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Title: Christabel's Crystal
Author: Carolyn Wells
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Language: English
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Christabel’s Crystal

Carolyn Wells (1905)


Of all the unexpected pleasures that have come into my life, I think perhaps the greatest was when Christabel Farland asked me to be bridesmaid at her wedding.

I always had liked Christabel at college, and though we hadn’t seen much of each other since we were graduated, I still had a strong feeling of friendship for her, and besides that I was glad to be one of the merry house party gathered at Farland Hall for the wedding festivities.

I arrived the afternoon before the wedding-day, and found the family and guests drinking tea in the library. Two other bridesmaids were there, Alice Fordham and Janet White, with both of whom I was slightly acquainted. The men, however, except Christabel’s brother Fred, were strangers to me, and were introduced as Mr. Richmond, who was to be an usher; Herbert Gay, a neighbor, who chanced to be calling; and Mr. Wayne, the tutor of Christabel’s younger brother Harold. Mrs. Farland was there too, and her welcoming words to me were as sweet and cordial as Christabel’s.

The party was in frivolous mood, and as the jests and laughter grew more hilarious, Mrs. Farland declared that she would take the bride-elect away to her room for a quiet rest, lest she should not appear at her best the next day.

“Come with me, Elinor,” said Christabel to me, “and I will show you my wedding-gifts.”

Together we went to the room set apart for the purpose, and on many white-draped tables I saw displayed the gorgeous profusion of silver, glass and bric-a-brac that are one of the chief component parts of a wedding of to-day.

I had gone entirely through my vocabulary of ecstatic adjectives and was beginning over again, when we came to a small table which held only one wedding-gift.

“That is the gem of the whole collection,” said Christabel, with a happy smile, “not only because Laurence gave it to me, but because of its intrinsic perfection and rarity.”

I looked at the bridegroom’s gift in some surprise. Instead of the conventional diamond sunburst or heart-shaped brooch, I saw a crystal ball as large as a fair-sized orange.

I knew of Christabel’s fondness for Japanese crystals and that she had a number of small ones of varying qualities; but this magnificent specimen fairly took my breath away. It was poised on the top of one of those wavecrests, which the artisans seem to think appropriately interpreted in wrought-iron. Now, I haven’t the same subtle sympathy with crystals that Christabel always has had; but still this great, perfect, limpid sphere affected me strangely. I glanced at it at first with a calm interest; but as I continued to look I became fascinated, and soon found myself obliged (if I may use the expression) to tear my eyes away.

Christabel watched me curiously. “Do you love it too?” she said, and then she turned her eyes to the crystal with a rapt and rapturous gaze that made her appear lovelier than ever. “Wasn’t it dear of Laurence?” she said. “He wanted to give me jewels of course; but I told him I would rather have this big crystal than the Koh-i-nur. I have six others, you know; but the largest of them isn’t one-third the diameter of this.”

“It is wonderful,” I said, “and I am glad you have it. I must own it frightens me a little.”

“That is because of its perfection,” said Christabel simply. “Absolute flawless perfection always is awesome. And when it is combined with perfect, faultless beauty, it is the ultimate perfection of a material thing.”

“But I thought you liked crystals because of their weird supernatural influence over you,” I said.

“That is an effect, not a cause,” Christabel replied. “Ultimate perfection is so rare in our experiences that its existence perforce produces consequences so rare as to be dubbed weird and supernatural. But I must not gaze at my crystal longer now, or I shall forget that it is my wedding-day. I’m not going to look at it again until after I return from my wedding-trip; and then, as I tell Laurence, he will have to share my affection with his wedding-gift to me.”

Christabel gave the crystal a long parting look, and then ran away to don her wedding-gown. “Elinor,” she called over her shoulder, as she neared her own door, “I’ll leave my crystal in your special care. See that nothing happens to it while I’m away.”

“Trust me!” I called back gaily, and then went in search of my sister bridesmaids.

