Read CHAPTER III of Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces, free online book, by Thomas W. Hanshew, on ReadCentral.com.

She could not herself have been more conscious of that feeling of relief than he was of its coming. It spoke to him in the swift glance she gave toward those distant, fog-blurred lights, in the white, drained face of her, in the shrinking backward movement of her body when he spoke again; and something within him voiced “the exceeding bitter cry.”

“I am not sure that I even hoped you would take the revelation in any other way than this,” he said. “A hawk even a tamed one must be a thing of terror in the eyes of a dove. Still, I am not sorry that I have made the confession, Miss Lorne. When the worst has been told, a burden rolls away.”

“Yes,” she acquiesced faintly, finding her voice; but finding it only to lose it again. “But that you that you....” And was faint and very still again.

“Shall we go on? It isn’t more than fifty paces to the road; and you may rely upon finding a taxicab there. Would you like me to show you the way?”

“Yes, please. I oh, don’t think me unsympathetic, unkind, severe. It is such a shock; it is all so horrible I mean that is.... Let me get used to it. I shall never tell, of course no, never! Now, please, may we not walk faster? I am very, very late as it is; and they will be worrying at home.”

They did walk faster, and in a minute more were at the common’s end. Cleek stopped and again lifted his hat.

“We will part here, Miss Lorne,” he said. “I won’t force my company on you any further. From here, you are quite beyond all danger, and I am sure you would rather I left you to find a taxi for yourself. Good night.” He did not even offer to put out his hand. “May I say again, that I am not sorry I told you? Nor did I ever expect you would, take it other than like this. It is only natural. Try to forgive me; or, at the least, believe that I have not tried to keep your friendship by a lie, or to atone in seeming only. Good night.”

He gave her no chance to reply, no time to say one single word. Deep wounds require time in which to heal. He knew that he had wounded the white soul of her so that it was sick with uncertainty, faint with dread; and, putting on his hat, stepped sharply back and let the mist take him and hide him from her sight.

But, though she did not see, he was near her even then.

He knew when she walked out into the light-filled street; he knew when she found a taxicab; and he did not make an effort to go his way until he was sure that she was safely started upon hers. Then he screwed round on his heel and went back into the mist and loneliness of the heath, and walked, and walked, and walked. Afterward long afterward: when the night was getting old and the town was going to sleep, he, too, fared forth in quest of a taxi, and finding one went his way as she had gone hers.

In the neighbourhood of Bond Street now a place of darkness and slow-tramping policemen he dismissed the taxi and continued the journey along Piccadilly afoot. It was close to one o’clock when he came at length to Clarges Street and swung into it from the Piccadilly end, and moved on in the direction of the house which sheltered him and his secrets together. But, though he walked with apparent indifference, his eye was ever on the lookout for some chance watcher in the windows of the other houses; for “Captain Horatio Burbage” was supposed, in the neighbourhood, to be a superannuated seaman who maintained a bachelor establishment with the aid of an elderly housekeeper and a deaf-and-dumb maid of all work.

But no one was on the watch to-night; and it was only when he came at last to the pillared portico of his own residence that he found any sign of life from one end of the street to the other. He did find it then, however; for the boy, Dollops, was sitting huddled up on the top step with the thick shadow of the portico making a safe screen for him.

He had made good use of the two half-crowns, for he had not only feasted and was feasting still: on a bag of winkles and a saveloy but was washed and brushed and had gone to the length of a shoe-shine and a collar.

“Been waitin’ since eleven o’clock, sir,” he said, getting up and pulling his forelock as Cleek appeared. “Didn’t knock and arsk for no one, though not me. Twigged as it would be you, sir, on account of your sayin’ to-night. I’ve read summink of the ways of ’tecs. Wot ho!”

“You seem a sharp little customer, at all events,” said Cleek with a curious one-sided smile a smile that was peculiar to him. “I somehow fancy that I’ve made a good investment, Dollops. Filled up, eh?”

“No, sir never filled. Born ’ungry, I reckon. But filled as much as you could fill me, bless your ‘eart. I aren’t never goin’ to forget that, Gov’nor no fear. An eater and a scrapper I am, sir; and I’ll scrap for you, sir, while there’s a bloomin’ breff left in my blessed body! Gimme the tip wot kind of work I can do for you, Gov’nor, will you? I want to get them two ’arf-crowns off my conscience as quick as I can.”

