Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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Mr. Barnes felt ashamed of his question, as a surgeon often must be sorry to insert the scalpel. To his surprise it elicited no retort. Mr. Quadrant's reply was calmly spoken. All he said was:

"Yes, he did that."

"Did she know?" ventured the detective hesitatingly.

"No, I think not – I hope not."

There was a painful pause. Mr. Quadrant looked down at the floor, while Mr. Barnes watched him, trying to decide whether the man were acting a part with intent to deceive, as he had announced that he would not hesitate to do; or whether he were telling the truth, in which case the nobility of his character was brought more into perspective.

"Are you sure," said Mr. Barnes after a pause, "that the body taken from the river was that of your brother Rufus?"

"Why do you ask that?" said Mr. Quadrant, on the defensive at once. "Can there be any doubt?"

"Before I reply, let me ask you another question. Did your brother Rufus have a scar on the sole of his foot?"

The other man started perceptibly, and paused some time before answering. Then he asked:

"What makes you think so?"

"Mr. Mark Quadrant told me that his brother had such a scar, caused by gashing his foot while in swimming."

"Ah, that is your source of information. Well, when Mark told you that his brother had met with such an accident, he told you the truth."

"But did the accident leave a scar?" Mr. Barnes thought he detected a carefully worded evasive answer.

"Yes, the cut left a bad scar; one easily noticed."

"In that case I can reply to your question. If, as you both say, your brother had a scar on the sole of his foot, then there exists considerable doubt as to the identification of the body which was at the Morgue, the body which you have both accepted and buried as being that of your relative. Mr. Quadrant, there was no scar on that body."

"Odd, isn't it?" said Mr. Quadrant, without any sign of surprise.

"I should say it is very odd. How do you suppose it can be explained?"

"I do not know, and, as I have told you before, I do not care. Quite the reverse; the less you comprehend this case the better pleased I shall be."

"Mr. Quadrant," said Mr. Barnes, a little nettled, "since you so frankly admit that you wish me to fail, why should I not believe that you are telling me a falsehood when you state that your brother told me the truth?"

"There is no reason that I care to advance," said Mr. Quadrant, "why you should believe me, but if you do not, you will go astray. I repeat, what my brother told you is true."

It seemed to the detective that in all his varied experience he had never met with circumstances so exasperatingly intricate. Here was an identification for many reasons the most reliable that he had known, and now there appeared to be a flaw of such a nature that it could not be set aside. If the body was that of Mr. Quadrant, then both these men had lied.

If they told the truth, then, in spite of science, the doctors, and the family, the identification had been false. In that case Rufus Quadrant had been cremated after all, and this would account for the statement in Mr. Mitchel's note that a human body had been incinerated. Could it be that these two brothers were jointly implicated in a murder, and had pretended to recognize the body at the Morgue in order to have it buried and to cover up their crime? It seemed incredible. Besides, the coincidence of the external and internal diseases was too great.

"I would like to ask you a few questions in relation to the occurrences on the day and evening preceding the funeral," said Mr. Barnes, pursuing the conversation, hoping to catch from the answers some clue that might aid him.

"Which funeral?" said Mr. Quadrant.

"The first. I have been told that you and your brother were present when the widow last viewed the face of her husband, and that at that time, about five o'clock, you jointly agreed that the coffin should not be opened again. Is this true?"

"Accurate in every detail."

"Was the coffin closed at once? That is, before you left the room?"

"The lower part of the coffin-top was, of course, in place and screwed fast when we entered the room. The upper part, exposing the face, was open. It was this that was closed in my presence."

"I would like to get the facts here very accurately, if you are willing. You say, closed in your presence. Do you mean merely covered, or was the top screwed fast before you went out of the room, and, if so, by whom?"

"Mark took our sister away, but Dr. Mortimer and myself remained until the screws were put in. Mr. Berial himself did that."

"Did you observe that the screws were odd? Different from common screws?"

Mr. Barnes hoped that the other man would betray something at this point, but he answered quite composedly:

"I think I did at the time, but I could not describe them to you now. I half remember that Mr. Berial made some such comment as 'No one can get these out again without my permission.'"

"Ah! He said that, did he? Yet some one must have gotten those screws out, for, if your identification was correct, your brother's body was taken out of that casket after the undertaker had put in those screws, which he said could not be removed without his permission. How do you suppose that was accomplished?"

"How should I know, Mr. Barnes, unless, indeed, I did it myself, or instigated or connived at the doing? In either case, do you suppose I would give you any information on such a point?"

