Harold Williams.

Silken threads : a detective story online

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With this entry Keene closed his book and
laid it away in his safe.

" Now that I have become a medical expert,"
he murmured to himself, with his silent laugh,
" it is proper I should adopt their mysterious
language ; " and with these words he locked up
his safe and prepared himself to visit the coro-
ner. It was necessary he should sift the three
omissions to the bottom before he could decide
upon any definite line of action.



HORACE P. JUDD and David Keene were
old acquaintances. Many times before
had they met on occasions when death had been
shrouded in apparently impenetrable mystery;
and many times had the coroner been forced to
confess himself at fault before the incisive logic
and trained intellect of David Keene. Acquaint-
ances they had for a long time been, but friends
— never. Keene had too profound a contempt
for the illiteracy of the other to regard him
as anything more than a necessary evil ; while
Judd, conscious of the other's knowledge of his
true character, bitterly feared and disliked the
detective. Their last meeting had ended in a
quarrel, and the two men had parted with the
bitterest invective. But this fact made no differ-
ence to David Keene. It was necessary that
Judd should be interviewed, and to Judd's resi-
dence he accordingly repaired.


Horace P. Judd, reading his evening paper,
was sitting by the window in his office, when
Keene was ushered in. The tuft of hair upon
the coroner's chin had an upward incHnation,
and was in his mouth, thus imparting to his
stoHd face an expression of sagacity at variance
with the nature of the man.

A look of open enmity came over the heavy
features of the coroner as he recognized David
Keene in the visitor before him. The usual
conventionalities were totally disregarded : Judd
did not rise ; neither did he ask his guest to be
seated. He simply laid his paper down and
scowled upon his visitor.

The coldness of his reception, however, made
but little impression upon David Keene. Easily
crossing the room to where the other was sit-
ting, he removed the paper from the chair upon
which Judd had thrown it, and calmly seated him-
self in the place it had occupied, crossing his
right leg over its fellow with the greatest delibera-
tion. Then, for the first time since his entrance,
he raised his eyes to Judd's face, and smiled.

Judd regarded his visitor with a look of min-
gled fear and hatred. Presently he spoke.

"Well? What do you want?" he asked


" Nothing," laconically responded Keene.

" Then you 'd better clear out," Judd roughly

" On the contrary, I come to you," Keene
answered, with a slight laugh.

Judd scowled upon the intruder.

" You '11 get nothing out of me with your
slippery ways," he remarked surlily.

" On the contrary," retorted Keene, with a
cool smile, '' I shall get exactly what I want out
of you."

'' Damn you ! " said Judd angrily, rising from
his chair and scowling fiercely at the other,
** what do you mean by that, I should like to
know? "

*' I mean life insurance," answered the de-
tective, with a drawl, eying the other with his
cold gray eyes. Keene had the habit of drawl-
ing when he was angry, or when he desired to
be particularly exasperating. It gave him time
to choose his words ; it gave him the appear-
ance of unusual self-possession. On the present
occasion his drawl was greatly exaggerated, and
as he spoke, he gazed upon the other with half-
shut eyes. Anything more insinuating, more
contemptuous, more threatening than the detec-
tive's manner could scarcely be imagined.


Now, Keene knew nothing positive to the
detriment of Jucid. He knew that it was a
trick of the trade among dishonest coroners to
threaten to return a verdict of suicide in certain
cases of sudden death, unless a sufficient bribe
should be offered to prevent them. In such
cases, if there was a life insurance, he knew that
the premium was either lost or its payment
greatly delayed ; and he knew that there were
many poor widows who had been forced to pay
this iniquitous bribe to guilty officials. Keene,
to be sure, did not know certainly that Judd
had ever been guilty of this cowardly wrong;
but he knew that he was capable of it, and he
suspected him. As he gazed upon the paling
face of the other, he saw that his shaft had
struck home.

'' Yes," he continued, with the drawl that
exasperated the other nearly to frenzy. " I
mean life insurance, that 's what I mean. I
mean to say, that if I was chief of police there 'd
be a new deal in coroners." Then, as the other
did not answer, he continued again, " Yes, I
came for nothing, and now I 've got it. I 've
got j/ozi, Dr. Judd, and I mean to use you too.
I 'm going to ask you a few questions, you see,
and you are going to answer them."


