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Chapter 16 TRAPPED!

  • "You damned, skulking liar!"
  • Merriton leapt forward suddenly, and it was with difficulty that Cleek coul_estrain him from seizing the butler round the throat.
  • "Gently, gently, my friend," interposed Cleek, as he neatly caught Merriton'_pthrown arm. "It won't help you, you know, to attack a possible witness.
  • We've got to hear what this man says, to know whether he's speaking the trut_r not—and we've got to go into his evidence as clearly as we go into yours… .
  • You're perfectly right, Doctor, I _am_ a policeman, and I'm down here for th_xpress purpose of investigating this appalling affair. The expression of you_ace so plainly said, 'What right has he to go meddling in another man'_ffairs like this?' that I was obliged to confess the fact, for the sake of m_elf-respect. My friend here, Mr. Lake, is working with me." At this he gav_orkins a keen, searching look, and saw in the man's impassive countenanc_hat this was no news to him. "Now then, my man, speak out. You tell us yo_eard that revolver-shot when your master fired it from his bedroom. Where ar_our quarters?"
  • "On the other side of the 'ouse, sir," returned Borkins, flushing a trifle.
  • "But I was up in me dressing gown, as I'd some'ow thought that something wa_miss. I'd 'eard the quarrel that 'ad taken place between Sir Nigel and poo_r. Wynne, and I'd 'eard 'im go out and slam the door be'ind 'im. So I wa_eeping me ears peeled, as you might say."
  • "I see. Doing a bit of eavesdropping, eh?" asked Cleek, and was rewarded by a_ngry look from under the man's dark brows and a sudden tightening of th_ines about his mouth. "And what then?"
  • "I kept about, first in the bathroom, and then in the 'all, keeping my ear_pen, for I'd an idea that one day things would come to a 'ead between 'em.
  • Sir Nigel had taken Mr. Wynne's girl and—"
  • "Close your lying mouth, you vile beast!" spat out Merriton, vehemently, "an_on't you dare to mention her name, or I'll stop you for ever from speaking, whether I hang or not!"
  • Borkins looked at Cleek, and his look quite plainly conveyed the meaning tha_e wished the detective to notice how violent Sir Nigel could be on occasions, but if Cleek saw this he paid not the slightest heed.
  • "Speak as briefly as you can, please, and give as little offence," he cut in, in a sharp tone, and Borkins resumed:
  • "At last I saw Sir Nigel and the Doctor and Mr. West come up the corrido_ogether. I 'eard 'em bid each other good-night, saw the Doctor go into 'i_oom, and Mr. West return to the smoking-room, and 'eard Sir Nigel's key tur_n 'is lock. After that there was silence for a bit, and all I 'ears was 'i_oving about and muttering to 'imself, as though 'e was angry about something.
  • Then, just as I was a-goin' back to me own room, I 'eard the pistol-shot, an_ips back again. I 'eard 'im say, 'Got you—you devil!' and then withou_aitin' for anything else, I runs down to the servants' 'all, which i_irectly below the smoking room where the other gentlemen were talking an_moking. I peers out of the window, upward—for it's a half-basement, a_erhaps you've noticed, sir—and there, in the light of the moon, I see Mr.
  • Wynne's figure, crouched down against the gravel of the front path, and makin'
  • funny sorts of noises. And then, all of a sudden, 'e went still as a dea_an—and 'e _was_ a dead man. With that I flies to me own room, frightened hal_ut of me wits—for I'm a peace-lovin' person, and easily scared, I'_fraid—and then I locks meself in, sayin' over and over to meself the words,
  • 'He's done it! He's done it at last! He's murdered Mr. Wynne, he has!' An_hat's all I 'ave to say, sir."
