"

"Yes, sir."

"And his funeral?"

"Yes, sir."

"You know when the undertaker and his men came and went, and how often, I presume? You let them in and saw them?"

"I let them in, yes, sir. But once or twice they went out without my knowing."

"At five o'clock on the afternoon before the funeral, I am told that Mrs. Quadrant visited the room where the body was, and ordered that the coffin should be closed for the last time. Did you know this?"

"No, sir."

"I understand that at that time the undertaker and two of his men were in the room, as were also the two Mr. Quadrants, Mrs. Quadrant, and the doctor. Now, be as accurate as you can, and tell me in what order and when these persons left the house."

"Dr. Mortimer went away, I remember, just after Mrs. Quadrant went to her room to lie down. Then the gentlemen went in to dinner, and I served them. The undertaker and one of his men left together just as dinner was put on table. I remember that because the undertaker stood in the hall and spoke a word to Mr. Amos just as he was entering the dining-room. Mr. Amos then turned to me, and said for me to show them out. I went to the door with them, and then went back to the dining-room."

"Ah! Then one of the undertaker's men was left alone with the body?"

"I suppose so, unless he went away first. I did not see him go at all. But, come to think of it, he must have been there after the other two went away."

"Why?"

"Because, when I let out the undertaker and his man, their wagon was at the door, but they walked off and left it.

After dinner it was gone, so the other man must have gone out and driven off in it."

"Very probably. Now, can you tell me this man's name? The last to leave the house, I mean?"

"I heard the undertaker call one 'Jack,' but I do not know which one."

"But you saw the two men – the assistants, I mean. Can you not describe the one that was here last?"

"Not very well. All I can say is that the one that went away with the undertaker was a youngish fellow without any mustache. The other was a short, thick-set man, with dark hair and a stubby mustache. That is all I noticed."

"That will be enough. I can probably find him at the undertaker's. Now, can you remember whether either of the gentlemen sat up with the corpse that night?"

"Both the gentlemen sat in here till ten o'clock. The body was across the hall in the little reception-room near the front door. About ten the door-bell rang, and I let in the doctor, who stopped to ask after Mrs. Quadrant. He and Mr. Amos went up to her room. The doctor came down in a few minutes, alone, and came into this room to talk with Mr. Mark."

"How long did he stay?"

"I don't know. Not long, I think, because he had on his overcoat. But Mr. Mark told me I could go to bed, and he would let the doctor out. So I just brought them a fresh pitcher of ice-water, and went to my own room."

"That is all, then, that you know of what occurred that night?"

"No, sir. There was another thing, that I have not mentioned to any one, though I don't think it amounts to anything."

"What was that?"

"Some time in the night I thought I heard a door slam, and the noise woke me up. I jumped out of bed and slipped on some clothes and came as far as the door here, but I did not come in."

"Why not?"

"Because I saw Mr. Amos in here, standing by the centre-table with a lamp in his hand. He was looking down at Mr. Mark, who was fast asleep alongside of the table, with his head resting on his arm on the table."

"Did you notice whether Mr. Amos was dressed or not?"

"Yes, sir. That's what surprised me. He had all his clothes on."

"Did he awaken his brother?"

"No. He just looked at him, and then tiptoed out and went upstairs. I slipped behind the hall door, so that he would not see me."

"Was the lamp in his hand one that he had brought down from his own room?"

"No, sir. It was one that I had been ordered to put in the room where the coffin was, as they did not want the electric light turned on in there all night. Mr. Amos went back into the front room, and left the lamp there before he went upstairs."

"Do you know when Mr. Mark went up to his room? Did he remain downstairs all night?"

"No, sir. He was in bed in his own room when I came around in the morning. About six o'clock, that was. But I don't know when he went to bed. He did not come down to breakfast, though, till nearly noon. The funeral was at two o'clock."

"That is all, I think," said Mr. Barnes. "But do not let any one know that I have talked with you."

"Just as you say, sir."

As it was now nearing noon, Mr. Barnes left the house and hastened up to Mr. Mitchel's residence to keep his engagement for luncheon. Arrived there, he was surprised to have Williams inform him that he had received a telephone message to the effect that Mr. Mitchel would not be at home for luncheon.

"But, Inspector," said Williams, "here's a note just left for you by a messenger."

