The Murderer and the Fortune Teller by Allan Pinkerton

One sultry day in the summer of 185-, I arrived in Chicago, from a tour I had been making through the Southern States. I had attended to a portion of the accumulated business which I found awaiting me, when a gentleman entered the outer office and asked one of my clerks whether he could see me immediately on some very important business. Mr. Howard saw by the gentle man’s appearance, that the matter must be one of great consequence, and, therefore, ushered the visitor into my private office, without asking any questions.

“Mr. Pinkerton, I believe ?” said the gentleman, as he advanced toward me.

“Yes, sir,” I replied; “what can I do for you?”

He took a letter from his pocket and handed it to me. I motioned him to be seated, while I read the letter. I found it to be from my old friend Chapman, a lawyer in New Haven, Connecticut, introducing the bearer, Captain J. N. Sumner. The letter stated that Captain Sumner was a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, near which place he owned a farm. He had a moderate fortune, and he was a most estimable man. Mr. Chapman had known him for many years, during which time he had always borne himself in an upright, straightforward manner, free from all reproach. Lately, however, he had become involved in some very serious difficulties in the West, and Mr. Chapman had advised him to see me, and obtain my assistance in extricating himself from his troubles. Mr. Chapman concluded by saying, that he was confident, that, if any one could aid the Captain, I was the best person to consult.

I had not seen Mr. Chapman for some years, the last time having been while I was attending to some business in which he was interested. He was especially noted as a criminal lawyer being employed quite as often for the prosecution, as for the defense. We were the best of friends, and had cracked many a joke at each other’s expense. He did not mention the nature of the Captain’s troubles in his letters, leaving that for the Captain to do himself.

While I was reading the letter, I was aware that the Captain was observing me closely, as if desirous of reading my very thoughts. When I had finished, I said:

“Captain Sumner, I am glad to meet you. Any one bearing a letter from my old friend Chapman, is welcome.”

As I spoke, I looked straight at him, and took in his whole appearance.

He was apparently, about fifty years of age, but was very well preserved, not a streak of gray being visible in his dark, curly hair. He was slightly above the middle height, and his frame was proportionally powerful, his limbs being well knit, and muscular. His clear, hazel eyes looked frankly out beneath heavy, straight eyebrows, while his large Roman nose and massive chin, gave his face great firmness and determination. His teeth were white and regular, and his smile was unusually sweet and expressive. His face was much tanned from long exposure to the weather, and his hands were large and hard. He was dressed in a quiet, neat suit of gray cloth, well fitting but easy, and there was nothing loud or in bad taste about him. His only articles of jewelry were a gold watch and chain, and a seal ring with a peculiar, plain stone, worn on the little finger of his left hand. I gazed steadily at him for about two minutes, which is about as long a time as I need to obtain a correct opinion of a man’s character. I was very favorably impressed by his appearance, and I prepared to hear his story with more interest than I should have had, if he had been a less honest, reliable looking man.

He opened the conversation, while I was still looking straight into his face.

“Mr. Pinkerton,” he said, “I have heard a great deal about you from various sources, and I little thought that I should ever require your services; but, lately, while consulting Mr. Chapman relative to a possible flaw in the title to my farm, I also laid before him some other troubles which he acknowledged were so serious as to require the advice and assistance of some one with a training and experience somewhat different from his. He urged me so strongly to state my case to you, and obtain your aid, that I have finally decided to follow his advice, and here I am.”

“When did you arrive?” I inquired.

“About a week ago. I looked around for a time to see if my difficulties had diminished, — ” (and he passed his hand nervously through his hair, drawing a long breath) — “but I found they had increased, if anything. Mr. Pinkerton, when I retired from the sea and settled down on my farm, I thought my cares and vexations were over, and that I could find in the peace and tranquility of country life, a rich reward for the hardships I had endured while earning enough to retire on. My father, also, was a sailor many years, and, after passing the best part of his life at sea, in like manner, he was able to live his last twenty years in peace and content upon his farm; there I was reared, until I was old enough to go to sea. I have followed his example; but, instead of enjoying the peace he did, I find that my serious troubles are only just beginning. If I were at sea, I should have no fears, for there I am perfectly at home. No matter how the wind might blow, or the seas roll, I always brought my ship through in safety. I could read the signs of the weather, and could detect the approach of danger · from the elernents. I knew my enemies were there, and that was half the battle. Here, on land, I find it so different; my worst enemies come to me with the smiles and greetings of friends; they express the tenderest wishes for my welfare, and shower upon me the tokens of their affection; then, having fairly won my confidence, they turn upon me when I least expect it, and stab me cruelly. I am a plain, blunt man — often irritable and unjust, I knowstill, I never flinch from danger when I can see it; but, the very nature of my bringing up has rendered me unfit to cope with the wiles and subtleties of my fellow man. You, Mr. Pinkerton, it is said, have the power to see direct to the hearts of men through the shams and artifices by which they seek to hide their true characters, and you are the only man who can assist me. Oh, I wish I were back on the sea, far away from all my troubles. I should care but little if I never returned.”

He spoke in a low voice, but the tone was clear until the last, when his words were very pathetic. As he closed, his head dropped forward, and he sat gazing fixedly at his ring in an attitude of mournful retrospection.

“Perhaps you had better wait awhile before telling me your story,” I suggested.

“Yes,” he replied, looking at his watch, “it is now five o’clock, so I will defer making my statement until to-morrow; though I should prefer to make it now, if I had time. The story is a long one, and I shall have to take a considerable portion of your valuable time in telling it. Will you please to name the hour when I can meet you to-morrow, to give you all the facts in the case?”

I had already become interested in the Captain, and, after thinking for a moment how I could best arrange my other business so as to grant him the necessary time, I told him to come at nine o’clock next morning. He said he would be punctual in keeping the appointment; then stepping forward, he took my hand and said, in a very impressive way, “Mr. Pinkerton, I shall meet you if I am alive. I am not afraid of death; I have met it scores of times, face to face, and have never flinched from it; but now I must take care of myself. If I don’t come, just look for me at my boarding house.”

I glanced quickly at him, but could see nothing wrong about his mind. His eyes were clear and natural; his whole appearance showed him to be a plain, blunt seaman, little disposed to invent imaginary dangers. Still, there was in his manner, a deep melancholy, which showed me that it was not any natural disease that he dreaded, and which caused me to exclaim :

“Why, Captain, you fear death by violence, do you not?” ..

“Yes,” he replied ; ” but I cannot enter into details at present. I shail try to save myself and meet you to-morrow morning, but if I do not come, please send my body to Connecticut, to be interred near the rest of my family.”

He then said good-day and went out, leaving me to speculate upon his peculiar behavior, and to wonder what were the dangers which surrounded him. I was so much pleased with his frank, manly simplicity that I was determined to give him all the assistance in my power.