That Affair Next Door, by Anna Katherine Green

xi.

The Order Clerk.

A lady well known in New York society was the next person summoned. She was a friend of the Van Burnam family, and had known Howard from childhood. She had not liked his marriage; indeed, she rather participated in the family feeling against it, but when young Mrs. Van Burnam came to her house on the preceding Monday, and begged the privilege of remaining with her for one night, she had not had the heart to refuse her. Mrs. Van Burnam had therefore slept in her house on Monday night.

Questioned in regard to that lady’s appearance and manner, she answered that her guest was unnaturally cheerful, laughing much and showing a great vivacity; that she gave no reason for her good spirits, nor did she mention her own affairs in any way — rather took pains not to do so.

“How long did she stay?”

“Till the next morning.”

“And how was she dressed?”

“Just as Miss Ferguson has described.”

“Did she bring her hand-bag to your house?”

“Yes, and left it there. We found it in her room after she was gone.”

“Indeed! And how do you account for that?”

“She was preoccupied. I saw it in her cheerfulness, which was forced and not always well timed.”

“And where is that bag now?”

“Mr. Van Burnam has it. We kept it for a day and as she did not call for it, sent it down to the office on Wednesday morning.”

“Before you had heard of the murder?”

“O yes, before I had heard anything about the murder.”

“As she was your guest, you probably accompanied her to the door?”

“I did, sir.”

“Did you notice her hands? Can you say what was the color of her gloves?”

“I do not think she wore any gloves on leaving; it was very warm, and she held them in her hand. I remembered this, for I noticed the sparkle of her rings as she turned to say good-bye.”

“Ah, you saw her rings!”

“Distinctly.”

“So that when she left you she was dressed in a black and white plaid silk, had a large hat covered with flowers on her head, and wore rings?”

“Yes, sir.”

And with these words ringing in the ears of the jury, the witness sat down.

What was coming? Something important, or the Coroner would not look so satisfied, or the faces of the officials about him so expectant. I waited with great but subdued eagerness for the testimony of the next witness, who was a young man by the name of Callahan.

I don’t like young men in general. They are either over-suave and polite, as if they condescended to remember that you are elderly and that it is their duty to make you forget it, or else they are pert and shallow and disgust you with their egotism. But this young man looked sensible and business-like, and I took to him at once, though what connection he could have with this affair I could not imagine.

His first words, however, settled all questions as to his personality: He was the order clerk at Altman’s.

As he acknowledged this, I seemed to have some faint premonition of what was coming. Perhaps I had not been without some vague idea of the truth ever since I had put my mind to work on this matter; perhaps my wits only received their real spur then; but certainly I knew what he was going to say as soon as he opened his lips, which gave me quite a good opinion of myself, whether rightfully or not, I leave you to judge.

His evidence was short, but very much to the point. On the seventeenth of September, as could be verified by the books, the firm had received an order for a woman’s complete outfit, to be sent, C.O.D., to Mrs. James Pope at the Hotel D— — on Broadway. Sizes and measures and some particulars were stated, and as the order bore the words In haste underlined upon it, several clerks had assisted him in filling this order, which when filled had been sent by special messenger to the place designated.

Had he this order with him?

He had.

And could he identify the articles sent to fill it?

He could.

At which the Coroner motioned to an officer and a pile of clothing was brought forward from some mysterious corner and laid before the witness.

Immediately expectation rose to a high pitch, for every one recognized, or thought he did, the apparel which had been taken from the victim.

The young man, who was of the alert, nervous type, took up the articles one by one and examined them closely.

As he did so, the whole assembled crowd surged forward and lightning-like glances from a hundred eyes followed his every movement and expression.

“Are they the same?” inquired the Coroner.

The witness did not hesitate. With one quick glance at the blue serge dress, black cape, and battered hat, he answered in a firm tone:

“They are.”

And a clue was given at last to the dreadful mystery absorbing us.

The deep-drawn sigh which swept through the room testified to the universal satisfaction; then our attention became fixed again, for the Coroner, pointing to the undergarments accompanying the articles already mentioned, demanded if they had been included in the order.

There was as little hesitation in the reply given to this question as to the former. He recognized each piece as having come from his establishment. “You will note,” said he, “that they have never been washed, and that the pencil marks are still on them.”

“Very good,” observed the Coroner, “and you will note that one article there is torn down the back. Was it in that condition when sent?”

“It was not, sir.”