Mr. Barnes took the envelope, which he found inclosed the following from Mr. Mitchel:

"Friend Barnes: —

"Am sorry I cannot be home to luncheon. Williams will give you a bite. I have news for you. I have seen the ashes, and there is now no doubt that a body, a human body, was burned at the crematory that day. I do not despair that we may yet discover whose body it was. More when I know more."

V

Mr. Barnes read this note over two or three times, and then folded it thoughtfully and put it in his pocket. He found it difficult to decide whether Mr. Mitchel had been really detained, or whether he had purposely broken his appointment. If the latter, then Mr. Barnes felt sure that already he had made some discovery which rendered this case doubly attractive to him, so much so that he had concluded to seek the solution himself.

"That man is a monomaniac," thought Mr. Barnes, somewhat nettled. "I come here and attract his attention to a case that I know will afford him an opportunity to follow a fad, and now he goes off and is working the case alone. It is not fair. But I suppose this is another challenge, and I must work rapidly to get at the truth ahead of him. Well, I will accept, and fight it out."

Thus musing, Mr. Barnes, who had declined Williams's offer to serve luncheon, left the house and proceeded to the shop of the undertaker. This man had a name the full significance of which had never come home to him until he began the business of caring for the dead. He spelled it Berial, and insisted that the pronunciation demanded a long sound to the "i," and a strong accent on the middle syllable. But he was constantly annoyed by the cheap wit of acquaintances, who with a significant titter would call him either Mr. "Burial," or Mr. "Bury all."

Mr. Barnes found Mr. Berial disengaged, undertakers, fortunately, not always being rushed with business, and encountered no difficulty in approaching his subject.

"I have called, Mr. Berial," said the detective, "to get a little information about your management of the funeral of Mr. Quadrant."

"Certainly," said Mr. Berial; "any information I can give, you are welcome to. Detective, I suppose?"

"Yes; in the interest of the family," replied Mr. Barnes. "There are some odd features of this case, Mr. Berial."

"Odd?" said the undertaker. "Odd don't half cover it. It's the most remarkable thing in the history of the world. Here I am, with an experience in funerals covering thirty years, and I go and have a man decently cremated, and, by hickory, if he ain't found floating in the river the next morning. Odd? Why, there ain't any word to describe a thing like that. It's devilish; that's the nearest I can come to it."

"Well, hardly that," said Mr. Barnes, with a smile. "Of course, since Mr. Quadrant's body has been found in the river, it never was cremated."

"Who says so?" asked the undertaker, sharply. "Not cremated? Want to bet on that? I suppose not. We can't make a bet about the dead. It wouldn't be professional. But Mr. Quadrant was cremated. There isn't any question about that point. Put that down as final."

"But it is impossible that he should have been cremated, and then reappear at the Morgue."

"Just what I say. The thing's devilish. There's a hitch, of course. But why should it be at my end, eh? Tell me that, will you? There's just as much chance for a mistake at the Morgue as at the funeral, isn't there?" This was said in a tone that challenged dispute.

"What mistake could have occurred at the Morgue?" asked Mr. Barnes.

"Mistaken identification," replied the undertaker so quickly that he had evidently anticipated the question. "Mistaken identification. That's your cue, Mr. Barnes. It's happened often enough before," he added, with a chuckle.

"I scarcely think there can be a mistake of that character," said Mr. Barnes, thinking, nevertheless, of the scar on the foot. "This identification is not merely one of recognition; it is supported by scientific reason, advanced by the doctors."

"Oh! doctors make mistakes too, I guess," said Mr. Berial, testily. "Look here, you're a detective. You're accustomed to weigh evidence. Now tell me, will you, how could this man be cremated, as I tell you he was, and then turn up in the river? Answer that, and I'll argue with you."

"The question, of course, turns on the fact of the cremation. How do you know that the body was in the coffin when it was consigned to the furnace?"

"How do I know? Why, ain't that my business? Who should know if I don't? Didn't I put the body in the coffin myself?"

"Very true. But why could not some one have taken the body out after you closed the coffin finally, and before the hour of the funeral?"

