S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

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was enough to create pity and to make it need
ful to exercise the large charity of the physi
cian to lessen the sense of surprise with which
one saw a man in the vigor of health so easily
routed. Long pain and the bodily feebleness
due to disease or wounds often take from a
man his moral weapons, and leave him with
neither sword nor shield. But this man, in
the midst of health and in the sunshine of a
rare woman s love, splendidly able to put aside
wealth, was like a strong battle-ship on the
rocks, a helpless prey of the sea. I saw it all



at a glance as I entered his room. He sat
crouched low in a chair by the wood fire, with
out other light. As I approached, he turned
his head, looked at me, and resumed his atti
tude of defeat, his head in his hands, his elbow
on his knees. I went to the mantel, found a
match, and lighted two gas-jets. Then I
drew a chair and sat down beside him. He
said not a word as I took his hand. His pulse
was eloquent of his condition. I saw at once
that the physician must prepare the way for
the friend. I said : "You have not slept and
you have not eaten/

"No. Not for three days."

"Well, that won t do. I want to talk to you,
but now you are in no fit case for talk. Come
with me to my rooms."

"No; I am watched. I should be arrested."

I persisted, and at last he consented; but he
staggered as he rose, saying, "It is useless,"
and yet he went.

When at last we were in my study, I made
him take a pretty stiff glass of whisky and,
with more difficulty, a couple of biscuits. The



influence of the stimulus was interesting and
rapid. I said but little, and nothing of the
cause of his condition. But after some twenty
minutes he sat up and said: "Do you think
they followed us?" and then: "I wish you
would lock the door." It was childlike, but I
did so. Then I returned to my seat, and
quietly lighted my pipe and waited. Five
minutes went by before he said: "Why did
you make me come here? They will think I
ran away."

"No. I shall say where you are. You
must stay with me."

"May I have some more whisky?"


He took it again, and of his own will ate
greedily of the biscuits. We were silent. In
the way the stimulus and food restored the
man s moral vigor with the physical gain in
strength, there was something which I felt
should have given him a reproachful sense of
humiliation at the ease with which he had been
crushed. He said suddenly, "Would you
mind if I smoked?"



"No," I said, and gave him a cigar. "And
now let us talk. You must tell me all about
it. You sent for me, and I came. I am your
friend, and with what I have heard I am pre
pared, as you are not, to consider calmly this
absurd situation. I beg of you not to get ex
cited or explain or reason on the case. Give
me the cold facts. Can you, or shall we wait
until to-morrow?"

"Oh, no; I do not want to wait. I am abso
lutely alone here. I have no man but you to
whom I can turn. I do not make friends
easily. My uncle was my only relative. I
want to ask advice. I want to know how it
looks to you. Miss Musgrave s aunt is use
less, of course. I have no one no one."

I saw how vast was the artificial gain of the
hour ; I knew, too, that it would not last.

"Go on," I said. He laid down his cigar,
and went on to state with amazing absence of
visible emotion the whole tragic story.

"About two weeks from the time he made
his will, on Monday night, I gave my uncle
$745.50, a delayed payment of interest which


I had collected on a mortgage. You may not
know that he has made this kind of use of me
ever since I came to the city. At first he used
to say it was merely taking care of my own
property, but since "

Here I said: "Do not explain. That may
come later. Now I want only the recent bare

"Very well, you shall have them."

My witness was still improving.

"When I called on Monday night, my uncle
was in bed. Of late he was much of the time
in bed. I put the money in his desk, and
locked it and put the key in his waistcoat
pocket. I said, I see your will, sir, is still in
the desk/ It was in an envelop, labeled and
sealed. I said, It should be in your bank
safe. He said, Yes; I shall see to that to
morrow. You have only to change your
mind, and I will burn that will/

"I said no, and that I begged he would not
reopen a question to which I could make only
one reply. He said I was a fool. I made no
answer. The fact is, I think that "



Once again I broke in. "Facts," I said,
t4 facts."

This time the man actually smiled as he re
turned, "What are you doing?"

I had taken up pencil and note-tablet.

"I am about to take down in shorthand
what you tell me."

I was fairly expert at this.

"Go on."