“All were in perfect order?”

“Most assuredly, sir.”

“Very good, again. The jury will take cognizance of this fact, which may be useful to them in their future conclusions. And now, Mr. Callahan, do you notice anything lacking here from the list of articles forwarded by you?”

“No, sir.”

“Yet there is one very necessary adjunct to a woman’s outfit which is not to be found here.”

“Yes, sir, the shoes; but I am not surprised at that. We sent shoes, but they were not satisfactory, and they were returned.”

“Ah, I see. Officer, show the witness the shoes that were taken from the deceased.”

This was done, and when Mr. Callahan had examined them, the Coroner inquired if they came from his store. He replied no.

Whereupon they were held up to the jury, and attention called to the fact that, while rather new than old, they gave signs of having been worn more than once; which was not true of anything else taken from the victim.

This matter settled, the Coroner proceeded with his questions.

“Who carried the articles ordered, to the address given?”

“A man in our employ, named Clapp.”

“Did he bring back the amount of the bill?”

“Yes, sir; less the five dollars charged for the shoes.”

“What was the amount, may I ask?”

“Here is our cash-book, sir. The amount received from Mrs. James Pope, Hotel D— — on the seventeenth of September, is, as you see, seventy-five dollars and fifty-eight cents.”

“Let the jury see the book; also the order.”

They were both handed to the jury, and if ever I wished myself in any one’s shoes, save my own very substantial ones, it was at that moment. I did so want a peep at that order.

It seemed to interest the jury also, for their heads drew together very eagerly over it, and some whispers and a few knowing looks passed between them. Finally one of them spoke:

“It is written in a very odd hand. Do you call this a woman’s writing or a man’s?”

“I have no opinion to give on the subject,” rejoined the witness. “It is intelligible writing, and that is all that comes within my province.”

The twelve men shifted on their seats and surveyed the Coroner eagerly. Why did he not proceed? Evidently he was not quick enough to suit them.

“Have you any further questions for this witness?” asked that gentleman after a short delay.

Their nervousness increased, but no one ventured to follow the Coroner’s suggestion. A poor lot, I call them, a very poor lot! I would have found plenty of questions to put to him.

I expected to see the man Clapp called next, but I was disappointed in this. The name uttered was Henshaw, and the person who rose in answer to it was a tall, burly man with a shock of curly black hair. He was the clerk of the Hotel D— — and we all forgot Clapp in our eagerness to hear what this man had to say.

His testimony amounted to this:

That a person by the name of Pope was registered on his books. That she came to his house on the seventeenth of September, some time near noon. That she was not alone; that a person she called her husband accompanied her, and that they had been given a room, at her request, on the second floor overlooking Broadway.

“Did you see the husband? Was it his handwriting we see in your register?”

“No, sir. He came into the office, but he did not approach the desk. It was she who registered for them both, and who did all the business in fact. I thought it queer, but took it for granted he was ill, for he held his head very much down, and acted as if he felt disturbed or anxious.”

“Did you notice him closely? Would you be able to identify him on sight?”

“No, sir, I should not. He looked like a hundred other men I see every day: medium in height and build, with brown hair and brown moustache. Not noticeable in any way, sir, except for his hang-dog air and evident desire not to be noticed.”

“But you saw him later?”

“No, sir. After he went to his room he stayed there, and no one saw him. I did not even see him when he left the house. His wife paid the bill and he did not come into the office.”

“But you saw her well; you would know her again?”

“Perhaps, sir; but I doubt it. She wore a thick veil when she came in, and though I might remember her voice, I have no recollection of her features for I did not see them.”

“You can give a description of her dress, though; surely you must have looked long enough at a woman who wrote her own and her husband’s name in your register, for you to remember her clothes.”

“Yes, for they were very simple. She had on what is called a gossamer, which covered her from neck to toe, and on her head a hat wrapped all about with a blue veil.”

“So that she might have worn any dress under that gossamer?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And any hat under that veil?”

“Any one that was large enough, sir.”

Very good. Now, did you see her hands?”

“Not to remember them.”

“Did she have gloves on?”

“I cannot say. I did not stand and watch her, sir.”

“That is a pity. But you say you heard her voice.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was it a lady’s voice? Was her tone refined and her language good?”

“They were, sir.”

“When did they leave? How long did they remain in your house?”

“They left in the evening; after tea, I should say.”

“How? On foot or in a carriage?”

