I had exhausted my wonder, so I accepted this statement with no more display of surprise than a grim smile.
“When you failed to identify Howard Van Burnam as the man who accompanied his wife into the adjacent house, I realized that I must look elsewhere for the murderer of Louise Van Burnam. You see I had more confidence in the excellence of your memory than you had yourself, so much indeed that I gave you more than one chance to exercise it, having, by certain little methods I sometimes employ, induced different moods in Mr. Van Burnam at the time of his several visits, so that his bearing might vary, and you have every opportunity to recognize him for the man you had seen on that fatal night.”
“Then it was he you brought here each time?” I broke in.
“It was he.”
“Well!” I ejaculated.
“The Superintendent and some others whom I need not mention,”— here Mr. Gryce took up another small object from the table — “believed implicitly in his guilt; conjugal murder is so common and the causes which lead to it so frequently puerile. Therefore I had to work alone. But this did not cause me any concern. Your doubts emphasized mine, and when you confided to me that you had seen a figure similar to the one we were trying to identify, enter the adjoining house on the evening of the funeral, I made immediate inquiries and discovered that the gentleman who had entered the house right after the four persons described by you was Franklin Van Burnam. This gave me a definite clue, and this is why I say that it was you who gave me my first start in this matter.”
“Humph!” thought I to myself, as with a sudden shock I remembered that one of the words which had fallen from Miss Oliver’s lips during her delirium had been this very name of Franklin.
“I had had my doubts of this gentleman before,” continued the detective, warming gradually with his subject. “A man of my experience doubts every one in a case of this kind, and I had formed at odd times a sort of side theory, so to speak, into which some little matters which came up during the inquest seemed to fit with more or less nicety; but I had no real justification for suspicion till the event of which I speak. That you had evidently formed the same theory as myself and were bound to enter into the lists with me, put me on my mettle, madam, and with your knowledge or without it, the struggle between us began.”
“So your disdain of me,” I here put in with a triumphant air I could not subdue, “was only simulated? I shall know what to think of you hereafter. But don’t stop, go on, this is all deeply interesting to me.”
“I can understand that. To proceed then; my first duty, of course, was to watch you. You had reasons of your own for suspecting this man, so by watching you I hoped to surprise them.”
“Good!” I cried, unable to entirely conceal the astonishment and grim amusement into which his continued misconception of the trend of my suspicions threw me.
“But you led us a chase, madam; I must acknowledge that you led us a chase. Your being an amateur led me to anticipate your using an amateur’s methods, but you showed skill, madam, and the man I sent to keep watch over Mrs. Boppert against your looked-for visit there, was foiled by the very simple strategy you used in meeting her at a neighboring shop.”
“Good!” I again cried, in my relief that the discovery made at that meeting had not been shared by him.
“We had sounded Mrs. Boppert ourselves, but she had seemed a very hopeless job, and I do not yet see how you got any water out of that stone — if you did.”
“No?” I retorted ambiguously, enjoying the Inspector’s manifest delight in this scene as much as I did my own secret thoughts and the prospect of the surprise I was holding in store for them.
“But your interference with the clock and the discovery you made that it had been going at the time the shelves fell, was not unknown to us, and we have made use of it, good use as you will hereafter see.”
“So! those girls could not keep a secret after all,” I muttered; and waited with some anxiety to hear him mention the pin-cushion; but he did not, greatly to my relief.
“Don’t blame the girls!” he put in (his ears evidently are as sharp as mine); “the inquiries having proceeded from Franklin, it was only natural for me to suspect that he was trying to mislead us by some hocus-pocus story. So I visited the girls. That I had difficulty in getting to the root of the matter is to their credit, Miss Butterworth, seeing that you had made them promise secrecy.”
“You are right,” I nodded, and forgave them on the spot. If I could not withstand Mr. Gryce’s eloquence — and it affected me at times — how could I expect these girls to. Besides, they had not revealed the more important secret I had confided to them, and in consideration of this I was ready to pardon them most anything.