* * * * *

The morning after the wedding began rather later than most mornings. But at last we all were seated at the breakfast-table and enthusiastically discussing the events of the night before. It seemed strange to be there without Christabel, and Mrs. Farland said that I must stay until the bridal pair returned, for she couldn’t get along without a daughter of some sort.

This remark made me look anywhere rather than at Fred Farland, and so I chanced to catch Harold’s eye. But the boy gave me such an intelligent, mischievous smile that I actually blushed and was covered with confusion. Just at that moment Katy the parlor-maid came into the dining-room, and with an anxious expression on her face said: “Mrs. Farland, do you know anything about Miss Christabel’s glass ball? It isn’t in the present-room.”

“No,” said Mrs. Farland; “but I suppose Mr. Haley put it in the safe with the silver and jewelry.”

“I don’t think so, ma’am; for he asked me was he to take any of the cut glass, and I told him you had said only the silver and gold, ma’am.”

“But that crystal isn’t cut glass, Katy; and it’s more valuable than all Miss Christabel’s silver gifts put together.”

“Oh, my! is it, ma’am? Well, then, won’t you please see if it’s all right, for I’m worried about it.”

I wish I could describe my feelings at this moment. Have you ever been in imminent danger of a fearful catastrophe of any kind, and while with all your heart and soul you hoped it might be averted, yet there was one little, tiny, hidden impulse of your mind that craved the excitement of the disaster? Perhaps it is only an ignoble nature that can have this experience, or there may be a partial excuse for me in the fact that I am afflicted with what sometimes is called the “detective instinct.” I say afflicted, for I well know that anyone else who has this particular mental bias will agree with me that it causes far more annoyance than satisfaction.

Why, one morning when I met Mrs. Van Allen in the market, I said “It’s too bad your waitress had to go out of town to attend the funeral of a near relative, when you were expecting company to luncheon.” And she was as angry as could be, and called me an impertinent busy-body.

But I just had deduced it all from her glove. You see, she had on one brand-new black-kid glove, and the other, though crumpled up in her hand, I could see never had been on at all. So I knew that she wouldn’t start to market early in the morning with such gloves if she had any sort of half-worn black ones at all.

And I knew that she had given away her next-best pair recently --it must have been the night before, or she would have tried them on sooner; and as her cook is an enormous woman, I was sure that she had given to her waitress. And why would she, unless the maid was going away in great haste? And what would require such a condition of things except a sudden call to a funeral. And it must have been out of town, or she would have waited until morning, and then she could have bought black gloves for herself. And it must have been a near relative to make the case so urgent. And I knew that Mrs. Van Allen expected luncheon guests, because her fingers were stained from paring apples, and why would she pare her own apples so early in the morning except to assist the cook in some hurried preparations? Why, it was all as plain as could be, and every bit true; but Mrs. Van Allen wouldn’t believe my explanation, and to this day she thinks I made my discoveries by gossiping with her servants.

Perhaps all this will help you to understand why I felt a sort of nervous exhilaration that had in it an element of secret pleasure, when we learned that Christabel’s crystal really was missing.

Mr. Haley, who was a policeman, had remained in the present room during all of the hours devoted to the wedding celebration, and after the guests had gone he had packed up the silver, gold and jewels and put them away in the family safe, which stood in a small dressing-room between Mrs. Farland’s bedroom and Fred’s. He had worn civilian’s dress during the evening, and few if any of the guests knew that he was guarding the valuable gifts. The mistake had been in not telling him explicitly to care for the crystal as the most valuable gem of all; but this point had been overlooked, and the ignorant officer had assumed that it was merely a piece of cut glass, of no more value than any of the carafes or decanters. When told that the ball’s intrinsic value was many thousands of dollars, and that it would be next to impossible to duplicate it at any price, his amazement was unbounded and he appeared extremely grave.

“You ought to have told me,” he said. “Sure, it’s a case for the chief now!” Haley had been hastily telephoned for to come to Farland Hall and tell his story, and now he telephoned for the chief of police and a detective.

I felt a thrill of delight at this, for I always had longed to see a real detective in the act of detecting.