“In a carriage; one of the hacks that stand in front of the door.”

“Did they bring any baggage with them?”

“No, sir.”

“Did they take any away?”

“The lady carried a parcel.”

“What kind of a parcel?”

“A brown-paper parcel, like clothing done up.”

“And the gentleman?”

“I did not see him.”

“Was she dressed the same in going as in coming?”

“To all appearance, except her hat. That was smaller.”

“She had the gossamer on still, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And a veil?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Only that the hat it covered was smaller?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And now, how did you account to yourself for the parcel and the change of hat?”

“I didn’t account for them. I didn’t think anything about them at the time; but, since I have had the subject brought to my mind, I find it easy enough. She had a package delivered to her while she was in our house, or rather packages; they were quite numerous, I believe.”

“Can you recall the circumstances of their delivery?”

“Yes, sir; the man who brought the packages said that they had not been paid for, so I allowed him to carry them to Mrs. James Pope’s room. When he went away, he had but one small parcel with him; the rest he had left.”

“And this is all you can tell us about this singular couple? Had they no meals in your house?”

“No, sir; the gentleman — or I suppose I should say the lady, sir, for the order was given in her voice — sent for two dozen oysters and a bottle of ale, which were furnished to them in their rooms; but they didn’t come to the dining-room.”

“Is the boy here who carried up those articles?”

“He is, sir.”

“And the chambermaid who attended to their rooms?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you may answer this question, and we will excuse you. How was the gentleman dressed when you saw him?”

“In a linen duster and a felt hat.”

“Let the jury remember that. And now let us hear from Richard Clapp. Is Richard Clapp in the room?”

“I am, sir,” answered a cheery voice; and a lively young man with a shrewd eye and a wide-awake manner popped up from behind a portly woman on a side seat and rapidly came forward.

He was asked several questions before the leading one which we all expected; but I will not record them here. The question which brought the reply most eagerly anticipated was this:

“Do you remember being sent to the Hotel D—— with several packages for a Mrs. James Pope?”

“I do, sir.”

“Did you deliver them in person? Did you see the lady?”

A peculiar look crossed his face and we all leaned forward. But his answer brought a shock of disappointment with it.

“No, I didn’t, sir. She wouldn’t let me in. She bade me lay the things down by the door and wait in the rear hall till she called me.”

“And you did this?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But you kept your eye on the door, of course?”

“Naturally, sir.”

“And saw ——”

“A hand steal out and take in the things.”

“A woman’s hand?”

“No; a man’s. I saw the white cuff.”

“And how long was it before they called you?”

“Fifteen minutes, I should say. I heard a voice cry ‘Here!’ and seeing their door open, I went toward it. But by the time I reached it, it was shut again, and I only heard the lady say that all the articles but the shoes were satisfactory, and would I thrust the bill in under the door. I did so, and they were some minutes counting out the change, but presently the door opened slightly, and I saw a man’s hand holding out the money, which was correct to the cent. ‘You need not receipt the bill,’ cried the lady from somewhere in the room. ‘Give him the shoes and let him go.’ So I received the shoes in the same mysterious way I had the money, and seeing no reason for waiting longer, pocketed the bills and returned to the store.”

“Has the jury any further questions to ask the witness?”

Of course not. They were ninnies, all of them, and —— But, contrary to my expectation, one of them did perk up courage, and, wriggling very much on his seat, ventured to ask if the cuff he had seen on the man’s hand when it was thrust through the doorway had a button in it.

The answer was disappointing. The witness had not noticed any.

The juror, somewhat abashed, sank into silence, at which another of the precious twelve, inspired no doubt by the other’s example, blurted out:

“Then what was the color of the coat sleeve? You surely can remember that.”

But another disappointment awaited us.

“He did not wear any coat. It was a shirt sleeve I saw.”

A shirt sleeve! There was no clue in that. A visible look of dejection spread through the room, which was not dissipated till another witness stood up.

This time it was the bell-boy of the hotel who had been on duty that day. His testimony was brief, and added but little to the general knowledge. He had been summoned more than once by these mysterious parties, but only to receive his orders through a closed door. He had not entered the room at all.

He was followed by the chambermaid, who testified that she was in the room once while they were there; that she saw them both then, but did not catch a glimpse of their faces; Mr. Pope was standing in the window almost entirely shielded by the curtains, and Mrs. Pope was busy hanging up something in the wardrobe. The gentleman had on his duster and the lady her gossamer; it was but a few minutes after their arrival.

