The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XX. Oleson's Story
HENRIETTA SLOANE was called next.
"Are you married?"
"When and where were you born?"
"Isle of Man, December 11 1872."
"How long have you lived in the United States?"
"Since I was two."
"Your position on the yacht Ella?"
"On the Baltic, between Liverpool and New York. That was how I met Mrs. Turner."
"Where was your room on the yacht Ella?"
"Off the chartroom."
"Will you indicate it on this diagram?"
"It was there." (Pointing.)
The diagram was shown to the jury.
"There are two bunks in this room. Which was yours?"
"The one at the side - the one opposite the door was Karen's."
"Tell what happened on the night of August 11 and morning of the 12th."
"I went to bed early. Karen Hansen had not come down by midnight. When I opened the door, I saw why. Mr. Turner and Mr. Singleton were there, drinking."
The defense objected to this but was overruled by the court.
"Mr. Vail was trying to persuade the mate to go on deck, before the captain came down."
"Did they go?"
"What comment did Mr. Singleton make?"
"He said he hoped the captain would come. He wanted a chance to get at him."
"What happened after that?"
"The captain came down and ordered the mate on deck. Mr. Vail and the captain got Mr. Turner to his room."
"How do you know that?"
"I opened my door."
"Karen came down at 12.30. We went to bed. At ten minutes to three the bell rang for Karen. She got up and put on a wrapper and slippers. She was grumbling and I told her to put out the light and let me sleep. As she opened the door she screamed and fell back on the floor. Something struck me on the shoulder, and I fainted. I learned later it was the axe."
"Did you hear any sound outside, before you opened the door?"
"A curious chopping sound. I spoke of it to her. It came from the chart-room."
"When the girl fell back into the room, did you see any one beyond her?"
"I saw something - I couldn't say just what."
"Was what you saw a figure?"
"I - I am not certain. It was light - almost white." "Can you not describe it?"
"I am afraid not - except that it seemed white."
"How tall was it?"
"I couldn't say."
"As tall as the girl?"
"Just about, perhaps."
"Think of something that it resembled. This is important, Mrs. Sloane. You must make an effort."
"I think it looked most like a fountain."
Even the jury laughed at this, and yet, after all, Mrs. Sloane was right - or nearly so!
"That is curious. How did it resemble a fountain?"
"Perhaps I should have said a fountain in moonlight white, and misty, and - and flowing."
"And yet, this curious-shaped object threw the axe at you, didn't it?"
There was an objection to the form of this question, but the court overruled it.
"I did not say it threw the axe. I did not see it thrown. I felt it."
"Did you know the first mate, Singleton, before you met on the Ella?"
"We were on the same vessel two years ago, the American, for Bermuda."
"Were you friends?"
"Yes" - very low.
"Were you engaged to marry him at one time?"
"Why did you break it off?"
"We differed about a good many things."
After a long battle, the prosecuting attorney was allowed to show that, following the breaking off of her relations with Singleton, she had been a witness against him in an assault-and-battery case, and had testified to his violence of temper. The dispute took so long that there was only time for her cross-examination. The effect of the evidence, so far, was distinctly bad for Singleton.
His attorney, a young and intelligent Jew, cross-examined Mrs. Sloane.
Attorney for the defense: "Did you ever write a letter to the defendant, Mrs. Sloane, threatening him if he did not marry you?"
"I do not recall such a letter."
"Is this letter in your writing?"
"I think so. Yes."
"Mrs. Sloane, you testify that you opened your door and saw Mr. Vail and the captain taking Mr. Turner to his room. Is this correct?"
"Why did they take him? I mean, was he not able, apparently, to walk alone?"
"He was able to walk. They walked beside him."
"In your testimony, taken at the time and entered in the ship's log, you say you 'judged by the sounds.' Here you say you 'opened the door and saw them.' Which is correct?"
"I saw them."
"You say that Mr. Singleton said he wished to 'get at' the captain. Are those his exact words?"
"I do not recall his exact words."
"Perhaps I can refresh your mind. With the permission of the court, I shall read from the ship's log this woman's statement, recorded by the man who was in charge of the vessel, and therefore competent to make such record, and signed by the witness as having been read and approved by her: -
"'Mr. Singleton said that he hoped the captain would come, as he and Mr. Turner only wanted a chance to get at him . . . . There was a sound outside, and Karen thought it was Mr. Turner falling over something, and said that she hoped she would not meet him. Once or twice, when he had been drinking, he had made overtures to her, and she detested him . . . . She opened the door and came back into the room, touching me on the arm. "That beast is out there," she said, "sitting on the companion steps. If he tries to stop me, I'll call you."'"