"Did your brother Rufus have any rings on his fingers when placed in the coffin?" asked Mr. Barnes, swiftly changing the subject.

"Yes – three: a diamond, a ruby, and a ring bearing his initial set in diamonds."

"These rings were not on the body at the Morgue."

"Neither was that scar," said Mr. Quadrant, with a suppressed laugh.

"But this is different," said Mr. Barnes. "I did not find the scar, but I have found the rings."

"Very clever of you, I am sure. But what does that prove?"

"It proves that your brother's body was taken from the coffin before the coffin was placed in the crematory furnace."

"Illogical and inaccurate," said Mr. Quadrant. "You prove by the recovery of the rings, merely that the rings were taken from the coffin."

"Or, from the body after it was taken out," interjected Mr. Barnes.

"In either case it is of no consequence. You have rooted up a theft, that is all. Catch the thief and jail him, if you like. I care nothing about that. It is the affair of my brother's death and burial that I wish to see dropped by the inquisitive public."

"Yes, but suppose I tell you that the theory is that the man who stole the rings was your accomplice in the main matter? Don't you see that when we catch him, he is apt to tell all that he knows?"

"When you catch him? Then you have not caught him yet. For so much I am grateful." He did not seem to care how incriminating his words might sound.

"One thing more, Mr. Quadrant. I understand that you retired at about ten o'clock on that night – the night prior to the first funeral, I mean. You left your brother Mark down here?"

"Yes."

"Later you came downstairs again."

"You seem to be well posted as to my movements."

"Not so well as I wish to be. Will you tell me why you came down?"

"I have not admitted that I came downstairs."

"You were seen in the hall very late at night, or early in the morning. You took the lamp out of the room where the casket was, and came in here and looked at your brother, who was asleep. Then you returned the lamp and went upstairs. Do you admit now that you had just come downstairs?"

"I admit nothing. But to show you how little you can prove, suppose I ask you how you know that I had just come downstairs? Why may it not be that I had been out of the house, and had just come in again when your informant saw me?"

"Quite true. You might have left the house. Perhaps it was then that the body was taken away?"

"If it was taken away, that was certainly as good a time as any."

"What time?"

"Oh, let us say between twelve and two. Very few people would be about the street at that hour, and a wagon stopping before a door would attract very little attention. Especially if it were an undertaker's wagon."

"An undertaker's wagon?" exclaimed Mr. Barnes, as this suggested a new possibility.

"Why, yes. If, as you say, there was an accomplice in this case, the fellow who stole the rings, you know, he must have been one of the undertaker's men. If so, he would use their wagon, would he not?"

"I think he would," said Mr. Barnes sharply. "I thank you for the point. And now I will leave you."

IX

Mr. Barnes walked rapidly, revolving in his mind the new ideas which had entered it during the past few minutes. Before this morning he had imagined that the body of Rufus Quadrant had been taken away between five and six o'clock, in the undertaker's wagon. But it had never occurred to him that this same wagon could have been driven back to the house at any hour of the day or night, without causing the policeman on that beat to suspect any wrong. Thus, suddenly, an entirely new phase had been placed upon the situation. Before, he had been interested in knowing which man had been left behind; whether it had been Morgan or Randal. Now he was more anxious to know whether the wagon had been taken again from the stable on that night, and, if so, by whom. Consequently he went first to the undertaker's shop, intending to interview Mr. Berial, but that gentleman was out. Therefore he spoke again with Randal, who recognized him at once and greeted him cordially.

"Why, how do you do," said he. "Glad you're round again. Anything turned up in the Quadrant case?"

"We are getting at the truth slowly," said the detective, watching his man closely. "I would like to ask you to explain one or two things to me if you can."

"Maybe I will, and maybe not. It wouldn't do to promise to answer questions before I hear what they are. I ain't exactly what you would call a fool."

"Did you not tell me that it was Morgan who was left at the house after the coffin was closed, and that you came away with Mr. Berial?"

"Don't remember whether I told you or not. But you've got it straight."

"But they say at the stables that it was you who drove the wagon back there?"

"That's right, too. What of it?"

"But I understood that Morgan brought the wagon back?"

"So he did; back here to the shop. He had to leave all our tools and things here, you see. Then he went off to his dinner, and I took the horse and wagon round to the stables."

"Where do you stable?"

"Harrison's, Twenty-fourth Street, near Lex."

"Now, another matter. You told me about the loss of those rings?"