It was a curious picture the two men repre-
sented as they confronted each other there, the
one with anger, the other with contempt ; Keene
sitting easily in his chair, the coroner standing
nervously before him. It seemed as if the usual
position of things had been reversed, — as if the
mouse had turned the tables against the cat.
Keene, so slight and wiry, with his shrewd pale
face and small sparkling eyes, was the master
of the situation ; while before him cowered the
huge figure of the burly Judd, — a man who
seemed capable of crushing his insignificant
antagonist with a single sweep of his ponderous
arm. It was an example of the so-called triumph
of mind over matter; it was the triumph of
disciplined intelligence over brute strength, of
temperance over incontinence.

Presently Judd spoke out angrily. " Well, ask
away," he said, and with these words he impa-
tiently seated himself in his chair again. Such
cravens will dishonesty make of men, — at least
till they 're brought to bay. Judd felt it was
better to submit to the questioning of Keene.
There was no object in defying him. Submission
was the surest method of ridding himself of his
hated presence.

But Keene manifested no intention of further


exasperating the other. He had gained his
point, and that was all he had desired. He felt
no animosity for the man before him ; he de-
spised him too heartily for that. Keene only
hated his intellectual equals.

He now drew his memorandum from his
pocket and slowly regarded it. Medical ques-
tions like these were a new field for the detec-
tive, and he had preferred not to trust to his
unaided memory. As a rule, he discarded such
unworthy adjuncts.

*' You conducted the inquest in the case of
Bryce Barclay, I believe?" Keene began, look-
ing fixedly at the other.

Judd nodded assent,^ and the detective con-
tinued, —

" I also understand that the post-mortem
examination was made under your personal

Again Judd nodded assent, and again Keene
resumed the thread of his discourse.

" In that examination," he continued, ** I find
there were three omissions."

Judd returned no reply to this statement of
the detective. The lines of the scowl upon his
face merely became intensified. He was annoyed
by the other's criticism ; he had a certain pro-


fessional pride notwithstanding his ignorance,
and that pride was injured by the other's asper-
sion. But Keene, disregarding the frown, again
continued, —

'* It is upon these omissions that I propose to
question you. The first was regarding the gen-
eral appearance of the victim. Were there any
injuries of any kind on the surface of the body? "


"Are you sure? "

*' Yes."

" You could swear it?"

*' Yes."

" Do you mean to say that you examined the
dead man so carefully that you are able to swear
that not even the prick of a pin could have been
found upon any portion of the surface of the

** Yes. I looked especially for any place
where poison might have been administered
under the skin, and I can swear that no such
place existed."

Keene could see that this was a lie from the
smile of malicious satisfaction which illuminated
the face . of Judd, who evidently believed that a
laboriously constructed theory of the other had
now fallen to the ground. He saw that Judd



had divined the purpose of his question, and
gloried in his triumph. Secretly amused by
the malice of the other, Keene accepted the
warning that he must put his other questions
with a greater caution.

" So you are ready to swear that no poison was
subcutaneously administered to Barclay upon any
portion of his body? " he persistently inquired.

" Yes," Judd answered.

" Under the scalp, for example? "

" Well — no — not exactly," Judd hesitatingly
replied. " No one could be sure of that unless
he had looked there especially."

•' And you did not look there for the subcuta-
neous administration of poison, especially?"

*' No," said Judd, now driven to the wall, *' I
can't say that I did."

" You 're an accurate witness ! " cried Keene,
with disdain. '' For my part I don't feel sure
that Mr. Barclay was not strangled, in spite of
all you may say to the contrary."

" Well, he was n't," Judd answered surlily.

"Nonsense," continued Keene; *' you doctors
can't tell anything for certain."

"We can tell about asphyxia," said Judd, fall-
ing into the trap which the other had laid for him ;
and he forthwith arrayed all the facts which could


be used as evidence against the idea of asphyxia.
That Judd was not accurate in his statements,
Keene was well aware. Nevertheless he soon
became satisfied that no real omission had been
made in regard to asphyxia; the ground had
been simply untenable, and therefore all men-
tion of it had been disregarded in the report.
The detective laughed slyly to himself as Judd
became silent.

