When I first saw John Syrel of the New York Daily News, he was standing before an open window of my house gazing out on the city. It was about six o’clock and the lights were just going on. All down 33rd Street was a long line of gayly illuminated buildings. He was not a tall man, but thanks to the erectness of his posture, and the suppleness of his movement, it would take no athlete to tell that he was of fine build. He was twenty-three years old when I first saw him, and was already a reporter on the News. He was not a handsome man; his face was clean-shaven, and his chin showed him to be of strong character. His eyes and hair were brown.
As I entered the room he turned around slowly and addressed me in a slow, drawling tone: “I think I have the honor of speaking to Mr. Egan, chief of police.” I assented, and he went on: “My name is John Syrel and my business,—to tell you frankly, is to learn all I can about that case of the Raymond mortgage.”
I started to speak but he silenced me with a wave of his hand. “Though I belong to the staff of the Daily News,” he continued, “I am not here as an agent of the paper,”
“I am not here,” I interrupted coldly, “to tell every newspaper reporter or adventurer about private affairs. James, show this man out.”
Syrel turned without a word and I heard his steps echo up the driveway.
However, this was not destined to be the last time I ever saw Syrel, as events will show.
The morning after I first saw John Syrel, I proceeded to the scene of the crime to which he had alluded. On the train I picked up a newspaper and read the following account of the crime and theft, which had followed it:
“Great Crime Committed in Suburbs of City”
“Mayor Proceeding to Scenes of Crime”
On the morning of July 1st, a crime and serious theft were committed on the outskirts of the city. Miss Raymond was killed and the body of a servant was found outside of the house. Mr. Raymond of Santuka Lake was awakened on Tuesday morning by a scream and two revolver shots which proceeded from his wife’s room. He tried to open the door but it would not open. He was almost certain the door was locked from the inside, when suddenly it swung open disclosing a room in frightful disorder. On the center of the floor was a revolver and on his wife’s bed was a blood stain in the shape of a hand. His wife was missing, but on a closer search he found his daughter under the bed, stone dead. The window was broken in two places. Miss Raymond had a bullet wound on her body and her head was fearfully cut. The body of a servant was found outside with a bullet hole through this head. Mrs. Raymond has not been found.
The room was upset. The bureau drawers were out as if the murderer had been looking for something. Chief of Police Egan is on the scene of the crime, etc., etc.
Just then the conductor called out “Santuka!” The train came to a stop, and getting out of the car I walked up to the house. On the porch I met Gregson, who was supposed to be the ablest detective in the force. He gave me a plan of the house which he said he would like to have me look at before we went in.
“The body of the servant,” he said, “is that of John Standish. He has been with family 12 years and was a perfectly honest man. He was only 32 years old.”
“The bullet which killed him was not found?” I asked.
“No,” he answered; and then, “Well, you had better come in and see for yourself. By the way, there was a fellow hanging around here, who was trying to see the body. When I refused to let him in, he went around to where the servant was shot and I saw him go down on his knees on the grass and begin to search. A few minutes later he stood up and leaned against a tree. Then he came up to the house and asked to see the body again. I said he could if he would go away afterwards. He assented, and when he got inside the room he went down on his knees and under the bed and hunted around. Then he went over to the window and examined the broken pane carefully. After that he declared himself satisfied and went down towards the hotel.”
After I had examined the room to my satisfaction, I found that I might as well try to see through a millstone as to try to fathom this mystery. As I finished my investigation I met Gregson in the laboratory.
“I suppose you heard about the mortgage,” said he, as we went down stairs. I answered in the negative, and he told me that a valuable mortgage had disappeared from the room in which Miss Raymond was killed. The night before Mr. Raymond had placed the mortgage in a drawer and it had disappeared.”
On my way to town that night I met Syrel again, and he bowed cordially to me. I began to feel ashamed of myself for sending him out of my house. As I went into the car the only vacant seat was next to him. I sat down and apologized for my rudeness of the day before. He took it lightly and, there being nothing to say, we sat in silence. At last I ventured a remark.
“What do you think of the case?”
