The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XXII. Turner's Story
"Marshall Benedict Turner."
"West 106th Street, New York City."
"Member of the firm of L. Turner's Sons, shipowners. In the coast trade."
"Do you own the yacht Ella?"
"Do you recognize this chart?"
"Yes. It is the chart of the after house of the Ella."
"Will you show where your room is on the drawing?" ,
"And Mr. Vail's?"
"Next, connecting through a bath-room."
"Where was Mr. Vail's bed on the chart?"
"Here, against the storeroom wall."
"With your knowledge of the ship and its partitions, do you think that a crime could be committed, a crime of the violent nature of this one, without making a great deal of noise and being heard in the storeroom?"
Violent opposition developing to this question, it was changed in form and broken up. Eventually, Turner answered that the partitions were heavy and he thought it possible.
"Were the connecting doors between your room and Mr. Vail's generally locked at night?"
"Yes. Not always."
"Were they locked on this particular night?"
"I don't remember."
"When did you see Mr. Vail last?"
"At midnight, or about that. I - I was not well. He went with me to my room."
"What were your relations with Mr. Vail?"
"We were old friends."
"Did you hear any sound in Mr. Vail's cabin that night?"
"None. But, as I say, I was - ill. I might not have noticed."
"Did you leave your cabin that night of August 11 or early morning of the 12th?"
"Not that I remember."
"The steersman has testified to seeing you, without your coat, in the chart-room, at two o'clock. Were you there?"
"I may have been - I think not."
"Why do you say you 'may have been - I think not'?"
"I was ill. The next day I was delirious. I remember almost nothing of that time."
"Did you know the woman Karen Hansen?"
"Only as a maid in my wife's employ."
"Did you hear the crash when Leslie broke down the door of the storeroom?"
"No. I was in a sort of stupor."
"Did you know the prisoner before you employed him on the Ella?"
"Yes; he had been in our employ several times."
"What was his reputation - I mean, as a ship's officer?"
"Do you recall the night of the 31 st of July?"
"Please tell what you know about it."
"I had asked Mr. Singleton below to have a drink with me. Captain Richardson came below and ordered him on deck. They had words, and he knocked Singleton down."
"Did you hear the mate threaten to 'get' the captain, then or later?"
"He may have made some such threat."
"Is there a bell in your cabin connecting with the maids' cabin off the chart-room?"
"No. My bell rang in the room back of the galley, where Williams slept. The boat was small, and I left my man at home. Williams looked after me."
"Where did the bell from Mr. Vail's room ring?"
"In the maids' room. Mr. Vail's room was designed for Mrs. Turner. When we asked Mrs. Johns to go with us, Mrs. Turner gave Vail her room. It was a question of baths."
"Did you ring any bell during the night?"
"Knowing the relation of the bell above Mr. Vail's berth to the bed itself, do you think he could have reached it after his injury?"
(Slowly.) "After what the doctor has said, no; he would have had to raise himself and reach up."
The cross-examination was brief but to the point:
"What do you mean by 'ill'?"
"That night I had been somewhat ill; the next day I was in bad shape."
"Did you know the woman Karen Hansen before your wife employed her?"
"A previous witness has said that the Hansen woman, starting out of her room, saw you outside and retreated. Were you outside the door at any time during that night?"
"Only before midnight."
"You said you 'might have been' in the chart-room at two o'clock."
"I have said I was ill. I might have done almost anything."
"That is exactly what we are getting at, Mr. Turner. Going back to the 30th of July, when you were not ill, did you have any words with the captain?"
"We had a few. He was exceeding his authority."
"Do you recall what you said?"
"I was indignant."
"Think again, Mr. Turner. If you cannot recall, some one else will."
"I threatened to dismiss him and put the first mate in his place. I was angry, naturally."
"And what did the captain reply?"
"He made an absurd threat to put me in irons."
"What were your relations after that?"
"They were strained. We simply avoided each other."
"Just a few more questions, Mr. Turner, and I shall not detain you. Do you carry a key to the emergency case in the forward house, the case that contained the axe?"
