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

The little house of Dalehampton was something more than a mere house of grief, they found, when the long drive came to an end and Cleek and his two companions entered it, for the very spirit of desolation and despair seemed to have taken up its abode there; and, like an Incarnate Woe, Miss Comstock paced through the hush and darkness, hour in and hour out, as she had been doing since daybreak.

“My darling, you mustn’t you really mustn’t, dear. You’ll lose your mind if you brood over the thing like this,” said the Captain, flying to her the very instant they arrived; and, disregarding the presence of his two companions, caught her in his arms and kissed her. “Miriam, dearest, don’t! It breaks my heart. I know it’s awful; but do try to have strength and hope. I am sure we shall get at the bottom of the thing now sure that there will be no more that this is truly the end. These gentlemen are from Scotland Yard, dearest, and they say it surely will be.”

“Heaven knows I hope so,” replied Miss Comstock, acknowledging the introduction to Cleek and Narkom by a gentle inclination of the head. “But indeed, I can’t hope, Jim indeed, I cannot, gentlemen. The tenth of next month will take its toll as the tenth of this one has done. I feel persuaded that it will. For who can fight a thing unseen and unknown?”

Her grief was so great, her despair so hopeless, that Cleek forbore attempting to assuage either by any words of sympathy or promise. He seemed to feel that hers was an anguish upon which even the kindliest words must fall only as an intrusion, and the heart of the man that curiously created heart, which at times could be savage even to the point of brutality, and again tender and sympathetic as any woman’s went out to her in one great surge of human feeling. And two minutes later when all the Law’s grim business of inquiry and inquest had been carried out by Narkom, and she, in obedience to his expressed desire, led them to the room where the dead boy lay that wave of sympathetic feeling broke over his soul again. For the gentle opening of the door had shown him a small, dimly lit room, a kneeling figure, bent of back and bowed of head, that leant over a little white bed in a very agony of tearless woe.

“He can hardly tear himself away for an instant he loved him so!” she said in a quavering whisper to Cleek. “Must we disturb him? It seems almost cruel.”

“I know it,” he whispered back; “but the place must be searched in quest of possible clues, Miss Comstock. The the little boy, too, must be examined, and it would be crueller still if he were to stay and see things like that. Lead him out if you can. It will be for a few minutes only. Tell him so tell him he can come back then.” And turned his face away from that woeful picture as she went over and spoke to the sorrowing old man.

“Uncle!” she said softly. “Uncle Phil! You must come away for a little time, dear. It is necessary.”

“Oh, I can’t, Mirry I can’t, lovie, dear!” he answered without lifting his head or loosening his folded hands. “My bonnie, my bonnie, that I loved so well! Ah, let me have him while I may, Mirry they’ll take him from me soon enough soon enough, my bonnie boy!”

“But, dearest, you must. The the Law has stepped in. Gentlemen from Scotland Yard are here. Jim has brought them. They must have the room for a little time. There there’s the window to be examined, you know; and if they can find out anything ”

“I’ll give them the half of all I have in the world!” broke in the old man with a little burst of tears. “Tell them that. The half of everything everything if they can get at the creature. If they can find out. But” collapsing suddenly, with his elbows on his knees and his face between his hands “they can’t, they can’t; nobody can! It kills and kills and kills; and God help us! we all shall go the same way! It will be my turn, too, some time soon. I wish it were mine now. I wish it had been mine long ago before I lost my bonnie own!”

“Takes it hard, poor old chap, doesn’t he?” whispered Narkom, glancing round and getting something of a shock when he saw that Cleek, who a moment before had appeared to be almost on the verge of tears, was now fumbling in his coat pockets, and, with indrawn lips and knotted brows, was scowling absolutely scowling in the direction where Captain Morford stood, biting his lips and drumming with his finger nails upon the edge of the washstand. But Cleek made no reply. Instead, he walked quickly across to the Captain’s side, stretched forth his hand, took up a tablet of soap, turned it over, laid it down again, stepped to the window, stepped back, and laid a firm hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“Captain,” he said suddenly, in sharp, crisp tones, that sounded painfully harsh after the old man’s broken cries, “Captain, there’s a little game of cards called ‘Bluff,’ and it’s an excellent amusement if you don’t get caught at it. We shan’t have to go any further with the search for clues in this case; but I think I shall have to ask you, my friend, a few little questions in private, and in the interests of a gentleman called Jack Ketch!”

This unexpected outburst produced something like a panic. Miss Comstock, hearing the words, cried out, put both hands to her temples, as though her head were reeling; old Mr. Harmstead straightened suddenly and flung a look of blank amazement across the room; and the Captain, twitching away from the man who gripped him, went first deathly white and then red as any beet.

“Good God!” he gulped. “You I Look here, I say now, what does this mean? What the dickens are you talking about?”

“Bluff, Captain! Simply ’bluff’!” responded Cleek serenely. “And as I said before, it’s a clever little game. Stand where you are keep an eye on him, Mr. Narkom. What I’ve got to say to you, my friend, we’ll talk about in private, and after I have assisted Miss Comstock to lead her uncle out of the room.”

