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Did She Fall?
HOW ONE LIFE WENT OUT
MUNSON explained everything, but already everyone's nerves were so finely edged that his words did little to dispel the tension gripping the various members of the household.
Aunt Matty retired flutteringly to her room. Sam, Sue, and June sat in a silent group at the far end of the veranda. Without Daniel they seemed to be lost. They missed his cynical voice and his rather grim banter. All of them were thinking of him sitting alone and worried in the hot, unclean village lockup.
"How's he going to sleep tonight?" asked June of no one in particular. "He's much too long."
"Probably won't sleep at all," replied Sam. "He'll have lots of things to think about."
"Too many things," said June.
"We all have," said Sam. "Wish I could stop."
"I've stopped," announced Sue. "I can't think any more even when I want to. My brain has crumbled."
"He must have done it, June," Sam's voice was low, "but damn if I can see why."
"There were plenty of good reasons for killing Lane Holt," answered June in a dead voice. "I could have done it myself."
Sam nodded his head slowly, then his eyes met those of June for one swift glance. The girl's gaze dropped to the large solitaire sparkling on her engagement finger. Daniel's last gift. She wondered if it would ever mean anything now. "I felt like that myself," said Sam, "but I'm always too late it seems."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Sue.
"Oh, nothing much," he answered. "Only, if Lane Holt had to be killed I'd rather have done it than Dan."
"Do you enjoy murdering people?" asked his wife, slightly raising her eyebrows. "Must you go sticking your great nose into every murder? And are you anxious to make a widow out of your own wife, or would you prefer to see me dead at your feet, the victim of your own hand?"
This was a long speech for Sue, and not a very pleasant one under the circumstances. Sam smiled conciliatingly upon her.
"No, Sue," he said, "but I can't bear the thought of Dan sitting alone down there tonight. He's done a lot for me—gone through hell and all."
"Isn't there any hope?" asked Sue. "What do you think, June?"
"There's some hope, Sue."
"Scott Munson. He's for Dan in this."
"If he is," put in Sam, "it's because he has other plans for Dan. That guy's going to hang us all, and he doesn't need Lane Holt to help him do it, either."
"If you keep on being so cheerful and optimistic, Sam," said his wife, "I'm going to start in screaming and pulling my hair out by the roots."
"Even that would be a relief," remarked June.
They sat in silence as the shadows of the trees lengthened and dusk came quietly over the water and gathered round them. The old house was silent now, and in his room Lane Holt was silent, too. But there was no peace. The horror of murder and the fear of death and separation hung on the air. It would soon be night now—black night for Daniel.
Scott Munson was still thinking about scraping—something scraping across the floor. But that was only one of his perplexities. He was also thinking of ink-stands, threads tied to revolvers, ink-stained fingers, dropped handkerchiefs, and left-handed golf players. They were all a part of the same thought. And occasionally across these thoughts bounded the disconcertingly active figure of the Rev. Mr. Horace Williams earnestly retreating down the road. An unfortunate occurrence.
One after another Munson eliminated the various units composing the structure of his thought, until only the bronze inkstand remained, that and the sound of scraping. Suddenly he sat forward in his chair as if listening, then gradually his body relaxed.
"Oh, what an abysmal, rank, noisome novice I have turned out to be," he told himself. "It has to be there. By all the laws of man and God it can't be anywhere else. And I should have known it. It was my job to know."
He rose from his chair and casually collected his staff. The Shays were only too willing to be collected. They had grown weary of looking out for reporters, and were ready to do something else now—any old thing. The Shays were fond of change. Routine palled on their vibrant, sensitive natures.
"Come with me," said Munson.
"What's up, chief?" asked Officer Red.
"We're going to look for an inkstand," he answered.
The staff exchanged significant glances. What a silly occupation for three full-grown men. This Munson was mad indeed.