"Yes, and I gave you the tip where you might find them again. Did you go there?"

"Yes; you were right. The rings were pawned exactly where you sent me."

"Oh, I don't know," said the fellow, airishly. "I ought to be on the police force, I guess. I can find out a few things, I think."

"It isn't hard to guess what you know," said the detective, sharply.

"What do you mean?" Randal was on the defensive at once.

"I mean," said Mr. Barnes, "that it was you who pawned those rings."

"That's a lie, and you can't prove it."

"Don't be too sure of that. We have the pawn tickets."

This shot went home. Randal looked frightened, and was evidently confused.

"That's another lie," said he, less vigorously. "You can't scare me. If you have got them, which you haven't, you won't find my name on them."

"No; you used your friend Morgan's name, which was a pretty low trick."

"Look here, you detective," said Randal blusteringly, "I don't allow no man to abuse me. You can't talk that way to me. All this talk of yours is rot. That's what it is, rot!"

"Look here, Randal. Try to be sensible if you can. I have not yet made up my mind whether you are a scoundrel or a fool. Suppose you tell me the truth about those tickets. It will be safest, I assure you."

Randal looked at the detective and hesitated. Mr. Barnes continued:

"There is no use to lie any longer. You were shadowed, and you were seen when you tore up the tickets. The pieces were picked up and put together, and they call for those rings. Don't you see we have you fast unless you can explain how you got the tickets?"

"I guess you're givin' it to me straight," said Randal after a long pause. "I guess I better take your advice and let you have it right. One afternoon I saw Morgan hide something in one of the coffins in the shop. He tucked it away under the satin linin'. I was curious, and I looked into it after he'd gone that night. I found the pawn tickets. Of course I didn't know what they were for except that it was rings. But I guessed it was for some stuff he'd stolen from the corpse of somebody. For it was him took the other jewels I told you about, and I seen him with a screw-driver the match to the boss's. So I just slipped the tickets in my pocket thinkin' I'd have a hold on him. Next day I read about this man bein' found in the river, and I stopped to the Morgue, and, just as I thought, his rings was gone. I worried over that for an hour or two, and then I thought I better not keep the tickets, so I tore them up and threw them away."

"That, you say, was the night after this affair was published in the papers?"

"No; it was the same night."

"That is to say, the night of that day on which I came here and had a talk with you?"

"No, it was the night before. You're thinkin' about the mornin' papers, but I seen it first in the afternoon papers."

This statement dispelled a doubt which had entered the mind of the detective, who remembered that Mr. Burrows had told him that the pawn-ticket incident had occurred on the evening previous to their meeting. This explanation, however, tallied with that, and Mr. Barnes was now inclined to credit the man's story.

"Very good," said he. "You may be telling the truth. If you have nothing to do with this case, you ought to be willing to give me some assistance. Will you?"

Randal had been so thoroughly frightened that he now seemed only too glad of the chance to win favor in the eyes of Mr. Barnes.

"Just you tell me what you want, and I'm your man," said he.

"I want to find out something at the stable, and I think you can get the information for me better than I can myself."

"I'll go with you right away. The boy can mind the shop while we're gone. Charlie, you just keep an eye on things till I get back, will you? I won't be out more'n ten minutes. Come on, Mr. Barnes, I'm with you."

On the way to the stable Mr. Barnes directed Randal as to what he wished to learn, and then at his suggestion waited for him in a liquor saloon near by, while he went alone to the stable. In less than ten minutes Randal hurried into the place, flushed with excitement and evidently bubbling over with importance. He drew the detective to one side and spoke in whispers.

"Say," said he, "you're on the right tack. The wagon was out again that night, and not on any proper errand, neither."

"Tell me what you have learned," said Mr. Barnes.

