“I thought I should make you sit up. I really calculated upon doing so, sir. Yes, I have established the plain fact that this Brotherson was near to, if not in the exact line of the scene of crime in each of these extraordinary and baffling cases. A very odd coincidence, is it not?” was the dry conclusion of our eager young detective.
“Odd enough if you are correct in your statement. But I thought it was conceded that the man Brotherson was not personally near — was not even in the building at the time of the woman’s death in Hicks Street; that he was out and had been out for hours, according to the janitor.”
“And so the janitor thought, but he didn’t quite know his man. I’m not sure that I do. But I mean to make his acquaintance and make it thoroughly before I let him go. The hero — well, I will say the possible hero of two such adventures — deserves some attention from one so interested in the abnormal as myself.”
“Sweetwater, how came you to discover that Mr. Dunn of this ramshackle tenement in Hicks Street was identical with the elegantly equipped admirer of Miss Challoner?”
“Just this way. The night before Miss Challoner’s death I was brooding very deeply over the Hicks Street case. It had so possessed me that I had taken this street in on my way from Flatbush; as if staring at the house and its swarming courtyard was going to settle any such question as that! I walked by the place and I looked up at the windows. No inspiration. Then I sauntered back and entered the house with the fool intention of crossing the courtyard and wandering into the rear building where the crime had occurred. But my attention was diverted and my mind changed by seeing a man coming down the stairs before me, of so fine a figure that I involuntarily stopped to look at him. Had he moved a little less carelessly, had he worn his workman’s clothes a little less naturally, I should have thought him some college bred man out on a slumming expedition. But he was entirely too much at home where he was, and too unconscious of his jeans for any such conclusion on my part, and when he had passed out I had enough curiosity to ask who he was.
“My interest, you may believe, was in no wise abated when I learned that he was that highly respectable tenant whose window had been open at the time when half the inmates of the two buildings had rushed up to his door, only to find a paper on it displaying these words: Gone to New York; will be back at 6:30. Had he returned at that hour? I don’t think anybody had ever asked; and what reason had I for such interference now? But an idea once planted in my brain sticks tight, and I kept thinking of this man all the way to the Bridge. Instinctively and quite against my will, I found myself connecting him with some previous remembrance in which I seemed to see his tall form and strong features under the stress of some great excitement. But there my memory stopped, till suddenly as I was entering the subway, it all came back to me. I had met him the day I went with the boys to investigate the case in Hicks Street. He was coming down the staircase of the rear tenement then, very much as I had just seen him coming down the one in front. Only the Dunn of to-day seemed to have all his wits about him, while the huge fellow who brushed so rudely by me on that occasion had the peculiar look of a man struggling with horror or some other grave agitation. This was not surprising, of course, under the circumstances. I had met more than one man and woman in those halls who had worn the same look; but none of them had put up a sign on his door that he had left for New York and would not be back till 6:30, and then changed his mind so suddenly that he was back in the tenement at three, sharing the curiosity and the terrors of its horrified inmates.
“But the discovery, while possibly suggestive, was not of so pressing a nature as to demand instant action; and more immediate duties coming up, I let the matter slip from my mind, to be brought up again the next day, you may well believe, when all the circumstances of the death at the Clermont came to light and I found myself confronted by a problem very nearly the counterpart of the one then occupying me.
“But I did not see any real connection between the two cases, until, in my hunt for Mr. Brotherson, I came upon the following facts: that he was not always the gentleman he appeared: that the apartment in which he was supposed to live was not his own but a friend’s; and that he was only there by spells. When he was there, he dressed like a prince and it was while so clothed he ate his meals in the cafe of the Hotel Clermont.