“I don’t think anything of it as yet. I haven’t had time yet.”
Nothing daunted I began again. “Did you learn anything?”
Syrel dug his hand into his pocket and produced a bullet. I examined it.
“Where did you find it?” I asked.
“In the yard,” he answered briefly.
At this I again relapsed into my seat. When we reached the city, night was coming on. My first day’s investigation was not very successful.
My next day’s investigation was no more successful than the first. My friend Syrel was not at home. The maid came into Mr. Raymond’s room while I was there and gave notice that she was going to leave. “Mr. Raymond,” she said, “there was queer noises outside my window last night. I’d like to stay, sir, but it grates on my nerves.” Beyond this nothing happened, and I came home worn out. On the morning of the next day I was awakened by the maid who had a telegram in her hand. I opened it and found it was from Gregson. “Come at once,” it said “startling development.” I dressed hurriedly and took the first car to Santuka. When I reached the Santuka station, Gregson was waiting for me in a runabout. As soon as I got into the carriage Gregson told me what had happened.
“Someone was in the house last night. You know Mr. Raymond asked me to sleep there. Well, to continue, last night, about one, I began to be very thirsty. I went into the hall to get a drink from the faucet there, and as I was passing from my room (I sleep in Miss Raymond’s room) into the hall I heard somebody in Mrs. Raymond’s room. Wondering why Mr. Raymond was up at that time of night I went into the sitting room to investigate. I opened the door of Mrs. Raymond’s room. The body of Miss Raymond was lying on the sofa. A man was kneeling beside it. His face was away from me, but I could tell by his figure that he was not Mr. Raymond. As I looked he got up softly and I saw him open a bureau. He took something out and put it into his pocket. As he turned around he saw me, and I saw that he was a young man. With a cry of rage he sprang at me, and having no weapon I retreated. He snatched up a heavy Indian club and swung it over my head. I gave a cry which must have alarmed the house, for I know nothing more till I saw Mr. Raymond bending over me.”
“How did this man look,” I asked. “Would you know him if you saw him again?”
“I think not,” he answered, “I only saw his profile.”
“The only explanation I can give is this,” said I. “The murderer was in Miss Raymond’s room and when she came in he overpowered her and inflicted the gash. He then made for Mrs. Raymond’s room and carried her off after having first shot Miss Raymond, who attempted to rise. Outside the house he met Standish, who attempted to stop him and was shot.”
Gregson smiled. “That solution is impossible,” he said.
As we reached the house I saw John Syrel, who beckoned me aside. “If you come with me,” he said, “you will learn something that may be valuable to you.” I excused myself to Gregson and followed Syrel. As we reached the walk he began to talk.
“Let us suppose that the murderer or murderess escaped from the house. Where would they go? Naturally they wanted to get away. Where did they go? Now, there are two railroad stations near by, Santuka and Lidgeville. I have ascertained that they did not go by Santuka. So did Gregson. I supposed, therefore, that they went by Lidgeville. Gregson didn’t; that’s the difference. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. I followed a straight line between here and Lidgeville. At first there was nothing. About two miles farther on I saw some footprints in a marshy hollow. They consisted of three footprints. I took an impression. Here it is. You see this one is a woman’s. I have compared it with one of Mrs. Raymond’s boots. They are identical. The others are mates. They belong to a man. I compared the bullet I found, where Standish was killed, with one of the remaining cartridges in the revolver that was found in Mrs. Raymond’s room. They were mates. Only one shot had been fired and as I had found one bullet, I concluded that either Mrs. or Miss Raymond had fired the shot. I preferred to think Mrs. Raymond fired it because she had fled. Summing these things up and also taking into consideration that Mrs. Raymond must have had some cause to try to kill Standish, I concluded that John Standish killed Miss Raymond through the window of her mother’s room, Friday night. I also conclude Mrs. Raymond after ascertaining that her daughter was dead, shot Standish through the window and killed him. Horrified at what she had done she hid behind the door when Mr. Raymond came in. Then she ran down the back stairs. Going outside she stumbled upon the revolver Standish had used and picking it up took it with her. Somewhere between here and Lidgeville she met the owner of these footprints, either by accident or design and walked with him to the station where they took the early train for Chicago. The station master did not see the man. He says that only a woman bought a ticket, so I concluded that the young man didn’t go. Now you must tell me what Gregson told you.”