Mr. Berial laughed softly to himself, as though enjoying a joke too good to be shared too soon with another. Presently he said:

"That's a proper question, of course; a very proper question, and I'll answer it. But I must tell you a secret, so you may understand it. You see in this business we depend a good deal on the recommendation of the attending physician. Some doctors are real professional, and recommend a man on his merits. Others are different. They expect a commission. Surprises you, don't it? But it's done every day in this town. The doctor can't save his patient, and the patient dies. Then he tells the sorrowing friends that such and such an undertaker is the proper party to hide away the result of his failure; failure to cure, of course. In due time he gets his little check, ten per cent. of the funeral bill. This seems like wandering away from the point, but I am coming back to it. This commission arrangement naturally keeps me on the books of certain doctors, and vicy versy it keeps them on mine. So, working for certain doctors, it follows that I work for a certain set of people. Now I've a Catholic doctor on my books, and it happens that the cemetery where that church buries is in a lonesome place; just the spot for a grave-robber to work undisturbed, especially if the watchman out there should happen to be fond of his tipple, which I tell you, again in confidence, that he is. Now, then, it has happened more than once, though it has been kept quiet, that a grave filled up one afternoon would be empty the next morning. At least the body would be gone. Of course they wouldn't take the coffin, as they'd be likely to be caught getting rid of it. You see, a coffin ain't exactly regular household furniture. If they have time they fill the grave again, but often enough they're too anxious to get away, because, of course, the watchman might not be drunk. Well, these things being kept secret, but still pretty well known in the congregation, told in whispers, I might say, a sort of demand sprung up for a style of coffin that a grave-robber couldn't open, – a sort of coffin with a combination lock, as it were."

"You don't mean to say – " began Mr. Barnes, greatly interested at last in the old man's rather lengthy speech. He was interrupted by the undertaker, who again chuckled as he exclaimed:

"Don't I? Well, I do, though. Of course I don't mean there's really a combination lock. That would never do. We often have to open the coffin for a friend who wants to see the dead face again, or for folks that come to the funeral late. It's funny, when you come to think of it, how folks will be late to funerals. As they only have this last visit to make, you'd think they'd make it a point to be on time and not delay the funeral. But about the way I fasten a coffin. If any grave-robber tackles one of my coffins without knowing the trick, he'd be astonished, I tell you. I often think of it and laugh. You see, there's a dozen screws and they look just like ordinary screws. But if you work them all out with a screw-driver, your coffin lid is just as tight as ever. You see, it's this way. The real screw works with a reverse thread, and is hollow on the top. Now I have a screw-driver that is really a screw. When the screw-threaded end of this is screwed into the hollow end of the coffin-bolt, as soon as it is in tight it begins to unscrew the bolt. To put the bolt in, in the first place, I first screw it tight on to my screw-driver, and then drive it in, turning backwards, and as soon as it is tight my screw-driver begins to unscrew and so comes out. Then I drop in my dummy screw, and just turn it down to fill the hole. Now the dummy screw and the reverse thread of the real bolt is a puzzle for a grave-robber, and anyway he couldn't solve it without one of my own tools."

Mr. Barnes reflected deeply upon this as a most important statement. If Mr. Quadrant's coffin was thus fastened, no one could have opened it without the necessary knowledge and the special screw-driver. He recalled that the butler had told him that one of Mr. Berial's men had been at the house after the departure of the others. This man was therefore in the position to have opened the coffin, supposing that he had had one of the screw-drivers. Of this it would be well to learn.

"I suppose," said Mr. Barnes, "that the coffin in which you placed Mr. Quadrant was fastened in this fashion?"

"Yes; and I put the lid on and fastened it myself."

"What, then, did you do with the screw-driver? You might have left it at the house."

"I might have, but I didn't. No; I'm not getting up a combination and then leaving the key around loose. No, sir; there's only one of those screw-drivers, and I take care of it myself. I'll show it to you."

The old man went to a drawer, which he unlocked, and brought back the tool.

"You see what it is," he continued – "double-ended. This end is just the common every-day screw-driver. That is for the dummies that fill up the hollow ends after the bolts are sent home. The other end, you see, looks just like an ordinary screw with straight sides. There's a shoulder to keep it from jamming. Now that's the only one of those, and I keep it locked in that drawer with a Yale lock, and the key is always in my pocket. No; I guess that coffin wasn't opened after I shut it."