"I read the larger part of the stock-list to
my uncle and one or two editorials. After
this, as he was evidently sleepy, I said:
Good night, sir. Don t forget to bolt your

"The old housemaid, his only servant, had
gone to bed. In the hall I saw that the tall
clock was marking eleven. I put out the gas
and w r ent away, leaving the hall door, as usual,
unlocked, the maid having gone to bed. I
think I said that it was a common occurrence.
I walked to my rooms, let myself in, and see
ing no one, went to bed.

"At half after seven in the morning I was
awakened and told that a policeman wanted to


see me. I dressed in haste, and found the man

"He said, Mr. Fernwood, your uncle was
found dead on the floor this morning/

"He had not seen him, and could tell me
nothing more. I found two policemen in the
hall, and up-stairs in the room a captain of po
lice and others.

"I said, 1 am Captain Fernwood, Mr.
White s nephew/ My uncle lay in his night
dress, dead on the floor, his head near the fire
place, and close by the poker. There was a
cut on his left temple. I was about to feel it,
to see if there were a fracture, when the cap
tain of police said: Don t touch him. The
coroner will be here/

"I rose, and the man said: It may have
been an accident or a murder. The desk has
been broken open/

"I turned, and saw that it had been rudely
handled. It was open, the money gone, and
the will also. I looked about among the few
other papers which lay scattered on the floor,
but was warned to touch nothing. I felt sure,



however, that the will was not among them.
Then for the first time I began to feel "
"Stop," I said. "Stick to the facts."
"I sat down and waited. It was hours be
fore the coroner came, and late in the after
noon before the inquest was held. I never left
the house. At the inquest the maid swore to
my presence the night before, to ignorance as
to when I had left, and to finding the chamber
door unlocked at 7 A.M., when, as usual, she
went to call Mr. White, and, seeing him on the
floor, ran screaming into the street. The
street door was often left unlocked. I told you

"I stated in turn the facts of my visit and
felt at once that I had better speak of the con
tents of the desk. When I spoke of the will,
a juror desired to know what I knew about it.
I said it left me, as I had been told, by my
uncle, ten thousand dollars, the maid the same
amount, the rest to charities or at least so my
uncle had said. What else there was I had not
been told. A juror asked if Mr. White had
other near relatives. I said none. I was then



asked concerning my relations with my uncle.
On this I stated the circumstances which oc
casioned him to make the will. Asked if we
had quarreled, I said no; he had been liberal
to my mother, and although he was angry and
disappointed, our intercourse had remained
pleasant, on my part at least. Asked if I had
felt disappointed about the will, I said yes, but
that I considered my course reasonable.
Asked if there were no will, who would inherit,
I replied that I should in that case be the sole
heir. During the day I was not allowed to
reenter the room. A post-mortem section
showed that the wound on the head was only
a surface injury, and could not have been the
cause of death. He might have been struck,
and, as he was over eighty years old, have
fallen when hit, and died easily enough. The
verdict stated the fact of the robbery and the
belief of the jury that Reuben White came to
his death through violence at the hands of a
person or persons unknown."

"Was there/ I asked, "any evidence of bur



"No. The maid, who herself is old and
stupid, swore that she had, as usual, locked up
the back of the house and that the silver on
the sideboard, in the dining-room, some of it
old and valuable, had not been taken. The
only taste my uncle allowed himself was for old
silver, in which he was an expert."

"And now," I said, "a question or two. Be
careful how you reply. Did you tell them you
locked the desk and where you put the key?"

"Yes, and they found it. A juror said,
Only a burglar, a man in fear and haste,
would have broken the desk/ Another said,
Unless he wanted to simulate a burglary, and
knew all the while where to look for the key/
Here the coroner stopped, them, but it was clear
that everything pointed to me as the criminal.
I had killed my uncle. I had stolen the will.

"I went away horror-stricken. I walked
from place to place and far out into the coun
try. At evening I came home. The next day
I forced myself to go to the house and arrange
for the funeral. The maid and a friend of
hers, whom she had asked to remain with her,



stared at me with horrible curiosity. The old
woman was weeping over the loss of her leg
acy. I left them. Before night I became sure
that I was shadowed. My God ! the shadow of
a murderer! I have not left the house since.
I have not slept at all. I have eaten nothing
in two days. I wrote Miss Musgrave that our
engagement was at an end. She will not hear
to it. She came to see me at once, and this is

My pencil had been busy. I had had no time
to think.

