Part 6 out of 9
The nephew gently uncoiled his uncle, and addressed himself to the
"Respected sir, I have long loved your daughter, and am not totally
unprepared to believe that she may, in some slight measure, reciprocate
my affections. I humbly solicit her hand in marriage."
The father, with the characteristic decision of an old man of business,
had already made up his mind. Alberto, the young partner and heir of the
rich usurer of Venice, would be a more manageable son-in-law than the
middle-aged though wealthy Rodicaso. The father said words to this
effect in an "aside," and then replied aloud:
"Her hand is yours; and may your union be crowned with felicity. Come,
children, and receive a parent's blessing."
"My bitter curse be on you all! Boy, we shall meet again!" shouted
Rodicaso, striding off the stage, and followed by the notary for his
pay, and by the laughter and scorn of the rest of the company.
Fidelia's little cup of earthly happiness was now full. Her time for
fainting had arrived at last. Everybody moved to clear a space for her.
She rose, and walked with an unfaltering step toward Alberto. There was
no overdone rapture in her gait; no exaggerated ecstasy in her face. As
a practised critic remarked, "her calmness was the truest expression of
her agony of joy."
Alberto advanced halfway with a lover's ardor, and extended his arms.
Then was her time to faint; and she fainted with a slight scream,
sinking gently upon a faithful breast.
The father raised his hands above the couple, and blessed them in the
correct way, never seen off the stage. Uncle Bignolio wiped his eyes,
and murmured, "Dear boy! How much he looks like his father now!"--a
remark somewhat out of place, considering that Alberto's back was turned
to the uncle. Bidette hovered near the happy group, and danced for joy.
It was a touching tableau, and the spectators applauded it In a way
that tickled the heart of the author, who was watching the effect
through an eyehole of the left wing.
HOW THE PLAY ENDED.
Just as the curtain was to be rung down on the end of the play, a mad
clatter of boots was heard behind the scenes. Then a man, dressed in
complete black, and excessively pale, jumped upon the stage. His black
hair was tossed all over his head, and his black eyes were rolling
wildly. Thus much all the spectators saw at a glance.
The strange man's first intention appeared to be to dash at the happy
couple; but, if so, he checked himself, and, standing at a distance of
four feet from them, uttered these words: "Scoundrel! what are you doing
with my wife there?" The man's whole figure could be seen to tremble.
Many of the spectators, supposing this was a part of the play--though
they did not see its precise connection with the plot--applauded what
was apparently a fine piece of acting.
"Good!" "Capital!" "Bravo!" were heard from all parts of the room,
mingled with stamping and clapping.
The man darted looks of concentrated hate at the audience.
"Who is he?" "How well he does it!" "What splendid tragedy powers!" were
some of the audible remarks that this called forth.
It was also observed that a wonderfully natural style of acting was
instantly developed among the other _dramatis personae_. Fidelia sprang
from the arms of Alberto, and put on a lifelike expression of insulted
dignity, mingled with astonishment. Alberto took a step away from the
ghastly intruder, and was evidently at a loss what to do. His face was
eloquent with bewilderment and mortification. The father looked confused
and sheepish, and put his hands into his pockets. Bidette screamed a
little, and fled to the opposite scenes. Uncle Bignolio whistled and
smiled, and was evidently amused at the occurrence.
All this, done in five seconds, so delighted the spectators, that they
cheered, and cheered again. "As good as a theatre!" ejaculated a new
friend of Mrs. Slapman's, on the front row.
The strange, disorderly man plunged forward with one leg toward Alberto,
and then drew himself back suddenly, as if in a state of harassing
indecision. (Applause.) Then he cast a diabolical look (worthy of the
elder Booth in Richard III) at the young lover, and shrieked, "Wretch!
villain! I will--I will--" He hesitated to add what he would do, but
shook his fists in a highly natural manner at the object of his hate.
"Sir!" said Fidelia, stretching her proud young form erect, like a
tragedy queen, "How dare you, sir!" (Boisterous applause, and this
remark from an elderly gentleman: "The picture of Mrs. Siddons!")
The singular individual in black was seen to tremble with increased
violence. His eyes rolled more wildly, while his face took on a chalkier
hue. He stepped back, as if to insure his retreat. Then, mustering all
his resolution, he said:
"M-Mrs. M-Mrs. Slapman, you--you ought to be a-ashamed of yourself!"
The real character of the strange actor was now made evident, and the
whole house was hushed in awe and expectation. There was not a man or
woman present but knew too well the folly of mingling in a family
quarrel. So they held their tongues, and enjoyed the scene.
Mrs. Slapman turned to the audience. She was pale, but perfectly
composed. She said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is my husband, a very quiet and well-behaved
man, whose only fault is excessive nervousness. This fault, I am sorry
to say, he encourages, by constantly smoking cigars and drinking strong
black tea. He has been indulging in both of these stimulants to-night,
till he is quite beside himself. I trust you will excuse and pity him.
He has no other vices that I know of."
Then, turning to her husband, whose hands had now dropped listlessly by
his side, she added:
"My dear, bathe your head, and go to bed immediately."
He struggled to say something in the presence of this calm embodiment of
satire, but could not. Hanging down his head, and looking very silly, he
slinked off the stage.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen," said Mrs. Slapman, "after an interval of
fifteen minutes, we will proceed with the comedietta of 'A Morning
Call,' as if nothing had happened."
When she had said this, Mrs. Slapman fainted--this time in earnest. She
was caught in the arms of Fayette Overtop, who immediately, and with the
utmost delicacy, resigned her to the arms of Miss Wick (Bidette), and of
several other ladies, who came upon the stage and proffered salts,
cologne, and other restoratives.
The gentlemen present, actors and audience, unanimously decided that the
best thing for them to do, under all the circumstances, was to leave
This they did as soon as they could, reserving all discussion of the
painful event of the evening for the free air of the street.
As Overtop, very serious, and Maltboy, very jovial, were about to
descend the steps to the sidewalk, they were met by a messenger, who
desired them to go with him immediately to the station house to see some
friends (names forgotten) who had been arrested, and had sent for them.
Thither they went, and experienced the greatest surprise of the evening.
Coroner and Jury.
The post-mortem examination had been held; and three doctors had sworn
that deceased came to his death from a great variety of Greek and Latin
troubles, all caused by a learned something which signified, in plain
English, a blow on the head. Coroner Bullfast was so struck with the
clear and explicit nature of the medical evidence, that he had it
reduced to writing for his private regalement.
The post-mortem examination, and the testimony of the three doctors, and
of all the people in the house (except Patty Minford, daughter of the
deceased)--whose joint knowledge upon the subject amounted to nothing
more than hearing somebody with heavy boots come down stairs about
midnight--occupied the whole of the first day. Patty, or Pet, was so
thoroughly unnerved by the events of that horrible night, that the
coroner found it impossible to take her evidence on that day. She had
fainted twice before she could make Coroner Bullfast clearly understand
that Marcus Wilkeson, her benefactor, and her father's best friend, was
THE MURDERER. Having learned thus much, the coroner had put the police
on the track of Marcus Wilkeson, and had postponed the further
examination of the chief witness.
Mrs. Crull, on learning of the tragic affair, had gone in person to the
house of death, and taken Patty to her own home.
The remains of the unfortunate inventor had been removed to the nearest
undertaker's for interment, at the expense of Mrs. Crull. The apartments
had been diligently searched, and the personal effects of the deceased
examined, under the direction of the coroner. A number of documents had
been discovered, which, in the coroner's opinion, threw a flood of light
on the motives that led to the crime. A few dollars and a bull's-eye
silver watch, found on the dead body, precluded the idea that the murder
was done for plunder. With that quickness of perception for which
Coroner Bullfast, like most of his official kind, was celebrated, he had
formed his theory of the murder, and tremendously strong must be the
future testimony that could shake it.
On the morning of the second day, Coroner Bullfast and the jury
reassembled, about ten o'clock, in the room where the murder was
The coroner was a jovial man, with a bulging forehead, a ruddy nose, a
large diamond breastpin (a real diamond, of that superlative style only
seen in its perfection on the shirt fronts of aldermen, contractors, and
Washington Market butchers), and the native New York manner of speaking,
which is sharp and mandatory. The coroner began life as a stone mason,
gained early distinction as a fireman, controlled several hundred votes
in his ward, became a member of a political committee, and got a
coronership as his share of the spoils. He had aspired to be a police
justice, or city inspector, or commissioner of the Croton Board. To
either of these positions, or, for that matter, to any position
indefinitely higher, he felt himself perfectly equal. But other members
of the committee (which was a kind of joint-stock company for the
distribution of offices) had prior and stronger claims than Harry
Bullfast, and so he was put off with a coronership. He felt the slight
acutely, but, like a prudent man, determined to so keep himself before
the public in his performance of the office, as to make it a stepping
stone to something much higher--the city comptrollership, or a seat in
the State Senate, or in Congress, or (who could tell?) the governorship
of the commonwealth--that grand possibility which every ward politician
carries in his hat.
The coroner was seated in the inventor's private armchair, with one leg
thrown over the side of it, and the other stretched on the floor. He was
chewing tobacco with manly vigor, and cracking jokes with a facetious
juryman, who was assistant foreman of the Bully Boy Hose, of which the
coroner was an exempt and honorary member.
The jury was composed of six men whom the coroner had picked from the
large number of idle spectators found by him at the scene of the murder
when he was first summoned. Two of them chanced to be acquaintances of
his. As to the rest, the coroner had not the remotest idea. They might
have been beggars or pickpockets, for aught that he cared. They looked
stupid, and he liked stupid jurors.
"Them sharp fellers that thinks they knows more'n the cor'ner, is a
cussed nuisance," he often had occasion to remark.
The jury sat near one of the windows, in a semicircle of chairs which
had been borrowed from the first and second floors. Pending the
resumption of their melancholy work, such of them as could read were
reading newspapers containing reports of the first day's proceedings,
from two to ten columns long, wherein the scene of the "Mysterious
Midnight Tragedy," as one paper called it, was represented in the most
ingenious manner by printers' rules cut to show the dimensions of the
rooms on the third floor, the position of the fireplace, bed, washstand,
chest of drawers, unknown machine in the corner, and other things which
had no bearing whatever on the affair. The other jurors, who could not
read at all, or had an insuperable aversion to that laborious
occupation, were rolling their quids in silence, and looking wise.