“But there were times when he had been seen to leave this apartment in a very different garb, and while there was no one to insinuate that he was slack in paying his debts or was given to dissipation or any overt vice, it was generally conceded by such as casually knew him, that there was a mysterious side to his life which no one understood. His friend — a seemingly candid and open-minded gentleman — explained these contradictions by saying that Mr. Brotherson was a humanitarian and spent much of his time in the slums. That while so engaged he naturally dressed to suit the occasion, and if he was to be criticised at all, it was for his zeal which often led him to extremes and kept him to his task for days, during which time none of his up-town friends saw him. Then this enthusiastic gentleman called him the great intellectual light of the day, and — well, if ever I want a character I shall take pains to insinuate myself into the good graces of this Mr. Conway.
“Of Brotherson himself I saw nothing. He had come to Mr. Conway’s apartment the night before — the night of Miss Challoner’s death, you understand but had remained only long enough to change his clothes. Where he went afterwards is unknown to Mr. Conway, nor can he tell us when to look for his return. When he does show up, my message will be given him, etc., etc. I have no fault to find with Mr. Conway.
“But I had an idea in regard to this elusive Brotherson. I had heard enough about him to be mighty sure that together with his other accomplishments he possessed the golden tongue and easy speech of an orator. Also, that his tendencies were revolutionary and that for all his fine clothes and hankering after table luxuries and the like, he cherished a spite against wealth which made his words under certain moods cut like a knife. But there was another man, known to us of the —— Precinct, who had very nearly these same gifts, and this man was going to speak at a secret meeting that very evening. This we had been told by a disgruntled member of the Associated Brotherhood. Suspecting Brotherson, I had this prospective speaker described, and thought I recognised my man. But I wanted to be positive in my identification, so I took Anderson with me, and — but I’ll cut that short. We didn’t see the orator and that ‘go’ went for nothing; but I had another string to my bow in the shape of the workman Dunn who also answered to the description which had been given me; so I lugged poor Anderson over into Hicks Street.
“It was late for the visit I proposed, but not too late, if Dunn was also the orator who, surprised by a raid I had not been let into, would be making for his home, if only to establish an alibi. The subway was near, and I calculated on his using it, but we took a taxicab and so arrived in Hicks Street some few minutes before him. The result you know. Anderson recognised the man as the one whom he saw washing his hands in the snow outside of the Clermont, and the man, seeing himself discovered, owned himself to be Brotherson and made no difficulty about accompanying us the next day to the coroner’s office.
“You have heard how he bore himself; what his explanations were and how completely they fitted in with the preconceived notions of the Inspector and the District Attorney. In consequence, Miss Challoner’s death is looked upon as a suicide — the impulsive act of a woman who sees the man she may have scouted but whom she secretly loves, turn away from her in all probability forever. A weapon was in her hand — she impulsively used it, and another deplorable suicide was added to the melancholy list. Had I put in my oar at the conference held in the coroner’s office; had I recalled to Dr. Heath the curious case of Mrs. Spotts, and then identified Brotherson as the man whose window fronted hers from the opposite tenement, a diversion might have been created and the outcome been different. But I feared the experiment. I’m not sufficiently in with the Chief as yet, nor yet with the Inspector. They might not have called me a fool — you may; but that’s different — and they might have listened, but it would doubtless have been with an air I could not have held up against, with that fellow’s eyes fixed mockingly on mine. For he and I are pitted for a struggle, and I do not want to give him the advantage of even a momentary triumph. He’s the most complete master of himself of any man I ever met, and it will take the united brain and resolution of the whole force to bring him to book — if he ever is brought to book, which I doubt. What do you think about it?”
“That you have given me an antidote against old age,” was the ringing and unexpected reply, as the thoughtful, half-puzzled aspect of the old man yielded impulsively to a burst of his early enthusiasm. “If we can get a good grip on the thread you speak of, and can work ourselves along by it, though it be by no more than an inch at a time, we shall yet make our way through this labyrinth of undoubted crime and earn for ourselves a triumph which will make some of these raw and inexperienced young fellows about us stare. Sweetwater, coincidences are possible. We run upon them every day. But coincidence in crime! that should make work for a detective, and we are not afraid of work. There’s my hand for my end of the business.”
“And here’s mine.”
Next minute the two heads were closer than ever together, and the business had begun.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55