Like many of the questions, this was disputed hotly. It was finally allowed, and Turner admitted the key. Similar cases were carried on all the Turner boats, and he had such a key on his ring.
"Did you ever see the white object that terrified the crew?"
"Never. Sailors are particularly liable to such hysteria."
"During your delirium, did you ever see such a figure?"
"I do not recall any details of that part of my illness."
"Were you in favor of bringing the bodies back to port?"
"I -yes, certainly."
"Do you recall going on deck the morning after the murders were discovered?"
"What were the men doing at that time?"
"I believe - really, I do not like to repeat so often that I was ill that day."
"Have you any recollection of what you said to the men at that time?"
"Let me refresh your memory from the ship's log
(Reading.) "'Mr. Turner insisted that the bodies be buried at sea, and, on the crew opposing this, retired to his cabin, announcing that he considered the attitude of the men a mutiny."'
"I recall being angry at the men - not much else. My position was rational enough, however. It was midsummer, and we had a long voyage before us."
"I wish to read something else to you. The witness Leslie testified to sleeping in the storeroom, at the request of Mrs. Johns". (reading), "'giving as her reason a fear of something going wrong, as there was trouble between Mr. Turner and the captain.'"
Whatever question Mr. Goldstein had been framing, he was not permitted to use this part of the record. The log was admissible only as a record on the spot, made by a competent person and witnessed by all concerned, of the actual occurrences on the Ella. My record of Mrs. Johns's remark was ruled out; Turner was not on trial.
Turner, pale and shaking, left the stand at two o'clock that day, and I was recalled. My earlier testimony had merely established the finding of the bodies. I was now to have a bad two hours. I was an important witness, probably the most important. I had heard the scream that had revealed the tragedy, and had been in the main cabin of the after house only a moment or so after the murderer. I had found the bodies, Vail still living, and had been with the accused mate when he saw the captain prostrate at the foot of the forward companion.
All of this, aided by skillful questions, I told as exactly as possible. I told of the mate's strange manner on finding the bodies; I related, to a breathless quiet, the placing of the bodies in the jolly-boat; and the reading of the burial service over them; I told of the little boat that followed us, like some avenging spirit, carrying by day a small American flag, union down, and at night a white light. I told of having to increase the length of the towing-line as the heat grew greater, and of a fear I had that the rope would separate, or that the mysterious hand that was the author of the misfortunes would cut the line.
I told of the long nights without sleep, while, with our few available men, we tried to work the Ella back to land; of guarding the after house; of a hundred false alarms that set our nerves quivering and our hearts leaping. And I made them feel, I think, the horror of a situation where each man suspected his neighbor, feared and loathed him, and yet stayed close by him because a known danger is better than an unknown horror.
The record of my examination is particularly faulty, McWhirter having allowed personal feeling to interfere with accuracy. Here and there in the margins of his notebook I find unflattering allusions to the prosecuting attorney; and after one question, an impeachment of my motives, to which Mac took violent exception, no answer at all is recorded, and in a furious scrawl is written: "The little whippersnapper! Leslie could smash him between his thumb and finger!"
I found another curious record - a leaf, torn out of the book, and evidently designed to be sent to me, but failing its destination, was as follows: "For Heaven's sake, don't look at the girl so much! The newspaper men are on."
But, to resume my examination. The first questions were not of particular interest. Then:
"Did the prisoner know you had moved to the after house?"
"I do not know. The forecastle hands knew."
"Tell what you know of the quarrel on July 31 between Captain Richardson and the prisoner."
"I saw it from a deck window." I described it in detail.
"Why did you move to the after house?"
"At the request of Mrs. Johns. She said she was nervous."
"What reason did she give?"
"That Mr. Turner was in a dangerous mood; he had quarreled with the captain and was quarreling with Mr. Vail."
"Did you know the arrangement of rooms in the after house? How the people slept?"
"In a general way."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I knew Mr. Vail's room and Miss Lee's."
"Did you know where the maids slept?"
"You have testified that you were locked in. Was the key kept in the lock?"
"Would whoever locked you in have had only to move the key from one side of the door to the other?"
