|Chapter Number||1. I|
|Chapter Title||A STARTLING COINCIDENCE.|
|Newspaper Title||Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932)|
|Trove Title||Hand and Ring|
HANJ) A&D RING-.
By A. It. Gkeen.
BOOK r; THE GENTLEMAN FROM TOLEDO. Chapter T.
A STAitTLINQ COINCIDENCE*
By the pricking of ray thumbs, Something wicked this way cornea. Macbeth. The tovn clock of Sibley had just struck twelve. Court had adjourned, ^nd Judge Evans, with one or two of the leading lawyers of the county, st^o3 in the door-way o? the ccurt-heuse discussing in a friendly way the f ccentrioit'es of criminal? as developed in the case then before the cou t. Mr. Lord had just ventured the assertion that crime as a fine arl was happily confined to Franca ; to whinh District- Attornev Ferris had replied :
' And why ? Because atheism hjs not yet ac» quired such a hold upon our upper classes that gentlemen think it possible to meddle with tuch matters. It is only when a student, a dector, a lawyer dete- mines to put aside ft\ni hi3 path the secret 3turnbling-biock to his de?ir s or his ambition that tho true intellectual crime is developed. That brute whom you see slouching along over the way is the type of the average criminal of the day.' And be indicated witbanodasturdy.i'l-favoured man, who, with pack on hid back, « adjust emerg ing from a grassy lane that opened out from the stteeb directly out of the court house. ? Such men are often seen in the dock/ re marked Mr. Orcufct, of more than local reputation as a criminal lawyer. ' And oi'tan escape the penalty of their crime?/ lie added, watihing with a curious glance, the lowering brow and fur'ive look of the man who, upon perceiving the atten tion he had attracted, increased, hia pace until he almost broke into a run. e Looks aa if he had been up to mischief/ ob serve 3 Judge Evans. 'Rather as if he had heard the sentence which vi&s passed upon the list tramp who paid his respects to thi3 town, corrected Mr. Lord. ' Revenons a nos moutons,' resumed the District Attorney. ' Crime, as an investment, does not pay in this country. The regular burglar leads a dog'a life of it; and when you come to the murderer, how few escape suspicion, if they do the gallows. I do not know of a ca e where a murder for money has been really successful in this region.' ' Then you must have some pretty cute detec tive work going on here/ remarked a joung roan who had not befoi e spoken. ' No, no — nothing to brag of. But the brutes aTe so clumsy— that is the word, clumsy. They don't know how to cover up their tracks/ 1 The smart ones don't make tracks/ interposed E, rough voice rear them, and a large, red-ba;r«d, slightly hump-backed man, who, from the looks o£ those about, wag evidently a stranger in the place, shuffl d foiward from the pillar against which he had been leaning and took up the thread of conversation, ' I tell you/ be continued, in a gruff tone, some what out of keep'ng with the studied attraction of his keen, gray eye, ' that all the criminals are oaught because they do make tracks and then resort to such extraordinary means to cover
iDhem up. ice uue secret or success an trus line lieB in striking your blow with a weapon picked up on the spot, and in choosing for the scene of your tragedy a thoroughfare wberp, in the natural course of events, ether men will come and go and unconsciously tread out your tracks, pro vided you have made any. This dissipates suspi cion, or starts it in eo m^ny directions that justice is at once confused, if not ultimately oaffled. Look at that house yonder/ the stranger pursued, pointing to a plain dwelling on the opposite corner, ' While we have been standing Jier-e, several persona of one kind or anotbtr, and among them a pretty rough-looking tramp, have tone into the side gate and so around to the itcbon door and back. I don't know who lives there, but say it is .a Boli'ary old woinin above keeping help, and that an hour from now someone, not finding her in the hous?, seaivhe3 through the garden and comes upon her lying dead behind the wood pile, struck down by her own axe. On whom are you going to lay your hani in suspicion ? On the ttranger, of course — the rough- looking tramp that everybody thinks is ready for bloodshed at the least provocation. But suspicion is nrb convict'on, and I would dare wager that no court, in face of a per-.iatent denial on his pait that he even saw the old woman when he ?pent to her doc r, wtu'd bring in a verdict of murder against him, even though silver from her private drawer wt re found concealed upon his person. The chance that he spoke the truth, and that she was not in the house when he entered, and that his ciime had been merely one of burglary or theft, would be enough to save him from the hangman.' 