The Judge Found the Body
Romance,buried treasure, and a murder mystery solved by judicial sympathy and insight
OLD JUDGE MURRAY found the birdman’s body. He was hurrying through the courthouse park that hot summer morning, and when he came around the fountain, there it was, lying in four feet of water.
The judge stood in the shadow of the courthouse looking at the body, and the feeling of well-being that had been his, vanished.
“Poor old boy,” the judge said aloud. “Poor old boy.” And then, seeing the host of linnets and sparrows on the walk and on the stone railing around the pool, he added: “You little guys will miss him.”
What had happened seemed obvious enough. The birdman had been perched on the narrow railing he sat there every morning with his sack of rice in his lap. calling the birds down, whispering to them, letting them sit on his hands and his shoulders and his knees and, losing his balance, he had fallen backward into the pool and hit his head on the iron foot of the boy, wrho, bucket in hand, had stood for half a century in front of the courthouse. He lay on his back among the lily pads, and near him was the sodden brown paper sack that had held the rice, and another, smaller sack, one of those little strijx*d ones grocers put candy in.
The judge shook his white head, took off his glasses and polished them with a faded blue handkerchief, took one last look at the body and hurried up the worn stone steps into the cool, musty depths of the building. At that moment the big dock in the tower said it was eight.
He didn’t go to his chambers. Instead he went right through the building and down the flight of steps at the back to the stone bulk of the jail where the police department had its headquarters. Lee Hall, the desk sergeant, said later that the old judge choked a couple of times when he told what had happened. But Lee might have been stretching things a little to make a good story for the newspaper boys. Anyway, Lee rounded up two cops and fished the birdman’s Ixxly out of the pool and took it down to the basement where the morgue w'as, and the judge went to his chambers, fiddled around for a while, then sat down in his worn black leather rocker and wrote his decision on the case of Ambers versus Hilsinger, which involved a Poland China pig, a wagon and three spools of barbed wäre.
Ordinarily it would have taken him an hour and a half to write the decision, which involved some nice points of law, and that was why he had crossed the courthouse park just before eight. But today his heart wasn’t in it, and he dashed it off and then sat in his favorite chair staring through the window at the trees and the far sky, and wondering why nice little fellows like the birdman had to die.
OTEPHEN MURRAY, judge of the superior court, wasn’t alone in his belief that the little birdman’s death was accidental. The chief of police was sure of it. and told the coroner so. That was why the coroner did such a cursory job of the autopsy. And Tutt Larrabee. the courthouse reporter for the local newspaper, thought so. But if it hadn’t been for the stories Tutt wrote, the birdman would still be down on the coroner's books as the victim of a curious and lamentable accident.
Tutt, just out of a college of journalism, saw in the birdman’s death a chance to make a name for himself. He went up to the cubbyhole in the courthouse tower which served as a press room, locked the door, and became an entirely different person from the hard-boiled young journalist who prowled through the corridors with his hat on the back of his head, a look of cynicism on his face and a homemade cigarette dangling from his lower lip. With each paragraph his eyes grewmore tender, and before he was through with the story his throat felt as though there was an apple core stuck in it. The story began:
“High in the old elm trees the grey doves mourned.
“And all the other birds were silent all the linnets and the sparrows and the mockers and the larks.”
It went on from there, and as newspaper stories go, it was a gem good enough to be set in two-column measure on the front page with a four-column picture underneath (the picture, taken a few months before, showed the little man perched precariously on the railing with a whole flock of birds around him) good enough to be picked up in part by the wire services and sent all over (he country gcxxl enough to rate a series of follow-ups.
Tutt's city editor shoved another man on the beat and told Tutt to go to town on the story, so he went. He wasn’t hampered by a lot of material. The birdman, whose name wasMitchell Abend, was almost a mythical character. No one seemed to know where he hailed from or what he lived on. He had appeared some ten years before, had bought a little bit of a house on Lucerne Lane, half a mile from the courthouse park, and had started his morning pilgrimages to the fountain.
