A Midnight Adventure
It was a stormy night at the Lake End. Fierce thunder clouds hung overhead, full of incessant fire, blazing out into long streamers on the midnight sky: radiant in eccentric picturings, gloomy and grand, as is ever a war of the elements. Far to the east the horizon hung clear and bright as a silver line on the surface of the Lake; but to the west there sprung and flashed, as to the music of a restless dance, the play of the summer lightnings. Beautiful and vivid in gleams of fire the electric currents followed like animated things, sometimes leaping to the zenith, and then sinking down with a sort of caress to the ruffled waters, as if hushing the moan of the miniature sea. But in the southeast, away from the airy strife, higher and wider was the semi-circle of blue; it rose to the arch of the bow-like sky, veiling the moon that peeped from rifts of clouds. Motionless, like the scared face of a lady, it hung between the storm and the bright sky in the east. Like Artemis watching the battle of the [Titans] looked the moon in this revel of lightnings, and the gleam of the billows flashing in flame. The tremulous waters gave out a moan like a spirit in distress, and the heart felt chill as the ear took in the mournful sound. The storm rose fiercer, and the lightnings flashed in wilder desolation. Vivid and red they shot up in the sky, and the wind rose up and lashed the billows to foam—a foam that sparkled and shimmered in the red light of the sky-like molten gold.
Few were abroad that night. A single yacht was out on the Lake, a mile from shore. It was anchored there, and the dark hull rose and fell with the heave of the water. Suddenly a fluttering ripple appeared on the Lake. It gathered strength as it came, and rushed into billows that ran with the speed of the wind. It struck the small dark boat that careened to its force like a reed bent by the blast.
Just then a man and woman appeared on the deck, the one trembling and frightened, the other dark and stern. Their forms could be seen in the light of the sky, in the gleam of the lightning as it played on the Lake.
From the verandah of the hotel, two men sat and watched them. Despite the wind and the breath of the tempest that rushed in their faces, their eyes were bent on the vessel that rocked and shivered in the throe of the waves.
“What will he do?” said one of the men, the youngest and largest of the two.
“Wait and see,” was the calm reply. “He may murder her. I believe he will. What object could he have in anchoring the vessel there but an evil one?”
His companion did not seem to hear him, so earnestly was he looking out toward the miniature craft that seemed to be the sport of the elements that raged around it. Suddenly he turned his head:
“Have the men got the boat ready? Quick, there is no time to lose!” and the two men rushed out of the house, and down to the beach.
At sunset the yacht had left the pier at the Lake End, ostensibly for a sail of a few hours. It bore two persons—a man and woman. They were both young and comparative strangers in New Orleans. Two weeks before they had come here from the North. Strange that almost from the day of their arrival they had fallen under the suspicion and surveillance of the police. Some said the lady was insane, and the man wished to get rid of her. But how this was known it would be impossible to say. They knew no one, formed no acquaintances, and lived secluded. Yet it is true that all their movements were watched, and the two detectives that sat upon the gallery that night were always near them.
The evening of which we speak they had gone to the Lake. The yacht had been purchased by the man a week before. Arriving there, he had been warned not to go out. A storm was brewing, they told him, and he would be unable to manage his vessel. He laughed at this, and said there was no danger.
The detectives said nothing, but watched him carefully. For an hour or two he sailed around in sight, but the storm began to rise, the vessel lay-to, and the anchor dropped out.
What could it mean?
He had plenty of time to reach the shore in safety. What motive had he for risking the frail vessel out in the storm?
Reaching the small boat they had in readiness, the detectives jumped in and ordered the men to pull for the yacht. They had nearly reached it, when a wild scream broke out upon the air. It was the cry of a woman in mortal agony. At that moment the flash of lightnings revealed a female struggling in the water, and a man bending over the railing of the yacht watching her calmly.
The next moment the anchor was weighed, the sail was set and the vessel rushed by them on its way to land.
A few vigorous strokes of the oars brought them up to the spot where the woman was seen. A moment after she lay in the bottom of the boat, wet and drenched and apparently lifeless.
The man had already reached the hotel and told his tale. His wife had fallen overboard and was drowned. He appeared to be wild with grief—reproaching himself for going out on the lake, and then crying as if his heart would break. His counterfeit anguish would have imposed upon any one who had not seen his treachery.
The men brought the woman back, but took her to another hotel, where steps were taken to revive her. After this she was taken rapidly back to the city. In the [meantime] one of the detectives was quietly watching the man whose anguish appeared so excessive. Several times the stranger eyed the officer suspiciously; but recollecting himself, a new outburst of grief excited the compassion of the crowd. The scene went on till morning, and as the day advanced the man’s frenzy toned down. It was then the officer advanced to him and took him into custody.
“Arrest me, sir! Arrest me for what?”
“For attempting to drown your wife.”
“Yes, attempting. You did not succeed. She has been rescued.”
The man stared at him from eyes that grew wild with fright, and a deathly pallor crept into his face. His lips worked as if with a spasm, and he murmured, between his shut teeth, the simple word “Rescued!”
“Then, I’m lost!” and the cool, calculating villain stood convicted by his own confession.
It is useless to trace his after fate. He was tried and condemned—the would-be assassin of his wife.
The Daily Picayune [New Orleans, LA], August 1, 1869
Reprinted as “Rescued: Midnight Adventure in New Orleans” in
- The Coshocton [OH] Age, January 21, 1870
- The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal, March 4, 1870
This story was part of a series titled “A Detective’s Experience” and featuring detectives Mr. F—— and Mr. I—— that was published in the Sunday Daily Picayune from August 1868 to November 1869. Click here to redirect to a list of the stories in this series.