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"The Witness" from Detective Story

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Detective Story
The Witness
by Ellis Parker Butler

Myra could not sleep. It was past midnight but, in the room above, her son William and his wife kept up their quarreling, and for an hour Myra lay sleepless. She was afraid, for she knew the ungovernable rages that her son William permitted to possess him when he was opposed. She could hear him tramping back and forth, shouting, and she could hear Effie saying a word now and then. Effie had a sharp tongue; she could make a word a goad. It was not the way to handle Will.

Myra got out of bed and lighted the lamp on her dressing table. She had made the table herself out of a box, covering it with flimsy figured sateen, hanging a fifty-cent mirror above it. Now she seated herself before the table and took up her hairbrush, for, often, brushing her hair quieted her nerves. She found she was trembling and could hardly hold the brush, but, as the bristles caressed her hair, she felt the soothing effect. In the room above her, Will was no longer shouting; the voices were low but tense with bitterness.

'The Witness' by Ellis Parker Butler

As she brushed her hair, Myra looked at the reflection of her face in the mirror. Some of the lines had been put there by the constant bickering of Will and his wife, but she was, she told herself, still a good-looking woman. Her hair was still as black as when she was a girl. For a moment, she let her hands fall in her lap and bowed her head. It might, after all, be best, she told herself, to marry John Parton and let Effie and Will have this house. John Parton was not the man she wanted as a husband if she married again, but she would at least be away from this unending quarreling. It was making her whole life one great tragedy.

Tonight, for example, Will had come to the house after one of his long absences and she had not known he was there until she heard the quarreling begin. He would go, probably, before morning; he always left after a quarrel. It was no way to live -- never knowing when one of these storms would break.

From above came a roar of rage from Will, and Effie's voice crying, "No! No, Will!" ending in a choking gurgle. The awful thought that Will might be murdering Effie made Myra get to her feet and hurry up the stairs. She stood at the door and saw Will -- her son, Will -- crouched over Effie, his fingers tight about the girl's neck. Effie's face was hideous -- purple. She was dead. She saw Will rise and she put her hands to her mouth to stifle a scream and backed into the dark hall and stood trembling there as Will ran down the steps and out of the house.

She did not know how she had the strength to do what she did in the next hour, lifting Effie to the bed, seeing that Will's hands had made no bruises on Effie's throat; straightening the confusion of the room so that it might appear that Effie had died in her sleep.

In the morning, a shawl over her head, she ran all the way to Doctor Blascombe's, begging him to come, saying that she was afraid Effie had had an attack of some sort, that she feared Effie was dead. When she reached the house with the doctor, the neighbors had already gathered and they had brought Henry Casey, the policeman of the neighborhood.

"She did not die a natural death," said Doctor Blascombe, when he had made his examination. "She was murdered. She was choked to death."

"But that could not be," said Myra. "I would have heard. My room is just below."

"You heard nothing?" Casey asked.

"Not a sound. And I am a light sleeper. The least sound awakens me."

"It could be one of them maniac murders that's been goin' 'round," suggested Mrs. Brumbaugh. "They been sneakin' in and killin' folks."

"It might be at that," said Patrolman Casey. "They're slick, them insane ones. We got eight of them murders, but we haven't caught anybody yet. Three of them throttled th' victims like this. You saw nothin' and you heard nothin', ma'am?"

"No; I slept through it all," said Myra. "I heard nothing."

"Well, you'd be the only witness there was," said Casey, "if there was any. Was any one in the house but you that you know of, ma'am?"

"No one. My son is away."

"There was no trouble between him and her?"

"Never! None at all. His heart will be broken."

"Well, there's nothing to --" Casey began. His eyes swept here and there in the room. They passed over the two hairbrushes on Effie's dresser without seeing them, but Myra saw them. She had left her brush there. She might have to explain that.

"Well, it beats me," said Casey. "Whoever killed her was a shrewd one. And to think, ma'am, that only yesterday I was talkin' to her and you at the gate, nobody ever thinkin' of such a thing as this, and me blarnying the both of you, saying --"

Myra had let her shawl drop from her head and back upon her shoulders. Patrolman Casey's voice changed, and his eyes became hard, glittering steel.

"And I was sayin' how black your hair was," he said. "And you saw nothin' last night? Answer me this, then: What turned your hair white in one night?"

But Myra did not answer; she fell forward in a faint upon the floor.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:21:39am USA Central
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