That Affair Next Door, by Anna Katherine Green



Mr. Gryce called about nine o’clock next morning.

“Well,” said he, “what about the visitor who came to see me last night?”

“Like and unlike,” I answered. “Nothing could induce me to say he is the man we want, and yet I would not dare to swear he was not.”

“You are in doubt, then, concerning him?”

“I am.”

Mr. Gryce bowed, reminded me of the inquest, and left. Nothing was said about the hat.

At ten o’clock I prepared to go to the place designated by him. I had never attended an inquest in my life, and felt a little flurried in consequence, but by the time I had tied the strings of my bonnet (the despised bonnet, which, by the way, I did not return to More’s), I had conquered this weakness, and acquired a demeanor more in keeping with my very important position as chief witness in a serious police investigation.

I had sent for a carriage to take me, and I rode away from my house amid the shouts of some half dozen boys collected on the curb-stone. But I did not allow myself to feel dashed by this publicity. On the contrary, I held my head as erect as nature intended, and my back kept the line my good health warrants. The path of duty has its thorny passages, but it is for strong minds like mine to ignore them.

Promptly at ten o’clock I entered the room reserved for the inquest, and was ushered to the seat appointed me. Though never a self-conscious woman, I could not but be aware of the many eyes that followed me, and endeavored so to demean myself that there should be no question as to my respectable standing in the community. This I considered due to the memory of my father, who was very much in my thoughts that day.

The Coroner was already in his seat when I entered, and though I did not perceive the good face of Mr. Gryce anywhere in his vicinity, I had no doubt he was within ear-shot. Of the other people I took small note, save of the honest scrub-woman, of whose red face and anxious eyes under a preposterous bonnet (which did not come from La Mole’s), I caught vague glimpses as the crowd between us surged to and fro.

None of the Van Burnams were visible, but this did not necessarily mean that they were absent. Indeed, I was very sure, from certain indications, that more than one member of the family could be seen in the small room connecting with the large one in which we witnesses sat with the jury.

The policeman, Carroll, was the first man to talk. He told of my stopping him on his beat and of his entrance into Mr. Van Burnam’s house with the scrub-woman. He gave the details of his discovery of the dead woman’s body on the parlor floor, and insisted that no one — here he looked very hard at me — had been allowed to touch the body till relief had come to him from Headquarters.

Mrs. Boppert, the scrub-woman, followed him; and if she was watched by no one else in that room, she was watched by me. Her manner before the Coroner was no more satisfactory, according to my notion, than it had been in Mr. Van Burnam’s parlor. She gave a very perceptible start when they spoke her name, and looked quite scared when the Bible was held out towards her. But she took the oath notwithstanding, and with her testimony the inquiry began in earnest.

“What is your name?” asked the Coroner.

As this was something she could not help knowing, she uttered the necessary words glibly, though in a way that showed she resented his impertinence in asking her what he already knew.

“Where do you live? And what do you do for a living?” rapidly followed.

She replied that she was a scrub-woman and cleaned people’s houses, and having said this, she assumed a very dogged air, which I thought strange enough to raise a question in the minds of those who watched her. But no one else seemed to regard it as anything but the embarrassment of ignorance.

“How long have you known the Van Burnam family?” the Coroner went on.

“Two years, sir, come next Christmas.”

“Have you often done work for them?”

“I clean the house twice a year, fall and spring.”

“Why were you at this house two days ago?”

“To scrub the kitchen floors, sir, and put the pantries in order.”

“Had you received notice to do so?”

“Yes, sir, through Mr. Franklin Van Burnam.”

“And was that the first day of your work there?”

“No, sir; I had been there all the day before.”

“You don’t speak loud enough,” objected the Coroner; “remember that every one in this room wants to hear you.”

She looked up, and with a frightened air surveyed the crowd about her. Publicity evidently made her most uncomfortable, and her voice sank rather than rose.

“Where did you get the key of the house, and by what door did you enter?”

“I went in at the basement, sir, and I got the key at Mr. Van Burnam’s agent in Dey Street. I had to go for it; sometimes they send it to me; but not this time.”

“And now relate your meeting with the policeman on Wednesday morning, in front of Mr. Van Burnam’s house.”