'That i3 true/ assented Lord, ' unless all the other persons who had beea seen to go into the yard were not only reputable men, but were willing to testify to having seen the woman alive up to the time he invaded her premises.' But the hump-backtd stranger had already lounged away. 'What do you think of this, Mr. Byrd ? in quired the District-Attorney, turning to the young man before alluded to. ' You are an expert in these ruatteis, or ought to be. What would you give for the tramp's chances if the detectives took him in hand ?' ' I, sir ?' was the response. ' I am so compara tively yoang and inexperienced in such affairs that I scarcely dare presume to express an opinion. But I have heard it said by Mr. Gvyee, ?who, you know, stands foremost among the detec fcjves of New York, that the only case of murder in which be utterly failed to get any clue to work upon wp^s that of a Jew who was knocked down in Ills own ahop in broad daylight. But this will aot appear so strange when. you learn the full particulars. The store was situated between two rJley-ways in Harlem. It had an entrance back and an entrance front. Both weve in constant use. The man was found behind hia counter, JiGviog evidently been hit on the head by a
slung- shot while reaching for a box o£ hosiery But though a succession of people were constantly pa-sing by both doors, there was for that very rea oa no on^ to tell which of all the mpn who were obe- r -ed to eiittr the shop ctuie oiit.ngain with bio )d upon hid conscience Nor v/ei'e the circumstances of the Jew's life such as to assist juit'ee. The mott caivful investigation failed to disclose the existene- of any enemy ; nor was he found to possess, in this country at least, any relative who could have hoped to be benefited by
the tew dollars ne nad saved jrom a Jate banK ruptcy. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the man was secretly in the way of someone, and was as secretly put out of it, but for what pur pose, or by whofc hand, time has never disclosf d/ 'There is one, howev. r, who knows both/ affirmed Judge Evans, impressively. ' The man himself ?' « God !' The solemnity with which this was uttered caused a silence, during which Mr. Orcutt looked at his watch. ' I must go to dinner/ he announced, with drawing, with a slight nod, across the street. The rest stjod for a few minutes abituv.tedly contemplating his retreating figure, as, with an enerjjetif*. pace sll his own, he pissed down the litfe street that opened rjjposite to where they stcoi, and entered the unpr tending co'tage of a widow lady, with whom be was ia the habit of taking his mid-day meal whenever he had a case before the court. A lull was over the whole village, and the few remaining persons on the court-house steps were about to separate, when Mr. Lord uttered an ex clsmition, and pointed to the cottage into which they had just seen Mr. Orcutt disappear. Im mediately all eyes looked that way. and saw the lawyer stand;n? on the s';oop, having- evidently issued, with the utmost precipitation, from the house. ' He is making signs/ cried Mr. Lord to Mr, Ferris; and, scarcely knowing what they fear id, both gen'lenien crossed the way, and hurried down the street toward their friend, who, with unusual tokens of disturbance in his manner, tan forward to meet them. 'A mur«3er !' heoxcitedly exclaimed, as soon as he came within speaking distince. c A strange and startling coincidence. Mrs. Clemmens has been struck on the hea^, and is lying, covered with blood, at the foot' of her dining-room table. ? Mr. Lord and the District- Attorney stared at each other in a maze of surprise and horror easily to be comprehended, and then they rushed for ward. 5 Wait a moment,' the latter suddenly cried, stopping short and looking ta 3k. 'Where ia the fellow who ta'ked so learnedly about murder, and the beat way of making a success of it ? He mu3t be found at once. I don't believe in coinci denefs.' And he beckoned to tbe person they had called Byrd, who, with very pardonable curiosity, wa3 hurrying their way. * Go find Hunt, the constable,' he cried, ' Tell him to btop and retain the humpback. A woman here baa been found murdered, and that fellow muat have known something about it. The young man stared, flushed with sudden in t'lligencp, and darted elf. Mr. Penis turned, found Mr. Orcutt still at his side, and drew him forward to rejoin Mr. Lord, who by this time was was at the door of th-? cottage.