“That the clock was going at the time the shelves fell, and that he should be the one to draw our attention to it would seem to the superficial mind proof positive that he was innocent of the deed with which it was so closely associated,” the detective proceeded. “But to one skilled in the subterfuges of criminals, this seemingly conclusive fact in his favor was capable of an explanation so in keeping with the subtlety shown in every other feature of this remarkable crime, that I began to regard it as a point against him rather than in his favor. Of which more hereafter.
“Not allowing myself to be deterred, then, by this momentary set-back, and rejoicing in an affair considered as settled by my superiors, I proceeded to establish Franklin Van Burnam’s connection with the crime which had been laid with so much apparent reason at his brother’s door.
“The first fact to be settled was, of course, whether your identification of him as the gentleman who accompanied his victim into Mr. Van Burnam’s house could be corroborated by any of the many persons who had seen the so-called Mr. James Pope at the Hotel D——.
“As none of the witnesses who attended the inquest had presumed to recognize in either of these sleek and haughty gentlemen the shrinking person just mentioned, I knew that any open attempt on my part to bring about an identification would result disastrously. So I employed strategy — like my betters, Miss Butterworth” (here his bow was overpowering in its mock humility); “and rightly considering that for a person to be satisfactorily identified with another, he must be seen under the same circumstances and in nearly the same place, I sought out Franklin Van Burnam, and with specious promises of some great benefit to be done his brother, induced him to accompany me to the Hotel D——.
“Whether he saw through my plans and thought that a brave front and an assumption of candor would best serve him in this unexpected dilemma, or whether he felt so entrenched behind the precautions he had taken as not to fear discovery under any circumstances, he made but one demur before preparing to accompany me. This demur was significant, however, for it was occasioned by my advice to change his dress for one less conspicuously fashionable, or to hide it under an ulster or mackintosh. And as a proof of his hardihood — remember, madam, that his connection with this crime has been established — he actually did put on the ulster, though he must have known what a difference it would make in his appearance.
“The result was all I could desire. As we entered the hotel, I saw a certain hackman start and lean forward to look after him. It was the one who had driven Mr. and Mrs. Pope away from the hotel. And when we passed the porter, the wink which I gave him was met by a lift of his eyelids which he afterwards interpreted into ‘Like! very like!’
“But it was from the clerk I received the most unequivocal proof of his identity. On entering the office I had left Mr. Van Burnam as near as possible to the spot where Mr. Pope had stood while his so-called wife was inscribing their names in the register, and bidding him to remain in the background while I had a few words at the desk, all in his brother’s interests of course, I succeeded in secretly directing Mr. Henshaw’s attention towards him. The start which he gave and the exclamation he uttered were unequivocal. ‘Why, there’s the man now!’ he cried, happily in a whisper. ‘Anxious look, drooping head, brown moustache, everything but the duster.’ ‘Bah!’ said I; ‘that’s Mr. Franklin Van Burnam you are looking at! What are you thinking of?’ ‘Can’t help it,’ said he; ‘I saw both of the brothers at the inquest, and saw nothing in them then to remind me of our late mysterious guest. But as he stands there, he’s a —— sight more like James Pope than the other one is, and don’t you forget it.’ I shrugged my shoulders, told him he was a fool, and that fools had better keep their follies to themselves, and came away with my man, outwardly disgusted but inwardly in most excellent trim for pursuing an investigation which had opened so auspiciously.
“Whether this man possessed any motive for a crime so seemingly out of accordance with his life and disposition was, of course, the next point to settle. His conduct at the inquest certainly showed no decided animosity toward his brother’s wife, nor was there on the surface of affairs any token of the mortal hatred which alone could account for a crime at once so deliberate and so brutal. But we detectives plunge below the surface, and after settling the question of Franklin’s identity with the so-called Mr. Pope of the Hotel D— — I left New York and its interests — among which I reckoned your efforts at detective work, Miss Butterworth — to a young man in my office, who, I am afraid, did not quite understand the persistence of your character; for he had nothing to tell me concerning you on my return, save that you had been cultivating Miss Althorpe, which, of course, was such a natural thing for you to do, I wonder he thought it necessary to mention it.
“My destination was Four Corners, the place where Howard first met his future wife. In relating what I learned there, I shall doubtless repeat facts with which you are acquainted, Miss Butterworth.”