With that he swung away from the Captain’s side and went over to that of the old man.

“Come, Mr. Harmstead, let me help you to rise,” he began; then stopped as the old man put up a knotted and twisted hand in supplication and protested agitatedly: “But but, sir, I do not want to go. Good Heaven! What can you be hinting against that poor, dear boy? Surely you do not mean you cannot mean ”

“That the little game of ‘Bluff’ has worked, Dr. Finch, and you’ll never draw a revolver on me,” rapped in Cleek, giving him a backward push that carried him to the floor, and in the twinkling of an eye he had pounced upon him like a cat and was saying, as he snapped the handcuffs upon his wrists: “Got you, you brute-beast; got you tight and fast! Do you remember Hamilton, the medical student, in New Zealand, eight years ago? Do you? Well, that’s the man you’re dealing with now!”

The man, struggling and kicking, biting and clawing like any other cornered wild cat, flung out a cry of utter despair at this, and collapsed suddenly; and in the winking of an eye Cleek’s hands had flashed into the two pockets of the dressing-gown the fellow was wearing, and flashed out again with a revolver in one and a shining nickel thing in the other.

“Got your ‘bark,’ doctor, and got your ‘bite’ as well!” he said, as he rose to his feet. “You’d have put a bullet through me at the first word, wouldn’t you, but for that little ‘bluff’ of suspecting and arresting another man? Captain, look to Miss Comstock I think she has fainted. You wanted the murderer of Mrs. Comstock and her children, didn’t you? Well, here he is, the rascal!”

“Good God! Then it it’s not a mistake? You mean it mean it? And Uncle Phil! You accuse Uncle Phil?”

“Uncle Nothing!” flung back Cleek with a sort of laugh and, hazarding a guess which afterwards was proved to be the truth “I’ll lay my life, Captain, that when you apply to the Australian authorities you will find that old Mr. Philip Harmstead is in his grave; that he was attended in his last illness by one Dr. Frederick Finch, to whom his fortune would revert in the event of Mrs. Comstock and her children dying. Finch is the fellow’s name isn’t it, doctor, eh?”

“Finch?” repeated the Captain. “Good Heaven! Why that was the name of the woman who was old Mr. Harmstead’s housekeeper you know, the widow I told you about to-night.”

“Oho!” said Cleek. “That’s possibly where the threads join and this little game begins. Or perhaps it may really be said to begin again where Shorty, the chemist, died, and the celebrated Spofford mystery ended eh, doctor? Look here, Captain, look here, Mr. Narkom, you remember what I told you this morning about that case in New Zealand which so strongly resembled this one? That was the Spofford mystery. Do you remember what I said about hitting upon a theory and offering it to the medical fraternity, only to get laughed at for my pains? Well, it was to this man, Dr. Frederick Finch, I advanced that theory, and it was Dr. Frederick Finch who jeered at it, but has now made deadly use of it, the hound. Do you want to know how he killed his victims, and what he used? Look at this thing that you saw me take from the pocket of his dressing-gown. It is a hypodermic syringe, but there is nothing in it there never has been anything in it. Air was his poison air his shaft of death; and he killed by injecting it into the veins of his victims. The result of air coming into contact with the circulating blood of a human being is the formation of a blood-clot, and death is instantaneous the instant the clot reaches either the brain or the heart! That was his method. But thank God it’s done with for ever now, and the next tenth day of the month will pass over this stricken family and leave it unscathed!”

“How did I know the man?” said Cleek, answering Narkom’s query, as they came down the Tor-side afoot and forged on in the direction of Lyntonhurst Old Church whither Captain Morford and the limousine had long ago preceded them with the low-dropped sun behind them and lengthening shadows streaming on before. “Well, as a matter of fact, I never did know him until I actually touched him. I was certain of the method, of course; but the man no. I got my first suspicion of ’Uncle Phil’ when I heard him speak. I knew I had heard that voice somewhere, and I realised that it was much too young a voice for a man who appeared and must be, if he were the real ’Uncle Phil’ extremely old; but it was only when I saw his hand, and the peculiar knotted and twisted little finger that I really knew who he was. What’s that? The soap? Well, of course I knew that if, as I suspected, someone in the house was the real culprit, an attempt would be made to make it look as though the criminal entered from without, so naturally the window would be opened, and something of some sort would be smeared on the sill something that wouldn’t blow away and wouldn’t wash off in the event of a sudden rainstorm coming up. Soap would do and soap is always handy in a bedroom. I knew whose hand had made the smear as soon as I looked at the cake of soap in ‘Uncle Phil’s’ room it was badly rubbed on one side where it had been scraped over the stone coping and along the outer edge of the sill where Pardon me: this is the turning I leave you here. Pick me up at the inn of the Three Desires in an hour’s time, please, and we’ll motor back to town together. So long!”

And swung round into the branching lane and down the green slope, and round under the shadow of Lyntonhurst Old Church to the quiet country road and the lich-gate where Ailsa Lorne was waiting.