At a long table in the centre of the room were seated several young
gentlemen, dressed with singular independence of style. From one point
of view they looked like actors, bearing about them signs of fatigue, as
if from heavy night work. Observed again, they resembled young lawyers
of indolent habits and scanty practice, who had just dropped in to
watch the case.
From their conversation, no clue to their professional identity could be
gathered. They were cracking jokes, propounding conundrums, and telling
stories humorously broad to each other. Everything was to them a
legitimate amusement. The proceedings of the day before were peculiarly
rich in funny reminiscences; and one tall, bright, curly-haired fellow
was evoking roars of suppressed laughter by his capital mimicry of two
of the dullest witnesses. Another was drawing comic profiles of a sleepy
juryman on a scrap of paper. He had previously dashed off a very happy
sketch of the coroner, and shown it to that functionary, who had
"haw-hawed," and pronounced it "devilish good," and, in turn, presented
the young artist with a fine Havana cigar, which he playfully put in his
mouth and chewed the end of. Yet there were, about these young
gentlemen, signs of business, which an intelligent observer might have
easily interpreted. From the outside breast pockets of each of them
protruded a number of pencils; and, from their lower side pockets, thick
memorandum books with gray covers, or stiffly folded quires of foolscap.
They were the reporters of the press--the gamins and good fellows of
literature;--fellows of inexhaustible resources, who carry their wits
literally at their fingers' ends;--who can do more than extract sunbeams
from cucumbers; for they can make up thrilling facts out of
nothing;--who can thread their way through a crowd where a tapeworm
would be squeezed to death;--whose writing desk is usually another man's
back; and who sketch out a much better speech between an orator's
shoulder blades than he is making in front;--whose written language is
a perplexity compared with which Greek is a relaxation and Sanscrit a
positive amusement;--who deal in adjectives, and know their precise
value, and how to administer them, as an apothecary knows the drugs that
are boxed and bottled on his shelves;--who are less men than parts of an
enormous mill grinding out grist to be branned and bolted in the
editorial rooms, made into food in the printing office and press vault,
and served up hot for the public's breakfast next morning.
Clever, witty, insatiable fellows they, for whom a planet ought to be
set apart, where all the murders are wrapped in impenetrable mystery,
and the smallest railroad accidents are frightful catastrophes.
The east side of the room, where the dead body had been found, was
preserved inviolate from the broom, mop, and other touch, until the
inquest was over. The strange machine stood in its accustomed place,
flanked by the screen. It had been extensively handled and looked at,
and passed for a new kind of clock. Two large weights (which had fallen
to the floor) and the interplaying cogwheels gave force to that
A large purple spot on the floor showed where the old man's life had
ebbed away. Close by this spot, precisely where it had been picked up,
lay the long oaken club with the iron tip, which, it was supposed, had
done the dreadful deed. There were small splashes and spots on it too.
The fun of the reporters, the chat of the coroner and his friends, the
readings and airy meditations of the jurors, were all suddenly checked
by the appearance of Marcus Wilkeson, escorted by two police officers,
and Messrs. Overtop and Maltboy, Patching and Tiffles. All five had
passed the night in the station house--Messrs. Patching and Tiffles from
compulsion, as witnesses, and possible accomplices, and Overtop and
Maltboy as guides, philosophers, and friends. All looked seedy and
criminal, as if there were something in the atmosphere of station houses
to give a man the semblance of a vagabond and an outcast. Marcus
Wilkeson was very pale, and, when he looked across the room, as he did
upon his entrance, by a singular impulse, and saw the great blood mark
and the club on the floor, he trembled with emotion.
The keen eyes of the coroner caught these signs, and he immediately
brought in a mental verdict of "guilty." Some of the jury observed the
same signs, and thought them suspicious. The reporters looked upon
Marcus Wilkeson without emotion or prejudgment. They were so accustomed
to seeing murderers, that they regarded them simply as a part of the
business community--a little vicious, perhaps, but not so much worse
than other people, after all. One reporter, attached to an illustrated
paper, dashed off the profile of Marcus Wilkeson, under the cover of his
hat, and caught the dejected expression of his face to a nicety.
STATEMENT OF THE PRISONER.
The coroner received Marcus with that air of consideration which
magistrates instinctively bestow upon persons charged with great crimes,
and informed him, with some respect, that he was brought there to make
any explanation that he saw fit, touching his connection with "this
The party were then accommodated with seats near the jury, and facing
the reporters. As Marcus looked up, and saw those practised scribes
sharpening their pencils, his heart sank deeper within him. The vision
which had troubled him all night, of a broadside notoriety in all the
city papers, rose before his mind, clothed with fresh horror. The dull
sound of sharpening those pencils was like the whetting of the
The proper course was to have accepted an unsworn statement from the
prisoner; but the coroner always administered oaths when prisoners were
willing to take them. The repetition of that jargon with a profane
conclusion (for so it seemed, in the slipshod way that it was said),
which the coroner called an oath, was a positive pleasure to that
official. As Marcus desired to take the oath, the coroner rattled off
the unintelligible something, and handed him a Bible, which the prisoner
pressed reverentially to his lips. Marcus, being now supposed to be
sworn, proceeded, with what firmness he could muster, to answer the
numerous interrogatories of the coroner. That official chewed hard, and,
as it were, spit out his questions.
His testimony, in substance, was this:
That he was a friend of the deceased, and had loaned him one thousand
dollars to complete a machine upon which he was engaged--pointing to the
unfinished pile in the corner. That his relations with the deceased and
his family (Marcus did not like to mention Pet's name) were entirely
agreeable, until an anonymous letter, charging him with improper motives
in visiting the house, had poisoned the mind of the deceased against
him. [The giving up of this letter to the coroner, who read it to the
jury, and then tossed it over to the reporters for copying, was a hard
trial, but Marcus had resolved upon meeting all the troubles of the
The coroner here produced the second anonymous letter, which had been
found on the person of the deceased, showed it to Marcus for
identification, and then threw it to the reporters, as one would throw a
choice bone to a cage full of hungry animals.
Marcus explained that he had made every effort to discover the
authorship of the letters, without success; whereupon the coroner shut
his eyes knowingly, rolled his quid from right to left, and said that he
was "investigatin' 'em" himself.
QUESTION BY A JUROR. "Wos the letters postpaid?"
ANSWER. "They were."
The juror took the reply into his profoundest consideration.
Marcus, resuming, stated that, on his last visit--the night of the
supposed murder--he had found Mr. Minford very much disturbed in mind by
the unjust suspicions aroused by these letters. He had accused witness
of the vile intentions referred to in them. Witness had denied the
imputations with emphasis. The discussion was becoming quite warm, when
the daughter of the deceased entered the room, and, being worn out with
watching by the side of a sick friend, retired to bed in the adjoining
chamber. The conversation, broken off by her entrance, was then
continued, much in the same vein. Mr. Minford was in a distressing state
of nervous excitement that evening, and talked loud and wild. Witness
made an effort to keep his temper, and did so, though the peculiar
injustice of the accusations were enough to arouse any man's anger. He
reserved his show of wrath for the author of the anonymous letters, if
he could ever catch him. He would not say that he had not replied to the
deceased with some warmth of manner. But as to threatening him, or
hurting one hair of his head, witness had not done it--so help him God!
QUESTION BY A JUROR. "Was the key of the door in the keyhole that
ANSWER. "I don't know."
COMMENT BY FACETIOUS JUROR. "Be me sowl, I thinks that whishkay had more
to do with it than the doorkay. Don't you, Harry?"
CORONER. "Bully for you!"
Clothing himself again with dignity, the coroner asked:
"Der yer mean to say, Mr. Wilkingson, that yer didn't kill this man?
Remember, now, yer on yer oath!"
The horrible bluntness of the question nearly felled Marcus to the
floor. He placed his hand on his brow, now pale with the acutest
anguish. Then he rose, and, looking upward said:
"As God is my judge, and as I hope for heaven, I am innocent of this
murder, or of any part in it."
"If you please, Mr. Coroner, this gentleman and myself are counsel for
the accused," said Overtop.
"Oh! you're his counsel. Then the other two are the chaps arrested as
Patching writhed at this. Nor were his feelings relieved by observing,
with an oblique glance, that the artist of the illustrated paper was in
the act of taking him.
"I protest," said Wesley Tiffles, rising to his full height, and
throwing out both arms for a comprehensive gesture, "I protest against
this arrest and detention as illegal. If the coroner will give me but a
short hour of his valuable time, I can--"
CORONER _(puffing up_). "The gentleman will be good enough to shut up
for the present. When we are ready, we will hear what he has to say."
TIFFLES. "I protest, sir. I wish the gentlemanly and intelligent
reporters to note that I protest--"
CORONER. "Are you, or me, boss here, hey?"
TIFFLES. "Oh! you, of course, sir." The protestant then sank into his
seat, not wholly disappointed, for he had gained his object of making a
little newspaper capital by tickling the reporters. He had also
remarked, with pleasure, that, while he stood erect, with both arms
outstretched, the artist had secured his full length. Tiffles was fond
of notoriety, however achieved; and he saw a good opening for it in
Overtop here suggested that it would be easy to prove their client's
innocence. He would respectfully request his Honor to procure the
testimony of Miss Patty Minford, if she could be found. As she went to
bed in the adjoining room early that evening, she must have heard some
noise in connection with the murder--if, indeed, a murder had been
committed. Overtop's legal education taught him to doubt everything.
Coroner Bullfast was touched with the title of Honor, so skilfully
applied by Overtop; and he answered, with uncommon sweetness:
"I am expecting Miss Minford every minute, sir. She will speak for
herself. For the present, sir, I am sorry to say that it was on her
testimony alone that Mr. Wilkingson was 'rested."
A look of new surprise and horror passed over the pale face of Marcus,
and Overtop and Maltboy exchanged glances of astonishment.
"Now, Mr. Wilkingson," continued the coroner, taking a fresh chew,
"please drive ahead with yer statement--if yer choose to. Yer not bound
to say anythink, yer know."
AN INTELLIGENT JUROR. "Will Mr. Wilkeson tell us about what time he left
this house that night, and where he went?"
Marcus raised his sunken head, and shook it, as if to dispel a
stupefaction. Then, in a faint and trembling voice, he replied that he
looked at his watch just before bidding Mr. Minford "good-night,"
and-observed that it was fifteen minutes past eleven o'clock.