“That is of no consequence,” I returned, with almost brazen duplicity; for I not only was ignorant of what he was going to say, but had every reason to believe that it would bear as remote a connection as possible to the secret then laboring in my breast. “A statement of the case from your lips,” I pursued, “will emphasize what I know. Do not stint any of your disclosures, then, I beg. I have an ear for all.” This was truer than my rather sarcastic tone would convey, for might not his story after all prove to have some unexpected relation with the facts I had myself gathered together.
“It is a pleasure,” said he, “to think I am capable of giving any information to Miss Butterworth, and as I did not run across you or your very nimble and pert little maid during my stay at Four Corners, I shall take it for granted that you confined your inquiries to the city and the society of which you are such a shining light.”
This in reference to my double visit at Miss Althorpe’s, no doubt.
“Four Corners is a charming town in Southern Vermont, and here, three years ago, Howard Van Burnam first met Miss Stapleton. She was living in a gentleman’s family at that time as travelling companion to his invalid daughter.”
Ah, now I could see what explanation this wary old detective gave himself of my visits to Miss Althorpe, and began to hug myself in anticipation of my coming triumph over him.
“The place did not fit her, for Miss Stapleton only shone in the society of men; but Mr. Harrison had not yet discovered this special idiosyncrasy of hers, and as his daughter was able to see a few friends, and in fact needed some diversion, the way was open to her companion for that acquaintance with Mr. Van Burnam which has led to such disastrous results.
“The house at which their meeting took place was a private one, and I soon found out many facts not widely known in this city. First, that she was not so much in love with Howard as he was with her. He succumbed to her fascinations at once, and proposed, I believe, within two weeks after seeing her; but though she accepted him, few of those who saw them together thought her affections very much engaged till Franklin suddenly appeared in town, when her whole manner underwent a change, and she became so sparklingly and irresistibly beautiful that her avowed lover became doubly enslaved, and Franklin — Well, there is evidence to prove that he was not insensible to her charms either; that, in spite of her engagement to his brother and the attitude which honor bade him hold towards his prospective sister-in-law, he lost his head for a short time at least, and under her seductions I do not doubt, for she was a double-faced woman according to general repute, went so far as to express his passion in a letter of which I heard much before I was so fortunate as to obtain a sight of it. This was three years ago, and I think Miss Stapleton would have been willing to have broken with Howard and married Franklin if the latter had had the courage to meet his brother’s reproaches. But he evidently was deficient in this quality. His very letter, which is a warm one, but which holds out no hope to her of any closer bond between them than that offered by her prospective union with his brother, shows that he still retained some sense of honor, and as he presently left Four Corners and did not appear again where they were till just before their marriage, it is probable that all would have gone well if the woman had shared this sentiment with him. But she was made up of mean materials, and while willing to marry Howard for what he could give her or what she thought he could give her, she yet cherished an implacable grudge against Franklin for his weakness, as she called it, in not following the dictates of his heart. Being sly as well as passionate, she hid her feelings from every one but a venial, though apparently devoted confidante, a young girl named ——”
“Oliver,” I finished in my own mind.
But the name he mentioned was quite different.
“Pigot,” he said, looking at the filigree basket he held in his hand as if he picked this word out from one of its many interstices. “She was French, and after once finding her, I had but little difficulty in learning all she had to tell. She had been Miss Harrison’s maid, but she was not above serving Miss Stapleton in many secret and dishonorable ways. As a consequence, she could give me the details of an interview which that lady had held with Franklin Van Burnam on the evening of her wedding. It took place in Mr. Harrison’s garden, and was supposed to be a secret one, but the woman who arranged the meeting was not the person to keep away from it when it occurred, and consequently I have been enabled to learn with more or less accuracy what took place between them. It was not to Miss Stapleton’s credit. Mr. Van Burnam merely wanted his letter back, but she refused to return it unless he would promise her a complete recognition by his family of her marriage and ensure her a reception in his father’s house as Howard’s wife. This was more than he could engage himself to perform. He had already, according to his own story, made every effort possible to influence the old gentleman in her favor, but had only succeeded in irritating him against himself. It was an acknowledgment which would have satisfied most women, but it did not satisfy her. She declared her intention of keeping the letter for fear he would cease his exertions; and heedless of the effect produced upon him by the barefaced threat, proceeded to inveigh against his brother for the very love which made her union with him possible; and as if this was not bad enough, showed at the same time such a disposition to profit by whatever worldly good the match promised, that Franklin lost all regard for her, and began to hate her.