Cleek looked at him and smiled again.

“Yes, I’m sure I made a good bargain, Dollops,” he said. “Come in.” And in this way the attachment which existed between them ever afterward had its beginning.

He took the boy in and up to the little room on the second floor which he called his den; and, turning on the light, motioned him to a chair, laid aside his hat and gloves, and was just about to pull up a chair for himself when he caught sight of an unstamped letter lying upon his writing-table.

“Sit down there and wait a moment until I read this, my lad,” he said; and forthwith tore the letter open.

It was from Superintendent Narkom. He had known that from the first, however. No one but Narkom ever wrote him letters. This one was exceedingly brief. It simply contained these two lines:

“My dear Cleek. The Three Jolly Fishermen, Richmond, at tea-time to-morrow. An astonishing affair. Yours, M. N.”

“Dollops, my lad, I think I’m going to make a man of you,” he said as he tore the letter into a dozen pieces and tossed the fragments into a waste-basket. “At any rate, I’m going to have a try. Know anything about Richmond?”

“Yuss, sir.”

“Good. Well, we’ll have a half-hour’s talk and then I’ll find a temporary bed for you for the night, and to-morrow we’ll take a pull on the river at Richmond and see what we shall see.”

The half-hour, however, developed into a full one; for it was after two o’clock when the talk was finished and a bed improvised for the boy; but Cleek, saying good night to him at last and going to his own bedroom, felt that it was a long, long way from being time wasted.

What Dollops thought is, perhaps, best told by the fact that he burst out crying when Cleek came in in the morning to ask how he had slept.

“Slept, Gov’nor!” he said. “Why, bless your ’eart, sir, I couldn’t a slept better on a bed of roses, nor ’ad ’arf such comfort. Feel like I needed someone to lend me a biff on the coco, sir, to make sure as I aren’t a dreamin’ it’s so wot a cove fancies ’Eaven to be like, sir.”

And afterward, when the day was older, and they had gone to Richmond, and Cleek in his boating flannels was pulling him up the shining river and talking to him again as he had talked last night, he felt that it was even more like Heaven than ever.

It was after four long after when they finally separated and Cleek, leaving the boy in charge of the boat, stepped ashore in the neighbourhood of the inn of the Three Jolly Fishermen and went to keep his appointment with Narkom.

He found him enjoying tea at a little round table in the niche of a big bay window in the small private parlour which lay immediately behind the bar-room.

“My dear chap, do forgive me for not waiting,” said the superintendent contritely, as Cleek came in, looking like a college-bred athlete in his boating-flannels and his brim-tilted panama. “But the fact is you are a little later than I anticipated; and I was simply famishing.”

“Share the blame of my lateness with me, Mr. Narkom,” said Cleek as he tossed aside his hat and threw the fag-end of his cigarette through the open window. “You merely said ‘tea-time,’ not any particular hour; and I improved the opportunity to take another spin up the river and to talk like a Dutch uncle to a certain young man whom I shall introduce to your notice in due time. It isn’t often that duty calls me to a little Eden like this. The air is like balm to-day; and the river oh, the river is a sheer delight.”

Narkom rang for a fresh pot of tea and a further supply of buttered toast, and, when these were served, Cleek sat down and joined him.

“I dare say,” said the superintendent, opening fire at once, “that you wonder what in the world induced me to bring you out here to meet me, my dear fellow, instead of following the usual course and calling at Clarges Street? Well, the fact is, Cleek, that the gentleman with whom I am now about to put you in touch lives in this vicinity, and is so placed that he cannot get away without running the risk of having the step he is taking discovered.”

“Humph! He is closely spied upon, then?” commented Cleek. “The trouble arises from someone or something in his own household?”

“No in his father’s. The ‘trouble,’ so far as I can gather, seems to emanate from his stepmother, a young and very beautiful woman, who was born on the island of Java, where the father of our client met and married her some two years ago, whither he had gone to probe into the truth of the amazing statement that a runic stone had been unearthed in that part of the globe.”

“Ah, then you need not tell me the gentleman’s name, Mr. Narkom,” interposed Cleek. “I remember perfectly well the stir which that ridiculous and unfounded statement created at the time. Despite the fact that scholars of all nations scoffed at the thing, and pointed out that the very term ‘rune’ is of Teutonic origin, one enthusiastic old gentleman Mr. Michael Bawdrey, a retired brewer, thirsting for something more enduring than malt to carry his name down the ages became fired with enthusiasm upon the subject, and set forth for Java ‘hot foot,’ as one might say. I remember that the papers made great game of him; but I heard, I fancy, that, in spite of all, he was a dear, lovable old chap, and not at all like the creature the cartoonists portrayed him.”