Excluding the birds, he had only four friends—Feg Ellis, the cobbler, Joe Anderson, w’ho raised rabbits back of his shack half a block north of the birdman’s place, Dave Rowell, the courthouse gardener, and Mrs. Margaret Coulter, who ran a little grocery store on Blackstone. Mrs. Coulter furnished 'l ult with one touching little story. There was no money on hand to pay for the little man’s funeral, so Judge Murray said he would take care of it. Tutt wrote about that, and the next day Mrs. Coulter, a thin, faded, vague |x?rson with a pinched, deeply lined face and a prim mouth, appeared in Judge Murray’s courtroom and timidly asked the spidery clerk if she could see his honor for a minute.
Y\ 7TIEN SHE came into his chambers, the judge
* V frowned. He remembered her, remembered he had appointed her executrix of her brother’s estate a year before, and because he thought her visit had something to do with that, he was a little annoyed. He didn't like people to barge in on him to discuss cases he had ruled on or was going to rule on. That estate matter was still hanging fire - it wasn't due for final settlement for some weeks yet— and he felt that the place to talk about it was in the courtroom at the proper time with all hands on deck, not in chambers. But he soon discovered that wasn’t the reason she had come. Rather tremblingly she announced she wanted to help about Mr. Abend's funeral.
“No need,” the judge said, smiling.
“Please.” Mrs. Coulter took five one-dollar bills out of her purst* and put them on the table.
The judge coughed a couple of times. “You knew him?"
She nodded. "He bought his rice from me,” she said. “Every morning, a jxmnd of rice. Only Saturday he bought two pounds because the store was closed Sunday.” She wouldn’t take the money back, and pretty stx>n she hurried off to her store. She was fussing around behind the counter when Tutt appeared with a photographer to take her picture. In the paper he called her “the rice woman” and secretly figured that was pretty gcxxJ.
Ellis, wdio had played chess with the birdman. was good for a story. One day the little man had stopped by the cobbler’s shop to get a pair of shoes half soled and had seen Ellis working the chess problem in the News, and after that they had played twice a week. A rabbit named Aesop had brought the birdman and Anderson together. Aesop got out and found his way into Abend’s vegetable garden. Anderson, expecting a lot of trouble to be raised, was overjoyed to find the birdman letting Aesop eat all the lettuce he wanted, and after that they were close friends.
The Rowell-Abend friendship had develojxid in the park and had resulted in numberless games of cribbage.
“He was the best cribbage player I ever run up against,” Rowell, a gaunt, dour man with a huge family who was always one jump ahead of the loan sharks, had told Tutt wistfully. “Boy, he was a wonder.”
The funeral gave Tutt his last good opportunity for a feature. It attracted more attention than the birdman merited, really. The church was jammed, and there were plenty of birds in the big trees shading the old structure, and of course Tutt said they came over from the courthouse park. Maybe they did it’s hard to tell about birds. After the service they took the birdman over to the crematory— Rowell said Mr. Abend had wanted it that way and the three other friends had agreed—and there you were.
Tutt wrote a couple more stories about the public administrator’s enquiry, which revealed no estate to speak of and no relatives, and went back to his beat. And that would probably have been the end of it if a young woman hadn’t seen the story of the funeral in the Humboldt Standard.
A WEEK after the funeral, Harold Swithin, the judge’s clerk, rapped on the door of his boss’s chambers, opened it immediately and stuck his head in.
“Woman,” Swithin said.
“Wants to see your honor.”
"Don’t your honor me,” said the judge. “Why?”
“Lovely,” said Swithin.
He threw the door open wide and stood aside. “His honor will see you.” With that he smirked at Judge Murray and when the girl was inside, closed the door and went back to his book.
The judge saw at once that Swithin was right.
