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"TALLMAN! LET US HAVE TALLMAN!"
I do not know why the coroner had so long delayed to call this witness. In the ordinary course of events his testimony should have preceded mine, but the ordinary course of events had not been followed, and it was only at the request of Mr. Moore himself that he was now allowed the privilege of appearing before this coroner and jury.
I speak of it as a privilege because he himself evidently regarded it as such. Indeed, his whole attitude and bearing as he addressed himself to the coroner showed that he was there to be looked at and that he secretly thought he was very well worth this attention. Possibly some remembrance of the old days, in which he had gone in and out before these people in a garb suggestive of penury, made the moment when he could appear before them in a guise more befitting his station one of incalculable importance to him.
At all events, he confronted us all with an aspect which openly challenged admiration. When, in answer to the coroner's inquiries, it became his duty to speak, he did so with a condescension which would have called up smiles if the occasion had been one of less seriousness, and his connection with it as unimportant as he would have it appear.
What he said was in the way of confirming the last witness' testimony as to his having been at the Moore house on Tuesday evening. Mr. Moore, who was very particular as to dates and days, admitted that the light which he had seen in a certain window of his ancestral home on the evening when he summoned the police was but the repetition of one he had detected there the evening before. It was this repetition which alarmed him and caused him to break through all his usual habits and leave his home at night to notify the police.
"The old sneak!" thought I. "Why didn't he tell us this before?" And I allowed myself afresh doubt of his candor which had always seemed to me somewhat open to question. It is possible that the coroner shared my opinion, or that he felt it incumbent upon him to get what evidence he could from the sole person living within view of the house in which such ghastly events had taken place. For, without betraying the least suspicion, and yet with the quiet persistence for which men in his responsible position are noted, he subjected this suave old man to such a rigid examination as to what he had seen, or had not seen, from his windows, that no possibility seemed to remain of his concealing a single fact which could help to the elucidation of this or any other mystery connected with the old mansion.
He asked him if he had seen Mr. Jeffrey go in on the night in question; if he had ever seen any one go in there since the wedding; or even if he had seen any one loitering about the steps, or sneaking into the rear yard. But the answer was always no; these same noes growing more and more emphatic, and the gentleman more and more impenetrable and dignified as the examination went on. In fact, he was as unassailable a witness as I have ever heard testify before any jury. Beyond the fact already mentioned of his having observed a light in the opposite house on the two evenings in question, he admitted nothing. His life in the little cottage was so engrossing --he had his organ--his dog--why should he look out of the window? Had it not been for his usual habit of letting his dog run the pavements for a quarter of an hour before finally locking up for the night, he would not have seen as much as he did.
"Have you any stated hour for doing this?" the coroner now asked.
"Yes; half-past nine"
"And was this the hour when you caw that light?"
"Yes, both times."
As he had appeared at the station-house at a few minutes before ten he was probably correct in this statement. But, notwithstanding this, I did not feel implicit confidence in him. He was too insistent in his regret at not being able to give greater assistance in the disentanglement of a mystery so affecting the honor of the family of which he was now the recognized head. His voice, nicely attuned to the occasion, was admirable; so was his manner; but I mentally wrote him down as one I should enjoy outwitting if the opportunity ever came my way.
He wound up with such a distinct repetition of his former emphatic assertion as to the presence of light in the old house on Tuesday as well as Wednesday evening that Mr. Jeffrey's testimony in this regard received a decided confirmation. I looked to see some open recognition of this, when suddenly, and with a persistence understood only by the police, the coroner recalled Mr. Jeffrey and asked him what proof he had to offer that his visit of Tuesday had not been repeated the next night and that he was not in the building when that fatal trigger was pulled.
At this leading question, a lawyer sitting near me, edged himself forward as if he hoped for some sign from Mr. Jeffrey which would warrant him in interfering. But Mr, Jeffrey gave no such sign. I doubt if he even noticed this man's proximity, though he knew him well and had often employed him as his legal adviser in times gone by. He was evidently exerting himself to recall the name which so persistently eluded his memory, putting his hand to his head and showing the utmost confusion.
"I can not give you one," he finally stammered. "There is a man who could tell--if only I could remember his name." Suddenly with a loud cry which escaped him involuntarily, he gave a gurgling laugh and we heard the name "Tallman!" leap from his lips.
The witness had at last remembered whom he had met at the cemetery gate at the hour, or near the hour, his wife lay dying in the lower part of the city.
The effect was electrical. One of the spectators--some country boor, no doubt--so far forgot himself as to cry out loud enough for all to hear:
"Tallman! Let us have Tallman!"
Of course he met with an instant rebuke, but I did not wait to hear it, or to see order restored, for a glance from the coroner had already sent me to the door in search of this new witness.
My destination was the Cosmos Club, for Phil Tallman and his habits and haunts were as well known in Washington as the figure of Liberty on the summit of the Capitol dome. When I saw him I did not wonder. Never have I seen a more amiable looking man, or one with a more absentminded expression. To my query as to whether he had ever met Mr. Jeffrey at or near the entrance of Rock Creek Cemetery, he replied with an amazed look and the quick response:
"Of course I did. It was the very night that his wife-- But what's up? You look excited for a detective."
"Come to the morgue and see. This testimony of yours will prove invaluable to Mr. Jeffrey."
I shall never forget the murmur of suppressed excitement which greeted us as I reappeared before coroner and jury accompanied by the gentleman who had been called for in such peremptory tones a short time before.
Mr. Jeffrey, who had attempted to rise at our entrance, but seemed to lack the ability, gave a faint smile as Tallman's good-natured face appeared; and the coroner, feeling, perhaps, that some cords are liable to break if stretched too strongly, administered the oath and made the necessary inquiries with as little delay as was compatible with the solemnity of the occasion.
The result was an absolute proof that Mr. Jeffrey had been near Soldiers' Home as late as seven, which was barely fifteen minutes previous to the hour Mrs. Jeffrey's watch was stopped by her fall in the old house on Waverley Avenue. As the distance between the two places could not be compassed in that time, Mr. Jeffrey's alibi could be regarded as established.
When we were all rising, glad of an adjournment which restored free movement and an open interchange of speech, a sudden check in the general rush called our attention back to Mr. Jeffrey. He was standing facing Miss Tuttle, who was still sitting in a strangely immovable attitude in her old place. He had just touched her on the arm, and now, with a look of alarm, he threw up the veil which had kept her face hidden from all beholders.
A vision of loveliness greeted us, but that was not all. It was an unconscious loveliness. Miss Tuttle had fainted away, sitting upright in her chair.
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