Mr. Barnes examined the tool closely, and formed his own conclusions, which he thought best to keep to himself.

"Yes," said he aloud; "it does seem as though the mistake must be in the identification."

"What did I tell you?" exclaimed Mr. Berial, delighted at thinking that he had convinced the detective. "Oh, I guess I know my business."

"I was told at the house," said Mr. Barnes, "that when you left, after closing the coffin, one of your men stayed behind. Why was that?"

"Oh, I was hungry and anxious to get back for dinner. One of my men, Jack, I brought away with me, because I had to send him up to another place to get some final directions for another funeral. The other man stayed behind to straighten up the place and bring off our things in the wagon."

"Who was this man? What is his name?"

"Jerry, we called him. I don't know his last name."

"I would like to have a talk with him. Can I see him?"

"I am afraid not. He isn't working with me any more."

"How was that?"

"He left, that's all. Threw up his job."

"When was that?"

"This morning."

"This morning?"

"Yes; just as soon as I got here, about eight o'clock."

Mr. Barnes wondered whether there was any connection between this man's giving up his position, and the account of the discoveries in regard to Mr. Quadrant's body which the morning papers had published.

VI

"Mr. Berial," said Mr. Barnes after a few moments' thought, "I wish you would let me have a little talk with your man – Jack, I think you called him. And I would like to speak to him alone if you don't mind. I feel that I must find this other fellow, Jerry, and perhaps Jack may be able to give me some information as to his home, unless you can yourself tell me where he lives."

"No; I know nothing about him," said Mr. Berial. "Of course you can speak to Jack. I'll call him in here and I'll be off to attend to some business. That will leave you alone with him."

Jack, when he came in, proved to be a character. Mr. Barnes soon discovered that he had little faith in the good intentions of any one in the world except himself. He evidently was one of those men who go through life with a grievance, feeling that all people have in some way contributed to their misfortune.

"Your name is Jack," said Mr. Barnes; "Jack what?"

"Jackass, you might say," answered the fellow, with a coarse attempt at wit.

"And why, pray?"

"Well, a jackass works like a slave, don't he? And what does he get out of it? Lots of blows, plenty of cuss words, and a little fodder. It's the same with yours truly."

"Very well, my man, have your joke. But now tell me your name. I am a detective."

"The devil a much I care for that. I ain't got nothin' to hide. My name's Randal, if you must have it. Jack Randal."

"Very good. Now I want to ask you a few questions about the funeral of Mr. Quadrant."

"Ask away. Nobody's stoppin' you."

"You assisted in preparing the body for the coffin, I think?"

"Yes, and helped to put him in it."

"Have you any idea how he got out of it again?" asked Mr. Barnes suddenly.

"Nit. Leastways, not any worth mentionin', since I can't prove what I might think."

"But I should like to know what you think, anyway," persisted the detective.

"Well, I think he was took out," said Randal with a hoarse laugh.

"Then you do not believe that he was cremated?"

"Cremated? Not on your life. If he was made into ashes, would he turn up again a floater and drift onto the marble at the Morgue? I don't think."

"But how could the body have gotten out of the coffin?"

"He couldn't. I never saw a stiff do that, except once, at an Irish wake, and that fellow wasn't dead. No, the dead don't walk. Not these days. I tell you, he was took out of the box. That's as plain as your nose, not meanin' to be personal."

"Come, come, you have said all that before. What I want to know is, how you think he could have been taken out of the coffin."

"Lifted out, I reckon."

Mr. Barnes saw that nothing would be gained by getting angry, though the fellow's persistent flippancy annoyed him extremely. He thought best to appear satisfied with his answers, and to endeavor to get his information by slow degrees, since he could not get it more directly.

"Were you present when the coffin lid was fastened?"

"Yes; the boss did that."

"How was it fastened? With the usual style of screws?"

"Oh, no! We used the boss's patent screw, warranted to keep the corpse securely in his grave. Once stowed away in the boss's patent screw-top casket, no ghost gets back to trouble the long-suffering family."

"You know all about these patent coffin-screws?"

"Why, sure. Ain't I been working with old Berial these three years?"

"Does Mr. Berial always screw on the coffin lids himself?"

"Yes; he's stuck on it."

"He keeps the screw-driver in his own possession?"



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