" The autopsy was a bungling job, anyway,"
he said tauntingly. *' Who ever heard of mak-
ing an autopsy during the rigor mortis ? "

''It was n't made during the rigor mortis ! '*
Judd surlily averred.

*' I say it was," retorted Keene.

*' Then I say you lie ! " cried Judd, with sudden

Keene laughed again slightly and to himself.
The coroner was like a malleable metal in his
experienced hands.

''Then it was made before," he remarked

" That 's a He too ! " cried Judd again. " There
was no rigor mortis , — at least there was none
up to the time of burial, three days after death."

" That was precisely what I wanted to know ! "
Keene laughed in triumph. " That was the third


omission in the medical evidence. You 've told
me precisely what I wanted to learn."

As Keene uttered the words he rose to his
feet and made the coroner a low bow. *' Bye-
bye, Horace," he said, with playful familiarity,
" bye-bye, old man. Next time we meet, per-
haps you '11 play your cards a little better ! Good-
night, Dr. Judd. Hope you '11 sleep well, Mr.
Coroner. Don't dream of the life insurance
business, — don't let the poor widows and or-
phans disturb your slumber. Good-night, my
old friend. Let not the sun go down upon your
wrath, and don't forget to say your prayers be-
fore you go to bed." With this parting injunc-
tion Keene took his departure, while Judd glared
after his retreating figure, grinding his teeth in
impotent rage.



ELEY had divined the truth when he de-
tected the flash of recognition in Edger-
ton's eye. Edgerton had in truth recognized
him. Not only had he identified his visitor with
Captain Burton, but he had also suspected that
Eley was a detective.

As the door closed behind the landlady and
her companion, Edgerton sprang to his feet;
and standing in an attitude of fearful vigilance,
he listened to the footsteps of his visitors as
they retreated down the stairs. When he heard
the house door close, he turned back into his
room again, and after making a few hurried
preparations as if for a journey, he hastened
down the stairs and went out into the air.

There, holding his travelling-bag in his hand,
he stood upon the steps of the lodging-house
scrutinizing the faces of the passers-by with a
bewildered, hunted expression. He appeared


frightened and undecided. At length, however,
the habitual melancholy of his face slowly re-
established itself; the young man sighed wearily,
and then, with a sort of wavering resolution, he
buttoned up his coat and walked thoughtfully
up the street. Behind him, at a short distance,
Eley followed. The detective had been watch-
ing for him from a neighboring door-way.

Thus Eley, deftly dodging in and out among
the wayfarers in the street, followed his victim.
And Edgerton, moreover, seemed fearful of
such pursuit, for ever and anon he paused and
looked about him. From place to place, with
no other evident intention than that of eluding
pursuit, the lawyer hurried, until at last he
halted in the railway station. Here he purchased
a ticket, and entered a train which was standing
in readiness upon the track. The car he had
taken was marked Coverly. Eley sighed with
relief as he saw his prey safely ensconced in the
train. His fatiguing chase was now over. He
could novv leave the lawyer in the hands of
Duncan. Accordingly, a telegram to the de-
tective's assistant preceded Edgerton on his
journey to Coverly.

Duncan, accompanied by the gentle Blandin,
was waiting at the Coverly station when the


train which bore Edgerton arrived. The detec-
tive had told Blandin that he expected a friend,
and the two young men had sauntered down to
the station together in order to greet the new
arrival. It is needless to say, however, that
Duncan's friend did not come. On the con-
trary, it appeared that an acquaintance of Blan-
din was the only person among the passengers
whom either of the young men recognized, —
a tall, thin man, with a melancholy face and
drooping black mustache, who carried a yel-
low travelling-bag in his hand. The new-comer
bowed coldly to Blandin, who returned his sal-
utation with an equal coldness.

**Who is that?" whispered Duncan to his
companion, as the new arrival passed them by,
and walked slowly up the platform.

'* Masters Edgerton," Blandin answered with
an expression of dislike.

Duncan took a long and careful survey of
Masters Edgerton ; and, like Eley, he also was
moved to pity when first he regarded the melan-
choly expression of those sad brown eyes. The
detective thought he recognized in the man
before him the cat's-paw of a dangerous and
unscrupulous woman. He deplored the fate of
this unfortunate one, who had been tempted by


passion to the commission of a crime. But pity
is one sentiment, mercy is another. Duncan
always sympathized with the guilty. His famil-
iarity with the criminal class had taught him
the almost irresistible strength of their motives ;
he invariably pitied them, and he frequently
admired them. But neither pity nor admiration
had ever induced him to spare them. Business
was always a foremost consideration with the
young detective.