Of course everybody was greatly excited, and I just gave myself up to the enjoyment of the situation, when suddenly I remembered that Christabel had said that she would leave her crystal in my charge, and that in a way I was responsible for its safety. This changed my whole attitude, and I realized that, instead of being an idly curious observer, I must put all my detective instinct to work immediately and use every endeavor to recover the crystal.

First, I flew to my own room and sat down for a few moments to collect my thoughts and lay my plans. Of course, as the windows of the present-room were found in the morning fastened as they were left the night before, the theft must have been committed by someone in the house. Naturally it was not one of the family or the guests of the house. As to the servants, they all were honest and trustworthy--I had Mrs. Farland’s word for that. There was no reason to suspect the policeman, and thus my process of elimination brought me to Mr. Wayne, Harold’s tutor.

Of course it must have been the tutor. In nine-tenths of all the detective stories I ever have read the criminal proved to be a tutor or secretary or some sort of gentlemanly dependent of the family; and now I had come upon a detective story in real life, and here was the regulation criminal ready to fit right into it. It was the tutor of course; but I should be discreet and not name him until I had collected some undeniable evidence.

Next, I went down to the present-room to search for clues. The detective had not arrived yet, and I was glad to be first on the ground, for I remembered how much importance Sherlock Holmes always attached to the search. I didn’t really expect that the tutor had left shreds of his clothing clinging to the table-legs, or anything absurd like that; but I fully expected to find a clue of some sort. I hoped that it wouldn’t be cigar ashes; for though detectives in fiction always can tell the name and price of cigar from a bit of ash, yet I’m so ignorant about such things that all ashes are alike to me.

I hunted carefully all over the floor; but I couldn’t find a thing that seemed the least bit like a clue, except a faded white carnation. Of course that wasn’t an unusual thing to find, the day after a wedding; but it was the very flower I had given to Fred Farland the night before, and he had worn it in his buttonhole. I recognized it perfectly, for it was wired and I had twisted it a certain way when I adjusted it for him. This didn’t seem like strong evidence against the tutor; but it was convincing to me, for if Mr. Wayne was villain enough to steal Christabel’s crystal, he was wicked enough to manage to get Fred’s boutonniere and leave it in the room, hoping thereby to incriminate Fred. So fearful was I that this trick might make trouble for Fred that I said nothing about the carnation; for I knew that it was in Fred’s coat when he said good-night, and then we all went directly to our rooms. When the detective came he examined the room, and I know that he didn’t find anything in the way of evidence; but he tried to appear as if he had, and he frowned and jotted down notes in a book after the most approved fashion.

Then he called in everybody who had been in the house over night and questioned each one. I could see at once that his questions to the family and guests were purely perfunctory, and that he too had his suspicions of the tutor.

Finally, it was Mr. Wayne’s turn. He always was a nervous little man, and now he seemed terribly flustered. The detective was gentle with him, and in order to set him more at ease began to converse generally on crystals. He asked Mr. Wayne if he had traveled much, if he had ever been to Japan, and if he knew much about the making and polishing of crystal balls.

The tutor fidgeted around a good deal and seemed disinclined to look the detective in the eye; but he replied that he never had been to Japan, and that he never had heard of a Japanese rock crystal until he had seen Miss Farland’s wedding-gift, and that even then he had no idea of its great value until since its disappearance he had heard its price named.

This sounded well; but his manner was so embarrassed, and he had such an effect of a guilty man, that I felt sure my intuitions were correct and that he himself was the thief.

The detective seemed to think so too, for he said at last: “Mr. Wayne, your words seem to indicate your innocence; but your attitudes do not. Unless you can explain why you are so agitated and apparently afraid, I shall be forced to the conclusion that you know more about this than you have admitted.”

Then Mr. Wayne said: “Must I tell all I know about it, sir?”

“Certainly,” said the detective.

“Then,” said Mr. Wayne, “I shall have to state that when I left my room late last night to get a glass of water from the ice-pitcher, which always stands on the hall-table, I saw Mr. Fred Farland just going into the sitting-room, or present-room, as it has been called for the last few days.”

