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Chapter 14 THE SPIN OF THE WHEEL

  • Merriton stood at the study window, looking out, and pulling at his cigar wit_n air of profound meditation. Upon the hearth-rug Doctor Bartholomew, clad i_aggy tweeds, stood tugging at his beard and watched the man's back wit_indly, troubled eyes.
  • "Don't like it, Nigel, my boy; don't like it at all!" he ejaculated, suddenly, in his close-clipped fashion. "These detectives are the very devil to pay. Get
  • 'em in one's house and they're like doctors—including, of course, my humbl_elf—difficult to get out. Part of the profession, my boy. But a beastl_uisance. Seems to me I'd rather have the mystery than the men. Simpler, anyway. And fees, you know, are heavy."
  • Merriton swung round upon his heel suddenly, his brows like a thunder cloud.
  • "I don't care a damn about that," he broke out angrily. "Let 'em take ever_enny I've got, so long as they solve the thing! But I can't get away fro_t—I just can't. Hangs over me night and day like the sword of Damocles! Unti_he mystery of Wynne's disappearance is cleared up, I tell you 'Toinette and _an't marry. She feels the same. And—and—we've the house all ready, you know, everything fixed and in order, except _this_. When poor old Collin_isappeared, too, I found I'd reached my limit. So here these detectives are, and, on the whole, jolly decent chaps I find 'em."
  • Doctor Bartholomew shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Have it your own way, my boy." But what he really _did_ say was:
  • "What are their names?"
  • "Young chap's Headland—George or John Headland, I don't remember quite which.
  • Other one's Lake—Gregory Lake."
  • "H'm. Good name that, Nigel. Ought to be some brains behind it. But I neve_id pin my faith on policemen, you know, boy. Scotland Yard's made so man_istakes that if it hadn't been for that chap Cleek, they'd have ruine_hemselves altogether. Now, he's a man, if you like! Pity you couldn't ge_him_ while you're about it."
  • The impulse to tell who "George Headland" really was to this firm friend wh_ad been more than a father to him, even in the old days, and who had made _oint of dropping down upon him, informally, ever since the trouble over Dacr_ynne's disappearance, took hold of Nigel. But he shook it off. He had give_is word. And if he could not tell 'Toinette, then no other soul in th_niverse should know. So he simply tossed his shoulders, and, going back t_he window, looked out of it, to hide the something of triumph which ha_tolen into his face.
  • Truth to tell, he was obsessed with a feeling that something _was_ going t_appen, and happen soon. The premonition, to one who was not used to suc_hings, carried all the more conviction. With Cleek on the track—anythin_ight happen. Cleek was a man for whom things never stood still, and hi_mazing brain was concentrated upon this problem as it had bee_oncentrated—successfully—upon others. Merriton had a feeling that it was onl_ matter of time.
  • Then, just as he was standing there, humming something softly beneath hi_reath, the cavalcade, headed by Cleek and Mr. Narkom, rather grim and silent, reached the gateway. Behind them—Merriton gave a sudden cry which brought th_octor to his side—behind them three men were carrying something—somethin_ulky and large and wrapped in a black oilskin tarpaulin. And one of the me_as Headland's servant, Dollops! He recognized that, even as his inne_onsciousness told him that his "something" was about to happen now.
  • "Gad! they've found the body," he exclaimed, in a hoarse, excited voice, fairly running to the front door and throwing it open with a crash that ran_hrough the old house from floor to rafters, and brought Borkins scuttling u_he kitchen stairs at a pace that was ill-befitting his age and dignity.
  • Merriton gave him a curt order.
  • "Have the morning-room door thrown open and the sofa pulled out from agains_he wall. My friends have been for a walk across the Fens, and have foun_omething. You can see them coming up the drive. What d'you make of it?"
  • "Gawd! a haccident, Sir Nigel," said Borkins, in a shaky voice. "'Adn't _etter tell Mrs. Mummery to put the blue bedroom in order and 'ave plenty of
  • 'ot water?… "
  • "No." Merriton was running down the front steps and flung the answer back ove_is shoulder. "Can't you use your eyes? It's a body, you fool—a body!"
  • Borkins gasped a moment, and then stood still, his thin lips sucked in, hi_ace unpleasant to see. He was alone in the hallway, for Doctor Bartholomew'_at figure was waddling in Merriton's wake.
  • He put up his fist and shook it in their direction.
  • "Pity it ain't your body, young upstart that you are!" he muttered beneath hi_reath, and turned toward the morning room.
  • Meanwhile Merriton had reached the solemn little party and was walking bac_eside Cleek, his face chalky, the pupils of his eyes a trifle dilated wit_xcitement.
  • "Found 'em? Found 'em _both_ , you say, Mr. Headland?" he kept on repeatin_ver and over again, as they mounted the steps together. "Good God! What _trange—what a peculiar thing! I'll swear there was no sight nor sign of the_hen I've tramped over the Fens dozens of times. I don't know what to make o_t, I don't indeed!"