Edgerton walked quickly to the hotel, signed
his name to the register, and demanded a
room. In the mean time Duncan, unsus-
pected, held him under a rigorous surveillance ;
the detective watched him as he retired to his
room, and as he ate his solitary dinner. He
scarcely lost sight of him from the moment he
had descended from the train until he had en-
tered the Danes' house. Nor then were the
hunter and the hunted for a long time parted.
Duncan did not intend that Leslie Dane and
Masters Edgerton should converse together, un-
less that conversation should take place within
his hearing. He allowed Edgerton but five min-
utes' vantage time ; then he, too, ascended the
steps of the house, and inquired for the Misses


Edgerton was sitting in the parlor with the
ladies when Duncan entered. The detective
saw at a glance that he had been ushered in
among the assembled family, and that no op-
portunity for private conversation with Miss
Leslie had as yet occurred.

Duncan came forward easily and shook hands
with the ladies in a familiar way, which was evi-
dently both astonishing and distasteful to the
other visitor. He greeted Miss Leslie last;
and as he lingered over the shapely hand he
had taken in his own he noted a slight contrac-
tion of Edgerton's brows, — a contraction which
became more obvious as the girl blushed at the
.every-day compliment which sprang to his lips.

*' The fellow still worships her," thought the
detective to himself, as he relinquished Leslie's
hand and took the vacant seat beside the elder
sister. " Devil though she is, he is completely
infatuated with her."

At first everything in the parlor was as the
detective could have wished. The conversation
was upon general topics, and Mrs. Dane's pres-
ence acted as a check upon Edgerton. Sud-
denly, however, all was changed ; the wailing
voice of a child was heard, and Mrs. Dane rose
and left the room. This was a most unfortunate


occurrence for the detective, since Edgerton
seized the opportunity for taking the vacant
place upon the sofa by Miss LesHe's side, while
Duncan was sitting at the farther end of the
room in conversation with the elder sister. Thus
the conversation had suddenly become changed
into a double tete-a-tete ; and Duncan, as he
looked across the room at the pair upon the
sofa, could see Edgerton bending down over
LesHe and speaking with impassioned earnest-
ness. But Edgerton's voice was so low that his
words were inaudible, and their very lowness
seemed to suggest to the detective that he spoke
upon some theme that he did not wish over-
heard. Duncan's position was now of the great-
est difficulty. He was straining every nerve to
overhear what Edgerton was saying; at the
same time he was endeavoring to lend an atten-
tive ear to the conversation of the elder Miss
Dane. As is usual in such cases, he succeeded
in neither. He could not identify a single word
which Edgerton uttered, nor was he more suc-
cessful in following the words of his companion.

The latter now recalled the detective to his

" You are very distrait this evening, Mr.
Duncan," she remarked in injured tones.


Duncan hastened to repair his rudeness. He
was a gentleman, and unwiUing to offend a
woman. He was a detective, and therefore had
no intention of losing the advantage already-
gained by his position of intimacy in the Danes'

'' I beg your pardon," he answered quickly,
*' but I could not help looking at your sister.
How very beautiful she looks to-night."

This speech, which could hardly be consid-
ered a diplomatic remark for a man to make
to one pretty woman concerning another, the
detective had made with a definite purpose. He
knew that Leslie Dane was vain enough to allow
her conversation with Edgerton to be inter-
rupted if once she perceived herself to be the
object of another's regard. Nor was he mis-
taken. No sooner had Leslie become conscious
that Duncan and her sister were observing her,
than she blushed. Then she looked up archly
at the detective and smiled.

*' You were talking about me," she said with
pretty consciousness.

'' Yes," answered the elder Miss Dane, laugh-
ing with playful malice. '' Mr. Duncan and I
were saying that Mr. Edgerton had chosen a
very gloomy subject of conversation."