There was a dead silence. This, then, was why Mr. Wayne had acted so embarrassed; this was the explanation of my finding the white carnation there; and I think the detective thought that the sudden turn affairs had taken incriminated Fred Farland.

I didn’t think so at all. The idea of Fred’s stealing his own sister’s wedding-gift was too preposterous to be considered for a moment.

“Were you in the room late at night, Mr. Farland?” asked the detective.

“I was,” said Fred.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“You didn’t ask me, and as I didn’t take I saw no reason for referring to the fact that I was in the room.”

“Why did you go there?”

“I went,” said Fred coolly, “with the intention of taking the crystal and hiding it, as a practical joke on Christabel.”

“Why did you not do so?”

“Because the ball wasn’t there. I didn’t think then that it had been stolen, but that it had been put away safely with the other valuables. Since this is not so, and the crystal is missing, we all must get to work and find it somehow before my sister returns.”

The tutor seemed like a new man after Fred had spoken. His face cleared, and he appeared intelligent, alert and entirely at his ease. “Let me help,” he said. “Pray command my services in any way you choose.”

But the detective didn’t seem so reassured by Fred’s statements. Indeed, I believe he really thought that Christabel’s brother was guilty of theft.

But I believed implicitly every word Fred had uttered, and begging him to come with me, I led the way again to the sitting-room. Mr. Wayne and Janet White came too, and the four of us scrutinized the floor, walls and furniture of the room over and over again. “There’s one thing certain,” I said thoughtfully: “The crystal was taken either by someone in the house or someone out of it. We’ve been confining our suspicions to those inside. Why not a real burglar?”

“But the windows are fastened on the inside,” said Janet.

“I know it,” I replied. “But if a burglar could slip a catch with a thin-bladed knife — and they often do — then he could slip it back again with the same knife and so divert suspicion.”

“Bravo, Miss Frost!” said Mr. Wayne, with an admiring glance at me. “You have the true detective instinct. I’ll go outside and see if there are any traces.”

A moment later he was on the veranda and excitedly motioning us to raise the window. Fred pushed back the catch and opened the long French window that opened on the front veranda.

“I believe Miss Frost has discovered the mystery,” said Mr. Wayne, and he pointed to numerous scratches on the sash-frame. The house had been painted recently, and it was seen easily that the fresh scratches were made by a thin knife-blade pushed between the sashes.

“By Jove!” cried Fred, “that’s it, Elinor; and the canny fellow had wit enough to push the catch back in place after he was outside again.”

“I said nothing, for a moment. My thoughts were adjusting themselves quickly to the new situation from which I must make my deductions. I realized at once that I must give up my theory of the tutor, of course, and anyway I hadn’t had a scrap of evidence against him except his fitness for the position. But, given the surety of burglars from outside, I knew just what to do: look for footprints, to be sure.

I glanced around for the light snow that always falls in detective stories just before the crime is committed, and is testified, usually by the village folk, to have stopped just at the crucial moment. But there wasn’t a sign of snow or rain or even dew. The veranda showed no footprints, nor could the smooth lawn or flagged walks be expected to. I leaned against the veranda railing in despair, wondering what Sherlock Holmes would do in a provoking absence of footprints, when I saw in the flower-bed beneath several well-defined marks of a man’s shoes.

“There you are, Fred!” I cried, and rushed excitedly down the steps.

They all followed, and, sure enough, in the soft earth of the wide flower-bed that surrounded the veranda were strong, clear prints of large masculine footgear.

“That clears us, girls,” cried Janet gleefully, as she measured her daintily shod foot against the depressions.

“Don’t touch them!” I cried. “Call Mr. Prout the detective.”

Mr. Prout appeared, and politely hiding his chagrin at not having discovered these marks before I did, proceeded to examine them closely.

“You see,” he said in a pompous and dictatorial way, “there are four prints pointing toward the house, and four pointing toward the street. Those pointing to the street are superimposed upon those leading to the house, hence we deduce that they were made by a burglar who crossed the flower-bed, climbed the veranda, stepped over the rail and entered at the window. He then returned the same way, leaving these last footprints above the others.”

