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

It was two o’clock when Sir Henry Wilding’s motor turned its back upon the outskirts of London, and it was a quarter past seven when it whirled up to the stables of Wilding Hall, and the baronet and his grey-headed, bespectacled and white-spatted companion alighted, having taken five hours and a quarter to make a journey which the trains which run daily between Liverpool Street and Darsham make in four.

As a matter of fact, however, they really had outstripped the train, but it had been Cleek’s pleasure to make two calls on the way, one at Saxmundham, where the paralysed Murple lay in the infirmary of the local practitioner, the other at the mortuary where the body of Tolliver was retained, awaiting the sitting of the coroner. Both the dead and the still living man Cleek had subjected to a critical personal examination, but whether either furnished him with any suggested clue he did not say; indeed, the only remark he made upon the subject was when Sir Henry, on hearing from Murple’s wife that the doctor had said he would probably not last the week out, had inquired if the woman knew where to “put her hand on the receipt for the payment of the last premium, so that her claim could be sent into the life assurance company without delay when the end came.”

“Tell me something, Sir Henry,” said Cleek when he heard that, and noticed how gratefully the woman looked at the baronet when she replied, “Yes, Sir Henry, God bless you, sir!” “Tell me, if it is not an impertinent question, did you take out an insurance policy on Murple’s life and pay the premium on it yourself? I gathered the idea that you did from the manner in which the woman spoke to you.”

“Yes, I did,” replied Sir Henry. “As a matter of fact, I take out a similar policy payable to the widow for every married man I employ in connection with my racing stud.”

“May I ask why?”

“Well, for one thing, they usually are too poor and have too many children to support to be able to take it out for themselves, and exercising racers has a good many risks. Then, for another thing, I’m a firm believer in the policy of life assurance. It’s just so much money laid up in safety, and one never knows what may happen.”

“Then it is fair,” said Cleek, “to suppose, in that case, that you have taken out one on your own life?”

“Yes rather! And a whacking big one, too.”

“And Lady Wilding is, of course, the beneficiary?”

“Certainly. There are no children, you know. As a matter of fact, we have been married only seven months. Before the date of my wedding the policy was in my uncle Ambrose’s the Rev. Mr. Smeer’s favour.”

“Ah, I see!” said Cleek reflectively. Then fell to thinking deeply over the subject, and was still thinking of it when the motor whizzed into the stable yard at Wilding Hall and brought him into contact for the first time with the trainer, Logan. He didn’t much fancy Logan at first blush and Logan didn’t fancy him at all at any time.

“Hur!” he said disgustedly, in a stage aside to his master, as Cleek stood on the threshold of the stable, with his head thrown back and his chin at an angle, sniffing the air somewhat after the manner of a bird-dog. “Hur! If un’s the best Scotland Yard could let out to ye, sir a half-baked old softy like that! the rest of ’em must be a blessed poor lot, Ah’m thinkin’. What’s un doin’ now, the noodle? snuffin’ the air like he did not understand the smell of it! He’d not be expectin’ a stable to be scented with eau de cologne, would he? What’s un name, sir?”

“Cleek.”

“Hur! Sounds like a golf-stick an’ Ah’ve no doubt he’s got a head like one: main thick and with a twist in un. I dunna like ’tecs, Sir Henry, and I dunna like this one especial. Who’s to tell as he aren’t in with they devils as is after Black Riot? Naw! I dunna like him at all.”

Meantime, serenely unconscious of the displeasure he had excited in Logan’s breast, Cleek went on sniffing the air and “poking about,” as he phrased it, in all corners of the stable; and when, a moment later, Sir Henry went in and joined him, he was standing before the door of the steel room examining the curving scratch of which the baronet had spoken.

“What do you make of it, Mr. Cleek?”

“Not much in the way of a clue, Sir Henry a clue to any possible intruder, I mean. If your artistic soul hadn’t rebelled against bare steel which would, of course, have soon rusted in this ammonia-impregnated atmosphere and led you to put a coat of paint over the metal, there would have been no mark at all, the thing is so slight. I am of the opinion that Tolliver himself caused it. In short, that it was made by either a pin or a cuff button in his wristband when he was attacked and fell. But, enlighten me upon a puzzling point, Sir Henry: What do you use coriander and oil of sassafras for in a stable?”

“Coriander? Oil of sassafras? I don’t know what the dickens they are. Have you found such things here?”

“No; simply smelt them. The combination is not usual indeed, I know of but one race in the world who make any use of it, and they merely for a purpose which, of course, could not possibly exist here, unless ”

He allowed the rest of the sentence to go by default, and turning, looked all round the place. For the first time he seemed to notice something unusual for the equipment of a stable, and regarded it with silent interest. It was nothing more nor less than a box, covered with sheets of virgin cork, and standing on the floor just under one of the windows, where the light and air could get to a weird-looking, rubbery-leaved, orchid-like plant, covered with ligulated scarlet blossoms which grew within it.

“Sir Henry,” he said, after a moment, “may I ask how long it is since you were in South America?”

“I? Never was there in my life, Mr. Cleek never.”

“Ah! Then who connected with the hall has been?”

“Oh, I see what you are driving at,” said Sir Henry, following the direction of his gaze. “That Patagonian plant, eh? That belonged to poor Tolliver. He had a strange fancy for ferns and rock plants and things of that description, and as that particular specimen happens to be one that does better in the atmosphere of a stable than elsewhere, he kept it in here.”

