The Murders in the Rue Morgue - Chapter 4
“Let us now return, in our minds, to the two rooms,” continued Dupin. “What shall we look for first of all? The means of leaving the place used by the murderers—that is our chief problem at this point. It is not too much to say that neither one of us believes in spirits or in things of that character. Madame and Mademoiselle L’Espanaye were not murdered by spirit bodies of any kind. Those who did this bloody thing were real and material. They also escaped by real and material means. Then how? Fortunately, there is but one manner of reasoning upon this point, and this reasoning must lead us to a definite conclusion. Let us examine, one by one, the possible means of leaving the house.
“It is clear that the murderers were in the room where Mademoiselle L’Espanaye was found, or at least in the room next to it, when the party went up the stairs. It is then only from these two rooms that we have to find a way of leaving. The police have examined the floors, the roof, and the walls in every direction. No secret means could have escaped them. But not trusting to their eyes, I examined with my own. There were, then, no secret means of leaving either of these two rooms. Both doors leading from the rooms into the hall were tightly locked, with the keys inside. Let us turn to the chimneys. These, although of the usual size for eight or ten feet above the floor, will not
permit, farther up, even the body of a small cat to pass through. It therefore being impossible to leave the room by any of these means just mentioned, we must next consider the windows. Through those of the front room no one could have escaped without being seen by the crowd in the street. The murderers must have passed, then, through the windows of the back room. Now, brought to this conclusion in so definite a manner, we cannot, as reasoners, set it to one side simply because of certain difficulties in proving it to be possible. It is only left for us to prove that what appears to be ‘impossible’ is really not so.
“There are two windows in the room. One of them has no furniture in front of it and is clearly in sight. The lower part of the other window is hidden by the head of the bed which is pushed up close to it. The first window was found to be tightly fastened from within. Several strong persons tried to raise it, even by forcing it, but they were not able to move it. A large hole had been made in the frame of the window on the left side, and a heavy nail was found driven through this hole into the window frame, nearly to its head. Upon examining the other window, a similar nail was found placed in the frame in the same way, and although the police, with another great show of strength, also tried to raise this window, it could not be raised either. The police were now completely satisfied that no one could have left the room in these directions. And, therefore, it was not thought necessary to pull out the nails and open the windows.
“My own examination was much more complete and exact— and for the reasons I have just given—because here it was necessary, I knew, to prove that what only seemed to be impossible was, in fact, possible.
“I reasoned in this way. The murderers did escape from one of these windows. This being so, they could not have refastened the windows from the inside, as they were found fastened: — a fact which was so clear that it put a stop at once to the work of the police in thinking in this direction. Yet the windows were fastened. They must, therefore, have the power of fastening themselves. There was no escape from this one conclusion. I stepped to the first window, drew out the nail with some difficulty, and then tried to open the window. I could not raise it
despite the fact that I tried very hard to do so. This was just as I had expected. Something besides the nail held the window tightly closed. A hidden spring must, I now knew, exist; and this fact proved to me at once that my thinking along these lines had been correct, despite the fact that the question of the nails in the windows still was something of a mystery. I examined the frame of the window and soon found at one side the hidden spring. I touched it, and having satisfied myself that it existed did not bother to raise the window since a police officer stood near my side watching me.
“I now put the nail back in its place and looked at it carefully. A person going out through this window might have closed the window again, and the spring would have caught by itself—but the nail could not have been put back in its regular position. The conclusion was simple, and again brought me closer to the few facts which had still to be made clear if my reasoning was correct. The murderers must have escaped through the other window. Supposing, then, the springs of both windows to be the same, as was probable, there must be found a difference in the nails, or at least between the manner of their being fixed in the windows. I stood on the bed which was placed before the second window and felt down behind the headboard which covered the lower part of the window. The police officer who stood near could not see what I was doing. I passed my hand down along the window frame and soon found the spring, which was, as I had supposed, exactly the same in character as its neighbor. I now looked at the nail. It was a heavy, strong nail and seemed to be fixed in the window in just the same way —driven in nearly up to the head.
“You will now say that I was possibly very much confused; but, if you think so, you have not understood the manner of my reasoning. I had not once been wrong up to the. present. I was still correct in my general direction. There had been no weak point in the train of my thinking, and I was now coming very close to one of the first secrets of the case—this secret was the nail. It had to be the nail. The nail, as I have said, had the same appearance in every particular as its fellow in the other window. But this fact had little importance, though it might seem that here, at this point, my reasoning had been brought
to a sudden end. ‘There must be something wrong,’ I said, ‘about the nail.’ I touched it, and the head, with perhaps a half inch of the body, came off in my fingers. The rest of the nail remained in the hole, where it had been broken off. The break, as I could see from the appearance of the nail, was an old one and had been made some time ago in the past, perhaps by a badly directed blow of a hammer. I now put the head of the nail back in the hole just as I had found it, and the nail again had the appearance of a whole and perfect nail—the break in the nail, of course, could not be seen now. Touching the spring, I gently raised the window an inch or two; the head of the nail went up with the window. I closed the window, and the appearance of the nail was the same as before.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What was the chief problem in the murders?