She was lovely—a tiny thing with unruly brown hair and a face as fresh as five o'clock on a summer morning. For some reason she made him think of wild violets. She smiled, and then she could have asked him for the courthouse and got it.
He stcxxi up and she didn’t know it but she was witnessing a major miracle. Once in chambers, Judge Murray just didn’t stand up he liked his chair too well, and he figured a man of seventy had a right to stay in it.
“My dear,” he said, looking a little wistful because she made him feel very, very old.
"It’s about the little man.” She sat in the battered oak chair, polished by the seats of a thousand lawyers’ pants, and eyed him gravely. “The one who fed the birds.” The judge’s monumental eyebrows came down like eaves. “Mr. Abend?” “My grandfather,” she said. "I’m Katherine Abend.”
"Oh, my dear.” The rocker squealed as he sat down. “We didn’t know. There was nothing in the house to tell us. His friends said there was no one.”
“But there is. There’s me. You found him. That's what the paper said. So I came to you.”
He nodded and his eyes were puzzled.
“You see, he had a great deal of money.” The words tripped over each other. “An awful lot of money. Thousands and thousands and thousands. My father always said he had. My father’s dead and my mother’s in the hospital, so I came to get it.”
"But there wasn’t any money.” The eyebrows dropped even lower. “No money at all. Only the house. I gave— ” he bit the sentence in two— “they got a fund together toto bury him.”
“Oh. but there was. Here.” From her bag she took a letter, stood up and spread it on the judge’s desk. He found his glasses, noted that the letter was six months old, and read:
“Dear Mrs. Abend: The news of Harris’ death reached me today. Under the circumstances I was a little surprised that you took the trouble to inform me. his father.
“You must realize that things remain as they were. Though I mourn him. my attitude toward the whole unhappy business is the same.
“However, I understand there is a child —a daughter. It is only right then that she should have, when the time comes, what would have been his had we seen eye to eye. The time for this, I am certain, will soon be at hand.
“You may think me a selfish old man, an unfeeling old man. Perhaps I am. Undoubtedly, Harris would have been much happier had I shared with him some portion of an estate that has meant absolutely nothing to me. But he chose to go his own way.
“The estate, as you probably know, is large. There is, for instance, a section of land in the Turner Valley tint has come to the attention of one of the larger oil companies. The deed to that property, with the deeds to parcels of real estate in various cities, is in a glass jar buried four feet down at the south end of the grape arbor leading from my house to the shed in the rear. In a tin box under the stonî at the left corner of the hearth there is nearly thirty thousand dollars.
“I have instructed the one person I trust to communicate with you on my death. That person alone knows that I am not the poor man I seem. When you are notified I am no more, you may proceed to secure for my granddaughter what is hers. Sincerely, Mitchell Abend.”
“I’ll be darned,” the judge said.
“You see?” Katherine retrieved the letter.
The judge nodded and put his finger on a button at the comer of his desk. Swithin's head appeared. “Wake Tutt up,” the judge snapped. “Tell him to get down here forthwith.”
Five minutes later, Tutt stood in the doorway, exuding boredom and cynicism until he got a good look at the girl. Then his expression changed. He blushed.
TO REPEAT, the birdman’s house wasn’t much. It was the sort of place you would have expected him to live in—a small frame house, patched and shaky, smothered in woodbine with a whiskered cottonwood in the front yard, birdhouses everywhere, and a scrap of a vegetable garden off to the left. In the two weeks since the little man died, no one had bothered to water, and things looked pretty seedy.
The front door was locked and there was a warning tacked to it signed by the public administrator. The judge chewed his lip and scowled at Swithin. “Key,” he said. “Get it.”
“Where?” asked Swithin.
The judge pointed to the warning, and when Swithin departed, he followed Katherine and Tutt around to the back yard. Tutt was right on her heels, as though afraid she would suddenly vanish.