Munson led them across the lawn and round the house until they stood directly beneath the side window of the room in which Lane Holt lay dead. Here there was a brick-faced shaft running down against the side of the house about five feet below the surface of the lawn. A boarded-up window was set into the shaft. It opened up into the cellar and was obviously used at one time for purposes of ventilation, but as that section of the cellar was now no longer used neither shaft nor window had any particular reason for existing.
In the rapidly fading light Munson peered down into the shaft and saw that it was half filled with several seasons' accumulation of dead leaves, a direct reflection on the executive ability of Griggs and the enterprise of Tom, his invaluable assistant.
"Couldn't have been better suited to his purpose if he had dug the hole himself," soliloquized Munson, as he inspected the shaft. "How dumb I've been! It's a plain case of galloping senility."
His inspection finished, he turned to the Shays and considered their unlovely figures.
"I imagine you're better designed for shaft work, Shad," he said. "Red would fill it up and wouldn't be able to bend. So just get down in there and don't come out until you bring an inkstand with you."
"It's a nasty-looking place," observed the officer fastidiously. "Might be more than inkstands down there."
"Well," said Munson, "if you find a body or anything else interesting bring it along, too. In you go, my man."
And in went Shad, his hearty disapproval of the entire procedure eloquently marked on his face.
"Now grope around in that rubbish and produce an inkstand," commanded Munson.
"With my bare hands?" asked Shad in a tone of incredulity.
"I don't care if you grope with your teeth, so longas I get my inkstand," replied Munson. "Make it snappy."
"Well, of all the things," murmured Shad, as he shrinkingly bent to his task.
His groping was soon over. Virtually the first object his hand encountered was the heavy bronze inkstand, partially covered with leaves.
"Here it is," he exclaimed with infinite relief, as he passed the stand up to Munson, who received it with a glow of triumph.
Round the bronze slab was tied a long piece of string on the free end of which was attached a strand of strong, thin thread.
"That pretty well settles it," said Munson, winding the string round the inkstand. "Our day's work is done. You two had better go back to the kitchen and rustle up some grub."
This suggestion, the officers later agreed, was the only reasonable one they had ever heard Munson make. As they were about to follow it, Red stopped, unable to restrain his curiosity.
"Might I ask what you wanted with that old chunk of metal, Mr. Munson?" he asked.
"Nothing much," replied Munson carelessly. "Just to keep an innocent man from being charged with murder and eventually going to the chair."
With a half-frightened look at the object now safely tucked in the crook of Munson's arm, the officers tip-toed through the darkness on the most cheerful mission of a long and trying day.
The inquest into the death of Lane Holt occasioned a wider show of interest than had the one caused by the shocking departure of Emily-Jane. And this hardly seemed fair. Certainly Emily-Jane would have held it against Holt had she been in a position to do so. However, it was not altogether Holt's fault. He had not planned the inquest. The knowledge that Daniel Crewe was being detained pending the verdict of the jury had spread rapidly. The local inhabitants refused to consider the possibility of his guilt, and they attended the inquest for the sole purpose of showing that fact no matter what nonsense the coroner's jury might be led to believe.
When Daniel appeared in the company of Dr. Manning, a low murmur of voices ran through the long library. Heads were thrust in at the French windows and sympathetic eyes followed the progress. Without any effort on his part Daniel had made himself a popular figure in the community. The loyalty of the two brothers and their life together at the old Crewe home had long been a subject of interest in many homes. The two of them were much a part of the place, very closely associated with the life of the countryside.
Tall and haggard, Daniel sat between June and Manning. He had not slept and his eyes were sunken, but they looked on Coroner Judson with interested composure, in which there was no suggestion of the anxiety he felt. He had thought the long night through and still was unable to see how he was going to clear himself of the murder of Lane Holt. There was not a scrap of evidence in his favor. Fate had stacked the cards skilfully against him. For some odd reason his position reminded him of "The Case of Sergeant Grischa." It was so hopeless and at the same time so useless—so tragically inane.