“How did you know all this,” exclaimed I astonshed. And then I told him about the midnight visitor. He did not appear to be much astonished, and he said “I guess that the young man is our friend of the footprints. Now you had better go get a brace of revolvers and pack your suitcase if you wish to go with me to find this young man and Mrs. Raymond, whom I think is with him.
Greatly surprised at what I had heard I took the first train back to town. I bought a pair of fine Colt revolvers, a dark lantern, and two changes of clothing. We went over to Lidgeville and found that a young man had left on the six o’clock train for Ithaca. On reaching Ithaca we found that he had changed trains and was now half way to Princeton, New Jersey. It was five o’clock, but we took a fast train and expected to overtake him half way between Ithaca and Princeton. What was our chagrin when on reaching the slow train, to find he had gotten off at Indianous and was now probably safe. Thoroughly disappointed we took the train for Indianous. The ticket seller said that a young man in a light gray suit had taken a bus to the Raswell Hotel. We found the bus which the station master said he had taken, in the street. We went up to the driver and he admitted that he had started for the Raswell Hotel in his cab.
“But,” said the old fellow, “when I reached there, the fellow had clean disappeared, an’ I never got his fare.”
Syrel groaned; it was plain that we had lost the young man. We took the next train for New York and telegraphed to Mr. Raymond that we would be down Monday. Sunday night, however, I was called to the phone and recognized Syrel’s voice. He directed me to come at once to five hundred thirty-four Chestnut Street. I met him on the doorstep.
“What have you heard?” I asked.
“I have an agent in Indianous,” he replied, “in the shape of an Arab boy whom I employ for 10 cents a day. I told him to spot the woman and today I got a telegram from him (I left him money to send one), saying to come at once. So come on.”
We took the train for Indianous. “Smidy,” the young Arab, met us at the station.
“You see, sur, it’s dis way. You says, ‘Spot de guy wid dat hack,’ and I says I would. Dat night a young dude comes out of er house on Pine Street and give the cabman a $10 bill. An den he went back into the house and a minute after he comes out wid a woman, an’ den day went down here a little way an’ goes into a house farther down the street, I’ll show you de place.”
We followed Smidy down the street until we arrived at a corner house. The ground floor was occupied by a cigar store, but the second floor was evidently for rent. As we stood there a face appeared at the window and, seeing us, hastily retreated. Syrel pulled a picture from his pocket. “It’s she,” he exclaimed, and calling us to follow he dashed into a little side door. We heard voices upstairs, a shuffle of feet and a noise as if a door had been shut.
“Up the stairs,” shouted Syrel, and we followed him, taking two steps at a bound. As we reached the top landing we were met by a young man.
“What right have you to enter this house?” he demanded.
“The right of the law,” replied Syrel.
“I didn’t do it” broke out the young man. “It was this way. Agnes Raymond loved me—she did not love Standish—he shot her; and God did not let her murder go unrevenged. It was well Mrs. Raymond killed him, for his blood would have been on my hands. I went back to see Agnes before she was buried. A man came in. I knocked him down. I didn’t know until a moment ago that Mrs. Raymond had killed him.
“I forgot Mrs. Raymond” screamed Syrel, “where is she?”
“She is out of your power forever,” said the young man.
Syrel brushed past him and, with Smidy and I following, burst open the door of the room at the head of the stairs. We rushed in.
On the floor lay a woman, and as soon as I touched her heart I knew she was beyond the doctor’s skill.
“She has taken poison,” I said. Syre looked around, the young man had gone. And we stood there aghast in the presence of death.
This story was written by eighth grader F. Scott Fitzgerald when he attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul, Minn. It was published in the school’s combination newspaper and literary magazine.
Published in St. Paul Academy Now and Then magazine (1909).