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

On the morrow, Mrs. Bawdrey made known the rather surprising piece of news that Mr. Rickaby had written her a note to say that he had received a communication of such vital importance that he had been obliged to leave the house that morning before anybody was up, and might not be able to return to it for several days.

“No very great hardship in that, my dear,” commented Mrs. Somerby-Miles, “for a more stupid and uninteresting person I never encountered. Fancy! he never even offered to assist the gentlemen to get poor Mr. Bawdrey upstairs last night. How is the poor old dear this morning, darling? Better?”

“Yes much,” said Mrs. Bawdrey, in reply. “Doctor Phillipson came to the house before four o’clock, and brought some wonderful new medicine that has simply worked wonders. Of course, he will have to stop in bed and be perfectly quiet for three or four days; but, although the attack was by far the worst he has ever had, the doctor feels quite confident that he will pull him safely through.”

Now although, in the light of her apparent affection for her aged husband, she ought, one would have thought, to be exceedingly happy over this, it was distinctly noticeable that she was nervous and ill at ease, that there was a hunted look in her eyes, and that, as the day wore on, these things seemed to be accentuated. More than that, there seemed added proof of the truth of young Bawdrey’s assertion that she and Captain Travers were in league with each other, for that day they were constantly together, constantly getting off into out-of-the-way places, and constantly talking in an undertone of something that seemed to worry them.

Even when dinner was over, and the whole party adjourned to the drawing-room for coffee, and the lady ought, in all conscience, to have given herself wholly up to the entertainment of her guests it was observable that she devoted most of her time to whispered confidences with Captain Travers, that they kept going to the window and looking up at the sky, as if worried and annoyed that the twilight should be so long in fading and the night in coming on. But worse than this, at ten o’clock Captain Travers made an excuse of having letters to write, and left the room, and it was scarcely six minutes later that she followed suit.

But the Captain had not gone to write letters, as it had happened. Instead, he had gone straight to the morning-room, an apartment immediately behind that in which the elder Mr. Bawdrey’s collection was housed, and from which a broad French window opened out upon the grounds, and it might have caused a scandal had it been known that Mrs. Bawdrey joined him there one minute after leaving the drawing-room.

“It is the time, Walter, it is the time!” she said, in a breathless sort of way, as she closed the door and moved across the room to where he stood, a dimly seen figure in the dim light. “God help and pity me! but I am so nervous, I hardly know how to contain myself. The note said at ten to-night in the morning-room, and it is ten now. The hour is here, Walter, the hour is here!”

“So is the man, Mrs. Bawdrey,” answered a low voice from the outer darkness; then a figure lifted itself above the screening shrubs just beyond the ledge of the open window, and Cleek stepped into the room.

She gave a little hysterical cry and reached out her hands to him.

“Oh, I am so glad to see you, even though you hint at such awful things, I am so glad, so glad!” she said. “I almost died when I read your note. To think that it is murder murder! And but for you he might be dead even now. You will like to know that the doctor brought the stuff you sent by him brought it at once and my darling is better better.”

Before Cleek could venture any reply to this, Captain Travers stalked across the room and gripped his hand.

“And so you are that great man Cleek, are you?” he said. “Bully boy! Bully boy! And to think that all the time it wasn’t some mysterious natural affliction; to think that it was crime murder poison. What poison, man, what poison what?”

“Ayupee, or, as it is variously called in the several islands of the Eastern Archipelago, Pohon-Upas, Antjar, and Ipo,” said Cleek, in reply. “The deadly venom which the Malays use in poisoning the heads of their arrows.”

“What! that awful stuff!” said Mrs. Bawdrey, with a little shuddering cry. “And someone in this house ” Her voice broke. She plucked at Cleek’s sleeve and looked up at him in an agony of entreaty. “Who?” she implored. “Who in this house could? You said you would tell to-night you said you would. Oh, who could have the heart? Ah! Who? It is true, if you have not heard it, that once upon a time there was bad blood between Mr. Murdock and him that Mr. Murdock is a family connection; but even he, oh, even he Tell me tell me, Mr. Cleek!”

“Mrs. Bawdrey, I can’t just yet,” he made reply. “In my heart I am as certain of it as though the criminal had confessed; but I am waiting for a sign, and, until that comes, absolute proof is not possible. That it will come, and may, indeed, come at any moment now that it is quite dark, I am very certain. When it does ”

He stopped and threw up a warning hand. As he spoke a queer thudding sound struck one dull note through the stillness of the house. He stood, bent forward, listening, absolutely breathless; then, on the other side of the wall, there rippled and rolled a something that was like the sound of a struggle between two voiceless animals, and the sign that he awaited had come!

“Follow me quickly, as noiselessly as you can. Let no one hear, let no one see!” he said in a breath of excitement. Then he sprang cat-like to the door, whirled it open, scudded round the angle of the passage to the entrance of the room where the fraudulent collection was kept, and went in with the silent fleetness of a panther. And a moment later, when Captain Travers and Mrs. Bawdrey swung in through the door and joined him, they came upon a horrifying sight.

For there, leaning against the open door of the case where the skeleton of the nine-fingered man hung, was Dollops, bleeding and faint, and with a score of tooth-marks on his neck and throat, and on the floor at his feet Cleek was kneeling on the writhing figure of a man, who bit and tore and snarled like a cornered wolf and fought with teeth and feet and hands alike in the wild effort to get free from the grip of destiny. A locked handcuff clamped one wrist, and from it swung, at the end of the connecting chain, its unlocked mate; the marks of Dollops’ fists were on his lips and cheeks, and at the foot of the case, where the hanging skeleton doddered and shook to the vibration of the floor, lay a shattered phial of deep-blue glass.

