When the wealthy financier Joseph Crawford is found dead in the study of his home in West Sedgwick the only clue is the ladies gold evening bag on his desk. But does the bag indicate an unknown late night lady visitor as the murderer? Or does it point to his niece, Florence Lloyd, who Crawford had threatened to disinherit, or to his secretary, Gregory Hall, whose engagement to his niece was the cause of the disinheritance. With a paucity of clues, the case seems impossible of solution, impossible, that is, until that famous detective, Fleming Stone, arrives on the scene to reveal the murderer with one brilliant deduction.
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The Gold Bag
By Carolyn Wells
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2015 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
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THE CRIME IN WEST SEDGWICK
Though a young detective, I am not entirely an inexperienced one, and I have several fairly successful investigations to my credit on the records of the Central Office.
The Chief said to me one day: "Burroughs, if there's a mystery to be unravelled; I'd rather put it in your hands than to trust it to any other man on the force.
"Because," he went on, "you go about it scientifically, and you never jump at conclusions, or accept them, until they're indubitably warranted."
I declared myself duly grateful for the Chief's kind words, but I was secretly a bit chagrined. A detective's ambition is to be, considered capable of jumping at conclusions, only the conclusions must always prove to be correct ones.
But though I am an earnest and painstaking worker, though my habits are methodical and systematic, and though I am indefatigably patient and persevering, I can never make those brilliant deductions from seemingly unimportant clues that Fleming Stone can. He holds that it is nothing but observation and logical inference, but to me it is little short of clairvoyance.
The smallest detail in the way of evidence immediately connotes in his mind some important fact that is indisputable, but which would never have occurred to me. I suppose this is largely a natural bent of his brain, for I have not yet been able to achieve it, either by study or experience.
Of course I can deduce some facts, and my colleagues often say I am rather clever at it, but they don't know Fleming Stone as well as I do, and don't realize that by comparison with his talent mine is insignificant.
And so, it is both by way of entertainment, and in hope of learning from him, that I am with him whenever possible, and often ask him to "deduce" for me, even at risk of boring him, as, unless he is in the right mood, my requests sometimes do.
I met him accidentally one morning when we both chanced to go into a basement of the Metropolis Hotel in New York to have our shoes shined.
It was about half-past nine, and as I like to get to my office by ten o'clock, I looked forward to a pleasant half-hour's chat with him. While waiting our turn to get a chair, we stood talking, and, seeing a pair of shoes standing on a table, evidently there to be cleaned, I said banteringly:
"Now, I suppose, Stone, from looking at those shoes, you can deduce all there is to know about the owner of them."
I remember that Sherlock Holmes wrote once, "From a drop of water, a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other," but when I heard Fleming Stone's reply to my half-laughing challenge, I felt that he had outdone the mythical logician. With a mild twinkle in his eye, but with a perfectly grave face, he said slowly,
"Those shoes belong to a young man, five feet eight inches high. He does not live in New York, but is here to visit his sweetheart. She lives in Brooklyn, is five feet nine inches tall, and is deaf in her left ear. They went to the theatre last night, and neither was in evening dress."
"Oh, pshaw!" said I, "as you are acquainted with this man, and know how he spent last evening, your relation of the story doesn't interest me."
"I don't know him," Stone returned; "I've no idea what his name is, I've never seen him, and except what I can read from these shoes I know nothing about him."
I stared at him incredulously, as I always did when confronted by his astonishing "deductions," and simply said,
"Tell this little Missourian all about it."
"It did sound well, reeled off like that, didn't it?" he observed, chuckling more at my air of eager curiosity than at his own achievement. "But it's absurdly easy, after all. He is a young man because his shoes are in the very latest, extreme, not exclusive style. He is five feet eight, because the size of his foot goes with that height of man, which, by the way, is the height of nine out of ten men, any way. He doesn't live in New York or he wouldn't be stopping at a hotel. Besides, he would be down-town at this hour, attending to business."
"Unless he has freak business hours, as you and I do," I put in.
"Yes, that might be. But I still hold that he doesn't live in New York, or he couldn't be staying at this Broadway hotel overnight, and sending his shoes down to be shined at half-past nine in the morning. His sweetheart is five feet nine, for that is the height of a tall girl. I know she is tall, for she wears a long skirt. Short girls wear short skirts, which make them look shorter still, and tall girls wear very long skirts, which make them look taller."
"Why do they do that?" I inquired, greatly interested.