QUESTION BY A JUROR. "What kind o' watch do you carry?"
ANSWER (_exhibiting the watch_). "An English hunter--- lever
escapement--- full jewelled."
At any other time, Marcus would have smiled at the impertinence of the
question, but he answered it gravely.
He then went on to say, that Mr. Minford had not replied to his
"good-night." That he repeated the salutation, and extended his hand as
a token of unbroken friendship. That Mr. Minford refused to take it, and
said that he had one last favor to ask of him (Marcus), and that was,
never to cross his threshold again. That he (Marcus) responded, "I
forgive you, sir. When, on reflection, you think that you have done me
injustice--as you will, at last--send for me, and I will still be your
friend." That he received no answer to this, save a shake of the head,
and immediately went down stairs into the street. He was feverish, and
his brain was in a whirl. Hardly knowing what he did, he walked the
streets hither and thither. He could not tell what streets he traversed,
but he kept up the exercise till he was tired. Then he became calmer,
returned home, entered the house with a latch key, and went to bed
without waking any of the inmates. On going to bed, he observed that his
watch marked one o'clock.
An intelligent juror. "You must have passed a large number of people in
the streets between eleven and one o'clock. Did you see no one whom
"No one; but at a corner some distance from here,--I could not say what
corner,--I noticed a policeman sitting on a barrel in front of a
grocery, smoking. He was a short, fat man, and his legs hardly reached
to the pavement. I remember him the more particularly, because I stopped
and lighted a cigar at his pipe. Just at that moment, the City Hall bell
commenced striking a fire alarm."
"What was the district?" asked the juror who was assistant foreman of
the Bully Boy Hose.
"The Seventh. I counted the strokes. I walked on rapidly, and soon came
up with another policeman, who was leaning against a grocery store. I
said to him, 'A cold night, Mr. Policeman,' and I think he would
remember that circumstance, if he could be found. Just after I had
passed him, the alarm bells struck the last round. Three or four rounds
had been struck."
The assistant foreman of the Bully Boy Hose, having referred to a
memorandum book which he drew from a breast pocket, here exclaimed:
"The alarm was at twenty-five minutes of twelve. Nothing but a chimney
in Whitehall street. We run into Twenty's fellers, comin' back, and had
a nice little row. Ever belong to the department, sir?"
Marcus answered "No;" and the pyrophilist looked compassionately upon
him, as upon one who had never known true happiness.
"If you never run with the mersheen," observed the coroner, "you do'
'no' wot life is. As for me, sir, it's my boast and pride that I have
been a member of the New York Fire Department for more'n twenty years.
It wos the backin' of the boys that made me a coroner; and, thank God!
I'm never ashamed to tell 'em so."
The coroner spoke truly. So far from being ashamed to "tell 'em so," he
was always "telling 'em so," never missing an opportunity, at political
meetings, to inform the firemen that he was "one of 'em," and that no
mark of honor, even from the President of the United States, was equal
to his fireman's badge. The continual "telling of 'em so" had aided in
procuring for him his present official distinction, and was destined to
earn higher honors for him at a future day.
The coroner tore off a fresh chew from a half hand of Cavendish which
had been well gnawed at all the edges, and told Marcus that he might
"fire away" again.
Marcus then proceeded to state that, on the morning after the eventful
night, he woke up early. His dreams had been horrible, and his waking
reflections were no less distressing. The thought that Mr. Minford
should have suspected him, thus unjustly, of the basest of crimes, and
that they, who had been such good friends, should have parted in a way
that effectually cut off reconciliation; and the other thought, that
this mischief had been wrought by some unscrupulous enemy, when he had
always fondly believed that he never could have a foe in the
world--these thoughts, occurring with great force to a nervous and
sensitive man, nearly maddened him. He felt that if he remained in the
house that day, as usual, and brooded over his troubles, he would grow
crazy. While he was pondering what to do, his eyes chanced to fall on an
invitation which he had received from Mr. Wesley Tiffles, to meet him at
the Cortlandt street ferry at seven and a quarter o'clock that morning,
and accompany him and his panorama of Africa to New Jersey. The day
before, when this invitation came to hand, he had determined not to
accept it; but it now seemed to offer him a capital chance to see some
excitement and ran. As these remedies were precisely what his mental
malady required, he jumped to dress himself, and hurried out of the
house, seeing nobody as he made his exit, and leaving no word of
explanation. He took no luggage, except a clean collar, as he intended
to return the following day. He was even so careless and forgetful as to
leave his purse behind him, and found, on reaching the ferry, that he
had barely two dollars in his pocket.
QUESTION BY A JUROR. "Wos they bank bills; and, if so, what bank wos
Marcus answered the question to the best of his knowledge, and the juror
sagely nodded, and took the reply under treatment.
"I say, Tubbs," cried the coroner, "wot's the use of askin' them kind o'
Tubbs looked up from his ruminations, somewhat confused. The politic
Overtop--that model of a rising lawyer--here put in a word for Tubbs,
and said that the question, in his opinion, was a very pertinent one,
for it went to test the memory of his client. If Mr. Wilkeson had just
committed murder, he would hardly be in that calm frame of mind which is
necessary to the recollection of small facts. He hoped that the
ingenious gentleman would ask many more such questions. By these
judicious remarks, Overtop gained one fast friend for his client on
JUSTICE GOES TO DINNER.
Wesley Tiffles was then examined. He commenced with an eloquent
dissertation on the rights of man, and his own rights in particular, but
stopped when he saw that the reporters tucked their pencils behind their
ears, and waited for facts. The moment he began to talk facts--which are
to reporters what corn is to crows--down came the pencils from their
perches again, and went tripping over the paper.
Mr. Tiffles's testimony would have consumed two hours, or two days,
perhaps, if he had been allowed to go on unchecked. But the coroner had
been invited to dine at a Broadway restaurant, with a few political
friends, at three P.M. So he concluded, after Tiffles had talked five
minutes, that he knew nothing about the murder, and could throw no
light on it, and told Tiffles that he was not wanted further.
"And you mean to tell me, sir, that I am not to be locked up in the
station house to-night," said Tiffles.
"No, unless yer want ter be."
"Of course not--of course not." But the interior Tiffles was
disappointed at this sudden and unromantic termination of his case. A
few more nights in the station house, or in the Tombs, would have given
him capital material for a book, of which he had already projected the
first chapter. He sat down, and execrated his ill luck.
Patching, the artist, was then interrogated, to the extent of two
minutes, and corroborated Tiffles's testimony as to the sad and strange
appearance of Mr. Wilkeson on the day after the supposed murder.
Patching was then informed by the coroner that his further attendance at
the inquest would not be required.
Patching, on rising, had assumed the attitude of Paul before Felix, as
set forth in some ancient cartoon; and in that position of mingled
innocence, dignity, and defiance, the artist of the illustrated paper
got a spirited sketch of him. Had Patching dreamed how capitally his
long hair, peaked beard, thin nose, and bony forehead would be taken
off, in a rough but faithful character portrait, he would have sunk in
confusion. Happily, the newspaper artist was sitting almost behind his
more pretentious brother of the canvas, and the latter knew not what had
been done, until, the following week, he saw a striking intensification
of himself staring into the street from numerous bulletin boards and
Before sitting down, Mr. Patching begged to explain to the jury, and to
the public through the reporters (who did not take down a word of the
explanation), that he had painted the panorama of Africa to oblige his
friend, "Wesley Tiffles. It was hardly necessary for him to say, in this
community, that he was more at home among higher walks of Art.
"Are you a sign painter, Mr. Patching?" asked the coroner. "No, sir; I
am not," said Patching, with dignified contempt.
"Perhaps you're a carriage painter, then? Them's the fellers for
picturin'. The woman and flowers on the Bully Boys' hose carriage wos
well done. Hey, Jack?"
"That it wos, Harry," returned the assistant foreman of the Bully Boys.
"If Patching can do that sort o' thing, he'll pass."
Patching fixed looks of professional indignation on the coroner and the
assistant foreman, and sat down gloomily, amid the suppressed laughter
of the irreverent reporters.
The coroner then looked at his watch, and, finding that the time was
within half an hour of dinner, said that the inquest would be adjourned
till the following morning, at ten o'clock.
"But, your Honor," said Overtop, "--that is, if you will allow me to
make the suggestion--couldn't you give us an hour longer? Nothing has
yet been heard from Miss Minford, who, you said, was expected to be in
attendance to-day. Will you be good enough to send to Mrs. Crull's
house for her?"
"Really, I can't wait," replied the coroner. "The young lady must be
sick, or she would have been here before now."
"But--pardon me, your Honor--we are anxious to have Miss Minford brought
on the stand this afternoon, believing, that her testimony alone will
acquit our client."
"You believe so, because you do' 'no' what it is. But, as I said before,
it wos on Miss Minford's statement that Mr. Wilkingson there was
'rested. And the best advice I can give him is to take a good night's
rest, and get his nerves ready for the young woman's testimony
to-morrow, for it'll be a staggerer." The coroner consulted his watch
again, with evident impatience, and rose from his seat.
Overtop essayed to speak again; but the coroner interrupted him with,
"The inquest is 'journed till to-morrer, at ten o'clock. Mr. Policeman,
you will take the prisoner back to the station house."
This speech was torture to Overtop and Maltboy, who, believing firmly
in their friend's innocence, were convinced that a full investigation of
the case that day would procure his acquittal. They turned eyes of
exhaustless friendship and sympathy toward him.
Marcus was in that half-comatose state which is the stupid reaction from
an intense and painful excitation of the nerves. He was morbidly calm.
The opinion of the coroner, that Miss Minford's testimony would be a
"staggerer," had no more effect on him than it would have had on the
most phlegmatic reader of the case in next morning's paper.
"Then, your Honor, we must ask you to take bail," said Overtop.
"Can't take bail! Can't take anything but my dinner, to-day! For the
third time, I say, the inquest is adjourned." The coroner hastily put on
his spring overcoat.
Overtop was tempted to make a fierce reply; but the legal discretion in
which he was educated restrained him.
The word had gone forth. The jurors rose, yawned, and grasped their
hats. The reporters jammed their notes into their pockets, and
precipitately fled from the room. The policeman escorted Marcus Wilkeson
and his counsel, and Tiffles and Patching, to the carriage which brought
them, and which still stood in front of the house, an object of tragic
interest to a large crowd of men, women, and children, who had remained
about the doorway during the inquest, and could not be dispersed by the
"Which is he?" "Who's the murderer?" whispered twenty voices, as the
party emerged from the stairs upon the sidewalk.