By the time the judge got to the end of the grape arbor, Tutt had found a shovel and pick in the old shed and was hacking away at the hard-packed earth. He was hatless and his sleeves were rolled up.
You could see he was trying to impress the girl with his prodigious strength, and she seemed willing to be impressed. After all, Tutt wasn’t a bad-looking kid—too thin perhaps, but wiry and brown and muscular. And he knew how to use a pick and shovel.
It didn’t take him long to put the hole down. Unmindful of the heat, he plied the pick and then removed the loose dirt with the shovel, and pretty soon there was the rusty jar-top looking up at him. Carefully he dug around the jar, bent over and wiggled it, pulled it out and wiped off some of the dirt. Inside you could see a wad of important-looking papers.
“There she is,” he said, trying not to sound excited. With a flourish he handed Katherine the jar. “Your heritage.”
“Thank you, Mr. Larrabee.” She gave him a smile. It was a valuable piece of projjerty.
“Call him Tutt,” the judge said, watching the young man’s face. “And now for the treasure under the hearth.” They had to wait for Swithin. Finally he showed up with the key, and after a bit of a struggle with the old lock, he got the door open and led them into a sparsely furnished room with a faded carpet and a musty smell. It wasn’t hard to tell that the little man had loved birds because there were bird pictures all over the place—so many of them, in fact, that a crayon portrait of a whitehaired woman and a framed certificate saying Mitchell Abend was a member of the antitobacco league hanging on the walls, seemed out of place.
Tutt bent down in front of the fireplace and pried at the brick with a piece of iron. It gave in to him and he lifted it out, then sat there looking into the hole, his mouth open. He put his hand in the hole and moved it all around, then looked up at the girl and said foolishly: “It’s gone.”
He was right. It was gone. There wasn't even a oliedollar bill under the brick in the left-hand corner of the hearth. That was when the judge decided the birdman had been murdered.
NIGHT is the best time in summer. That is, it’s the best time if you live out of town a little way where the wind can come to you through the vineyards and orchards and where there is no pavement to remember how hot the sun was all day. Judge Murray’s low house stood on a narrow strip of land along the big irrigation ditch east of town, and there was an alfalfa patch on one side and a vineyard on the other. A whole tribe of frogs lived in the canal and there were a couple that sounded like great-grandfathers.
After supper, eaten on the screened porch with a piece of moon peering at them from the top of the distant mountains, the judge led Tutt into the living room and they sat by the window looking out across the ditch at the orderly rows of vines. In the reeds the frogs were arguing about something or other that must have been important. In the kitchen, Katherine and Mrs. Murray were doing the dishes, chattering away like mother and daughter though they had known each other only two days. However. Katherine had spent most of those two days in the Murray home. At the judge’s insistence, she had moved out of the hotel the day she showed up with the letter that broke the biggest newspaper story in local history.
“Did you look at that report?” The judge pulled a cigar out of the pocket of his rumpled seersucker suit, examined it carefully because a lawyer had given it to him. saw with some satisfaction it w'as a ten-center, and bit the end off.
“Sure. No good.”
“Just what did it say?”
“Water in the lungs, bruise at the base of the skull. Death caused by drowning.”
"Stuff about his physical condition. Not very good, his physical condition. W’eak heart. 1 had that dumb cluck— ” “What dumb cluck?”
“The coroner had him on the pan for half an hour. No help. Full of cracks. Said that’s the condition I’d be in if I didn’t stop smoking and drinking. Said the birdman would have kicked off pretty soon anyway with a heart like that. Blamed it on smoking. Said by the looks of things the old guy must have lived on tobacco.”
“What made him think the heart was bad?”
“Don’t know. Guessed, probably. Ribbing me anyway. Tobacco. Said he reeked of nicotine. Said I would too. Nicotine and liquor. Me, not Abend. Said I wouldn’t die by drowning.”
"How about the clothes?”