“What a memory you have, my dear Cleek. Yes, that is the party; and he is a dear, lovable old chap at bottom. Collects old china, old weapons, old armour, curiosities of all sorts lots of ’em bogus, no doubt; catch the charlatans among the dealers letting a chance like that slip them and is never so happy as when showing his ‘collection’ to his friends and being mistaken by the ignorant for a man of deep learning.”

“A very human trait, Mr. Narkom. We all are anxious that the world should set the highest possible valuation upon us. It is only when we are underrated that we object. So this dear, deluded old gentleman, having failed to secure a ‘rune’ in Java, brought back something equally cryptic a woman? Was the lady of his choice a native or merely an inhabitant of the island?”

“Merely an inhabitant, my dear fellow. As a matter of fact, she is English. Her father, a doctor, long since deceased, took her out there in her childhood. She was none too well off, I believe; but that did not prevent her having many suitors, among whom was Mr. Bawdrey’s own son, the gentleman who is anxious to have you take up this case.”

“Oho!” said Cleek, with a strong, rising inflection. “So the lady was of the careful and calculating kind? She didn’t care for youth and all the rest of it when she could have papa and the money-chest without waiting. A common enough occurrence. Still, this does not make up an ‘affair,’ and especially an ‘affair’ which requires the assistance of a detective, and you spoke of ‘a case.’ What is the case, Mr. Narkom?”

“I will leave Mr. Philip Bawdrey himself to tell you that,” said Narkom, as the door opened to admit a young man of about eight-and-twenty, clothed in tennis flannels, and looking very much perturbed, a handsome, fair-haired, fair-moustached young fellow, with frank, boyish eyes and that unmistakable something which stamps the products of the ’Varsities. “Come in, Mr. Bawdrey. You said we were not to wait tea, and you see that we haven’t. Let me have the pleasure of introducing Mr. ”

“Headland,” put in Cleek adroitly, and with a look at Narkom as much as to say, “Don’t give me away. I may not care to take the case when I hear it, so what’s the use of letting everybody know who I am?” Then he switched round in his chair, rose, and held out his hand. “Mr. George Headland, of the Yard, Mr. Bawdrey. I don’t trust Mr. Narkom’s proverbially tricky memory for names. He introduced me as Jones once, and I lost the opportunity of handling the case because the party in question couldn’t believe that anybody named Jones would be likely to ferret it out.”

“Funny idea, that!” commented young Bawdrey, smiling, and accepting the proffered hand. “Rum lot of people you must run across in your line, Mr. Headland. Shouldn’t take you for a detective myself, shouldn’t even in a room full of them. College man, aren’t you? Thought so. Oxon or Cantab?”

“Cantab Emmanuel.”

“Oh, Lord! Never thought I’d ever live to appeal to an Emmanuel man to do anything brilliant. I’m an Oxon chap; Brasenose is my alma mater. I say, Mr. Narkom, do give me a cup of tea, will you? I had to slip off while the others were at theirs, and I’ve run all the way. Thanks very much. Don’t mind if I sit in that corner and draw the curtain a little, do you?” his frank, boyish face suddenly clouding. “I don’t want to be seen by anybody passing. It’s a horrible thing to feel that you are being spied upon, at every turn, Mr. Headland, and that want of caution may mean the death of the person you love best in all the world.”

“Oh, it’s that kind of case, is it?” queried Cleek, making room for him to pass round the table and sit in the corner, with his back to the window and the loosened folds of the chintz curtain keeping him in the shadow.

“Yes,” answered young Bawdrey, with a half-repressed shudder and a deeper clouding of his rather pale face. “Sometimes I try to make myself believe that it isn’t, that it’s all fancy, that she never could be so inhuman, and yet how else is it to be explained? You can’t go behind the evidence; you can’t make things different simply by saying that you will not believe.” He stirred his tea nervously, gulped down a couple of mouthfuls of it, and then set the cup aside. “I can’t enjoy anything; it takes the savour out of everything when I think of it,” he added, with a note of pathos in his voice. “My dad, my dear, bully old dad, the best and dearest old boy in all the world! I suppose, Mr. Headland, that Mr. Narkom has told you something about the case?”