"I don't know. You'll have to ask that of some one wiser than I. But I know it's a fact. A girl wouldn't be considered really tall if less than five feet nine. So I know that's her height. She is his sweetheart, for no man would go from New York to Brooklyn and bring a lady over here to the theatre, and then take her home, and return to New York in the early hours of the morning, if he were not in love with her. I know she lives in Brooklyn, for the paper says there was a heavy shower there last night, while I know no rain fell in New York. I know that they were out in that rain, for her long skirt became muddy, and in turn muddied the whole upper of his left shoe. The fact that only the left shoe is so soiled proves that he walked only at her right side, showing that she must be deaf in her left ear, or he would have walked part of the time on that side. I know that they went to the theatre in New York, because he is still sleeping at this hour, and has sent his boots down to be cleaned, instead of coming down with them on his feet to be shined here. If he had been merely calling on the girl in Brooklyn, he would have been home early, for they do not sit up late in that borough. I know they went to the theatre, instead of to the opera or a ball, for they did not go in a cab, otherwise her skirt would not have become muddied. This, too, shows that she wore a cloth skirt, and as his shoes are not patent leathers, it is clear that neither was in evening dress."
I didn't try to get a verification of Fleming Stone's assertions; I didn't want any. Scores of times I had known him to make similar deductions and in cases where we afterward learned the facts, he was invariably correct. So, though we didn't follow up this matter, I was sure he was right, and, even if he hadn't been, it would not have weighed heavily against his large proportion of proved successes.
We separated then, as we took chairs at some distance from each other, and, with a sigh of regret that I could never hope to go far along the line in which Stone showed such proficiency, I began to read my morning paper.
Fleming Stone left the place before I did, nodding a good-by as he passed me, and a moment after, my own foot-gear being in proper condition, I, too, went out, and went straight to my office.
As I walked the short distance, my mind dwelt on Stone's quick-witted work. Again I wished that I possessed the kind of intelligence that makes that sort of thing so easy. Although unusual, it is, after all, a trait of many minds, though often, perhaps, unrecognized and undeveloped by its owner. I dare say it lies dormant in men who have never had occasion to realize its value. Indeed, it is of no continuous value to anyone but a detective, and nine detectives out of ten do not possess it.
So I walked along, envying my friend Stone his gift, and reached my office just at ten o'clock as was my almost invariable habit.
"Hurry up, Mr. Burroughs!" cried my office-boy, as I opened the door. "You're wanted on the telephone."
Though a respectful and well-mannered boy, some excitement had made him a trifle unceremonious, and I looked at him curiously as I took up the receiver.
But with the first words I heard, the office-boy was forgotten, and my own nerves received a shock as I listened to the message. It was from the Detective Bureau with which I was connected, and the superintendent himself was directing me to go at once to West Sedgwick, where a terrible crime had just been discovered.
"Killed!" I exclaimed; "Joseph Crawford?"
"Yes; murdered in his home in West Sedgwick. The coroner telephoned to send a detective at once and we want you to go."
"Of course I'll go. Do you know any more details?"
"No; only that he was shot during the night and the body found this morning. Mr. Crawford was a big man, you know. Go right off, Mr. Burroughs; we want you to lose no time."
Yes; I knew Joseph Crawford by name, though not personally, and I knew he was a big man in the business world, and his sudden death would mean excitement in Wall Street matters. Of his home, or home- life, I knew nothing.
"I'll go right off," I assured the Chief, and turned away from the telephone to find Donovan, the office-boy, already looking up trains in a timetable.
"Good boy, Don," said I approvingly; "what's the next train to West Sedgwick, and how long does it take to get there?"
"You kin s'lect the ten-twenty, Mr. Burruz, if you whirl over in a taxi an' shoot the tunnel," said Donovan, who was rather a graphic conversationalist. "That'll spill you out at West Sedgwick 'bout quarter of 'leven. Was he moidered, Mr. Burruz?"
"So they tell me, Don. His death will mean something in financial circles."
"Yessir. He was a big plute. Here's your time-table, Mr. Burruz. When'll you be back?"
"Don't know, Don. You look after things."
"Sure! everything'll be took care of. Lemme know your orders when you have 'em."
By means of the taxi Don had called and the tunnel route as he had suggested, I caught the train, satisfied that I had obeyed the Chief's orders to lose no time.
Lose no time indeed! I was more anxious than any one else could possibly be to reach the scene of the crime before significant clues were obliterated or destroyed by bungling investigators. I had had experience with the police of suburban towns, and I well knew their two principal types. Either they were of a pompous, dignified demeanor, which covered a bewildered ignorance, or else they were overzealous and worked with a misdirected energy that made serious trouble for an intelligent detective. Of course, of the two kinds I preferred the former, but the danger was that I should encounter both.
On my way I diverted my mind, and so partly forgot my impatience, by endeavoring to "deduce" the station or occupation of my fellow passengers.