Questioned in regard to the state of the room after they left it, she said that there was a lot of brown paper lying about, marked B. Altman, but nothing else that did not belong there.

“Not a tag, nor a hat-pin, nor a bit of memorandum, lying on bureau or table?”

“Nothing, sir, so far as I mind. I wasn’t on the look-out for anything, sir. They were a queer couple, but we have lots of queer couples at our house, and the most I notices, sir, is those what remember the chambermaid and those what don’t. This couple was of the kind what don’t.”

“Did you sweep the room after their departure?”

“I always does. They went late, so I swept the room the next morning.”

“And threw the sweepings away, of course?”

“Of course; would you have me keep them for treasures?”

“It might have been well if you had,” muttered the Coroner. “The combings from the lady’s hair might have been very useful in establishing her identity.”

The porter who has charge of the lady’s entrance was the last witness from this house. He had been on duty on the evening in question and had noticed this couple leaving. They both carried packages, and had attracted his attention first, by the long, old-fashioned duster which the gentleman wore, and secondly, by the pains they both took not to be observed by any one. The woman was veiled, as had already been said, and the man held his package in such a way as to shield his face entirely from observation.

“So that you would not know him if you saw him again?” asked the Coroner.

“Exactly, sir,” was the uncomprising answer.

As he sat down, the Coroner observed: “You will note from this testimony, gentlemen, that this couple, signing themselves Mr. and Mrs. James Pope of Philadelphia, left this house dressed each in a long garment eminently fitted for purposes of concealment — he in a linen duster, and she in a gossamer. Let us now follow this couple a little farther and see what became of these disguising articles of apparel. Is Seth Brown here?”

A man, who was so evidently a hackman that it seemed superfluous to ask him what his occupation was, shuffled forward at this.

It was in his hack that this couple had left the D——. He remembered them very well as he had good reason to. First, because the man paid him before entering the carriage, saying that he was to let them out at the northwest corner of Madison Square, and secondly —— But here the Coroner interrupted him to ask if he had seen the gentleman’s face when he paid him. The answer was, as might have been expected, No. It was dark, and he had not turned his head.

“Didn’t you think it queer to be paid before you reached your destination?”

“Yes, but the rest was queerer. After I had taken the money — I never refuses money, sir — and was expecting him to get into the hack, he steps up to me again and says in a lower tone than before: ‘My wife is very nervous. Drive slow, if you please, and when you reach the place I have named, watch your horses carefully, for if they should move while she is getting out, the shock would throw her into a spasm.’ As she had looked very pert and lively, I thought this mighty queer, and I tried to get a peep at his face, but he was too smart for me, and was in the carriage before I could clap my eye on him.”

“But you were more fortunate when they got out? You surely saw one or both of them then?”

“No, sir, I didn’t. I had to watch the horses’ heads, you know. I shouldn’t like to be the cause of a young lady having a spasm.”

“Do you know in what direction they went?”

“East, I should say. I heard them laughing long after I had whipped up my horses. A queer couple, sir, that puzzled me some, though I should not have thought of them twice if I had not found next day ——”

“Well?”

“The gentleman’s linen duster and the neat brown gossamer which the lady had worn, lying folded under the two back cushions of my hack; a present for which I was very much obliged to them, but which I was not long allowed to enjoy, for yesterday the police ——”

“Well, well, no matter about that. Here is a duster and here is a brown gossamer. Are these the articles you found under your cushions?”

“If you will examine the neck of the lady’s gossamer, you can soon tell, sir. There was a small hole in the one I found, as if something had been snipped out of it; the owner’s name, most likely.”

“Or the name of the place where it was bought,” suggested the Coroner, holding the garment up to view so as to reveal a square hole under the collar.

“That’s it!” cried the hackman. “That’s the very one. Shame, I say, to spoil a new garment that way.”

“Why do you call it new?” asked the Coroner.

“Because it hasn’t a mud spot or even a mark of dust upon it. We looked it all over, my wife and I, and decided it had not been long off the shelf. A pretty good haul for a poor man like me, and if the police ——”

But here he was cut short again by an important question:

“There is a clock but a short distance from the place where you stopped. Did you notice what time it was when you drove away?”

“Yes, sir. I don’t know why I remember it, but I do. As I turned to go back to the hotel, I looked up at this clock. It was half-past eleven.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37