I said now : "You must go to bed, and here
in my room. I shall send for your things to


He yielded with childlike submissiveness.
When I had him safe in bed, I brought him a
tablespoonful of whisky in which I had dis
solved a small dose of morphia. I closed the
door and sat down to think, and the more I
thought, the less I liked the outlook. At last
I tried to put myself in his place. If he had
meant to steal the will, it was at any time easy
but useless and perilous to do so while his uncle



lived. Suppose him to have lingered in the
house intending later to kill, and been con
fronted by his uncle awake, the rest would fol
low. I had gone along a track which would
be surely that of any one who did not know
Fernwood. To me it was inconceivable. But
what next? Burglary. The old man wakes,
is struck down. The desk is opened, the
money found. I put myself in the burglar s
mental skin. I. see the will. It is labeled,
"Will of Reuben White." I read it by my
lantern. I am intelligent enough to know its
possible value. In my dread of discovery, and
with the dead man at my feet, I make haste to
leave. But why neglect the silver ? Here my
venture into the stranger land of an unknown
man s personality failed me. As I have said,
my essays on criminal character which at
tracted much attention some years ago, had
been the result of long study and much experi
ence when I was, as a younger man, in medical
charge of the Central Penitentiary.

It is easy to classify criminal types, but no
experience of the class and the genera and



species will enable one entirely to understand
surely the motives which govern them while
engaged in illegal acts. Here as elsewhere in
life the ever-present factor of individual differ
ence may make prediction difficult.

In the case I now considered there was ac
tion which seemed to me unlike that of the
ordinary burglar. By this time I had begun
to be deeply interested. Both head and heart
were in the game which any friend of Fern-
wood must play against the theory I was sure
the police would hold. I knew that I should
need help, and that I should like to go over the
house of the dead man. I wrote a note, ask
ing Mr. South, the detective, to call on me dur
ing the evening of the next day, and went out
and mailed it.

On my return I assured myself that Fern-
wood was asleep. At six next morning I
called him. He was confused for a moment as
he came out of the borderland between sleep
and the wakened state. He said: "I was
bothered for a little by my surroundings, but

I9 6


now I am better. What a fool I was yester

"Do not talk," I said. "Dress. The bath
is ready. We can talk at breakfast."


WHEN he entered my study, although pale
and anxious-looking, he was better than
I could have expected. The janitor s wife pro
vided, as usual, coffee, eggs, and bread and but
ter. He sat down, and with too obvious as
sumption of his usual courteous manner
apologized for the trouble he had given. I de
clined to talk of his present situation, and when
he had finished a fairly good meal, I said,
"Come with me." He was at once alarmed,
and I saw that he was still far from the state of
competence I desired.

However, we went down-stairs, I saying:
"You use the wheel. I have borrowed our
janitor s. I have mine."

He looked up and down the street, and see
ing no one, mounted. We went away some
four miles into the country, and then back, and
I saw, as we returned, that the exercise had



brought color into his face. He remonstrated
as I turned away from the library, and cross
ing the still quiet city, stopped at the door of
his uncle s house. Fernwood hesitated, but
when I insisted, rang the bell. The old woman
who let us in looked at him as if in doubt and
said : "I was n t to let any one in. That s
what the police said." The man in charge had
gone away for his breakfast.

I replied, "The Captain has every right to
go where he pleases in this house, and I am
his friend." She grumbled about our getting
her into trouble, but as I insisted, went with us,
while I inspected the house with care. I
learned nothing of value. Last I went into
the room of the dead owner. Fernwood looked
about him, and then abruptly turned and went
out. The old woman said to me, "He s
afraid, and I don t wonder." She had made
up her mind that he was suffering the terror of
guilt. I said: "Nonsense! The man is ill."