At the back of the room Barney at the last moment slid into a seat and found himself dangerously withinthe influence of the large eyes of one small Sally Brent. Today, however, she contented herself with regarding the crumpled, untidy figure furtively. After the exchange of quick, shy smiles, both pretended the other had gone away. They were not successful at this.
Scott Munson had placed himself strategically the better to be able to confer with Coroner Judson, whose methods of procedure were inclined to be informal and rather absent-minded.
After Dr. Wood had finished giving his professional testimony, establishing the fact that Lane Holt had died as the result of a bullet from a revolver fired at close range, Judson asked : "Would it have been possible, Dr. Wood, for the deceased to have done it himself ?"
"Easily possible," replied the doctor, "but for two exceptions : the bullet entered the left temple and the revolver was found lying at least twelve feet from the body. Inasmuch as the deceased died instantly he could hardly have so disposed of the gun. Furthermore, a right-handed man would not have shot himself in the left temple."
Dr. Wood stepped down and was followed by Sergeant Bennett whose story of the shooting was brief but devastating to Daniel. A little after one o'clock in the afternoon while at luncheon he had heard the shot. He had reached the scene so quickly that Daniel Crewe had been unable to escape from the room. This had obviously been his intention, for he, Bennett, had stopped him at the door. Bennett had found in Daniel's hand an accusing statement written by the dead man. The statement had not been finished.
"Is this the statement, sergeant?" asked the coroner, extending the crumpled sheet of paper.
"It is, sir."
The statement was then read to the jury, and at its conclusion a look of sorrow and consternation settled on many faces in the room. The case was now wide open. Scott Munson was evidently ready for a show-down. Daniel felt the walls growing higher and higher around him and above him. Soon he would be completely shut off and bricked in, yet he gave no indication of the hopelessness he was feeling.
"Sergeant Bennett," asked the coroner, "did you ever hear Daniel Crewe say anything that would lead you to believe he had designs on the life of the deceased?"
Only for a moment did Bennett hesitate, then he answered clearly : "I did, sir. Within an hour of Holt's death and in the presence of one other witness Daniel Crewe told Holt that he didn't deserve to live and that he doubted if he would live very much longer."
A feeling of even greater discouragement ran through the room.
"Are you convinced, Bennett, that no one else could have been with the deceased at the time of his death?' came the voice of the coroner.
"We were all at luncheon together," replied Bennett. "The servants have been accounted for."
"And you are equally certain the deceased could not have taken his own life?" continued Judson.
"I see no way he could have done it, sir." Bennett spoke with quiet conviction.
"And you say Daniel Crewe admitted ownership of the revolver from which the bullet was fired?"
Many of the spectators felt like shouting or running away, so logically, so inevitably, was the coroner leading up to the only conclusion that could be drawn. Manning gripped Daniel's right arm. "Hold hard, old sport," he whispered. "They don't know the half of it yet." Daniel grinned appreciatively. June Lansing waswhite and rigid. Her eyes dwelt pleadingly on Scott Munson, who appeared to be entirely unmoved by Bennett's evidence.
"He did," said Bennett. "Mr. Crewe admitted ownership of the revolver from which the bullet was fired."
"That will be about all, Sergeant Bennett," said the coroner, looking a trifle discouraged himself. "Now I'd like to have Betty Harrison come forward."
Betty faced the coroner and his gentlemen of the jury without the flicker of an eye. She was there to do her best. She was determined to do her best. Nothing could induce her to change the mind she had already so completely made up. Betty was going to lie like the very devil, and she did not much care who knew it. She was going to lie and keep on lying. To her it seemed the only honest thing left to do. Guilty or not guilty, Mr. Daniel was right whatever he did — right in the eyes of God as well as her own, which to Betty's way of thinking, was equally if not more important.
Mr. Judson considered his notes for a moment. It was his duty to make the motive for the murder clear to the jury. This, thought Judson regretfully, was only too easy to do.
"One moment, Betty," he said. "I want Sergeant Bennett back here for one more question." Betty was given a near-by seat. Bennett took the chair by the coroner's table.