"That's him! That chap with the big hat and long hair. You could pick
him out of a million," said a shrewd observer.
"What ugly eyes he's got! They're sharp enough to stab ye," added a shop
"I seen some pirates hung, when I was a little gal," remarked an old
woman, "and they were pooty compared to him."
The object of these and other remarks was the unhappy Patching, who had
not yet got over his wrath at the coroner, and was scowling and
compressing his lips very like a murderer.
The policeman and his companions, all but the spell-bound Marcus, could
not help laughing at these ridiculous mistakes. But Patching turned upon
the crowd, and delivered among them one withering look of scorn, which
fully confirmed them in the belief that he was a murderer of the deepest
dye. And when the carriage rolled away, it was followed by a volley of
groans, mixed with a few pebbles, handfuls of mud, and other missiles
which happened to be lying around loose.
"Here, boys, don't act that way," said the coroner, who had just made
his appearance on the sidewalk. "Let the poor devil go. It's a case of
murder, clear, enough; and he won't slip through my hands easy, I can
tell ye, if he _is_ rich." The coroner spoke good-naturedly, for he saw
several of his political adherents among the throng.
"That's the talk!" "Good boy!" "You're the feller for us!" were some of
the warm responses.
The coroner smiled, as he stopped to light a cigar from the pipe of a
dirty admirer, and then, bowing obsequiously to the group, he stalked
off in a rowdy way in the direction of his expected dinner.
LIGHT IN THE PRISON.
On the return of the prisoner and friends to the station house, Marcus
was gratified to find a number of old business acquaintances waiting for
him in the ante-room. They were men whom he had known in his Wall-street
epoch, and had always set down as good-enough friends in prosperity, but
cold-shouldered creatures in an hour of trial. He was mistaken, as many
men are mistaken, in judging the hearts of business men from their
white and careworn faces. They came with warm hands, sympathetic words,
and offers of bail money and other aid, if wanted. There were short
notes from two or three other old fellows whom he had not seen for
years, telling him that they were at his command.
These expressions of good will touched Marcus to the heart. He learned
that, in the self-conceit of his retired and studious life, he had done
injustice to these citizens of the whirling world. With a thousand
thanks for the kindness of his callers, he told them that their friendly
services were not needed; that his innocence would surely be made to
appear; and that, to the day of his death, he should never forget them.
Upon this assurance, repeated two or three times, his business friends
withdrew with characteristic business impetuosity, wishing him a speedy
release from his disagreeable position--which is the roundabout phrase
A policeman, who had charge of the station house during the absence of
his superior officer, here informed Marcus that an old lady and a young
one, an old gen'leman and a lad, had called. The old gen'leman and the
lad would drop round again during the evening. The old lady and the
young one were waiting for him in the captain's room.
He entered the captain's room--his companions staying outside--and saw,
as he expected, his half-sister Philomela, and a young woman dressed in
the height of cheap fashion, who was no other than Mash, the cook.
His sister rose, and extended her hand to him severely, and said, with a
"Brother Marcus, I am sorry to see you here. I hope you are not guilty
of this crime?"
"Hope?" said Marcus, stung to the quick. "Why not say at once that I am
guilty? It is strange that the only relative I have on earth should be
the first to doubt my innocence."
"Oh, no, Marcus! You do me injustice there. I do not for a moment doubt
your innocence. But you know I always advised you to give up your
moping habits at home, and go into active business, like other men of
your age. If you had been in business now, you wouldn't have had time to
get mixed up in the affairs of this old man Minford and his daughter,
and would have escaped this disgrace. I trust, Marcus," she added,
emphatically, "I trust this will be a lesson to you."
Poor Mash, the cook, had been playing with her bonnet strings, and
trying to check her tears. But the unnatural effort was too much for
her, and she burst out crying.
"Oh, Mr. Wilkeson!" she said, between her sobs, "I--I'm so sorry to see
you here; b-but I--I know yer innocent. Boo-boo-hoo!"
"Thank you, Mash," replied Marcus, quite affected at this sudden
outbreak of sympathy. "_You_ speak like a true woman. But don't cry any
more, my good girl. I shall be released to-morrow." Marcus said this
confidently--though he had not the least idea how his acquittal was to
"Oh! I hope so--I--hope so, Mr. Wilkeson. Boo-boo-hoo--I--I wish I could
g-go to prison in your place. Boo-boo-hoo!"
Mash had derived this preposterous idea of vicarious imprisonment from
the story of "The Buttery and the Boudoir," which was now drawing near
its conclusion, and gradually killing, or marrying off, its heroes
Marcus could not help smiling at the romantic notion. Miss Philomela
laughed sarcastically, and exclaimed:
"You must take pattern from me, girl, and control your feelings. My
brother doesn't want crying women about him at this time."
"Don't be too sure of that, sister. Tears come naturally from a woman.
They are her best evidence of sympathy, and therefore precious to one
who needs it."
Mash, the cook, gave vent to a fresh shower of tears at this encouraging
remark, and made Miss Philomela shrug her shoulders in disgust.
"Oh! _don't_ be silly. Mash!" said Miss Philomela, losing all patience
with the cook.
"I--I--boo-boo-hoo!--can't help it, marm."
"Nonsense!" said the superior female. "As for you, Marcus, you should
not encourage such folly, when you have troubles that demand our sober
and earnest attention. With reference to the past, I might say a great
many things, but I forbear. To be serious, now--for once in your
life--what can I do for you?"
"Will you do what I ask, faithfully?" asked Marcus.
"Yes, faithfully. I promise."
"Then, my sister, be so good as to go home immediately, and send me a
spare shirt and a change of clothes. Mash can bring them. And, lest
another interview should prove too severe a trial for your female
sensibility, I beg that you will not come here again. If I want you very
much, I can send for you."
"You are very unkind--very unkind. But I will not make any remarks. You
know that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to serve my
brother. For, though you have faults--I suppose you will not deny that
you have some little faults--you are still my brother."
Marcus smiled, and thought how foolish it was to quarrel with the
whimsical but not bad-hearted woman. "Well, sister Philomela, you can
see for yourself that I am not ill used here. Comfortable bed, rousing
fire, and warm meals from the restaurant round the corner! The
lieutenant who is in command of this station house turns out to be an
old friend of my boyhood, and treats me more like a guest than a
prisoner. And I must say, that, but for the idea of a prison, I could
live as pleasantly here as at home. Even you can do nothing to lighten
my captivity. But I promise, that _if_ I am held by this coroner's
jury--which, of course, I shall not be--and am sent to the Tombs, then I
will tax your sisterly affection to the utmost."
[Footnote 1: Called sergeant of police under the recent Metropolitan
At the mention of that dreadful place, the "Tombs," Mash broke into
sobs again. The touching experiences of Gerald Florville in that house
of despair--as set forth in "The Buttery and the Boudoir"--were
poignantly brought to her mind.
Miss Philomela looked serious as the Tombs loomed up in her mind, and
she would have said something condoling, but for the irritating conduct
of the cook, who annoyed her so much that she decided to leave. She
abruptly shook hands with her half-brother. "It is very easy," said she,
"to point out how certain mistakes might have been avoided. But let the
past go. If you are not acquitted to-morrow, I shall call here again,
notwithstanding you don't seem very desirous to see me. Now, good-by.
Come, hurry up, Mash!"
Marcus shook hands with his half-sister, and also with Mash, who wept
In the ante-room, Miss Philomela saw Overtop and Maltboy, upon whom she
bestowed a half smile, and Tiffles, whom she treated to a cordial
grimace, not unmingled with a blush. Tiffles, on his part, was
profoundly polite, and inquired if she were going home. Learning that
she was, he remarked that he had occasion to walk in the same direction,
and accompanied her as she left the station house. Mash followed at a
short distance behind, not because she did not think herself fully as
good as Miss Philomela, but because she wished to indulge unchecked in
the mild luxury of tears.
A new visitor was now announced. He was a curly-headed, neatly dressed
boy of nineteen years. His face was one that is handsomer in promise
than in fact. Marcus recognized him as the boy Bog, whom he had not seen
for several weeks. The boy had developed a remarkable talent for making
money honestly. For two months he had attended a night school, and was
fast correcting his awkward English, and attaining to other knowledge.
Prosperity and schooling together had given him quite a polish. The
rough boy was coming to be a presentable youth.
He advanced timidly toward Marcus, who shook hands with him. He sat down
before the fire, and commenced fumbling his cap in the old way. "With
the exception of that trick, and his shyness, there was little of the
original boy Bog about him,
"Mr. Wilkeson," said he, giving his cap a twirl, "I am very sorry to see
you here; because, I may say, I _know_ you are innocent."
The positive manner in which the boy asserted this, charmed Marcus, "I
thank you, my dear Bog," said he; "but how do you know it? For, though I
am innocent, I may have some trouble in proving it."
The boy drew a small folded note from his pocket. "I'll explain, sir,"
Marcus here called in his counsel, Messrs. Overtop and Maltboy, and his
good friend the lieutenant of police, who had just arrived in the outer
room, in order that they might hear the explanation.
The boy was embarrassed by his audience; but the anxious look of Marcus,
and a few kind words from the lieutenant of police, reassured him. Bog
then proceeded to tell what he knew of the strange young man's
acquaintance with Miss Patty Minford--which was very easily told, since
it did not amount to much--and concluded by opening the letter given to
him by the young man for delivery to Miss Minford, and handed it
Marcus glanced at the writing, expecting that it would resemble that of
the first anonymous letter addressed to Mr. Minford, which he drew from
his pocket for comparison. But the writing was totally different in
inclination, thickness of the downward stroke, and all other respects.
He read it aloud, his counsel and the lieutenant of police listening
"I don't know much about the case yet," said the lieutenant, "but,
jumping at a conclusion, I should say that this sneaking chap was
jealous of your intimacy with the Minford family; that he wrote the
anonymous letters to the old man, in a different hand, and that he
either committed the murder, or knows something about it. His motive for
annoying Miss Minford I can understand--for this city is full of just
such well dressed scoundrels; but the motive of the murder I can't
comprehend. But mark me--- this fellow has some knowledge of it; and we
must hunt him up. And, first, let us compare the letters."