Opposite me in the tunnel train sat a mild-faced gentleman, and from the general appearance of his head and hat I concluded he was a clergyman. I studied him unostentatiously and tried to find some indication of the denomination he might belong to, or the character of his congregation, but as I watched, I saw him draw a sporting paper from his pocket, and turning his hand, a hitherto unseen diamond flashed brilliantly from his little finger. I hastily revised my judgment, and turning slightly observed the man who sat next me. Determined to draw only logical inferences, I scrutinized his coat, that garment being usually highly suggestive to our best regulated detectives. I noticed that while the left sleeve was unworn and in good condition, the right sleeve was frayed at the inside edge, and excessively smooth and shiny on the inner forearm. Also the top button of the coat was very much worn, and the next one slightly.
"A-ha!" said I to myself, "I've nailed you, my friend. You're a desk- clerk, and you write all day long, standing at a desk. The worn top button rubs against your desk as you stand, which it would not do were you seated."
With a pardonable curiosity to learn if I were right, I opened conversation with the young man. He was not unwilling to respond, and after a few questions I learned, to my chagrin, that he was a photographer. Alas for my deductions! But surely, Fleming Stone himself would not have guessed a photographer from a worn and shiny coat- sleeve. At the risk of being rudely personal, I made some reference to fashions in coats. The young man smiled and remarked incidentally, that owing to certain circumstances he was at the moment wearing his brother's coat.
"And is your brother a desk clerk?" inquired I almost involuntarily.
He gave me a surprised glance, but answered courteously enough, "Yes," and the conversation flagged.
Exultantly I thought that my deduction, though rather an obvious one, was right; but after another furtive glance at the young man, I realized that Stone would have known he was wearing another's coat, for it was the most glaring misfit in every way.
Once more I tried, and directed my attention to a middle-aged, angular- looking woman, whose strong, sharp-featured face betokened a prim spinster, probably at the head of a girls' school, or engaged in some clerical work. However, as I passed her on my way to leave the train I noticed a wedding-ring on her hand, and heard her say to her companion, "No; I think a woman's sphere is in her own kitchen and nursery. How could I think otherwise, with my six children to bring up?" After these lamentable failures, I determined not to trust much to deduction in the case I was about to investigate, but to learn actual facts from actual evidence.
I reached West Sedgwick, as Donovan had said, at quarter before eleven. Though I had never been there before, the place looked quite as I had imagined it. The railway station was one of those modern attractive structures of rough gray stone, with picturesque projecting roof and broad, clean platforms. A flight of stone steps led down to the roadway, and the landscape in every direction showed the well-kept roads, the well-grown trees and the carefully-tended estates of a town of suburban homes. The citizens were doubtless mainly men whose business was in New York, but who preferred not to live there.
The superintendent must have apprised the coroner by telephone of my immediate arrival, for a village cart from the Crawford establishment was awaiting me, and a smart groom approached and asked if I were Mr. Herbert Burroughs.
A little disappointed at having no more desirable companion on my way to the house, I climbed up beside the driver, and the groom solemnly took his place behind. Not curiosity, but a justifiable desire to learn the main facts of the case as soon as possible, led me to question the man beside me.
I glanced at him first and saw only the usual blank countenance of the well-trained coachman.
His face was intelligent, and his eyes alert, but his impassive expression showed his habit of controlling any indication of interest in people or things.
I felt there would be difficulty in ingratiating myself at all, but I felt sure that subterfuge would not help me, so I spoke directly.
"You are the coachman of the late Mr. Crawford?"
I hadn't really expected more than this in words, but his tone was so decidedly uninviting of further conversation that I almost concluded to say nothing more. But the drive promised to be a fairly long one, so I made another effort.
"As the detective on this case, I wish to hear the story of it as soon as I can. Perhaps you can give me a brief outline of what happened."
It was perhaps my straightforward manner, and my quite apparent assumption of his intelligence, that made the man relax a little and reply in a more conversational tone.
"We're forbidden to chatter, sir," he said, "but, bein' as you're the detective, I s'pose there's no harm. But it's little we know, after all. The master was well and sound last evenin', and this mornin' he was found dead in his own office-chair."
"You mean a private office in his home?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Crawford went to his office in New York 'most every day, but days when he didn't go, and evenin's and Sundays, he was much in his office at home, sir."
"Who discovered the tragedy?"
"I don't rightly know, sir, if it was Louis, his valet, or Lambert, the butler, but it was one or t'other, sir."
"Or both together?" I suggested.
"Yes, sir; or both together."
"Is any one suspected of the crime?"
The man hesitated a moment, and looked as if uncertain what to reply, then, as he set his jaw squarely, he said:
"Not as I knows on, sir."
"Tell me something of the town," I observed next, feeling that it was better to ask no more vital questions of a servant.
Excerpted from The Gold Bag by Carolyn Wells. Copyright © 2015 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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