"Was the key left in the lock when you were fastened in?"
"Now, Dr. Leslie, we want you to tell us what the prisoner did that night when you told him what had happened."
"I called to him to come below, for God's sake. He seemed dazed and at a loss to know what to do. I told him to get his revolver and call the captain. He went into the forward house and got his revolver, but he did not call the captain. We went below and stumbled over the captain's body."
"What was the mate's condition?"
"When we found the body?"
"His general condition."
"He was intoxicated. He collapsed on the steps when we found the captain. We both almost collapsed."
"What was his mental condition?"
"If you mean, was he frightened, we both were."
"Was he pale?"
"I did not notice then. He was pale and looked ill later, when the crew had gathered."
"About this key: was it ever found? The key to the storeroom?"
"That same morning."
"Where? And by whom?"
"Miss Lee found it on the floor in Mr. Turner's room."
The prosecution was totally unprepared for this reply, and proceedings were delayed for a moment while the attorneys consulted. On the resumption of my examination, they made a desperate attempt to impeach my character as a witness, trying to show that I had sailed under false pretenses; that I was so feared in the after house that the women refused to allow me below, or to administer to Mr. Turner the remedies I prepared; and, finally, that I had surrendered myself to the crew as a suspect, of my own accord.
Against this the cross-examination threw all its weight. The prosecuting attorneys having dropped the question of the key, the shrewd young lawyer for the defense followed it up: -
"This key, Dr. Leslie, do you know where it is now?"
"Yes; I have it."
"Will you tell how it came into your possession?"
"Certainly. I picked it up on the deck, a night or so after the murders. Miss Lee had dropped it." I caught Elsa Lee's eye, and she gave me a warm glance of gratitude.
"Have you the key with you?"
"Yes." I produced it.
"Are you a football player, Doctor?"
"I thought I recalled you. I have seen you play several times. In spite of our friend the attorney for the commonwealth, I do not believe we will need to call character witnesses for you. Did you see Miss Lee pick up the key to the storeroom in Mr. Turner's room?"
"Did it occur to you at the time that the key had any significance?"
"I wondered how it got there."
"You say you listened inside the locked door, and heard no sound, but felt a board rise up under your knee. A moment or two later, when you called the prisoner, he was intoxicated, and reeled. Do you mean to tell us that a drunken man could have made his way in the darkness, through a cabin filled with chairs tables, and a piano, in absolute silence?"
The prosecuting attorney was on his feet in an instant, and the objection was sustained. I was next shown the keys, club, and file taken from Singleton's mattress. "You have identified these objects as having been found concealed in the prisoner's mattress. Do any of these keys fit the captain's cabin?"
"Who saw the prisoner during the days he was locked in his cabin?"
"I saw him occasionally. The cook saw him when he carried him his meals."
"Did you ever tell the prisoner where the axe was kept?"
"Did the members of the crew know?"
"I believe so. Yes."
"Was the fact that Burns carried the key to the captain's cabin a matter of general knowledge?"
"No. The crew knew that Burns and I carried the keys; they did not know which one each carried, unless -"
"Go on, please."
"If any one had seen Burns take Mrs. Johns forward and show her the axe, he would have known."
"Who were on deck at that time?"
"All the crew were on deck, the forecastle being closed. In the crow's-nest was McNamara; Jones was at the wheel."
"From the crow's-nest could the lookout have seen Burns and Mrs. Johns going forward?"
"No. The two houses were connected by an awning."
"What could the helmsman see?"
"Nothing forward of the after house."
The prosecution closed its case with me. The defense, having virtually conducted its case by cross-examination of the witnesses already called, contented itself with- producing a few character witnesses, and "rested." Goldstein made an eloquent plea of "no case," and asked the judge so to instruct the jury.
This was refused, and the case went to the jury on the seventh day - a surprisingly short trial, considering the magnitude of the crimes.
The jury disagreed. But, while they wrangled, McWhirter and I were already on the right track. At the very hour that the jurymen were being discharged and steps taken for a retrial, we had the murderer locked in my room in a cheap lodging-house off Chestnut Street.