They all went together. Mr. Perns, who was of an adventurous disposition, ^eadlng the way. The room into' which they first stepped was empty. It was evidently tue widow's sitting-room, and was in perfect order, with tbe exception of Mr. Orcutt's bau, which lay on the centre table/where
he had laid it on enter ng. Neifr, without being prim, th.8 entire aspect of the place was one of comfort, ease, and rnode.-t luxury, For, though tho Widow Clemmens lived alone, and without help, she was by no means an indigent person, ub a single glance at her hou'e would show. Tbe do jr leading into the farther room was op?n, and t)ward this they hastened, led by the glitter of the fine eld china service which loaded the dining tab'e. ' She is there/ said Mr. Orcutt, pointing to the other side of the room, They immediately paaeed behind the table, and there, sura enough, lay the prostrate figure of the widow, her head bleeding, he arms extended ; one hand grasping her watch, which she bad loose-ned from her belt, the other stretched toward a stick of firewood that from the mark of the blood upon its side, had evidently been used to fell her to the floor. She was motionless as stone, and was, to all appearance, dead. ' Sickening, aickening ! — horrible !' exclaimed Mr. Lord, recoiling upon the District Attorney with a gesture, as if he would put the frightful object out of bis sight. ' What motive could any one have for killing such an inoffensive woman ? The deviltry of man is beyond belief !' ? .And after wbat we bave heard, inexplicab'e,' aaseited Mr. Ferris. ' To be told o? a suppesab'e case of murder one minute, and then to sea it ex emplified in this dreadful way the next, in an t xperienre of no common order. I own I am over come by it.' And he flung open a door that com munka'-.ed with the late, and let the outside a:r sweep in. ' The door was unlocked/ remarked Mr. Lord, glancing at Mr. Orcutt, who stood with severe set face, looking down at tbe outstretchr d form which, for seve al years now, had so often sat opposite to him at the noonday meal. With a start the latter looked up. ' What did you say ? The door unlocked? There is nothing strange in that. She never locked her doors, though she was so very deaf I often advised her to.' And be allowed his eyes to run over the wide stretch of low, uncultivated ground before him, that, in the opinion of: many persons, was such a decided blot upen the town. 'There is no one insight/ he reluctantly admitted. ' No/ responded tbe other. ' The ground is un favourable for escape. It is marshy and covered with snake grass. A man could make his way, however, between the hillocks into those woods yonder, if he were driven by fear or understood Ihe path well. What id the mat er, Orcutt ?' 'Nothing/ affirmed the latter, 'nothing. I thought I heard a groats.3 1 You heard me make au exclamation/ spoke Mr. Ferris, who by this time had sufficiently overcome his emotion to lift the head of tho pros trate woman and look in her face. 'Thia woman is not dead/ ' What!' they both cried, bounding forward. ' Seo, she breathes/ continued the former, point'
ing to her slowly labouring chest. ' The villain, whoever he was did not do his work weli ; she m,'»y be able to th'l Us something yet.' 'I do not think s ?/ mu-mund Mr. Orcutt. 'Such a blow as that must Lave destroyed her faculties if m t her life. It was of crm-1 force/ ' Bd.vever that may be, she ought to bo taken care of now/ crii d Mr. Feiris. ' I wish Dr. Tred well was here.' ' I will go for him/ signified the other. But it was not. necessary. Scarcely had he turned to execute this mission, when a sudden murmur was heard at the doer, and a dozen or so citizens burst into the house, among them the very person named. Being coroner as well ss physician, he at once assumed authority. Tbe widow was carried into her room, which was on the same floor, and a brother practitioner sent for, who took his place at her head and waited f. r any sign of returning consciousness. The crowd, re manded to the yard, spent their time al ornately in furtive questionings of each other's counte nances, and in eager lookout for the expected, re turn