She tried to tell her story, but she made awkward work of it, and they had to ply her with questions to get at the smallest fact. But finally she managed to repeat what we already knew, how she went with the policeman into the house, and how they stumbled upon the dead woman in the parlor.

Further than this they did not question her, and I, Amelia Butterworth, had to sit in silence and see her go back to her seat, redder than before, but with a strangely satisfied air that told me she had escaped more easily than she had expected. And yet Mr. Gryce had been warned that she knew more than appeared, and by one in whom he seemed to have placed some confidence!

The doctor was called next. His testimony was most important, and contained a surprise for me and more than one surprise for the others. After a short preliminary examination, he was requested to state how long the woman had been dead when he was called in to examine her.

“More than twelve and less than eighteen hours,” was his quiet reply.

“Had the rigor mortis set in?”

“No; but it began very soon after.”

“Did you examine the wounds made by the falling shelves and the vases that tumbled with them?”

“I did.”

“Will you describe them?”

He did so.

“And now”— there was a pause in the Coroner’s question which roused us all to its importance, “which of these many serious wounds was in your opinion the cause of her death?”

The witness was accustomed to such scenes, and was perfectly at home in them. Surveying the Coroner with a respectful air, he turned slowly towards the jury and answered in a slow and impressive manner:

“I feel ready to declare, sirs, that none of them did. She was not killed by the falling of the cabinet upon her.”

“Not killed by the falling shelves! Why not? Were they not sufficiently heavy, or did they not strike her in a vital place?”

“They were heavy enough, and they struck her in a way to kill her if she had not been already dead when they fell upon her. As it was, they simply bruised a body from which life had already departed.”

As this was putting it very plainly, many of the crowd who had not been acquainted with these facts previously, showed their interest in a very unmistakable manner; but the Coroner, ignoring these symptoms of growing excitement, hastened to say:

“This is a very serious statement you are making, doctor. If she did not die from the wounds inflicted by the objects which fell upon her, from what cause did she die? Can you say that her death was a natural one, and that the falling of the shelves was merely an unhappy accident following it?”

“No, sir; her death was not natural. She was killed, but not by the falling cabinet.”

“Killed, and not by the cabinet? How then? Was there any other wound upon her which you regard as mortal?”

“Yes, sir. Suspecting that she had perished from other means than appeared, I made a most rigid examination of her body, when I discovered under the hair in the nape of the neck, a minute spot, which, upon probing, I found to be the end of a small, thin point of steel. It had been thrust by a careful hand into the most vulnerable part of the body, and death must have ensued at once.”

This was too much for certain excitable persons present, and a momentary disturbance arose, which, however, was nothing to that in my own breast.

So! so! it was her neck that had been pierced, and not her heart. Mr. Gryce had allowed us to think it was the latter, but it was not this fact which stupefied me, but the skill and diabolical coolness of the man who had inflicted this death-thrust.

After order had been restored, which I will say was very soon, the Coroner, with an added gravity of tone, went on with his questions:

“Did you recognize this bit of steel as belonging to any instrument in the medical profession?”

“No; it was of too untempered steel to have been manufactured for any thrusting or cutting purposes. It was of the commonest kind, and had broken short off in the wound. It was the end only that I found.”

“Have you this end with you — the point, I mean, which you found imbedded at the base of the dead woman’s brain?”

“I have, sir”; and he handed it over to the jury. As they passed it along, the Coroner remarked:

“Later we will show you the remaining portion of this instrument of death,” which did not tend to allay the general excitement. Seeing this, the Coroner humored the growing interest by pushing on his inquiries.

“Doctor,” he asked, “are you prepared to say how long a time elapsed between the infliction of this fatal wound and those which disfigured her?”

“No, sir, not exactly; but some little time.”

Some little time, when the murderer was in the house only ten minutes! All looked their surprise, and, as if the Coroner had divined this feeling of general curiosity, he leaned forward and emphatically repeated:

“More than ten minutes?”

The doctor, who had every appearance of realizing the importance of his reply, did not hesitate. Evidently his mind was quite made up.

Yes; more than ten minutes.”

This was the shock I received from his testimony.

I remembered what the clock had revealed to me, but I did not move a muscle of my face. I was learning self-control under these repeated surprises.