As all this was so palpably evident from the facts of the case, I was not impressed much by the subtlety of his deductions and asked what he gathered from the shape of the prints.

He looked at the well-defined prints intently. “They are of a medium size,” he announced at last, “and I should say that they were made by a man of average height and weight, who had a normal-sized foot.”

Well, if that wasn’t disappointing! I thought of course that he would tell the man’s occupation and social status, even if he didn’t say that he was left-handed or that he stuttered, which is the kind of thing detectives in fiction always discover.

So I lost all interest in that Prout man, and began to do a little deducing on my own account. Although I felt sure, as we all did, that the thief was a burglar from outside, yet I couldn’t measure the shoes of an absent and unidentified burglar, and somehow I felt an uncontrollable impulse to measure shoes.

Without consulting anybody, I found a tape-measure and carefully measured the footprints. Then I went through the house and measured all the men’s shoes I could find, from the stable-boy’s up to Fred’s.

It’s an astonishing fact, but nearly all of them fitted the measurements of the prints on the flower-bed. Men’s feet are so nearly universal in size, or rather their shoes are, and too, what with extension soles and queer-shaped lasts, you can’t tell anything about the size or style of a man from his footprints.

So I gave up deducing and went to talk to Fred Farland.

“Fred,” I said simply, “did you take Christabel’s crystal?”

“No,” he answered with equal simplicity, and he looked me in the eyes so squarely and honestly that I knew he spoke the truth.

“Who did?” I next inquired.

“It was a professional burglar,” said Fred. “and a mighty cute one; but I’m going to track him and get that crystal before Christabel comes home.”

“Let me help!” I cried eagerly. “I’ve got the true detective instinct, and I know I can do something.”

“You?” said Fred incredulously. “No, you can’t help; but I don’t mind telling you my plan. You see I expect Lord Hammerton down to make me a visit. He’s a jolly young English chap that I chummed with in London. Now, he’s a first-rate amateur detective, and though I didn’t expect him till next month, he’s in New York, and I’ve no doubt that he’d be willing to come right off. No one will know he’s doing any detecting; and I’ll wager he’ll lay his hands on that ball in less than a week.”

“Lovely!” I exclaimed. “And I’ll be here to see him do it!”

“Yes, the mater says you’re to stay a fortnight or more; but mind, this is our secret.”

“Trust me,” I said earnestly; “but let me help if I can, won’t you?”

“You’ll help most by not interfering,” declared Fred, and though it didn’t altogether suit me, I resolved to help that way rather than not at all.

* * * * *

A few days later Lord Hammerton came. He was not in any way an imposing-looking man. Indeed, he was a typical Englishman of the Lord Cholmondeley type, and drawled and used a monocle most effectively. The afternoon he came we told him all about the crystal. The talk turned to detective work and detective instinct.

Lord Hammerton opined in his slow languid drawl that the true detective mind was not dependent upon instinct, but was a nicely adjusted mentality that was quick to see the cause back of an effect.

Herbert Gay said that while this doubtless was so, yet it was an even chance whether the cause so skilfully deduced was the true one.

“Quite so,” agreed Lord Hammerton amiably, “and that is why the detective in real life fails so often. He deduces properly the logical facts from the evidence before him; but real life and real events are so illogical that his deductions, though true theoretically, are false from mere force of circumstances.”

“And that is why,” I said, “detectives in story-books always deduce rightly, because the obliging author makes the literal facts coincide with the theoretical ones.”

Lord Hammerton put up his monocle and favored me with a truly British stare. “It is unusual,” he remarked slowly, “to find such a clear comprehension of this subject in a feminine mind.”

They all laughed at this; but I went on: “It is easy enough to make the spectacular detective of fiction show marvelous penetration and logical deduction when the antecedent circumstances are arranged carefully to prove it all; but place even Sherlock Holmes face to face with a total stranger, and I, for one, don’t believe that he could tell anything definite about him.”