The reading made a profound impression. The prosecution, having succeeded in having the log admitted as evidence, had put a trump card in the hands of the defense.
"What were the relations between Mr. Turner and the captain?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Were they friendly?"
"No - not very."
"Did you overhear, on the night of August 9, a conversation between Mr. Turner and Mr. Vail?"
"What was its nature?"
"They were quarreling."
"What did Williams, the butler, give you to hide, that night?"
"Mr. Turner's revolver."
"What did he say when he gave it to you?"
"He - said to throw it overboard or there would be trouble."
"Mrs. Sloane, do you recognize these two garments?"
He held up a man's dinner shirt and a white waistcoat. The stewardess, who had been calm enough, started and paled.
"I cannot tell without examining them." (They were given to her, and she looked at them.) "Yes, I have seen them."
"What are they?"
"A shirt and waistcoat of Mr. Turner's."
"When did you see them last?"
"I packed them in my trunk when we left the boat. They had been forgotten when the other trunks were packed." "Had you washed them?"
"Were they washed on shipboard?"
"They look like it. They have not been ironed."
"Who gave them to you to pack in your trunk?"
"What did you do with them on reaching New York?"
"I left them in my trunk."
"Why did you not return them to Mr. Turner?"
"I was ill, and forgot. I'd like to know what right you have going through a person's things - and taking what you want!"
The stewardess was excused, the defense having scored perceptibly. It was clear what line the young Jew intended to follow.
Oleson, the Swede, was called next, and after the usual formalities: -
"Where were you between midnight and 4 A.M. on the morning of August 12?"
"In the crow's-nest of the Ella."
"State what you saw between midnight and one o'clock."
"I saw Mate Singleton walking on the forecastle-head. Every now and then he went to the rail. He seemed to be vomiting. It was too dark to see much. Then he went aft along the port side of the house, and came forward again on the starboard side. He went to where the axe was kept."
"Where was that?"
"Near the starboard corner of the forward house. All the Turner boats have an emergency box, with an axe and other tools, in easy reach. The officer on watch carried the key."
"Could you see what he was doing?"
"No; but he was fumbling at the box. I heard him."
"Where did he go after that?"
"He went aft."
"You could not see him?"
"I didn't look. I thought I saw something white moving below me, and I was watching it."
"This white thing - what did it look like?" "Like a dog, I should say. It moved about, and then disappeared."
"I don't understand."
"Over the rail?"
"Oh - no, sir. It faded away."
"Had you ever heard talk among the men of the Ella being a haunted ship?"
"Yes - but not until after I'd signed on her!"
"Was there some talk of this 'white thing'?"
"Before the murders?"
"No, sir; not till after. I guess I saw it first."
"What did the men say about it?"
"They thought it scared Mr. Schwartz overboard. The Ella's been unlucky as to crews. They call her a 'devil ship.'"
"Did you see Mr. Singleton on deck between two and three o'clock?"
The cross-examination was very short: -
"What sort of night was it?"
"Would the first mate, as officer on watch, be supposed to see that the emergency case you speak of was in order?"
"Did the officer on watch remain on the forecastle-head?"
"Mr. Schwartz did not; Mr. Singleton did, mostly except when he went back to strike the bells."
"Could Mr. Singleton have been on deck without you seeing him?"
"Yes, if he did not move around or smoke. I could see his pipe lighted."
"Did you see his pipe that night?"
"If you were sick, would you be likely to smoke?"
This question, I believe, was ruled out.
"In case the wheel of the vessel were lashed for a short time, what would happen?"
"Depends on the weather. She'd be likely to come to or fall off considerable."
"Would the lookout know it?"
"The sails would show it, sir."
That closed the proceedings for the day. The crowd seemed reluctant to disperse. Turner's lawyers were in troubled consultation with him. Singleton was markedly more cheerful, and I thought the prosecution looked perturbed and uneasy. I went back to jail that night, and dreamed of Elsa - not as I had seen her that day, bending forward, watching every point of the evidence, but as I had seen her so often on the yacht, facing into the salt breeze as if she loved it, her hands in the pockets of her short white jacket, her hair blowing back from her forehead in damp, close-curling rings.