I had gained nothing by my visit. I saw
that in my desire to utilize his knowledge of
the house, I had only learned how deeply he



was wounded and how close he had come to
the boundaries beyond which a man may not
pass without becoming a minority of one in the
country of the sane.

I said, "Come back with me a moment."
When within, I asked to go once more into the
dining-room. I said, "Susan, where was the
silver kept?"

"Oh, some in the bank and some here on the
sideboard. It was all right that morning. I
cleaned it the day before. He was mighty par
ticular about that."

"Where is it now?"

"I put it away, there were so many people

"Could I see it?"

A five-dollar note relieved her mind, and we
went up-stairs. It was in flannel bags. I
looked it over piece by piece. At last I care
fully studied a fine Queen Anne tankard.

Then the old woman said: "That was on a
chair the morning after the murder. I might
have set it there. No, burglars would n t have
left this silver."




"Some one has handled it," I said.

"Well, I did n t, except by the handle."

"Some one did," I insisted, and we went

My friend was again becoming nervous, and
my remark on the significant observation of
the silver having been handled did no good.

I said: "Fernwood, if you let yourself go
to pieces in this way, you will end by making
a lot of idiots think you are really a criminal.
We are only at the beginning of an affair
which will need cool heads and intelligent man
agement, and now you are behaving like a
scared child or an hysterical girl. You have
really nothing to fear."

"Do you think that? I do not mind telling
you that what I fear is that I may come to be
lieve I I killed him. It does look so likely.
I have heard of such cases, and even now I "

"Good gracious! Do you want to make
me regret that I mean to see this thing
through ?"

He came over to where I stood and put a
hand on my shoulder. He said: "You must



forgive me, and you will, if you think of the
hopeless misery of my condition."

"All right," I said. "Now I must go. We
will lunch and dine at a little Italian restaurant
near by ; but, my dear fellow, I want you clear
of head, because we are to have a talk to-night
with South. I sent for him."

"I will try," he said, and appeared relieved
by the prospect of something being done. I
went to my work, uneasy and feeling that we
were in deep water.

When we went out to lunch, I saw South,
the detective, come out of a tobacco shop oppo
site the library. I said to the Captain, "Wait
a moment," and crossing over, said to South,
"Are you watching Captain Fernwood?"

He said, "Yes. It is very stupid, but those
are my orders/

"Well," I said, "you know me. He will ap
pear when wanted. You may as well go home,
but turn up at nine to-night. I want to ask
your advice about him."

He whistled low. "Well, that s funny.
We are on the other side."



There is no other side."

"Yes; that Hospital Board. They say he
has told them over and over they were to get
most of his money."

"Well, we will talk it over."

"Very good," he said, and sauntered up the
street, while I rejoined Fern wood.

To my surprise, he said : "I saw that man
the day but one after after my uncle died.
Is he watching me?"

I thought better to say yes, frankly.

"It s a strange thing to know. He had bet
ter take care."

"Wait a little," I said. "We will get him
on our side," and we went on to lunch, the
Captain now and then looking back suspi

A little before nine that night I asked him
to go into my bedroom and wait there until I
called him. He asked for a newspaper. I
knew better than to give him one. The dailies
were still wildly discussing the famous case and
the stolen will.

"This will do," he said, and taking a book


from my shelves, went into the bedroom while
I waited for South, my notes on the table at
my side.

When he came in, I said: "Sit down, take
a cigar, and run over these memoranda." I
had written them out. "And speak low when
you talk. The Captain is in my bedroom.
Now read this."

In a few minutes he laid down the notes,
and I said, "Now, how does this look to you?"

"Well, first, let me say I have left the police,
and am with the firm of Frost, the detective
agents. They are employed by that hospital
to find out where that will is, if it is at all.
The murder does not concern them except in
a way. They want that will. You see, the
old man, White, told them all about it. They
think your friend has it or had it."

"Well," I said, "the fools are not all dead,
but I want your opinion your theory, if you
have one."

"Well, Dr. Alston, I have none. I have
talked to two of that jury, and they think your
friend killed the man, or at least struck him



and stole the will, but I have n t much respect
for coroner s juries. Their notion is that he
broke open the desk and disordered the room
so as to simulate a burglary. When I men
tioned that he had declined the old man s con
ditions, and at the inquest had called attention
to the absence of the will, that seemed to them
only a clever dodge, and one said a burglar
would never have left the silver. That did
seem queer to me. However, I am to be al
lowed to go over the house to-morrow, and I
want to see the old man s servant."