“A little a very little indeed. I know that your father went to Java, and married a second wife there; and I know, too, that you yourself were rather taken with the lady at one time, and that she threw you over as soon as Mr. Bawdrey senior became a possibility.”

“That’s a mistake,” he replied. “She never threw me over, Mr. Headland; she never had the chance. I found her out long before my father became anything like what you might call a rival, found her out as a mercenary, designing woman, and broke from her voluntarily. I only wish that I had known that he had one serious thought regarding her. I could have warned him; I could have spoken then. But I never did find out until it was too late. Trust her for that. She waited until I had gone up-country to look after some fine old porcelains and enamels that the governor had heard about; then she hurried him off and tricked him into a hasty marriage. Of course, after that I couldn’t speak I wouldn’t speak. She was my father’s wife, and he was so proud of her, so happy, dear old boy, that I’d have been little better than a brute to say anything against her.”

“What could you have said if you had spoken?”

“Oh, lots of things the things that made me break away from her in the beginning. She’d had more love affairs than one; her late father’s masquerading as a doctor for another. They had only used that as a cloak. They had run a gambling-house on the sly he as the card-sharper, she as the decoy. They had drained one poor fellow dry, and she had thrown him over after leading him on to think that she cared for him and was going to marry him. He blew out his brains in front of her, poor wretch. They say she never turned a hair. You wouldn’t believe it possible, if you saw her; she is so sweet and caressing, and so young and beautiful, you’d almost believe her an angel. But there’s Travers in the background always Travers.”

“Travers! Who is he?”

“Oh, one of her old flames, the only one she ever really cared for, they say. She was supposed to have broken with him out there in Java, because they were too poor to marry; and now he’s come over to England, and he’s there, in the house with the dear old dad and me, and they are as thick as thieves together. I’ve caught them whispering and prowling about together, in the grounds and along the lanes, after she has said ’Good night,’ and gone to her room and is supposed to be in bed. There’s a houseful of her old friends three parts of the time. They come and they go, but Travers never goes. I know why” waxing suddenly excited, suddenly vehement “yes! I know why. He’s in the game with her!”

“Game! What game, Mr. Bawdrey? What is it that she is doing?”

“She’s killing my old dad!” he answered, with a sort of sob in his excited voice. “She’s murdering him by inches, that’s what she’s doing, and I want you to help me bring it home to her. God knows what it is she’s using or how she uses it; but you know what demons they are for secret poisons, those Javanese, what means they have of killing people without a trace. And she was out there for years and years. So, too, was Travers, the brute! They know all the secrets of those beastly barbarians, and between them they’re doing something to my old dad.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t know it that’s the worst of it. But I couldn’t be surer of it if they took me into their secrets. But there’s the evidence of his condition; there’s the fact that it didn’t begin until after Travers came. Look here, Mr. Headland, you don’t know my dad. He’s got the queerest notions sometimes. One of his fads is that it’s unlucky to make a will. Well, if he dies without one, who will inherit his money, as I am an only child?”

“Undoubtedly you and his widow.”

“Exactly. And if I die at pretty nearly the same time and they’ll see to that, never fear; it will be my turn the moment they are sure of him she will inherit everything. Now, let me tell you what’s happening. From being a strong, healthy man, my father has, since Travers’s arrival, begun to be attacked by a mysterious malady. He has periodical fainting-fits, sometimes convulsions. He’ll be feeling better for a day or so; then, without a word of warning, whilst you’re talking to him, he’ll drop like a shot bird and go into the most horrible convulsions. The doctors can’t stop it; they don’t even know what it is. They only know that he’s fading away turning from a strong, virile old man into a thin, nervous, shivering wreck. But I know! I know! They’re dosing him somehow with some diabolical Javanese thing, those two. And yesterday God help me! yesterday, I, too, dropped like a shot bird; I, too, had the convulsions and the weakness and the fainting-fit. My time has begun also!”

“Bless my soul! what a diabolical thing!” put in Narkom agitatedly. “No wonder you appealed to me!”

“No wonder!” Bawdrey replied. “I felt that it had gone as far as I dared to let it; that it was time to call in the police and to have help before it was too late. That’s the case, Mr. Headland. I want you to find some way of getting at the truth, of looking into Travers’s luggage, into my stepmother’s effects, and unearthing the horrible stuff with which they are doing this thing; and perhaps, when that is known, some antidote may be found to save the dear old dad and restore him to what he was. Can’t you do this? For God’s sake, say that you can.”