Marcus handed the two letters to the lieutenant, who, with Overtop and
Maltboy, gave them a close examination. One was written on faint blue
paper in a buff envelope; the other on white paper in a white envelope.
Every curve, cross, and dot was minutely compared; but not the faintest
resemblance between the two letters could be discovered. "No more like
than chalk and cheese," said the lieutenant. "My theory is knocked on
"Let me examine the envelopes again," said Overtop. They had inspected
them less carefully than the contents.
As soon as Overtop had placed the two envelopes side by side, his eyes
lighted up with the pleasure of a great discovery. "What fools we are!"
he exclaimed. "There it is! Don't you see? Don't you see? A regular
Hogarthian line of beauty under the name on each."
All stared at the envelopes, and at once recognized the similarity
between the graceful curved lines. They looked somewhat like the letter
S laid on its side; and more like the arm of a rocking chair.
Marcus had a sudden inward vision of the writer. One of those
convictions which defy all logical analysis flashed upon his mind.
"Do you know where this strange young man lives, Bog?" asked Marcus.
"No, sir. I follered--I should say followed--him two or three times,
because I thought he wasn't acting just right toward Miss Minford (here
Bog blushed). He always went into drinking houses and billiard saloons,
and once into a place where they say the worst kind o' gambling is
allers--I mean always--going on. But he knew me by sight, and I was
afraid he would ask me about that letter which I didn't deliver for
him. So I had to follow him a good piece behind; and sometimes I lost
track of him. Then, again, he would keep a tramping round from one
drinking place to another--but never getting drunk that I could
see--till twelve or one o'clock at night. By that time I felt I ought to
go home, and so I never tracked him to his lodgings, if he has any. But
it's my belief he travels in the night, and sleeps in the daytime, like
"Good, so far," said Marcus. "You have already given us a general
description of this fellow's dress and appearance. Now, tell me whether
his face is pale, his mustache small and curved up in points, his eyes
light gray, and never looking straight at you; his nose small, thin, and
sharp; and, now I think of it, has he not got a small scar on one of
"Why, Mr. Wilkeson," exclaimed the boy Bog, "that's the very chap!"
"Who is he?" asked the lieutenant of police, "that I may have him
arrested at once."
"He is the son--"
THE SORROW OF WHITE HAIRS.
At that moment the door opened, and the venerable form of Myndert Van
Quintem appeared before them. Marcus cast a hasty glance, importing
silence, at his companions, and rose to receive his old friend.
Mr. Van Quintem's face expressed the tenderest compassion. He clasped
Marcus's hand, and said:
"My young friend, it deeply grieves me to see you here; for I feel--I
may say I know morally--that you are innocent of any part in
"Thank you for your confidence," said Marcus. "I hope, when Miss Minford
and certain other witnesses are examined to-morrow, to prove my
"So you will, I am sure. When I say that I know you are innocent, I
found my belief on my short but pleasant acquaintance with you. But I
cannot guess, from the evidence at the inquest yesterday and that of
to-day--just published in the afternoon papers,--who committed the
murder, or what was the motive of it. Have you any clue to the mystery?"
"Yes--yes," replied Marcus. "We think we have a clue; but so slight,
that it is hardly worth mentioning. My friends here are going to
follow it up."
"And in order that we may do so without any delay," said the lieutenant,
"please give us the name of that sneaking letter writer."
Marcus coughed, looked at the lieutenant knowingly, and said, "Oh,
_that's_ no consequence. It's a false scent. Depend on it."
The old gentleman, as he entered the room, had caught Marcus Wilkeson's
words. "He is the son--" and had observed the slight confusion with
which Marcus had stopped saying something. He now noticed the glance
enjoining silence, which Marcus had directed at the lieutenant
Mr. Van Quintem turned pale, as a harrowing suspicion came into his
mind. "Mr. Wilkeson," he said, in a trembling voice, "will you answer me
one question truly?"
"I--I will," replied Marcus.
"Then tell me, in Heaven's name, do you know of anything that connects
my son with this monstrous crime? I have had a dreadful presentiment,
all along, that he had something to do with it. The end of his wrong
career will be the gallows. I have dreamt of it for years. O God! that I
should have begotten such a profligate and miscreant into the world!"
The old man made another pause, and then said, with a calmness that
surprised his hearers. "Now I am ready to hear all."
"And you shall," said Marcus, "though it pains me, my dear friend, to
tell you what we know of your son. I will say, however, that there is
no proof directly connecting him with the murder."
"He is cunning and covers his tracks," said the wretched parent. "I know
Marcus then exhibited the letters. Mr. Van Quintem compared them
carefully, but could not detect the least trace of resemblance. But, on
examining the envelopes, at the suggestion of Fayette Overtop, he at
once recognized the Hogarthian curve as a mark which he had always
observed on his son's letters.
"I could almost swear to this mark; and yet it is possible that he did
not write the letters. Bad as he is, I will wait for further proofs.
Please tell me all else that you know, Mr. Wilkeson."
"With regard to the letter written to Miss Minford," said Marcus, "there
is, unhappily, but little doubt; as this lad, who was well acquainted
with the Minford family, can inform you."
The boy Bog, very reluctantly, and with many awkward breaks, and
swingings of his cap, repeated the history of the first letter, and
described the young man's person most minutely, and told how he had
followed him in his wild rambles about the town.
The old man listened sadly and quietly; only now and then interrupting
the boy's narrative with questions that were seemingly as calm as a
"He is a murderer. Something in the air tells me that he is," murmured
the old man. "And he is my son."
The inexpressible heart-broken sadness, with which he uttered these
words, brought tears to the eyes of his hearers.
"It may be, my dear Mr. Van Quintem, that your son did not write the
anonymous letters to Mr. Minford, notwithstanding the point of
resemblance which we think we have detected. While sitting, at my
window, I have often noticed him in his room scribbling at a desk, as if
he were practising penmanship. Perhaps, if you examine the contents of
the desk, you may get some further light on the subject. It is
wonderful--most people would say impossible--that a man should write
two letters so entirely dissimilar as these."
"My son always excelled in writing. It was one of the branches that he
took prizes in at school. I will examine the desk; but I fear I shall
only confirm my strong suspicions that he is a murderer. O God! O God!
Why did he not die with his sainted mother! Far better would that have
been. It is a hard thing, gentlemen--it is a very hard thing; but if
this boy of mine does not surrender himself to the hands of justice
to-morrow, I shall--I shall--myself denounce him to the--"
The afflicted man, overcome with the terrible conflict between a sense
of public duty, and a lingering, inextinguishable parental affection,
fainted and fell into the arms of Marcus, who sprang to catch him.
While he was still insensible, the lieutenant of police, and the boy
Bog, slipped out of the room, and started off on a search for Myndert
Van Quintem, jr.
WHAT PAPER, TYPES, AND INK CAN DO.
When Marcus and his counsel, accompanied by the faithful lieutenant of
police, arrived in a close carriage at the scene of the inquest, at the
hour of adjournment next morning, they saw a convincing illustration of
the power of paper, types, and ink.
The morning journals, with whole leaded pages of evidence, and new
diagrams of the house and fatal room; and the enterprising illustrated
weekly, with portraits of the deceased, the prisoner, his counsel,
Tiffles, Patching (great hat and all), Patty Minford, the coroner, the
foreman of the jury, a full-page design of the murder, as it was
supposed to have taken place, representing the infuriate Wilkeson, club
in hand, standing over the prostrate body of the inventor, from whose
forehead the gore was pouring in torrents--all these delightful,
provocatives of sensation had done their full and perfect work.
At that moment, Marcus Wilkeson was known to the world of readers in New
York and the whole country round about, as the murderer of
On the second morning of the inquest an immense crowd of people were
assembled in front of the house. They had been collecting since five
A.M., when a party of six Jerseymen, having sold off their stock of
nocturnal cabbages at Washington Market, had taken position of vantage
before the house, from which they and their wagons were afterward
dislodged with great effort by a squad of police. Some butcher boys,
also returning from their night's work at market, were next on the
ground, and selected adjacent awning posts and trees, as good points of
observation. Mechanics and shop girls, going to their labor, recklessly
postponed the duties of the day, and stopped to stare, awestricken, at
A knot of people in a street, is like a drift of wood in a river. It
chokes up the stream, and catches all the other wood that is
The police had in vain tried to clear out this human throng. They had
waged the following contests with their fellow citizens, since six
o'clock A.M.:--first, they had driven the Jersey market wagons to the
street corner below; second, they had tumbled the butcher boys out of
the trees, where they hung like a strange species of fruit; third, they
had cleared a space of ten feet square in front of the house. Having
done thus much, the police paused from exhaustion, and endured the jokes
of the populace with philosophic disdain.
Three policemen guarded the door, within which no one was admitted but
the coroner, the jury, witnesses, a few political friends of the
coroner, who exhibited passes from him, and about twenty-five reporters,
fifteen of whom really belonged to newspapers, and the remainder had a
general connection with the press, which could never be clearly defined
and established. To the magic word "reporter," accompanied by the
flourish of a pencil and a roll of paper, the three policemen smiled
obsequiously, and unbarred the way. Seeing how well this plan worked,
two gentlemen of inelegant leisure, and at least one pickpocket,
provided themselves with rolls of paper and pencils, and, giving the
password, were admitted.
As the carriage rolled round the corner of the street, bringing Marcus
in full view of these acres of men, women, and children--all waiting for
him--the little courage which he had plucked up failed him, as
plucked-up courage generally does. The sound of mingled laughter, jokes,
oaths, and exclamations of impatience reached his ears.
"Great heavens!" he cried; "and I am to face all these people!" If his
features could have been seen, at that instant, by some person who
thought himself skilled in physiognomy, he would have been
unhesitatingly pronounced guilty of several murders. Marcus sat in the
rear part of the coach, and he leaned back to avoid observation.
As the carriage entered the outskirts of the throng, they became aware
that it contained the man of their desires. Five small boys, who had run
all the way from the station house, had brought the exciting
intelligence. The vehicle was at once surrounded by clamorous people.
"Say, Mister, wich is the murderer, hey?" asked a red-shirted fellow of
Matthew Maltboy, whose corpulent figure squeezed the thin form of
Fayette Overtop into a corner of the front seat.
Maltboy was not quick at thinking; but, on this occasion, a brave
thought came into his head before he could turn to the speaker. "I am
the prisoner," said he.
