Nealman was of course the most important
witness. Further testimony was really only in
corroboration of his. The coroner called on Marten
This man spoke bluntly, answering
all questions in a vigorous, rather masterful voice.
Financier, he said simply, in answer to the question
as to his occupation.
“You were with Mr. Nealman when
you heard Florey’s scream?”
“Who else was there?”
“Mr. Van Hope and Mr. Killdare.”
“Do you know the exact location
of any other of the guests at the time of the murder?”
“No, not exactly. They were all in rooms
adjoining the living-room.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Practically sure. They came in and out
every few minutes.”
“Did you have any previous acquaintance with
the dead man?”
In reply to the coroner’s questions,
he testified as to the finding of the body, the nature
of the scream we had heard and gave a similar report
as to the appearance of the wound. He had observed
no suspicious actions on the part of any one.
“You led the search, I believe, through the
“You were the one man that was
armed. May I ask how you happened to have a pistol
in the pocket of dinner clothes?”
“I was held up, once,”
Marten replied straightforwardly. “Several
years ago. I’ve carried a pistol ever since.”
The coroner nodded. “Did
your party stay together in searching the gardens,
or did they scatter out?” he asked.
“We scattered out. We couldn’t
have hoped to find any one if we had stayed together.
We called back and forth, however.”
“You kept track of one another all the time?”
“I can’t say that.
The gardens and grounds are large and full of shrubbery.”
“The search lasted how long?”
“Only a few minutes.”
The coroner dismissed him at this
point, calling on Mr. Van Hope. The latter told
of his long acquaintance with Nealman, and verified
in every detail the story that his friend had told.
“And where were you, Mr. Dell,
when the scream was heard?” the coroner asked.
“In the library,” was
the reply. Major Dell spoke evenly, but his keen,
flushed face showed that he was taking the most keen
and lively interest in the proceedings.
“Why weren’t you with the others in the
“We were all running all over
the house. I was trying to find Mr. Nealman’s
copy of Jordan’s work on fish. Fargo and
I had got into an argument about black bass.”
“Mr. Fargo was not with you at the time?”
“I was alone. I had left Mr. Fargo at the
Weldon’s voice changed in tone.
“And how did the argument come out, may I ask.”
Major Dell smiled dryly. “It isn’t
concluded yet,” he said.
The coroner paused, then took a new
tack. “You heard the sound distinctly?”
“Distinctly, but probably not
so clearly as Mr. Nealman heard it. The library
is back of the lounging-room.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I ran outside. I joined
Nealman and some of the other guests on the grounds,
and went down with them to investigate.”
“You took part in the hunt through the grounds?”
“Yes. I beat back and forth with the rest.”
“And saw or heard nothing suspicious?”
“Something moved in the shrubbery,
but we couldn’t locate it. Nealman thought
afterward it was a raccoon or some other small animal.”
“You knew Mr. Florey?”
“I had never set eyes upon him before.”
“You’ve had long acquaintance with Mr.
Major Dell hesitated, just an instant.
“No. I had never met Mr. Nealman until
The coroner’s interest quickened.
“You didn’t? How did you happen to
be included among his guests?”
“I was a great friend of his
friend, Mr. Van Hope. I was invited through his
kindness. He wanted me to have a taste of shooting
“What is your occupation, Mr. Dell?”
“I am interested in finance, in a modest way.”
“You saw, heard or knew of nothing
connected with this murder that you haven’t
“No.” Dell paused, considering.
“Nothing, I’m sure.”
“I say ‘murder.’
Testimony has gone to show that Florey was dead, not
just severely wounded, when you and the others reached
his side. Mr. Dell, do you think there is any
possibility that life remained in his body when you
saw him beside the inlet?”
Dell spoke clearly. “None whatever,”
“You speak very sure.”
“I am sure. I’ve
seen too many dead men ever to make a mistake.
The position of the body, the features everything
told it as plain as day.”
The coroner leaned forward. His
eyes gleamed. “And where and how did you
happen to see all these dead men, may I ask?”
There was an instant’s second
of strain throughout the room. All of us, I think,
were siding with Major Dell from the sheer
instinctive distrust of constituted authority that
seems to be implanted in our bodies at birth.
Dell looked down, and his face was gray.
“In the Argonne,” he said,
quietly. The room was deathly still.
Fargo, called immediately after, testified
as to his argument with Dell as to the nature of black
bass. Dell had left him, he said, to go into
“You were alone in the billiard
room when you heard the cry?”
“Yes. But I ran outdoors and joined the
Van Hope testified as to his acquaintance
with Major Dell, saying that they had known each other
for several months, and that Dell belonged to one
of his clubs. He verified Nealman’s story
“And what is your occupation,
Mr. Pescini?” the coroner asked.