"Ask to see the silver, South." And there
upon I told him what I had seen. It did not
impress him.

He said: "There was, I hear, no breaking
in. If burglars entered, it was easy to do so
by the unlocked front door."

This was exactly what I wanted, and agree
ing, I added: "Now, I want you to see the
Captain. I will call him."

There was no need, for, as I spoke, the door
opened, and he entered, a book in his hand.
He threw it on the table, and as South rose,



he sprang forward, and catching him by the
throat, shook him with savage violence, cry
ing, "So you are set to watch me, you hound !"

The big detective stood still as I caught
Fernwood s arm, and said, "Are you insane?"
He let go his grip and turned.

"No. I am sane enough, and no man shall
follow me as this man has done."

I pushed him down into a chair, saying:
"Mr. South is here to help us. He is only
obeying orders; but he does not believe you

"Is that so, Mr. South? Let him say so.
He s got to say so."

I knew South too well to think he would
lie, and I was immensely relieved when he said
quietly, "I believe, sir, that you are an inno
cent man."

"Thank God for that ! That accursed book
upset me."

I glanced at it. What evil fate had made
him choose it? It was "Eugene Aram."

"Well," I said, "you owe Mr. South an



"He has it, and my gratitude," said Fern-
wood, in his courteous way. "I am sorry,

"Let us talk," I said.

"No," returned South, readjusting his neck
tie; "not now. To-morrow, perhaps, after I
have seen the house. Only one question:
Did you often leave without the woman follow
ing you to lock the front door ?"

"Yes ; because commonly I was late and she
in bed. I spoke of it once or twice, but my
uncle said no burglars ever came in from the

"No; that is true as a rule. We shall pull
through, Captain."

My friend looked up and said: "It is an
unspeakable relief to hear you say that. If the
will is never found, I cannot, I could not, take
the money; or if I did take his fortune, and
gave it to the hospital, that would be sure to
be looked upon as the act of a repentant man.
I have one hope, and it is that whoever stole
the will did so in order to sell it to the hospital."

"Or to you," said South.


"I see. To give me the chance to burn it."

"That s about it, sir. Well, good-night,
and I just want to say this. I was n t clear
about this matter. Now I am. Keep cool,
and don t read the papers."

Said Fern wood, with his pleasant smile, "Let
me again ask you to excuse my violence."

"Why, sir," said the big man, "it was just
that settled the matter for me. If you had
been guilty, you would not have come down on
me like that."

"I should not."

I said, "Argumentum ad hominem"

"What s that?" said South.

I failed to be able to put it more clearly, and
for the first time we all three laughed. I went
down-stairs and talked to South for half an
hour about Fernwood and his well-known act
of venturing out under a heavy fire, putting a
tourniquet on Major Warde, and carrying him
into our lines, although himself slightly

"That s the scar on his cheek."




"Well, well, men are queer, and that man to
be broke up this way !"

"And would not you be 1"

"I might. There really are several kinds
of courage. He was upset a bit by the jury
inquest, and the average reporter was sure to
consider that an evidence of crime."

When I went up-stairs I quietly opened my
bedroom door. Fernwood was on his knees.
I closed the door and sat down with my pipe,
with thankful hope in my mind.

I administered my remedy of the bicycle next
day, and left my friend after breakfast, asking
him to make a copy of a long list of new books
to be bought, which otherwise, I assured him I
should have to make myself. He seemed glad
to be of use to me, and thenceforward I man
aged to keep him busy and at times even inter

When again I saw South, he said, "I have
asked to be relieved from further service of the
hospital trustees and am now entirely at your
command." I thanked him. "Well, sir," he
said, "you are right: the silver had been



handled. The mug what she calls the tank
ard had been picked up from the sideboard
and left on the chair. They meant to re
turn and take it all. The man s death scared
them, and as they had the money seven hun
dred and fifty, was it ? a good haul/

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 7 of 10)