  • "And a damned sight too much, too, you liar!" threw in Merriton, furiously, his face convulsed with passion, the veins on his temple standing out lik_hipcords. "Why, the whole story's a fake. And if it _were_ true, tell me ho_ could get Wynne's body out of the way so quickly, and without any on_earing me, when every man in that smoking room, from their own words, an_rom those of the doctor here, was at that moment straining his ears for an_ossible sound? The smoking room flanks straight on the drive, Mr.—er—Headland—" He caught himself up just in time as he saw Cleek's almos_mperceptible signal, and then went on, his voice gaining in strength and fur_ith every word: "I'm not a giant, am I? I couldn't have lifted Wynne _alive_nd with his own assistance, much less lift him dead when he'd be a good sigh_eavier. Why, the thing's a tissue of lies, I tell you—a beastly, underhanded, backbiting tissue of lies, and if ever I get out of this thing alive, I'l_how Borkins exactly what I think of him. And why you should give credence t_he story of a lying servant, rather than to mine, I cannot see at all. Woul_ have brought you here, you, a man whose name—" And even in the excitemen_hich had him in its grip Nigel felt Cleek's will, powerful, compelling, preventing his giving away the secret of his identity, preventing his tellin_hat it was the master mind among the criminal investigators of Europe whic_as working on this horrible affair.
  • He went on, still in a fury of indignation, but with the knowledge of Mr.
  • Headland's true name still locked in his breast. "Did I bring you here as _riend and give you every opportunity to work on this strange business, t_ave you arraign me as a murderer? Do not treat me as a suspect, Mr.
  • Detective. I am not on trial. I want this thing cleared up, yes; but I am no_ere to be accused of the murder of a man who was a guest in my own house, b_he very man I brought in to find the true murderer."
  • "You haven't given me time to say whether I accuse you or not, Sir Nigel,"
  • replied Cleek, patiently. "Now, if you'll permit me to speak, we'll take u_his man's evidence. There are gaps in it that rather badly want filling up, and there are thin places which I hardly think would hold water before a judg_nd jury. But he swears himself a witness, and there you are. And as fo_elieving his word before yours—who fired the shot, Sir Nigel? Did he, or di_ou? I am a representative of the Law and as such I entered your house."
  • Merriton made no reply, simply held his head a little higher and clasped th_dge of the table more firmly.
  • "Now," said Cleek, turning to the butler and fixing him with his keen eyes.
  • "You are ready to swear that this is true, upon your oath, and knowing tha_erjury is punishable by law?"
  • "Yes, sir." Borkins's voice was very low and rather indistinct.
  • "Very well. Then may I ask why you did not immediately report this matter t_he rest of the party, or to the police?"
  • Something flashed across Borkins's face, and was gone again. He cleared hi_hroat nervously before replying:
  • "I felt on me honour to—Sir Nigel, sir," he returned at length. "A man stand_y his master, you know—if 'e's a good one; and though we'd 'ad words before, I didn't bear 'im no malice. And I didn't want the old 'ouse to come t_isgrace."
  • "So you waited until things looked a little blacker for him, and then decide_o cast your creditable scruples to the wind?" said Cleek, the queer littl_ne-sided smile travelling up his cheek. "I take it that you had had what yo_erm 'words' since that fatal date?"
  • Borkins nodded. He did not like this cross-examination, and his nervousnes_as apparent in voice and look and action.
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "H'm. And if we put that to one side altogether can you give me any reason wh_ should believe this unlikely story in place of the equally unlikely one tha_our master has told me—knowing what I do?"
  • Borkins twitched up his head suddenly, his eyes fear-filled, his face turne_uddenly gray.
  • "I—I—What can you know about me, but that I 'ave been in the employment o_his family nearly all my life?" he returned, taken off his guard by Cleek'_emark. "I'm only a poor, honest workin' man, sir, been in the same place nig_n to twenty years and—"
  • "And hoping you can hang on another twenty, I dare say!" threw in Cleek, sarcastically. "Oh, I know more about you, my man, than I care to tell. But a_he moment that doesn't enter into the matter. We'll take that up later. No_hen, there's the revolver. Doctor, you should be useful here; if you will us_our professional skill in the service of the law that seems trying to embroi_our friend. I want you to examine the head wound, please—the head wound o_he man called Dacre Wynne, and, if you can, remove the bullet that is lodge_n the brain. Then we shall have a chance to compare it with those remainin_n Sir Nigel's revolver."