"Bennett," asked the coroner, "did you hear the deceased accuse Daniel Crewe of the murder of Miss Seabrook?"
"I did," replied Bennett. "Holt accused Mr. Crewe of the murder of Miss Seabrook. There were three witnesses present. You have the names, Mr. Judson."
"All right, Bennett," said the coroner. "Come on back, Betty." When the girl was seated he continued, "Did you hear the deceased accuse Mr. Daniel of the murder ?"
"I'm not the one to put words into a dead man's mouth," answered Betty virtuously.
"But Sergeant Bennett was present at the same time, Betty, and he says he heard the accusation," the coroner observed mildly.
"Then let him put words into a dead man's mouth," conceded Betty. "I won't."
It was a relief to laugh a little. The spectators took advantage of the opportunity. Mr. Judson looked perturbed.
"How far were you sitting from the deceased, Betty?" he asked.
"As far as I could," came Betty's prompt response, "but not far enough to miss a single word he said."
"Then you didn't hear him accuse Mr. Daniel of murder ?" persisted the coroner.
"I did not," replied Betty, and settled herself in her chair as if she were prepared to fight it out on that line until the Day of Doom.
Mr. Judson shrugged his shoulders and with baffled eyes looked out over the room. "She says she didn't hear him," he remarked to no one in particular. "Didn't hear him."
"He couldn't have said it," cut in Betty, "because I saw him commit the murder with my own two—"
"That will do, Betty," Mr. Judson almost shouted. "You go right away now. Thomas Shanks."
As Thomas Shanks passed the indomitable girl, she deliberately stopped and transfixed him with her eyes. The boy nodded violently and lumbered to the chair.
"Tom," began the coroner in a kindly voice, "did you hear the deceased accuse Mr. Daniel of murder ?"
"N-n-no," chattered Tom, then after reorganizing himself, continued, "N-n-no."
"Are you stammering now, Tom ?" asked Judson, "or just trying to be emphatic?"
"I-I-I—" Tom was embarking on the choppy seas of speech when the coroner interrupted him.
"Let's do it this way, Tom," he suggested. "You just nod up and down for yes"— here Judson demonstrated and Tom's head solemnly followed his example—"and sidewise for no." Again the dumb show was repeated. "Good," said the coroner. "Now. Did you hear the deceased—you know what the deceased means, Tom ?" Tom shook his head. Judson reached in his pocket and produced a large handkerchief. He, too, seemed to be going through the process of reorganization. "Well, in this case, Tom," he explained with admirable gentleness, "it means Lane Holt. Did you hear him accuse Mr. Daniel of murder? Up and down, yes, Tom. Side-wise, no. Remember."
Betty had half risen from her chair. She was glaring at Tom and industriously shaking her pretty head. As if responding to some dynamic cheer leader Tom followed her example. With a satisfied smile she sank back in her chair, and the coroner instructed Tom to step down as speedily as possible.
"Mr. Daniel Crewe," called Judson, and the room became hushed as Daniel took the chair.
"Now, Mr. Crewe," said the coroner with a marked display of deference, "would you mind giving us your version of the death of Mr. Lane Holt?"
"Certainly not," replied Daniel, smiling at the coroner, and when he had finished his story even his best friends found it difficult to place any great faith in it. Yet Daniel had apparently spoken with the utmost candor and had attempted neither to evade nor to stress any particular point. The jury looked unimpressed, and Mr. Judson gave the impression of an exceedingly dismayed man performing an unpleasant duty.
"Then you admit," he said, when Daniel had finished, "that you appropriated the statement which the deceased was writing at the time he met his death and which specifically accused you of the murder of Miss Seabrook ?"
"There's no good in denying it," replied Daniel, with engaging frankness. "It was both an unwise and unethical thing to do, but in the confusion of the moment my brain acted instinctively. The self-protection idea, you know. I was convinced that Lane Holt was not responsible for his actions at the time of his death, and I saw no reason for his written ravings to get into the hands of those who might attach undue importance to them. Frankly, I hardly realized the paper was in my hand, when Sergeant Bennett stopped me at the door."