“Gone. Got a list. Usual. Coat, pants and shoes. Wallet in the breast pocket. Nothing in it. Some change in the pants. Couple of pencil stubs. Rice. Quite a lot of rice. Few pieces of string. Nothing else.” “What’s happened to your pronouns?” There was a sly smile on the judge’s face. “You been reading detective novels?” “What do you mean?” Tutt reddened. “You’re I Iazlitt Woar or Reggie Fot tune or Mr. Pinkerton. I can’t figure out which. Never mind. Go on detecting.” “Another crack like that and I’ll go home,” Tutt said, fishing a sack of tobacco and some papers out of his shirt pocket, and doing his best to roll a cigarette with one hand. He wasn’t very successful. “Cops are busy as usual talking to everyone. No soap. No one knows anything. All four of the birdman’s local friends have alibis for that morning. They weren’t anyw'here near the fountain. Rowell was across the park. It was free market day and he was seeing that things went all right. He’d have needed a rifle to knock the little guy into the pond. Ellis was home. The neighbors back him up. So was Anderson. Mrs. Coulter didn’t leave the store. That’s a fact. She saw Abend last u'hen he got his rice. Row-ell saw him the night before, and so did Anderson. Ellis hadn’t seen him for a couple of days. That’s what they say. I-ooks like Abend just fell in, judge. Unless — ” Tutt pursed his lips. “Hand of God.”
“Story by Chesterton. Guy killed another by dropping a hammer on him from a church steeple or something.” The judge snorted. “There wasn't any hammer.” “Slingshot." Tutt said. "From the courthouse to war. Or air gun. A cinch. Stand in one of the w indows and shoot at the old man. Something hits him. he loses balance, falls in. Simple.”
“Very. But who?”
“You got me,” Tutt said and lost interest in the matter. There was a reason. She was coming through the door, pushing her brown hair back, looking like a little girl in one of Mrs. Murray’s old house dresses. The latter was a bit bigger around than Katherine, and a couple of safety pins in back took up the slack. Right behind the girl wras Mrs. Murray, fussing around like a hen with one lone chick.
The judge tossed his cigar butt in the cold fireplace. “Nice out.”
Tutt’s glance w'as a blessing, lie stood up. “Feel like walking”—he hesitated— "Katherine?” The name almost choked him and his ears looked sunburned.
“For miles, Tutt,” Katherine said. “Come on.”
MRS. MURRAY stared after them, scowling. “Steve.
She’s so sweet. A reporter, Steve. You know how they carry on.” When the judge didn’t answer she sighed, went to the cupboard, found a knitting bag atid lient her attention on four steel needles and a ball of yarn.
The judge went into the little room off the bedroom and switched on the light. He sat at the old table, staring at the wall, but he didn’t see the wall or the picture on it. He saw the little man. saw' him fussing about in the house w-ith the woodbine all over it. and though he had only been in that room once, the judge remembered every detail. That’s the kind of a memory he had that’s why he could write a decision involving innumerable points of law without cracking a law book. He saw the birdman leave the house and w'alk along the street, saw him go into the grocery store and come out again, saw' him cross the park to the fountain. He saw the fountain and the little bundle lying face up among the lily pads, and he saw' the tw'o sodden paper sacks and the birds fluttering around.
Presently he brought the memories of other people before him and looked at them the gaunt, dour Row'ell, pottering around the courthouse garden, dodging bill collectors, standing in the corridor twisting his old hat and saying the little man didn’t w'ant to be buried because he w'as afraid of the dark and the cold earth—the stooped, grey Anderson out in a vacant lot near the little man’s house, cutting green stuff for his rabbits— the vague Mrs. Coulter perched on the chair in his chambers, a little older, a little more faded than she was a year ago when he put her in charge of her brother’s estate—the rolyix>ly Ellis pegging away at his shoes. And suddenly he said aloud, “I’m a doddering old fool.”