of the strange young man who had been sent after tbe incomprehensible humpback of whom all had heard. The coroner, closeted with the Disirict Attorney in the dining-room, busied him self in noting certain evident facts. ' I am, perhaps, forestalling my duties in inter feiing befoiv. the woman is d- a '3/ infrnited tbe foiiu r. ' But it is only a matter of a few hours, and any facts we can glean in tbe interim must be of value to a proper condu.tof the inquiry I shall be called upon to hold, I sball therefore take the same note of tho position cf affairs as I would do if she were dead ; and to begin with, I wish you to observe that she was hit while set ting on the clock.' And be pointed to the open d or of the huge old-fashioned timepiece which occupied that corn' r of the room in which she had bf ea found. ' She had. not even finished her task/ he next remarked, ' for the clock is still ten minutes fIo v, whil^ her -watih is just right, a? you see by compiling it with your own. She was attacked from behind, pnd to all appea-a^ces un expectedly. Had she turned, her forehead we vld bave bem struck, while, as all can see, it is the back of her hcai that has suffered, and that from a right-hand blow. Her deafness wan un doubtedly the cause of her immobility under tbe approach of such an as3ailent. She did not hear his step, and, bein^ to busily engaged, faw nothing of'the cm-1 hand uplifted to destroy ber. I doubt if she even knew what happened. Tbe mystery is that anyone could have suffi '.iently de sired her d» a*.h to engage in such a coldblooded butchery. If plunder were wanted, why was not ber wat^h taken from her ? And see, here is a pile of small cbanse lying beside her plate on tbe table — a thing a tramp would make for at once.' ' It was nta thief that struck her.' ' Well, well, we don't know. I have my theory/ admitted the coroner ; '-but, of course, it will not do for me to nvntion it here. The stick was taken from that pile laid ready on the hearth,' he went on. 'Odd, significantly odd. that in all its essential details this affair should tilly so com- ? pletely with the supposable case of crime given a f moment before by the deformed wretch you; tell \ me about ' eNot if that man was. a madir^an and the assail ant/ suggested the. District Attorney. 'True, but I dp, no,t think he was m%d — nit from what you have told m-\ But let us see what the commotion is. Some one has evidently arrived/ It «a3 Mr. Bjrd, who had entered by the front door, and deaf to the low murmur oil the im patient crowd without, stood waiting in silent patience for an opportunity to repoit to the Dis trict Attorney the results of his efforts. Mr. Forris at once welcomed him. ' What have you done ? Did you find the con stable, or succofid in laying bands on that scamp of a humpback ?' Mr. Byrd, who, to explain at ouoe, was a young aud intelligent detective5 who had been brought from New Yck for purposes connected with the case thea btf^re tbe court, glanc d carefully in the direction of the coroner and quietly replied : 'The humpbacked, scamp, as you call him, has disappeared. Whether he will be found or not I cannot say. Hunt is on his trxck, and will report to you in an hour. The tramp whom you saw slinking out of this street while we stood on the court-house step3 is doubtless the man. whom you most want, and him we bave captured.3 ' You have ?' responded Mr. Ferris, eyeing with good-natured irony the young man's gentlemanly but rather indifferent face. ' And what makes you think it is the tramp who is the guilty one in this case ? Because that ingenious stranger saw fit to make him such a prominent figure in his supposi tions ?' 'No, sir/ replied the detective, flushing with a momentary e mbarressmentjhe, however, speedily overcame ; ' I do not found my opinions upon any man's remarks. I only — -Excuse uie/ said be, with a quiet air of self-control that v a? not with out its effect upon the sensible man he was ad dressing ; 'if you tell me how, where, and under what circu instances thia poor murdered woman was found, perhipa I shall be better able to ex plain my rea:-o. 3 for believing in tbe tiamp as the guilty patty ; though the belief, evc-n of a detective, g- 03 for little in matters of this kind, as you and ? the3e other gentlemen very well know.' 