"I knowed you wos," was the red-shirted reply, "by your--ugly face."
"Thank you," said Matthew, meekly.
"That's the chap that killed the old man--him with the big chops," said
the red-shirted individual to his numerous red and other shirted
"What! that fat cuss with the pig eyes?"
"He's the puffick image of his portrait in the--Weekly, isn't he?"
"Like as two peas."
There was truth in this; for the artist who sketched the portraits, had
inadvertently placed Marcus's name under Matthew's portrait, and
"Well," said another man, an expert in human nature, "I'd convict that
fellow of murder any time, on the strength of his looks. Never were the
worst passions of our nature more prominently shown than in that bad
face." Having said which, the speaker looked about for somebody to
contradict him, and was disappointed in finding no one.
Marcus Wilkeson said: "Here, Matt, none of that generous nonsense, if
you please. I am the prisoner, my good people." As Marcus spoke, he
stretched forward, and exhibited his face to the gaze of the red-shirted
querist and his companions.
"No, you don't!" said that fiery leader. "This blubbery chap is the one.
We knows him by his picter."
"No use disputing them, Mark," said Maltboy, with his indomitable smile.
The friendly struggle was soon terminated by their arrival at the house.
Here the human jam was tremendous; but the police, under the direction
of the lieutenant, succeeded in getting their convoy safe within the
entry. The door was then closed, and five sturdy policemen stood outside
to guard it.
On entering the room, everybody and everything were found just as they
had been the day before--a day that seemed to Marcus a month ago. The
jury were idling over the newspapers, or lazily turning their quids. The
coroner, who looked a little the worse for his dinner of the day before,
was bandying jokes with the facetious reporters. The other reporters
were sharpening their pencils and laying out their note books. Some--the
younger ones--were listening with a species of reverence, which they
would soon outgrow, to the official jesting of the coroner. Others were
squabbling over the right and title to certain chairs which possessed
the extraordinary advantage of being a foot or two nearer the coroner
than the other chairs. This is a grave cause of dispute among the
reporters, and has been known to give rise to a great many hard words,
and threats of subsequent chastisements, which are always indefinitely
The coroner nodded, and said "good morning" to the comers, and assumed a
temporary official dignity, by taking down his right leg from the arm of
the chair over which it gracefully depended. He also fortified himself,
by thrusting a sizable chew into a corner of his mouth, as if he were
carefully loading a pistol.
But neither the coroner, nor the jury, nor the reporters, nor the few
private citizens who had obtained entrance by special dispensation, and
sat gaping about the room, attracted the attention of the prisoner.
Before him was one in whose presence all other persons faded into
nothingness--the fair disturber of his peaceful life--the arbitress of
his fate--Patty Minford.
PET AS A WITNESS.
Little Pet sat on the low stool which she had always occupied, and which
Marcus, in his strange sentimentality, had always considered sacred to
her. She was veiled; but, through the thick gauze, he could see that her
beautiful face was deathly pale. Her slender frame shook with little
convulsions, that made the chair rattle.
"Be calm, my dear child," said a stout, self-possessed woman who sat by
her side, and held a bottle of salts conspicuously in her hand.
"Remember, you have only to tell the trewth, and let the consekences
fall where they may. Tell the trewth, as the old sayin' is, and shame
the de--you know who."
Mrs. Crull--for she it was--checked herself with a neat cough. Her
three months' private education seemed to have been lost upon her. She
could never speak correctly out of Miss Pillbody's sight. Fortunately,
her heart needed no education. She had taken the poor orphan girl to her
home, and been a mother to her. In that phrase there is an horizonless
world of love.
The deep, manly voice of Mrs. Crull carried assurance to the sinking
heart of Patty. She took the extended hand, and pressed it, deriving
strength from the contact of that strong, positive nature.
"If you please, Mr. Cronner," said Mrs. Crull, "I think you'd better go
ahead with her examination at once. Quickest said, soonest mended,
The prisoner and his counsel having taken their seats, the coroner
having involuntarily thrown his right leg into the old, easy position,
the jury having pricked up their ears, the reporters having cleared
spaces for their elbows, the young girl proceeded to give her testimony.
She was too nervous to make a clear, connected statement. Sometimes
terror, sometimes tears, would choke her voice; but the cheering words
and the smelling bottle of Mrs. Crull invariably "brought her round in
no time," in the words of that estimable lady.
Pet told the story of her return home on the fatal night, of her finding
Mr. Wilkeson and her father in angry conversation; of her retiring to
bed very much fatigued; of more conversation, growing angrier and
angrier, which she overheard; of her marvellous vision in the night; of
her waking next morning to find her vision true, and her father dead on
the floor. All these facts, with which the reader is already familiar,
the poor child made known to the jury in a fragmentary, roundabout way,
as they were elicited by questions from the coroner, the jury, and
occasionally the prisoner's counsel. The narrative of the vivid dream,
or vision, produced a startling effect on the coroner, who was a firm
believer in every species of supernaturalism winch is most at variance
with human experience and reason.
In his interrogatories to the witness, the coroner took the truth of the
vision for granted. When she testified to the blows which (in her
dream) she saw her father and the prisoner exchange, and the battered
appearance of Mr. Wilkeson's face, the coroner looked at the prisoner,
and was evidently disappointed to observe no traces of a bruise upon his
pale brow or cheeks, nor the lightest discoloration about his eyes. But
the absence of this corroboration did not, in the coroner's opinion,
throw the least discredit on the dream.
But the foreman of the jury, who had been listening with an affrighted
look to the marvellous story, and believing it, had his faith sadly
shaken by this discrepancy. Having been fireman ten years, and foreman
of a hose company six years, he knew by large experience how long it
took to tone down a black eye or reduce a puffed cheek. The foreman
looked at the smooth, clear face of the prisoner, smiled incredulously,
and shook his head at his associates.
Fayette Overtop here acted his part with a skill worthy of a veteran.
Instead of making a great ado over this weak point of the dream, he
shrugged his shoulders, and smiled faintly at the jury. The jurors, who
had been inclined, up to this time, to accept the dream as evidence,
without question, now decided that it was nonsense.
Marcus Wilkeson sat and listened, as if the scene and all the actors in
it, himself included, were only a dream too. The young girl's evidence,
of which he had not an inkling before, would have astounded him, if
anything could. But he had reached that point of reaction in the
emotions, where a stolid and complete apathy happily takes the place of
high nervous excitement. He somehow felt certain of his acquittal, but
was strangely benumbed to his fate.
He looked at the witness--the holy idol of all his romantic and tender
thoughts in days gone by--with unruffled composure. The marked stoicism
of his demeanor was not lost on the reporters, and they noticed it in
paragraphs to the effect that the prisoner exhibited a hardened
indifference during the most thrilling portion of the evidence.
QUESTION BY THE CORONER (_after thinking it over a bit_). "Who do you
say struck the fust blow, miss? Remember, now, you're on oath."
ANSWER. "My father, sir--or rather, I dreamed so."
The coroner was disappointed again, for he hoped that the witness would,
on second thought, fix the commencement of the actual assault on the
prisoner. "Your father, being old and kind o' feeble, struck a light
blow, I s'pose."
WITNESS. "No, sir--a heavy one, I should judge; for it appeared to cut
open Mr. Wilkeson's lip, and bruise his cheek. The blood seemed to run
down his face in a stream." Here little Pet exhibited signs of
faintness, which good Mrs. Crull stopped by an instant application of
the smelling bottle.
CORONER. "Mr. Wilkeson struck back a terrible blow in return, I s'pose."
WITNESS. "Yes, sir. He hit my father right in the eye, raising a black
and blue spot as large as a hen's egg." The painful recollection of this
part of the dream so overpowered the witness, that she burst into tears,
but was soon quieted by the motherly attentions of Mrs. Crull.
FOREMAN OF THE JURY. "I don't want to hurt the young lady's feelin's,
but this 'ere dream is all nonsense; and it strikes me we're a lot o'
fools to be listenin' to it. Why, Harry, you know, as well as I do, that
there wasn't no bruise on the old man's face, exceptin' the big one on
his forehead. No more is there a sign of a scratch on the prisoner's mug
there. It's all gammon."
Three others of the jury nodded in approval of this sentiment. The
remaining two shared somewhat in the coroner's reverence for dreams, and
awaited further developments.
The coroner turned his quid uneasily. "You can think as you please,
Jack," said he: "but we'll see--we'll see." The coroner, like many
other men of greater claims to wisdom, used this enigmatical expression
when he could not see anything.
A lawyer less crafty than Fayette Overtop would have protested against
the reception of this singular testimony at the outset, and at intervals
of a minute during its delivery. But he foresaw that, being a dream, it
must be full of absurdities, which would surely betray themselves, and
help his client. Besides, he was curious to hear all of the evidence,
however ridiculous and worthless, against the prisoner.
The witness then proceeded to the close of her testimony, amid the
silence of all hearers. The narrative of the dreadful grapple, the
struggle for the club, and the death blow given by Mr. Wilkeson to her
prostrate father--all delivered with an intense earnestness, broken only
by occasional sobs and pauses of anguish--produced a powerful
impression. As she finished, and fell, half fainting, into the arms of
Mrs. Crull, the coroner nodded his head slowly, and said:
"What do you think of dreams now, Jack? Something in 'em, eh?"
The foreman shared in the general feeling of awe; but he had given his
opinion that the dream was nonsense, and stood by it. "It's strange,"
said he. "It's what the newspapers call a 'strordinary quincidence,'
that the young lady should 'a' dreamed out this murder so plain. I do'
'no' much about the science o' dreams, but I think this one might be
explained somethin' in this way: The young lady heerd the old man and
Mr. Wilkeson here talkin' strong, when she come home that night. She
went to sleep with their conversation ringin' in her ears. Part on it
she heerd in her dreams, and the rest she 'magined. She says she was
afraid there would be trouble between 'em when she went to bed. The
fight, and the murder, and all that, which she says she saw in a dream,
or vision like, might have grown out o' that naterally enough. That's my
notion of it, off hand. I've often gone to bed, myself, thinkin' of
somethin' horrible that was goin' to happen, and dreamt that it did
[Illustration: THE INQUEST. MARCUS SPRINGS TO HIS FEET.]
This was precisely the theory upon which Fayette Overtop intended to
explain the dream to the jury when the proper time arrived. He was glad
that the foreman had done it instead; for he knew the tenacity with
which a man, having given an opinion, defends it. To have so potent an
advocate of his client's innocence on the jury, was a strong point.