“At all events, I can try, Mr. Bawdrey,” responded Cleek.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” said Bawdrey gratefully. “I don’t care a hang what it costs, what your fees are, Mr. Headland. So long as you run those two to earth, and get hold of the horrible stuff, whatever it is, that they are using, I’ll pay any price in the world, and count it cheap as compared with the life of my dear old dad. When can you take hold of the case? Now?”

“I’m afraid not. Mysterious things like this require a little thinking over. Suppose we say to-morrow noon? Will that do?”

“I suppose it must, although I should have liked to take you back with me. Every moment’s precious at a time like this. But if it must be delayed until to-morrow well, it must, I suppose. But I’ll take jolly good care that nobody gets a chance to come within touching distance of the pater bless him! until you do come, if I have to sit on the mat before his door until morning. Here’s the address on this card, Mr. Headland. When and how shall I expect to see you again? You’ll use an alias, of course?”

“Oh, certainly! Had you any old friend in your college days whom your father only knew by name and who is now too far off for the imposture to be discovered?”

“Yes. Jim Rickaby. We were as inseparable as the Siamese twins in our undergrad days. He’s in Bornéo now. Haven’t heard from him in a dog’s age.”

“Couldn’t be better,” said Cleek. “Then ‘Jim Rickaby’ let it be. You’ll get a letter from him first thing in the morning saying that he’s back in England, and about to run down and spend the week-end with you. At noon he will arrive, accompanied by his Bornéo servant, named er Dollops. You can put the ‘blackie’ up in some quarter of the house where he can move about at will without disturbing any of your own servants, and can get in and out at all hours; he will be useful, you know, in prowling about the grounds at night and ascertaining if the lady really does go to bed when she retires to her room. As for ’Jim Rickaby’ himself well, you can pave the way for his operations by informing your father, when you get the letter, that he has gone daft on the subject of old china and curios and things of that sort, don’t you know.”

“What a ripping idea!” commented young Bawdrey. “I twig. He’ll get chummy with you, of course, and you can lead him on and adroitly ‘pump’ him regarding her, and where she keeps her keys and things like that. That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

“Something of that sort. I’ll find out all about her, never fear,” said Cleek in reply. Then they shook hands and parted, and it was not until after young Bawdry had gone that either he or Narkom recollected that Cleek had overlooked telling the young man that Headland was not his name.

“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. Time enough to tell him that when it comes to making out the cheque,” said Cleek, as the superintendent remarked upon the circumstance. Then he pushed back his chair and walked over to the window, and stood looking silently out upon the flowing river. Narkom did not disturb his reflections. He knew from past experience, as well as from the manner in which he took his lower lip between his teeth and drummed with his finger-tips upon the window-ledge, that some idea relative to the working out of the case had taken shape within his mind, and so, with the utmost discretion, went on with his tea and refrained from speaking. Suddenly Cleek turned. “Mr. Narkom, do me a favour, will you? Look me up a copy of Holman’s ‘Diseases of the Kidneys’ when you go back to town. I’ll send Dollops round to the Yard to-night to get it.”

“Right you are,” said Narkom, taking out his pocket-book and making a note of it. “But, I say, look here, my dear fellow, you can’t possibly believe that it’s anything of that sort anything natural, I mean in the face of what we’ve heard?”

“No, I don’t. I think it’s something confoundedly unnatural, and that that poor old chap is being secretly and barbarously murdered. I think that and I think, too ” His voice trailed off. He stood silent and preoccupied for a moment, and then, putting his thoughts into words, without addressing them to anybody: “Ayupee!” he said reflectively; “Pohon-Upas, Antjar, Galanga root, Ginger and Black Pepper that’s the Javanese method of procedure, I believe. Ayupee! yes, assuredly, Ayupee!”

“What the dickens are you talking about, Cleek? And what does all that gibberish and that word ‘Ayupee’ mean?”

“Nothing nothing. At least, just yet. I say, put on your hat, and let’s go for a pull on the river, Mr. Narkom. I’ve had enough of mysteries for to-day and am spoiling for another hour in a boat.”

Then he screwed round on his heel and walked out into the brilliant summer sunshine.