“Got you, you hound!” said Cleek, through his teeth as he wrenched the man’s two wrists together and snapped the other handcuff into place. “You beast of ingratitude you Judas! Kissing and betraying like any other Iscariot! And a dear old man like that! Look here, Mrs. Bawdrey; look here Captain, Travers; what do you think of a little rat like this?”

They came forward at his word, and, looking down, saw that the figure he was bending over was the figure of Philip Bawdrey.

“Oh!” gulped Mrs. Bawdrey, and then shut her two hands over her eyes and fell away weak and shivering. “Oh, Mr. Cleek, it can’t be it can’t! To do a thing like that?”

“Oh, he’d have done worse, the little reptile, if he hadn’t been pulled up short,” said Cleek in reply. “He’d have hanged you for it, if it had gone the way he planned. You look in your boxes; you, too, Captain Travers. I’ll wager each of you finds a phial of Ayupee hidden among them somewhere. Came in to put more of the cursed stuff on the ninth finger of the skeleton, so that it would be ready for the next time, didn’t he, Dollops?”

“Yes, Gov’nor. I waited for him behind the case just as you told me to, sir, and when he ups and slips the finger of the skilligan into the neck of the bottle, I nips out and whacks the bracelet on him. But he was too quick for me, sir, so I only got one on; and then, the hound, he turns on me like a blessed hyena, sir, and begins a-chawin’ of me windpipe. I say, Gov’nor, take off his silver wristlets, will you, sir, and lemme have jist ten minutes with him on my own? Five for me, sir, and five for his poor old dad!”

“Not I,” said Cleek. “I wouldn’t let you soil those honest lands of yours on his vile little body, Dollops. Thought you had a noodle to deal with, didn’t you, Mr. Philip Bawdrey? Thought you could lead me by the nose, and push me into finding those phials just where you wanted them found, didn’t you? Well, you’ve got a few more thoughts coming. Look here, Captain Travers: what do you think of this fellow’s little game? Tried to take me in about you and Mrs. Bawdrey being lovers, and trying to do away with him and his father to get the old man’s money.”

“Why, the contemptible little hound! Bless my soul, man, I’m engaged to Mrs. Bawdrey’s cousin. And as for his stepmother why, she threw the little worm over as soon as he began making love to her, and tried to make her take up with him by telling her how much he’d be worth when his father died.”

“I guessed as much. I didn’t fancy him from the first moment; and he was so blessed eager to have me begin by suspecting you two, that I smelt a rat at once. Oh, but he’s been crafty enough in other things. Putting that devilish stuff on the ninth finger of the skeleton, and never losing an opportunity to get his poor old father to handle it and show it to people. It’s a strong, irritant poison sap of the upas-tree is the base of it producing first an irritation of the skin, then a blister, and, when that broke, communicating the poison directly to the blood every time the skeleton hand touched it. A weak solution at first, so that the decline would be natural, the growth of the malady gradual. But if I’d found that phial in your room last night, as he hoped and believed I had done well, look for yourself. The finger of the skeleton is thick with the beastly, gummy stuff to-night. Double strength, of course. The next time his father touched it he’d have died before morning. And the old chap fairly worshipping him. I suspected him, and suspected what the stuff that was being used really was from the beginning. Last night I drugged him, and then I knew.”

“Knew, Mr. Cleek? Why, how could you?”

“The most virulent poisons have their remedial uses, Captain,” he made reply. “You can kill a man with strychnine; you can put him in his grave with arsenic; you can also use both these powerful agents to cure and to save, in their proper proportions and in the proper way. The same rule applies to Ayupee. Properly diluted and properly used, it is one of the most powerful agents for the relief, and, in some cases, the cure, of Bright’s disease of the kidneys. But the Government guards this unholy drug most carefully. You can’t get a drop of it in Java for love or money, unless on the order of a recognized physician; and you can’t bring it into the ports of England unless backed by that physician’s sworn statement and the official stamp of the Javanese authorities. A man undeniably afflicted with Bright’s disease could get these things no other could. Well, I wanted to know who had succeeded in getting Ayupee into this country and into this house. Last night I drugged every man in it, and I found out.”

“But how?”

“By finding the one who could not sleep stretched out at full length. One of the strongest symptoms of Bright’s disease is a tendency to draw the knees up close to the body in sleep. Captain, and to twist the arms above the head. Of all the men under this roof, this man here was the only one who slept like that last night!” He paused and looked down at the scowling, sullen creature on the floor. “You wretched little cur!” he said, with a gesture of unspeakable contempt. “And all for the sake of an old man’s money! If I did my duty, I’d gaol you. But if I did, it would be punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. It would kill that dear old man to learn this; and so he’s not going to learn it, and the law’s not going to get its own.” He twitched out his hand, and something tinkled on the floor. “Get up!” he said sharply. “There’s the key of the handcuffs; take it and set yourself free. Do you know what’s going to happen to you? To-morrow morning Dr. Phillipson is going to examine you, and to report that you’ll be a dead man in a year’s time if you stop another week in this country. You are going out of it, and you are going to stop out of it. Do you understand? Stop out of it to the end of your days. For if ever you put foot in it again I’ll handle you as a terrier handles a rat! Dollops!”

“Yes, Gov’nor?”

“My things packed and ready?”

“Yes, sir. And all waitin’ in the arbour, sir, as you told me to have ’em.”

“Good lad! Get them, and we’ll catch the first train back. Mrs. Bawdrey, my best respects. Captain, all good luck to you,” said Cleek and swung out into the darkness and the moist, warm fragrance of the night; his mental poise a bit unsteady, his nerves raw. It was not in him to have stopped longer, to have remained under the same roof with a monster like young Bawdrey and keep his temper in check.