With that he got up and went outside, out to the edge of the canal, where he stcxxl looking into the sluggish water at all the drowned stars. Off toward the hills he heard the two kids singing, and because they were so far away he couldn’t make the song out for a while. Anyway it didn’t make sense. Things seldom made sense, he thought, remembering the little man who for ten years had left his home at seven
o’clock every morning to go to the courthouse park and feed his birds.
THE WEATHER was extraordinarily fine at seven next morning, a fact appreciated by a whole lot of people gathered at the Abend house. The judge was there in a spotless seersucker suit. (It wouldn’t lie spotless by nightfall.) Tutt was there, not able to do much but look at Katherine, who didn't seem to mind being stared at by the News courthouse reporter. The chief of police and the coroner and three policemen were there. So also were Feg Ellis, the cobbler, a worried expression on his fat face. Joe Anderson, the rabbit man, in overalls and a blue shirt, and Dave Rowell, the gardener, more gaunt and dour than ever. There were a good many others on hand, including a News photographer. busy taking pictures.
“We start from here,” the judge said, looking mysterious and wise, but not happy. If it had been anyone but the judge, Tutt would have scoffed at the whole business, would have put it down to a desire for notoriety, a wish to get his name in print. But Tutt knew the judge better than that. He didn’t want publicity.
“For the moment, I’m Mr. Abend,” the judge went on. “I’m on my way to see that my little friends are fed.” He smiled gravely at the birdman’s three friends. "If I do anything out of character, I want you to tell me. Remember that. Anything.” The remark got him a good many strange glances, but he paid them no mind. “We go,” he added, and went down the walk to the street and turned south. Behind him the others followed, and you could see that most of them felt silly being there. Heads popped oüt of windows and people came out on porches, and soon there were dozens of kids trailing along, some of them riding broomsticks and being cowboys at the tops of their lungs.
For a man of seventy, Judge Murray walked at a good clip. He went down Lucerne to E Street, turned west two blocks to Blackstone, turned the corner and stopped. Just ahead, not more than a block away, was the courthouse park. The judge’s flock stopped too and gave him a barrage of puzzled looks, for he was standing in front of a small grocery store with a green front. Over the door was a white sign with black letters on it, and the letters spelled out Mrs. Coulter’s name.
The judge held out his hands. “Empty. We must remedy that.” Whereupon he went up the three steps, pushed the door open and let it bang shut behind him. The place was dim and cool, and for a moment he couldn’t see much. Then he saw Mrs. Coulter standing behind the counter, frowning at him. He knew she was looking beyond him at the crowd outside because there was a puzzled expression in her green eyes.
“Good morning.” The judge bowed. “Remember me?”
“I want a pound of rice.” He was smiling at her.
She stood still and looked at him. “You — you feed them now?”
“Oh. Only today.” At his nod she went to the bin, scooped rice into a brown bag, put the bag on the scales, added a few more grains and tied a bit of string around it. “Ten cents,” she said.
She had to repeat the two words because the judge was examining the store. For a little store, it took in a lot of territory. There was food in cans and packages and tins, a couple of shelves of kitchen utensils, a small candy counter, a glass case with cigars and cigarettes in it, a corner devoted to garden supplies—seeds and sprays and packages of plant food—even a shelf with tooth powder and pastes and hand lotions on it.
“Sorry.” The judge’s stubby old hand wiggled around in his pocket and brought out a dime. He bowed again, took his package and moved toward the door. At the candy counter he stopped. Under the fly-specked glass there was a tray of hard candy, a bunch of bars and a little barrel of chocolate creams. His finger pointed to the creams. “And ten cents worth of those.”
She frowned, apparently trying to say something but not finding the words.
“Isn’t that right, Mrs. Coulter?” “Right—right. What?”
“I’m Mr. Abend today. I’m doing what he always did. I want you to tell me if I do anything wrong—anything he wouldn’t have done. Didn’t he always buy chocolates? Or was it hard candy or a bar?” “Chocolates. Yes. He bought them.” “Ten cents worth?”