“I am in the publishing business, in New York.”
“You have a long acquaintance with Mr. Nealman?”
“Something over four years.”
“Where were you when you heard David Florey
“On the veranda.”
“Yes, alone. I had been
with Mr. Van Hope and Nealman a few moments before.
I was rather hot, and I went out on the veranda for
a breath of air. I rushed out toward the sound,
and Nealman and his party caught up with me.”
He testified that he had taken part
in the search, and was utterly baffled as to the solution
of the mystery.
Nopp was in the music room, he said,
looking for a certain record that he wished his friends
to hear. He had been in the billiard room a few
seconds before. He had heard the cry but faintly,
and had not been especially alarmed. The shouts
of the other guests, he said, rather than the scream
of the dying man, had caused him to rush out and join
in the investigation. He had known Nealman a
long time, was an architect by profession, and had
been one of those to partake in the hunt through the
Last of all the white men, he called
on me. I told of my relations with Nealman, the
work I had been hired to do and, my own reactions to
the fearful scream in the darkness. I had been
with Marten, Van Hope and Nealman and had sent through
the calls to Ochakee.
“You saw or heard nothing beyond
that which these other gentlemen have testified?”
“Nothing at all,” I answered.
“You have made no subsequent discoveries?”
Just for a moment I was silent, conjecturing
what my answer should be. Was I to tell of the
cryptogram I had found beside the body, and its theft
during the night?
I couldn’t see how the least
good would come of it. Indeed, if last night’s
intruder was in the room, listening to my testimony,
he would be very glad to know if I had discovered
the theft. I had resolved to work out the case
in my own way, employing the methods of a naturalist,
and these agents of the law were not my allies.
“Nothing has come to my observation,”
I told him simply.
If he had pressed the matter he might
have got the admission out of me; but fortunately
he turned to other subjects.
There was quite a little stir of interest
throughout the circle when he began to question Edith.
None of us will forget the picture of that golden
head, graced by the sunlight slanting through the leaded
panes of the window, the flushed, lovely face, the
frank eyes and the girlish figure, lost in the big
chair. She was in such contrast to the rest of
us. Except for the housekeeper, buxom and fifty,
she was the only white woman present; and she could
have been the daughter of any one of the gray men
in the circle.
She had gone to her room about ten,
she said, and had read for perhaps an hour. Her
room was just over the front hall. About eleven
she went to bed, and the coroner’s questions
brought out the interesting fact that seemingly she
had been the last of the household unless
the murderer himself was to be included thus to
have seen Florey alive. Her bed stood just beside
the front window, and just before she had retired she
had seen him walking out toward the lagoon.
The whole circle, tired of the dull
testimony of the past hour, leaned forward in rapt
attention. “He was alone?” the coroner
“Yes. I think I heard the
door close behind him I’m not sure.
Then I saw his form in the moonlight on the front
“You recognized him at once?”
“Not at once. I thought
perhaps it was one of the guests. But in a bright
patch of moonlight I saw him plain.”
“Where did he go?”
“He turned down the driveway toward the lagoon.
I didn’t see him again.”
At the sound of the piercing scream
she got up and put on a dressing-gown, but she did
not come down at once. She was afraid, she said she
didn’t know what to do. She had no knowledge
as to the activities and the positions of the other
members of the household at the time of the crime.
She had come to work as her uncle’s
secretary but a few weeks before; and she verified
perfectly Nealman’s testimony in regard to the
dead servant. If he had had enemies in the household
she had not been aware of it, she knew of no chronic
malady, and she did not think that he carried any
large amount of money on his person. The scream
had seemed to her to be one of unfathomable fear.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Gentry, was
the last of the white people to be called upon; and
her testimony threw no new light upon the problem.
She was in bed and asleep, and the shouts of the men
without had wakened her.
The coroner called on the negroes
in turn, and I was a little amazed at the ease with
which he wrung their testimony out of them. He
knew these dark people: no northern man could
have hoped to have been so successful. Sometimes
he shouted at them as if in fury, sometimes he wheedled
or jested with them.
Not one of them but could prove an
alibi. They were all in their own quarters, they
said, at the moment of the tragedy. Because this
was the South and they were black, they did not know
Florey, a white man, very well. And they had
all been frightened nearly out of their wits by the
events of the night.
One by one he questioned them, but
the inquest ended just as it began with
the affair of Florey’s murder as great a mystery
as ever. At the end of the fatiguing afternoon
we were face to face with the baffling fact that only
four men had proven satisfactory alibis Lemuel
Marten, Van Hope, Nealman and myself and
that any one of the dozen or more men and women in
that great, rambling house might have done the deed.