"Very good, old boy," said the coroner; "but, if the prisoner didn't
commit the murder, who did?"
This question, so manifestly unjust, and betraying the coroner's
intention to sacrifice Marcus to a theory, roused that unfortunate man
to consciousness, and he sprang to his feet. But the wiser Overtop
placed his hands upon his friend's shoulder, whispered in his ear, and
forced him reluctantly into his seat. Overtop knew that the
argumentative foreman could best dispose of the coroner.
The foreman replied to the coroner's question:
"As to who did the murder, that's what we're here to find out. But, for
one, I sha'n't bring in no man guilty till it's proved onto him."
The foreman's face was a dull one, but it became suddenly luminous with
"You say, miss, that you was waked by a noise as of somethin' heavy
fallin' on the floor?"
"You s'pose--as we all s'pose--that it was your father's body that fell,
when he received his death blow?"
"You say you heerd no one a-goin' out o' the room?"
"That's not strange; for the murd'rer could 'a' slipped off his boots or
shoes, and walked out puffickly quiet. I noticed, this mornin', and the
other members of the jury can see for themselves, that the boards of the
floor don't creak when you walk on 'em, nor the entry door neither when
you open it. Didn't you never observe that succumstance?"
"Yes, sir; but it did not occur to me when I woke up. I thought, if the
dream had been true, that I should have heard Mr. Wilkeson moving around
in the room, or going out of the door. I listened for a long time, as I
have already said, and, hearing nobody, I thought the dream was nothing
but a nightmare, as father used to call it."
"One more question, miss, which may or may not be of some consekence.
Haven't you no idee about what time it was when you was waked up by this
noise of somethin' fallin'?"
"No, sir; not the least. It might have been about midnight, I should
"Think a minute, miss, if you didn't hear any sound outside that could
give you some idee of the time." The foreman fixed his eyes piercingly
on the witness.
She reflected a moment. "Yes--yes; I do remember, that when I jumped out
of bed--which I did the very second that I woke up--and listened at the
door, I heard the fire bells striking. Now, if anybody could tell what
time that happened."
"At precisely twenty-five minutes of twelve," said the foreman, in a
solemn voice. "It was for the seventh district--the only 'larm that
night. It was a false 'larm, and only three or four rounds was sounded.
Did you hear the bell many times?"
"Only two or three, and then it stopped. The sound was very plain, sir,
because the bell tower is only a short distance from here, you know."
"Exactly," said the foreman. "You woke up just as Uncle Ith was givin'
off the last round."
There was a deep, awestruck silence in the room; for all understood the
object of these inquiries.
"Now, gentlemen," continued the foreman, in a trembling voice, "let the
prisoner only prove that he was a half, or a quarter, or an eighth of a
mile from here when that 'larm was sounded, and I rather think he will
clear himself. Where are the policemen that the prisoner saw
A noise, as of heavy official boots, was heard on the stairs, sending a
strange thrill through the hearts of all present.
"God be praised," said Fayette Overtop, "if the lieutenant has found
them." It was the first time that the model young lawyer had shown any
signs of emotion.
THE BENEFICENCE OF FIRE BELLS.
The door opened, and the tall form of the police lieutenant appeared,
attended by two patrolmen. The patrolmen, on entering, looked directly
at the prisoner, and seemed to recognize him. The police lieutenant
appeared to be pleased with his success in finding the witnesses, after
a hunt through several station houses; but he was not aware what
importance the testimony which they could give had suddenly acquired.
The witnesses had been searched for at the suggestion of Fayette
Overtop, with the vague hope of making them useful in some way.
The coroner scowled at the witnesses, for he feared that they would
prove the man innocent, who, in his opinion, was the murderer. Having
adopted this theory at the outset, and staked the whole issue upon it,
he felt a natural reluctance to give it up.
The lieutenant explained to the coroner that the two officers could
probably throw some light on the prisoner's movements, the night of
The coroner administered the oath to both of them, as follows:
"Holeup your ri't'an'. You swear to tell truth, th'ole truth, nothin'
but truth, s'elpyeGod. Kiss the book."
The men complied with these impressive formalities, and the coroner then
proceeded to interrogate one of them--a strapping fellow with an
intensely Irish face.
"Name?" said the coroner.
"Patrick O'Dougherty, yer Honor."
The phrase "Yer Honor" produced its customary gracious effect.
"Do you spell O'Dougherty with a 'k,'?" asked the coroner.
"Hang me if I knows!" said the O'Dougherty. "I niver spilt it. Spill it
to suit yezself, yer Honor."
"Spell it in the usual way, with a 'k'" said the coroner, turning to the
"Your residence, Mr. O'Dougherty?"
"Your residence. Where do you live?"
"Oh! it's fare I live yer want to know. In Mulberry street, near
"You belong to the perlice, I believe?" asked the coroner.
"It's quare ye should ax me that!" replied the O'Dougherty, with an
"Because you have the perliceman's hat, club, and badge? You forget,"
said the coroner, patronizingly, "that courts of justice doesn't know
nothin' until it's proved to them. As a coroner, I shouldn't know my own
grandmother, until she swore to herself."
"'Tisn't that, yer Honor; but becos yer got me onto the perlice yerself.
Don't yer 'member, on 'lection day, I smashed two ticket booths of
t'other can'date, in the Sixth Ward, lickt as much as a dozen men who
was workin' agen ye, an' din was put into the Tumes over night--bad luck
to the Tumes, I say! Well, yer Honor, ye was 'lected coroner by a small
vote; an', in turn for me services, ye got me 'p'inted--"
"Ah! oh! I remember, now," said the coroner, somewhat confused. "I did
not know you in the perliceman's dress. Well, Mr. O'Dougherty, did you
see the prisoner on the night of the murder?"
"I did, yer Honor. It was about twelve o'clock. I was sittin' on a
bar'l in front of Pat McKibbin's store, corner of Washin'ton
and ---- streets. I was watchin' the bar'l, yer Honor, becos Pat
McKibbin had some of 'em stole lately, ye see."
"Could yer swear to him, Mr. O'Dougherty?"
"Could I shwear to me own mother?--Hivin rest her sowl! Bedad, I shud
know him a thousan' years from now. Didn't he shtop and light his siggar
at me poipe? And didn't his nose touch me own?"
"Did he look pale and excited?" asked the coroner.
"No, yer Honor; his face was red as a brick, an', though it was a cowld
night, he looked to be warm wid fasht walkin'."
"Did he say anythin'?"
"No; he only axed for a light."
"Was his 'pearance 'spicious?"
"No, yer Honor, more'n yer own. No offince to yez."
"That'll do, Mr. O'Dougherty. Next witness."
"If you please, your Honor," said the smooth Overtop, rising, "you have
accidentally omitted to ask one very important question. The prisoner
stated, on his preliminary examination, you remember, that, when he
stopped to light a cigar from the pipe of a policeman, he heard the
sound of a fire bell commencing to strike. Miss Minford testifies, that
when she was roused from sleep by the noise of her father falling to the
floor, she heard the alarm for the Seventh District. McKibbin's store,
at the corner of Washington and ---- streets, is more than half a mile
from here. In view of these facts, I will, with your Honor's permission,
ask Mr. O'Dougherty if he heard the fire alarm that night; and, if so,
whether the prisoner was in sight at the time?"
"Shure, an' I heerd it," answered the O'Dougherty. "It was fur the
Seventh District. An' wasn't this gin'leman here at the ind o' me poipe,
jist when it begun to bang away?"
Overtop cast one triumphant glance at the jury, which was fully
reciprocated by the foreman and four others.
"I have no more questions to ask, your Honor," said Overtop.
"Nor I," said the coroner, "as the witness's testimony has no great
bearin' on the case, that I can see. What is jour name, Mister--er--"
"Thomas Jelliman," responded the second policeman, a stout, bluff,
honest-looking fellow. He did not say "Your Honor," and thereby offended
"Well, what's yer bizness, anyhow?" asked the coroner, curtly.
"I should think you would remember that I was a policeman," said the
witness, looking the coroner straight in the eye.
The coroner, taking a second observation of the witness, recalled him as
the identical officer who had arrested him, one Christmas night, for
drunkenness, and locked him up in the station house. This little
occurrence was before his election to the dignified and responsible
office of County Coroner.
"If you don't remember me," said the witness, "I think I could bring
myself to your mind easy. On a certain Christmas night, not many
"Never mind the particulars, Mr. Jelliman," observed the coroner. "Come
to look at yer, I recolleck yer very well. Ahem! What do you know about
this 'ere case, Mr. Jelliman?"
"Nothing, sir, except that I can swear to having seen the prisoner, on
the night of the murder, at the corner of West and ---- streets. He was
smoking a cigar, and walking fast. As he passed me, he said, 'A cold
night, Mr. Policeman.' This made me notice him particularly, because it
isn't very often that people throw away civilities on us. Just as he
turned the corner below me, the alarm bells struck the last round for
the Seventh District. They had struck three or four rounds. That is all
I know about the affair."
"I have no other questions to ask, Mr. Jelliman," said the coroner, with
The coroner was baffled. He had staked the whole case upon the theory of
Marcus Wilkeson's guilt, and had made no attempt to procure other
testimony than what would prove that supposition. He scratched his head
and rolled his quid in a perfect quandary.
Another noise was heard on the stairs, as of several persons hurriedly
Then the door opened, and an excited group made its appearance. In
advance was a slender young man, whose face was pale with debauchery.
His clothes were rich, and had an unpleasantly new look. As he stepped
over the threshold, he glanced coolly about the room, and, his eyes
resting on the coroner, smiled.
"Ah, Myndert, my boy," said the coroner, "what are you here for?"
AN OLD MAN'S OFFERING.
"Hang me if I know, Harry! It's the old man's work. He'll explain it to
Behind this easy young man came a strong policeman, who, immediately
upon his entrance, received a nod of approbation from the lieutenant.
Behind the policeman walked, with bended white head and tottering limbs,
the venerable Mr. Van Quintem. The old gentleman was partly supported,
in his infirmity, by the boy Bog. It was a touching sight to see the
confiding trust with which the weakness of sixty-eight clung to the
strong arm of nineteen. Bog hung down his head modestly, and blushed. He
was not seen even to look at the little veiled figure which sat in the
middle of the room. But young Myndert Van Quintem looked at it, and
bowed with the deepest respect. The bow was answered by a faint nod and
a delicate blush. Mrs. Crull observed the interchange of recognitions,
and frowned to herself.