“Who told him that it does better in the atmosphere of a stable?”

“Lady Wilding’s cousin, Mr. Sharpless. It was he who gave Tolliver the plant.”

“Oho! Then Mr. Sharpless has been to South America, has he?”

“Why, yes. As a matter of fact, he comes from there; so also does Lady Wilding. I should have thought you would have remembered that, Mr. Cleek, when But perhaps you have never heard? She they that is,” stammering confusedly and colouring to the temples, “up to seven months ago, Mr. Cleek, Lady Wilding was on the er music-hall stage. She and Mr. Sharpless were known as ’Signor Morando and La Belle Creole’ they did a living statue turn together. It was highly artistic; people raved; I er fell in love with the lady and that’s all!”

But it wasn’t; for Cleek, reading between the lines, saw that the mad infatuation which had brought the lady a title and an over-generous husband had simmered down as such things always do sooner or later and that the marriage was very far from being a happy one. As a matter of fact, he learned later that the county, to a woman, had refused to accept Lady Wilding; that her ladyship, chafing under this ostracism, was for having a number of her old professional friends come down to visit her and make a time of it, and that, on Sir Henry’s objecting, a violent quarrel had ensued, and the Rev. Ambrose Smeer had come down to the hall in the effort to make peace. And he learned something else that night which gave him food for deep reflection: the Rev. Ambrose Smeer, too, had been to South America, and when he met that gentleman well, in spite of the fact that Sir Henry thought so highly of him, and it was known that his revival meetings had done a world of good, Cleek did not fancy the Rev. Ambrose Smeer any more than he fancied the trainer, Logan.

But to return to the present. By this time the late falling twilight of May had begun to close in, and presently as the day was now done and the night approaching Logan led in Black Riot from the paddock, followed by a slim, sallow-featured, small-moustached man, bearing a shotgun, and dressed in grey tweeds. Sir Henry, who, it was plain to see, had a liking for the man, introduced this newcomer to Cleek as the South American, Mr. Andrew Sharpless.

“That’s the English of it, Mr. Cleek,” said the latter jovially, but with an undoubted Spanish twist to the tongue. “I wouldn’t have you risk breaking your jaw with the Brazilian original. Delighted to meet you, sir. I hope to Heaven you will get at the bottom of this diabolical thing. What do you think, Henry? Lambson-Bowles’s jockey was over in this neighbourhood this afternoon. Trying to see how Black Riot shapes, of course, the bounder! Fortunately I saw him skulking along on the other side of the hedge, and gave him two minutes in which to make himself scarce. If he hadn’t, if he had come a step nearer to the mare, I’d have shot him down like a dog. That’s right, Logan, put her up for the night, old chap, and I’ll get out your bedding.”

“Aye,” said Logan, through his clamped teeth, “and God help man or devil that comes a-nigh her this night God help him, Lunnon Mister, that’s all Ah say!” Then he passed into the steel room with the mare, attended her for the night, and coming out a minute or two later, locked her up and gave Sir Henry the key.

“Broke her and trained her, Ah did; and willin’ to die for her, Ah am, if Ah can’t pull un through no other way,” he said, pausing before Cleek and giving him a black look, “A Derby winner her’s cut out for, Lunnon Mister, and a Derby winner her’s goin’ to be, in spite of all the Lambson-Bowleses and the low-down horse-nobblers in Christendom!” Then he switched round and walked over to Sharpless, who had taken a pillow and a bundle of blankets from a convenient cupboard, and was making a bed of them on the floor at the foot of the locked steel door.

“Thanky, sir, ’bliged to un, sir,” said Logan as Sharpless hung up the shotgun and, with a word to the baronet, excused himself and went in to dress for dinner. Then he faced round again on Cleek, who was once more sniffing the air, and pointed to the rude bed: “There’s where Ted Logan sleeps this night there!” he went on suddenly; “and them as tries to get at Black Riot comes to grips with me first, me and the shotgun Mr. Sharpless has left Ah. And if Ah shoot, Lunnon Mister, Ah shoot to kill!”

“Do me a favour, Sir Henry,” said Cleek. “For reasons of my own, I want to be in this stable alone for the next ten minutes, and after that let no one come into it until morning. I won’t be accountable for this man’s life if he stops in here to-night, and for his sake, as well as for your own, I want you to forbid him to do so.”

Logan seemed to go nearly mad with rage at this.

“Ah won’t listen to it! Ah will stop here Ah will! Ah will!” he cried out in a passion. “Who comes ull find Ah here waitin’ to come to grips with un. Ah won’t stop out Ah won’t! Don’t un listen to Lunnon Mister, Sir Henry for God’s sake, don’t!”

“I am afraid I must in this instance, Logan. You are far too suspicious, my good fellow. Mr. Cleek doesn’t want to ‘get at’ the mare; he wants to protect her; to keep anybody else from getting at her, so join the guard outside if you are so eager. You must let him have his way.” And, in spite of all Logan’s pleading, Cleek did have his way.

Protesting, swearing, almost weeping, the trainer was turned out and the doors closed, leaving Cleek alone in the stable; and the last Logan and Sir Henry saw of him until he came out and rejoined them he was standing in the middle of the floor, with his hands on both hips, staring fixedly at the impromptu bed in front of the steel-room door.

“Put on the guard now and see that nobody goes into the place until morning, Sir Henry,” he said when he came out and rejoined them some minutes later. “Logan, you silly fellow, you’ll do no good fighting against Fate. Make the best of it and stop where you are.”