"Of course the night watchman ain't there now, but Jimmy, the day superintendent, is there, and I talked with him. He says there was some funny business that night. First I asked him about the wagon bein' out or not, and he slaps his hand on his leg, and he says: 'By George!' says he, 'that's the caper. Didn't you put that wagon in its right place when you brung it in that afternoon?' he says to me. 'Of course,' says I; 'where do you think I'd put it?' 'Well,' says he, 'next mornin' it was out in the middle of the floor, right in the way of everything. The boys was cussin' you for your carelessness. I wasn't sure in my own mind or I would have spoke; but I thought I seen you shove that wagon in its right place.' 'So I did,' says I, 'and if it was in the middle of the stable, you can bet it was moved after I left. Now who moved it?' 'I don't know,' says he, 'but I'll tell you another thing what struck me as odd. I didn't have nothin' particular to do that night, and I dropped in for an hour or so to be sociable like with Jack' – that's the night watchman. 'While I was there,' he goes on, 'while I was there, who should come in but Jerry Morgan! He didn't stop long, but he took us over to the saloon and balled us off' – that means he treated to drinks. 'Next day I come round about six o'clock as usual,' says Jimmy, goin' on, 'and there was Jack fast asleep. Now that's the fust time that man ever dropped off while on watch, and he's been here nigh on to five years. I shook him and tried every way to 'waken him, but it didn't seem to do no good. He'd kind of start up and look about dazed, and even talk a bit, but as soon as I'd let up, he'd drop off again. I was makin' me a cup of coffee, and, thinkin' it might rouse him, I made him drink some, and, do you know, he was all right in a few minutes. At the time I didn't think much about it, but since then I have thought it over a good deal, and, do you know what I think now?' 'No,' says I; 'what do you think?' 'I think,' says he, 'I think that Jimmy was drugged, and if he was, Jerry Morgan done the trick when he balled us off, and you can bet it was him took that wagon out that night.' That's the story Jimmy tells, Mr. Barnes, and it's a corker, ain't it?"

"It certainly is important," said Mr. Barnes.

Once more he had food for thought. This narrative was indeed important; the drowsiness of the watchman and his recovery after drinking coffee suggested morphine. The detective likewise recalled the story of the butler who claimed that he had seen Mark Quadrant asleep while he was supposed to be guarding the coffin. Then, too, there was the empty paper which had once held some powder, and which he had himself found in the room where Mark Quadrant had slept. Had he too been drugged? If so, the question arose, Did this man Morgan contrive to mix the morphine with something which he thought it probable that the one sitting up with the corpse would drink, or had Amos given his brother the sleeping-potion? In one case it would follow that Morgan was the principal in this affair, while in the other he was merely an accomplice. If his hand alone managed all, then it might be that he had a deeper and more potent motive than the mere removal of the body to avoid cremation, the latter being a motive which the detective had throughout hesitated to adopt because it seemed so weak. If Morgan substituted another body for the one taken from the coffin, then the statement of Mr. Mitchel that a body had been cremated was no longer a discrepancy. There was but one slightly disturbing thought. All the theorizing in which he now indulged was based on the assumption that Randal was not deceiving. Yet how could he be sure of that? Tom Burrows would have said to him: "Mr. Barnes, that fellow is lying to you. His story may be true in all except that it was himself and not Morgan who did these things." For while he had thought it best to let Randal go alone to the stable to make inquiries, this had placed him in the position of receiving the tale at second-hand, so that Randal might have colored it to suit himself. For the present, he put aside these doubts and decided to pursue this clue until he proved it a true or false scent. He dismissed Randal with an injunction to keep his tongue from wagging, and proceeded to the house of the man Morgan, regretting now that he had not done so before.

The tenement on Eleventh Avenue was one of those buildings occupying half a block, having stores on the street, with narrow, dark, dismal hallways, the staircases at the farther end being invisible from the street door, even on the sunniest days, without a match. Overhead, each hallway offered access to four flats, two front and two back, the doors being side by side. These apartments each included two or three rooms and what by courtesy might be called a bathroom, though few indeed of the tenants utilized the latter for the purpose for which it had been constructed, preferring to occupy this extra space with such of their impedimenta as might not be in constant use.

When one enters a place of this character asking questions, if he addresses any of the adults he is likely to receive scant information in reply. Either these people do not know even the names of their next-door neighbors, or else, knowing, they are unwilling to take the trouble to impart the knowledge. The children, however, and they are as numerous as grasshoppers in a hayfield, not only know everything, but tell what they know willingly. It is also a noteworthy fact that amidst such squalor and filth, with dirty face and bare legs, it is not uncommon to find a child, especially a girl, who will give answers, not only with extreme show of genuine intelligence, but, as well, with a deferential though dignified courtesy which would grace the reception-rooms of upper Fifth Avenue.

It was from such an urchin, a girl of about twelve, that Mr. Barnes learned that Jerry Morgan had lived on the fifth floor back.

"But he's gone away, I guess," she added.

"Why do you think so?" asked Mr. Barnes.

"Oh, 'cause he ain't been in the saloon 'cross the way for 'bout a week, and he didn't never miss havin' his pint of beer every night 's long 's he 's been here."



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