'Step here, then,' signified Mr. Ferris, who, accompanied by the coroner, had already passed aroucd the table. * Do you see that clock ? khe was winding it when she was struck, and fell al most at its foot. The weapon which did tbe exe cution lies over there ; it is a stick of firewood, as you see, and was caught up from that pile on the hearth. Now recall what that humpback said about choosing a thoroughfare for a murder (and this house is a thoroughfare), and the peculiar stress which he laid upon the choice of a weapon, and tell me why you think he is innocent of this immediate and most r- ruarkable exemplification of bis revolting theory ?' 'Let me first ask/ returned the other, with a remaining tinge of embarrassment colouring- his cheek, ' if you have reason to think thin woman had been lying long where she waa found, or wao she struck eoon berfore the discovery ?' ' Soon. The dinner was still smoking in the kitchen, where it had been dished up ready for serving/ ' Then/ declared the detective, with sudden confidence, 'a single word will satisfy you that the hurnpbaok was not the man who delivered this stroke. To lay that woman losv at the foot
of this clock would require the presence of the assailant in. the room. Now, the humpback was net here this morning, but in tho court-room. I know thie^i for I aaw him there.' ' ' Toil did ? You are sure of that ?' cied, in a breath, both his hearers, somewhat taken aback by this revelation. ?Yes. He sat down by the door. I noticed him particularly.' ' Humph ! this is odd/ quoth Mr. Ferris, with the '? testiness of an irritable man who sees himself contradicted in a publicly-expressed theory. ' ' Very odd/ repeated the coroner ; ? so odd, I am inclined to think he did not sit there every : moment of the time. It is but a step from the coiut house here; he might well have taken the trip and returned while you wiped your eye glasses or were otherwise engaged.' Mr. Byrd did not see fit to answer this. * The tramp is an ugly-looking customer/ he remarked, in what was almost a careUsa tone of ? ''??'?'., voice. Mr. Ferris covered with his hand the pile of loose change that was yet lying on the table, and shortly observed : ' A tramp to commit such a crime must be actuated either by rage or cupidity ; that you will acknowledge. Now, the fellow who struck this woman could not have been excited by aDy sudden anger, for the whole position of her body when fouad proves that she had not even turned to face the intruder, much lees engaged in an altercation with him, Yet how could it bave been money he was after, when a tempting bit like this remained undisturbed upor the table ?' And Mr. Ferris, with a sudden gesture, difj* closed to view tho pile of silver coin he had boeiiti concealing. Thd young detective shook his head, b.uii lost; none of his seeming indifference. ? Thajb ia one of the little anomalies ol! criminal expeuieace that-, we were talking about this morning,* hc-remarked^ 'Perhaps the fellow was frightened and lost his* head, or perhaps he really heard someone at the door, and was obliged to escap9 v, ithout reaping any of the fruits of his crime.' ' Perhaps and perhaps/ retorted Mr. Ferris, who was a quick man, and who, once settled in a. bdlicF, was not to be easily shaken out of it. ' However that may be/ continued Mr. J5yi-dV without seeming to notice the irritating i^torrup- ?. tion, 'I still think that the ti amp, y^her than the humpback, will be the man to oocnpy your- ., future attention.' And with a deprecatory bow tw. both gentlemen* he drew back and quietly leSfc the room. Mr. Ferris at once recovered from his momen tary loss of temper/. 'I suppose the young man is right/ he ac knowledged 3 ' but if: so, what an encouragement we have received this morning to a belief So clairvoyance.' And with less irony and more conviction, he added : ' The humpback »yws£ have known something about the murder/ And the coroner bowed j common sense un« doubtedly agreeing witla this assumption. ?: (To. be continued.)