Daniel left the witness chair much worse off than when he had seated himself in it. There seemed to be no hope left. It was obvious to all now that the jury had no choice in the matter. It would have to return a verdict of murder, naming Daniel Crewe. In the back of the room little Sally Brent was weeping silently into her scarf. She had no handkerchief. She never had. Barney was looking at her uneasily and wishing she would go away. There was a pause in the proceedings while Scott Munson conferred with the coroner. Presently Judson turned to the jury.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I want you to give your undivided attention to some evidence about to be presented by the next few witnesses. Mr. Munson will please take the chair."
"At the moment," Munson told the jury, "I want to stress only two points and the first one is: the pen with which the deceased was writing was found in his right hand, yet there were ink smears on the two fingers nearest the thumb on his left hand. The second point is that the deceased died as a result of a bullet entering his left temple."
"Mr. Munson," inquired the coroner, "whose finger-prints did you find on the revolver that killed Lane Holt ?"
"Those of Daniel Crewe," said Munson calmly. "Dr. Manning, please."
Munson relinquished his seat to Manning, who included the entire room in his benign smile. He was attired as meticulously as if he were going to some delicate and difficult tryst at which a successful seduction might turn on the set of the shoulders of his coat or the stripe in his silk shirt. Even the bud in his lapel had been thoughtfully selected.
"Dr. Manning," asked the coroner, "did you ever play golf with the deceased?"
"I did, sir," answered Manning. "He told me the first time I played with him that he was left-handed."
"And did you ever play bridge with the deceased?" continued the coroner.
"I did, sir. He held his cards with his right hand and played them with the left, which is just the reverse of the manner in which right-handed people play."
"Did you ever see the deceased write?" asked the coroner.
"On several occasions, sir," replied Manning, "and on each occasion he wrote with his left hand. He was signing his name to chits at the club."
"Then, in your opinion, the deceased was left-handed ?" inquired the coroner.
"Beyond any question of doubt," said Manning. "Thank you, Dr. Manning."
"Thank you, sir."
"Miss June Lansing, please."
When June had calmly seated herself, Judson turned to her and asked, "Miss Lansing, when was the last time you saw the revolver that killed the deceased?"
"Yesterday," replied June. "Mr. Daniel Crewe had it in his hand. He was examining it in the library and I asked him to put it away."
"Did he do so?"
"He put it in the upper right-hand drawer of his desk in the library."
"Did anyone else witness him do so?"
"Mr. Holt was passing the door at the time. I remember he looked in."
"Thank you, Miss Lansing. Miss Betty Harrison, please."
Betty, formulating a lot of new lies to be used if and when necessary, took the chair.
"Betty," asked the coroner, "when did you notice the disappearance of an object from Mr. Crewe's desk?"
This seemed fair enough to Betty, so she answered truthfully. "Yesterday afternoon," she replied. "Might have been about three. Mr. Munson called my attention to it."
"Was the object on the desk in the morning previous to the death of Mr. Lane Holt?"
"Yes, sir. I saw it there myself."
"And is this the object, Betty?" The coroner tapped the bronze inkstand with his pencil.
"It is, sir, but it didn't have that string around it then."
"Betty, do you recall when you last saw the deceased alive?"
"It was just before luncheon yesterday, Mr. Judson. He was coming out of the library and he went upstairs."
"Did he have anything in his hand?"
"His handkerchief, sir."
"Did he give you the impression of concealing some heavy object beneath the handkerchief ?"
"He did, sir."
"What gave you that impression?"
"The way his arm hung by his side. It didn't move natural-like. Looked weighted down."
"Sure about all this, Betty?"
"I'm sure," said Betty, and the coroner excused her with a feeling of no little relief. "Officer Shay." he called.
Two figures proceeded majestically down the room.