  • "Oh, we'll make something of it all right," returned Cleek, with a sharp loo_t him, for there was one thing he wanted to find out, and he meant to do tha_s soon as possible. "Two and two, you know, put together properly, alway_ake four. It's only the fools of the world that add wrong. If you'd had a_uch practice as I've had in dealing with humanity, you'd find it was an ever- increasing astonishment to see the way things dovetail in… . Who's this, b_he way?"
  • He jerked his head in the direction of the doctor, who had stopped at the foo_f the steps and waited for them to come up to him.
  • "Oh, a very old friend of mine, Mr. Headland. Doctor Bartholomew. Has a ver_ig practice in town, but a trifle eccentric, as you can see at first glance."
  • Cleek sent his keen eyes over the odd-looking figure in the worn tweeds.
  • "I see. Then can you tell me how he finds time to run down here at leisure an_isit you? Seems to me a man with a big practice never has enough time to wor_t in. At least, that has been my experience of doctors."
  • Merriton flushed angrily at the tone. He whipped his head round and me_leek's cool gaze hotly.
  • "I know you're down here to investigate the case, but I don't think there'_ny reason for you to start suspecting my friends," he retorted, his eye_lashing. "Doctor Bartholomew has a partner, if you want to know. And als_e's supposed to be retired. But he carries on for the love of the thing. Bes_an ever breathed—remember that!"
  • Cleek smiled to himself at the sudden onslaught. The young pepper-pot! Yet h_iked him for the loyal defence of his friend, nevertheless. There were al_oo few creatures in the world who found it impossible to suspect those who_hey cared for, and who cared for them.
  • "Sorry to have given any offence, I'm sure," he said, smoothly. "None wa_eant, right enough, Sir Nigel. But a policeman has an unpleasant duty, yo_now. He's got to keep his eyes and his ears open. So if you find mine ope_oo far, any time, just tip me the wink and I'll shut 'em up again."
  • "Oh, that's all right," said Merriton, mollified, and a trifle shamefaced a_he outburst. Then, with an effort to turn the conversation: "But think o_indin' 'em both, Mr.—er—Headland! Were they—very awful?"
  • "Pretty awful," returned Cleek, quietly; "eh, Mr. Lake?"
  • "God bless my soul— _yes_!" threw in that gentleman, with a shudder. "No_hen, boys, if you don't mind—" He took the attitude of a casual acquaintanc_ith his two assistants who helped to bear the burden. "Come along inside.
  • This way—that's it. Where did you say, Merriton? Into the morning room? Al_ight. Ah, Borkins has been getting things ready, I see. That couch is a broa_ne. Good thing, as there are two of 'em."
  • " _Two_ of 'em, sir?" exclaimed Borkins, suddenly throwing up his hands, hi_yes wide with horror. Mr. Narkom nodded with something of professiona_riumph in his look.
  • "Two of 'em, Borkins. And the second one, if I don't make any mistake, answer_o the description of James Collins—eh, Headland?"
  • Cleek gave him a sudden look that spoke volumes. It came over him in a flas_hat Narkom had said too much; that it wasn't the casual visitor's place t_now what a servant who was not there at the time of his visit looked like.
  • "At least—that's as far as I can make out from what Sir Nigel told me of hi_he other day," he supplemented, in an effort to make amends. "Now then, boys, put 'em there on the couch. Poor things! I warn you, Sir Nigel, this isn'_oing to be a pleasant sight, but you've got to go through with it, I'_fraid. The police'll want identification made, of course. Hadn't you better
  • 'phone the local branch? Someone ought to be here in charge, you know."
  • Merriton nodded. He was so stunned at the actuality of these two men's deaths, at the knowledge that their bodies—lifeless, extinct—were here in his mornin_oom, that he had stood like an image, making no move, no sound.
  • "Yes—yes," he said, rapidly, waving a hand in Borkins's direction. "See tha_t's done at once, please. Tell Constable Roberts to come along with a coupl_f his men. Very decent of these chaps to give you a hand, Mr. Lake. That'_our man, Dollops, isn't it, Headland? Well, hadn't he better take 'e_ownstairs and give 'em a stiff whisky-and-soda? I expect the poor beggar_ave need of it."
  • Cleek held up a silencing hand.
  • "No," he said, firmly. "Not just yet, I think. They may be needed for evidenc_hen the constable comes. Now… ." He crossed over to where the bodies lay, an_ently removed the covering. Merriton went suddenly white, while the doctor, more used to such sights, bit his lips and laid a steadying hand upon th_ounger man's arm.
  • "My God!" cried Sir Nigel, despairingly. "How did they meet their death?"
  • Cleek reached down a finger and gently touched a blackened spot upon Wynne'_emple.
  • "Shot through the head, and the bullet penetrated the brain," he said, quietly. "Small-calibre revolver, too. There's your Frozen Flame for you, m_riend!"
  • But he was hardly prepared for the event that followed. For at this statement, Merriton threw a hand out suddenly, as though warding off a blow, took a ste_orward and peered at that which had once been his friend—and enemy—and the_ave out a strangled cry.
  • "Shot through the head!" he fairly shrieked, as Borkins came quietly into th_oom, and stopped short at the sound of his master's voice. "I tell you it'_mpossible— _impossible_! It wasn't my shot, Mr. Headland—it couldn't hav_een!"