Now the elder Miss Dane had made this re-
mark with the intention of appearing sportive
and facetious. She really believed that Edger-
ton was speaking of love to her sister, than
wliich she could imagine no pleasanter subject;
for the elder Miss Dane was inexperienced in
love, as is often the case with young women
whose sisters are prettier than they, and she
did not realize that the discussion of this most
sacred subject is often accompanied by more of
pain than pleasure. But she was shocked to
observe the effect of her thoughtless words.
The brilliant color faded from Leslie's face, and
her dancing, mischievous eyes grew set and
stern ; while Edgerton, with a face of terror, rose
to his feet and looked at her with anxious eyes.
Miss Dane, completely upset by this unex-
pected turn of affairs, looked in bewilderment
from Edgerton to her sister. She was at a loss
to conceive how her words could have affected
them so profoundly, and she was beginning to
murmur an involved explanation, when a ring at
the bell and the entrance of Blandin created a
diversion in her favor.

The object of Blandin's visit was evident to
all. Blandin was in love with Leslie, and had
no intention that another should occupy the


battle-field without dispute. He had come to
watch his rival ; and Duncan, confident that Edg-
erton could find no opportunity for speaking to
Leslie in private so long as Blandin happened
to be present, now felt at liberty to devote him-
self to the elder sister in right good earnest.

"What did I say?" inquired the elder sister
of Duncan with a feminine effusiveness as the
two settled down to their tete-a-tete again.

" I cannot imagine," replied Duncan, and with

*' Mr. Edgerton seemed positively terrified,"
continued the elder Miss Dane. " I really be-
lieve he was making a declaration of love."

Duncan, though a bachelor and a scoffer at
marriage, thought that the conversation between
Edgerton and Leslie had been of a character
more dangerous, if possible, even than the elder
sister had suspected. How else could one ac-
count for that expression of abject terror in
Edgerton's face? Duncan did not express his
thoughts, however. Neither did he pursue the
subject further. He was too wary a man to
talk of love to a' spinster of four-and-twenty.
He adroitly turned the conversation, and they
soon were plunged in the discussion of less
dangerous themes.


Each of the three visitors seemed determined
to out-stay the others. The result therefore was
that at a late hour all simultaneously rose to go.
Edgerton, however, appeared especially loath
to depart. He lingered about in the hall as if
searching for his hat, and was the last of the
three to bid the sisters good-night. As he bent
over Leslie's hand, Duncan's watchful ear caught
the whispered words, —

"At half-past seven, in the garden."

It was an appointment for the following day.

Accordingly, at seven o'clock the following
morning, Duncan hid himself behind the shrub-
bery in the Danes' garden. It was a glorious
summer morning, and tlie sun, just rising above
the hills in the distance, cast long shadows
upon the velvet lawn. Not a breath of wind
stirred the shrubbery or the trees as they
held out their branches to the crisp morning
air. It was a morning most beautiful in its
tranquillity, yet it was a morning most unsuita-
ble for the designs of the detective. The clear,
still air and the absence of sound would make
his task wellnigh impossible. It was almost
inconceivable that he should keep near enough
to the pair to overhear their conversation and
still escape detection. Two courses lay open to


him. He could conceal himself in the summer-
house at the foot of the lawn, or he could hide
behind the shrubbery, and possibly follow the
lovers, should they walk about, by gliding from
shrub to shrub.

This latter course Duncan finally decided
upon, since the summer-house, being isolated,
and without concealed avenue of approach,
would afford him but a single chance : if he
should take up his position there, and Leslie
and Edgerton did not enter, he must lie unoc-
cupied so long as they remained in the garden.
Thus, having adopted the former course, Dun-
can hid himself behind a thick clump of arbor-
vitae trees at a distant corner of the garden.
From this point he could command a view of
the entire enclosure.

Edgerton was the first to arrive at the rendez-
vous. He was dressed in the same clothes he
had worn the previous evening, and in his hand
he carried his travelling-bag and umbrella, as
if starting upon a journey. He walked slowly
down the winding path which led through the
garden, and unhesitatingly proceeded to the
very clump of trees behind which the detective
lay concealed. There he languidly sank upon a
rustic bench, in such close proximity to the


detective that his breathing was distinctly audi-
ble. Edgerton settled himself down with a

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Online LibraryHarold WilliamsSilken threads : a detective story → online text (page 10 of 16)