“A nickel’s worth.”
“Five cents worth then,” Judge Murray said. “In one of those striped bags.”
SHE scooped them out and put them in a small sack. “That all?” She sounded breathless.
“Not quite. You’re to come too. You knew him. Everyone who knew him is watching me be Mr. Abend.” The judge was studying her pinched face, watching the eyelids flutter over the green eyes. “But—I shouldn’t. The store.”
“That’s all right. One of the boys will watch it. Come on.”
She had a smile left and she gave it to him. “All those people. I feel silly.”
“So do I.” He took her arm, and together they went out and along Blackstone to First Street and across First, and
then they were under the old trees where the sun hadn’t found the shadows yet. Ahead of them the little bronze boy looked up at the courthouse and spilled water out of his bucket into the pool.
The judge waved at the steps. “Sit there,” he told his followers. “Grandstand seats.” He pulled himself up on the railing and balanced there, holding the two paper sacks in his lap. “Now remember. Tell me if I do anything wrong.”
From the little sack he took a chocolate and put it in his mouth. Then from the big one he took a handful of rice and held it out, making w'hispering sounds. There was a flutter of wings and out of the trees they came, linnets and sparrows and doves and mocking birds and blackbirds, but they didn’t perch on his hand or his shoulders or his head. They flew around, chattering to each other, looking him over, and he kept whispering to them, urging them to come to him. He scattered a few grains at his feet, and they edged up closer and closer and began picking up the rice, and then a blackbird, a bold old fellow’, darted down and sat on his thumb. A few other bold ones followed suit, but the rest would have none of him. They took the rice he threw to them and that wras all.
Presently the judge dumped the contents of the rice sack on the pavement. He smiled wryly at some people on the stairs. “I can’t fool the birds,” he said to them. “They know I’m not their birdman who used to come here every morning.” He wasn’t speaking very loud, but you could hear him at the top of the courthouse steps. His hand fumbled in his coat pocket, he brought out a pipe and a tobacco pouch and started to fill the pipe.
“No,” Rowell, the courthouse gardener, called. “That’s not right.”
The judge’s hands were still.
“He didn’t smoke,” Rowell said.
Anderson and Ellis, who w’cre on the steps, wagged their heads. “Dave’s right, judge,” Anderson said. “No pipe.”
The pipe went back in the judge’s pocket. “Every morning,” he repeated. “Only one morning something happened. Abend ate his chocolates and then he grew faint and lost his balance and fell backward. He hit his head on the boy’s foot. After a while I came along and found him. I thought it w'as an accident. But it wasn’t an accident, was it, Mrs. Coulter?” Those who knew him said later he spoke in the same tone he used when he had to sentence a man to death.
She didn’t answer. She was crouched on the steps with her head in her arms.
“Oh, he drowned,” the judge said. “That’s true enough. But that wras chance. The poison didn’t kill him because he drowmed first. You see, there was poison in the candy and it made him faint and ill, made him lose his balance. I’m not sure, but I think it was nicotine out of one of those cans of garden spray in Mrs. Coulter’s store. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Coulter?”
Still she didn’t answer and his voice went on :
"You needed money, didn’t you? Why? Maybe because something happened to your brother’s estate. Was that it? I think so. The matter comes up pretty soon, and then you must turn over a lot of money to your nephews and nieces. Your brother trusted you and Mr. Abend trusted you, Mrs. Coulter. He told you where the money was hidden, and then he died and you took it. You didn’t know he had written a letter about that money. And you didn’t know one very important thing—he hated tobacco. That’s how I found out.”
She cried out. “Don’t, please. Don’t say any more.”
For a little while all you could hear was the sound of the woman crying, and the sound of all the birds chattering to each other as they hopped around picking up the grains of rice as they used to do before the birdman died.