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

’"There, Mr. Cleek,” resumed the Captain, after he could master his emotion. “That is the case that is the riddle I am praying to Heaven that you may be able to solve. What the mysterious power is, when, where, or how it got into the room and got at the boy, God alone knows. Mr. Harmstead will swear that he never let the little fellow out of his arms for one solitary instant between the time of our leaving him just after midnight, and Miss Comstock’s coming in in the morning. He admits, however, that twice during that period he fell asleep, but it was only for a few minutes each time; and long years of being constantly alert for possible marauders out there in the wilds of Australia have tended to make his sleep so light that anything heavier than a cat’s footfall wakes him on the instant. Yet last night something man or spirit came and went, and he neither heard nor saw either sound or shape from midnight until morning. One thing I must tell you, however, which may throw some light upon the movements of the appalling thing. Whereas Mr. Harmstead not only closed, but locked, both of the two windows in the room, and pinned the thick plushette curtains of them together as Miss Comstock and I saw them pinned when we left the room last night when those curtains came to be drawn this morning one of the windows was found to be partly open, and there was a smear of something that looked like grease across the sill and the stone coping beyond.”

“Of course, of course!” commented Cleek enigmatically. “Provided my theory is correct, I should have expected that. A thing that comes and goes through windows must, at some period, leave some mark of its passage. Of course that particular window opened upon a balcony or something of that sort, didn’t it?”

“No, it is a perfectly unbroken descent from the window sill to the ground. But there’s a big tree close by, and the branches of that brush the pane of glass.”

“Ah! I see! I see! All the soap dishes in the house left filled last night and found filled this morning, captain?”

“Good heavens! I don’t know. What on earth can soap dishes have to do with it, man?”

“Possibly nothing, probably a great deal particularly if there’s found to be a cake of soap in each. But that we can discover later. Now one word more. Was that same minute swelling the mark like a gnat’s bite on the neck of the boy’s body, too? And had it been on that of the mother’s as well?”

“I can’t answer either question, Mr. Cleek. I don’t remember to have heard about it being remarked in the case of Mrs. Comstock’s death; and the murder of little Paul was such a horrible thing and so upset everybody that none of us thought to look.”

“An error of judgment that; however, it is one easily rectified, since the body is not yet interred,” said Cleek. “Ever read Harvey’s ‘Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Sanguinis,’ Captain? the volume in which William Harvey first gave to the world at large his discovery regarding the circulation of the blood.”

“Good heavens, no! What would I be doing reading matters of that kind? I’m not a medico, Mr. Cleek I’m a soldier.”

“I know. But, still well, I thought it just possible that you might have read the work, or, at least, heard something regarding the contents of the volume. Men who have a hobby are rather given to riding it and boring other people with discussions and dissertations upon it; and I seem to think that I have heard it said that Sir Gilbert Morford’s greatest desire in the time of his youth was to become a medical man. In fact, that he put in two or three years as a student at St. Bartholomew’s, and would have qualified, but that the sudden death of his father compelled him to abandon the hope and to assume the responsibilities of the head of the house of Morford & Morford, tea importers, of Mincing Lane.”

“Yes; that’s quite correct. He bitterly resented the compulsion the ’pitchforking of a man out of a profession into the abomination of trade,’ as he always expresses it but of course, he was obliged to yield, and the ‘dream of his life’ dropped off into nothing but a dream. But the old love and the old recollection still linger, and, although he no longer personally follows either trade or profession, he keeps up his laboratory work, subscribes to every medical journal in Christendom, and if you want to tickle his vanity or to get on the right side of him all you have to do is to address him as ‘doctor.’ With all due respect to him, he’s a bit of a prig, Mr. Cleek, and hates people of no position ’people of the lower order,’ as he always terms them as the gentleman down under is said to hate holy water.”

“So that he, naturally, would move heaven and earth to prevent his grandson and heir from marrying a young woman of that class? I see!” supplemented Cleek. “The dear gentleman would like the name of Morford to go down to posterity linked to duchesses or earls’ daughters, and surrounded by a blaze of glory. Ah, it’s a queer world, Captain. There is no bitterer hater of the ‘common herd’ than the snob who has climbed up from it! The snob and the sneak are closely allied, Captain, and men of that stamp have been known to do some pretty ugly things to uphold their pinchbeck dignity, and to keep the tinsel of the present over the cheap gingerbread of the past.”

“Good God, man! You don’t surely mean to suggest ”

“Gently, gently, Captain. Your indignation does you credit; but it is never well to have a shot at a rabbit before he’s fairly out of the hole, and you are sure that it isn’t the ferret you sent in after him. Anything in the way of a conveyance handy, Mr. Narkom?”

“Yes the limousine. I came down in it yesterday. It’s over at the Rose and Crown.”

“Good! Then perhaps Captain Morford will meet us there in a half hour’s time. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few things to throw into my kit-bag, and as that’s over at the Three Desires, perhaps you won’t mind coming along and giving me a hand. Then we’ll run over to that house at Dalehampton and have a look at the body of that poor little shaver as expeditiously as possible. Will you come?”

“Yes, certainly,” said Narkom; and having given a few necessary directions to the Captain walked on and followed Cleek. He knew very well the suggestion that he should do so was merely an excuse to have a few words with him in private for no man would be likely to need another man’s assistance in simply putting a few things into a bag and he was rather puzzled to account for Cleek’s desire to say anything to him which the Captain was not to hear. However, he kept his curiosity in check and his tongue behind his teeth until they were on the other side of the lich-gate and in the road leading to the Three Desires.

“There’s something you want to say to me, isn’t there?” he inquired. “Something you want attended to on the quiet?”

“Yes,” admitted Cleek, tersely. “There’s a public telephone station a mile or two on the other side of this place I saw it this morning when I was out tramping. Slip off down there, ring up the head of the Dalehampton Constabulary, and tell him to have a man at the house ready to pop up when wanted. I’ll be long enough over my supposed ‘packing’ to cover the time of your going and returning without the Captain’s knowledge.”

“Without Good Heaven! My dear Cleek, you were serious, then? You meant it? You you really believe that suspicion points to Sir Gilbert Morford?”

“Not any more than it points to Sir Gilbert Morford’s grandson, Mr. Narkom.”

“Good Lord! To him? To that boy? Why, man alive, what possible motive could he have for bringing grief and anguish to Miss Comstock when he’s willing to give up a fortune to marry her?”

“Ah, but don’t forget that another fortune descends to all the heirs, male and female alike, of the late Mrs. Comstock, Mr. Narkom, and that if the Captain’s fiancee becomes, in course of time, the only surviving child of that unfortunate lady, the Captain’s sacrifice will not be such an overpowering hardship for him, after all.”

“Great Scott! I never thought of that before, Cleek never.”

“Didn’t you? Well, don’t think too much of it now that you have. For circumstantial evidence is tricky and treacherous, and he mayn’t be the man, after all!”

“Mayn’t be? What a beggar you are for damping a man’s ardour after you’ve fanned it up to the blazing point. Any light in the darkness, old chap? Any idea of what and how?”

“Yes,” said Cleek, quietly. “If there’s a mark on that poor little shaver’s neck, Mr. Narkom, I shall know the means. And if there’s soap on the window sill I shall know the man!” And then, having reached the doorway of the inn, he dived into it and went up the staircase two steps at a time.