“Oh, come now! I can’t agree to that,” said Lord Hammerton, more interestedly than he had spoken before. “I believe there is much in the detective instinct besides the exotic and the artificial. There is a substantial basis of divination built on minute observation, and which I have picked up in some measure myself.”

“Let us test that statement,” cried Herbert Gay. “Here comes Mr. Wayne, Harold’s tutor. Lord Hammerton never has seen him, and before Wayne even speaks let Lord Hammerton tell us some detail, which he divines by observation.

All agreed to this, and a few minutes later Mr. Wayne came up. We laughingly explained the situation to him and asked him to have himself deduced.

Lord Hammerton looked at Arthur Wayne for a few minutes, and then said, still in his deliberate drawl: “You have lived in Japan for the past seven years, in Government service in the interior, and only recently have returned.”

A sudden silence fell upon us all — not so much because Lord Hammerton made deductions from no apparent evidence, but because we all knew Mr. Wayne had told Detective Prout that he never had been in Japan.

Fred Farland recovered himself first, and said: “Now that you’ve astonished us with your results, tell us how you attained them.”

“It is simple enough,” said Lord Hammerton, looking at young Wayne, who had turned deathly white. “It is simple enough, sir. The breast-pocket on the outside of your coat is on the right-hand side. Now it never is put there. Your coat is a good one — Poole, or some London tailor of that class. He never made a coat with an outer breast-pocket on the right side. You have had the coat turned — thus the original left-hand pocket appears now on the right side.

“Looking at you, I see that you have not the constitution which could recover from an acute attack of poverty. If you had it turned from want, you would not have your present effect of comfortable circumstances. Now, you must have had it turned because you were in a country where tailoring is not frequent, but sewing and delicate manipulation easy to find. India? You are not bronzed. China? The same. Japan? Probable; but not treaty ports — there are plenty of tailors there. Hence, the interior of Japan.

“Long residence, to make it incumbent on you to get the coat turned, means Government service, because unattached foreigners are allowed only as tourists. Then the cut of the coat is not so very old, and as contracts run seven or fourteen years with the Japanese, I repeat that you probably resided seven years in the interior of Japan, possibly as an irrigation engineer.”

I felt sorry then for poor Mr. Wayne. Lord Hammerton’s deductions were absolutely true, and coming upon the young man so suddenly he made no attempt to refute them.

And so as he had been so long in Japan, and must have been familiar with rock crystals for years, Fred questioned him sternly in reference to his false statements.

Then he broke down completely and confessed that he had taken Christabel’s crystal because it had fascinated him.

He declared that he had a morbid craving for crystals; that he had crept down to the present-room late that night, merely to look at the wonderful, beautiful ball; that it had so possessed him that he carried it to his room to gaze at for awhile, intending to return with it after an hour or so. When he returned he saw Fred Farland, and dared not carry out his plan.

“And the footprints?” I asked eagerly.

“I made them myself,” he explained with a dogged shamefacedness. “I did have a moment of temptation to keep the crystal, and so tried to make you think that a burglar had taken it; but the purity and beauty of the ball itself so reproached me that I tried to return it. I didn’t do so then, and since —”

“Since?” urged Fred, not unkindly.

“Well, I’ve been torn between fear and the desire to keep the ball. You will find it in my trunk. Here is the key.”

There was a certain dignity about the young man that made him seem unlike a criminal, or even a wrong-doer.

As for me, I entirely appreciated the fact that he was hypnotized by the crystal and in a way was not responsible. I don’t believe that man would steal anything else in the world.

Somehow the others agreed with me, and as they had recovered the ball, they took no steps to prosecute Mr. Wayne.

He went away at once, still in that dazed, uncertain condition. We never saw him again; but I hope for his own sake that he never was subjected to such a temptation.

Just before he left, I said to him out of sheer curiosity: “Please explain one point, Mr. Wayne. Since you opened and closed that window purposely to mislead us, since you made those footprints in the flower-bed for the same reason, and since to do it you must have gone out and then come back, why were the outgoing footprints made over the incoming ones?”

“I walked backward on purpose,” said Mr. Wayne simply.


THE END

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