"Mr. Coroner," said the old gentleman, straightening himself, and coming
forward with a quick step, as one who was about to perform an unpleasant
task, and would hurry through it, "this young man is my son. God knows
what love I have lavished upon him from the day that he was born, and
with what ingratitude he has repaid me. But--but that is neither here
nor there. I have come here to deliver him up to you as a prisoner--"
"As a prisoner!" echoed the coroner; and he and all looked amazed at
this strange announcement.
"Why should it surprise you? It is a simple act of justice. I have
reason to think that my son knows something about this murder" (here the
old gentleman's voice faltered); "and my duty, as a good citizen and an
honest man, requires me to surrender him. There are other affairs of a
private nature between myself and my son--he knows to what I refer
--which I am not prepared to make public at the present time." The old
gentleman looked significantly at his son, who smiled calmly at him
A chair was brought for Mr. Van Quintem, sen., and he sank into it. The
young man seated himself in another chair which was handed to him by the
attentive coroner himself.
"Now, Myndert, my good fellow," said the coroner, "if yer knows anything
about this affair, fire away."
"Will the coroner be good enough to swear the witness?" asked Fayette
"Oh! I'd quite forgot it." And the coroner mumbled his irreverent
"Two minutes are enough to tell you all I know, Harry," said the young
man, in a sweet, effeminate voice. "I happened to save Miss Minford's
life, a few months ago--she will give you the particulars, no doubt, if
you desire them--and that is the way I made her acquaintance." (Here
another respectful bow to the young lady.) "Since then, I have met her,
quite accidentally, a few times, and--I do not pretend to conceal
it--have gradually come to feel an interest--a brotherly interest, I may
call it--in her." (The coroner smiled.) "Having learned from her that
she was receiving her education at the expense of Mr. Wilkeson, and that
that gentleman was a constant visitor at her father's house I thought
it proper, as a sincere and disinterested friend of the young lady, to
make some inquiries into his character. Judging, from the result of
these inquiries, that his designs were not honorable toward Miss
Minford--Mr. Wilkeson will pardon the expression, but I am under oath,
and must tell the truth as to my motives--I took the liberty of writing
a note to Mr. Minford, merely cautioning him against Mr. Wilkeson. I did
not sign my name to the note, because I was not personally acquainted
with Mr. Minford--in fact, never saw him in my life--and did not wish to
assume the responsibility, disagreeable to every sensitive person, of
interfering in another man's family affairs. The object of the note was
to make Mr. Minford cautious. I presume no one will undertake to say
that a father can be too cautious concerning the honor of a young and
lovely daughter." (Another respectful glance at Miss Minford.) "I am
aware anonymous letters are a little irregular, in the opinions of most
people. But, when sent with a good motive, I really don't see the
harm in them."
"Nor I neither," said the coroner. "It strikes me they're correct enough
when the motive's a good 'un."
"But, your Honor, when an anonymous letter is full of lies and slanders,
I respectfully submit that it is a piece of cowardly malice, which the
law ought to punish with the utmost severity." Fayette Overtop spoke
with tranquillity and firmness, looking young Van Quintem directly in
the eye, and making him quail.
The judicious phrase, "Your Honor," alone saved Overtop from an
explosion of official wrath. "The Court can't allow these interruptions,
Mr. Overtop," said the coroner. "Her dignity must be maintained. As for
'nonymous letters, whether it's right or wrong to send them, people will
differ. The coroner and the jury is competent to judge for themselves.
Go ahead, Myndert."
"As the first letter seemed to have no effect, I sent another,
suggesting that Mr. Minford should inquire into Mr. Wilkeson's history
in the little village of----, Westchester County, where he was born,
and lived many years. I learned from Miss Minford that her father
visited Westchester County one day, and presume that he made some
important discoveries there; for Miss Minford told me, that, on his
return, he had forbidden Mr. Wilkeson to come to the house. If there was
any harm in putting Mr. Minford on the track to find out the real truth
about the man who was a constant attendant at his fireside, I do not
"Nor I neither," said the coroner. "The end, as the sayin' is, justifies
"If your Honor pleases," said the facile Overtop, "we could easily prove
that all the reports which Mr. Minford gathered in Westchester County,
prejudicial to my client, arose from a confounding of another person
with him. But, as this explanation would involve the disclosure of
private family affairs, and also the reflection of disgrace on the
memory of the dead, my client prohibits me from saying more on the
subject. But all this, as none knows better than your Honor, has nothing
to do with the case. We ask that my client shall either be proved guilty
of the murder, or of some knowledge of it, or released."
Fayette Overtop here looked volumes of confidence at the jury; and five
of the jury looked back volumes of agreement with him.
"Nobody can be in a bigger hurry than me, Mr. Overtop," said the
coroner, with tolerable good nature. "These 'ere inquests, commencin' in
the mornin' and holdin' on a good part of the day, are rather hard on a
chap 'customed to his 'leven-o'clock drink. I have to make up for the
loss by adjournin' early in the arternoon. Ha! ha! Now, Myndert, my boy,
rush her through. You don't know anythin' about the murder, I s'pose.
You were somewhere else on the fatal night, of course--and I can guess
where. At Brown's, eh?"
Brown's was a notorious gambling house on Broadway.
"Exactly, Harry. I was at Brown's from nine P.M. to four o'clock the
following morning. And, if I mistake not, there is a gentleman in this
room who can swear to having seen me there, say from ten to eleven."
Saying this, young Van Quintem winked hard at the coroner.
"You needn't mince matters," said the coroner. "I was at Brown's that
night, and between the hours you name. Being a public officer, I
sometimes look into Brown's, and a good many other places, too, to see
that nothin' a'n't a-goin' on wrong. Ha! I partickly 'member it, because
I accidentally lost about fifty dollars there that night. Ha! ha!"
"I think I recollect the little circumstance," said the witness, with a
"Very likely. Ha! Now, Myndert, of course we all understand that you are
innocent; but, to satisfy the public, I guess I'd better summon a few
witnesses from Brown's, to prove you were there all night."
"I thought of that, Harry, and requested a number of my friends at
Brown's to drop around here, and prove an _alibi_ for me. They were very
much engaged at the time, or they would have come with me."
"They were playing faro," said the old gentleman, "and my son was
gambling with them. Wretched young man, how often have I cautioned you
against that vice!"
"The cautioning I don't object to," said the son; "but I consider it
unfair to drag a fellow away from a streak of good luck. I was raking in
the piles just as you and the policeman, and that mop-headed youth
behind you" (he alluded to the boy Bog) "came down on me. Ah! I see the
game is finished, and here they are."
Four men, of a highly correct appearance, dressed in quiet good taste,
who would have passed in the Broadway muster for merchants of the
severest practical variety, entered the room.
They nodded in the most gentlemanly manner to the coroner, and gave a
friendly recognition to young Myndert.
"You may be willing to believe these polished scoundrels under oath;
but hang me if I would!" said the old gentleman, with emphasis.
The four gamblers showed their even rows of white teeth pleasantly, and
one of them replied:
"You are an elderly gentleman, Mr. Van Quintem, and the father of our
young friend; and, of course, you are permitted to abuse us as much as
"It seems to me, Mr. Van Quintem," said the coroner, "that you are
rather hard on these gen'lemen, who, so fur as I know 'em, is of the
highest respectability. Don't yer want to have yer son prove
"I want to have him prove the truth, and that's all. And for that reason
I wouldn't credit such evidence as these men will give."
"You would like to have me hanged, my dear father," said the son,
mildly; "but I don't think you will be gratified in that amiable little
desire. Eh, Harry?"
The coroner grinned, shifted his quid, put on his most serious official
look, and said:
"No more of this 'ere jokin', if you please, gen'lemen. A inquest isn't
zactly the place for fun."
He then proceeded to swear and interrogate the four new witnesses. They
took the oath decorously, kissing the book in the politest, most
gentlemanly manner. Their testimony was to the effect that young Van
Quintem passed the night of the murder, from ten P.M. till four A.M., at
Brown's, and was not absent one minute. They were able to corroborate
the fact, by a reference to pocket memorandum books, in which entries
such as "Van Q., debit $50," or "Van Q., credit $100," appeared at
intervals. As to the general character of the house, upon which several
members of the jury asked questions, they testified that it was a
species of club house, where a few gentlemen of excellent reputation
occasionally met for the purposes of innocent social intercourse. Games
of chance were sometimes played at Brown's, to while away an hour; and
betting was now and then done, in a strictly honorable and legitimate
way. Several of the jurymen would have improved the occasion, to learn
all about the internal management of Brown's; but the coroner decided
that such questions were entirely "relevant" (meaning irrelevant), and
suggested that, as there were no more witnesses, the case might as well
go to the jury. The coroner had just consulted his watch, and found that
it was four o'clock. He was aware, from the turn things had taken, that
he had lost the verdict which he hoped to obtain; but that was no reason
why he should lose his dinner. The coroner was not a man of energy; and,
being foiled in his efforts to convict Marcus Wilkeson, he had no
disposition to pursue the matter further. Besides, he had already
achieved a large measure of profitable notoriety from the case; for he
had been ridiculed and abused in most of the city papers; and _that_
insured him, beyond all doubt, the nomination for and election to the
State Senate, for which he was an aspirant at the next fall campaign.
Under all these circumstances, the coroner was satisfied.
The jurors, receiving but a shilling a day, and being hungry and tired,
were quite willing to wind up the case. After putting their heads
together, whispering and nodding about five minutes, the foreman
declared the following as their verdict:
"That the deceased, Eliphalet Minford, came to his death, on the night
of the ---- day of April, 185-, from a wound inflicted on the head by a
club in the hands of some person unknown to the jurors."
Overtop and Maltboy took the verdict as a matter of course, having
anticipated it for some time. Marcus Wilkeson, who had been in a gloomy
stupor for the past hour, and had expected the worst, looked up in
surprise at this lucky dispensation of Fate. Tears sprang to his eyes,
and he extended a hand to each of his faithful friends, by whom he was
warmly congratulated on the happy issue of the affair. The jurors also
came forward with their congratulations. Even the coroner said, "Well,
Mr. Wilkeson, I did my pootiest to hold you, because I thought you was