2. What means of leaving the room were impossible?
3. What was the only possible way to leave the room?
4. What did the police find when they examined the first window?
5. What did they find when they examined the other window?
6. What did Dupin find out about the first window?
7. Why was he sure that no one could have escaped through the first window?
8. What did he discover about the nail in the second window?
9. What happened when he touched the spring on the second window?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your
neither look for
trust find a way
cat leading from
besides up to the present
perfect came off
C. What is the difference in meaning between beside and besides? Use each of these words in sentences of your own.
“I now had the answer to one ‘apparent’ mystery. The murderer had escaped through the window which looked upon the bed. Dropping by itself, after the murderer left (or perhaps closed by him as he went out through it) the window had become fastened by the spring. It was this last fact that had so completely confused the police, and caused them to give up examining the windows any further. They thought that the nails held the window tightly closed, and for this reason came to the conclusion that the murderer must have escaped by some other means.
“The next question is that of the manner of leaving or getting down from the window. Upon this point I had been satisfied in my walk with you around the building. About five and a half feet from the window in question there runs a lightning rod. From this lightning rod it would have been impossible for anyone to reach the window itself, to say nothing of entering it. I observed, however, that the shutters of the fourth story were of a special kind, little used today in Paris, but still often seen in some of the old houses of Lyons and Bordeaux. They are in the form of a door, except that the lower part is made of cross-pieces of wood which can be closed or opened.
“In the present case, these shutters are fully three and a half feet wide. When we saw them from the back of the house, they were both half open—that is to say, they stood off at right angles from the wall. It is probable that the police too examined the back of the building—but if so, in looking at these shutters opened at right angles to the building, they did not observe how wide they really were. Even if they had observed them to be very wide, they would not have considered the matter of any importance. Having once satisfied themselves that no one could have left the house by climbing out through the windows, they would naturally give little attention to this back part of the house.
“It was clear to me, however, that the shutter belonging to the window at the head of the bed would, if swung back against the wall, reach to within two feet of the lightning rod. It was also clear that, in the case of a person of great strength or of
one brave enough to make the jump, an entrance into the window from the lightning rod could have been made. By reaching to the distance of two and a half feet (we now suppose the shutter to be fully open) a man might have taken hold of the lower or open part of the shutter. Then, letting go his hold upon the lightning rod, placing his feet carefully against the wall, and jumping away from it, he might have swung the shutter so as to close it. And if we suppose the window to be open at the time, he might even have swung himself into the room.
“I wish you to bear specially in mind that I have said that only someone of very great strength or one who was very brave would have dared to make this jump. It was my purpose at first to show you that it was possible to enter the room by this means—but, secondly and chiefly now, I wish to impress upon your understanding the specially strong and daring character which was needed to carry out such a plan.
“You will say, probably, using legal language, that to prove my case I should make clear exactly what strength was necessary in order to make this jump from the lightning rod to the window. Such a thing may be necessary in legal matters, but it has little importance in questions of reasoning. My aim here is simply to find the truth. My purpose now is to lead you to place alongside each other two important facts: one, the very unusual strength of which I have just spoken, and, two, that very unusual voice, sharp and unpleasant, which expressed itself in sounds which no one could understand, and about which none of the various witnesses could agree.”
At these words, some far-away idea of what Dupin was driving at began to form in my mind. I seemed to be on the point of understanding him, yet without the power to bring to its final conclusion his line of reasoning—just as a man who is trying to remember something, but does not quite succeed. My friend went on talking.
“You will see,” he said, “that I have put to one side, for the moment, the question of leaving the room and am interested in the means by which the murderer entered the room. It was my plan to give the idea that both were carried out in the same manner, and at the same point. Let us now go back to the inside of the room itself. Let us look over the appearance there.
The drawers ot the dressing table had been gone through, although many things of importance were left in them. The conclusion which the police have drawn here is very foolish. It is something which they have supposed—nothing more. How are we to know that the things found in the drawers were not all that the drawers had in them originally? Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter lived a very quiet life. They saw no company, seldom went out and had little need for many changes of clothes. Those found in the room were more or less the kind of clothes one would expect them to wear and to own. If certain things were stolen, why did the person doing the stealing not take the best? Why did he not take all?
“In a word, why did he leave several thousand dollars in gold just to carry away a few old clothes? The gold was left. Nearly the whole amount mentioned by Monsieur Mignaud, the banker, was found in the two boxes, on the floor. I wish you, therefore, to put out of your thoughts completely the foolish idea of purpose in this case, considered of such importance by the police, just because a particularly large amount of money had been taken out of a bank and brought to this particular house. Circumstances ten times more unusual than this (the drawing of money from a bank and a murder taking place within three days after that) happen every hour without attracting any special attention. In the present case, if the gold had been stolen, the fact that it was taken from the bank three days before, would have had some bearing on the matter. It would have proved that there was some purpose in the murders. But under the circumstances of the case as they are, if we suppose money to be the reason for the killings, then we must also suppose the murderer to be so great a fool that he left all the money behind him and forgot completely his purpose in attacking the two women.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. How had the window become fastened after the murderer
2. Why hadn’t the police examined the windows any further?
3. What was there about five and a half feet from the window?
4.What kind of shutters were there on the window?
5.How wide were the shutters?
6.Why hadn’t the police examined the shutters more carefully?
7.How could someone have entered the window?
8.What kind of person could have made such a jump?
9.What two facts especially did Dupin bring to the author’s attention?
10.What was the condition of the drawers after the murders?
11.What conclusion had the police drawn from this?
12.What conclusion did Dupin draw?
13.What had happened to the gold?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
apparent take hold of
further let go
impress bear in mind
express carry out
original on the point of
purpose under the circumstances