“This is an unexpected statement,” remarked the Coroner. “What reasons have you to urge in explanation of it?”

“Very simple and very well known ones; at least, among the profession. There was too little blood seen, for the wounds to have been inflicted before death or within a few minutes after it. Had the woman been living when they were made, or even had she been but a short time dead, the floor would have been deluged with the blood gushing from so many and such serious injuries. But the effusion was slight, so slight that I noticed it at once, and came to the conclusions mentioned before I found the mark of the stab that occasioned death.”

“I see, I see! And was that the reason you called in two neighboring physicians to view the body before it was removed from the house?”

“Yes, sir; in so important a matter, I wished to have my judgment confirmed.”

“And these physicians were ——”

“Dr. Campbell, of 110 East —— Street, and Dr. Jacobs, of —— Lexington Avenue.”

“Are these gentlemen here?” inquired the Coroner of an officer who stood near.

“They are, sir.”

“Very good; we will now proceed to ask one or two more questions of this witness. You told us that even had the woman been but a few minutes dead when she received these contusions, the floor would have been more or less deluged by her blood. What reason have you for this statement?”

“This; that in a few minutes, let us say ten, since that number has been used, the body has not had time to cool, nor have the blood-vessels had sufficient opportunity to stiffen so as to prevent the free effusion of blood.”

“Is a body still warm at ten minutes after death?”

“It is.”

“So that your conclusions are logical deductions from well-known facts?”

“Certainly, sir.”

A pause of some duration followed.

When the Coroner again proceeded, it was to remark:

“The case is complicated by these discoveries; but we must not allow ourselves to be daunted by them. Let me ask you, if you found any marks upon this body which might aid in its identification?”

“One; a slight scar on the left ankle.”

“What kind of a scar? Describe it.”

“It was such as a burn might leave. In shape it was long and narrow, and it ran up the limb from the ankle-bone.”

“Was it on the right foot?”

“No; on the left.”

“Did you call the attention of any one to this mark during or after your examination?”

“Yes; I showed it to Mr. Gryce the detective, and to my two coadjutors; and I spoke of it to Mr. Howard Van Burnam, son of the gentleman in whose house the body was found.”

It was the first time this young gentleman’s name had been mentioned, and it made my blood run cold to see how many side-long looks and expressive shrugs it caused in the motley assemblage. But I had no time for sentiment; the inquiry was growing too interesting.

“And why,” asked the Coroner, “did you mention it to this young man in preference to others?”

“Because Mr. Gryce requested me to. Because the family as well as the young man himself had evinced some apprehension lest the deceased might prove to be his missing wife, and this seemed a likely way to settle the question.”

“And did it? Did he acknowledge it to be a mark he remembered to have seen on his wife?”

“He said she had such a scar, but he would not acknowledge the deceased to be his wife.”

“Did he see the scar?”

“No; he would not look at it.”

“Did you invite him to?”

“I did; but he showed no curiosity.”

Doubtless thinking that silence would best emphasize this fact, which certainly was an astonishing one, the Coroner waited a minute. But there was no silence. An indescribable murmur from a great many lips filled up the gap. I felt a movement of pity for the proud family whose good name was thus threatened in the person of this young gentleman.

“Doctor,” continued the Coroner, as soon as the murmur had subsided, “did you notice the color of the woman’s hair?”

“It was a light brown.”

“Did you sever a lock? Have you a sample of this hair here to show us?”

“I have, sir. At Mr. Gryce’s suggestion I cut off two small locks. One I gave him and the other I brought here.”

“Let me see it.”

The doctor passed it up, and in sight of every one present the Coroner tied a string around it and attached a ticket to it.

“That is to prevent all mistake,” explained this very methodical functionary, laying the lock aside on the table in front of him. Then he turned again to the witness.

“Doctor, we are indebted to you for your valuable testimony, and as you are a busy man, we will now excuse you. Let Dr. Jacobs be called.”

As this gentleman, as well as the witness who followed him, merely corroborated the statements of the other, and made it an accepted fact that the shelves had fallen upon the body of the girl some time after the first wound had been inflicted, I will not attempt to repeat their testimony. The question now agitating me was whether they would endeavor to fix the time at which the shelves fell by the evidence furnished by the clock.

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