The Leavenworth Case HTML version

2. The Coroner's Inquest
"The baby figure of the giant mass
Of things to come."
--Troilus and Cressida.
FOR a few minutes I sat dazed by the sudden flood of light greeting me from the many
open windows; then, as the strongly contrasting features of the scene before me began to
impress themselves upon my consciousness, I found myself experiencing something of
the same sensation of double personality which years before had followed an enforced
use of ether. As at that time, I appeared to be living two lives at once: in two distinct
places, with two separate sets of incidents going on; so now I seemed to be divided
between two irreconcilable trains of thought; the gorgeous house, its elaborate furnishing,
the little glimpses of yesterday's life, as seen in the open piano, with its sheet of music
held in place by a lady's fan, occupying my attention fully as much as the aspect of the
throng of incongruous and impatient people huddled about me.
Perhaps one reason of this lay in the extraordinary splendor of the room I was in; the
glow of satin, glitter of bronze, and glimmer of marble meeting the eye at every turn. But
I am rather inclined to think it was mainly due to the force and eloquence of a certain
picture which confronted me from the opposite wall. A sweet picture--sweet enough and
poetic enough to have been conceived by the most idealistic of artists: simple, too--the
vision of a young flaxen-haired, blue-eyed coquette, dressed in the costume of the First
Empire, standing in a wood-path, looking back over her shoulder at some one following--
yet with such a dash of something not altogether saint-like in the corners of her meek
eyes and baby-like lips, that it impressed me with the individuality of life. Had it not been
for the open dress, with its waist almost beneath the armpits, the hair cut short on the
forehead, and the perfection of the neck and shoulders, I should have taken it for a literal
portrait of one of the ladies of the house. As it was, I could not rid myself of the idea that
one, if not both, of Mr. Leavenworth's nieces looked down upon me from the eyes of this
entrancing blonde with the beckoning glance and forbidding hand. So vividly did this
fancy impress me that I half shuddered as I looked, wondering if this sweet creature did
not know what had occurred in this house since the happy yesterday; and if so, how she
could stand there smiling so invitingly,--when suddenly I became aware that I had been
watching the little crowd of men about me with as complete an absorption as if nothing
else in the room had attracted my attention; that the face of the coroner, sternly intelligent
and attentive, was as distinctly imprinted upon my mind as that of this lovely picture, or
the clearer-cut and more noble features of the sculptured Psyche, shining in mellow
beauty from the crimson-hung window at his right; yes, even that the various
countenances of the jurymen clustered before me, commonplace and insignificant as most
of them were; the trembling forms of the excited servants crowded into a far corner; and
the still more disagreeable aspect of the pale-faced, seedy reporter, seated at a small table
and writing with a ghoul-like avidity that made my flesh creep, were each and all as fixed
an element in the remarkable scene before me as the splendor of the surroundings which
made their presence such a nightmare of discord and unreality.