They took their time about it, to enable everyone to have a good opportunity to gaze upon them. When they brought up against the coroner's table the taller of the two figures uttered one pithy word, "Which?"
"Which what?" asked Mr. Judson, looking up from his notes.
"Which one?" explained Shad.
Munson leaned over the table and spoke in a low tone to the bewildered official. "The one known as Shad," he said.
"But I know all about it, too," protested Red. "Don't you want me?"
"No," said the coroner.
"Not at all?"
Officer Red, heavy with disappointment, turned away from the table, while the lucky Shad seated himself in the coveted chair and crossed his long legs. He gave the appearance of a man both ready and willing to discuss at length any topic the coroner might care to bring up.
"Officer Shad—I mean, Officer Shay," asked Jud son, "when did you find this object?"
"Well, it's a funny thing, Mr. Judson," began Officer Shad in a slow, reminiscent manner. "It's a funny thing about—"
"It isn't a funny thing," snapped the coroner. "It's an extremely serious thing. Answer my question."
Shad looked terribly hurt. "About dusk, sir," he answered. "It was yesterday."
"Where did you find it?"
"In a shaft, sir, directly beneath the deceased's window."
"The window facing his table?" asked the coroner. "The same, sir."
"Was this string attached to it then?"
"It was, sir."
"And the revolver, Shay," continued Judson, "was this strand of thread wound round its trigger guard when you first saw it?"
"It was, sir."
"That's all, Shay. Thank you."
It wasn't much, thought Shad, but at least it was better than nothing. Munson returned to the chair.
"Go on, Munson," said the coroner, "explain it your way."
Munson turned to the jury. "It has been proved," he said, "that the deceased was left-handed in spite of the fact that the pen was found in his right hand. It has been shown that he had a knowledge of the whereabouts of Daniel Crewe's revolver. It is known that just before his death he was seen leaving the library carrying his handkerchief in his hand. Betty Harrison has testified that she gained the impression he was concealing some heavy object under the hand-kerchief. This heavy inkstand that vanished from the library was later found in a shaft directly below the window facing the desk in Lane Holt's room. This long string was attached to the inkstand. At its free end there is a strand of thin but strong thread. The same kind of thread is wound round the trigger guard of the revolver. On the floor at the left-hand side of the chair in which the deceased was sitting at the time of his death his handkerchief was found. The fingers usually employed in writing by the deceased were smeared slightly with ink—but they were on his left hand. These statements are all facts. Oh, yes" — Munson paused and thought for a moment, then continued — "The window facing the table in the room occupied by the deceased was about two inches open from the bottom at the time of his death. Now, gentle-men, with these facts clearly in mind I will show you exactly how Lane Holt met his death if you will accompany me to the room he occupied."
When the jury and several members of the press were assembled in the dead man's room, Munson sat down at the table and with a new strand of thread joined the free end of the string to the trigger guard of the revolver. Making sure that the other end of the string was securely attached to the inkstand, he raised the window and carefully lowered the stand over the shaft directly below. He then pulled the window down within two inches of the sash. pulled the string made taut by the weight of the inkstand, he returned to the table and placed his handkerchief round the butt of the now unloaded revolver. He sat down at the table and, after a little manipulation with the handkerchief, placed the revolver against his left temple.
"Remember," he remarked, "Lane Holt was left-handed, which I am not. He did this much better, much easier."
Then he picked up the pen in his right hand, pulled the trigger of the revolver and relaxed his grip. The handkerchief fluttered to the floor, and the revolver, pulled by the weight of the heavy inkstand, went scraping across the matting until it reached the window, where the thread snapped, allowing the gun to fall back to the floor.
"A nutty idea, wasn't it?" Munson's voice broke the silence that followed this simple but convincing demonstration of how Lane Holt had died. "Well, over there on the bed lies all that is left of the crazy brain that figured it all out — but," Munson added, "he didn't quite get away with it, his last dirty trick."
With an odd smile he rose and went to the door. "I wonder," he said, pausing, "who first told us not to speak ill of the dead?"
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