  • "I—can't do it, Mr. Headland," returned Doctor Bartholomew, firmly. "I won'_end myself to a plot to inveigle this poor boy, to ruin his life—"
  • "And I demand it—in the name of the Law." He motioned to Petrie and Hammond, who through the whole length of the inquiry had stood with Dollops, beside th_oorway. They came forward swiftly. "Arrest Doctor Bartholomew for treatin_he Law with contempt—"
  • "But, I say, Mr. Headland, this is a damned outrage!"
  • Cleek held up a hand.
  • "Yes," he said, "I agree with you. But a very necessary one. Besides"—h_miled suddenly into the seamed, anxious face of the man—"who knows but tha_ullet may prove Sir Nigel's innocence? Who knows but that it is not the sam_ind as lie now in this deadly little thing here in my hand? It lies with you, Doctor. Must I arrest him now, and take him off to the public jail to awai_rial, or will you give him a sporting chance?"
  • The doctor looked up into the keen eyes bent upon him, his own equally keen.
  • He did not know whether he liked this man of the law or not. Something of th_an's personality, unfortunate as had been its revelation during this pas_rying hour, had caught him in its thrall. He measured him, eye for eye, bu_leek's never wavered.
  • "I've no instruments," he said at last, hedging for time.
  • "I have plenty—upstairs. I have dabbled a little in surgery myself, whe_ccasion has arisen. I'll fetch them in a minute. You will?"
  • The doctor stood up between the two tall policemen who had a hand upon eithe_houlder. His face was set like a mask.
  • "It's a damned outrage, but I will," he said.
  • Dollops was gone like a flash. In the meantime Cleek cleared the room. He sen_erriton off to the smoking room in charge of Petrie and Hammond, and Borkin_ith them—though Borkins was to be kept in the hallway, away from his master'_ouch and voice.
  • Cleek, Mr. Narkom, and the doctor remained alone in the room of death, wher_he doctor set to his gruesome task. Outside, Constable Roberts's burly voic_ould be heard holding forth in the hall upon the fact that he'd been after _oacher on Mr. Jimmeson's estate over to Saltfleet, and wasn't in when the_ame for him.
  • And the operation went quietly on… .
  • … In the smoking room, with Hammond and Petrie seated like deaf mutes upo_ither side of him, Merriton reviewed the whole awful affair from start t_inish, and felt his heart sink like lead in his breast. Oh, what a fool h_ad been to have these men down here! What a fool! To see them wilfull_rumping up a charge of murder against himself was—well, it was enough to mak_ny sane man lose hold on his reason. And 'Toinette! His little 'Toinette! I_e should be convicted and sent to prison, what would become of her? It woul_reak her heart. And he might never see her again! A sudden moisture pricke_t the corners of his eyes. God!—never to call her _wife_!… How long wer_hose beasts going to brood in there over the dead? And was there not a chanc_hat the bullet might be different? After all, wasn't it almost impossibl_hat the bullet _should_ be the same? His was an unusual little revolver mad_y a firm in French Africa, having a different sort of cartridge. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry didn't have one—couldn't afford it, in the first place… .
  • There was a chance—yes, certainly there was a _chance_.
  • … His blood began to hammer in his veins again, and his heart beat rapidly.
  • Hope went through him like wine, drowning all the fears and terrors that ha_talked before him like demons from another world. He heard, with throbbin_ulses, approaching footsteps in the hall. His head was swimming, his fee_eemed loaded with lead so that he could not rise. Then, across the space fro_here Cleek stood, the revolver in one hand and the tiny black object that ha_ested in a dead man's brain in the other, came the sound of his voice, speaking in clear, concise sentences. He could see the doctor's grave fac_ver the curve of Mr. Narkom's fat shoulder. For a moment the world swam. The_e caught the import of what Cleek was saying.
  • "The bullet is the same as those in your revolver, Sir Nigel," he said, concisely. "I am sorry, but I must do my duty. Constable Roberts, here is you_risoner. I arrest this man for the murder of Dacre Wynne!"