“As he made no effort to conceal his feelings, she must have become immediately aware of the change which had taken place in them. But however affected by this, she gave no sign of relenting in her purpose. On the contrary, she persisted in her determination to retain his letter, and when he remonstrated with her and threatened to leave town before her marriage, she retorted by saying that, if he did so, she would show his letter to his brother as soon as the minister had made them one. This threat seemed to affect Franklin deeply, and while it intensified his feeling of animosity towards her, subjected him for the moment to her whim. He stayed in Four Corners till the ceremony was performed, but was such a gloomy guest that all united in saying that he did the occasion no credit.
“So much for my work in Four Corners.”
I had by this time become aware that Mr. Gryce was addressing himself chiefly to the Inspector, being gratified no doubt at this opportunity of presenting his case at length before that gentleman. But true to his special habits, he looked at neither of us, but rather at the fretted basket, upon the handle of which he tapped out his arguments as he quickly proceeded:
“The young couple spent the first months of their married life in Yonkers; so to Yonkers I went next. There I learned that Franklin had visited the place twice; both times, as I judge, upon a peremptory summons from her. The result was mutual fret and heartburning, for she had made no progress in her endeavors to win recognition from the Van Burnams; and even had had occasion to perceive that her husband’s love, based as it was upon her physical attributes, had begun to feel the stress of her uneasiness and dissatisfaction. She became more anxious than ever for social recognition and distinction, and when the family went to Europe, consented to accompany her husband into the quiet retreat he thought best calculated to win the approbation of his father, only upon the assurance of better times in the fall and a possible visit to Washington in the winter. But the quiet to which she was subjected had a bad effect upon her. Under it she grew more and more restless, and as the time approached for the family’s return, conceived so many plans for conciliating them that her husband could not restrain his disgust. But the worst plan of all and the one which undoubtedly led to her death, he never knew. This was to surprise Franklin at his office and, by renewed threats of showing this old love-letter to his brother, win an absolute promise from him to support her in a fresh endeavor to win his father’s favor. You see she did not understand Silas Van Burnam’s real character, and persisted in holding the most extravagant views concerning Franklin’s ascendancy over him as well as over the rest of the family. She even went so far as to insist in the interview, which Jane Pigot overheard, that it was Franklin himself who stood in the way of her desires, and that if he chose he could obtain for her an invitation to take up her abode with the rest of them in Gramercy Park. To Duane Street she therefore went before making her appearance at Mrs. Parker’s; a fact which was not brought out at the inquest; Franklin not disclosing it of course, and the clerk not recognizing her under the false name she chose to give. Of the details of this interview I am ignorant, but as she was closeted with him some time, it is only natural to suppose that conversation of some importance took place between them. The clerk who works in the outer office did not, as I have said, know who she was at the time, but he noticed her face when she came out, and he declares that it was insolent with triumph, while Mr. Franklin, who was polite enough or calculating enough to bow her out of the room, was pale with rage, and acted so unlike himself that everybody observed it. She held his letter in her hand, a letter easily distinguishable by the violet-colored seal on the back, and she filliped with it in a most aggravating way as she crossed the floor, pretending to lay it down on Howard’s desk as she went by and then taking it up again with an arch look at Franklin, pretty enough to see but hateful in its effect on him. As he went back to his own room his face was full of anger, and such was the effect of this visit on him that he declined to see any one else that day. She had probably shown such determination to reveal his past perfidy to her husband, that his fears were fully aroused at last, and he saw he was not only likely to lose his good name but the esteem with which he was accustomed to be regarded by this younger and evidently much-loved brother.
“And now, considering his intense pride, as well as his affection for Howard, do you not see the motive which this seemingly good man had for putting his troublesome sister-in-law out of existence? He wanted that letter back, and to obtain it had to resort to crime. Or such is my present theory of this murder, Miss Butterworth. Does it correspond with yours?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09